The ones that got away

By Leon Steel

As Bradford City fans, we tend to obsess rightly or wrongly over when ex City players will finally return to the club. At every transfer window, at least one former bantam is rumoured to rejoin. Over recent years debates have raged: ‘Could James Hanson still do a job?’ ‘Could Gary Jones sort the midfield out?’ Most of the time these well meaning suggestions are rooted in nostalgia but sometimes you wonder, what if.

Former Bantam Callum Cooke has received plaudits in recent weeks, playing a crucial role as Hartlepool fight for survival in League Two. He is a player I felt was unlucky not to be offered a new contract in the summer, and in hindsight may have had something to offer this season.

Ultimately it was probably a choice between keeping Callum Cooke or bringing in Richie Smallwood. On paper, Smallwood has the right experience and adds leadership to our midfield. Despite the hype at the time of signing, Richie Smallwood’s season probably hasn’t panned out as well as fans had hoped. Regardless, with Jamie Walker slowly returning, I still have hope a formidable partnership in the centre of midfield can be formed and boost our efforts towards promotion.

Was Callum Cooke one that got away? Maybe so, maybe not, but over the club’s recent history we’ve let players go who in retrospect we would have welcomed back with open arms.

Darren Moore is the one that, for me, hurt the most. During our promotion winning season to the Premier League, ‘Bruno’ dominated our defence, a brick wall of a defender who played with surprising grace. A contract renewal fall out with the club prior to our first Premier League season meant that Moore would not continue with the club and instead opted to join Portsmouth. (He would eventually play in the Premier League for West Brom and Derby.)

I last watched Moore play for Bradford City in our pre season friendly versus Scarborough. Despite a convincing performance, the fall out put a bad taste in my mouth and despite surviving our first season in the Premier League, proved to be an ominous premonition of things to come over the following years.

I have no doubt Moore would have proved equally formidable in the Premier League for City. The big money signing of David Wetherall, in the end proved to be an excellent replacement but I often wonder what could have been.

Dean Windass first joined the club from Oxford United for an initial £950,000. Windass would go on to be City’s top scorer in both our Premier League seasons. With relegation all but assured in our second season, Windass would be sold to Middlesbrough.

Only a couple of years later and despite perhaps an over jubilant goal celebration at Valley Parade, scoring for Sheffield United in 2002, Dean Windass with great fanfare would rejoin City. Windass would prove to be a formidable goal scorer and became the prize asset for the club despite on and off the field struggles, as City desperately tried to maintain financial solvency.

When Dean Windass was loaned to Hull City in January 2007, Bradford City effectively waved the white flag in its battle to stay in League 1. Windass was by far our best goal scorer and his goals over the previous two seasons kept City away from the relegation places. Bradford City were in a perilous financial state and had to find money quickly.

I don’t blame Julian Rhodes for choosing to save the club, quoted at the time for saying ‘I needed to generate some money from somewhere’ but perhaps Dean Windass was all that was keeping Bradford City away from a trip to League 2. Ironically, Windass would go on to score enough goals to save Hull from relegation to League 1 and would later score the goal that promoted them to the Premier League. In a sour reversal of fortunes, Bradford City would be relegated to League 2. Our top scorer that season? Dean Windass.

As football fans we tend to romanticise these moments. The truth is however that David Wetherall proved to be a more than able replacement for Darren Moore and may well have been the difference in Bradford City retaining its Premier League status.

The loaning of Dean Windass to Hull City was at the time a gut wrenching decision but it was most likely a turning point in the club’s history for the better. This was the realisation that with dwindling crowds and dwindling resources the club could no longer gamble its existence. Fundamental change was required and that in time would come, thanks to the likes of Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn, leading to a club that despite its current League 2 status can boast large crowds and a stable financial footing.

Had things worked out differently, it’s entirely feasible we would have no club or perhaps we’d be supporting FC Bantams or something. It’s important to remember and learn from the past but let’s not forget to enjoy what we have today.

Categories: Opinion


9 replies

  1. Very well put. Thanks for taking the time

  2. Eddie Youds was a sore one! He never kicked on when he left. Looking further back Bobby had a similar trajectory to Windass. Losing McCall and Hendrie at the same time was the biggest blow of all. Joe Cooke my childhood hero was another fans favourite who went for decent money and returned shortly thereafter

  3. I remember going to The Shay for a pre season friendly before the 1st Premier season when “Robbing” Blake and Darren Moore were roundly abused for asking to be paid their worth…

    I knew that summer Richmond was a charlatan and we would in the mire sooner rather than later. I wish I was wrong

  4. A few times this season I have pondered if Callum Cooke being the link man between defence and midfield would have been perfect this season.

    His ability to turn out of a press and then play the ball out would have been priceless in this turnstile and style of football.

  5. They do say never go back
    Here’s a line up of players who have
    Hendrie sinnottt Jackson evans
    McCall motley Henry gillead
    Ormondroyd windlass Campbell

    Very mixed bag!

  6. As a slight side note, but as they are mentioned in the article, and because they are one of my all time favourite Bradford City players, James Hanson is currently part of a Worksop Town team which is sat top of the Northern Premier League – East Division (the 8th tier of English football). They have won 14 or 15 consecutive league games and Hanson recently scored a 90th minute winner at Ossett United.

  7. Peter Beagrie was the one who got away for me. A fabulous player and entertainer. I’m sure it was all down to pounds and pence at the end of the day but it left me totally bewildered.

  8. The best player not just to be lost to Bradford City but to the game was Leigh Palin.
    On his day he was unplayable.
    The problem ‘his days’ were few and far between.
    Possibly the best player I have ever seen

  9. I was a fan of Palin too. Can’t forget the wonderful goal he scored against Boro in the home league game in 87-88. Seemed we lost the plot a bit when Kennedy replaced him for last third of that season.

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