Bradford City seasons re-reviewed: 2001/02

By Jason McKeown 

Final league position: 15th (W15 D10 L21)
Manager: Jim Jefferies/Nicky Law
Top scorer: Eion Jess (14 goals)
Player of the season: Andy Myers


The reign of Geoffrey Richmond had been all about moving forwards. The late 90s rate of progress was the fastest, most driven in Bradford City’s history. But now it was time to see how Richmond would deal with the first real setback.

City’s second season in the Premier League – 2000/01 – had been a non-event. Relegation looked odds on by Christmas and was all but confirmed by February. An enhanced squad had lost much of its spirit and work rate, winning just five league games all campaign and finishing bottom of the league.

Once it became clear City were going down, Richmond had begun clearing the decks by getting rid of as many high earners, and saleable assets, as possible. The squad that ended the season still had plenty of quality, but after the final game – a 0-0 draw at Coventry – manager Jim Jefferies was interviewed on Match of the Day, where he provided a downbeat assessment on City’s chances of making a swift return to the Premier League.

Richmond had been as concerned as anyone by Jefferies’ tone, but it prompted the chairman to up the playing budget to £7.5 million. This meant Jefferies didn’t have to lose any more players. Although it also didn’t leave him with any spare money to strengthen.

So City returned to the Football League with a decent squad, but quickly needing to prove themselves better than the previous season’s underwhelming showing. The jewel in the crown was Benito Carbone, who was widely expected to terrorise weaker opposition. Promotion was the only aim. And it appeared City had the quality to achieve it.

There were slight concerns about City’s financial position, given the lack of new signings. But they were about to benefit from the Football League’s record TV deal with ITV Digital. What could go wrong?

The story of the season:

This was an utterly mad season. The 50 league and cup games involving Bradford City produced an astonishing 159 goals – that’s an average of 3.2 goals per game. For comparison, City’s current, on hold 2019/20 campaign has averaged 2.3 goals a game.

Along the way in 2001/02, there were all sorts of goal-laden scorelines: 4-3, 3-3 (twice), 5-1, 4-0 (five times), 4-1 (twice), 4-2 and 3-2 (twice). There was just one 0-0 draw all campaign – away to Watford on Good Friday. The season was many things, but dull it certainly wasn’t.

City got off to a flyer, beating Barnsley 4-0 at home in the opening day – Carbone scoring with a stunning overhead kick. They won their next three in league and cup, and would lose only one of their first nine games. The highlight was a Friday night 5-1 thrashing of Gillingham. One of the most one-sided games I’ve ever seen, with Carbone utterly magnificent.

But then the wheels fell off. City were beaten 1-0 at Forest on a Thursday night – their debut ITV Digital live showing, which apparently attracted less than 1,000 viewers – before welcoming Stockport at home the following Tuesday. County were winless and bottom of the league, yet the Bantams were wretched and lost 4-2. It really ramped up the pressure from disgruntled fans.

City did win their next game, 3-2 at home to Grimsby – but they’d blown a two-goal lead, and were fortunate to take the three points when Ashley Ward struck a stoppage time winner. At 2-2, Jefferies had subbed McCall, leading Valley Parade to chant “you don’t know what you’re doing” at the manager. What followed was five straight defeats, with promotion already looking unlikely.

In the middle of that wretched run, Carbone was loaned out to Premier League Derby for three months. The Italian was the big hope, but reality bit over his £40k per week wages. It just wasn’t sustainable in Division One, especially as City’s gates were falling. Derby covered some, but not all, of Carbone’s wages. It wasn’t enough to give an increasingly unpopular Jefferies any great strength in the transfer market.

A topsy-turvy season went back in City’s favour again as October turned to November. They beat Watford 4-3 at home, followed three days later by a 3-3 draw against Wimbledon at Valley Parade – City had been 3-1 down. The next three games delivered another seven points. The play offs were back in sight.

But then it went the other way again, with seven defeats over the next eight games. The pressure on Jefferies grew intense – his cause not helped by a training ground bust up with Stuart McCall. Jefferies publically demanded McCall apologise for “his tantrum”. Richmond reportedly ordered Jefferies to build bridges with the club captain, which did not go down well with the manager, unhappy at being undermined.

Jefferies’ assistant, Billy Brown, resigned just before a high stakes trip to Coventry. The story goes Jefferies resigned too, but agreed to stay on for the Coventry match, which City lost in a Sunday tea time live showing on ITV Digital. The next day – Christmas Eve – saw Jefferies officially leave. He claimed he was sacked.

Fan opinion was split on Jefferies. In just over a year in the job, he’d not exactly pulled up any trees. But he’d had next to no resources to sign players and had to keep clearing the decks. Many fans were now turning on Richmond, unhappy at the lack of squad strengthening and his growing reputation as a chairman that managers could not work with.

After losing both Christmas game at home under caretaker Steve Smith, Nicky Law was announced as the new manager on New Year’s Day. Law had been manager of Chesterfield, where he was hugely successful despite the Derbyshire club’s transfer embargo problems. It was a type of experience that would prove valuable over the next 18 months.

Law attempted to make City harder to beat, by tightening things up at the back. Promotion hopes were already as good as over. So Law effectively had a half season to bed in and start to the shape the squad.

He started well enough, with a 3-1 home win over Portsmouth. The new manager even did okay out of controversy over Carbone, who at the end of January returned to Valley Parade after Derby decided not to extend his loan. In his first game back, at home to Preston, Law had elected to start Carbone on the bench. The striker took huge exception, and stormed out of Valley Parade just before kick off. He was fined two weeks wages, but did start the next game, at Grimsby, where he scored the winner.

A few days later, Richmond found another club willing to take Carbone on loan. So he finished the season back in the Premier League, at Middlesbrough.

Form remained patchy for the rest of the season, with just four wins in the final 14 games. They thumped Gillingham and defeated Notts Forest, but endured poor home defeats to Sheffield Wednesday, Manchester City and Birmingham.

Worst of all was achieving the utter embarrassment of losing to Stockport again. County won just one game in between their unlikely Bradford City double. They would be relegated with barely a whimper.

Such was City’s indifferent form, they went into the final few games with an outside chance of joining Stockport in going down. In the end they earned important wins over Crewe at home and away to Wimbledon to seal survival. The final home game was a true this-is-what-you-could-have-won moment, as West Brom earned a last gasp victory that put them on the brink of Premier League promotion.

City finished the season 15th – a real disappointment considering the promotion expectations. But disgruntlement about on the pitch performances was about to be overshadowed. After ITV Digital collapsed financially, and Carbone was unable to agree a permanent deal with Middlesbrough, Richmond had no choice but to put Bradford City in administration.

It was a real shock to everyone. And over the summer the very future of the club was placed in real doubt. Debts of £36 million left City in basket case status. They would ultimately live to fight another day, but Richmond’s position was untenable. He would depart on the eve of the 2002/03 season.

The team:

Not surprisingly, the asset stripping measures towards the end of 2000/01 was not conducive to team building. Jefferies was left with a squad made up of players who couldn’t attract a buyer, and bargain bucket signings who were low on quality. And when Law took over, he wanted to put his own stamp on things. So team selection rarely seemed to be settled.

The issue of Carbone’s huge wage packet hung over the club, even when the Italian was out on loan. As good of a player as Carbone was, the financial package that secured his services was never going to prove value for money.

There is no way that Jefferies would have ever tried to sign someone like Carbone – indeed, one of his first acts as City manager, back in December 2000, had been shunting him to the reserves to try and get him off the wage bill. Carbone did win back his place at the end of 2000/01. And now, he was too good (and costly) to leave out in Division One. But ultimately Carbone was a millstone around Jefferies’ neck. Richmond would know that feeling too.

Still, when Carbone was around in 2001/02, he was a strong performer. He netted four goals in his first eight appearances for City. His work rate was as high as anyone else’s. He had a fantastic relationship with supporters. When he left on loan, life at Valley Parade grew a lot greyer.

Carbone wasn’t the only higher earner. Ashley Ward was on £18k a week, and hadn’t impressed during the Premier League relegation season. By his low standards, Ward had a decent 2001/02 for City, scoring 11 times in 29 appearances. He attracted interest from several clubs, but injury problems halted potential transfers.

Jefferies also had Robbie Blake to call on in attack. City’s two seasons in the Premier League weren’t the best for Blake, but back in Division One he settled down again and netted 12 goals before Christmas. It earned him a January £1 million move to Burnley, where he would prove as much of a cult hero as he remains at Valley Parade.

City’s other main striker option over the first half of the season wasn’t even a striker. Defender Andy Tod had joined on loan from Dunfermline in August, and scored on his debut in a League Cup victory at Macclesfield. With Ward injured, Tod was deployed up front and scored in three straight games. A clamour grew to sign him permanently, and in November Jefferies paid £100k for his services, generally deploying him as a striker rather than at the back.

Tod ended the season with seven goals but didn’t convince. Law evidently wasn’t his biggest fan. In March, City were 1-0 up at Rotherham and Tod was brought on with 10 minutes to go, to shore up the game. In the last minute, he stupidly gifted Rotherham a penalty which they converted. Law angrily blasted Tod after the match, and he was loaned out to Hearts. A strange, strange season for the Scot.

Later in the campaign, Law signed Bradford-born Danny Cadamarteri from Everton. He scored on his debut and remained a regular for the rest of that campaign, but only found the net one other time. Young forward Gareth Grant was still around and played 13 times, netting the first goal of Law’s reign during a 3-1 win over Portsmouth.

The club’s top scorer that season was a midfielder – Eoin Jess. The Scots started the season in brilliant form and was a real favourite of Jefferies. But after getting 11 goals by mid November, Jess faded badly and especially struggled under Law. He scored just three more goals and became unpopular with the crowd. He left during the administration meltdown.

It was a year where a lot of City midfielders would end up departing – none more sadder than McCall. The City skipper had been out of contract in the summer of 2001, but turned down an offer from Everton to sign a one-year deal at Valley Parade. McCall remained hugely influential and played 46 times, scoring four goals. At the end of the campaign, McCall had a memorable testimonial game against Rangers.

Jefferies famously told McCall his legs had gone during that December bust up. It seemed logical, but deeply sad, to let McCall go at the end of the season – he was 37 by now. But McCall would prove a lot of people wrong by flourishing at high flying Sheffield United the season after.

Another long-serving midfielder who would move on was Gareth Whalley. He was a regular in the team at the start of the campaign, but missed three months through injury. Whalley had a run of games under Law, but never started again after getting hauled off before half time in a home defeat to Birmingham. In March he was loaned back to his former club Crewe for the rest of the season, and he joined Cardiff during the summer.

Lee Sharpe – who had ended the 2000/01 campaign on loan at Portsmouth – had an injury-hit campaign that saw him absent from late August to December. Law seemed to rate Sharpe highly and gave him a run in the team in January, where he scored in successive games. But injuries remained a problem. Jamie Lawrence began the season not considered first choice under Jefferies. But he benefited from the change of manager and became a regular under Law.

It was the opposite for Gary Locke, who was a big Jefferies favourite and played under him for three different clubs. Locke struggled to make an impression at Valley Parade and is widely considered one of the worst midfielders the club has had over the past 20 years.

Locke started just five times for Law. The last of which was the shocking away defeat at Stockport, where Law took him off after only 35 minutes. He wasn’t seen again until the final two games of the season, where he came off the bench twice.

Lee Makel was a regular sub under Jefferies – starting just twice – and left the club in January when his short-term deal finished. When Jefferies dropped McCall following their bust up, he turned to Makel to fill the gap. A move that did little to support the logic of leaving out the captain.

A more postive midfield contribution came from a rising star, signed on loan for two months. Matty Etherington rocked up from Tottenham in late October and helped to reverse a slide in form, scoring on his full debut. His pace was electric, albeit he lacked an end product at this early stage of what would be a very credible career. After returning to White Hart Lane, Etherington played semi regularly for Spurs over the second half of 2001/02.

Within a few weeks of Etherington’s arrival, Jefferies went back to his former club Hearts and signed Spanish winger Juanjo. He scored seven minutes into his debut but mainly proved a bit part player. Summer signing Claus Jorgensen had to bide his time, but had a run in the team after Christmas – he would make a bigger impact the season after.

Towards the end of the season Law signed young midfielders Michael Standing and Tom Kearney, who demonstrated promise for the future.

It was a bitty year for many of City’s defenders. Andy Myers – who had joined in 1999, but struggled to make an impression in the Premier League – benefited from relegation. He became a regular at centre back and impressed greatly, earning the player of the season award.

It was less memorable for David Wetherall. He was always first choice when he was fit, but he got injured at the end of October and didn’t play again until March.

For a time it seemed inevitable Wetherall would leave, as Man City and Southampton launched bids. But he failed a medical at Maine Road and remained at Valley Parade. His injury problems would continue the year after.

Robert Molenaar also had a season ruined by injury. He limped off just 17 minutes into Law’s first game in charge and wasn’t fit to return until the following season. He at least fared better than Peter Atherton. The centre back was injured until November, made his comeback by starting at Norwich, but only lasted 54 minutes. He was then out for the rest of the campaign!

So who did play in defence that season? Well, alongside Myers, right back Gunnar Halle enjoyed a strong campaign – he even scored his first league goal for City, in the 3-1 win over Portsmouth. But with City’s season effectively over, Law allowed Halle to be loaned out to Wolves at the end of March. He wasn’t much of a lucky omen for Wolves, as their automatic promotion push collapsed and they lost to Norwich in the play offs.

Wayne Jacobs remained a regular at left back. He generally did well, but after making a mistake in a home defeat to Birmingham he was booed by sections of the crowd. In typical Jacobs style, he bounced straight back and scored in the next game, away to Rotherham. Jacobs did face some competition from youngster Lewis Emanuel, who produced an impressive senior debut at home to Grimsby and went on to make 12 appearances.

A more well-known City youth graduate also had a breakthrough year. Mark Bower came into the side for the final two months of the campaign. He’d made his debut back in 1998 and largely spent the Premier League years on loan at York. But now his chance had finally come, and he grasped it.

A couple of short-term loanees played a brief part. Promising young centre half Steven Caldwell played nine games over December and January after being borrowed from Newcastle. And who can forget Simon Grayson’s seven-game spell in February? I wonder what he thought of the training facilities back then?

It was a tale of four goalkeepers between the sticks. Gary Walsh began as number one and started off well. But with City conceding a glut of goals over October, Jefferies took the brave decision to drop Walsh away at Crewe.

Aidan Davison came into the team and made a mistake that cost City three points at Gresty Road. But he kept his place until he got injured in the first half of the 4-0 loss at Coventry – Jefferies’ last game in charge – and Walsh came on.

Walsh started in the next game, a Boxing Day home defeat to Sheffield United – but then got injured. Neither he nor Davison were fit enough to play again that season.

In desperation, City caretaker Steve Smith signed veteran keeper Carl Muggleton on loan from –  ***checks notes*** – fourth tier Cheltenham, and he played five times for the Bantams. By late January, Law had signed Dundee United stopper Alan Combe on loan for the rest of the season. Combe was hugely impressive, and but for City going into administration Combe would surely have signed permanently during the summer. He did eventually return 12 months later.

Also that season:

This was a season to remember for Manchester City. Under Kevin Keegan – taking his first job since resigning as England manager – the Citizens romped to the Division One title, scoring more than 100 goals and racking up 99 points.

West Brom stole the second automatic promotion spot in thrilling style, especially as they pipped their bitter rivals Wolves, having trailed them by 11 points at one stage. Birmingham beat Norwich in the play off final to join them.

At the top, Arsenal won the Premier League to bring an end to three years of Manchester United dominance. It was the season that the Premier League highlights first moved to ITV, with farcical results initially. 2001/02 certainly wasn’t a good year for ITV Sport. Or Halifax Town, who were relegated out of the Football League and have not since returned.

Whilst the summer was dominated locally by City’s financial strife, the rest of football was focused on the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. England reached the quarter finals, losing to a freak goal from Brazil’s Ronaldinho. He and his countrymen went onto win the World Cup.

Five 2001/02 City gems:

– Gillingham were definitely favoured opponents this season. After the 5-1 September home thrashing, in February the Bantams won 4-0 at the Priesfield Stadium – including a terrific chipped goal from Lawrence.

– Prior to November’s trip to Norwich, City hadn’t won on the road since early August. But they blew the Canaries away with a resounding 4-1 victory, Blake bagging two goals.

– Law’s first home game in charge came with Richmond under growing pressure, but a come from behind 3-1 win over a Portsmouth side reduced to nine men eased the tension.

– In March, play off chasing Burnley generated huge headlines by signing former England superstar Paul Gascoigne. A bumper crowd of nearly 20,000 turned up for his debut, against the Bantams. But Jorgensen’s first goal for the Bantams earned a creditable 1-1 draw.

– A late March home win over Crewe all but sealed survival. The second goal in a 2-0 victory was scored by McCall – it would turn out to be his last goal for the Bantams.

Categories: Seasons re-reviewed


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