Harry Lewis has proved to be an inspired piece of business by Bradford City – his superb performances and big personality make him one of the most popular players for years

By Jason McKeown

Harry Lewis was on a journey he didn’t want to take. Another plane ride, seemingly with a dead end. Overlooked and unwanted by his club, Southampton, he was asked to travel 325 miles north to Newcastle, to play in an under-23s game for the Saints.

Lewis knew he was already leaving. There was no future. Not after year upon year stuck in the St Mary’s shadows. A few months earlier, a goalkeeping crisis left Lewis as the only available shot stopper. This was supposed to be his big chance, yet manager Ralph Hasenhutti opted to bring in free agent Willy Caballero on a one-month deal, and play the 40-year-old ahead of Lewis. That told him everything.

“I felt sick, professionally it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with,” Lewis told the City Vent podcast earlier this season, on that Cabellero moment. “I remember thinking ‘maybe football’s not for me’.”

With his deal due to expire in the summer, Lewis was on the market and only attracting the interest of National League clubs. The under-23s match at St James Park seemingly offered little value to a player who was moving on. “I woke up in the morning at 6am and had a flight to Newcastle at 7am. I’m sat there on my own in the backseat thinking ‘what am I doing?’”

But that game changed everything. For sat in the stands watching on was a certain Stephen Gent, soon to be unveiled as Bradford City’s new head of recruitment. And when Gent sat down with Mark Hughes to discuss goalkeeper targets in the close season, Lewis’ name was at the top of his recommendation list. Hughes, who had been Lewis’ manager at Southampton, remembered the rookie goalkeeper. It all fitted perfectly.

An offer was made. A deal was signed. And now Bradford City have their most saleable asset since Nahki Wells.

On Saturday Lewis once again played a pivotal role in a Bradford City victory, producing two important first half saves that laid on the platform for the three points that were sealed in dramatic late fashion. It was the Lewis’ third clean sheet in a row. He’s not been beaten since Barrow’s Josh Kay netted at Valley Parade over two weeks ago. That’s 336 minutes without conceding.

That run has elevated Lewis to joint second place in the most League Two goalkeeper clean sheets this season. He’s achieved 14 shut outs in 33 games – a 42.4% success rate. Only Leyton Orient’s Lawrence Vigouroux (20 clean sheets, a 57.1% success rate) has a better record. And the player Lewis is tied with, Tomas Holy, has played one more game than the City keeper, meaning the Carlisle United stopper’s success rate is a slightly lower 41.2%.

According to footystats.org, Lewis has the third best save percentage in the division. 116 shots faced, 87 of them saved. He’s kept out 75% of on target attempts at his goal. He’s also saved 75% of the penalties he’s come up against.

The following is a record of the most Bradford City goalkeeper league and play off match clean sheets in a season, going back to 2004/05 and the Bantams’ return to the lower two divisions. As it stands, Lewis is on track to have the third-best Bradford City clean sheet success rate in the last 19 years.  

There’s some interesting asides looking over these stats, which are from transfermarkt.co.uk. First of all, how underappreciated is Ben Williams? His record in 2015/16 was outstanding, and yet at the time and even now he doesn’t get much of the credit. Williams was playing in front of a very strong back four for sure, but he definitely played his part. Footnote: he was also in goal for the famous Chelsea game.

The second takeaway is the sad way that Donovan Ricketts dropped off. From a phenomenal 2005/06 – his first year as City’s number one – where he basically kept a clean sheet in half of his games, to appearing right at the bottom of this list over the Jamaican’s subsequent two seasons at the club.

As for Lewis, he has a better record at City this season than the illustrious Jordan Pickford had when keeping goal for the Bantams in League One over 2014/15. He has a better record than the two history maker goalkeepers, Matt Duke and Jon McLaughlin, in 2012/13. He’s doing better than his current goalkeeper coach, Colin Doyle, who had a fantastic record in 2016/17.

If Williams didn’t get all the credit in 2015/16, Lewis has been equally keen to share out the praise for his 2022/23 shut outs. In September he said of the back four in front of him, “The main thing I absolutely love is that they are mad for clean sheets. We’re like a little team and we’ve done this together.”

But it’s not just about clean sheets. After all, how much overall value is a clean sheet one week if you’re letting in four the week after (with apologises to Matt Duke!) The following table shows the top 10 lowest average number of goals City have conceded a game in each season, going back to 2004/05.

As you can see, so far this season City are just (and I mean just) below their best fewest goals conceded record in the last 19 years.

With 13 games left to play, City are on track to concede a mere 40 goals this campaign, and Lewis is on course to achieve 19 clean sheets. The best record since the undervalued Ben Williams, in Phil Parkinson’s final season as Bradford City manager.  

Right now, Lewis is in a two-way fight with Andy Cook for player of the season. It’s probably only right they share the accolade. In midweek Richie Smallwood declared of Cook that “we’re only in this position really because of him”. And whilst you can see what he’s getting at, it’s slightly unfair on the excellent defensive efforts, and particularly of Lewis.

More than his brilliant statistics, it is the personality and character of Lewis that makes him so loved by City fans. From the signature social media videos of Lewis screaming “up the f**king chickens” to the way he interacts and engages with fans. Lewis has donated money to supporter causes like the City Vent’s new flag fundraising. He looks as though he is absolutely loving every minute of being at Bradford City, and performing on the Valley Parade stage.

That desire to play has meant Lewis has pushed himself forward even to play in the Football League Trophy games, when he might have been expected to rest up. In August he told the Telegraph & Argus, “I want to play every single game. There’s the Papa Johns (Trophy) next week and I want to play that. Every league game, I want to be there. I want to come to the end of season having played 50-60 games and been part of a successful year for this football club.”

Lewis cites the advice he was given by Joe Hart – another goalkeeper who began life at Shrewsbury – after he rang the former England stopper for advice in January 2022.

According to Lewis in the City Vent podcast, Hart told him, “Wherever you go, you’ve got to go with 110%. You’ve got to give it everything you’ve got, and you’ve got to immerse yourself in every single part of that club.” This inspired Lewis, “There and then I made a decision that, wherever I was going to go next, it wasn’t just going to be ‘oh I play football for Bradford City’, it was going to be ‘I’m representing Bradford City everywhere I go’.”

Thank goodness, Lewis made it to the North East for that apparently meaningless game a year ago. Thank goodness, City signed him on a two-year deal – with the option of a further year. Because as Lewis’ reputation grows and grows outside the bubble of Bradford City, higher league interest is both inevitable and fully deserved.

The Bantams should be well rewarded financially when the day surely comes that Lewis moves on. But for now, we can appreciate everything the 25-year-old is giving to this football club – and the crucial role he’ll play in the promotion run in.

A journey we all want to take.

Categories: Opinion

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17 replies

  1. At 25, Harry is young in goalkeeping terms and can only get better. He is an ever-present in all competitions, he has a tremendous rapport with the fans, he is highly personable and intelligent (learning Spanish) and he has a a bright and optimistic attitude. We are lucky to have him since he also happens to be an exceptional goalkeeper.

  2. Harry Lewis has been an outstanding signing for city this season. He already looks like the finished article at 25 years of age in what is his first full season.

    Great shot stopper, kicker, cross taker, organiser, distributor and decision maker. Above all else he comes across as a grounded individual and a great guy.

    We have had some very good keepers at city down the years and he is the best I’ve seen since Gary Walsh.

    I hope we can keep him a little longer but it wont be easy given his progress and outstanding abilities. As player of the year goes I just cannot part Lewis from Cook as this stage. Both outstanding players.

  3. Tie him down to a longer contract and add a release clause for a pretty penny. He will leave eventually and we dont want to miss out on a pay day.

  4. Whilst I don’t like goalkeepers as captains , I think Harry being passed the armband after the substitutions is Saturdays game was a well deserved recognition of his qualities.

  5. During the first half on Saturday I was saying we really need to tie Harry down on a long term contract.

    He should be playing at a higher level and I wouldn’t begrudge him that one bit but if and when that time comes it would be nice for city to have a strong hand to get a good deal.

    A longer contract would give Harry more stability (any footballer can get injured at anytime) and could contain a release clause that if a club offered a certain amount then he could go. Might suit both parties. If someone else higher up the league’s rates him as highly as we do in sure paying the money wouldn’t be a problem.

    In an ideal world in a few years time Harry would be playing in the championship for us. Not only is Harry an excellent keeper but he’s a great ambassador for the club.

  6. Am absolutely superb goalkeeper and a tremendous young lad. Met him briefly after the home defeat to Stockport and couldn’t have been more likeable. Absolute shoe-in for player of the year if it wasn’t for the fella up top having the season of his career. What a difference it makes to your league position having a keeper like him. Mid table mediocrity without him.

  7. Speaking of great City keepers, the bravest I ever saw for us was Mitchell Downie. His bravery lives on in the video of him playing for the Avenue in the early 1950s in a cup tie against Leeds. He dives at the opponent’s feet and gets kicked in the head. I remember something similar happening when aged 40 and in his final season he was injured in a nothing match, a pre-season friendly (replaced by junior keeper Stanley Day), when without hesitation putting his head where many would not want to put their feet. Keepers had to do this routinely until Pat Jennings began the fashion of sliding out feet first and legitimised what at first was considered by some to be foul play. Downie was not finished even after we let him go. He went on to make league appearances for Doncaster before playing non-league football.

  8. Ever since i watched his introductory video when he joined city, i thought there was something about him. Talked well, enthusiastic and eager. He has get everything you want in a keeper. Hope he stays as long as possible. Promotion, and kicking on again will hopefully keep him happy. By far the best signing all year. Top bloke as well. If and when it comes to contract negotiations….just give him what he wants !

  9. Lewis has been a superb signing and it’s great that the ‘glass half full’ element, who thought we were taking a massive risk due to his lack of game time, have been proven wrong.

    We got, what I thought we’d get – a massively hungry player, desperate to make up for lost time.

    Great signing and well done to Gent and Hughes

  10. He’s gained so much by being a sound guy-something everyone can learn from!

    It’s amazing how few players actually go properly over to the fans after a positive result. Why the rush to get off?
    Managers should insist players take that extra 2-5 mins to stay on the pitch and get a picture/sign/give a shirt – it really helps built a relationship with the fans.

    • I agree, he’s a great keeper who is brilliant at his job but because he makes so much effort with the fans who pay his wages that also goes a long way too. It’s hard not to like someone like Harry and like you say football players could learn a lot from him.

      He just seems a genuinely nice bloke with his feet on the ground, I wish more players were like him.

  11. Wonderful player, you always hear how great goalkeepers can go long periods in games not having anything to do then pull out a world class save.

    Lewis falls into this category and has earned us so many additional points. But credit to the defence for limiting what gets through too.

    Despite our hero at the top end of the pitch trying his best to run out in front it’s still a 2 horse race for Player of the Season and will be decided over these next 13 (potentially +3) games.

  12. Harry Lewis is a very good keeper at our level and no doubt, being a professional, he will have ambitions to play at a higher level. We as a club hope to be promoted this season which will go a long way but partially to helping Harry to achieve his ambition. Yes, we need to give him a pay rise and extend his contract to say, 3 years beyond the start of the 23/24 season and insert a sell clause too, but hopefully, we can kick on during his contract and see championship football back a Vally Parade during that time.

  13. Best way to keep Harry and Andy ? Back to back promotions ! Harry could definitely play in the Championship and Andy could fire us there at the end of next season, having secured top 3 in May this time around !

  14. Totally agree with his all round contribution to BCFC- he is on track, over and above the stats, to go down in the City Hall of Fame as a much Loved Favourite Son.

    I think the hopeful suggestions above about tying him in for longer contract to his current one, are, I suspect, unrealistic. It sounds like we have a secure contract for the next 2 years beyond this (assuming the extension option is City’s and he doesn’t have a release clause of some kind). He’s going to be attracting attention right now. I fear our only chance of keeping him next season will be if we get promoted. He would surely get a No1 spot at a decent L1 club; i wonder if he’d be tempted by a No2 slot at a championship club. I’d speculate that given his Southampton experience, probably not, my guess is his priority will be playing regular first team football.

    On other matters, interesting as you say that Ben Williams tops the performance stats. I have fond memories, and recollect his interview with BBC Sports Gary Richardson after the Chelsea game. He asked : “Tell me, Ben, what went through your mind when between the sticks at kick off?” His honest reply “Just to keep them honest, and avoid a complete hiding”. You did that in spades, Ben.

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