Looking back on Bradford City’s Premier League adventure, 20 years ago.
By Jason McKeown
City 1 Leeds 2
12 March, 2000
Five months had passed since Bradford City lost at home in the Premier League, with some big clubs failing to take maximum points from Valley Parade. It meant the visit of 2nd-placed Leeds United, in front of Sky cameras, was eagerly anticipated by City supporters – desperate for victory over their local rivals.
Yet unprecedented goalkeeper issues ruined the preparation. With Gary Walsh and Matt Clarke out injured, the on-loan Aidan Davison had performed reasonably well. His loan deal was up, and the club held talks to sign him permanently. But, surprisingly, Davison rejected the terms offered and returned to Sheffield United, where he was third choice.
No matter, it seemed, given Clarke was declared fit to play. But on the morning of the Leeds match, he twisted a knee after falling down some stairs at home. Youth keeper Danny Taylor was asked to play, but apparently suffered a panic attack over the prospect of such a high-profile debut. In desperation, Paul Jewell had to ask his goalkeeper coach, Neville Southall to step in – just 90 minutes before kick off.
Southall was 41 and had not played a top-flight match for three years. His last professional game of football had been a January 2000 2-1 defeat for Torquay United at Chester in the fourth tier, in front of just over 2,000 people. Southall was in no real shape to play. His large frame prompting tabloid ridicule over the following days. Pre-match City confidence drained away. The chances of a home victory had dramatically declined.
Sure enough, 12 minutes in a Leeds cross was flighted into the space between back four and keeper, and Michael Bridges tapped home the opener. A more prepared goalkeeper would have claimed the cross. Just after the hour, Southall mistakenly came off his line to close down Lee Bowyer outwide, and he was left stranded as the ball was worked to Bridges to score his second.
Despite being 2-0 behind, City continued to give it everything. It was a strong home performance, sadly undermined by the goalkeeper crisis. Jewell threw on Robbie Blake and recent signing Jorge Cadete as they chased the game, and with 15 minutes to go Peter Beagrie reduced the arrears through a stunning strike from distance.
Valley Parade roared on the home side, but despite heavy pressure they could not find an equaliser. It had been a rip-roaring derby, full on incident and controversy. Six players were booked, but Leeds were fortunate Alf Inge-Haaland and Nigel Martyn weren’t red-carded.
It was a painful way for City’s commendable Valley Parade run to come an end. Against the one team you especially didn’t want to lose to. The headlines went to Southall, in what unsurprisingly proved to be his final game of an outstanding career. He later became a player coach at several non-league clubs.
A few days later, Davison approached City to say he’d changed his mind and would now like to sign the deal. What might have been, had he not first said no. Or if Matt Clarke had lived in a bungalow.
City: Southall, Halle (Blake 65), Wetherall, O’Brien, Jacobs, Lawrence, McCall, Whalley (Cadete 65), Beagrie, Saunders, Windass
Categories: Premier League Years
I was lucky enough to attend the Player of the Year awards back in 2000. Matt Clarke was on our table – good lad “Clarkey” as he even put 20 quid into our kitty. Obviously the first thing everyone wanted to ask him was about the falling down the stairs incident. He confirmed the rumours at the time that it never happened. He was never going to be fit to play against Leeds United – the whole story was concocted by Geoffrey Richmond who didn’t want to lose face for failing to get the Aidan Davidson deal over the line…
I still remember Southall making at least one catlike leap that seemed impossible for one of his build