By Jason McKeown
Say the word ‘Edinho’ to a Bradford City supporter of a certain age and watch their face break out into a huge, beaming smile. Edinho ranks as one of the most popular players in the club’s modern history, a joyful representation of the Bantams’ triumphant rise up the football pyramid during the late 90s.
To give him his full name, Edon Amaral Neto spent three seasons at Valley Parade, netting 17 goals in 64 appearances. But it was more than just his potency at finding the back of the net. The flamboyant mannerisms of Edinho inspired huge adulation and goodwill amongst a fanbase who relished watching their very own Boy from Brazil. Look up the dictionary definition of ‘Bradford City cult hero’ and you’ll find a picture of Edinho dancing by the corner flag after scoring in front of the Kop.
“I have everybody in my heart,” Edinho smiles to me when I ask him what Bradford City means to him. “I enjoy all people. And Bradford City people I enjoy, because they all like me.”
We are chatting on a Saturday night in the Old White Bear pub in Cross Hills, a few hours after the modern-day Bradford City lost 2-1 at home to Swindon Town in League Two. Edinho – and long-time friend, ex-team mate and former City midfielder Lee Duxbury – attended. Valley Parade reacted to the Brazilian’s half time introduction to the crowd with thunderous applause before chanting his name.
It clearly meant a lot to Edinho, 23 years on from his Bradford City departure. “Every week I watch for the Bradford result,” he reveals. “Every week. I love Bradford a lot. I have newspapers in my house of all the things I did as a player.”
“He was really excited to come over again”
Every young Bradford City fan has their first hero. Edinho was mine. When I first went to watch Bradford City in 1997, Edinho led the attack and he offered huge glamour and excitement. When the world’s best player was the Brazilian striker Ronaldo, Edinho was our own mini-version and widely cherished. I would make sure we arrived early every game and got his autograph while he was warming up. I own programme after programme from that era carrying Edinho’s signature.
They say never meet your heroes, but interviewing him was everything I hoped it would be. He is friendly, humorous and chatty. I bring along my much-loved, 1997-99 Bradford City ‘Beaver’ shirt and ask him to pose it in, which he does with good humour. The language barrier is a problem, but he does his best to make sense of my thick Yorkshire dialect and answer my rambling questions.
What really saves us is the translation support from Jamie Lawrence – who is also with us – and former City youth trainee Lee Clapham. The three of them are here in preparation for a charity match at Silsden the next day, where a team of Bradford City veterans will take on their Burnley counterparts.
Edinho will captain Bradford City veterans to a 2-1 victory over Burnley, netting the first goal from the spot. He was taken off to a warm ovation. The old skill, vision and touch was certainly still there. Nearly £7,000 was raised for the charity Pathways, in honour of Bantams legend Alan Gilliver, who is living with dementia.
“We’ve been playing Bradford City veteran games for a few years now,” Clapham explains. “A couple of years ago we were preparing to play in the Algarve, and we noticed a figure in the stand who was decked out in Bradford City colours. Curious, we went up to see who it was – and it turned out to be Edinho! He lived nearby and had come to watch. We asked if he fancied joining us, and he has been playing for us since.
“When we arranged this charity match at Silsden, he was really excited to come over again.”
“The chairman said to me: if you score three goals, I give you one Porsche!”
Edinho’s time at Valley Parade occurred during one of the most colourful and progressive periods in Bradford City’s history. Three years earlier, in January 1994, Geoffrey Richmond bought the club with an ambition to shake it out of its lower league slumber. When crowds were barely averaging 6,000, he pledged to have City in the Premier League within five years.
The first step – getting promoted out of the third tier – was accomplished in 1996. But as the Bantams embarked on their first season back in the second tier, it was painfully clear the squad was ill-equipped to survive relegation.
With funds diverted into rebuilding the Midland Road Stand, Richmond eyed less conventional routes for finding players to improve the team. In December 1995, the Belgian footballer, Jean-Marc Bosman, had successfully won a freedom of movement case at the European Court of Justice that changed the sport. The Bosman ruling gave players the freedom to move on a free transfer to another club when their contract ran out, and banned restrictions on foreign EU players within national leagues.
Richmond cunningly realised it would allow a club like City to bring in overseas players, relatively cheaply. So he and manager Chris Kamara scoured the European leagues. Kamara says of Richmond in his autobiography, “He became convinced that the market would become flooded with quality – and free – players. Geoffrey also reckoned that Bradford would never have to spend another penny on transfers.”
A range of European players subsequently rocked up at Valley Parade. Some, like the Dutch defender Marco Sas and Norwegian striker Ole Sundgot, made a big impact. Others, such as Finnish forward Jari Vanhala and Portuguese winger Sergio Pinto, came and went in the blink of an eye. Over the course of the 1996/97 campaign, Kamara would field 42 different players.
Enter Edinho, who at the time was playing for Portuguese top flight side Vitória de Guimarães, where he had scored 15 goals in 42 appearances. Born in Arapiraca, an Eastern Brazilian city nicknamed ‘The Brazilian Tobacco Capital’, Edinho had played for a handful of Brazilian clubs, before moving to Portugal in 1990. He initially turned out in the Portuguese lower leagues, working his way up to Vitoria de Guimarães. In his first season, they qualified for the UEFA Cup and Edinho was the third leading scorer in the entire division, just behind the legendary João Pinto and ahead of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, soon to sign for Leeds.
“I do not know how it happened, but Kamara saw me play and I found out he wanted to sign me,” explains Edinho. “He was a big coach for me. Kamara to me was my father.”
A fee of £250k was agreed for Edinho’s services, and he was presented to the Valley Parade crowd before a home game against Huddersfield Town. As introductions to English football go, it was blunt. Within 10 minutes of the game starting, Gordon Watson – slated to be Edinho’s new strike partner – was stretchered off with a broken leg after a horrific challenge from Town defender Kevin Gray.
For Edinho, it was simply a taste of what he was expecting. “Before I come to England, I watched the games in England on TV,” he explains. “I liked the football as it was aggressive. It’s different to Brazil, of course, but to me it was no problem.”
Edinho’s home debut came in a FA Cup fifth round tie at home to Sheffield Wednesday live on Sky, where City lost 1-0. A week later the Bantams travelled to Oldham for a vital relegation six-pointer. Trailing at half time, Edinho began winning over his public by netting the second half winner in front of a packed out away end. “I remember that goal so well,” he grins. “It was a cross from Jakes [Wayne Jacobs] and I put it in with my left foot. It was such a good feeling.”
That goal proved the launchpad for City to successfully avoid the drop, with Edinho taking centre stage. He netted five times in 16 appearances that season, including important goals against Wolves and Southend. But that was far from the full story. Edinho’s way of playing football delighted his own public but enraged opposition defenders. He had one particularly fiery clash with Wolves’ Keith Curle that has gone down in Bradford City folklore.
I asked him about Curle and he struggled to remember who he was. Clapham got up a picture of Curle on his mobile phone to show Edinho, and a mischievous grin spread over his face when he recognised the former defender. “I also remember Vinnie Jones,” he laughs. “I headbutted him!” Lawrence clarifies that, due to Edinho’s lack of height compared to Jones, the headbutt attempt only succeeded in connecting with the now-Hollywood star’s chest.
Lawrence adds, “Edinho would wind up opposition players because he’s a good player, that’s why. They only get like that with good players. Edinho has really good movement.
“Brazil is not an easy place to grow up in, don’t take that lightly. Every player who is a good player, a top player, has come from a bad background. So they have to be able to look after themselves, and he can.”
City confirmed survival on the final day of the campaign with a 3-0 home win over QPR. Edinho and team mates were mobbed by ecstatic fans who invaded the pitch at full time. Edinho recalls. “Before the match, the chairman said to me: if you score three goals, I give you one Porsche!”
“The day before a game I memorise a dance and say ‘tomorrow – this dance when I goal’”
If on the field Edinho was making a striking impression, the stories of his off-field conduct enhanced his legend.
Only 29 at the time, Edinho embraced Bradford by moving over his family. They lived in the Sandy Lane part of the city. None of them could speak English well, but they loved their new home and were regularly seen around the city centre, where fans would cheer them as they went by.
One tale came from a City supporting family eating out at Fatty Arbuckle’s when they spotted Edinho, dining alone. They invited Edinho to join them, and had a strange meal where they couldn’t communicate. At the end of the meal, Edinho paid for everyone.
Long-time City supporter Mark Neale recalls other anecdotes, including stories of Edinho playing football with the binmen at 7am. “Some of our English ways definitely confused him, understandably,” Neale says. “He received a reminder about his car tax and went down to City to complain, saying he was already paying tax on his wages!
“At one point the team had a bonding day out at a theme park near Chorley. They were told to make their own way back to Bradford. Edinho got lost and ended up in Burnley, but he was convinced he was back in Bradford!”
Back when players got to know fans through supporter meetings rather than social media, Edinho did his bit. Neale continues, “We had an annual BBQ event at the Fountain Inn after the first home game of the season. New signings were always invited – with their families – to help them make friends in a strange city. Edinho came one year and went into the bar. He didn’t know what to drink, so someone suggested a pint of Guinness. He took one sip, smiled and said ‘I like Guinness’. Later at the event he was asked to say a few words to everyone. Clearly that was going to be difficult for him, so he got on the mic and just said ‘I like Guinness!’”
Back in the present day and Saturday night in the Old White Bear, both Lawrence and Edinho are characteristically supping pints of Guinness. “What got you into it?” I ask Edinho. He laughs and immediately points to his former team mate, “Jamie Lawrence! There was this game that we won, he passed me a pint and said ‘come on!’ From then on, I only had one beer in my house – Guinness.”
Edinho’s family were happy in Bradford, but his English was limited. Was this a problem when it came to training and playing matches? Edinho shakes his head, “Footballers are a universal language. I understood things not too bad, because it’s football. One language. All over.”
Lawrence adds of Edinho’s language challenges, “It never made the slightest bit of difference because you find a way of communicating. I would always have huge respect for him because of the way he is as a person. You can tell that he’s bubbly.”
Edinho had no trouble communicating through his goal celebrations. “When I score a goal, every game – I do a different celebration, because Brazilians are different,” he explains. “In Brazil if you score in a game, you do a different dance. Because people liked it, every goal here I did something.” Did he plan them beforehand? “Yes! The day before a game I memorise a dance and say ‘tomorrow – this dance when I goal’. I practice them in my house!”
One his most unusual goal celebrations was not a dance. Edinho points to Lawrence and laughs once more. “Swindon! You crossed the ball, I shot. Goal. I took off my shirt and had another one on underneath!”
“The referee asked me ‘Edinho, handball?’ I said ‘I don’t know I don’t know!’”
Edinho began the 1997/98 campaign in flying form, netting seven goals in his first 15 games to help City briefly top the league. They remained amongst the play off pack over the first half of the campaign.
“The atmosphere was huge,” Edinho says. “When I played here [at Valley Parade] I loved it because the atmosphere was better than other places. I enjoyed it a lot.
“We had a very good team. At the time I played with a lot of different strike partners. Rob Steiner, Robbie Blake, John McGinlay. All different in styles.” Steiner appeared to be Edinho’s most effective partner, although Lawrence chuckles of the Swede, “He would have one good game, then four bad games!”
What did Lawrence, who signed for Bradford City in the summer of 1997, make of Edinho? “When I came to the club, I loved him straight away. His bottle for one. He worked his b**locks off. He was a very good player. Easy to play with. And he was full of life. He always had a smile of his face. That’s why I had to corrupt him and get him on the Guinness!”
By this point, Edinho’s fame was growing beyond Bradford, and he was the subject of increased media interest and even transfer speculation. At Charlton in September, live on Sky, came Edinho’s cheekiest goal in a City shirt. A cross was sent over, Edinho escaped his marker and touched the ball home. He peeled away celebrating. Replays clearly showed he had punched the ball into the net. The officials missed the handball and the goal was given.
Edinho bursts into laughter when I ask him about it. “When we finished the first half, the referee asked me ‘Edinho, handball?’ I said ‘I don’t know I don’t know, it happened very quick!’ The referee went inside and watched it on TV. Second half he came out and said ‘Edinho, f**king hell – that was a handball!’ I said sorry!”
Other moments saw Edinho’s ruthless side. Bury came to Valley Parade in December for what proved a tetchy game. Deep in stoppage time, Edinho struck out at the Shakers striker Peter Swan. A huge brawl broke out involving every player. Edinho was red carded and both clubs were fined by the FA. “It all began because the referee was doing nothing,” Edinho reveals. “Their defence did one foul on me. Then two, three. I asked the referee to speak to them and he did nothing. I thought ‘next time I will hit back’. Challenge four was a high one, so I hit back.”
“That’s the problem,” adds Lawrence. “If the referee is not protecting you, then you have to protect yourself. You don’t get to this level if you haven’t got a bit of this.”
Times were changing at City, and for Edinho it wasn’t all positive. As form began to fall away, Kamara was surprisingly sacked. His assistant, Paul Jewell, was appointed caretaker manager.
“I wasn’t happy, I liked Kamara,” Edinho confirms. “With Kamara I play every game, so to me he was top. Jewell was good, but I didn’t play as much [this was more the season that followed]. I was sub a lot. I wasn’t happy playing 10 minutes here and there. I didn’t feel very confident.”
With the club finishing a disappointing 13th place, further change was coming that summer. Jewell became permanent manager and Richmond persuaded his fellow investors, the Rhodes family, to borrow £5 million to fund a push to the Premier League. City broke their transfer record twice in a matter of days to sign strikers.
It didn’t look good for Edinho.
“I play 100% and the fans saw it.”
Edinho began the 1998/99 season in the team, but with nine forwards on the books he was soon left watching on the sidelines.
“When you’re in a different country, and you’re not playing, that’s really hard,” says Lawrence. “Because when you’re playing you’ve got that adulation. You’re confident, whatever. As soon as that stops, it’s really difficult.”
Edinho reveals, “I had no problem with Paul Jewell, but because I don’t speak English very well, he doesn’t chat to me. I asked to go. I asked the chairman to go. He loaned me to Scotland.”
He spent three months playing for Dunfermline in the Scottish Premier League, “To me it was good, and for the family it was good. I played against Celtic, against Hearts, against Rangers, against Kilmarnock. It was a good experience. Although it was very cold!”
Edinho returned to a vastly-different landscape. City were closing in on automatic promotion with the forward partnership of Robbie Blake and Lee Mills, and Dean Windass arrived before the transfer deadline for a seven-figure fee. Edinho had the chance to join QPR but declined. He would end up moving back to Portugal at the end of the season.
“I left City because of the coach,” Edinho adds, referring to Jewell. “When I came back from on loan, he didn’t play me. The Portugal coach [who ultimately signed Edinho from City] asked me to play on same wage as Bradford, so I go to Portugal. Bradford wanted to loan me to QPR, but the coach at QPR didn’t want to pay for our flights, didn’t want to pay for a house. So I spoke to Paul Jewell, and said I didn’t want to go to QPR. I stay here, and at end of the season I go to Portugal.”
There is no lasting bitterness from Edinho towards Jewell. As we chat about his departure, he gets out his phone to proudly show off a photo of himself with Jewell, taken earlier that day on the Valley Parade concourse. It is typical of how he views his time at the club.
“I was so proud to play for Bradford City,” Edinho concludes. “I love the fans. I train with 100% effort. I play 100% and the fans saw it. I think fans liked me and Jamie because every game we play very strong. You might not play well, but play very strong. Work hard. All game. If you don’t play well, still play strong. And people see it.
“You can’t play well every week, but if you give 100% – fans like that.”
Ultimately, Edinho’s time at City brought progression. His on-field contributions and big personality lifted everyone, especially supporters.
The club’s fierce ambition to make the Premier League meant Edinho was eventually left behind. But as wonderful as the adventure to the top was for the club, Valley Parade definitely felt that tiny bit less magical knowing the Boy from Brazil wouldn’t be playing.
A special thanks to Lee Clapham, Jamie Lawrence and Adam Pickles for their huge help setting up and completing this interview. A further thanks to Katie Whyatt for her expert help editing this interview.
We interviewed Jamie a decade ago – you can read all about his brilliant City career here