Many look at the fallen England powerhouses such as Portsmouth, Sunderland or even Swindon Town, but most overlook what happened to West Yorkshire side Bradford City.
The story of the Bantams began in the 1998/99 season, when manager Paul Jewell, who was beginning his second year at Valley Parade, looked to improve on City’s 13th place First Division finish of last season.
Jewell worked closely with chairman Geoffrey Richmond and brought in a cluster of new arrivals, welcoming the likes of Lee Mills from Port Vale, who would go onto score 24 goals, and Isaiah Rankin from Arsenal for a combined fee of £2.3 million, as well as club captain Stuart McCall on a free transfer from Rangers – but more on him later.
With Jewell at the helm, Bradford exceeded expectations and finished runners up to Sunderland to secure promotion to the Premiership for the first time in 77 years as one of the proudest moments in the club’s history, despite the fact City were immediate favourites to be ran over and embarrassed in England’s top flight.
Jewell and Richmond were adamant not to allow this, welcoming Lee Sharpe, David Wetherall and Andy Myers to a ‘doomed’ Bantams squad, but they possessed one thing that relegated Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday did not, heart. The commitment and willingness to fight from City meant that Jewell’s Bantams were able to defeat high-flyers Liverpool, not only to prevent the Reds from qualifying for the Champions League but to also guarantee survival for Bradford.
However, some say this was the worst thing that could’ve happened to Bradford City.
It began with chairman Richmond, who spoke in the aftermath of the Liverpool triumph saying: “There won’t be bucketfuls of money available for signings,” he explained. “As we look forward to next season, we will again be seen by the national media as one of the favourites for the drop.
“We are still seen as the absolute outsiders. The fact we have stayed in the Premiership does not mean we do not face another tremendous battle next season. Our aim this year was to finish at the top of the bottom league within the Premiership. Next year we hope to go one better and secure our safety on the penultimate weekend!”
Despite the fact Richmond always appeared to have a keen grasp on the finances surrounding City, he was controversial in his actions following the defeat, as by August he had flown to Milan to spend up to seven hours in intense discussions with Benito Carbone, before agreeing on a weekly wage of £40,000 as well as a seven-bedroom house in Leeds.
This meant City were outbidding Coventry City, but Richmond’s enticing deal was enough to convince Carbone to become one of the highest earning players in the country, even surpassing David Beckham.
But the spending did not stop there, as Richmond continued to flutter at the already fragile finances circling his club. I say his, and not the fans, because at this point the chairman had turned his back on the dedicated players who had kept Bradford up and opted to welcome David Hopkin as the club’s record signing, Ashley Ward and Dan Petrescu.
An array of new signings, a new manager and a disagreement between Richmond and Jewell resulted in the City stalwart exiting for relegated Sheffield Wednesday, and the club’s preposterous vision to build a 35,000 seated stadium caused a dreadful 2000/01 campaign for Bradford, as financial strains depleted the club’s posture and ended their tenure in England’s top flight, rock bottom and 16 points adrift of safety.
Many say Bradford have never recovered, and it’s hard to disagree, as six years later the Bantams had fallen as far as League Two. Without Carbone’s willingness and agreement to forget the debts owed to him by the club, Bradford fans would simply have no team to support except for a possible phoenix club rising from the ashes of the dissolved Bradford City.
Admittedly, things had started to look up in West Yorkshire for City, having some excellent memories across the past ten years, reaching the League Cup final before being defeated 5-0 by Swansea City, reaching Wembley Stadium three times between 2013 and 2017, and of course that exceptional comeback against Chelsea in 2015.
Just as things were getting back on track, Bradford City were purchased by the joint German owners of Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic. Rupp decided to hold back from the whole operation other than his funding, as recorded on the 2016/17 Bradford City documentary ‘Matter of Heart’, whereas Rahic took too much of a hold on the whole operation – literally.
In an interview when taking control of the club, Rahic stated that he ‘knows football’, which would later go on to become comedic to most City fans but things didn’t technically go wrong in his first year at the club, in fact, in my personal opinion Rahic did an excellent job in his first tenure at Valley Parade. Upon his takeover, legend Phil Parkinson was pried away by relegated Bolton Wanderers and several players left the club, so with the help of chief scout Greg Abbott, Rahic and Rupp appointed McCall for his second stint at the club and had to assemble a new cluster of players.
The first season under Rahic’s ‘leadership’ went well in all fairness. Bradford were unbeaten for the entire season at home, reached the Sky Bet League One play-off final before being bested by Millwall in the depths of the game following a Steve Morrison finish. The recruitment process was fabulous, such as when James Hanson left in January to join Sheffield United and a void was left up front, but soon enough the number nine vacancy was filled by Charlie Wyke, who joined for an undisclosed fee from Carlisle United, and would turn out to be a fan favourite after not too long.
So at what point did it go wrong? The 5th of February 2018. Rahic made the unwise decision to sack McCall to spark a huge uproar from the devoted fan base, it seemed mindless and boggling, after all, the Bantams were well within the play-off race, as expected, and looked on track to have another successful season under McCall.
Things just faltered from there, with wrongful managerial appointment after another, abysmal signings coming in and just not living up to the expectations beneath their name, something hasn’t been right at Valley Parade since Rahic took over, but the nail in the coffin was the 2018/19 season.
After Simon Grayson declined the offer to continue his stay in West Yorkshire, Rahic scoured high and low for his next guinea pig, his next lackey to be the first team coach when in reality it was Rahic choosing the tactics and the team sheet, something which clearly does not work.
A football club competing in League One needs a gaffer, a boss, a manager who can lead the club forward, make a deep connection with the fans and most importantly implement the tactics he feels work best with the players at his disposal, but Rahic blocked this by appointing the management team of Martin Drury, Greg Abbott and, of course, Michael Collins.
The story of Collins is a strange one, as a 32 year old Under-18’s coach at City he was elected as the new head coach of the first team, which was strange to say there were so many more qualified managers available, but it immediately became clear what Rahic’s intentions were for this Bradford team – and they weren’t good.
Collins’ reputation was damaged by Rahic, a promising young coach who had worked at Bradford Park Avenue and the Under-18’s at City, he had a wealth of experience from his playing career, having featured for the likes of Huddersfield Town, Leyton Orient and even Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League.
The step up for the Irishman was one too many, and despite the fact City did defeat Shrewsbury Town on the opening day of the season, something felt like it was missing. Was it the kits? Rahic had chosen a claret and black dominated strip and betrayed the traditional claret and amber values ingrained within the club’s backbone, saying he chose it as it reminded him of a rugby kit. A rugby kit. Bradford are a football team, not a rugby team, but not to worry, he ‘knows football’.
With his apparent dreadful treatment towards staff behind the scenes of the club, his questionable managerial appointment and lack of knowledge towards how to run a football club, Edin Rahic thankfully agreed with Rupp to step down from his role and returned to Germany in his business of selling cars.
If Rupp had not stepped in and done his brave move, Bradford were destined to become another Bury, a Bolton or an Oldham Atheltic, the club would be in ruins, fans would have to endure even more crestfallen years under the corrupt ownership of Rahic, and whilst he has left City in a ghastly position in the mud bath that is League Two, things are starting to look up hopefully for the City faithful.
Stuart McCall is back at the helm, and this time with the full backing of not only the supporters but also the board, he finally can manage his beloved club without the interference of a certain expert.
Oh, and by the way, Rahic once promised Bradford fans that if he was to get the club back to the Premier League, he would sell tickets for £1. We were basically promised financial dilapidation by this man.