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.

Matt Clarke, unearthing a diamond

We have had some pretty decent goalkeepers in the last 20 years at Bradford City.

There have been one or two disasters – The £125,000 spend on Robert Zabica and ‘that’ home game against Sunderland that followed. And perhaps the Russell Howarth (now a paramedic) spring to mind.

But generally the Goalkeeper position at the club has been mostly positive through the 90’s and not really been the cause or a factor of our recent ‘ten years of decline’. Mark Schwarzer, Mark Prudhoe, the legendary Gary Walsh, Paul Henderson, Scott Loach and Donovan Ricketts (look where his career has taken him!) are some notable successes both during their time at Valley Parade and after.

But one particular ex City keepers’ spell between the sticks at Valley Parade holds strongest in the memory.

Matt Clarke was brought in as understudy to City legend Gary Walsh during our first season in the Premiership (’99-00’). After an excellent 4 years at Rotherham in the early nineties, where he was nicknamed ‘Matt the Cat’ for his excellent agility, Clarke moved on to Sheffield Wednesday where his career seemingly came to a halt after failing to displace the evergreen Kevin Pressman at Hillsborough.

But despite his unremarkable spell at Wednesday, where he managed only 4 appearances in 3 seasons, Paul Jewell spotted his potential when he was scouted in Wednesday reserve games.

Initially, Clarke was to play second fiddle to Gary Walsh. Then part way through City’s debut season in the Premier League, former Manchester United man Walsh suffered an injury that gave Clarke a chance to press his claim for a first team spot. He never looked back.

He made a massive impression from the first game he was put in. Inevitability, City’s defence were very frequently ‘under the cosh’ against much stronger opposition teams and time after time Clarke was called into action to save the concession of a goal – and memories of those saves serve well in every City fans’ memory who were supporting the team at the time.

My personal favourite was away at West Ham in our second season in the Premier League. I had just started University near North London and so jumped at the chance of seeing my beloved Bantams play away in the capital. I went along with a friend who had just got a job in London and she was dying to find out what my passion of following Bradford City was all about and to take in a Premier League game.

Despite some very high profile additions to the City squad in the ‘six weeks of madness’, we were massively on the defensive from the first whistle to last at Upton Park. David Wetherall was colossal that day, but it was Clarke who really caught the eye. Di Canio, Freddi Kanoute, Joe Cole and Micheal Carrick et al were causing us all kinds of problems at the back.

Mid way through the first half, youngsters Cole and Carrick played a neat one-two which put Carrick striding towards goal with intent.

He released a rasping drive that was certain to fly in to the bottom corner in the goal behind the City fans. But Clarke got an unbelievable reflex tip to the ball that touched it onto the post, and he was quickly up to block the follow up from Kanoute. It was the best save I had ever seen in live action.

Performances like that made bigger clubs have a look at this talented goalkeeper. There were rumours that Arsene Wenger was poised to make a bid to strengthen the Gunners goalkeeping department. City fans created a ‘Clarkey for England’ campaign to try and persuade Kevin Keegan to give Clarke an England call up. Some might have viewed the campaign as ambitious and maybe a bit ‘tongue in cheek’, but Clarke’s performances in the Premier League most definitely deserved a lot of recognition.

It felt like we had a real superstar in the making in our squad and that was a really fantastic feeling at the time. Watching him in between the sticks really serves well in my memory. He was excellent at crosses, commanding of his area, and of course he made his name with his spectacular shot stopping.

Clarke went on loan to Bolton in 2001, where he helped them get promotion to the Premier League, and a £1m move to Crystal Palace followed. It didn’t quite work out for Clarke after that and injury meant an early retirement.

I will always look back on his time at City with fond memories. He hasn’t been mentioned much, if at all, around Valley Parade in the following years, which is a shame as he provided us all with such great entertainment and excitement in a very short period of time.

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.

Mark Leonard, for one night only

There is a moment etched into the collective memories of Bradford City supporters of a certain age in which City rake a long, high ball forward for a flick on and then for Mark Leonard to out jump his defender and loop a header into the goal. If you were at that game already you have conjured the moment in your mind.

Mark Zico Leonard scores against Everton.

The ball lofted forward was by Peter Jackson – putting a lie to the idea that he did nothing on his return – and Ian Ormondroyd’s flick on to Leonard would be repeated when Sticks headed down at Wembley eight years later. The Everton side featured a recently transferred Stuart McCall on his return to Valley Parade and the goal loops over Neville Southall – at the time considered the best goalkeeper in the country if not the World – who would finish his long, illustrious and brilliant career in that very goalmouth aged 41.

Watching the goal again does not dim the memory although things jar: The bars fencing in supporters for another, The way that Southall picks up and rolls out a back pass, The physical size of the players who to a man are seemingly a stone heavier than their modern day counterparts;

On that night Leonard shone as bright as any player might. Against the league champions, and uncharacteristically for a team starting to decline, that was Mark Leonard’s night.

The story wrote itself of course. Leonard had broken his leg having been hit by a car on the way to sign for Everton and this was his “unfinished business”. He had joined City from Stockport County with a good scoring record at the lower levels but had not been able to fill the not inconsiderable boots of Bobby Campbell competing for a place in City’s forward line with Ron Futcher in the season the Bantams made the Division One play-offs. Leonard scored 29 goals in 157 appearances for City, none of them recalled with the glee of the evening against Everton.

Leonard did not score a goal every other game, his knowledge of the offside law – or his ability to put that knowledge into practice – was massively limited and seldom has a City striker strayed beyond the back line to invite the flag more. His nickname – Zico – was ironic. For all his hard work, honest endeavour and tireless efforts the only flash of brilliance Leonard showed was that header.

Which damns the man with feint praise. Leonard worked hard as a player and that was appreciated by City supporters. Zico was ironic but affectionate. The mood might have wished for Leonard to be putting the goals at the rate that Mark Bright and Ian Wright – Crystal Palace’s deadly strikers that season who were first and second in the top scorers list – but the fact he did not was not for the want of effort. Leonard was one of football’s triers. Everton was his moment in the sun, but he never let anyone down in his years in the shade.

Indeed for a time he played at centreback before his unwept at exit from Valley Parade in 1992. He went on to win a promotion to the Football League for Chester City playing for Preston North End and Rochdale but never moving above City. When he left football became a top class crown green bowler ranking in England’s top ten. Perhaps he really was Zico when aiming at a Jack.

When thinking about Mark Leonard – Lenny to some, Zico to others – I wonder how he would be received by the modern Bradford City. Perhaps he would be a Gareth Evans of a player with as many critics as he had people in his corner, perhaps he would be a Jake Speight with his hard work ignored and eyes fixated on his goal tally, perhaps he would be a Barry Conlon.

Looking at Leonard’s goal scoring record one is struck by how the higher up the divisions he went, the lower his return. Like Chesterfield’s Jack Lester who seemed to work out after his spells at Nottingham Forest that he was more effective the lower down the leagues he was and one might have forgiven Leonard for staying low and being a good scorer in the bottom two divisions. As a rule though footballers though are built from ambition always want the bigger prize, and to play at the highest level, to forgo a good career in the shadows for some time in the light.

And for one night, Mark Leonard achieved that.

Shaun Murray, the unexpected

Some players are predicted to do better than others. Whether it be the club they came from, the price tag they carried, the league position City finished in last season, or even their mere physical presence – the simple fact is that the weight of expectation lays heavier on the shoulders of some players than others.

When Shaun Murray, who could generously be described as “diminutive” signed for an undisclosed (read: pennies) fee from Scarborough in the pre-season of 1994/95 (after the 6,000 or so that regularly turned up to VP had witnessed a finish three points outside the play-offs in the Third Division the previous term), it is fair to say that he was not viewed as a key signing.

Oh, expectation.

True, the maiden season for Murray was not a good one for the side: Lennie Lawrence steered the club to a mid-table finish, and left by November of 95/96. And, yes, some would cite his unwillingness to shoot and, true, it could be said that he’d have added to his tally of goals had he attempted to do more than pass it into the net once he’d reached the target. But, man, the route he took in reaching that target.

Murray possessed a relentlessness rarely seen before or since at VP when it came to getting the ball into the box. The only difference between his brand of route one and the route one of The Doc was that with Murray, the ball was stuck to his feet – and that’s not to say he was a greedy player: far from it. Murray wouldn’t stick to the wing and run, like, say, Daley. He would be in the middle, at full-back, seemingly devoid of the concept of energy conservation. Every passing triangle there was, Murray formed part of it.

You can imagine the opposition right-back turning up and stifling a snigger as they saw the tiny wee Geordie standing opposite them. By the end of the match, that smirk was well and truly wiped off their faces, as Murray would meander past them with guile and trickery that belied everything he should have been like.

After the 1994/95 season, and being the player of the season by quite some shout (at least in my own personal recollection of events), and the club pushing closer and closer (before making good on the threat) of making the play-offs, new manager Chris Kamara seemed to stop looking at what the player was like, and started to look at what he thought the player should be like. By Wembley in 1996, Murray was not in the team. He was not even on the bench.

In the season afterwards, we had the fun of Chris Waddle and that goal against Everton in the cup. We also had a very close scrape with relegation that was very much staring us in the face as the inevitable, not a mere threat. When Waddle left, the fans were crestfallen – the talisman had gone, and we were going to get relegated. Only João Pinto’s brother could save us now – except that the man from Portugal was finding that Bradford in March was not quite as alluring as his native Porto and, out of options, Murray found himself back in the side. Again, there was no expectation. We were going down, already – what would it matter that we played a bit-part player, most of the time playing on his wrong side?

Again, expectations were wrong.

In the end, City did stay up (on the final day), and Murray excelled in making the unthinkable achievable, again by bucking the trend of expectation. He had another season with City before the class of 1999 who took City up to the Premiership, but, make no bones about it, without Shaun Murray, Bradford City would not have been a Premiership club.

And who could have ever expected that?

Bruce Stowell, an amateur turned professional

Two years ago Stuart McCall was debating whether Bradford City could offer James Hanson enough of a weekly wage to improve on his combined income from Guiseley and the Idle Co-op. Fifty years earlier Bradford City were saved from an identical dilemma when Bruce Stowell, who had initially signed as an amateur, turned professional. But Stowell was from another era.

When I was a lad, there were two certainties at Valley Parade – three, if you count the occasionally threatened prospect of Fourth Division football. One was that City would play in amber shirts with claret pinstripes, the sort you could see from the Kop, not the 2011 version. The other was that Bruce Stowell would always be in the team, usually wearing a number 4 shirt. Neither was quite as certain as a young fan might have liked, but Stowell saw me through my youth and left only when I was 21.

Bradford born and leaving school at 15, Stowell followed so many of his generation into the mills. He was still working there when he signed professional terms at the end of 1958 and he stayed in the mill until 1967. For the best part of a decade one of City’s most consistent performers played part-time and did a proper job the rest of the week. And, to borrow the old cliché, I bet he did come to games on the bus.

When Stowell won a regular first team place, he was a wing half. Only when Alf Ramsey’s wingless wonders won the World Cup did Stowell become a midfield player. He was maybe more of a defensive minded player than another number 4 who followed him, via the same brief and mistaken route as a Leeds United schoolboy. But Bruce had played for Bradford Boys and would become, to all intents and purposes, a one club man.

As soon as he became a full time professional, he was the obvious choice to captain the team. In his first two seasons as a full time player he hardly missed a game. At the end of the second season, 1968-9, City secured their first promotion for exactly forty years. The captain, still with the same hair cut that he had sported as a mill hand, led the way. However deep the Valley Parade mud became, Stowell covered every inch of the pitch game after game after game. He tackled, he passed and he cajoled the younger players in a team where the Bradford accent predominated. Ian Cooper, Bruce Bannister and Bobby Ham were all regulars in that promoted side and maybe we could forgive John Hall for being born just over the boundary in Bramley.

The record books will tell you that Stowell’s most significant game was played in October 1970. It was his 344th league game for City and it broke the club appearance record. There is a nice mathematical symmetry about that game. The new record holder was wearing his familiar shirt. The number three shirt that day was Ian Cooper’s and in the number two shirt it just had to be Ces Podd. Each in turn would hold that appearance record. Bruce went on to play 437 games in a variety of claret and amber strips, scoring 18 goals.

So much for the record books. But those of us who saw him play on 3rd January 1970 witnessed his finest hour. The match was in the third round of the F.A. Cup and the opponents were Tottenham Hotspur. Jimmy Greaves had whacked the ball against the post after four seconds. Pat Liney never even saw the rebound. The usual Valley Parade mud had iced over. The Southern Softies clearly didn’t fancy it. (OK, so not all of them were southerners. Out of interest, the starting eleven were: Jennings, Kinnear, Knowles, Mullery, England, Beal, Johnson, Greaves, Gilzean, Perryman, Morgan. Not a bad side, I suppose.) But the Bradford lads (with Denis Atkins at right back, five Bradford born players faced Spurs) were proper footballers, who played in all weathers for their team. One of those 18 career goals from Bruce Stowell secured a 2-2 draw against the super stars and cup specialists.

In 1972 he left Valley Parade and played just 16 games for Rotherham before emigrating to Australia. There he continued to play for another three seasons before embarking on a coaching career in Queensland and Malaysia.

Maybe Bruce Stowell really was just one of those players ‘from another era’. But maybe that
‘other era’ is not too distant after all. Bruce played in City teams that struggled to keep their League status. He knew how lucky he was to make a living out of the game. And he gave his all every week. Not quite a fully fledged hero, but Bruce Stowell and what he brought to the teams of my youth deserves to be fondly remembered and, by someone at least, to be imitated.

Gavin Oliver, not half bad

At the back end of 93/94 season my dad won a raffle at work and he, I, and a couple of his mates got the Samaritan’s sponsors’ tickets for a home tie against Stockport. All this really meant was that we swapped our tickets in the kop for entry to a directors’ box, two minutes grinning like idiots on the pitch before kick-off, and some pretty naff seats at the back of the stand.

The game was awful, the pitch a sand pit and the result a defeat. But that’s not why I remember the game. Sitting on my chest of drawers at home is a framed picture of me receiving a signed ball from Gavin Oliver. In reality the task of meeting match sponsors must be a chore undertaken by those on the fringes of the squad, but the injured Gavin Oliver didn’t show any signs of tedium as he chatted, asked about my favourite players and whether I played football myself.

I was made up. I’d met Gavin Oliver. I remember Oliver having a bit of a reputation for scoring own goals and was not seen as the most cultured of centre backs, but he was there week-in-week-out as I was growing up and his was the name that my mum ironed on to the back of my claret and amber, Freemans sponsored, diamond patterned city shirt.

My Dad couldn’t understand why I had Oliver on the back of the shirt given that we had Dean Richards at the time and, quite frankly, Gav, while held in fond affection, was not necessarily revered for his footballing ability. But I was ten and at that age it was the little things that mattered. While I have been reliable informed that my first ever game was a cup tie against Everton in 1987, being three I can’t remember it. I know I had been to games and seen goals before, but the first one that sticks in my memory was scored by Gavin Oliver.

A trawl of football stats websites informs that this was one of only nine goals in just over three hundred appearances, so it sticking in my memory is perhaps all the more impressive. Again my Dad plays an important role, taking me out of school to visit the dentist, or so I thought. Unbeknownst to me and with the consent of my football-mad head teacher Mr Tony Cryer, I was going to my first ever away game – Tottenham Hotspurs in the Rumbellows’ Cup. We actually got there a couple of minutes late and had only really settled when Gav met a corner with a towering header and put us one up. He went on to have a good game at centre half and I came away knowing that if I wanted to be a footballer, he was who I had to emulate.

Getting into football at that time – after the almost glory days of the Dolan era and with the gift of hindsight, just before the glory days of Chris Kamara and then Paul Jewell – was not necessarily the most rewarding of endeavours for City fans. In the dark days of the John Docherty reign, the Spurs game was perhaps the only truly high point, a noble defeat. But Gavin Oliver was steadfast throughout, with City finishing in eighth, scoring more than they conceded.

Others, perhaps those a little older will have different memories of Gavin Oliver. It is clear he was seen as a bit of a comic figure at times. A copy of ‘Bernard of the Bantams’ from 1988, which I unearthed while trying to write this piece, suggests that the perfect Christmas gift for Gav would be a new pair of underpants given that he “soils his on every occasion an opponent runs at him”.

On perhaps the night of his finest moment (to my mind at least), the official Spurs match programme offers this pen picture of Gavin Oliver:

Gavin Oliver (Defender).
Born in Newcastle, Brian started his career as an apprentice with Newcastle United. He signed professional forms for the Magpies and made 32 league appearances for the club, before signing for Bradford City in March, 1989.

For me this unintentional error is telling. Like his unarguably more cultured centre-half partner Dean Richards, Oliver didn’t shout about himself and not being as gifted, often went unnoticed. However, he always tried to let let his football do the talking and while it wasn’t perhaps as fluent or eloquent as others, you always got the gist of what he was trying to say. For eight years he played pretty much week-in-week-out and never once did he shirk a challenge or pull his head away from danger. When he wore the armband, you could see him stand taller than his five foot eleven frame. Of course all young lads should aspire to be a Richards, McCall, or Hendrie, but being a Gavin Oliver isn’t half bad.

I think this is a nice way to finish, taken from an online Millwall fanzine:

All afternoon Tony Cascarino had trouble escaping the attentions of Gavin Oliver and Teddy Sheringham had one of those afternoons when nothing went right.

Cascarino went on to play at the 1990 World Cup and Sheringham didn’t turn out half bad either.

Jamie Lawrence, the workaholic

Jamie Lawrence is approximately 60 metres away from me when he picks up possession inside his own half 67 minutes into an FA Cup tie with Grimsby. 10 seconds later, and I and dozens of people around me are hugging the Jamaican international following a sensational weaving run past numerous blue shirts than ended with the ball passed crisply into the back of the net.

It is a glorious solo goal and – in the days before football was breached by health & safety guidelines and players weren’t sent off for celebrating with fans – Jamie has chosen to run to the part of the Kop where I stand to celebrate with us supporters his special moment.

Lawrence only ever scored 14 times in his 170 appearances for the club, so this strike – which ultimately proves the winner in one of the last genuinely exciting FA Cup matches before the magic of the cup began to wane at all levels – can be viewed as a peak moment in his Bantams career. Certainly Jamie is fondly remembered for the occasional brilliant goal, such as against Norwich that same season, and West Ham and Tottenham in the Premiership a year later, but it wouldn’t be his first quality to come to our minds when we recall the Londoner’s time at Valley Parade.

Jamie was a battler, with a commendable work ethic that stood out even in a team featuring the likes of Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs. He would give everything he had to the cause, running up and down the right flank defending as equally effectively as he attacked. Most of us fans lapped it up – a rare real life example of the myth that we’ll always get behind a player who might not be the best, so long as they put 110% effort.

Not everyone agreed though, and in some ways there was almost a snobbish attitude displayed by Lawrence’s dissenters. Jamie was a poor player with limited ability, they argued, but he gets away with not being given a hard time because he hides behind his work rate. In the days when Peter Beagrie struggled to win over the crowd and was at one stage packed off on loan to Everton, some argued Lawrence should be criticised as widely too.

Yet Lawrence’s work rate and application levels stood out to me as inspiration rather than a disguise. Sure he wasn’t the greatest player in the world, but without working so hard on his game and displaying such passion, those skilful qualities he did possess would never have been seen either. Lawrence grafted to win our trust and respect, and once we supporters, team mates and management built up our faith in him we were rewarded by ever-improving levels of performances. While other members of the 1997-98 mid-table first division squad were left behind by the bar been risen the following season, Lawrence kept pace and became a key figure in the club’s promotion to the Premier League and successful survival in the top flight the year after.

The lessons we can take remain as relevant today as they were then. Without working hard, mastering the basics and showing the right attitude – none of us would progress so well in our own careers and even in life. I’ve personally learned from Jamie that demonstrating an aptitude for hard work can get you a long way in winning over people; and the greater responsibility and promotions you crave – offering you the chance to really show your worth – are the rewards. In contrast I’ve seen other friends go into a job believing they are above it and then failing to put in the effort or focus on improving, leading them to fall at the first hurdle.

Not all footballers can be as good at taking on players as Lawrence (I remember him selling Steven Gerrard a dummy once), nor are they capable of curling the ball into the top corner from 30 yards like he did at West Ham in 2000. But there’s no reason why any player can’t look to emulate him in the effort levels they put in on the pitch and at the training ground.

Sadly, players that came close to matching Lawrence’s work rate have been few and far between in recent years.

So I loved the fact I got to hug Lawrence at the front of the Kop that day. Because his stella goal was the result of him trying and succeeding to overcome personal failings and win over doubters; of recognising the need to improve and taking responsibility to do so; of building up confidence in yourself and in other people’s minds.

And of how anyone – if they work hard enough – can surprise themselves and those around them in what they are truly capable of.

About Secondary Heroes

Stuart McCall, Bobby Campbell, Ces Podd, Peter Beagrie, John Hendrie, Benito Carbone…

Bradford City’s all-time greatest and best players are widely known and rightly celebrated for the contributions they provided to our history. We can read about them in books, learn about them at the excellent Bantams Past and relive their stories through talking to our friends.

But beyond the obvious and the renowned, there are numerous Bantams heroes over the years who might not quite deserve the title of ‘Legend’ and who are not recalled as often; but who, nevertheless, gave us some great moments when they wore claret and amber. And whose mention of their name can stir happy memories.

BfB will pay tribute to these less illustrious greats who served Bradford City well for a time. We will remember players who may not grace many supporters’ all-time City XI, but who still retain our affection.

The writers of BfB will be queuing up to share their secondary heroes, and if you’d like to get
involved in writing about your less obvious favourite City player we’d love to include it within our series too. We’re not necessarily looking for you to retell the history of the player – most of us will know their story – but more your personal thoughts on what they meant to you, the impact they had on the club (short or long-term) and your favourite moments they delivered. Drop us a line.