Looking back on Bradford City’s Premier League adventure, 20 years ago.
By Jason McKeown
Derby County 0 City 1
25 September, 1999
Nearly two months into Bradford City’s inaugural Premier League season, the club was still receiving bucket loads of negative media coverage. Newspaper reports of City matches were full of condescending critique about their prospects of staying up. On Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday, Rodney Marsh was making a name for himself as a ‘straight-talking’ pundit by bashing the Bantams on a weekly basis. “If they stay up, I’ll shave my head”, he bragged.
When Bradford City recorded an important victory over Derby County in late September, it should have been a moment of making the critics eat their words. Yet the achievement was overshadowed by a professional joining in with deriding the club. For after this 1-0 City win, the Derby full back Spencer Prior declared the Bantams were the worst team ever to play in the Premier League. Such a strong statement was lapped up by the media, but prompted fierce outrage from everyone connected with Bradford City. Prior rang Jewell on the Monday to apologise, but the damage was done. It was astonishing to hear such a level of disrespect from someone within the game.
Prior’s outburst was probably triggered by the emotions of a heated match that saw both teams have a man sent off before half time. City, who had not won since that opening day victory over Middlesbrough, knew this was a key game. Derby were not pulling up any trees, having only won two of their eight Premier League matches. A week earlier, they’d suffered a humiliating 5-0 home defeat to Sunderland.
After a tepid first half hour, City full back Andy Myers stupidly dived in and earned his marching orders. Just four minutes later, Derby’s Argentinian striker Esteban Fuertes was also red-carded after lashing out in frustration. Early days into the season it might be, but the pressure of relegation was getting to both sides.
In the second half Derby pushed hard to break the deadlock, only for City to score in bizarre circumstances. Gunnar Halle launched a free kick from deep inside his own half, and Derby defender Horacio Carbonari attempted to head the ball back to his own goalkeeper, Russell Hoult. However, Carbonari didn’t realise Hoult had raced off his line to deal with the set piece, and the ball bounced into the unguarded goal. From there, City defended magnificently. Derby were booed off by their fans.
It was, in truth, a fortuitous victory. But after Prior’s derogatory post-match comments, the jubilance over a much-needed win was tempered by anger.
Still, the ongoing jibes from the media – and now opposition players – did stiffen the resolve and togetherness of the club and the supporters. It was City against the world. And ultimately the objective was to win points, not friends.
City: Walsh, Halle, Wetherall, O’Brien, Myers, Whalley, Beagrie (Westwood 76), McCall, Blake (Windass 78), Mills, Saunders (Jacobs 62)
Categories: Premier League Years