You often find that when club legends become the first team manager at the club, they receive an overwhelming amount of support – but this can all crash and burn if results don’t go their way.
We see it more often than not that legends do become managers, such as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United, Frank Lampard at Chelsea, or even Mikel Arteta at his beloved Arsenal, but one club which maintained with this philosophy and continuously put their belief in club legends is Bradford City.
The Bantams announced that stalwart Stuart McCall would be departing the club for the third time in ten years in December, with many fans feeling like this really could be goodbye, but the Scotsman will never be forgotten for his mass contributions in his playing days – having made 395 appearances in the space of ten years whilst dawning the claret and amber.
McCall in fact had a dreadful start to management in the year 2000, as he took over the temporary reigns on a caretaker business from Chris Hutchings, but lost his only two games in charge before Jim Jeffries was appointed as the new manager and McCall was promoted to a first team coach.
However, flash forward to just under seven years later and the Bantams found themselves on the verge of ending due to financial dilapidation off of the pitch, so McCall was trusted with the managerial role on a permanent basis in the depths of League Two, somewhere City hadn’t been in 25 years. McCall had a monumental task upon taking over, with the Bantams having just 13 players on their books and found it difficult signings players, but brought in the likes of Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu, Barry Conlon and Peter Thorne.
However, after just under three years at Valley Parade, McCall left the club by mutual consent due to the club’s poor league position, but had managed to get a win ratio of 34.59% with 46 wins in his 133 games in charge, which isn’t too shabby for his first permanent role in management.
‘Stu’ prospered from his first job at the helm, having stints at Scottish giants Motherwell and Rangers before returning to the Bantams in 2016, as the club entered a new era of ownership under Edin ‘I know football’ Rahic and Stefan Rupp.
Strangely enough, McCall’s task was similar to his first tenure at Valley Parade, in the fact the club needed new players as the first team squad looked thin and bare. McCall did an excellent job in terms of recruitment, finding bargains such as Timothee Dieng, who had won the Oldham Athletic player of the season one year prior, Romain Vincelot who was a proven fierce leader, and even Colin Doyle, a tall figure between the sticks who had been nabbed from Blackpool for a single pound.
The Scotsman began the season by introducing youngster Danny Devine to the first team, where he immediately became a fan favourite, as who doesn’t love a youth graduate breaking through at his boyhood club? But McCall quickly brought in Joshua Cullen, who replaced Devine in the first team and took the team to a whole new level, with his outstanding vision and incredible energy. He was always a player who wanted the ball at his feet, which suited McCall as he would be partnered alongside a defensive midfielder in Dieng. Since then, Cullen has gone on to impress in the Championship and now plies his trade with former Europa League victors RSC Anderlecht in Belgium, who are managed by Vincent Kompany- this shows the quality of signings McCall brought to the club.
With Kenny Black at his side, McCall’s Bradford had a fantastic season, going the entire campaign unbeaten at home and even reaching the lengths of the play-off final, but unfortunately the Bantams were undone by a late Millwall goal which would leave City fans heartbroken, but nevertheless proud of the efforts and immense stride forward the club had taken in recent times.
At the start of the 2016/17 season, there were fears with Phil Parkinson leaving the club. By the end, there was gratitude for the outstanding job McCall had done in replacing him.
Heading into the next season, fans were hopeful of going that one step further and reaching the Championship, but were immediately hindered by Rahic’s new found attitude towards the club. Rumours circulated that Rahic had wanted to sack McCall following his play-off defeat, but as the German began to fall out with players and staff alike and rip the heart out of the club, McCall was eventually sacked for not picking up a win in five games, despite the fact the West Yorkshire side sat in 5th and remained in a really good position. McCall ended his second stint at the club with a win ratio of 45.83%, and winning 44 of his 96 games in charge.
This ultimately began the recent downfall of Bradford City.
Fast forward to 2020, and it had been a turbulent year- the coronavirus, the Australia bushfires, the Black Lives Matter movement, oh, and the return of Stuart McCall for the third time after the sacking of Gary Bowyer.
Unlike his past two entries to the manager job, McCall came in mid-season with a side that didn’t lack players, but looked to lack quality and cohesion. A poor January transfer window had passed, which has seen Eoin Doyle and James Vaughan leave for Kurtis Guthrie and Lee Novak, left fans frustrated with how the team had failed to bounce straight back from their relegation back to League Two.
Despite the fact he was in charge for 10 months, McCall actually only managed for 29 games, as the coronavirus disrupted both seasons, and never really got his side thriving other than the Grimsby Town victory he achieved right at the beginning of his tenure, but was eventually sacked, despite being offered a year extension just a couple of weeks earlier, following a dismal defeat at the hands of Oldham, with City spiralling towards the relegation zone.
Whilst supporters will see Stuart McCall as a man who never officially achieved anything at Bradford City, having never won a trophy in his three stints, the Scotsman can be praised for his kind-hearted nature and genuine love for the club. Bowyer, Simon Grayson, even David Hopkin have come and go at the club, but none of them gave the same energy or excitement that McCall did, a man who was desperate to succeed but eventually fell short.
He never wowed Bradford fans with his management, other than that 2016/17 season, but he did bring the unity back to the club in some of its darkest times, all the way back in 2007 when the club were struggling in League Two, when Parkinson had left in 2016, and when fans had grown angry with Bowyer’s ‘boring’ tactics in 2020, he is a genuinely brilliant person and one of the greatest players in the clubs history.
Will we ever see Stuart McCall return to Bradford City for a fourth time? Or his time with the Bantams finally up?