Issue The grudge match

As told by Michael Wood

When one talks of job ending decisions at Bradford City: Nicky Law’s damning of City fans as being worth a goal for the other side, Paul Jewell taking meetings at Sheffield Wednesday, Colin Todd’s punch up with Lee Crooks; Jim Jefferies made his on a muddy field in Bradford in early December 2001.

No one really knows what exactly the gnarled Scot growled across the training ground to his club captain Stuart McCall as the midfielder tried to get stuck in in a training match but the effect of the words became obvious.

The shouted phrase, and what happened after, started the end of at the club Jefferies and the end of Bradford City’s attempt to return to the Premiership at the first time of asking.

The words were “You’ve lost yer legs” and nothing has been the same since they were uttered.

Hearts vs Motherwell

Hearts face Motherwell in the SPL this weekend bringing into competition for the first time the two men at the centre of that ruckus in Jefferies and Stuart McCall.

McCall’s Motherwell lag behind Hearts in the division but both are expected to make the cut at the top of the league which will pay this game little regard. Hearts look set to claim a Europa League place but in a league dominated by Celtic and Rangers this is exactly the type of SPL march that seems to pass without much notice.

Jefferies path from Valley Parade took him to Kilmarnock where he posted respectable finishes for the modest club before returning to the club he joined City from. His success – it seems – is in making Hearts the best of the rest.

McCall’s Motherwell bubble around the middle of the SPL. His aim is to get into the top six before the league is split in two and in the longer term it is to move the third Glasgow club closer to the other two. It is said that McCall got the Motherwell job after the chairman – who fell out of love with the idea of appointing the former Rangers player after seeing his decline at City – fell back in love after seeing how Peter Taylor struggled with the Bantams.

There is little significance to most in the match up of the teams if the managers, but south of the border in this corner of West Yorkshire a mention is merited.


Skip back to the legs comment and a month or so on top of that and – so folklore has it – Jefferies assistant Billy Brown told his boss straight that to get City going in the right direction they had to break the dressing room (one assumes to rebuild it) and that they had to take on McCall to do that.

Nominally McCall was a part of the coaching staff having been assistant manager under Chris Hutchings but the midfielder had long since been excluded in that role. As City sunk on the field the feeling was that the management had to increase that exclusion.

So when the Bantams took the field post-bust up for a televised game against Manchester City they did so with the skipper purposefully missing for the first time since his return to the club three and a half years before.

The game was lost, and not long after Jefferies was resigning and returning to Scotland. McCall carried on playing, moving to Sheffield United, for three years. His final match being a reserve game for the Blades at Valley Parade.

By that time City had become locked in the slump that continues to this day. The defeat to Manchester City and Jefferies departure turned that season from one of instant return – it stated with a 4-0 win over Barnsley – into struggling under Nicky Law to get to safety as quickly as possible. Administration followed.

The merits of the decision are easily criticised in retrospect. McCall provide he had more to give and Gary Locke – Jefferies chosen replacement – found it impossible to match McCall’s abilities on the field.

Perhaps McCall had been a problem for Jefferies to build a new side around the likes of Locke, Andrew Tod, and Juanjo but that aim was to conduct a curious experiment. An experiment in trying to prove SPL players could be transplanted into the English game and play at a high level. Middlesbrough tried the same thing this season, to similar effect.

The grudge?

One wonders what City would have been like without the bust up. Would Jefferies have gone had McCall meekly have accepted his being put out to pasture or would he have stayed at the club and what would the effect of that been? Had McCall allowed Jefferies to make his mistake without an argument – and argument which at the time prompted questions about his appropriateness – then would he have been given his chance to manage City back in 2002? One can but speculate.

Ten years on one wonders how significant the event was. Certainly City were not heading anywhere good under Jefferies but admitting that the Premiership return would not happen is as good a place as any to mark the start of these troubled times.

McCall may credit Jefferies with giving him the motivation to carry on playing. Having been told he could not do something made him want to do it. Perhaps it is that which gives him the motivation to get on in management at Motherwell.

Playing four times a season, every season, and referencing something that is ten years and an era of a different club ago this is no one’s grudge match. McCall tries to prove himself as manager and Jefferies attempts (and succeeds in many respects) to return to the reputation he had before he came to England and Bradford City.

Everything else seems a world away.