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.

A timely reminder

Being a Bradford City fan has hardly been something to shout about over the last few years. Since the end of our Premiership dream a decade ago, we’ve suffered more than most supporters – administrations, relegations, dreadful football, questionable management and not even a decent cup run to speak of (unless we count last season’s assault on the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, where a penalty shoot-out victory over the mighty Notts County sparked a farcical pitch invasion).

We’ve watched teams who are traditionally our equals, Burnley and Blackpool, reach the dizzy heights of the Premier League whilst we have tried to get ourselves enthused about trips to the likes of Accrington and Aldershot.

What many of us had believed would be a short stay in the basement division of English football has turned into a four-season nightmare, which has shown little sign of ending anytime soon. The realisation that we are now a ‘proper’ League 2 club isn’t easy to accept.

The opening weeks of this season haven’t given much cause for us to believe we will be popping the champagne corks come May – before Saturday our 6 league games had heralded a total of 4 points and 3 goals. The various City-related message boards have been a hotbed of negativity (some of which is difficult to argue against), Peter Taylor has already been forced to deny rumours of a boardroom rift and every move he makes – whether it be giving a short-term deal to Chib Chilaka or appearing as a pundit on Sky – seems to be scrutinised to the maximum.

The fact a section of our support booed a 1-0 victory on the second weekend of the season says it all – the phrase ‘doom and gloom’ could have been invented for our club.

At Saturday’s game versus Gillingham it felt as though some of our supporters had seen enough. Ian Ormondroyd remarked on The Pulse prior to the match that the stadium and surrounding areas had a quieter feel about them and the area in which I sit was significantly less populated than it had been for a while. Although the actual attendance of 10,722 was only slightly down on previous weeks, the general feeling of malaise within the stadium made it seem almost cavernous at times. Those that did attend saw little in the opening 45 minutes to suggest anything other than another disappointing afternoon was on the cards.

The introduction of Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne at half time seemed to have a slight galvanising effect on the team, if not all of the supporters. For much of the second period a goalless draw looked to be the only possible outcome, despite some uncharacteristically positive play from City. Whilst the atmosphere in the stadium showed a marked improvement on that of the first half, it wasn’t anywhere near the intensity we all know it can be – it didn’t seem to feel as though we could actually win.

Last week I, like millions of others, watched Arsenal practically destroy Portuguese side Braga in the opening round of the Champions League. After the Gunners casually knocked in goal after goal, seemingly scoring with every attack, I half-jokingly remarked, “I wish I supported a team like Arsenal.”

I’ve followed City for over 20 years and there is no way that I would ever switch allegiance to another team, but I watched that Arsenal performance with a mixture of pleasure and envy. I very much doubt that Bradford City could ever turn in a display like that in my lifetime and we are unlikely to ever have players who can match the skill of Cesc Fabregas or Andrey Arshavin.

Yet as I watched, I noticed something. With 10 minutes to go the Emirates Stadium was emptying rapidly. By the final whistle it must have been half full at the most. This reminded me exactly why I don’t support a team like Arsenal – who wants to be in an environment where success is treated with such apathy?

On Saturday, Steve Williams’ 92nd minute header provided a timely reminder of what supporting Bradford City is all about. As followers of our team we endure countless hours of sub-standard football, primitive facilities at away grounds and diabolical refereeing decisions but the sheer euphoria of a late, late winner makes it all worthwhile.

The scenes of jubilation inside Valley Parade were fantastic to witness after so much recent disappointment and the positive atmosphere among our supporters leaving the stadium made a refreshing change.

The win may have only lifted City 3 places up the table but there are 39 games still to play, which we can maybe begin to look upon with (extremely) cautious optimism. Nobody can argue that there aren’t still problems for our manager to address, such as the lack of experience up front, but for now we should enjoy the fact that City are unbeaten in their last two outings.

Whilst walking back to my car after the game on Saturday I heard that well-worn footballing cliché ‘the season starts here’ more than once. Let’s hope it really does.