The sorry story of 2018/19

This week marks the end of the end of the 2018/19 football season, one that ended much sooner as far as Bradford City AFC was concerned. Behind the scenes there is much that needs to be done to rebuild the club but changes are already underway. From an historical perspective it is astounding how badly the record of 2018/19 compares to other prior seasons when failure could have been excused by virtue of financial weakness. What makes it so unforgiveable is that in relative terms at least, the club squandered resources last season that many of its rivals did not enjoy. It was said on many occasions in the last twelve months that we’ve had it tough at Valley Parade previously. True. But the following analysis demonstrates that 2018/19 was…

…even worse than what your grandad watched

Back in December it seemed that the Bantams might transform the season and avoid relegation and I was not alone in believing that 2018/19 could have been memorable for good reasons. [Refer to an earlier post uploaded on 29th December: History for the Making!] Sadly it wasn’t to be and these updated graphs show how the recovery had petered out by the end of January. We managed 21 points in the first half of the season (with just 6 wins) and no more than 20 points (and only 5 wins) in the second not to mention 7 successive defeats.

A Great Escape would have been exceptional but by no means unprecedented in the history of Bradford City. There have been four such instances of a miraculous recovery in the second half of a season when relegation had looked all but inevitable at the beginning of December.

The campaigns to note were 1908/09, 1935/36 and 1986/87 when the points accumulated in the second half were significantly higher than in the first. A fourth season, 1983/84 is remembered for an impressive mid-season recovery that actually commenced prior to the midway point of the season. The cumulative points in each of these seasons are compared to 2018/19.

1908/09 = First Division

City’s first season in Division One having been promoted as champions. The club avoided relegation with victory in the last game of the season after a significant improvement in form in the second half of the season. Bottom of the division from the start of the season, by the end of November it seemed a hopeless situation. Thereafter began a fightback and even though Bradford City remained in bottom position at the end of January, the club was no longer adrift. Victory in the final game at home to FA Cup winners Manchester United secured the escape and we finished 18th out of 20; of 38 games played there were 12 wins and 10 draws. The origins of our Bantams nickname date from this season, introduced at the end of November to inspire a recovery and raise morale. The turnaround provided the momentum that led to a 7th place finish in 1909/10 and then 5th in 1910/11, not to mention FA Cup victory in April, 1911.

1935/36 = Second Division

Having finished the previous season in 20th position, there were limited expectations in August, 1935 and the club hovered just above the relegation places through to the end of March, 1936. However signs of a recovery came at the beginning of January with victory over Manchester United at Valley Parade. In the final 20 games of the season in 1936 there were 11 wins, five draws and only four defeats. We finished 12th out of 22 and of 42 games played: 15 wins, 13 draws and 14 defeats. Unfortunately the following season the club was relegated finishing second to bottom.

escape b

1983/84 = Third Division

The Bantams had been promoted from Division Four in 1981 and had consolidated at a higher level, finishing 12th in 1982/83. That season however had been torn apart in November, 1982 when manager Roy McFarland (who had been appointed less than 18 months before) opted to take charge of his former club Derby County. His decision was highly controversial but with news of financial difficulties at Valley Parade at the end of the 1982/83 season it seemed that McFarland may have had forebodings. Following insolvency in the summer of 1983 it was a minor miracle that the club was able to begin the new season. With a threadbare squad and the loss of star striker Bobby Campbell to Derby County few gave the club much hope to avoid a return to the basement division. By the middle of November the Bantams were in 23rd position with one win from 15 games and five points adrift from 20th. Thereafter began a sensational recovery with ten successive victories. Statistically the improvement in the second half of the season relative to the first was not impressive but as a mid-season turnaround what happened in 1983/84 is without precedent in the club’s history. By the end of January, 1984 Bradford City were in a safe midtable position with a 13 point buffer relative to the relegation places. The season finished 7th (out of 24). Of 46 games played the team managed 20 wins and 11 draws.

1986/87 = Second Division

Homeless after the Valley Parade fire, the 1985/86 season had been a difficult experience and it was a major achievement to have finished 13th. ‘Home’ games had been played at Elland Road, Leeds and Leeds Road, Huddersfield and then Odsal Stadium in the new year. Odsal proved to be unpopular venue and far from ideal as a football ground. Despite a decent start to the season and positioned 8th after eight games, a collapse in form left the club sitting just above the relegation places by the end of December, 1986. The return to Valley Parade at the end of December gave hope and inspired an improvement in performances. Nevertheless at the end of February, 1987 the club was bottom of Division Two with seven wins and seven draws out of 28 games. The signing of Ron Futcher is generally regarded to have invigorated the team and eight wins and three draws in the last 14 games saw the club rise up the table. Bradford City finished 10th out of 22. In total there were 15 wins and 10 draws from 42 games.

escape a

It’s truly been a poor season…

Since the formation of the club and its membership of the Football League in 1903 there have been eight promotion seasons (1908; 1929; 1968; 1977; 1982; 1996; 1999 and 2013) and now ten relegation seasons (1922; 1927; 1961; 1972; 1978; 1990; 2001; 2004; 2007 and 2019). There have also been three occasions on which Bradford City has been forced to apply for re-election to the Football League (D3N: 1949; D4: 1963 and 1966). Comparison of the points tally in the relegation and re-election seasons is as below and it doesn’t make pretty reading: 2018/19 has been virtually as bad as anything your grandfather saw. Character building stuff indeed.

D1 relegation

D2 reegation

D3 relegation

D4 reelection

A Great Bounceback?

Instead, what about our prospects of bouncing back from the basement division? Since the establishment of a four tier, national league in 1958 there have been four previous occasions when Bradford City AFC has been relegated to Division Four: 1961; 1972; 1978 and 2007. In 1971/72 the club finished bottom of Division Three with the equivalent of 43 points (11 wins) compared to 41 in the season just gone.

On no occasion has there been an immediate return from Division Four to Division Three. Promotion was subsequently achieved in 1969; 1977; 1982 and 2013 – in other words our shortest stay has been four seasons and as we recall only too vividly from the last experience, historically it has been a difficult division to escape from.

Whilst the club has been relegated after only one season at a higher level (in 1977/78) it has never managed an immediate return after relegation and the best has been two seasons in a lower division.

In 1927 the club was relegated to Division Three (North) with an even worse comparable record than 2018/19 but returned to Division Two in spectacular fashion in 1929, promoted as champions. Hopefully what happened in 1928/29 could provide some inspiration for 2019/20.

Read about what happened in 1928/29 in this feature published on VINCIT.

In the meantime here is to a welcome break and thank God that 2018/19 is now just about formally ended.

John Dewhirst

Thanks for visiting my blog which will be added to on an irregular basis during the summer. The drop down menu provides links to other features I have uploaded and this link summarises content about the history of Bradford sport I have had published on other sites including VINCIT, the online journal of Bradford Sport History. The following provides links to recent posts on this blog.