Looking back on Bradford City’s Premier League adventure, 20 years ago.
By Jason McKeown
Leeds 2 City 1
20 November, 1999
Ever since the sixties, when Don Revie transformed Leeds United into one of the biggest clubs in the country, Bradford City has lived in the shadow of its near-neighbours.
During Leeds’ heyday, thousands of Bradfordians turned their back on their home city by flocking to Elland Road, indirectly helping to bring an end to Bradford Park Avenue’s Football League status. In the eighties, Leeds filed a winding up petition against City over an unpaid transfer fee, which nearly sent them out of business. Before the two clubs competed in the second tier together for five seasons, where the rivalry grew fierce.
So one of the highlights of Bradford City’s 1999 elevation to the Premier League was the opportunity to lock horns again with Leeds United. And midway through November, the first-ever top flight City-Leeds derby took place at Elland Road. It felt like a big occasion, but sadly the afternoon would prove to be a harsh reminder of the ongoing disparity between the two clubs.
For a start, City amazingly failed to sell out their 5,000 away allocation. There were mitigating factors – tickets were £27 (steep at the time), and there were other glamorous away fixtures that would cause many fans to pick and choose. Still, not selling out the away end of your fiercest rivals felt embarrassing. Around 4,000 City fans made the trip, which was still decent, but it said something about the true size of Bradford City.
On the field, there was also disappointment that Paul Jewell went for a defensive line up, with City set up to contain. At the time, Leeds United were one of the top teams in the country and would finish third in the Premier League. Yet this was a game City fans were desperate to win. 4-5-1, with Lee Mills on his own up front, limited the Bantams as an attacking force.
For the first 54 minutes, the plan was at least working. Leeds attacked and attacked, yet could not break down a resolute City rear-guard. But then a Michael Bridges shot hit the thigh of Alan Smith, deflecting it into the net, and Leeds were in front. Jewell tried to chase an equaliser by bringing on Robbie Blake, but with 10 minutes to go a poor Stuart McCall back pass saw Matt Clarke concede a debatable penalty. Ian Harte slotted home for 2-0.
City kept fighting to the end. Jamie Lawrence missed a sitter, before Dean Windass rounded Nigel Martyn to score in the 90th minute. But there was not enough time for an equaliser.
Losing to Leeds felt painful, particularly as it seemed as though City had held back. The two clubs were equals in terms of sharing the same league – but for financial capability, players and support depth, there was still a significant gap.
City: Clarke, Halle, Wetherall, O’Brien, Sharpe, Lawrence, McCall, Redfearn (Blake 64), Beagrie (Myers 78), Windass, Mills
Categories: Premier League Years