Looking back on Bradford City’s Premier League adventure, 20 years ago.
By Jason McKeown
Sheffield Wednesday 2 City 0
15 January, 2000
Rather dramatically, the mood around Bradford City’s first Premier League season went from tranquil to panic in the space of a few January days.
On Tuesday night, the Bantams were embarrassingly knocked out of the FA Cup by third tier Gillingham. And worse was to follow the Saturday after, as they lost a crucial relegation six-pointer at Sheffield Wednesday. It was a defeat that had long-lasting recriminations.
The trip to Hillsborough was a crucial moment in City’s season. Wednesday were bottom of the Premier League, having only won twice in 20 matches. But the task wasn’t straightforward. Wednesday’s poor record disguised the fact they were unbeaten at home since September.
Even more significantly, a pre-match political stunt galvanised the Sheffield club.
24 hours before this crucial meeting, it emerged that a group of four Sheffield MPs – led by David Blunkett – had written to Wednesday, demanding the sacking of beleaguered manager Danny Wilson. It led to a backlash from fans, who perceived the MPs’ move as a cheap political trick.
Rather than placing Wilson under more pressure, the letter caused players and supporters to rally behind the manager, creating a frenzied atmosphere.
With City licking the wounds of their feeble FA Cup exit, the last thing they needed was to face a Wednesday side playing like their lives depended on it. Right from kick off, they were greeted by a whirlwind of frantic pressure. As blue and white shirts pushed hard for victory.
City barely had a shot on goal in the first half, and were indebted to some good saves by Matt Clarke, plus Wednesday hitting the woodwork three times. But early in the second half, Niclas Alexandersson punished poor defending to open the scoring. They didn’t let up from there, and in the 67th minute a dangerous cross saw City centre half Andrew O’Brien unwittingly volley the ball into the bottom corner for an own goal. 2-0, and a mountain to climb.
It was at this point the real long-term damage was done. Paul Jewell tried to engineer a comeback by sending on Dean Windass as sub. But his decision to sacrifice Stuart McCall prompted an angry reaction from a packed away end, as City fans chanted “You don’t know what you’re doing” at Jewell. It was heat of the moment stuff, but ultimately proved very harmful to Jewell’s affection and loyalty for the club.
During the summer, Jewell would ultimately quit City, ironically taking over at Sheffield Wednesday.
It was a horrible end to a shocking week for City. In what was their biggest game of the season to date, they’d delivered their worst performance of the campaign. It sucked them into the bottom three – and underlined the pressure cooker that was building up over the quest to stay in the Premier League.
City: Clarke, Halle, Wetherall, O’Brien, Myers, Lawrence, McCall (Windass 72), Redfearn, Beagrie (Mills 59), Blake, Saunders
Categories: Premier League Years