By Jason McKeown
Bradford City’s midweek home defeat to struggling Rochdale was a shock to everyone but hardened Bantams’ supporters. This is what we do. Typically an opposition team on a bad run transform from beleaguered to inspired when facing City. The red carpet rolled out, as we go against the form guide to lose the most winnable of fixtures.
Going into such matches, we always try to say the right things. We won’t underestimate them, we tell ourselves. We won’t be complacent, we declare. Just read the words of Vadaine Oliver ahead of Tuesday’s game, “We can’t look at Rochdale’s league form and think we’ve just got to turn up and it will be easy.” I’m sure you didn’t Vadaine, but you and your team mates have still joined the infamy ranks of slipping up to a team in dismal form.
It’s maddening. It’s costly. And it happens too often. Whether it’s a team marooned at the bottom or just horribly out of form, a date with Bradford City habitually proves to be a moment of redemption.
How often does this occur? A lot. An awful, awful lot actually. A delve into our modern history features a litany of inglorious defeats and dropped points against teams going through really difficult periods.
Take my hand, and join me in entering the murky back story of our most inglorious times.
Huddersfield Town home, March 1988
Our first stop off is one of the best examples of how damaging unlikely Bradford City defeats to struggling teams can prove to be. It’s the Nearly Season, or – as it felt at the time – one of the best campaigns in the club’s history. City are riding high in the second division, closing in on top flight football for the first time since 1922. All they have to do is continue a run of form that included five wins in their last seven matches. Neighbours Huddersfield are in town. They’re bottom of the league. They’re winless in 11 games.
City ended up losing 1-0 to their downtrodden opponents. In a tightly contested promotion race with little margin for error, this set back proves costly. Form begins to decline (they draw four of their next five games), and City miss out on automatic promotion by just one point, before losing in the play offs.
The brilliant 1987/88 team, including Stuart McCall and John Hendrie, is broken up. The club goes on a downwards spiral, and it will take another 11 years to get back into such a position again.
Swansea City home, November 1991
There’s been plenty of competition since, but John Docherty can just about retain his crown as the most unpopular Bradford City manager in history. A mixture of dismal football, woeful signings and uninspiring results meant most fans cheered when he eventually left the club in November 1991. A time to celebrate, especially as City’s next game was at home to a Swansea side bottom of the table, who hadn’t scored a single away goal all season. What could go wrong?
An awful lot, as it happens. Swansea not only broke their duck, they went goal crazy, scoring 6 (six!) times in the City net, and winning 4-6. A truly grim afternoon that is remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Grimsby home, March 1997
Under the inspired Chris Kamara, City were back in the second tier but facing a battle to avoid an instant relegation. Every game mattered, and so when a Grimsby side struggling even more than City came to Valley Parade in March, there was a great opportunity to push away from the drop zone. Especially as Grimsby had won just two of their last 14 games
It turned into a nightmare afternoon, with Grimsby two goals to the good inside 16 minutes. It gave them the platform to see out a victory in a game where neither defence covered themselves in glory. City 3 Grimsby 4, and a real set back. Luckily the Bantams were able to recover and stay up on the final day of the season at Grimsby’s expense.
Oxford home, May 1999
Even when City were very good, they still found a way to make things harder for themselves. With two games to go in 1998/99 they were closing in on promotion to the Premier League, and if they could defeat relegation-threatened Oxford in their last home game, top flight football was almost certainly returning to Valley Parade.
But on the big occasion, they froze. Oxford fought tooth and nail and had the better chances, with Gary Walsh making two brilliant saves to prevent them achieving a shock away win. Even so, the 0-0 draw felt like a defeat to City, especially after McCall headed over a glorious chance in the final seconds.
It left them having to go to a Wolves side, pushing for the play offs and with only one home defeat all season, needing to win in order to guarantee promotion. They did just that of course, meaning it all turned out brilliantly in the end. But had City failed to beat Wolves, the Oxford game would have been retrospectively looked back on as a moment of real failure.
Derby away, November 2000
It’s fair to say that over City’s two-year stint in the Premier League, they never got to a comfortable enough position to feel heavy favourites to beat any opponents. But when in their second season they went to bottom club Derby in November, with the home side yet to manage a single victory, expectations were higher than normal.
Alas, City proved the perfect opposition for a team looking to get off the mark. Second half goals by Malcolm Christie and Rory Delap earned Derby a crucial victory that lifted them off the foot of the table. City would take over their place of bottom of the pile, and remain there for the rest of the season.
Stockport home and away, September 2001 and March 2002
An absolute classic of the genre. In 2001/02 Stockport County would be relegated from Division One with just 26 points, after managing only six victories. A third of that pitiful tally of wins came against City, who lost home and away to the hapless County.
Firstly in September, the Bantams – with Benito Carbone still in the team – welcomed Stockport to Valley Parade, with the visitors yet to win a single game. They cruised to a 4-2 win that punctured City’s promising early season form and sent them on a path to midtable mediocrity (it would also prove to be Stockport’s one and only away win that season).
In the 28 games that followed, Stockport won just once. Just check out their form from November to March. No wins, two draws and 16 defeats – including a run of 11 straight losses.
That was until the return fixture with City, at Edgley Park. Luke Beckett struck early, and Stockport held on to achieve what at the time was just their third win of the season – two of which had come against City. Pure humiliation.
Brighton away, November 2002
The slick, principled and well-supported Brighton & Hove Albion of today are a world away from the stricken outfit they were 21 years ago, plying their trade at the ramshackle Withdean Stadium. In 2002 they got promoted to Division One but looked well out of their depth, losing 14 games in a row.
Not to worry though, as in November the once again charitable Bantams were in town. Bobby Zamora and Simon Rodger struck in the first half for Brighton, and despite Andy Gray scoring twice Brighton held on for a 3-2 win, Zamora getting the winner. Brighton would ultimately be relegated that season, but not before going to Valley Parade and winning. Naturally.
Wimbledon away and home, October 2003 and April 2004
2003/04 was Bradford City’s centenary year, an occasion they ‘celebrated’ by getting relegated to the third tier and re-entering administration. In a season of on the field ineptness, they managed a couple of entries for the catalogue of infamous defeats.
There were the two games against Notts Forest, for example. In October City lost 2-1 at home thanks to a last minute Andy Reid goal. At that point Forest embarked on a dreadful mid-season slump, failing to win their next 18 matches. What they needed was a game against a struggling side, susceptible to lose to any out of form team… Forest ended their run by beating City, of course. And just to add to the misery, they achieved it with another last minute winner.
But 2003/04’s true ignominy was saved for the fact that only one team was worse than City this season, yet the Bantams lost home and away to them. Wimbledon.
In the process of relocating to Milton Keynes and in their own financial mess, Wimbledon defeated City at the National Hockey Stadium in October. The Dons were already relegated by the time they travelled to City in April, and yet they proceeded to go 3-0 up at Valley Parade, holding on for a 3-2 win. It meant City were relegated from the second tier too. They haven’t been back since.
MK Dons away, March 2006
They’ve rebadged it you fool! Two years on from stealing Wimbledon’s identity, MK Dons were struggling at the foot of League One, two wins in 16 (including a 5-0 loss to Huddersfield). City shared the division but harboured hopes of getting promoted via the play offs. And so a trip to the National Hockey Stadium was a great chance to build on a run of only two defeats in 11 games, and thus close the gap on the teams above.
Same old City. They went down 2-1 thanks to a last minute winner by Dean Lewington. Even more embarrassingly, Dons keeper Matt Baker went off injured at half time and striker Aaron Wilbraham played in goal for the entire second half. Playing the bottom team while they were without a proper goalkeeper, and yet we still lost. The curse is strong.
Mansfield home, March 2008
New era, same weaknesses. By 2008 City were in League Two but had the financial uplift of Mark Lawn’s investment and the morale boost of Stuart McCall becoming manager. The first season had been bumpy, but with improved form City went into March with an outside chance of making the play offs, and some winnable home games. None more so than a visit from bottom club Mansfield, winless in five.
Goals by Nathan Arnold and Michael Boulding earned Mansfield an unlikely victory, and another big opportunity had been passed up. Mansfield would ultimately be relegated, but this and some other avoidable home losses kept City in the basement league for another year.
Barnet and Chester away, February and March 2009
12 months later, City were in a much stronger league position and entering the final straight in the promotion hunt. They went to lowly Barnet – winless at home in four months – with goalkeeper Rhys Evans very publicly carrying a knock, but the club declaring he’d just about be okay to play. The news City were willing to select a half-fit Evans enraged Barnet, and they delivered a stunning 4-1 win.
Form began to fall off a cliff for City, and as the pressure grew they went to a struggling Chester side, winless in 17 (including 13 defeats). Surely the chance to get back on track? Paralysed with fear, City put in the most tepid of displays and grimly held on for a 0-0 draw that helped no one.
Barnet home, January 2011
Peter Taylor’s reign as City manager was a slog. Strongly tipped for promotion, they were plodding along in the slow lane and barely keeping in touch with the top seven. But then in early January they won back to back games and Taylor amazingly turned down an offer to become assistant manager of Newcastle. We all celebrated Taylor’s loyalty, and a home game with bottom club Barnet was previewed as a moment where the promotion express would finally take off.
City went 1-0 up and were cruising. Then, those old weaknesses returned. Out of nowhere Rob Kiernan inexplicitly smashed the ball into his own net, and within six minutes Barnet had scored two more to seal an unlikely 3-1 win. Prior to the game Barnet hadn’t won an away game all season. Great banter again, City.
Barnet away, January 2013
There’s a pattern here isn’t there? Barnet once again popped up to make things uncomfortable for City. Days before the small matter of a League Cup semi final against Aston Villa, City somehow went down to an abject defeat at the struggling Bees. Their promotion hopes taking a hit, just as the footballing world was marvelling at City’s giant killing exploits.
City went from despair at Underhill to a joyous first leg win over Premier League Villa, and then to another dismal league defeat the following Saturday – this time at home to an Oxford side slumped in lower midtable. And then a week before they played Swansea in the League Cup Final, they were beaten 2-1 at bottom club Wimbledon.
Explain that one.
Tranmere home, October 2013
Phil Parkinson did so many amazing things at City, but even he couldn’t rid the club of its jinxed form against clubs at the bottom. Promoted to League One that summer, City had made a flying start to pick up 21 points from their first 10 games. They stood fourth in the table, and next up was a home game against a Tranmere side yet to win all season.
Tranmere won 1-0, thanks to a goal from Ryan Lowe. Once again, an unexpected defeat had longer-term consequences for the Bantams. It heralded the start of a run of just one win in 21 that did for any hopes of back to back promotions.
Yeovil away, January 2015
You’re about to play Chelsea in the FA Cup – at the time the best team in the country by some distance. So what better way to warm up than play a league match at bottom of the table Yeovil, who had lost five on the bounce?
If Jose Mourinho saw a video of this game, you could understand if he went on to underestimate City’s prospects. Gozie Ugwu struck early, and a subdued Bantams side failed to recover, losing 1-0. How many City fans departed Huish Park that day muttering darkly about how the club was surely going to get absolutely destroyed at Stamford Bridge next week, following such a lifeless display?
Luckily, Chelsea would prove they were no Yeovil Town.
Colchester away and home, September 2015 and March 2016
For Notts Forest in 2003/04, read Colchester 2015/16. The Us had a dreadful season that culminated in relegation. Between 29 September and 1 March, they played 24 league games and won just once.
The bookends of that awful run of form? Why Bradford City of course. In September they beat the Bantams 2-0 at the Community Stadium, in a game that proved to be the end of Brad Jones’ short-lived City career. And then in March, after that awful mid-season collapse, the U’s travelled to Valley Parade seemingly devoid of all hope, and were trailing 1-0 at the break.
Yet in the second half, Darren Ambrose struck twice to deliver a shock win. Once again City were the opponents of choice for a team who couldn’t otherwise buy a win.
Blackpool away, March 2018
Bradford City’s 2017/18 campaign was promising until the turn of the year, and then wow did it all go wrong. The controversial sacking of Stuart McCall, the underwhelming transfer window, and the growing unpopularity of Edin Rahic. Still, it’s Blackpool away next, who haven’t won a home game in five months and are just above the drop zone. A chance to get going again, surely?
Final score: Blackpool 5 Bradford City 0. It was 3-0 before the half hour mark. Legend has it an angry Rahic wanted the players to spend the following week working in the ticket office as punishment. But as much as there was supporter anger towards the squad for downing tools, the bigger problems at the club were coming to light. And there was no way this dispirited bunch were going to break the habitual curse.
Walsall away, February 2019
A year after the Blackpool debacle, City were heading to an utterly avoidable relegation. There was still hope they could get out of it, and a trip to a side below them – Walsall – was a classic six pointer. Walsall’s form going into the game was eight defeats in nine, suggesting City simply had to target three points.
When a certain Andy Cook was sent off after just six minutes for Walsall, there was a huge opportunity for City to take a decisive step forward. They failed to take it and then some, going down to a 3-2 loss to out of form opponents who played for 84 minutes with 10 men.
Both teams would be relegated at the end of the season. The Walsall game one of the lowest moments in a City campaign of utter misery.
Hartlepool home October 2021, Harrogate away and home February 2022
And so to last season and three more entries to the collection. Hartlepool came to Valley Parade in October with just one point from a possible 18 away from home, and no goals on the road in over eight hours of action. So naturally they scored in under a minute, on route to turning over City 3-1.
If that wasn’t bad enough, later that season there were two defeats to Harrogate in the same month. City were in a bad spot at the time, but it was nothing on their struggling neighours. By March, Harrogate Town had endured a run of just two wins in 16 games. Those two wins both coming against…you know the answer.
How very City.
Rochdale home, this week
With this series of humbling losses over the years, what else really could we have expected on Tuesday other than another evening of self-induced embarrassment?
We can with strong justification blame the referee for turning the game in struggling Rochdale’s favour, but the force is strong in these parts. Once again, the form book and common sense went out the window. This is what we do. And nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop it from happening again and again.
Following on from my revisionist article in the City Gent on John Docherty. “Woeful signings”; Sean McCarthy, Robbie James, Phil Babb and yes, Stephen Torpey.?
Truth over hope can be quite cathartic sometimes. I love “Luckily, Chelsea would prove they were no Yeovil Town.”
1989-1990 season, Hull City rock up at Valley Parade bottom of the league having not won in 28 games, with a young Wayne Jacobs in their team. Of course they beat us 3-2 with a last-minute winner and we ended up relegated that season.
That was my first ever City game! We lost but I was hooked that day forever! Stood on the Kop being bowled forwards when we scored – oh the memories! CTID
Was one of my first games too, sat in the main stand! Strange how memories play tricks on you though – I could have sworn it was Dean Windass who got the winner for Hull, turns out he didn’t even join them until the season after.
I’d forgotten about this even though I was working in Hull at the time. My Rothmans book tells me that we hadn’t got off to the best of starts pre match with only 3 wins out of 17 matches against Leicester, Brighton and Ipswich.
Thereafter we only won a further 6 matches all season, all at home, against Bournemouth, West Ham, WBA, Stoke, Newcastle and Watford. Not a single away win all season deserved relegation.
Can’t see us rubbing shoulders with most of those clubs any time soon!
For as long as I can remember – no matter where we are in the league, we always manage to allow teams to beat us who come with winless/goalless/pointless bad runs/form when they visit us. Managers and players come and go, but the failings don’t.
You just know we will lose.
Tuesday was set for another one of these – you just knew it (as you also called it).
I can go back further being at home to Bristol City in a league cup quarterfinal (??) in a night match quite a few years back. Joe Jordan was managing/playing for them (?)
We were riding high and they were on a bad run and we were expected to beat them easily.
You can guess the rest………….. we got beat.
What a brilliant piece of work about some of our most infamous pieces of work. A soul-shivering blast from our horn of plenty of abject failure, it certainly brings back memories to forget! It is somehow therapeutic to occasionally revisit them and discover the root cause of our seemingly never-ending paranoia. On a serious note, I must say what a pleasure it is to read this, the thinking football man’s forum, so refreshingly informative, interesting and candid. Since I discovered it I no longer waste my time reading any of those posturing, wrangling, self-referencing types who spew out their ill-worded random thoughts elsewhere and create a rogues’ gallery of players who displease them. Yes, we have had some bad defeats, far too many, but supporters of other teams often cite similar experiences. Without the troughs the rare peaks would not be so thrilling. That’s the joy of the game. Well done, Jason!
Great article Jason.
I like the wry humour. It’s often said you need one to keep been optimistic about our ‘potential’!!
The Chester City away match in 2009 was a rare away fixture for me and my son. The ground was dire. Getting away from the match was dire, it took literally hours (or so it seemed)
And the match wasn’t much better. Although I marvelled at how Chester were relegated with Ryan Lowe and our favourite villian, Kevin Ellison in the team – who both caused us numerous problems.
Ironically, Paul McLaren had his best game of the season for us (not hard I hear you all say) but otherwise the rest of the Bantams were dire – licking their wounds after blowing promotion.
You left off one other one, which had great significance for the outcome of that season.
On Saturday 6th October 2006, we had 21 points from our first 12 games. It’s easily one of our best starts ever (might even be the best).
We’re playing our local Terrier rivals that day – who were near the bottom and hence in poor form.
It would turn out to be an unlucky 13th match for us.
Of course we lost!! 1-0 to a Gareth Taylor-Fletcher goal. Plus we played against 10 men for the last third of the match
And we never recovered taking just 26 points from the remaining 33 matches = relegation!!
Sorry one last one.
Derek Adams bottom of the table Plymouth coming to VP and winning 1-0 in November 2017, when we were 3rd. We were absolutely dire.
We’d won at Wigan just three league matches earlier with footie, that their fans described as the best of that season.
Very good article, don’t know which is the saddest part, the re-telling of the games, or me being at all the games mentioned by Jason and other posters
Very good article, don’t know which is the saddest part, reading all past failures, or me being at all the games covered by yourself, and those mentioned by other posters
Sorry, didn’t mean to post twice, re-living it all once was bad enough
Brings back so many bad memories, but with a smile.
Well done, keep it up.
Up the chickens.
John, a certain Phil Babb was bought by Liverpool for £ million if l remember correctly.
…. and this is exactly why we follow City!
A stark reminder of why I lost (most) of my hair watching the bantams defy the odds (to fail) season after season! I must admit I’d forgot a few of these, perhaps just as well otherwise I might have converted to that team east of Pudsey – thanks for reminding me Jason!
Excellent article. You really do have to wonder whether any other club could assemble a ‘book of infamy’ as big as Bradford City’s…
Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me!
As many have commented, a terrific article.
I seemed to have been at nearly every one of these infamous games.
With the passage of time it is just about possible to laugh about our continuing ineptitude, no matter how many changes there are in playing staff it just keeps happening.
Doesn’t fall into above category but I seem to recall years ago losing to Doncaster Rovers when they had been reduced to 9 men relatively early in the second half. It takes a special team as highlighted in this article to achieve that!