A big statement of intent as Richie Smallwood signs for Bradford City

By Jason McKeown

Suddenly, it’s all starting to feel exciting. With just over five weeks until Bradford City’s 2022/23 season begins, the players are about to return for pre-season training and a genuinely marquee signing – Richie Smallwood – has been unveiled.

31-year-old Smallwood joins Valley Parade from Hull City, after making 42 Championship appearances last season. Smallwood was captain and had been offered a new one-year deal by the Tigers, but he turned it down because he wanted a longer-term contract.

The Redcar-born Smallwood has had a very impressive career that began at his local club Middlesbrough, where he emerged through the youth ranks to make his debut in October 2010. For the next five years he was something of a squad player, averaging around 15 games a season. Before moving on loan to Steve Evans’ Rotherham in 2013/14 – he scored the winning penalty in a shootout at Wembley that earned the Millers promotion to the Championship.

After eventually signing for Rotherham for £175k, Smallwood remained a key figurehead as the South Yorkshire club defied the odds to remain in the Championship for the next three seasons. He eventually fell out of favour when Alan Stubbs took over as manager and had a loan spell at then-League One Scunthorpe. In the summer of 2017, and despite Stubbs long gone, Smallwood turned down a new Rotherham contract and moved to Blackburn Rovers – freshly relegated to League One.

His first season at Ewood Park – 2017/18 – saw Smallwood chalk up a second promotion for his CV. Rovers finished second to Wigan, with Smallwood featuring in every game. He continued to be a regular in Blackburn’s return to the Championship before losing his place, paving the way for a move to Hull. Still then-Rovers manager Tony Mowbray valued Smallwood highly, once saying, “He’s a competitive footballer who likes to get stuck in and win tackles, he gets into the team because he’s a warrior. I’ve spoken about artists and soldiers at this club, and he’s definitely a soldier.”

In 2020/21 – the Covid season – Hull went up from League One, giving Smallwood a third promotion medal of his career. And last season he was a regular for the Tigers, said to be very popular with supporters.

Hull Daily Mail journalist Barry Cooper wrote in April, “At the age of 31, Smallwood isn’t getting any younger, but his experience throughout his campaign has been instrumental, particularly in a relatively young squad which, at times, has found the going tough at this level. Every good team needs a player of his style within it, one to win the ball and give it those capable of creating something with it. It requires a calm and steady head to understand his role within the side and what his manager wants from him.”

Make no mistake, this is a real coup by Bradford City. Smallwood could have chosen to stay in the Championship with Hull City and was said to have attracted a lot of interest from League One clubs. He comes to Valley Parade with a clear winning mentality and track record for success that has been sorely lacking in the dressing room. And with City taking a very youthful direction with recruitment this summer, the experience of Smallwood could be a huge asset. He is surely in with a good chance of taking the captain’s armband in Mark Hughes’ side.

Smallwood is a holding midfielder. Said to be a tackler who can pass well. His goal record (11 in 350 league appearances) suggests he is less of an attacking threat. But with City having plenty of forward options, Smallwood looks set to be the ideal sitting midfielder in the 4-2-3-1. A player who can offer the balance that allows others – including full backs – to attack.

It would be unfair to heap too much pressure and expectation on Smallwood, but there are shades of the signing of Stuart McCall in 1998 about this. McCall came back to City after a great career with Everton and Rangers, and he looked a cut above the level he was playing. McCall’s inspirational leadership qualities brought out the best in those around him as City achieved promotion to the Premier League. He had a presence and an aura that encouraged others to follow. Setting the standards in good and difficult moments.

Smallwood is not exactly that type of player, but could be that influential catalyst that sees teammates find another level to their game. The Valley Parade crowd can be great when it’s on your side, but requires bravery in moments where it begins to turn on the team. Everything about Smallwood suggests he wouldn’t hide – and that will hopefully encourage others to stand tall too.

For Bradford City, there can be a deserved sense of triumph with this announcement. We’ve seen a pattern of young players come in with very limited track records – the latest, Huddersfield’s 23-year-old Romoney Crichlow, was confirmed as a season-long loan signing the day before. It looks a brave approach that – if the judgement of Stephen Gent proves reliable – could deliver huge rewards. But the club also leaves itself open to accusations of doing it on the cheap. Of not properly backing Mark Hughes.

Smallwood certainly eases such concerns. He is a statement of ambition. A player who other clubs in the division will sit up and take note of. A signing to enhance City’s promotion chances next season.

This could be huge.

Categories: Opinion


16 replies

  1. What a great signing. Smallwood has a great CV. Won promotion with most clubs he’s played for. It gives me confidence in the future direction of the club. Last few seasons we would never be associated with players of this calibre. Maybe Watt might decide to stay. I wonder uf there is more surprises to come. Well done to those who’s made this happen.

  2. This is a HUGE, HUGE statement. A general in midfield we haven’t seen for since Romain at his peak or better Gary Jones. Probably one of the most important signings the club has made in the last decade. Can’t fault the club. Two championship quality signings in last week. Onwards and upwards.

  3. Is this our new Gary Jones? I really hope so and genuinely can’t wait for the season to begin.

  4. As a posted on the previous article about waiting for rumours to come to fruition…thos has indeed brought about the shift in tone and rightfully so…this is massive.
    If you weren’t positive before, you should be now, and if you were before, you’ll be doing cartwheels like me right now 😂

  5. It reminds me of the time Ken Leek dropped down three divisions to join us. I feel the same sense of anticipation and expectation. This is potentially a very good signing. I bet those who didn’t buy a season ticket now wish they had.

    • Ken leek had had a brilliant career in the game before joining city, is that right? He was in the wales world cup squad of 58, i believe. Was your anticipation rewarded?

  6. “One swallow does not a summer make”.
    But things are definitely warming up!

  7. The club have clearly worked tirelessly behind the scenes to capture the impressive signature of Richie Smallwood, who could certainly have played at a higher level than L2.
    The lure of playing for Mark Hughes has been instrumental in every signing to date and we all look forward with hope and anticipation for the coming season.
    The spine of the team is key to success and the acquisition of Smallwood will prove to be the catalyst.
    With more signings likely to follow it’s a case of roll on the 30th July and met battle commence!

  8. Very good signing, definitely Captain material for me. Matt Duke Dean Windass, & now Smallwood adding to the ranks of excellent players acquired from our East Yorkshire neighbors.

  9. We’ve been yearning signings like this for years. I was there at Wolves when we clinched promotion to the Premier League and ever since relegation we’ve been a selling club and recruiting duffers. 9 new signings already, some quality. I’m sure mostly because of Mark Hughes, but we could be on the cusp of something extraordinary.

  10. A very good signing indeed. Had it been done last week I think we would be now looking at 15000 season tickets for sure.

  11. On paper, a good signing. Hopefully the club may have another in the pipeline, of similar calibre, to solve our goal scoring problems. One thing that has struck me is that, with the exception of Colin Doyle, every new permanent recruit has been handed a two year contract. Many of these signings are young, with minimal first team experience and, if they fail to fulfil their perceived potential, we’re going to be in a similar position to the forthcoming season – a squad even more congested with players, on extended contracts, who have little likelihood of being seriously coinsidered for first team action.
    One thing Lee Turnbull was effective at was moving out players who were deemed to be in that category. As yet, we’ve seen no movement out of the club and some may prove difficult to shift.
    Social media has been awash with excitement, even though many of the new signings have limited experience. Let’s hope we’ve unearthed some gems. As things stand, I’m firmly in the “wait and see” camp.

    • I’m with you there….
      There’s been too many false dawn’s. Let’s see them play before passing comment.
      The younger players especially are a concern. There’s one thing impressing whilst playing in front of a man and his dog. Doing the same in front of 15,000 is another thing entirely.
      Let’s not get too excited, but let’s not get too ‘down’ either. With such a turn over in players we need may need to wait whilst they gel. If this proves to be the case please – stay off the panic button!

  12. For those who have a go at the club and the owner about financing, it seems to me that many of the signings are not coming on low wages. We are really pushing the boat out this season. I believe Mark Hughes and Glynn Hodges are creating an environment with a ‘we can and will do this’. Genuinely optimistic about the season and the direction the club is going in.

  13. Hull fan here. Smallwood is a fine player. Calm in possession, experienced holding midfielder. He has had a great season.

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