Knocking back the Bantams

Another day, another rejection for Peter Jackson as he tries to bring in an experienced midfielder to join the Bantams. Today Gavin Skelton let it be known that Barrow rather than Bradford was his destination of choice.

Skelton is a product of Archie Christie’s scouting – Dagenham were in for him as well – having done wonderful things with Gretna in his time and his choice seems to be to not go further from home rather than further his career.

Such is the problem that City have operating at League Two Level. Offer Benito Carbone £45,000 a week and one would expect him to move from anywhere to Bradford, offer Skelton less a year to join and he thinks twice about uprooting his family, taking his kids out of School, re-mortgaging his house of whatever else footballers do when the work on the same economies that the rest of us have to. Some readers would uproot for £40,000 for a year, others would not, and footballers are in the same position.

Is the club best served by making it worth the while for people like Skelton, Tommy Miller, or whomever to move? If they are not – as we understand Guy Branston was – gripped by the idea of playing for Bradford City do we want them if they get gripped by the thought of another £10,000 a year. Recent history says no.

The likes of Paul McLaren and Michael Boulding had their heads turned to play at a lower level than they could have by the thought of more money and the results – while not massively poor – were not what the club wanted. Indeed McLaren ended up losing his place to two young loanees.

The poster boy for not wanting to join a club but having a dumper truck of money driven up to your house is – of course – Ashley Ward who did all he could to resist the Bantams until such a time when he was offered a life changing amount. Ward’s contribution always looked reticent, and probably was. You can not buy passion.

What you can buy though is a mystery. Peter Jackson needs more bodies in his squad – or believes he does – and his targets elude him for whatever reason.

Perhaps the question is though not if the player who does put pen to paper is fifth or sixth choice but rather is he the right choice, and has be made that choice for the right reasons.

John Dreyer, the unassuming

Being only 12 years old at the time, I do not remember any announcement being made that Bradford City had signed John Dreyer. 1996 was a time when we seemed to be signing new players on a weekly basis, as Chris Kamara took full advantage of the Bosman ruling to bring in a hit and miss selection of foreign players such as Ole Bjorn Sundgot, Marco Sas, Erik Regtop and Sergio Pinto. Around the same time we signed the superstar Chris Waddle and also Mark Schwarzer, who would go on to become one of the Premier League’s most respected goalkeepers.

Nowadays, signing a defender for £25k would be a big deal amongst City fans, but back then it seemed to just be a regular squad-strengthening exercise.

Although I can’t recall hearing that we had signed John Dreyer, I remember very clearly the moment he announced his arrival himself. Being too young to travel to the McAlpine Stadium on a Friday night, I was glued to the radio in our living room as City raced into a three goal, first half lead against Huddersfield Town. I remember jumping with delight as Chris Cooper of the Pulse informed the listeners that City had scored and as I sat back down I heard the name ‘John Dreyer’ being mentioned.  I had no idea who he was but I knew I liked him – anyone who scored against Town on their debut was more than alright by me!

BfB rated Dreyer’s first appearance as the eighth best Bradford City debut of all time, unfortunately he lost points for being a member of a defence that squandered that 3 goal lead to allow Town to pinch a 3-3 draw.

The following Monday at school , being the only City fan in my form, a few of my classmates were very keen to tell me how they had witnessed City’s collapse on Sky and  that we were ‘rubbish’ . The stick for being a City fan was part and parcel of schooldays in mid 90s Keighley (although funnily enough this stopped for a couple of seasons from 1999- wonder why?) however on this occasion a couple of friends began to talk about City’s new signing ‘Dryer’ and how he had experienced an eventful debut. I felt jealous that I had not witnessed his goal first hand and that my knowledge of him extended only to radio commentary and the match report in Saturday’s paper. I began to look forward to the following Saturday, where I would be able to witness this new superstar goalscoring defender for myself at Valley Parade.

And then I remember little of him. I can’t remember who the next game against or even if John Dreyer featured. I can’t pick out any standout moments from a large chunk of his Valley Parade career because he never seemed to do anything all that memorable. On the flip side of this, I can never recall Dreyer making a mistake. He didn’t feature every week but when he did play he was solid, committed and reliable. He was a real team player and we never heard any negative stories about him – John just seemed to get on with the job of doing his best for Bradford City.

1998-1999 saw undoubtedly the most exciting season in City’s history and ‘Tumble’ played a large role in helping the club to the Premier League. While his contribution is less well remembered than that of Lee Mills, Robbie Blake or Darren Moore, it was just as significant. I remember the sheer relief at seeing Dreyer hoof the ball to safety as Paul Simpson’s free kick rebounded back off the post versus Wolves at Molineux. It was a vital intervention with only minutes of the game remaining.

As City adjusted to life in the Premier League John Dreyer’s appearances became increasingly rare, however two of my main memories of him were from his final season with the club in 1999-2000. The first is a seemingly irrelevant event but for some reason has stuck with me. City were taking on Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in March 2000. Midway through the 2nd half the score was 1-1 and chances for either team were scarce. Sensing the chance of a first away point in eight games, Paul Jewell decided to introduce the 36 year old Dreyer to the action to shore up our backline.

I can’t recall who he replaced but I remember him running onto the pitch at near Usain Bolt pace, which was greeted by a roar of encouragement from the travelling City fans. Dreyer proceeded to play like a man possessed, he was first to every ball, making some crunching tackles along the way and covering many more yards than usual. My friend who was at the game with me remarked; ‘John Dreyer is playing like a 16 year old!’

This quip has stuck with us and we still talk about the day Dreyer rolled back the years with the energy of a teenager at White Hart Lane. In our minds he was heavily responsible for the vital point City gained that day, which was ultimately crucial in our successful battle against the drop.

My second memory from that time is slightly more obvious and is one that is shared by most City fans of that era. Being on a family holiday, I was unable to travel to Sunderland to witness Dreyer’s finest moment in a Bradford City shirt. Again, it was down to the radio commentary to keep me informed and I was feeling sick with nerves when the 5Live commentator said ‘…and there’s been a goal at the Stadium of Light’.

When it was announced that City had taken the lead I was euphoric and even more so to hear Dreyer had headed the goal. Up until that moment I felt City had little chance of beating the drop, given the poor run of form we had been on, but that goal suddenly gave me the belief that we could actually do it. 3 weeks later we were safe.

Ask anybody how Bradford City managed to avoid relegation that season and the first thing that springs to most people’s minds is David Wetherall’s header v Liverpool. In reality that was just a small part of the story. Dreyer played just as big a role in our survival and us City fans should never forget that.

As City made an ultimately misguided attempt to build on their top flight survival, Dreyer was allowed to join Cambridge United on a free transfer. It was a typical  end to a low-key, but ultimately successful, Bradford City career.