Issue Good Luck in the Dug-Out David Wetherall

As told by Paul Firth

When David Wetherall plays his last game for Bradford City at Wycombe, professional football will lose one of the few honourable men left in the game.

Throughout his long career, Sheffield-born Wethers has always played for Yorkshire clubs. Although he never broke through into the first team as a trainee at Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds United paid £125,000 for him in 1991. He went on to make over 200 appearances in the Premier League and European games for Leeds, captaining the side under George Graham.

A change of manager persuaded him it was time to move on and, in the summer of 1999, he joined the Premiership new boys, Bradford City. Little could he have known about what he was letting himself in for!

In that 1999-2000 season, when all the pundits, most famously one Rodney Marsh, gave City no chance of staying up, it was Wethers who scored the only goal of the game on the last day of the season against Liverpool. Bradford City stayed up; Leeds United beat Liverpool to a Champions League place; Wethers was a true Yorkshire football hero. Or was everything that followed all his fault for scoring that goal?

From then on Wethers could be forgiven for thinking he was jinxed. A groin injury kept him out of action for almost half the next season and without him City dropped to the foot of the table. Relegation – and a lot worse – was to follow. Having never played below the top league, Wethers could have commanded a substantial fee and salary at any of the Premiership clubs who expressed interest in him. Instead he dropped down with City, a mark of loyalty that was to be often repeated.

Injury struck again and he missed large parts of each of the next two seasons. Following the departure of Stuart McCall to Bramall Lane in 2002, Wethers was appointed as club captain – just in time to be made redundant! Bradford City were placed in administration and it was Wethers, as captain and PFA representative, who led the way in agreeing a deferment of wages that helped keep the club afloat.

A further relegation in 2004 was followed by a second administration. Having turned down a chance to move to Coventry City, Wethers once more helped out his employers. He extended his contract for no extra money, effectively offering to play for lower wages each season. How many top players can lay claim to that sort of deal?

When Bradford City came back for the 2004-5 season with just a handful of first-team players, it was left to the ‘Skip’ to lead the way. He played every game but one that season and didn’t miss a game the next season. He almost certainly wouldn’t have missed a game in 2006-7 either, but for yet another change of manager at Valley Parade. This time the new manager dropped him from the team. That new manager, albeit on a caretaker basis, was none other than David Wetherall.

It was all too late to save City and a third relegation followed. But Wethers played on, creating record after record. He is one of only six players to have played for the same team in all four divisions. When he plays at Wycombe, he will have played in every match in each of three different leagues for Bradford City and his last game will see him complete over 300 first team games for the Bantams before he becomes first team coach next season.

But all that is only a small part of why Wethers should be remembered by football fans up and down the county. When the back pages are full of stories of players cheating and arguing with referees, Wethers is still first to the scene of any possible set-to on the pitch, placing himself between potentially warring players, calming things down and ushering his own team away. Maybe it’s all the practice he had captaining a different type of Yorkshireman, a certain Dean Windass!

When allegedly top players declare their allegiance to the pay packet rather than their club and its supporters, no better example of club loyalty exists in modern times than that set by David Wetherall. But the man who never mentions his first class honours degree from Sheffield University always was going to be that much more thoughtful than those who admit to making a habit of kicking out at a solid wall in frustration at losing.

The word ‘legend’ is used far too freely these days. For Bradford City there is the legend that is Stuart McCall; there is the legend that comes in the form of Bobby Campbell; there is the legend that comes in the form of Ces Podd; and now there is the one more name to add to that short list of Bradford City legends. Thanks for everything, Wethers, and good luck in the dug-out.