By Ian Hemmens
After the last day kick in the teeth down at Peterborough, the following season (1980-81) saw the inevitable hangover as City slumped to 14th place. Campbell still managed 19 goals in the league, no one else coming close to his total. There was a changing of the guard with several home-grown players emerging, amongst them Peter Jackson, Barry Gallagher & Mark Ellis.
The obvious & enormous highlight of the season came early on, August 27th to be precise when City , the good times were back but were drawn to meet Liverpool in the 2nd round of the League Cup. A Two legged affair in those days , City were at Valley Parade first against the current League Champions. A crowd of over 16000 turned up for the midweek game to watch City show wonderful spirit & fight against their superior opponents. The fairy tale was completed when Bobby Campbell followed up a Terry Dolan free kick to slot home the winner sending Valley Parade into raptures of ecstasy. The club was back on the front pages after their epic effort. It couldn’t last though as over at Anfield for the 2nd leg, natural order was restored as City were beaten 4-0. It gave us hope though that there was something about the team, a spirit & some potential to be tapped into.
In March, Manager George Mulhall was tempted away to Bolton & Bryan Edwards once again guided the club until in May it was announced that City had appointed former England International Roy MacFarland as Player-Manager in May. The Centre half was a class act as a player. He immediately brought new ideas & a new professionalism to the team. The promising youngsters were given their head & responded magnificently. After starting with a draw & a loss, City hit gold with 9 consecutive wins, Barry Gallagher scoring in 6 consecutive games, to give the team a huge foundation to build on. Only using 18 players all season & only losing 7 games, The benefit of a settled side was clear to see. 2 major signings were made on deadline day to help the team over the line, old favourite Joe Cooke returning & playmaker Mike Lester arriving. With Campbell, McNiven & Gallagher all managing double figures , it was a wonderful season with City chasing Sheffield United all the way for the title itself, the Blades finally winning it but a 2nd place finish was a wonderful achievement. McFarland & his team were feted by all for their exciting football.
The good times were back but as always with City fans, an inbuilt cynicism had all wondering how long it would last. The new season started with McFarland stating he would only play if needed , showing faith in Jackson & Cooke, 3 signings were made in Eric McManus, Terry Gray & Ian Mellor. The first game at VP against Reading is worth noting for the appearance of a small ginger haired kid playing full back in for the injured Ces Podd. His name was Stuart McCall & he would go on the greater things!
The club established itself in the higher division without any problems & another Cup bonus was on the horizon with a 2 legged tie against Manchester United coming up when the inevitable bomshell dropped. November saw Roy MaFarland tender his resignation & with almost vulgar speed be appointed Manager at his old club Derby County. Taking assistant Mick Jones with him , the guts were ripped out of the club at a crucial time. City battled to a 0-0 draw with United but all the talk was about McFarland. From being love, worshipped almost , his actions made him public enemy number one in Bradford. He didn’t help himself coming back & taking advantage of the clubs precarious finances by almost stealing star forward Bobby Campbell. It was later proven that Derby had illegally approached McFarland & tapped him up. The lure of Derby had proved too much & City were compensated for their actions. To this day many have never forgiven McFarlands ‘treachery’ and indeed, at the time it was devastating for the club but with the benefit of hindsight, the tenure of both George Mulhall & Roy McFarland brought a new thinking & professionalism to a club seemingly stuck in a rut of lower league football for too long. Credit should rightly be given to them for their spells as Manager, we saw true progress, the development of players who would serve the club well in the forthcoming future and an attitude that ‘ambition’ wasn’t a dirty word .
The ‘new era ‘ began again when another former England International took on the mantle of player-manager, Trevor Cherry arriving from neighbours Leeds United along with his colleague, Welsh International Terry Yorath as his assistant. “ players with huge experience. They managed to steady the ship & finish midtable after the previous turmoil. Cherry also made another notable free transfer signing in youngster Greg Abbott from Coventry whose versatility in the coming years would make him an integral part of the team. If we thought all would be ok after the ‘McFarland problem’ were were all unready for what happened next.
Although the season started with Cherry pruning the staff & bringing in 2 more untried youngsters in Chris Withe & Gary Haire along with the experienced John Hawley as a replacement for Campbell, the club struggled badly and were deep in the bottom four. News had broken in June of the clubs financial problems & Chairman Bob Martin finally bowed to the inevitable and had no choice but to bring in the receivers. It was touch & go for a few months as costs were cut to the bone and negotiations took place before the company was dissolved & a new company formed as Bradford City (1983) was formed under the new stewardship of Stafford Heginbotham & Jack Tordoff. The whole business had still to be sanctioned by the Football League as the City held its breath. Would Bradford become the first City to lose 2 Football League clubs?
Happily for all, acceptance was forthcoming which lifted the storm clouds off the field but with funds provided by the new ownership, the return of Bobby Campbell from Derby after a few unhappy months there proved seminal for the club. Wallowing close to possible relegation, a surprise 4-1 away at Brentford late in November began a club record run of 10 consecutive wins as Cherry’s young team suddenly hit gold. A run of form took them flying up the table to a 7th place finish only ending when the team ran out of steam after the travails of the early season problems. It held promise for what was to come though. Cherry & Yorath were building a team of young & hungry players, our own products, players discarded by other clubs & a core of 3 or 4 hardened, more experienced professionals to help guide the others, a wonderful Combination.
1984 saw the season open with 2 major additions to the team in Centre back Dave Evans to partner Peter Jackson at the back and a young winger again released by Coventry, the Scot John Hendrie. Yet another Coventry player would be signed during the season in midfield playmaker Martin Singleton. Local products Tony Clegg, Don Goodman & Mark Fletcher until a career ending injury, also showed they had what it takes as the season progressed. City started strongly, staying amonst the leading pack until on November 28th , they played main rivals Millwall at Valley Parade and a 3-1 victory saw them hit the top of the table for the 1st time where they stayed until the end of the season winning their first Championship trophy since the heady days of 1928-29. It also marked a return to the 2nd level of football for the first time since 1936.
On a personal level, the team is my favourite ever in my time of watching City, their brand of exciting attacking play, the combination of youth & experience an absolute joy to watch. I know we have had great sides at a higher level but after the fear of administration & relegation, the building of a new team by Cherry all came together. Fans & team were as one as we willed the club forward. I offer no apologies for naming the core of the side here, I didn’t miss a single game in that momentous season. Here we go, Eric McManus, Greg Abbott, Chris Withe, Stuart McCall Peter Jackson, Dave Evans, John Hendrie, John Hawley, Bobby Campbell, Martin Singleton & Mark Ellis with honourable mentions to Tony Clegg, Don Goodman & Player Manager Cherry himself. Others made fleeting appearances and all played their part in a glorious season.
We all know what happened next on the occasion of the team receiving the Trophy and its been mentioned elsewhere in the detail it deserves. Needless to say its effects scarred the club & the population of Bradford & indeed further afield for years to come. From such a ‘high’ , the tragedy was the lowest point in the clubs history and its importance should never be forgotten or diminished out of respect for those ‘lost’ or affected in any way by that days events.
As the investigations & enquiries into the tragedy began, the club resigned itself to playing as ‘wanderers’ for the foreseeable future as decisions were to be made about the future of Valley Parade. Neighbours Huddersfield Town & Leeds United kindly offered their grounds as venues for City to kick off the new season. A few tweaks were made to the playing staff notably keeper Peter Litchfield, experienced International Arthur Graham, Gavin Oliver & local product Ian Ormondroyd. Followed by a huge following & on a flood of emotion the club took the field at Carlisle’s Brunton Park and achieved a 2-0 courtesy of a double by who else but Bobby Campbell.
Odsal Stadium, the unforgiving huge bowl in South Bradford, the home of Bradford Northern, was also adapted for City to play there, personally, I suspect this was part of a plan for City to move there permanently but in all honesty, it was never & could never be a football stadium. It was bleak, barren & open to the elements and I can’t remember many kind words said about the place. City, despite the problems managed a 13th place finish after a season of uncertainty & huge emotion.
Amongst fans the future was indisputable, a vast majority wanting a return to a rebuilt Valley Parade. Not only was it our spiritual home in our spiritual district of Manningham, it was now a lasting shrine & memory to those who went to the Lincoln game the season before & never made it home.
Emotions ran high as plans were finally announced for the rebuilding of the stadium but City still had to negotiate the forthcoming season at Odsal before the stadium was finished. Finally in the December of 1986 the newly built Valley Parade was opened, a modern safety-first stadium. A game against an England XI was the centre of the celebrations in the January. Everything was great again, but, this is Bradford City & only 10 days after the return, news came out that Manager Trevor Cherry had been sacked. As far as shocks go, this was up there and demonstrations against the decision were planned as the much loved Manager left. There was no logic behind it but looking back, I personally think the whole experience as City manager may have taken its toll on him emotionally. The problem of administration, the high of the Championship win to the low of the tragedy. The years of being homeless whilst maintaining progress had maybe drained him more than he realised. In all the years since, right up to his sad death in 2020 he maintained his dignity & I can’t recall him saying a bad word against his time at City. A wonderful man & great manager for us, personally speaking again, my favourite ever.
September had seen the departure of bona-fide club legend Bobby Campbell to Wigan Athletic. Leaving behind his legacy as the clubs all-time record goalscorer his boots would be hard to fill as City’s form wobbled. Newcomers included the hard working Mark Leonard & the wonderfully talented Leigh Palin in midfield.
The club announced Cherry’s assistant, former player Terry Dolan would take over . He refreshed the side with 2 key signings in Scottish Full Back Brian Mitchell from Aberdeen & wily campaigner Ronnie Futcher arrived to lead the line & score vital goals as City managed to pull away from the lower reaches of the table. Although the Board would probably say they were justified, the departure of Trevor Cherry could have been handled better after all he had done during his tenure. Terry Dolan had shown his mettle quickly though also bringing through young full back Karl Goddard who slotted into the side like he’d been there for years. Big money had been made by the The sale of Skipper Peter Jackson to 1st Division Newcastle United & for the forthcoming 1987-88 season it was invested in 2 major signings, keeper Paul Tomlinson & centre back Lee Sinnott.
There was interest from all how new manager Dolan’s team would develop and if he could maintain the progress made since 1983. 1 defeat in the first 13 games saw City up with the leaders for a place in the promised land, even with the occasional blip, the team was usually in the top 2. The club added midfield enforcer Micky Kennedy but a gradual tiredness and the small size of the squad saw City lose to Ipswich on the final day of the season to fall into the play-offs. A victory over Middlesbrough 2-1 wasn’t to prove enough as Trevor Senior’s away goal proved vital for the Teesiders who proved at home it was a game too far for the City squad.
Now permanently known as the ‘Nearly Season’, the Board were accused of skimping on the squad when depth & reinforcements were needed to cover for the inevitable injuries & suspensions that come with a long hard season. Inevitably it meant the clubs star players, Stuart McCall & John Hendrie were allowed to leave to further their careers deservedly so after the service they had given the club but it seemed like the end of an era with an uncertain future. The money made from the departure of the 2 stars wasn’t spent wisely with replacements Andy Thomas & Ian Banks not lasting the following season. Striker Paul Jewell was more of a success but the inevitable hangover occurred after such a near miss & a position of 14th wasn’t any sort of success or reward for the fans. Terry Dolan was dismissed in January 1989 & a familiar face returned in the guise of Terry Yorath. A small bright spot was the goalscoring form of Irishman Jimmy Quinn after his late signing. Sadly Yorath did last the full season of 1989-90 as City tumbled back into the 3rd level of football after 5 years away. When relegation was confirmed, Yorath was gone & his replacement was dour Scot John Docherty who had wonderful success with Millwall. After the wonderful football seen by the fans during the Cherry & Dolan years, fans were in for a shock. Docherty was known for his direct style & boy was it direct.
He showed no interest in explaining his philosophies to the exasperated fans as they began to vote with their feet. He flooded the team with former Millwall reserves & despite an 8th place finish it was poor fare for the fans. High points would be the signing of Centre forward Sean McCarthy, The skill & graft of Veteran Robbie James, the wand of a left foot of Brian Tinnion & the emergence of local youngster Lee Duxbury. Docherty’s cold attitude turned fans against him from the start and it was no surprise that by November 1991 he was gone after failing to progress. December brought another rookie Manager to the club but a highly experienced player in Republic of Ireland star Frank Stapleton. He took time to settle and alter the mindset of the club after the Docherty debacle & although he had his hands tied slightly by finances there was a large turnover of players . At this time the highlight was a very successful Youth side who won several trophies & several of the lads made it into the 1st team squad & made fleeting appearances but with the exception of Lee Duxbury, none of them were able to establish themselves long term in the team. Stapleton was an intelligent, thinking manager who managed to get City up to 7th in the table.
Off the field the regime of Heginbotham & Tordoff had been taken over by Travel agent Dave Simpson. Without the finances to progress the club, a bizarre transfer of owners took place when Scarborough Chairman Geoffrey Richmond became new City owner & Simpson went in the other direction. Richmond had made his money speculating in business & had sold the Ronson lighter company for big money. He is ambition was as big as his ego & he soon found the principled Stapleton wasn’t to his taste. Another new era was about to begin & this will be addressed in Part 3 of City Memories where the roller coaster ride of being a City fan took us to untold heights and all the back down to the depths but boy, it was a hell of a ride whilst it lasted.
Ian Hemmens [@IHemmens] has written a number of other features about Bradford sport history which can be found from the dropdown menu above
BCAFC reminiscences Part One by Ian Hemmens