Skip to main content

"You've no idea what you're doing, Parkinson!" FFT at Bradford, this time last year...

Just over a year ago, FourFourTwo sent a shivering Nick Moore to a miserable Bradford, to sit with fans who understandably couldn't see the cup run comingâ¦

âÂÂItâÂÂs time we admitted that there is more to life than money. ItâÂÂs time that we focused not just on GDP, but GWB: general well-beingâ â David Cameron

If the Prime MinisterâÂÂs boffins ever did manage to create a contraption that measured misery, the meter readings in The Bradford Arms pub â situated a goal-kickâÂÂs distance away from Valley Parade â would be off the scale on this bleak December Saturday afternoon two weekends before Christmas.

Not only are the conditions outside ideal for a good moan â Yorkshire, an almost-visible recession, three degrees above freezing and a sheen of irritating rain â but the two sets of football supporters huddled inside have been dealt world-class levels of woe over the last decade. In the green corner thereâÂÂs Plymouth Argyle, heavyweights of hardship, currently lying rock bottom of the Football League. Wearing claret and amber are the followers of Bradford City â sitting 90th in the table, the lowermost position of any club to have played in the Premier League.

Their sides clash at 3pm, but inside the boozer, the play-off for EnglandâÂÂs most put-upon fans is already well under way. ItâÂÂs a perfect storm of grimness, a terminal velocity of tragic tales, a nirvana of nark.


Valley Parade on the day of the Plymouth match

âÂÂI just canâÂÂt believe how low weâÂÂve sunk,â says Victoria Partridge, a Bantam from nearby Shipley, over a lager. âÂÂI think weâÂÂve got a good chance of getting relegated. And if that happens, the club will probably go bankrupt. I canâÂÂt get my head round it. It seems only yesterday we were playing Man United or Arsenal every week.âÂÂ

âÂÂAt least they played at the top level,â counters Brian James, one of the many Pilgrims whoâÂÂve travelled for nearly seven hours to attend. âÂÂWeâÂÂve spent the last couple of years wondering whether our club is going to exist the next week.âÂÂ

âÂÂI wouldnâÂÂt want to ever go back into the Premier, though,â chips in City fan Chris Young. âÂÂThe top league ruined us. We were the perfect example of whatâÂÂs gone wrong with football, and the country â living on credit and living beyond your means.â ItâÂÂs such a neat précis of the worldâÂÂs current problems, itâÂÂs a wonder that BBC economic vulture Robert Peston isnâÂÂt lurking outside with a pie graph.

If thereâÂÂs one short-term glimmer of hope, however, itâÂÂs that both sides suspect todayâÂÂs rivals are worse than them. âÂÂTheyâÂÂre terrible, while under Phil Parkinson, thereâÂÂs some evidence we might be turning a corner,â reckons City fan Michael Long.

âÂÂWerâÂÂve got a new owner and some new players at last, so I think weâÂÂll win today. Bradford really arenâÂÂt very good,â adds Plymouth native Thomas Smart.

âÂÂChrist,â mutters a nearby Bantam as he swigs at his Guinness. âÂÂPity from a Plymouth fan. Things must be bad.âÂÂ

âÂÂWe thought the good times were here to stayâÂÂ
Blame Gunnar Halle and David Wetherall. At 3.12pm on May 14 2000, the Norwegian defender swung in a cross towards the big Yorkshireman. His target met it beautifully, heading unstoppably home past Liverpool goalkeeper Sander Westerveld. Shortly before half-time, Halle performed further heroics, brilliantly clearing what seemed like a certain Michael Owen goal. On the whistle, Valley Parade erupted: the Bantams had beaten the Reds 1-0. Thousands of supporters galloped across the pitch.


May 14 2000: Wetherall keeps Bradford up

The result meant Bradford had avoided relegation during their first season in the Premier League â a fate some had thought inevitable. Sky TV pundit Rodney Marsh had considered relegation so certain that he agreed to shave his head should they stay up, a promise he fulfilled at the first home fixture of the next season. Newly-bald on the pitch, Marsh quipped: âÂÂI was responsible for you avoiding relegation. IâÂÂm not going to mention you any more, so youâÂÂre on your own now.âÂÂ

They were heady times. âÂÂI donâÂÂt think I can remember ever being as happy as a supporter as I was that day against Liverpool,â remembers Bill Rowe. âÂÂThe atmosphere in the pubs afterwards was incredible â a proper party. We thought the good times were here to stay.âÂÂ

But that glorious afternoon, it transpired, would trigger a Sliding Doors-style series of catastrophes that would ultimately be CityâÂÂs undoing. Emboldened by his clubâÂÂs survival and backed by local investors the Rhodes family, Geoffrey Richmond, club chairman since 1994, decided to splash the cash.

Italian trickster Benito Carbone, Romanian defender Dan Petrescu and unpredictable genius Stan Collymore were snapped up. Carbone was paid around ã40,000 a week. BradfordâÂÂs wage bill was suddenly gargantuan. âÂÂYou wouldneâÂÂt find many fans disagreeing with what he did, mind,â says Rowe. âÂÂRichmond was a hero back then. It was our first spell in the top flight since the 1920s. Everyone got carried away.âÂÂ

"We'd chased the dream. And we failed"
Finances were also poured into the stadium. Back in 1996, after 30,000 Yorkshiremen had headed to Wembley to witness Chris KamaraâÂÂs Bradford vanquish Notts County in the 1996 Division Two Play Off Final, Richmond concluded that Valley Parade wasnâÂÂt large enough to house his ambitions.

A new 4,500 capacity stand was built on Midland Road. It seemed canny: gates increased fourfold thanks to new boss Paul JewellâÂÂs on-pitch excellence, and the Scouse gaffer won BradfordâÂÂs first promotion to the top flight in eight decades in 1999 via the runners-up slot.


Richmond and Kamara at Wembley

And when youâÂÂre got posh types like Manchester United over to visit every other weekend, further home improvements were deemed necessary. The board decided 18,000 fans wasnâÂÂt enough for the Premier League, and nipped down to the bank to borrow around ã7m. The Kop End was converted into a 7,500-seater showpiece; an upgraded main stand was added a year later, taking capacity to over 25,000.

Richmond had bet the ranch on success. But despite â or perhaps because of â their big signings, the Bantams didnâÂÂt gel. Jewell walked out of the club after disagreements with Richmond, and Bradford played poorly throughout 2000-01.

The directors began prodding the panic button: JewellâÂÂs successor, Chris Hutchings, was sacked after a dozen games. Jim Jefferies lasted under a year. Bradford were relegated. Richmond went on to describe the spending spree as âÂÂsix weeks of madness. I will never, ever forgive myself for spending the money we did. I hold my hands up.âÂÂ

Bradford had overstretched in haste; a decade of repenting at leisure lay ahead. CityâÂÂs first season in the second tier saw them finish 15th, and with debts of around ã13m, the club was forced into administration. Richmond departed. âÂÂI cleared my desk,â he says. âÂÂAs I drove away, I was in tears. It had been my life, and IâÂÂve never been back since.âÂÂ

Keeping up with the Premier League Joneses had killed them. âÂÂI think a lot of the players that we signed looked at Bradford as one last big payday,â says supporter Mark Scully, who blogs at www.wearegoingup.co.uk. âÂÂWeâÂÂd chased the dream, and weâÂÂd failed. If you donâÂÂt bounce back straight away, itâÂÂs very difficult to recover. The parachute payments dried up, and ITV Digital going bust dealt us another blow.âÂÂ

A second spell in administration and further relegation came in 2002; a year later the ground was sold to Gordon Gibb, a former Bradford director who owns Malton-based theme park Flamingo Land. The managerial merry-go-round revolved fast than ever; Bradford went down to the bottom division for the first time in 26 years in 2006-07.


Flamingo Land: Where people rapidly plummet

The chopping and changing continues. Stuart McCall left in February 2010. Since then, Peter Taylor and Peter Jackson (as well as two caretaker bosses) have failed to stop the rot. âÂÂI thought weâÂÂd hit rock bottom last season,â says Scully, âÂÂbut it looks like I was wrong.

"WeâÂÂve been very unsettled this year and used over 30 players. Jackson left a few games into the season and then current boss Phil Parkinson came in with new players. ThereâÂÂs been no time to settle â itâÂÂs as if weâÂÂve had two pre-seasons. He needs time, but that is limited. We pay rent of around ã700,000 a year to Gibb, and if we go down, that will become unsustainable. These next few games are huge.âÂÂ

It may only be mid-December, but the match with Plymouth is already being billed as a six-pointer.

âÂÂWe could all be in the soup kitchen soonâÂÂ
To Valley Parade â now known as the Coral Windows Stadium â for the game. ThereâÂÂs a schizophrenic feel to the ground, reflecting its past: the mighty Main Stand and Kop loom large over the pitch as imposingly as that of any top-flight club, while the tinpot TL Dallas end has a more lower-league feel. PlymouthâÂÂs impressive travelling support mass in a corner of the medium-sized Midland Road stand on the other side. We settle among the Bradford mob, enjoying the vistas of the city (picturesque hills studded with houses and mosques) as they belt out âÂÂHi, Ho, Braford CityâÂÂ.   

The atmosphere is fairly muted apart from the visiting lunaticsâ relentless âÂÂgreen armyâ mantra, and two things immediately become apparent. Firstly, weâÂÂre about to witness a dreadful game of association football: both sides, perhaps understandably given their league positions, are playing with fear.

Secondly, weâÂÂre sitting in front of a gaggle of Geoffrey Boycott-alike Yorkshire miserablists who make Private Frazer from DadâÂÂs Army seem like Graham Norton. A couple of fellas in front of us give them a run for their money (âÂÂthis pitch is bloody uselessâÂÂ), and then thereâÂÂs the moustachioed Eeyore next to us (âÂÂgarbage, this. Bloody garbageâÂÂ), the sweary loudmouth a few rows back... basically, theyâÂÂre everywhere.


The locals soak up the atmosphere

Bradford seem more likely to break the deadlock, swinging in the odd decent cross, but there are scant clear chances. The grumbling â in classic style â is addressed directly to manager Phil Parkinson, as if he is listening intently to their advice.

âÂÂItâÂÂs not good enough, Parkinson.âÂÂ

âÂÂReid shouldnâÂÂt be playing, Parkinson.âÂÂ

âÂÂThey can barely kick the ball, Parkinson.âÂÂ

âÂÂParkinson! TheyâÂÂre not helping each other, Parkinson!âÂÂ


Bradford boss Phil Parkinson emerges for more fun

ItâÂÂs a first period mainly notable for its impressive amount of injury time, and even FourFourTwoâÂÂs photographer isnâÂÂt immune from the sage advice. As he heads towards the goalmouth Bradford will attack in the second half, a fan mutters: âÂÂI wouldnâÂÂt bother going up that end mate, there wonâÂÂt be any f***ing goals.âÂÂ

One of the Boycotts returns to his seat with a half-time Bovril and an announcement: âÂÂIâÂÂve done my good deed for the year, fellas. I gave the Salvation Army woman a pound. Good thinking. You never know when weâÂÂre going to need them.âÂÂ

âÂÂWe could all be in the soup kitchen sooner than we know,â replies another.

âÂÂI love soup.âÂÂ

âÂÂMe too. Great stuff.âÂÂ

ItâÂÂs perhaps the first positive statement weâÂÂve heard all day. But 13 minutes into the second half, Pilgrims captain Simon Walton converts a corner: itâÂÂs 1-0 Plymouth. The Parkinson complaints line starts to ring off its hook.

âÂÂHorses**t, Parkinson!âÂÂ

âÂÂYouâÂÂve no idea what youâÂÂre doing, Parkinson.âÂÂ

âÂÂAre we even watching the same game, Parkinson? Change it!âÂÂ

âÂÂThe basics, Parkinson, you canâÂÂt even teach them the basics!âÂÂ


Plymouth score, just to make the locals happierâ¦

Bantams skipper Flynn also receives a hearty tongue-lashing thanks to his habit of cleaning the football before throw-ins. âÂÂStop wasting time with your stupid little towel, Flynn, you knobhead,â rasps a surprisingly middle-aged lady. âÂÂCaptain my arse, Flynn,â adds Eeyore.

But perhaps Parkinson is listening. CityâÂÂs game sharpens considerably after the goal, while Argyle seem to lose composure. They waste time: groomed goalie Jake Cole takes off his gloves to meddle with his boots before a kick. âÂÂWhy donâÂÂt you do your hair and scratch your b*ll*cks while youâÂÂre at it, mate? ThereâÂÂs no rush,â hollers a fuming Boycott.

But on 90 minutes, City make their pressure pay. Kyel Reid â oft-derided throughout the game â whips in a classy cross, blasted home by big forward James Hanson. The Coral Windows stadium produces a shriek loud enough to shatter one the sponsorsâ beautifully-designed, expertly-installed and fully-guaranteed conservatories. With five minutes of added time, can Bradford actually win it?


Wallop!

The answer is no. The jitters seize both sides (who both look like relegation fodder) nobody can string two passes together, and the game ends amid a chorus of boos and a symphony of tutting. At the TL Dallas end, the nastier element of the home support congregate by the tunnel to hurl abuse at their departing heroes. A couple of players respond with choice obscenities of their own.

nâÂÂWell, that was dire,â concludes a Boycott. âÂÂMerry Christmas, see you all on Boxing Day.âÂÂ

âÂÂMy five foot one mum can jump higher than himâÂÂ
The fun is over. FourFourTwo trudges towards BradfordâÂÂs Forster Square with both sets of fans. At the station, the final few minutes of their bad-time play-off continues. âÂÂA point is worth naff all to either of us,â says Plymouth follower Peter Wynne. âÂÂI knew weâÂÂd throw it away.âÂÂ

âÂÂThat papered over the cracks for us,â adds âÂÂBig DaveâÂÂ, an appropriately hefty Bradfordian. âÂÂHanson is crap, and he knew very little about that goal. He was lucky. HeâÂÂs the least scary six foot four man in the world. My five foot one mum can jump higher than him. And they strut round like theyâÂÂre something special. We need to sell 20 of that lot.âÂÂ

So, given a time machine and the ability to distract David Wetherall, would they go back to May 14 2000 and send his fate-changing header over the bar? âÂÂI probably should say yes, but youâÂÂre a football fan for the good times, arenâÂÂt you? The game is about those moments of glory. It ruined us, but I wouldnâÂÂt change it.âÂÂ

So why come back at all, when itâÂÂs all so miserable? Dave ponders for a moment, then delivers the same answer FourFourTwo has received at homes of footballing ineptitude from Stockport to Doncaster over the last decade. âÂÂThere were over 10,000 people there today, which is bloody impressive, and I reckon most of them were avoiding shopping. That was bad, but it canâÂÂt be as bad as the town centre two weeks before Christmas.âÂÂ

And that â as well as the excellence of soup as a foodstuff â is surely one thing we can all agree on.

Bradford v Plymouth pictures courtesy of Gary Prior