The bumper Bradford City 2022/23 season review: a fun ride, but a missed opportunity that could haunt the club

By Jason McKeown

History may prove to be an unforgiving judge of Bradford City’s 2022/23 season. At a vital moment, where the stars seemed to align, the club’s failure to achieve promotion could give cause for lasting regret. The recriminations potentially outliving the raw pain we’re feeling in the aftermath of the play off defeat to Carlisle United.

Just consider how long we’ve struggled to get over the 2017 play off final loss to Millwall at Wembley stadium. The rapid collapse which followed that heartbreaking day has left us all clinging on bitterly to memories of Tony McMahon shooting wide late on when he should have bloody squared it. There is nothing about the current Bradford City set up to suggest a similarly abrupt regression is now imminent, but the scale of the mountain we’re trying to climb is only getting steeper. And that could mean the stumbles of this season prove costly in the long run.

Whilst everyone at Valley Parade has spent the last few weeks living in our own bubble of fretting over promotion, the Football League announced a new TV deal that could herald quite the shake-up. A five-year agreement with Sky Sports will kick in next summer, offering the very real threat of widening the gulf between the Championship and the bottom two leagues.

Although everyone gets more money, the share of the overall pie is decreasing for clubs in Leagues One and Two. Currently, the revenue deal is split up as 70% going to the Championship, 18% League One and 12% League Two. From the start of the 2024/25 campaign, it will go to 80% Championship, 12% League One, and just 8% League Two.

We might feel richer from the higher amount of overall income, and more live TV exposure, but the clubs in the second tier – where City aspire to be – will become even better off. Increasing the gap between the moderately rich and the most definitely poor.

It would have been a long shot even if City had gone up, but the defeat at Brunton Park means the Bantams will definitely kick off the next TV deal amongst the 48 League One and Two clubs locked out of benefiting from 80% of the greater financial rewards coming down the tracks. We can complain it’s unjust, but rewind 20 years and the ITV Digital fiasco, and you’ll find the distorted weighting of TV money in the EFL was largely caused by Geoffrey Richmond’s Bradford City campaigning for the second tier to keep more of the revenue.

Back then, a greater share of the TV pot was in our interests. In hindsight, we are the turkeys who voted for Christmas.

The point is that each year it’s getting harder to get to where we ultimately want to be. And that looks even more the case once the next TV deal kicks in. We like to think of the Championship as our natural home, but, well, it’s now 19 years and counting since we played at such a level. For almost two decades, we’ve been consigned to the lower divisions. However much we complain about the damp in the corner and the faded colour of the tattered wallpaper, this has become our actual home.

And that’s not the only reason to fear that 2022/23 is a missed opportunity.

Coming into League Two next season are Wrexham. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they’re back. Apparently, they’ve got a couple of Hollywood owners? Yeah, I missed this news too. You’d think such a story would have generated a bit of media coverage!

Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney take Wrexham back into the Football League with their Disney+ exposure making them a global phenomenon. It appears some big names are likely to join their bandwagon over the summer, with money seemingly no object. They’ll spend pre-season touring America for god’s sake. This is not going to be a normal rival for City to compete against.

Wrexham are joined by a reborn and financially well-backed Notts County, and though three of the teams coming down from League One – Morecambe, Accrington and Forest Green – are hardly to be feared, the other relegated side, MK Dons, will surely have a good chance of bouncing straight back up.

Then there’s Salford and the Class of 92 money (turn off your TV when Sky inevitably screen Wrexham vs Salford – blurgh!) A resurgent Gillingham – another club that now have considerable American financial backing. The loser of the Stockport vs Carlisle play off final will be a threat. Mansfield under Nigel Clough can’t be written off. Michael Flynn at Swindon could prove a great fit. Crewe ended the season well.

When Bradford City got promoted to the Premier League in 1998/99, part of the genius behind the success was Richmond correctly identifying the second tier was considerably weak that year, giving them a window of opportunity to invest in promotion, before the league inevitably got tougher the season after. That’s exactly what happened, and City made hay by climbing out of a division that the season after would house the financial power of Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers, Charlton, Man City and Fulham.

Flash forward to the here and now, and the worry for City is they’ve missed out on taking a similar opportunity to escape a league before the competition becomes a lot fiercer. League Two is going to be harder next season. City have got to make sure they successfully rise with the tide.

It’s not going to be easy. The potential for failure seems higher. And that’s why what happened at Brunton Park in the play off semi final may haunt the club for some time.


If history ultimately does condemn the 2022/23 season as one of failure for Bradford City, then we really do need to get it on record that it was a fun time too.

And it really was. We all know the backdrop going into it. Five years of failure and disappointment. Broken promises. False dawns. Let downs. And whilst there was genuine optimism last summer about what Mark Hughes could do, we’ve all been bruised enough in the past to discount the high possibility of more disappointment. It’s what we do.  

But that wasn’t the case this season. Sure, we started slowly, and performances habitually carried a nagging worry that they weren’t wholly convincing. The home form was distinctly average. The away record was a lot better, although post-Christmas not as good as we liked to believe. As it became abundantly clear that this was not, in any way, a vintage League Two with anything to fear, there was frustration City could not climb into the automatic promotion spots. But we were generally there or thereabouts. A regular fixture in the top seven.  

It all helped to trigger a long overdue feelgood factor at the club. Attendances were remarkably impressive, home and away. The crowd began to develop deeper, positive relationships with the players. There was a connection, giving City real momentum. Unlike the year before, there was no slow puncture of promotion hopes fading as the season went along. We stayed in the hunt.

It felt good to be a Bradford City fan again. All the weary cynicism of the last few years seemed to fade. At times, especially during Covid, it almost felt like there was a minority of fans wanting us to fail so they could be proven right with their criticisms. But such voices became more difficult to hear in the midst of a sea of more positive-minded, enthusiastic support.

Perhaps the biggest off the field stars were the guys from the City Vent. What started out as some informal Twitter spaces last season grew into a movement of meaningful, constructive support, ably backed by the lads and lasses who make up the North West Kollektive on a matchday. The City Vent crew probably won’t thank me for calling them ‘influencers’, but they genuinely had a meaningful impact on the club’s fanbase this season. From the magnificent Legends flag that was debuted on the opening day of the season against Doncaster, to the revealing podcast interviews with the likes of Harry Lewis.

Whether directly or indirectly, the City Vent was a big part of the Bradford City supporter experience in 2022/23. Okay, they’ve not had a great week on social media – emotions are running high, it happens. But in general all season, the City Vent have had a laudable ability to take the centre ground – and in doing so bring almost everyone with them. Using the timeless analogy of school bus politics, the City Vent lads were sat halfway down the bus, leading the singing, getting the bad kids at the back to stop giving everyone the V signs and join in, whilst at the same time encouraging us dorks at the front to take part too. 


On the field, things started slowly. City won only three of their first eight matches, and had costly late defeats on the road at Barrow and Colchester. By the time Crewe came to Valley Parade in late August, easily nullifying City’s sporadic attacking threat to earn a 0-0 draw, the very real prospect of another doomed season grew large.

Then it all got going. Four straight wins in the league and Pizza Cup. There was some luck, not least somehow defeating Walsall at home when the Saddlers dominated 99% of the contest. At Tranmere on a Tuesday night, City took the lead, were pegged back and seriously wobbled, but Andy Cook’s late winner got us back on track. The superb atmosphere in the away end that night demonstrated the rising belief.

City went and destroyed Steve Evans’ Stevenage at home the Saturday after, making a real statement. It was good to finally end Evans’ hoodoo over the club – as he always seems to get a result when managing against the Bantams – just as it was a relief to finally put bogey teams Harrogate and Salford to the sword with hard-fought away wins.

The soft underbelly was still there though. In early October, they were well-beaten at home to a Stockport side who had started the season slowly. They battered Swindon at Valley Parade 10 days later, only to draw 1-1 after conceding a last minute penalty. In the game after, lowly Crawley came and earned a deserved 1-1 draw, with City supporter frustration growing over the slow passing it out from the back.

That draw was also part of a first half of the season Valley Parade record of just five wins from 15 games (or three wins from 10 in the league). The crowds were there, the expectations huge, but once again having the best support in the league appeared more hindrance than positive. Thankfully, it got better from there – City won seven of their remaining 14 games at home.

And in the meantime, their away record was exceptional pre-Christmas. At one point they won six out of seven in the league, with a Tuesday night November win at promotion rivals Mansfield standing out. It all pushed City right onto the cusp of the automatics, midway through that month – a top three assault felt tangible as we prepared to play third-placed Northampton at home.

Alas, a comprehensive defeat to the Cobblers – and then at leaders Leyton Orient – dampened spirits. With several games called off due to the weather, it was a stop-start period that culminated with a Boxing Day loss at Carlisle. Three defeats in a row left City down in ninth – 10 points off the top three. Something had to change.


Bradford City’s season wasn’t just defined by one defeat at Brunton Park. The earlier Carlisle away loss, over the festive period, was the cue for Hughes to tweak personnel and tactics, as City went from the 4-2-3-1 to a diamond. “It’s the old adage that if you keep on doing the same thing, you’re going to get the same results,” he concluded at the time.

It worked well, with back to back home wins over Harrogate and Salford rekindling the season. From that point on, City were notably more direct. They still played decent football, but learned to mix it up.

Hughes also opted to rest Cook for what proved to be a six-week period, noting his top scorer’s drop off the year before, and taking steps to reduce the risk of a similar burnout. With changes going on during the January window at the same time, it didn’t necessarily look clever for a period. City went over a month without winning a game, as draws became a regular feature.

But when Cook was eventually restored, Hughes was vindicated. A glut of Cook goals followed – the player recharged and full of confidence – and results began to improve. Excellent away wins at Stevenage, Doncaster and Gillingham, coupled with entertaining late victories at home to Colchester and Grimsby.

Holes in City’s promotion efforts were easy to find. The truly awful January home defeat to bottom of the table, and out of form, Rochdale (who were winless in seven before they faced City that night, and would then go nine games without a win following their Valley Parade success). The performance against Rochdale was bad, but not as wretched as the February 1-0 home loss to Barrow – where City went overboard with playing it out from the back.

Hartlepool – another struggling side – would find joy at Valley Parade, earning a 2-2 draw. There were also some underwhelming draws on the road at Walsall, Newport and Crawley.

It all kept City just off the top three pacesetters, but not out of reach. Over a 20-game period, the Bantams lost only twice. But crucially they drew eight of those matches. They just needed a bit more going forward.


There was an afternoon where it all got real – and that afternoon was Easter Monday. City smashed Sutton United with one of their best performances of the season. Many of the Bantams’ promotion rivals dropped points that same afternoon. With six games to go, City were two points off the automatics with a game in hand. It was both exciting and terrifying – this is going to be some ending.

When in their next game, at doomed Rochdale, City won comfortably, their position looked even better. They had their tails up, Northampton and Stevenage were showing signs of wobbling. Keep up the pressure. The big prize is within touching distance.

Alas, City won just one of their remaining five games. They lost to a mid-table, out of form Swindon. Slipped up at home to a Gillingham side with nothing to play for, after conceding an equaliser seven minutes into injury time. Hopes were revived with an amazing late victory at Northampton, but then they went to Crewe – another club in midtable – and were beaten 3-2. It left them scraping over the line to finish in the play offs, with a final day draw at home to champions Leyton Orient sealing their spot – the Os clearly having switched off.

To finish in the play offs was an achievement, but automatic promotion felt like it was there for the taking. The play off themselves proved a torturous affair. Carlisle deservedly won over the two legged semi finals, with the pressure once again proving too much for this group of players.

In my Sutton match report I wrote, “Utter delirium could lie ahead, or complete heartbreak. There’s probably no middle ground.” That proved the case, but not for the reasons we wanted. And so there was no happy ending to a season that was generally happy in tone.

Instead, we rue the missed opportunity.


This was a season where City had a deep reliance on two players. Cook netted 31 goals in total, to win the League Two golden boot. What a privilege it was to watch him this season. He led the line superbly, took the chances when they came his way, and linked up really well with others. Cook was not only our runaway top scorer, his eight assists were the highest of any City player. City scored 61 goals in League Two, Cook either scored or set up 36 of them. Incredible.

There was also the fantastic Harry Lewis, who won the hearts of supporters for his off the pitch camaraderie and obvious affection for the Bantams (or, to use his words, “up the f**king chickens”). Lewis has spent years in the wilderness of the Southampton sidelines, dreaming of one day being a number one – and my goodness did he make the most of the opportunity that came his way.

Lewis was superb in both his shot stopping and distribution. His transfer value has shot up. Ultimately we need to enjoy him while we can, before he inevitably moves up the leagues.

It was patchy elsewhere in the squad, though special mentions go to Brad Halliday, who had a solid year at right back. Romoney Crichlow was a revelation, and Sam Stubbs an excellent mid-season signing. Tyreik Wright was superb before he sadly departed to Plymouth. Scott Banks performed admirably. Wherever the Crystal Palace man goes next, we will watch on with interest.

Outside those decent performers, Matty Platt was largely assured. After he got suspended and lost his place on Good Friday, City kept just two clean sheets in their final nine games. They definitely looked less solid without the former Barrow man. Liam Ridehalgh had injury problems but settled in well from February onwards. Prior to that, Matty Foulds had done well at left back – the decision to sign Tolaji Bola and let Foulds leave on loan remains highly questionable.

Timi Odusina and Luke Hendrie had difficult seasons on the sidelines, whilst the glimpses of mid-season signing Ciaran Kelly were promising.

In midfield there were problems. Richie Smallwood came with a big reputation that he struggled to live up to. There was a notable improvement after Christmas, and towards the end he produced some exceptional displays. Has Smallwood provided value for money overall? Probably not. We’ll certainly be looking for more from him next season.

Alex Gilliead was better, especially from January onwards. We know he is never going to score or assist much. But playing as deep lying midfielder, with the remit to run with the ball, definitely suited him. And he always gave everything. Adam Clayton was decent for a spell, but not good enough when he came back in at the end.

Ryan East deserved more game time and always looked accomplished. Yann Songo’o was a useful sub until he left for Walsall on loan. It was sad to see the industrious Levi Sutton go to Harrogate. He needed first team football and wasn’t going to be guaranteed it at Valley Parade, but there are certain end of season games where introducing Sutton from the bench would have really helped us.

Jamie Walker flattered to deceive. Perhaps next year, hopefully with no injury problems, he will do better – but he presents a familiar dilemma of whether to build a team around him and play to his strengths, or whether doing so ultimately leaves you too limited overall. See Cooke, Callum. When City have played 4-3-3, Walker has looked out of place. The lesson for Hughes must surely be to use the Scot a little more sparingly next time. Build a system, then pick the right players. No more shoehorning people please.

Harry Chapman was another player who promised much but struggled to deliver. Yet he was going really well until his season-ending injury at Swindon – one that really hurt City. Abo Eisa, Emmanuel Osadebe, Thierry Nevers, Dara Costelleo and Dion Pereira will not look back on this season with much fondness.

Up front, City struggled to find any goalscorer outside of Cook. Matty Derbyshire was decent when he arrived in January, if slightly failing to significantly nudge up the overall dial. Vadaine Oliver will be so frustrated by how events panned out – that three-year deal he signed last summer must surely weigh heavily right now. We’ll see what Hughes does with him over the summer. Jake Young scored some great goals and is another player at a crossroads moment. Lee Angol was okay but not exactly missed when he left. The less said about Kian Harratt the better.

There is undoubtedly the makings of a good team. Hughes need not spend the summer knocking everything down and starting again. But he is clearly too reliant on certain players, who have either suffered injury problems or failed to offer enough consistency.

A yardstick measure of progress for the club has to be that certain current players, who are such a fixture in the team this season, find it much tougher to get into the starting line up next term.


Off the field there was progress but also mis-steps. The loyalty points scheme for away tickets has been controversial at times. The new badge attempts were distracting and ultimately futile. The announcement of a summer friendly in Spain – initially only available if you signed up to an expensive-looking package holiday – didn’t have great optics. The ticket problems for the play offs game left a sour taste in the mouths of Midland Road season ticket holders. Ryan Sparks has said very little in public all season.

But the club is clearly getting better in its commercial outlook. It’s helping to put on a really good matchday atmosphere that’s making Valley Parade the place to be again. The more considered recruitment efforts have been welcomed, even if it’s not quite delivered a good enough squad.

A sign that we’re in better times is that Stefan Rupp’s name has barely been mentioned by fans, when leading up to February 2022 there were growing questions about the City owner. Rupp has been able to attend end of season games with warm wishes. Even his biggest critics must surely thank him for not selling us to Wagmi United, given the 2022/23 circus at Crawley.

It all puts City in a much stronger position going into this summer. And what the club needs to do is stay united, support the manager in strengthening, and continue to engage with supporters.

Because however disappointing the season ended, there is progress for all to see. This is a club moving in the right direction at last. And more than anything, it just needs to keep going.

The actions this summer will help to dictate the path forwards. From Rupp, Sparks, Hughes, Stephen Gent, Glyn Hodges, the players and staff – it’s in their hands to ensure that we don’t, in fact, look back on 2022/23 as a missed opportunity. And that ultimately we can retrospectively reflect on this season as proving a springboard for the club’s true revival.

Categories: 2022/23 season review, Opinion


10 replies

  1. Jason’s splendid articles are becoming ever more frequent and comprehensive. This one takes us step by step through last season and gives a nod in the direction of the next. One thing that life has taught me is that things seldom turn out quite so well as one hopes or as badly as one fears. Last season which began so full of promise is finished for us though not for unfancied Carlisle or Stockport who will learn their fate this afternoon. Who knows which of the teams tipped for success, Wrexham and Notts County etc., will emerge as front runners next season. Who knows what role Sky will play – or if indeed they themselves will suffer a downturn because of the straitened economic circumstances of many of their viewers. If it’s going to be harder for us, pity the poor teams in leagues below us, who get no tv coverage at all and have to make do without bloated squads and a battalion of backroom analysts, admen and medics. I shall watch this afternoon’s match with interest, searching for clues about what these two teams and their managers have got that we haven’t.

  2. Its time now to look forward and move on ,build on the steady progress made on and off the field last season .We now need to go up gear to better on where we ended up last season ,because of the financial strength of the a number of clubs in league two next season, we will have to find the means to increase the player’s budget next season .How the club do that if the owner can not or will not do it ,could mean our ambition this season is top seven again .Could the solution be out side investment there no is end of American money floating about at the moment .In my view with out extra investment we will find it hard to compete for the top three spots in league two.

  3. Great piece again Jason , well done . As a newbie to woap i’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of it. Whilst it’s easy to point fingers and bemoan the defeat to Carlisle but it’s always been the case this season that we’ve never really been confident looking forward to any game . Hopeful yes, confident , not really. Are we in a better place , most definately. With further additions i believe we will be a force next season. The support has been magnificent , second to none . Looking forward to next season already.

  4. Very enjoyable read and great summary.

    I’ll still continue to disagree with the assessment of our excellent captain though!

    Also fair play to the City Vent lads, while their podcasts aren’t to my taste they’ve done an exceptional job this year with their match day input.

  5. We look forward with optimism as fans always do, irrespective of which club or form, or history.
    When the new season kicks off, we all start afresh.
    Who is to say that Wrexham will succeed?
    It’s a big step from the Nationsl League to even Lesgue 2.
    The American owners may soon get bored if the PL becomes hazy on the horizon.
    Talking of the PL League there seems to be a widespread opinion that its become boring. The same 6 winning everything.
    Very predictable.
    Even our ‘friends’ over at Beeston are talking of their delight at exiting it. No doubt they would be equally delighted if they stay up today.
    Not keen on the ‘City Vent’ thing. The use of implied swear words is not conducive to introducing a 6 year old into the delights of supporting City snd we are NOT chickens!!!

    • The use of the word chicken us indeed incorrect but its perhaps better than the more accurate alternative.

      ‘Up the cocks’ doesn’t have the same ring to it….!

    • If you are worried about swear words I’d suggest a football match isn’t the thing for you. Of course like anything in life ‘swearing’ has to be taken in context. And if your kids, grandkids etc are brought up in the right manner they’ll understand adults use swearwords at football matches.

      • I think uou will find years of support with four generations of support in our family qualifies me. I am trying to get my youngest Grandson interred and ‘up.the &%$$&ing chickens’ is neither accurate
        ( We are the bantams).or even accurate.

  6. We need to learn from the possession style success of Leyton Orient’s home performances and record, and combine this with the mentality adopted by Northampton Town. In the summer of 2022 Leyton Orient had finished 13th and City 14th. Leyton Orient then won 15 at home and won the title. In that same summer Northampton Town were on their knees. Beaten to third on the last day and then losing both play off semi finals. They have now gone up as well one year later. The club need to look at how they both achieved these reactions and replicate. It can be done. Actually, it has to be done.

  7. Great article Jason – thank you for all the effort put in! Was howling at the turkeys who voted for Christmas comment! Never heard that one before but will be stealing – cheers! Enjoy your summer!

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