Remembering Our Dean Richards

After his sad death this week it was curious to see the outpouring of football’s grief for Dean Richards with supporters and officials at Southampton, Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur all being rich and fulsome in their praise for the former Rhodesway school boy who started his career at Valley Parade.

Indeed it is rather touching that the reflections of the professionalism, attitude and ability of young man who started his City career in 1990, joined the first team in 1992 and left in 1995 carried on until his retirement in 2005 at Spurs. All three clubs who Dean went on to play for found him to be as he was as an aspiring professional at City. A talented footballer for sure, but a good guy too, at all stages of his career.

So there is talk of why the defender did not get rewarded with England honours – he was the most expensive uncapped player in English history – and reminiscent of his debut at White Hart Lane in a 5-3 defeat to Manchester United which is part of Premier League folk lore but for Bradford City fans Richards was forever the teenager starting off in the game.

Richards joined the squad under John Doherty’s watching defender Phil Babb taking a role in the forward line but it was under Frank Stapleton when he was given a debut. For a brief time he and Babb made a central defensive partnership for Stapleton before the latter’s departure for Coventry City. That the loss of Babb – who had excelled after Stapleton relocated him to the central defensive position – was not felt was largely down the emergence of Richards.

Stapleton’s team prized Richards and his ability. A strong player, capable of playing the ball listen not to those who call him “an old fashioned hard man” for Richards was the depiction of the modern defender that emerged in the 1990s. A Shepparder who would pressure strikers into mistakes rather than dive in to clean the ball there was an obvious difference between Richards and his predecessors’ in City’s defence. Never once can I recall Dean Richards recklessly tackling a striker but frequently I recall his ability to drive opponents into areas of the field he wanted them in, frustrating them.

When Geoffrey Richmond arrived and Lennie Lawrence became manager Richards was the heart of the Bantams defence and my clearest and favourite memory of Richards comes from Lawrence’s first game at Chester City when the Bantam’s defender gave one of the home strikers a six or seven yard head start but effortlessly went through the gears to catch, over take and guide the ball away.

I’ve often talked about that moment since as one of the best examples of a player who knew the reach of his abilities and matched his game to them. It has been my favourite example of a player in control of his own game, taking responsibility for his own performance, and will remain so.

Richards left City when Lawrence’s team’s promotion hunt faltered having spent much of the season injury – a problem exasperated by the manager attempting to bring him back too quickly and Richards breaking down – which robbed City and City fans of too many of the classy defender’s performances. His exit to Wolves was saddening not just because it worsened the side, but because it meant that we would not enjoy watching Dean Richards play again and – and it is a cherished thing in football – Dean Richards was a very enjoyable player to watch.

Heart and soul into his performances for sure, but control and poise too.

As it turned out Richards had a return to City’s history in May 1999 when as a Wolves player he was charged with trying to stop City reaching the Premier League on the final day of the season. His contribution was a battle for pace with Jamie Lawrence which ended in a penalty to make the game 4-1 and allow City to stroll out the remaining time once Beagrie had netted the spot kick.

Plans are seldom that simple and while City held breath following the penalty miss and finally celebrated at the end of the game which concluded 3-2 Richards took applause from his own supporters in what turned out to be his final game for the Midlands club.

On to Southampton and Spurs and then back to City to work with the young players Dean Richards had much to offer the game as a player and a coach and football is the worse for his passing. The tributes to him are as heartfelt and as honest each one of them picking out a part of a broader picture.

And my contribution to that is the sunny day in August 1994 which would end in a 4-1 win at the Deva Stadium and Richards motoring past the opposition striker and taking the ball under control and away with what looked like the ease of a man strolling in the park.

A moment to savour, and never to forget.

Hopes and expectations

So here it is, the dreaded promise that pre-season brings and as a result, usually for Bantams anyway, the increased disappointment come May. Already on various message boards, across the web, fans are claiming how promotion is a must this year, as it was last year and what seems like every year since we tasted Premier League football and decided we were a big club.

In fact the last campaign I remember, outside the top flight, where fans weren’t widely expecting a successful season was 11 years ago. That year around this time I was sat in a pub in Wales with my dad and a high profile football magazine had predicted Bradford City would finish 24th out of 24. Being a naive young boy I refused to accept the prediction and the following conversation ensued;

‘They’re wrong dad, I bet you we get promoted’ a bold statement to which my dad replied ‘Unfortunately there’s not a chance’

Ever the optimist I insisted, ‘I bet you we do’.

‘Ok then, if Bradford get promoted this season I will buy us season tickets for the Premier League.’

That season a 3-2 win against Wolves on the final day secured promotion to the Premier League and the most expensive bet of my Dad’s life was lost, but unsurprisingly he didn’t care one bit.

Other than being young and not yet having faced the cruel realities of the footballing world, that year I had no reason to be sure of promotion. What reason have Bradford fans now got to be so sure of promotion this season?

Perhaps it is that the wage budget from a side who failed to win promotion last year has been halved? Or perhaps it is, as I suspect, that Bradford are too ‘big’ for this league. Surely the past few years have taught us, and also our neighbours down the road that this means nothing. I am sure there is very little that the fans can tell us about signings such as the ‘Barber from Bamber Bridge’, Steve Williams, or the possible signing of Guiseley’s James Hanson yet at the same time these two are expected to come from non league football and hit the ground running on the way to promotion to the third tier of English football.

Manager Stuart McCall one of the biggest culprits of this pre-season optimism over the past two years has told the fans to get real. He has told us the funds aren’t there to make dream signings such as Nicky Law, Dean Furman and Lee Hughes, the sort of players that will get you promoted from this division. The sort of players teams such as Notts County and Rotherham have got the funds to secure.

However, on the bright side a word of caution to these clubs and their newly found riches. Money meant nothing to the likes of ourselves and Shrewsbury Town last season as promotion was unable to be secured and little Exeter City – freshly promoted from the non-league – went up in both our places.

This is a reason for the optimistic Bradford fans to keep the faith. It is possible that James Hanson and Steve Williams could prove to be real gems and should we stay clear of injuries to key players such as Peter Thorne and Omar Daley, two of the major reasons for the collapse last year, we should be fighting at the right end of the table once more. Perhaps then come 8th May 2010 we will be sitting pretty in one of the top 7 spots.

I hope that these fans expecting promotion have those hopes fulfilled and like I did 11 years ago and all Bradford fans taste the sweet taste of promotion once more. Hopefully this time, for me, it will be that little bit sweeter because it’s unexpected.

Back To The Wolves

Wolverhampton Wanderers have taken a semi-magical status in the minds of Bradford City fans. It was here on the 9th of May, 1999 that Stuart McCall held arms aloft and proclaimed that Bradford City were now a Premiership football club and while the pictures of that day never fade the experience of big time football is dim and distant for the League Two Bantams.

City never won another league game in the white shirts we wore that day at Wolves and things that went well went bad and there it was and here we are lining up as massive underdogs against a Wolves team which sits in The Championship and is tipped for a play off place. Mick McCarthy may field a second string and one suspects that as the Bantams did when roles were reversed that could render the home side there for the taking. That said the gap between divisions is not what some would tell you and our eleven could beat any eleven with strong win and good gusto.

Liverpool in 1981 lost 1-0 at Division Four City at Valley Parade and few teams in the history of the game have been better than Liverpool in 1981.

Donovan Ricketts struggles with injury caused by a sprinkler at Valley Parade on Saturday and a few swift kicks from Macclesfield players that followed but Stuart McCall is confident that he will play. The back four of Darren Williams, David Wetherall, Mark Bower and Paul Heckingbottom continue in what is expected to be a near unchanged team. Omar Daley, Paul Evans, Eddie Johnson and Alex Rhodes make a midfield with Barry Conlon and Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu should he be allowed clearance to play by his host club.

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