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Letters from Wiltshire #03
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 12th Sep 2020 12:47

So here we are, the drôle de guerre is over, the real battle is about to begin. Can we take any positives from the opening exchanges so far? I think so, the style is good, albeit Noah is right that the work in the final third needs considerable improvement if we are going to capitalise on our tippy-tappy triangles in midfield. But we’ve played some decent sides, far better sides than we should expect to face in League 2, and we haven’t been beaten out of sight yet, so let’s see what today brings against a side I think will be there or thereabouts come May next year.

[b]Bradford City v Ipswich Town

Saturday 7th May 1988

Second Division (Tier 2)

Attendance 16,017[/b]

Yep, you’ve read that right, another variant on the new look, with Letters from Wiltshire #03 going right back to 1988, when I was still living in West Yorkshire. Technically, this would qualify as one of the Matches from Yesteryear, in that I was there, but if I had a programme, I certainly don’t now. Given today’s opponents, I’ve chosen this match for obvious reasons, and there is even more synergy – this was the last match of the 1987/88 domestic season for Bradford City, and today is their (and our) first match of the 2020/21 domestic season.

To put this into context, and apologies to those who have heard this before, I moved to Bradford in 1981 to study at the University. I’d already been exiled from Essex for a year, roaming the lands as an itinerant archaeologist, and during those travels met many who had already passed through the corridors of Bradford University, and who raved about not only the institution, but the place as well – and they weren’t wrong, I loved both with equal measure.

Even with my full university grant, I was poor as the proverbial church mouse for the four years of study and couldn’t drive either (not that I could have afforded a car even if I could). In Bradford, and West Yorkshire in general, that didn’t really matter, because public transport was so ridiculously cheap. Even once I’d graduated, a week-long travel pass for [b][u]all[/b][/u] public transport (buses and trains combined) was just over a fiver! But still, that left few opportunities to see the U’s play, which were predominantly restricted to my relatively infrequent trips home to see family – my long-suffering mother would often laughingly enquire whether the U’s were at home when I’d ring and say I’d be turning up – they usually were 😊.

Anyway, all that meant that whilst I was obviously aware of the existence of Bradford City, we remained strangers to each other. I didn’t even see the U’s play at Valley Parade on the one occasion they did during my time in West Yorkshire – it was September 1981, and I had literally only just arrived to start my degree. I guess that really started to change on 11th May 1985…

I wasn’t in Bradford that day, I’d travelled home to see my mum for the weekend, not in time unfortunately to see our end of season match on the Friday night, thrashing Crewe 4-1 to finish 7th in the Fourth Division. We watched appalled as the footage unfolded on television that horrible Saturday afternoon, and I returned to a completely transformed Bradford the following day. In times of great adversity, great acts of kindness and courage usually follow, and the Bradford fire was no exception – numerous accounts of personal bravery and selflessness emerged in the days, weeks and months to follow, with eventually over 50 people receiving awards and commendations for their bravery. But the impact was more widespread than that, it galvanised the city as one community, breaking down many of the ethnic and religious divides that existed, and the university population was no exception – even the far-out trendy left-wing intelligentsia were caught up in doing what they could to help and support the club, the victims and the families of the victims. I lost count of the number of fund-raising events I took part in during that time.

Anyhow, Valley Parade was being rebuilt, so temporarily City tried out playing at Leeds Road and (whisper it) even Elland Road, but it didn’t sit well, so in September 1985 they moved into Odsal Top – a vast soulless bowl of a place it is said. They stayed there until December 1986, before moving back into the rebuilt Valley Parade. Not surprisingly, given the circumstances, Bradford were struggling in the Second Division, and so dispensing with the services of Trevor Cherry in January 1987, the board appointed Terry Dolan as manager – initially as caretaker. This was an inspired move in my opinion – Dolan was a local lad, had played for both Park Avenue and City, and it really seemed to capture the feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ community spirit that was still very strong. That was my first trip to Valley Parade, to see Dolan’s debut in charge against high-flying Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup. It was an incredible night, the passion from everyone both on and off the pitch clear to see, and Oldham were brushed aside in a resounding 5-1 victory for the Bantams – Dolan’s appointment was made permanent shortly after.

And that was that – although the U’s remained my first love, for the next few years if I couldn’t get to see them play, I’d find myself walking down Manningham Lane to watch City at Valley Parade more often than not. Dolan turned their 1986/87 season around and steered away from the relegation battle they were in towards a comfortable 10th place finish. For 1987/88 he went even better, galvanising an amazing array of talent, probably one of the best club sides I’d had the pleasure of watching, in a concerted push for promotion to the First Division.

…and there we are up to speed, Valley Parade on the last day of that season, with Bradford City still in the hunt for automatic promotion to the First Division.

To set the scene, after 43 matches, the top of the table was this:

Millwall were already confirmed as champions, and whilst Blackburn could be caught by Crystal Palace, they couldn’t realistically move up the table because of their inferior goal difference. That left Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Bradford City fighting it out for second place. Middlesbrough were in pole position and faced a home match against mid-table Leicester City. Aston Villa had a slightly trickier prospect travelling to (also) mid-table Swindon. Ipswich, on the other hand, hadn’t had too bad a season, and had at times threaten to challenge for the play-offs. Bradford City’s goal difference meant that if either Middlesbrough or Villa won, there was no chance of second place. An unenviable position which we know so well (PNE at home for example), realising whatever you do, it might not make a jot of difference to the outcome.

Normally I’d list the line-up, but in truth I have no idea from that far back exactly who played for Bradford City that day, and remarkably I can’t seem to find it listed anywhere on the internet either! What I do know is the squad that Terry Dolan assembled included some remarkable players, such as Paul Tomlinson in goal, Dave Evans, Brian Mitchell, Gavin Oliver and Lee Sinnott in defence, Greg Abbott, John Hendrie and Stuart McCall (today’s manager) across the midfield, and the likes of Ron Futcher, Mark Leonard and Ian ‘Stick’ Ormondroyd banging them in up front. I’d be amazed if that wasn’t very close to the actual line-up (though I have a nagging feeling someone, perhaps Hendrie, was injured that day?).

If I can’t remember the Bradford City line-up, I’ve no chance of remembering who played for Ipswich, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that they did have some very familiar names in their squad – Ian Atkins, Dalian Atkinson, Jason Dozzell, David Gregory, Tony Humes (seriously!), Chris Kiwomya, Micky Stockwell, and of course John ‘porn-tache’ Wark.

I can’t find an account of the match either, so I am reliant on only the very haziest of memories for the game itself. It was a sell-out, naturally, and me and a mate had been fortunate enough to get a ticket each, only in the Holywell Ash Lane end of the ground (I’d normally stand up the back of the massive Spion Kop). Ipswich only had a small ticket allocation, probably less than a thousand I’d say, and I think they were over to the right in the same stand?

It was one of those incredibly tense games that we’ve all been through, which never seem to work out well for those burdened with great expectations. I can’t remember the precise sequence of goals, but I think it was one of those they score one, we pull one back scenarios. In the days before smartphones, the only source for feedback from the other matches was via those with radios, and relatively speaking it wasn’t good – both Middlesbrough and Villa were struggling – perfect technically for Bradford City, but not if they didn’t beat Ipswich.

The full-time score was [b]Bradford City 2 Ipswich Town 3[/b], with Abbott and McCall scoring the goals for the Bantams (so they were definitely on the pitch at least). Worse still, elsewhere it finished Swindon 0 Aston Villa 0 and Middlesbrough 1 Leicester City 2 – in any other world perfect results, but only if City had beaten Ipswich. Aston Villa nicked second place with their goalless draw, Blackburn Rovers thrashed Millwall 4-1 to finish level on points with Bradford City, with Middlesbrough one point ahead in the top play-off spot. The other team in the play-offs would be Chelsea, who finished fourth bottom of the First Division.

I won’t dwell on the play-offs, suffice to say Middlesbrough knocked out Bradford City in the semi-final (losing 2-1 at Valley Parade – I was back on the Kop for that one, before winning 2-0 after extra-time in the second leg), and then went on beat Chelsea in the two-legged final, consigning them to the Second Division.

This was the beginning of the end for that glorious Bradford City side – inevitably both John Hendrie and Stuart McCall left in the summer, and the club gradually started to slip back from that temporary high as time went on. They finished 14th in 1988/89, with Terry Dolan sacked in the January, and were relegated the following season, more or less at the same time I eventually left Bradford for the South West.

Up the U’s

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