They used to be big. Well, fairly big. Bigger than anyone else in this division (even Bury!). But since those heady days of the mid-90s, a pinch of ITV Digital collapse, a sprinkling of Benito Carbone’s £40k-per-week wages and a dash of overzealous stadium development have resulted in what you see today; a big fish (battered) in a small, garlic pond.
City were founded in 1903, when Football Association bosses noted a fairly large, rugby-shaped chasm in West Yorkshire. Up until then, rugby league had been the dominant code in the county, with Bradford a particular hotbed of the game. The FA, spotting the opportunity to expand into RL’s territory, immediately granted the newly-formed Bradford City a berth into the Football League, displacing Doncaster Rovers, (presumably because their kits are awful).
The new club fared well, initially, culminating in an FA Cup Final victory over Newcastle United in 1910/11, the year before the Titanic sank. Indeed, the 1910s-20s were a good period for most Yorkshire teams; Sheffield’s United and Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Barnsley all won the Cup in those years. After the war, however, things didn’t go quite so well for God’s Own County (and Bradford City in particular) footballing-wise.
The Bantams slipped dahn t’league following World War I, and they bobbled around in Divisions Three and Four for about 40 years. Relegation immediately followed each promotion until ’84/85 when they finally regained their spot in the Football League’s second division. As they were celebrating their victory on the final day of the season, however, Valley Parade caught fire and 56 supporters (including two from Lincoln City) lost their lives. The Valley Parade Disaster remains one of the most tragic incidents in football history, in an era when fan safety was a concern placed somewhat below profit maximisation and corner cutting. City have never forgotten the tragedy, but football did, as the Hillsborough disaster just four years later so catastrophically told.
Through these dark times, Bradford City played decent football away from Valley Parade for nearly two years. They survived relegation in their first season and reached the playoffs semis the year after in 87/88. However, it was to be their highest finish for several years. They fell back into the third tier in 88/89 and remained there for three seasons until a certain Mr. Geoffrey Richmond became chairman.
Premier League football came to Bradford for two consecutive seasons between 1999 and 2001. Unfortunately, the money being spent by Richmond to sustain this wasn’t being recouped elsewhere, and that meant bad news for the clubs accountants. ITV Digital’s implosion had something to do with it, but on the most part it was simply rampant over-spending which sealed Bradford’s fate. Following their relegation in ’01, Bradford City went into administration and began a free-fall which they still have not recovered from. They’ve been in Division Four for three seasons now.
Bratfud marginally improved on their first season in the bottom tier by finishing 9th instead of 10th, on one of the biggest budgets in the league. You might expect Bradford to fire their manager then, given this underachievement, but no, they actually begged Stuart McCall to stay. It’s as if they don’t want to leave.
They started well last year, beating us 2-0 at their ground and heading the league for a while, with the old-but-wiley Peter Thorne scoring plenty. However, they stumbled, and the 3-0 drubbing they got at Spotland was indicative of their post-Christmas slump. Bradford were the league’s fakers; occasionally elegant but underneath lay a seedy underbelly of consistent fouling and bad discipline. That’s what you get when you’ve got Stuart McCall in charge, no matter how funny he is at falling over.
Probably much of the same. They’ve slashed their budget for this season, but it still remains higher than most clubs, and they could afford to entice Simon Ramsden to West Yorkshire by offering higher wages than us (or were they the same?). Either way, it remains to be seen how McCall will fare on a lower budget; he still has yet to impress most lower league followers (to put it mildly), although remains infinitely popular in Bradford itself, which is what matters.
Bradford the place?
American travel writer Bill Bryson once said, “Bradford’s role in life is to make every place else in the world look better in comparison, and it does this very well.”, which is perhaps a little harsh, but understandable from an outside perspective such as his. Bradford indeed is a drab looking place; home to a poor university, a deteriorating Media Museum and a myriad of chain pubs called things like Varsity, or Tokyo. But, at least it has these things; spruce Bradford up with the redevelopment of the city’s old mills and Victorian architecture and it might not be so bad. Probably.
Playwright J. B. Priestley is probably the most famous Bradfordian in history, and he has a statue outside the media museum that looks like a fat Menzies Campbell. Other notable residents include TV reality show “winners” Gareth Gates and Kimberley Walsh. The late, great Richard Whiteley also hails from a suburb of Bradford, which instantly makes me like the place more than I do now (which isn’t a lot).
Bradford City in a word?
Written by Matt Boothman on 6th July 2009.