Skip to main content Skip to site footer

If one were to try and encapsulate some of the successes and failures associated with one of the game's less glamorous clubs, then the undulating fortunes of Bradford City over the years would possibly be included in its pages. 

Along with Chelsea who emulated City's feat in 1905, Bradford City remain the only club to be elected to The Football League before they had played a single senior match. 

Indeed they had literally walked into full membership of the Second Division before a team had been assembled or the certainty of a ground on which to play, yet they topped the Covent Garden polling with 30 votes from a possible 35 on that eventful day of 25 May 1903. 

Thus they became the pioneers of professional association football in the West Riding of Yorkshire. 

Even more remarkably at the time of formation, Bradford City achieved the distinction in a stranglehold of football under the rugby code. 

Manningham Rugby Football Club had the dominant sporting force in the wool city but it became more apparent that the handling outfit could not remain solvent - despite a summer archery contest that realised a sum sufficient to have ensured their survival-members were persuaded to switch their allegiance to the game of soccer. 

So began the remarkable start of life of Bradford City A.F.C. for against a backcloth of local fervour which began with a gentle ripple of enthusiasm and developed with the force of a tidal wave, the club gained a Division 1 place within five years and captured the coveted F.A. Cup three years later in 1911.

All of this happened whilst competing for the affections of supporters who had by this time another professional club in the city which vied for their loyalties - Bradford Park Avenue. 

In modern times however, such heady days are beyond the recall of most supporters but they remain one of the pillars of the Football League. 

Their topsy-turvy career has mixed the trappings of success with the traumas of financial crisis and even tragedy, yet they have re- emerged from these trials and tribulations only to frustrate and mystify their supporters once again.

Bradford City played their first ever Football League game away to Grimsby Town on 1 September 1903 losing 2-0 before registering their first victory in the third game of the season at Burton United. 

Bristol City were recipients of Bradford City's first Valley Parade success the following week, setting the seal for the final position of 10th in an understandably erratic season. 

After capturing the Second Division Championship in 1908,they went on to grace the top flight for ten successive seasons straggling the Great War with a best ever position of fifth, achieved during their F.A. Cup Final winning season of 1911.

This was the year they set the club's longest standing ground record of 39,146 for the visit of Burnley in the Quarter Final.

Newcastle United, one of the Cup giants of the day, barred the way to Bradford City's first ever success in the world's Premier Cup competition. But after a replay it was the Valley Parade club who became the first proud owners of the new replacement Bradford-made trophy thanks to a 15th minute winner from skipper Jimmy Spiers. 

Manager Peter O'Rourke, the City's most successful supremo, brought the Third Division (North) title to Bradford in 1929 in record breaking fashion during his second spell as boss at Valley Parade, with little in the way of cheer in between time.

In fact Bradford had to wait 56 years for another title success when former England International Trevor Cherry building on foundations laid by George Mulhall and Roy McFarland led them to the Division 3 Championship in 1985.

However, the promotion party soon faded into insignificance when in the final game of the season, on Saturday 11 May at home to Lincoln City, a fire started in the Main Stand at Valley Parade and soon turned into an inferno, tragically claiming the lives of 56 supporters. 

Bradford had tasted the sweet flavour of promotion in 1969, 1977 and 1982 but generally their seasons were spent staving off either relegation or re-election.

So one could understand the waves of euphoria which greeted the club when under the popular Managership of Bradford born Terry Dolan, they eased their way in the Second Division Play-Offs in 1987 only to lose agonisingly to Middlesbrough in the semi- final after extra-time.

The stars of the side about this time were arguably home reared Stuart McCall, later to display his talents on the World Cup stage for Scotland and John Hendrie, a free transfer from Coventry City.

The Bradford City faithful had to endure a few heart-stopping moments late on in the 96/97 season as the Club battled to avoid relegation back into Division 2.

However consecutive home wins over Charlton Athletic and Queens Park Rangers in the space of four days ensured survival. 

The 1997/98 season saw City have an excellent start to the campaign spending the first three months in the top six, even leading the Division in September. 

However following a disappointing run of results at the end of the year, Chris Kamara was relieved of his duties on 6 January 1998. 

Paul Jewell took over as Caretaker Manager and was appointed to the position of Manager on 26 January 1998, initially until the end of the season. 

The season ended with Bradford City in 13th position in the Nationwide Football League Division 1, City's highest ever placing and Jewell was rewarded with a two-year contract to take the club into the new Millennium. 

His first signing saw former City favourite and Scottish international Stuart McCall return to Valley Parade from Rangers on 4 June 1998. 

Saturday 28 November 1998 saw the Diamond Seal Kop terracing used to capacity for the final time in the game vs Queens Park Rangers with work on a new £2.3m two-tier stand starting two days later, ready for completion for the beginning of the 1999/2000 season making Valley Parade an all-seater stadium. 

And Sunday 9 May 1999 must rate as one of the most historic days in the Club's history when Bradford City were promoted to the FA Premier League on the final day of the season with an exciting 3-2 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux. 

The 1999/2000 season saw Bradford City's home take on a new name following a sponsorship deal with the ground becoming the Bradford & Bingley Stadium.

The summer months saw Manager Paul Jewell strengthen his squad in preparation for the club's first ever campaign in the F A Carling Premiership with the arrival of Matthew Clarke from Sheffield Wednesday. He was joined by three from neighbours Leeds United - Lee Sharpe, Gunnar Halle and on 1 July David Wetherall who became City's record signing when £1.4m was paid for his signature.

The eagerly awaited fixture list came out giving City an away game against Middlesbrough at the BT Cellnet Riverside Stadium as their first taste of football in the big-time. Sheffield Wednesday would provide the opposition for the opening F A Premier League game at the new look Bradford & Bingley Stadium.

The excitement of the season lasted until the very last day. Many had written City's chances off right from Day 1 claiming they would be relegated by February. However they were proved wrong. Sunday 14 May saw Liverpool at the Bradford & Bingley Stadium and Bradford knew they had to better Wimbledon's result, who were playing at Southampton, to ensure they stayed in the Premiership and condemn fellow strugglers The Dons who were level with City on points but had a better goal difference.

A 12th minute header from David Wetherall and a 2-0 defeat for Wimbledon sent the whole of Bradford into raptures and saw Premiership football at Valley Parade for another season. 

This would be a season in which history would again be made for the Club when an invitation was accepted to play in the UEFA Intertoto Cup competition, the first game for City in Europe taking place in Klaipeda, Lithuania.

However just two weeks before City's entry into Europe, Bradford City were rocked when Manager Paul Jewell quit as he felt he had taken the Club as far as he could. In line with previous appointments from within, Chris Hutchings was seen as the perfect replacement and took over as Manager on 22 June 2000.

Isaiah Rankin entered the Bradford City history books on Sunday 2 July 2000 when he scored the Bantams' first ever goal in European competition as City beat FK Atlantas 3-1 in Klaipeda (Lithuania) in the UEFA Intertoto Cup.

On 7 July 2000, the Club's transfer record was smashed when Leeds United's Scottish International midfielder David Hopkin was signed for a fee of £2.5m.

As the Club entered the 21st century, plans were announced to build a second tier on the Sunwin Stand, along with a new North West Corner Stand linking the Sunwin and Carlsberg Stands. The project would also include new Administration and Ticket Offices along with a new Club Superstore.

Application was also made to the Football Association for the Club to have Academy Status with a new state-of-the-art training base at Apperley Bridge as part of the plan. 

As the season progressed, City's fortunes on the pitch went downhill rapidly and after just 12 games and 137 days in charge, Chris Hutchings was relieved of his duties on 6 November 2000 with Stuart McCall taking over as Caretaker-Manager before the appointment of former Hearts boss Jim Jefferies two weeks later.

It soon became apparent to Jefferies that the players he inherited were not good enough to keep City in the Premiership and he began a mass clearout in preparation for the inevitable drop back into the Nationwide Football League which eventually came following a 2-1 defeat against Everton at Goodison Park on 28 April 2001, a game in which the Bantams took a third minute lead but missed two penalties.

However Jim Jefferies reign in charge finished on Christmas Eve 2001 when a few days after his Assistant Billy Brown left to return Scotland, Jefferies followed saying he was unable to carry on at the club without his assistant with whom he had worked for over 14 years at 4 different clubs. It had proved to be a difficult time for the pair with just 12 victories from 48 games played coupled with the earlier relegation from the Premier League and a slump which saw the Bantams enter the Christmas programme in 16th place.

City entered 2002 appointing Nicky Law from Chesterfield as the new Manager in succession to Jim Jefferies. Law decided that he wanted to bring in his own players in preparation for the following season so City saw out the 2001/2002 campaign with a limited squad, several players leaving before the transfer day deadline and others knowing that this season would be their last.

City were involved in a relegation battle to avoid the drop into Division 2 but safety was guaranteed with a 2-1 victory away at Wimbledon with two games to spare, the success breaking a jinx which had seen the Bantams fail to win in the capital since 1999.

As Manager Nicky Law prepared for the dawn of a new era at the club, another one came to an end when on Sunday 28 April 2002 skipper Stuart McCall played his last ever game for Bradford City in his testimonial when an ex-Bradford City XI took on an ex-Rangers XI in front of a packed Bradford & Bingley Stadium.

More drama arrived on Thursday 16 May 2002 when the club was placed into Administration brought about mainly by the collapse of ITV Digital and the fact that a proposed move by high-earner Benito Carbone to Middlesbrough failed to materialise. The double-whammy plunged the club £13m into debt and Administration was the only avenue open to try and save the club and find a buyer for the way forward.

Drastic cuts were forecast to make cost reductions, the first coming when 39 non-playing members of staff lost their jobs. However the biggest part of the cull came on Thursday 23 May when sixteen of the professional squad had their contracts torn up leaving Manager Nicky Law with five professionals with a handful of senior appearances among them and sixteen scholars.

The club faced a summer of uncertainty with every effort made to secure its future and on 1 August the Administrators managed to get creditors to accept a C.V.A. (Creditors Voluntary Agreement). This would mean debts being rescheduled and also the reinstatement of the players who had gone unpaid since April.

One player however not to return was Benito Carbone who sacrificed a large chunk of the money owed to him on his contract and he moved back to Italy to continue his career.

The Richmond era at Bradford City Football Club came to an end when on Saturday 10 August 2002 he resigned from the Board of Directors and was replaced as Chairman by new co-owner Gordon Gibb who along with Julian Rhodes had completed a take-over of the club at the 11th hour before the Bantams were due to lose their status in the Football League.

On Friday 30 August 2002, agreement was finally reached with the Professional Footballers Association over the payment of monies owed to the players during the summer of turmoil. 

With agreement having already been made with the creditors, this now allowed the Football League to return Bradford City's share in the League and were in effect no longer in Administration. All that was needed was for the Court to rubber-stamp matters a few days later.

The Richmond era at Bradford City had now finished with a new future on the horizon.

Theme Park magnate Gordon Gibb emerged as Bradford City's saviour alongside Director Julian Rhodes. The pair negotiated the legal minefield along with Richmond to save the Bantams' future with minutes to spare.

Gibb took over as Chairman from Richmond, bringing to an end an eight-and-a-half year reign.

Unlike his predecessor, Gordon Gibb did not go for the flamboyant approach as he began to pick up the pieces from the summer fall-out.

With a transfer embargo in place, Nicky Law had to show an eye for a bargain and unearthed some raw talent.

Youngsters Danny Forrest and Simon Francis emerged while the Manager worked the loan system to cope with an horrific list of injuries.

Finishing the 2002/03 season in 19th place was regarded as a success given all that had happened off the field.

However after a good start to the 2003/2004 season, Bradford's fortunes changed and finding themselves just one place off the bottom of the table with only three wins under their belt, on 9 November the Board felt that Nicky Law had been given as long as they could to turn things round and terminated his contract following the 1-1 draw at home to Walsall.

Monday 24 November 2003 saw one of the biggest causes for optimism in years arrive for Bradford City fans with the appointment of former-England captain Bryan Robson as the club's new Manager. He came with a fantastic pedigree of having taking his previous club Middlesbrough to three Cup Finals and two promotions in this five-year stint at the Riverside Stadium. Robson brought in Colin Todd as his no. 2.

However on Friday 9 January 2004, Bradford City Football Club was searching for a new Chairman after Gordon Gibb suddenly quit twenty-four hours prior to a crucial game with Norwich City at Carrow Road.

He ended his 17-month reign, stepping down alongside another director, his accountant Andrew Richardson.

In a statement following his resignation, Mr Gibb said: "I feel that the time has come now for somebody else to take the responsibility of chairman with fresh enthusiasm and vigour. In respect of recent negotiations with our major creditors a solid foundation has been built for success to be brought to the club."

The club was again plunged into a financial crisis on Friday 27 February 2004 when it was put back into administration and with a transfer embargo imposed by the Football League, Bryan Robson's hands were tied unable to bring in many players in an attempt to stave off relegation. The few players he was able to sign on loan were all badly hit by injuries and he was left with just 19 professionals to see out the season.

Such was the task that even the former England stalwart was unable to save the Bantams from relegation whose fate was confirmed following the 2-3 home defeat by Wimbledon, who themselves were already destined for Division 2 football on Saturday 17 April 2004.

A troublesome summer in 2004 saw several players quit the club to be guaranteed football elsewhere with the future of the Bantams not known.

Another departure saw Bryan Robson leave the club having said he would only want to continue in the post as Manager if the club were out of administration and it was evident that this would not be the case for some time.

On 17 June, his assistant Colin Todd took over as Manager with the popular Reserve & Youth Team Manager Bobby Davison being promoted to No.2. 

However it wasn't going to be an easy start for the pair as four days later Chief Executive Julian Rhodes resigned and the following week the administrators running the club gave the Landlord of the stadium an ultimatum - allow the Bantams rent-free use of Valley Parade for a year or the club would close.

Such was the severity of the problems that the administrators came to within ten minutes of closing the club down. But after a lot of hard work and assurances, the Football League eventually gave the Bantams the go ahead on Thursday 29 July to start the new season the following week in the Coca-Cola Football League 1.

In the months which followed Julian Rhodes was involved in lengthy discussions to buy out the club and after several stumbling blocks were negotiated, the club finally exited administration on Friday 10 December 2004 with a new future on the horizon.

The season which so very nearly wasn't finished with Bradford City in 11th place in the Coca-Cola Football League 1, missing out on a Play-Off place by just 7 points, leaving the bookmakers, who had the Bantams down for yet another relegation, way off target.

The end of an era also came for a City great when defender Wayne Jacobs left Valley Parade at the end if his testimonial season after 11-years service.

1 January 2007 saw another new stadium sponsor with Intersonic taking over from Bradford & Bingley.

On Monday 12 February 2007 Colin Todd paid the price for Bradford City's slump in form and was sacked after the Bantams won just three of their past 20 league games leaving City sitting three points clear of the relegation zone.  Since he took over at Bradford following Bryan Robson's departure in June 2004, Todd failed to win promotion from the Coca-Cola Football League One and the club have chose to take a new direction. Veteran skipper David Wetherall was appointed Caretaker Manager until Todd's long-term replacement is found.

However more misery came on Saturday 28 April when having put in a woeful performance away at Chesterfield and with results elsewhere going against them, City were relegated to football's basement division again.

1 June 2007 saw the hero's return with the appointment of fans' favourite Stuart McCall as manager.

McCall led the Bantams to a competent 10th place finish in Coca-Cola League 2 in his first season in charge. The following season was one of frustration for McCall and his players. Having being well positioned within the promotion hunt for the majority of the season, the Bantams had to settle for a 9th placed finish, agonisingly only 2 points away from a Play-Offs place. Poor results from the middle of March onwards were the Bantams undoing as a campaign that promised so much finished ultimately finished in disappointment.

Due the fall away in results towards the back end of the season, McCall brought into question his own position by threatening to leave his position. A S.O.S (Save our Stuart) campaign was set up by fans keen for the Bradford legend to remain at the football club. The fans eventually had their wish as Stuart decided to stay on as manager for next season.

After a slow start to the season, including a 5-0 opening day drubbing at Notts County, Bradford found their feet in the division. From the end of August to the start of October, the Bantams embarked on a ten match unbeaten run in all competitions. Sadly, results dipped from around the start of November as the Bantams began to fall down the league table. Results continued in a disappointing fashion into the New Year with McCall’s position coming into question once more.

City’s home defeat to Bury on 6 February 2010 proven to be McCall’s last in charge of the Bantams as the legend left his position at the football club the following Monday.

His replacement, Peter Taylor, was announced as the new Bradford City manager on Wednesday 17 February 2010.

Taylor’s original deal took him until the end of the 2009/10 season, but following negotiations towards the end of the season, he signed a new one year deal.

His first full season in charge of the Bantams’ didn’t quite according to plan, and after a season of struggle, it was announced in late February that he would leave the football club.

Peter Jackson was appointed as his successor on an interim basis shortly afterwards. His position as manager of the Bantams was made permanent at the beginning of June after successfully keeping the club in the Football League.

Jackson’s reign as permanent boss would unfortunately only last five matches.

Following a run of one point from four league games, along with a Carling Cup 1st round defeat, Jackson resigned on the eve of the Bantams’ home fixture with Barnet.

Jackson’s assistant, Colin Cooper, took charge of the Barnet – leading City to a 4-2 victory in the process – before Phil Parkinson was named City’s new permanent manager two days later.

Parkinson would eventually leave Valley Parade nearly five years later in June 2016 having firmly established himself as one of the club's most successful and popular managers.

The Chorley-born boss managed to maintain City's League 2 status for another season in his first campaign, before memorably guiding the Bantams to promotion via the Play-Offs the following year.

In the same season, Parkinson also helped City to defy all the odds by amazingly leading them to the Capital One Cup Final.

A top half finish in the club's first year back in League 1 the next season was followed by a seventh-place slot the season after - narrowly missing out on the Play-Offs in the process - along with a sensational run to the FA Cup Quarter-Finals.

Having already defeated Chelsea and Sunderland along the way, City eventually bowed out of the famous old competition at the hands of Reading following a replay at the Madejski Stadium.

Parkinson's final season at the helm - the 2015/2016 season - saw City qualify for the end-of-season Play-Offs with a fifth-placed finish in the regular league table.  

City appointed Stuart McCall as manager for the second time in June 2016.

Playing an attacking brand of football that was also pleasing on the eye, McCall's Bantams stayed in the top six for virtually all of the 2016/2017 campaign.

City would finish the regular league season unbeaten at home, with only runaway champions Sheffield United suffering fewer defeats overall (home and away) in Sky Bet League One.

McCall's first season back in charge of the Bantams eventually ended in agonising fashion, however, as a narrow defeat at the hands of Millwall in the Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final denied City the opportunity to return to the Championship for the first time since 2004.

The Bantams enjoyed a successful first half of the campaign during the next season, sticking in the play-offs positions throughout and amassing 48 points by the turn of the year.

A poor run of results in January and into February, however, saw City suffer six straight league and cup defeats. McCall was dismissed as manager on 5 February 2018.

Simon Grayson replaced McCall as City boss later that month after penning a deal until the end of the 2017/2018 campaign.

After guiding City to an eleventh-placed finish in League One at the end of the season, Grayson left the Northern Commercials Stadium.

Following a detailed search to find Grayson's successor, the Club appointed Under 18s coach Michael Collins into the role of Head Coach in June 2018.

Collins spent three months as the Bantams' Coach, and after an unsuccessful run, he was replaced by David Hopkin in September 2018.

The Bantams had a successful run under Hopkin in December 2018, but results slowly declined in January 2019 and Hopkin stepped down as Bradford City Manager in February 2019. 

Gary Bowyer was appointed as Bradford City Manager in March 2019 and brought the Bantams back to winning ways for one match against Peterborough United (3-0 to City).

However, the rest of the 2018/19 season did not go the club's way, and Bradford City were relegated to Sky Bet League Two. 

Modern stands tower over rows of terrace houses to provide an impressive spectacle which makes Valley Parade unrecognisable from the ground that supporters knew before the 1985 Bradford Fire Disaster when the 77-year old wooden stand was destroyed.

The ground, which is on a sloping tip site, was originally constructed during a three-month period in 1886 when Manningham Rugby Club were forced to move from nearby Carlisle Road after their ground was sold to build Drummond School.

Bradford City, who were formed in 1903 when Manningham decided to switch from rugby to soccer, developed so rapidly that they gained promotion from the old First Division five years later and the Directors hurriedly constructed a ground to cope with the large crowds - anything between 25,000 and 30,000 - that flocked to Valley Parade to see the biggest names in English football.

The club faced a similar problem in 1999 when they gained promotion to the Premiership and decided to add a second tier to the main stand, giving Valley Parade a 25,000 all-seater capacity to cope with the attraction of football's elite.

Unfortunately City were relegated just as the Main Stand extension was completed.

Following the Bradford City Fire on 11 May 1985 (left), Valley Parade laid derelict for 12 months while a decision on its future was taken, although Reserve Team games were played there with crowds of just a few hundred gathered under the shed at the Bradford End.

In the meantime the Bantams played their games at Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and Odsal Stadium and it was thought that Bradford Council, who owned Odsal, would have liked City to abandon Valley Parade and share the stadium with Bradford Northern (now Bradford Bulls).

However, the hardcore of City supporters, then numbering about 6,000 were adamant that they wanted to return to their traditional home and so in June 1986, 13 months after the fire, work began on a £2.6m redevelopment scheme.

Most of the money came from West Yorkshire County Council, then going out of business. They provided £1.4m, the club £650,000 and the remainder came from the Football League Ground Improvement Trust.

The scheme, which took six months to complete, was completed in time for a grand re-opening match between Bradford City and Bobby Robson's England Team which included star players like Kevin Keegan and Peter Shilton and was played in front of a capacity crowd of 16,000. It was an emotional occasion.

The next improvement came in 1991 when the present £1m 1,800 seater stand at the Bradford End replacing the standing terrace was opened but the major developments came after Geoffrey Richmond became Chairman in 1994 and coincided with City's rise up the Divisions.

He had a vision for a ground to match his ambitions for the team and the most significant development was his decision to build a new £1.5m 4,500 seater stand on the troublesome Midland Road side of the ground.

The project was announced three months before City's historic triumph in the Division 2 Play-Off Final at Wembley. It was completed in time for the Boxing Day fixture against Sheffield United in 1996 and was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen the following March when she visited Bradford to distribute the Royal Maundy.

As a Division 1 club, City had three years in which to comply with legislation and convert their ground into an all-seater stadium. That meant demolishing the Kop and building that into an all-seater stand costing £2.5m, a project that started during the 1998-99 Premiership promotion season.

The roof of the Kop was removed in December 1998 and the new stand provided seating for 7,486, replacing a 7,234 standing area.

The corner between the Kop and the Main Stand, the North West Corner, was filled in and came into use for the first time at the Boxing Day match against Sunderland in 2000.

A new suite of offices and superstore was also build behind the North West Corner.

Work also began on the £7.5m main stand during the 2000 close season as City prepared for their second season in the Premiership and by the time it was ready, City were already doomed to relegation.

It became fully operational for a pre-season friendly with Blackburn Rovers.

The extensive ground redevelopment spread over 5 years had given Bradford City a 25,000 capacity stadium.

While the stadium is commonly known throughout the game as Valley Parade, its official title is the Northern Commercials Stadium following a welcome sponsorship agreement.