Bradford City 1996

Near oblivion might have followed, but David Hobbs loved Bradford’s roller-coaster ride to the Premiership and recalls the tense afternoon at Hull that kick-started it

“So, hypothetically speaking, when are the play-offs?” The question drew a few snorts and guffaws as we trudged towards Turf Moor for another tense encounter with our close neighbours Burrnley. I can’t remember if anyone offered a serious reply, but the query was more in hope than any real expectation that Bradford City would be in Division One in a few weeks. Once again it looked as though we would be subjected to another season of frustration. When our new chairman Geoffrey Richmond had declared in January 1994 that the Bantams would be knocking on the door of the Premier League within five years, those who weren’t giggling at the back of the fans’ forum must have just thought the man was barking. There was nothing wrong with a bit of ambition, but he didn’t have to make us look ridiculous.

Of course, events since Richmond left Valley Parade have been as dramatic as anything that supporters witnessed on the pitch, with periods in administration and a close season when no one knew if there would be a club left to support. Much of the blame has been directed at Richmond and his “six weeks of madness” when he gambled on surviving another season in the Premiership by bringing in Benito Carbone, Dan Petrescu and Stan Collymore on inflated wages. He lost heavily and we all suffered the consequences, but any fan who says they didn’t enjoy the ride when Richmond was at the helm must be lacking a pulse.

Fans had put up with years of drudgery at Valley Parade beginning in 1988, when City squandered promotion to the old Division One by losing to Middlesbrough in the two-legged play-off (there was no final at Wembley) after looking certs for going up. From then it had been downhill, ably guided on our way for a couple of miserable seasons by John Docherty, a man who saw the ponderous Stephen Torpey as the solution to our goalscoring problems.

Fast forward to the last day of the 1995-96 season and 5,000 City fans have set up shop in the home end of Boothferry Park for a match with a lot more hanging on it than the usual low grade East v West Yorkshire pride. After beating Burnley 3-2 in the last minute and taking 13 points from the remaining six games, City had a chance of keeping their season going as long as today’s opponents didn’t throw their spanner in.

Hull were already relegated, having doggedly refused to vacate bottom spot since October, but City fans were well aware of their team’s penchant for self-destruction at crucial moments. To be assured of our play-off place City had to match Chesterfield, who faced a Notts County side certain to be in the top six.

The Hull players were under no illusions as to how seriously the situation was regarded by their own fans, who had been unceremoniously dumped in the crumbling supermarket “stand” on police orders. Whatever the merits of the directive, it added extra bite to the build-up for a traditionally highly charged fixture. “My worst nightmare”, was how Hull’s chairman Martin Fish described the situation, while fanzine editor Geoff Bradley called it the “final insult”. Relegated and evicted. Well, who wouldn’t be fed up?

We had a laugh about it of course (it’s always easier in a crowd) and it helped steady nerves and keep minds off the next 90 minutes. However, everyone knew that the game wasn’t going to start without incident and, sure enough, it wasn’t long before Hull fans were heading our way without a ball being kicked. And not a uniform in sight.

The police came in for serious criticism later for being basically invisible; once they arrived a kind of uneasy order ensued. Our concern was that the game would be called off: if the League ordered a re-match behind closed doors, then who knew how City’s reliably inconsistent team would perform. With a first visit to Wembley potentially three matches away, the club needed the matter resolved now.

City’s nerves were rattling from kick-off. Ten minutes in Wayne Jacobs was caught in possession by Gavin Gordon, whose third goal of the season sent those Hull fans whose vision hadn’t been blocked by police horse backsides into a frenzy and back onto the pitch. Naturally, some Bradford fans saw that as an open invitation, but before they had a chance to sprint past keeper Jonathan Gould and out of our penalty box, Mark Stallard had already latched onto Ian Ormondroyd’s pass to shoot sublimely past the teenage Roy Carroll for the equaliser.

That really did it for the Tigers and play was held up for about 10 minutes, with players and officials stuck in the middle of the pitch as Hull’s fans took the opportunity to vent some spleen at their board. Meanwhile, at our end, Chris Kamara tried to shepherd fans back into the stands and appeal for calm, a characteristic not often associated with our then manager.

Play resumed and soon we fell behind again. Duane Darby beat the offside trap for Hull’s second, leading to another rendition of the fans’ traditional Boothferry pitch jig. Thankfully, for all their nerves, the Bradford players never lost belief and scored again. On 26 minutes, Ormondroyd stuck in a low cross met by Lee Duxbury, who stumbled but still knocked the ball past Carroll. Video footage suggests that the ball was deflected into the net off a divot, though at the time I was certain it had hit some horse manure dumped during the Battle of the Supermarket End. Dung or not, the fight was still on.

From then on Bradford took control and the decisive goal came 11 minutes into the second half with (man of the match) Ormondroyd involved again, heading on to Richard Huxford whose pass allowed Carl Shutt to shoot first time into the far corner and in front of the 5,000. Shutt had been within hours of becoming a Chesterfield player on transfer deadline day. Instead, City marched on to promotion while the Spireites, though 1-0 winners against County, went nowhere.

For many Bradford fans, their “JFK moment” came two matches later at Blackpool, when City overturned a 2‑0 first-leg deficit in the play-off semi-finals to triumph 3-2. But that night and many others wouldn’t have come if there had been no Hull. Big Geoffrey might have been barking, but he had been right.

From WSC 219 May 2005. What was happening this month