Reinventing Bradford City – the 12 games


1) Leeds United (h), September 1986

The significance: After the Valley Parade fire disaster of 1985, Bradford City were left scrambling for somewhere to play home matches whilst their stadium was rebuilt. This included holding games at Elland Road (Leeds United) and Leeds Road (Huddersfield), before taking residence at Odsal – home of Bradford Bulls.

City’s existence at Odsal was a largely miserable one. The vast open stadium was less suited to football, and the lack of a roof left supporters exposed to a harsh winter. The council seemed keen to make the arrangement a permanent one by redeveloping Odal for both clubs, but the desire of City fans to return home was overwhelming, and Valley Parade was eventually rebuilt.

This home game with Leeds United was one of the final matches played at Odsal. It should have been a happy occasion as the Bantams earned an impressive 2-0 victory, but trouble in the Leeds end marred the afternoon. This included the tipping over of a chip van that started a fire, leading to thousands of City fans exiting Odsal in panic.

The quote: “I was born 200 yards away from Elland Road. Leeds was my team and I had followed them home and away. But that day took a lot away of that love away from me; it took a lot of my feelings for Leeds away – because of what they had done. It was only a few people who caused the trouble, but even so. In years to come I had four opportunities to join Leeds, but out of loyalty I just couldn’t do it.” Stuart McCall

 2) Ipswich Town (h), May 1988

The significance: In 1987/88, Bradford City were on the verge of returning to the top flight of English football for the first time since the 1920s. They’d enjoyed a sparkling season of football, as Terry Dolan’s team – which included celebrated names like Stuart McCall and John Hendrie – out-performed a division featuring some big names.

Alas, just as City closed in on promotion, a fall out occurred between Dolan and the board over team strengthening, with Dolan strongly believing he needed two more players to provide cover to his small squad. The board did not sanction the funds, and right at the end suspensions and injuries took their toll.

On the final day of the season City needed to beat Ipswich and hope other results went their way. Yet a 3-2 loss to a mid-table Suffolk team consigned them to the play offs, which they would lose. McCall and Hendrie would leave the club. It was a truly heart-breaking end to such a wonderful season, and a huge missed opportunity.

The quote: “Everybody talks about McCall and Hendrie, but we had a great team spirit which I have always felt is important. We very rarely changed our system, and we always had good balance…If you talk to most supporters, who watched that team for those two years, they will tell you that they really enjoyed it, because we played good football.” Terry Dolan

3) Swansea City (h), November 1991

The significance: Within two years of almost reaching the top flight, City were relegated to the third tier on a whimper. John Docherty was handed the job of reviving the club’s fortunes – and would go down in history as one of the most disliked managers City have ever had.

Docherty employed long-ball tactics and recruited heavily from his former club Millwall. City fans detested the football and lack of results, infamously chanting “We want football” during games. Docherty made little effort to win over the crowd, and after tredding water in the third division for 18 months he was finally sacked.

The Swansea game was City’s first at Valley Parade since his sacking. Swansea were bottom of the table and had not so much as scored a single goal away from home all season. The result? Bradford City 4 Swansea City 6 (six!)

The quote: “His strengths, I can’t put my finger on them. I didn’t see it really! There were a lot of factors, such as the style of play. It just wasn’t right. I don’t know who brought him in and why, other than that he was a success at Millwall.” Lee Duxbury

4) Blackpool (a), May 1996

The significance: In January 1994, Bradford City welcomed a new owner following an unusual swap deal, and he had a big ambition – to get the Bantams into the Premier League. The new chairman was named Geoffrey Richmond and he would go onto have a huge influence on the club’s modern fortunes and identity.

The first challenge was to get out of the third tier, something that Richmond came nowhere close to doing until he appointed Chris Kamara as manager. Kamara masterminded a late surge to the play offs, but after a painful first leg defeat at home to Blackpool it looked like it had all been in vain.

The second leg at Bloomfield Road was one of the most sensational nights in the club’s history. They recovered from 2-0 down by winning 3-0 on the night, thus booking a first ever appearance at Wembley stadium where the club would be promoted. To those who were there, Blackpool is still considered the best game they have ever seen.

The quote: “Blackpool as a club, interestingly managed by Sam Allardyce, were guilty of over confidence in that they famously advertised trips to Wembley for the final even before they completed the semi-final second leg. Chris Kamara made this the basis of his team talk and the rest, as they say, is history.” David Markham

5) Wolves (a), May 1999

The significance: Geoffrey Richmond’s masterplan came together in glorious fashion over the 1998/99 season, as the second tier Bantams bought well, and rookie manager Paul Jewell built a team that produced scintillating football. They recovered from an awful start – where people were demanding Jewell’s sacking – to push for automatic promotion.

Stuart McCall was the captain after returning to the club following a 10-year gap. Other star names like Peter Beagrie, Lee Mills, Robbie Blake and Jamie Lawrence became club legends over the course of an amazing season.

It all came down to the final game at Wolves. City had to win and, despite falling behind, did so in memorable fashion. After a 77-year absence, Bradford City were back in the top flight.

The quote: “To be part of that team was incredible. The way we tackled, and we played really good football too. I think when we went onto the field we would be prepared to battle, and would earn the right to play. What we also had in that team were really strong characters and a lot of honesty.” Jamie Lawrence

6) Chelsea (h), August 2000Premiership days 1

The significance: After bravely avoiding relegation from the Premier League during the club’s first campaign back in the top flight, Geoffrey Richmond made a series of decisions that would have had catastrophic consequences for the club. He fell out with Paul Jewell, and committed huge sums of money to bring in players on massive wages.

Yet for one glorious night, it looked an inspired plan. City defeated Chelsea 2-0 after a performance packed full of quality – arguably the best in the club’s history. Pulling the strings was Benito Carbone on £40,000 a week.

It all went wrong very quickly, and the bumpy fall down the leagues was beginning. But for one night…

The quote: “As a crowd we almost took the victory for granted a bit. It was like we felt we belonged here, which is a good attitude to have at the time. But unfortunately it was all built on sand. We didn’t have anything below it, we didn’t have the foundations.” Mark Douglas

7) Wimbledon (h), April 2004

The significance: After the Bantams came crashing out of the Premier League, they faced the trauma of going into administration in 2002 and nearly folded. They somehow survived, but the troubles were far from over.

In 2003/04, in what was City’s centenary season, they endured a dismal relegation from the second tier and fell back into administration. The debts looked unmanageable and the way forwards unclear. At least until supporters were given a tangible target to raise money to keep the club going.

A 3-2 defeat to bottom club Wimbledon confirmed relegation – it was the most feeble manner possible. But ultimately the club was saved with the help of its own supporters. At least we still had a club to support.

The quote: “When you have a monumental problem and you keep chipping away at it, it gets easier. But it does take up all your focus, and you do sometimes think ‘there’s other things I could be doing’.” Julian Rhodes

8) Macclesfield Town (h), August 2007

The significance: After three years tredding water in League One, City were relegated again and there seemed no end to the misery. But an innovative season ticket approach would reinvigorate the Bantams and transform its support base – with the help of a club legend.

Stuart McCall returned for a third spell after agreeing to be the new manager. It captured the imagination of the Bradford public and lead to a huge surge in crowds. From that point on, the club has been very well supported even if success was not forthcoming for a few more years.

The Macclesfield game was the first of McCall’s rein in charge. The 1-1 draw set the tone for a difficult period for the club’s most popular player. There was no happy ending, but not for the want of trying.

The quote: “At the last game of the season there were banners of support asking me to stay. I didn’t want to walk away and have people thinking I’d spent the money and just left. I felt it was the coward’s way out. So although I knew next year was going to be tough I stayed on.” Stuart McCall

9) Stockport County (h), February 2011

The significance: Stuart McCall might not have been a successful Bradford City manager, but his successor fared even worse. Peter Taylor had a great track record, but just couldn’t get the club going. They began the 2010/11 as promotion favourites but were way off the pace.

Taylor agreed to step down, with the unusual scenario of completing one final game in the job – a nerve-jangler, relegation six-pointer with Stockport. Lose, and the Bantams faced the very real – and very scary – prospect of relegation to non-league.

What followed was one of the most dramatic 90 minutes of football in the club’s modern history. Five goals and two red cards told only half the story. Eventually City won 3-2, but it was a torrid afternoon as the club diced with the prospect of relegation.

The quote: “He came into the dressing room and thanked everyone for their efforts. He was straight, he thought players could have done better and told them. But I wouldn’t expect anything else from him. He was always straight with you.” Michael Flynn


10) Aston Villa (a), January 2013

The significance: For years and years City were a poor cup team – but that changed in a big, big way in 2012/13. They went on the most sensational of cup runs that included knocking out five higher league teams and becoming the first ever fourth tier side to reach a major cup final.

The League Cup miracle had already included victories over Premier League Wigan and Arsenal, before the first leg of a semi final with Aston Villa saw another incredible Bantams win. They travelled to Villa Park with a 3-1 advantage and a huge chance of making it to Wembley.

The second leg was one of the greatest nights the club has ever known, as a James Hanson header helped them to see out an aggregate victory. 6,500 City fans were there on a freezing Birmingham evening, to witness their team complete one of the most astonishing feats in English football history.

The quote: “I think it’s the best goal of my career. I’ve been fortunate over the last few years to play in some really important games and score goals in them, but I think that that one was the one.” James Hanson

11) Northampton (Wembley), May 2013

The significance: Three months after losing the League Cup Final to Swansea, City were back at Wembley for the play off final. They had looked unlikely to finish in the top seven, before Phil Parkinson inspired them to a late play off push.

After beating Burton in the semi finals in thrilling circumstances, Northampton stood in City’s way. They blew their opponents away with a superb first half performance, taking a 3-0 lead that they never looked like surrendering.

Thus a first promotion in 14 years was sealed, and a dark chapter in the club’s history was finally brought to a close.

The quote: “We used the Swansea experience to get us promoted, simple as that. The lads were just so calm, cool and collected on the day. And I was looking at the Northampton players and their staff and they were almost looking starry-eyed at the Wembley surroundings. We’d been there and we’d done it. We were in a good place.” Phil Parkinson

12) Chelsea (a), January 2015

The significance: At 2-0 down to the best team in the country, no one gave Bradford City a chance. Yet they came back in the most remarkable fashion, to achieve what is now regarded as the biggest upset in the history of the FA Cup.

City never gave up, and pulled the tie back to 2-2. Jose Mourinho tried to get his team – that had cost more than £200 million to assemble – going again, but astonishing goals from Andy Halliday and Mark Yeates completed the most memorable of comebacks. City and their 6,000 fans celebrated their Stamford Bridge win long into the night.

The quote: “As soon as he walked in, they all stopped and looked at him. Jose went around every single player and shook their hands, and he said ‘you deserved it. Bobby Robson taught me how to lose. He said that for every losing side, there is always a winning side, so well done and enjoy it’.” James Mason

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