Twenty Years ago

The following was published in the Bradford City programme v Oldham Athletic on 17 October, 2017

On 18th October, 1997 a goalless draw at Port Vale left Bradford City in sixth position in the second division with five wins and four draws out of the first eleven games. The Richmond era was by now in full swing. After narrowly avoiding relegation at the end of the previous season, there had been an ambitious policy to strengthen the team during the summer in pursuit of the ultimate promotion. Scarred by the disappointment of the ‘nearly season’ ten years before, few supporters were prepared to get carried away and indeed, it was often said that Richmond had more ambition than the fans. However, with a quarter of the season completed, in 1997 there was a growing sense of self-belief. After all, in February of that year the club had signed a Brazilian, Edinho and on 27 March, 1997 Her Majesty The Queen had visited Valley Parade. It seemed that anything was possible.

It was a remarkable phase in the club’s history and one that has tended to be overlooked after the financial implosion that eventually occurred five years later. At the time it was about living a dream but none of us could ever imagine the roller coaster ride that was about to begin.

Bradford City was not the only club enjoying the high life. Five other clubs more used to lower division fare found themselves that season in what was then called Football League Division One. Of Bury, Crewe, Port Vale, Stockport and Tranmere, the latter two are currently outside the top four divisions and Oxford United was another that suffered loss of League status. The headline of the season however was the relegation of Manchester City alongside Stoke City and Reading.

Today’s opponents Oldham were in the division below us, alongside three clubs currently in the Premier League – Bournemouth, Burnley and Watford, and two others who are now outside the Football League – Wrexham and York City. In the Premier League were Blackburn, Coventry and Wimbledon and in the League’s basement were Brighton, Cardiff, Chester, Darlington, Hull, Scarborough and Swansea. If ever a season in recent memory had to be selected as a snapshot of upward and downward mobility, I would nominate 1997/98 as my choice.

Games with Manchester City were some of the most memorable that season. Defeat at Maine Road in November, 1997 signalled that the club was not yet strong enough for a sustained promotion challenge. Another defeat at the ground in the FA Cup third round in January, 1988 cost manager Chris Kamara his job. Kamara’s £625k signing of John McGinlay from Bolton Wanderers in November, 1997 proved to be one of the biggest transfer flops in the club’s history.

The highest attendance at Valley Parade that season was for the fixture with Manchester City on 28 March, 1998 which attracted ‘only’ 17,099 of which there could not have been more than three thousand from Manchester. The Sky Blues – Uwe Rosler, Kinkladse et al, were a big part of the story that season and results at Valley Parade had a big bearing on their fortunes. Other than our victory in that League game, it was a home defeat for City on the last day of the season that sealed the fate of the Manchester side – victory for Portsmouth at Valley Parade secured that club’s own escape.

John Dewhirst

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