Edinho, the romantic hero

In hindsight the transfer rumour must have been complete rubbish; but when my friend told me that Everton were lining up a £1.9 million move to sign Edinho, I was happy to report it to anyone and everyone who would listen as conclusive proof of the Bradford City striker’s brilliance.

Edinho rocked up at Valley Parade at a time where foreign imports in England were still relatively new, and the rarity of a Brazilian especially caught the attention of football followers beyond City supporters. I wanted my new found hero to be considered as worthy as the Premier League strikers of teams my school friends supported. Shearer, Cole, Hasselbaink, Edinho. He must belong in the same bracket, if Everton want to sign him.

Not that I wanted him to leave City for Goodison of course. Edinho had an effect on me that no footballer ever has or will again in that my love and adulation for him almost matched the affection I had for the club. Forget the merits of form and ability – when it came to team selection, if Edinho was left on the bench I felt disappointed. Back then if I could select someone to score the winning goal on Saturday it would have been Edinho, and when he did find the net I was even more ecstatic about a City goal than usual.

Edinho’s exoticness blew my impressionable teenage mind. At a time when the Brazilian Ronaldo was the world’s best player, the shaven-headed Edinho was a passable imitation of the gap-toothed genius. His silky skills, his dribbling ability, his fancy flicks – I lapped it all up.

The hero-worshipping would include turning up early to every home game so I could get him to autograph my programme at the front of the Kop while he warmed up. Home game after home game, his signature appears on the covers of my programme collection. I’d like to think that in time he grew to recognise me, though in truth I was just one of hundreds of young fans who queued up for his squiggle every other week.

In return for the support we and other fans provided, Edinho embraced the move to England and Valley Parade in a manner that many better paid and more talented players since would have done well to emulate. He clearly loved playing for City and there were numerous stories – many hilarious – about how he and his family adapted to Yorkshire life. The enthusiasm on the pitch was infectious, best exemplified by the weird and wonderful range of goal celebrations he performed which ensured his goals felt extra special. His nickname would surely make a great name for a website.

The move to Everton never happened – if it was ever a remote possibility – and in time the progress of Bradford City passed Edinho by. The promotion season of 1998-99 began with a home defeat to Stockport and Edinho in the team, but big spending on strikers Lee Mills and Isaiah Rankin saw him relegated to the bench and soon enough stuck in the reserves. It took me a while to warm to Rankin, knowing the pacy youngster was taking Edinho’s starting place. But soon enough Rankin himself was being overtaken by Gordon Watson and Robbie Blake in manager Paul Jewell’s plans; it was a long way back for Edinho.

Winning each week, playing the most enthralling football I’ve seen from City before or since, softened the blow; but I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness that Edinho was missing out. I remember his last appearance – sub at home to Bury in a 3-0 win – and feeling desperate for him to score. He barely got a touch of the ball, and soon after was loaned to Dunfermline before returning to the stiffs and then leaving forever to Portugal.

But I got to have one last moment with him: Norwich home in March, a 4-1 thrashing where Jamie Lawrence scored that memorable solo goal. After the game me and my friends found our way to the door of the home dressing room and collected the autographs of every member of the squad – a thrilling occasion. After having a chat with Mills and Jewell about the game, we noticed some reserves having a kick about on the pitch – among them Edinho. I shouted out his name and then waved as he looked over, he responded with that iconic thumbs up he gave on the pitch at times, usually when struggling to understand instructions from the City bench. See, he does know who I am…honest.

Beyond the good and sad times, the romanticising of Edinho largely comes from the fact his time at City occurred before the cynicism that weighs down football supporting these days became so widespread. The internet was around back then, but not as commonly available as it is today and not to the point where the message board culture of slating players had developed. Sure, grumbles about players’ weaknesses and booing of underachievers occurred, but the network of supporter opinion that is so easy to tap into these days was more fragmented and concealed.

I heard complaints of Edinho from others; I wasn’t blind to his shortcomings myself. But the negative undercurrent that comes with football supporting today was less noticeable and this meant people preferred to be positive about Edinho and even – shock horror – accept his game had weaknesses. Much of the reason for that was Edinho’s positive persona; it’s why he captured a permanent place in the heart of myself and countless others, and it’s why his ultimately unremarkable contribution to the club will never be forgotten.

Everton’s loss if you ask me.

Travelling more in expectation than hope

The Team

Lenny Pidgeley | Lewis Hunt, Lee Bullock, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Gareth Evans, David Syers, Jon Worthington, Omar Daley | James Hanson, Jake Speight | Luke O'Brien, Steve Williams, Luke Dean

Thirty years ago if you were a member of St Anthony’s Primary School football team – or the brother of a member who’s Dad drove kids to games – then as a reward for a season of not much return you were given the chance to go watch Bradford City’s last game of the 1980/81 season as the Bantams took on Hereford United.

That was my introduction to Bradford City, and there is a certain symmetry to this afternoon’s entertainment as the Bantams travel to Edgar Street to meet Hereford United. The first game was a scrappy end of season affair – although at the time an impressive watch – where the visitors nicked a 1-0 win. Today a point for both teams would have secured League football for both next season and unsurprisingly a point each was the return.

Unsurprisingly because the home side set out to secure such a return trying to retain possession as far back the field as they could for as long as they could seldom venturing into the Bantams penalty area.

The illusion was a strange one. It seemed like City were penning in Hereford and certainly the Bantams were enjoying playing with a sense of freedom that allowed the likes of David Syers – playing central midfield well – and Gareth Evans to lash at goal following James Hanson’s early attempt which threatened to derail the Bull’s afternoon.

The Bulls afternoon though was taking place miles away at the Crown Ground, Accrington where Barnet played Stanley. The machinations of that game seemed to tilt to this. Barnet level at 1-1 and there was a nervousness in the home side’s play but that nervousness lifted as Accrington took a lead which proved decisive.

That took until the second half and after the first forty five minutes the scorelessness seemed like a fog never to lift. The Bantams were unthreatened – Joe Colbeck was given the reception by the visiting fans one would expect but that seemed to serve to suggest he was more dangerous than he was and while no one especially enjoys hearing themselves abuse the look on Colbeck’s face as he banged a cross into the middle which was attacked by nobody looked more like distraction than upset.

If a winger putting in crosses for no one makes a wonderfully illustrative example of the game then City’s striker with no crosses seems to make another. James Hanson – at times – seems to never lose a ball in the air and one wonders what he could have done with the type of accurate crossing that Colbeck could do, and that the likes of Nick Summerbee and Peter Beagrie did.

Colbeck’s time at City – and his time since he left and the schadenfreude some City fans seemed to follow it with – sends my mind back sprawling to that first game on the 15th of May 1981 and how football has changed since then. Thirty years allows a guy the chance to reflect and that reflection is in the level of hope which used to be the currency and how that has been replaced with an unsavoury expectation.

Reading articles about the Bantams last decade you often read the phrase “ten years of failure” and while this is true from the prevalent point of view that anything other than promotion is failure but watching this last decade they were no different to many of the two which proceeded it.

Consider – if you will – the 1996/97 season of Chris Waddle and Edinho where relegation was avoided on the final day of the season. What we had that year was built on the next. That season of struggle Chris Kamara signed players like Robbie Blake and Jon Dreyer who were on the pitch two years later at Wolves when the Bantams were promoted to the Premiership.

No one ever said that finishing 21st was a roaring success that season but no one ever lambasted all involved as failures either and after that season lessons were learnt that drew a line directly to the successes which followed.

At some point after that failure started to describe anything which not success – this is semantics – and the rhetoric is that the club and supporters demand the best and should have high aims lest they achieve nothing but the practical upshot of throwing the word failure at anything which has not been promotion over the last decade is that Bradford City systematically rip the club apart over the course of every summer, throw things in the air and see where they land.

Failure – finding it wherever it can be hinted at – is the obsession of the current football mindset from top to bottom to such an extent that progress along the path to success is talked of as being it. Those who run football clubs need to be strong and need to stress that if the right things are being done then those things will not be changed because they have not come to fruition yet.

Are Bradford City at present on this path? You will judge for yourself on that, dear reader, just as you will also have a view on the merits and effectiveness of addressing the “failures” of Colin Todd, or Stuart McCall, and how the attempts to deal with those so called “failures” have brought us to the position we are in now.

Would City have been any worse if Colbeck – squarely presented as a problem and the cause of failure – had remained at the club? Would the last few years have been so different had Danny Forrest been up front? Has the season on season change of right backs produced a player more effective than Gareth Edds or has it just given us a series of different players?

Different players who have the same problems and ultimately exit in the same way and we – as a club and as supporters – relinquish our responsibly for the impact of that. The justification for replacing players is that those players seldom go on to a higher level following their time at the club as if the confidence lost, the access to a better standard of coaching lost, the experience of playing league football lost has no impact on the (lack of) progression of those players.

Joe Colbeck wanders up and down the Hereford United wing on one side, Gareth Evans on the City wing on the other, both look like players who seem on the edge of dropping out of professional football not because they are not useful, or skilled, or have potential but just to appease a desire to smash up what is there in the name of not tolerating failure but with the effect of not allowing building.

I think back to Robbie Blake and his goal at Wolves in another final away game of the season and how many times – had the current attitude in football been the way of thinking then – he would have been bounced out of Valley Parade rather than being allowed to be a part of a team which matured.

In thirty years between two games with Hereford United expectation has overcome hope. Everything about Bradford City is about the expectation that better can be demanded. It used to be that better was hoped for, but if that hope failed then it was renewed over the summer. This is only important because in the times of hope, rather than expectations, things improved more often.

What do we have in the summer? Hope or expectation? Or neither?

Peter Jackson took his Bradford City team to Hereford United looking for a point to keep League Two status secure – a modest return – and Hereford’s Jamie Pitman had the same aim which once results started to fall into place bound the teams to a defensive display a little less. Both ended the day safe from relegation with Barnet’s defeat seeing them battle Lincoln City to stay in the division. Stockport County were relegated.

Ultimately – at Edgar Street – James Hanson proved too much of a handful for home defender Stefan Stam and after he was fouled Jake Speight scored a penalty with ten minutes on the clock. Stuart Fleetwood equalised a few minutes later with a great free kick. That shot was the home side’s only attempt on target of the afternoon but it was the draw that everyone seemed happy with.

For the summer though who can tell. Over the last thirty years – and specifically the last decade or so – football’s expectation level has outstripped its ability to bring enjoyment in a great many ways. Supporting was its own reward, but now all rewards are delayed until there is a manifestation of success. Goals are cheered, wins are welcomed, promotions are celebrated but anything other than those things – and including the build up to those things – are drawn out grimly.

Football League safety is assure and the summer yawns out ahead with its own troubles and with that the idea that the unifying mood in August will be one of hope seems very, very far away and utterly old fashioned.

Snow, swearing, and why we are not going to Aldershot this weekend

The game at Aldershot Town’s Recreation Ground hosting Bradford City this weekend is off with the snow down there being worse than it is up here – and the BfB back garden test shows a foot of winter – and s the fact that the Shots are coming off the back of an FA Cup defeat to Dover, that they have signed the promising Wesley Ngo Bahang on loan from Newcastle United and the fact that they are 12th in League Two three places above City probably do not matter.

Indeed by the time this game is played – and we have been in the cancelled Aldershot trip trap before – the returning to fitness Gareth Evans may have been joined by the likes of Lewis Hunt, Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Michael Flynn or Shane Duff who could have crawled from the fitness room and burst back into action.

Likewise – depending on when the rearranged game is played – the likes of Tom Adeyemi, Louis Moult, Richard Eckersley, Jason Price and Rob Kiernan may have returned to their parent clubs while Lenny Pidgeley’s contract has expired. Such is the nature of modern football with the possibility that half the players on one side might no longer be at a club after the hand of nature intervenes.

The hand of nature intercedes in football increasingly commonly – it is to do with the effects of Global Warming moving the Gulf Stream – and clubs now switch to an orange ball in the winter months without even waiting for the snow. Ipswich Town added the blues lines to the orange ball in the interests of clarity. We get blasé about the orange ball but in the past it was the source of much mystery.

How many orange balls did each club have? What happened if during a snow game all the orange balls burst? Would a white one be used or would a game really by abandoned because the ball was the wrong colour? Perhaps most importantly why in July 1966 was an orange ball used for the blisteringly sunny World Cup final?

If we get blasé about the orange ball that is nothing compared to the tedium we have to the foreign player and his attitude to snow. There was a time when on the sight of snow a local paper would hightail it down to the training ground to find whichever South American or African player was employed by the club and would look suitability fascinated by the snow.

“He’s never seen the stuff,” the manager would say, “but he’s getting used to it.” The freezing player would be pictured in high jinx with his local team mates.

Most famously one of Wesley Ngo Bahang’s predecessors at Newcastle United Mirandinha was pictured messing around in the white stuff with team mate Paul Gascoigne. For reasons lost in the midst of time The Magpies Willie McFaul seemed to think that Gascoigne would be perfect for giving the Brazilian an introduction to the North East.

So Gazza and Mirandinha were thick as thieves with the Gateshead midfielder teaching the man from Brasilia about life in England. How to say Hello, how to say thank you and – infamously – how to say sorry.

The Gazza and Mirandinha combination came to Valley Parade for a Simod Cup match in 1988 where Stuart McCall played one of his two games against Gascoigne (the other being in Euro 1996, and after many glories at Rangers and Gascoigne dubbing the City man “the first name on his team sheet”, and each missed the games in the Premier League) and City were victorious 2-1. Mirandinha missed an open goal from six yards and Gascoigne looked good.

Mirandinha was an interesting player. Selfish, of course, and like our own Brazilian Edinho he seemed to keep a loose definition of tackling sliding in on defenders a little too often. One time early in his career at St James’ Park ‘dinha slid in clattering a defender to the ground as he tried to clear it. The Referee trotted over to have a word with the striker using the international language of the yellow card only for the striker to approach him with an apology in the words of English Gascoigne had taught him.

“Referee,” said the Brazilian his hands probably clasped together, “Fuck off.”

Which is probably why successful clubs employ people to settle players into their new environs and seldom allow the likes of Paul Gascoigne to do the job.

Willy Topp has gone, and it is to the sadness of all that he will not be photographed having a snowball fight with James Hanson or getting up to high jinx with Lee Bullock. There is Omar Daley of course, but for Daley the snow is the skiddy top that allowed Kevin Austin of Darlington rob him of a year of his career with the kind of horror tackle which has also mostly receded into football history but was – at the time – put down to the conditions.

A good reason why we are not going to be going to Aldershot.

A decade of decline, misery and still existing

Played 495, won 150, drawn 124, lost 221, scored 604 goals and conceded 728. As a decade, the noughties have been long and largely miserable for Bradford City.

It began with the Bantams scrapping for their lives in the Premier League under Paul Jewell, it has ended four divisions below and with typical pessimism over the immediate prospects of beginning the ascent back. Dashed hopes, repeated agony, fruitless endeavour. Even though the club’s history is littered with underachievement, the last 10 years have set some new standards.

In fact, looking around at others, it would not be an exaggeration to label Bradford City English professional football’s most unsuccessful club of the 00’s.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom – five months into the new millennium was that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon City defeated England’s most successful club to seal Premier League survival. It prompted scenes of delirium as the final whistle was greeted by fans swarming onto the pitch to mob their heroic players and join in singing You’ll Never Walk Alone with the gracious Liverpool supporters. The bars in Bradford were heaving that night and we supporters dreamt of a future of top flight football as the mid-90’s momentum that had seen City climb from England’s third tier saw few signs of slowing. A fantastic day, but what’s next?

With each passing year of disappointment, that victory over Liverpool has given rise to another debate about whether it would have been better City had lost and been relegated instead. If City’s first top flight campaign in 77 years ended in heroic failure rather than plain heroic, City might have rebuilt more sensibly in the Football League; perhaps bouncing up and down like Birmingham. More likely, City might now be muddling along like a Barnsley or Ipswich; still having undergone some financial difficulties – for then-Chairman Geoffrey Richmond would have still spent relatively significant money and the 7.5 million pound new stand would have been built anyway – but strong enough to be a firm fixture in the Championship, a place we now aspire to be.

Instead David Wetherall’s headed winner paved the way for those six weeks of madness and almost complete financial meltdown two years later, with debts of over 35 million. The financial strife was self-inflicted and the damage is still endured now. Every subsequent failure since Dermot Gallagher blew for full time against Liverpool can ultimately be traced back to those six weeks.

The question of whether we’d use a time machine to fly back to May 2000 and warn a Liverpool defender to mark Wetherall in the 12th minute is one we’d all answer differently. Me, I’d like to think that one day the financial ball and chain will be removed and when it is the memories of that warm May afternoon will still feel as joyful as it continues to do now. Liverpool at home is a life moment I’ll always be grateful to have experienced, and I hope one day to be truly able to say it was worth it.

As for other great moments of the decade, City’s continuing existence will go down as the biggest achievement. It’s often a point of criticism from other fans that supporters who still talk of their gratitude for still having a club to support are excusing subsequent underachievement and need to move on. I agree to a point, but the lessons learned in 2002 and 2004 are ones which cannot be forgotten.

It’s commonplace for lower league clubs to hit financial troubles and, as Watford, Southend, Accrington and Stockport take the national media’s sympathy spot this season, it’s always tempting to shrug the shoulders and mutter “so what?’. Like a typical Richard Curtis film we all know there will be a happy ending, don’t we?

In both of City’s spells in administration the prospect of the club’s termination was very real and very scary. That July morning in 2004 when it looked all over and fans stood outside Valley Parade, ready to mourn as the noon deadline for the end approached, was a day I was flying from the UK to the States, agonisingly stuck on an eight hour flight then a two-hour car drive before I could access any information about whether I still had a club to support.

The joy each time when at the last minute the club was saved and the relief as the players ran out onto the Valley Parade pitch for the first time since a few weeks later. It was easy to take it all for granted before, but the traumatic summers of 2002 and 2004 taught us to be thankful of this special relationship in our lives, which can cause us frustration and pain but that we cannot cope without.

Post-administration on both occasions, it was clear the immediate future was one of tredding water rather than a time to draw up blue sky five-year plans. Unfortunately relegation was not too far away both times – the common thread being the enforced lack of investment in the playing squad having disastrous results. City’s 2003/04 centenary celebrations were hollow as a squad of Premier League cast offs struggled dismally, setting a new Football League record for most single goal defeats in a season. In 2006/07 the squad depended on loan signings – those who did well quickly disappeared and those who remained failed to possess enough fight to rescue their temporary employers from the League Two abyss.

At other times, seasons often began with seemingly reasonable expectations of challenging for the play offs, but as the nights drew darker in winter early season promise drifted to usual mediocrity. The only season where promotion hopes remained in tact with less than a quarter of it remaining was last year, but then a talented squad’s form collapsed bringing with it that distressingly familiar feeling of despair.

There’s been little cup cheer as a distraction either, save for this season’s run in the JPT and the Intertoto adventure back in 2000.

Underpinning much of the decline has been musical chairs in the managerial seat. Jewell was controversially gone in the summer of 2000. His replacement Chris Hutchings exited 12 Premier League games later. The no-nonsense Jim Jefferies quickly waved the white flag on City’s Premiership survival hopes. He departed the following Christmas Eve with his rebuilding job struggling to get going.

The pace of change at least slowed then, with Nicky Law, Colin Todd and now Stuart McCall afforded more time to get things right. Bryan Robson did have a short spell after Law was sacked in 2003, but Captain Marvel talked a better game off the field than his charges did on it.

All since Jewell have been branded failures at City, but the hiring and firing policy has also played its part in the fall to League Two. If Richmond’s big mistake was to go mad for a month and a half, Julian Rhodes’ decision to sack Todd in February 2007 – with City three points clear of the relegation zone and displaying midtable form – is one to regret. Todd was ready to leave at the end of the season and, despite the handicap of losing his three best players, the chances of survival were far greater with the experienced hand rather than under the rookie tutelage of caretaker Wetherall, who’s concentration would have been better served on just leading the team as captain.

Todd was sacked for frustration at City being stuck in the mid-table of League One, now McCall is under pressure for so far failing to reverse the damage from becoming unstuck.

Not that Rhodes’ influence over the past decade should be dismissed by that one action. After Richmond’s borrow-heavily-self-reward-through-dividends-a-plenty policy failed disastrously in 2002, the Rhodes family – also recipients of those controversial dividend payments – did everything they could financially to maintain the club’s existence. A fortune built up through the success of their Filtronics company has declined through their obvious love of the Bantams, and though for a time they were helped by Gordon Gibb the Rhodeses were once again the only saviours around in 2004, alongside supporters who did everything they could to raise money to keep the club going over that summer.

One can only admire the Rhodes family’s resolve in attempting to put the club on an even keel again. There was hope in 2006 that then-commercial manager Peter Etherington was to ease that load and inject much needed capital, but in the end it proved a false dawn. At least Julian now has the added support of Mark Lawn since 2007. Rhodes has made it known he is less comfortable in the spotlight, and Lawn has over the last three years become the public front of house.

It’s to be hoped that, ultimately, Rhodes’ legacy will not just be saving the club twice, but to have made professional football affordable in a part of the country that is far from affluent. City’s demise to League Two should have seemed a catastrophe, but with Rhodes’ cheap season ticket initiative taking off and McCall appointed manager it was a club reborn.

The offer has so far being repeated three times and there is every indication it will continue for sometime. In League One, the lower crowds City attracted affected the atmosphere with the limited noise rattling around a two-thirds empty stadium. There are still plenty of unsold seats on matchdays, but the atmosphere is undoubtedly better for the season ticket offer bringing in 10,000+ supporters.

Though as Rhodes will have learned many years ago, success on the field is an outcome almost impossible for the board to determine. There has been a high turnover of players at Valley Parade ever since Jefferies told Richmond the flair players he inherited had to go. A cycle of underperforming players being replaced by poorer ones has continued through to League Two. When it’s a few players not up to the job it has hampered progress – much was expected of the likes of Dan Petrescu, Ashley Ward, Jason Gavin, Bobby Petta, Owen Morrison and Paul McLaren, but they and many others regularly failed to make the right impact – when it is almost a whole team relegation has followed.

Plenty of wretched team performances along the way – Stockport ’01, Wimbledon ’02, Sunderland ’03, Forest ’05, Oldham ’06, Huddersfield ’07, Accrington ’07, Notts County  ’09 and Rochdale ’09. Though on other occasions the 11 players (or nine) have got it right and prompted giddy celebrations; defeating Chelsea in ’00, a Benito Carbone-inspired Gillingham thrashing in ’01, the last minute Michael Proctor equaliser against Burnley in ’02, Bryan Robson’s managerial debut where City came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in the last minute in ’03, the five wins in a row of ’04, completing the double over Huddersfield in ’05, Joe Brown’s late winner against Blackpool in ’06, Lincoln away ’07 and Accrington away last season.

10 years is a long time, and for each of us watching in the stands it will have been a decade of personal change too. My perceptions and outlook on City has altered; I’m now older than many of the players and the obvious decline in quality of the playing staff since the Premiership means I’m more likely to admire players – Donovan Ricketts, Nathan Doyle, Andy Gray, Simon Francis, Dean Windass, Dean Furman and Carbone – rather than treat them as heroes.

This Christmas a thoughtful relative got me an Edinho t-shirt which I love but it also hit home that, over the past decade, there’s been few players who can come close to matching the feelings I had for our Brazilian striker. Of course we also live in a time of message board users ripping apart everyone connected with the club which makes hero status harder to achieve, and though this type of criticism existed in 2000 I was unaware of it – and much happier for that.

There’s still no better feeling than the joy of the ball flying into the back of the net and celebrating wildly.

I’m always thrilled by the experience of a feisty game where City are on top and all four sides of the ground are backing the players positively, urging them forward to score. All negative moaners are drowned out, all problems the club has to meet are suspended. The noise carries over the thousands of empty seats so they don’t matter, everything else in our lives has been left at the turnstile door for later.

This was the decade we nearly lost all of this. It may go down as one of most unsuccessful periods in the club’s history, but the noughties have been unforgettable.

Vintage Claret (and Amber)

After sitting inside Ewood Park for 30 minutes before kick off and witnessing the singing efforts of Blackburn Rovers’ supporters getting louder and louder, the temporary stunned silence former Bradford City striker Robbie Blake has just triggered left me wondering where to look.

Blake had just received the ball out wide, darted inside and unleashed a stunning curling shot which flew into the corner past former England keeper Paul Robinson to put Burnley 1-0 up over Blackburn Rovers in an East Lancashire derby they would go on to lose. I’m sat in the perfect position to appreciate the distance of Blake’s effort (I’m at Ewood Park thanks to a freebie, not a change of alligence) and as all around me Blackburn supporters are on their feet yelling abuse towards ecstatic Burnley fans at the other end of the field, I’m relieved no one has noticed my smile.

Robbie Blake, is it really eight years since you departed City? What are you doing here, scoring brilliant goals in the Premier League? When he departed Valley Parade, the move across the Lancashire border to Burnley felt like a sideways step, or even a move downwards.

Robbie Blake, the guy signed by Chris Kamara and then almost instantly placed on the transfer list for off-the-field misbehaviour. I remember meeting you a few weeks later when you and Craig Midgely attended a community programme which was also my poorly-paid summer job.  You joked with my then-boss about how Craig had to drive you about because you were banned, but I was too awestruck at meeting two City players to cringe or laugh along.

Robbie Blake, the guy who Chris Kamara belatedly put in the team mid-way through the next campaign as an early season promotion bid started to hit the buffers. Too bad it was too late to save him from the chop. Chris, what were you thinking persisting with John McGinlay? All he did was complain to the referee and stand by the opposition keeper as he tried to kick the ball forwards. Robbie came in and scored against Huddersfield, but after defeat to Man City the week after Kamara was gone. I used to appreciate Paul Jewell employing Robbie and Edinho together subsequently, shame you couldn’t sustain your form. Sent off on the last day of the season against Portsmouth, by the time you could play the following season there were two £1 million strikers in front of you.

Robbie Blake, part of the dream double act with Lee Mills. After winning your place, initially on the right wing, you helped the team recover from a bad start to join the promotion-chasing pack. We all liked Issy Rankin for a bit, but he kept missing chances even that fat guy who used to start anti-Peter Jackson chants on the Kop behind me could have scored. Then Jagger dropped him and Mills and Blake was formed. Each week it was Mills and Blake, or Blake and Mills, banging in the goals. That wonder strike you scored against Crewe, that double against Sheff United on the tele. You got the winning goal against Wolves on the final day after earlier setting up Mills’ effort which put us 2-1 up. As the person sat next to me at Molineux remarked near the end, it was the only two things you did that day. Still it got us promoted to the Premier League, so not bad going.

Robbie Blake, the star in waiting for our Premier League who threw it away. What were you doing handing in a transfer request on the eve of the season, Robbie? We were going to shock those pundits who said we’d be relegated by Christmas, and at the end of the season, after finishing comfortably mid-table, you’d be leading England at Euro 2000 as the next Peter Beardsley.  Two Premier League goals was all you managed that season. Mind you, Millsy wasn’t the most reliable guy when the chips were down either. Thank heavens for Dean Windass.

Robbie Blake, back to form in Division One. The second Premier League season was marginally better for you but not very good for City. Back in the Football League, you were the main man after Benito Carbone was loaned here and there, but the financial catastrophe was around the corner and £1 million from Burnley looked good business from the Bantams point of view. We quietly chuckled when you didn’t manage a goal for Burnley during the rest of that campaign. It was less amusing when you returned to Valley Parade and netted the following season, though.

Robbie Blake, adding to the heartbreak. In hindsight we were always doomed to relegation in 2003-04 season, but you didn’t need to add to our woes with three goals in the two games against us. I’ve rarely felt as heartbroken as the day you, your mate Brian Jensen and Ian Moore poured untold misery on us in the flukiest 2-1 away win you’ll ever see, with the winner from Moore deep in injury time. That was the day we were down and a part of this club died, which we’ve not yet been able to resuscitate. How did you sleep that night, Robbie?

Robbie Blake, back in the Premier League. I remember reading comments from then-Birmingham boss Steve Bruce when he signed you, which suggested he wasn’t convinced you’d prove to be a Premier League player. Two league starts and nine sub appearances later you were heading back to the Football League. I guess you never were Premier league class really, eh Robbie?

Robbie Blake, in a Leeds shirt. Less said the better I suppose, though you were part of the team which got relegated to League One. Thanks for giving us a chuckle.

Robbie Blake, back at Valley Parade summer after summer. Having re-joined Burnley we’ve seen you on the Valley Parade turf three pre-seasons in a row. Like with your previous returns for league games, there’s been a mixed response from City fans with some choosing to boo and others applaud. Me I’ve always been the applauding type, remembering that for how much you messed us about over that contract dispute and how disappointing it was you failed to find your best form in the top flight, you remain one of the most entertaining players to have worn claret and amber that I’ve had the pleasure to watch. I will always remember you for your mazy runs, your powerful drives at goal and your clever tricks and passes.

Thanks for allowing me to admire your brilliance again at Ewood Park today, even though I had to pretend to tell you to ‘eff off.

On Edinho

There was a moment at Valley Parade, well, ten minutes to be exact, when football changed and Bradford City was never the same again. Edinho was at the centre of this moment, a moment which is forever etched into the fabric of the club we follow.

There had been a buzz around Bradford that something was going on at City. We had heard that the club doctor had been called down to do a medical on Friday afternoon with a new signing. Sure enough five minutes before the start of an infamous local derby with Huddersfield we saw the fruits of City’s transfer.

So the tannoy announced:

“Edinho, from Brazil”

Bradford City, the team of affable lumper Bobby Campbell, of Mark Mega Ellis, of Don Hutchins and of Bazza Gazza, had moved on to signing Brazilians. We knew nothing about Edinho, except that the sort balding fella paraded in front of us looked nothing like the Edinho who represented his country in the 1982 World Cup, but we were impressed. We had arrived.

Granted we were struggling at the foot of the division but we had Chris Waddle, we had a new striker signed from Premiership Southampton for £650,000 who looked like the real deal and now we had a man from the cultural home of football. We had our own Boy From Brazil.

Edinho must have taken his seat in the director’s box to watch his new side around the time that Mark Schwartzer flapped at a cross and Town took the lead. If he was not regretting his decision to sign at that point he was three minutes later when Kevin Grey left Gordon Watson, the big man Edinho had been signed to partner, was left in a heap on the floor with a leg break I do not even want to think about.

For the record Chris Waddle equalised as Watson was taken to the BRI and the game finished 1-1. Edinho must have been have wondered what he had let himself in for or perhaps, as we do with philosophical hindsight, he chalked the afternoon up to the fickle fates of football. An afternoon, an Iccarus story of reaching and falling. It is those stories that constitute our experiences as football fans. It is the collections of anecdotes about opportunities taken and missed that is the fibre of what we do on a Saturday afternoon. Hence the name “The Boy From Brazil & Other Stories”.

All of which overlooks a few things about Edinho. He was a fair player. He was something of a Brazilian Bobby Campbell in that he could handle himself and was not afraid to “Get stuck in”, but came preinstalled with a few tricks and step overs. He was a cheeky sort. As other players were getting booked for removing shirts in celebration, Edinho got to have his disrobing glory cause he wore two shirts.

The story of Edinho though, like most things in the fragmented years of Chris Kamara, is best told but snippets, each story told like jigsaw piece to a puzzle that you do not have all the pieces to.

There was the time that Edinho was invited to join a family who had seen the striker dining alone in Fatty Arbuckle’s in Bradford. Edinho was very grateful and picked up the tab of course, although dinner conversation was limited by the that that the Brazilian’s English ran to the pretty expression “Hello”.

Or the time that Edinho and Peter Beagrie combined over at Huddersfield with a sweeping 50 yard move that put City top of the First Division. Personally I had travelled 400 miles to see that game. I wouldn’t have missed that moment for the world.

Charlton and the tiny striker grows and extra foot (or hand) to get a diving header.

Mr and Mrs Edinho wandering through Bradford City centre one Christmas with his young child holding hands between them, City fans applauding, waving and wishing the guy all the best. Bradford folk then not being easily impressed this was the West Yorkshire equivalent of a mobbing.

Edinho coming on, popping the ball at Peter Swan’s head and sparking a 21 man brawl against Bury. He so did not deserve sending off.

Edinho left City after Paul Jewell took over and signed Lee Mills and Isaiah Rankin for the front pairing. Had Robbie Blake not emerged to fill Rankin’s shoes when the £1.3m striker misfired Edinho could have had another chance, but by that time he was away to Dunfermline (and Andy Tod) and then back to Portugal.

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