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'WETHERALL'S FREE!'....FIFTEEN YEARS ON

14 May 2015

On this day exactly fifteen years ago, the Bantams defeated the mighty Liverpool to complete one of the biggest shocks in Premier League history.

 

City's victory over a side containing the likes of Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard was enough to help them pull off the great escape and secure their Premiership status for another season against all the odds.


Going into the game, few people had given Paul Jewell's men much of a chance of defeating Liverpool, who themselves were chasing a Champions League spot.


But in one of the most dramatic and nerve-wracking final day escapes in the history of the Premier League, Jewell's side defied the critics to earn their place in the promised land for the next campaign thanks to David Wetherall's unstoppable header.


Fifteen years on from that memorable day, we look back at some of the match coverage from Valley Parade and aim to bring those happy memories flooding back.


Background
The 1999/00 season was the Bantams' first in the top flight of English football for 72 years.


Bradford had won promotion to the Premier League by finishing as runners-up to Sunderland thanks to a dramatic victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers on the final day of the regular season.


With their lack of recent top-flight experience and a rookie manager in charge however, many pundits expected Bradford to struggle from the very start.


The Bantams made the perfect start to the new season though, with an opening day win at Middlesbrough thanks to Dean Saunders' late strike.


But Jewell's side would soon come down to earth with a bump.


City quickly found themselves with a season-long battle on their hands to avoid relegation straight back to Division One. Six defeats on the spin around March and April in particular plunged the Bantams firmly into the relegation zone.


Just as relegation was looking a distinct possibility, the Bantams picked up priceless wins over against Sunderland and fellow strugglers Wimbledon. Defeat to Leicester City in the penultimate game though meant that City's fate would be decided on the final match of the season.


Opponents Liverpool rode into Valley Parade with plenty at stake themselves. A victory for the Reds could have secured Gerard Houiller's side a Champions League spot.


Watford and Sheffield Wednesday were already cut adrift at the bottom and had been relegated by the final weekend of the season. 


The Bantams were level on points with relegation rivals Wimbledon but the Dons had a much better goal-difference, meaning Jewell's men had to better whatever result the Londoners achieved. Wimbledon were facing Southampton away.


The Match

In front of a sell-out crowd at Valley Parade, visitors Liverpool made a bright start, but it was the Bantams who drove into the lead.


With only 12 minutes gone, Gunnar Halle flighted a free-kick from the right flank into the Liverpool penalty area and Wetherall rose highest to power a truly unstoppable header past Sander Westerveld into the top right-hand corner.


The rest of the first half was relatively uneventful as City held the visitors at bay. 


Hearts were in mouths though when Michael Owen made space for himself in the Bradford area and then rounded goalkeeper Matt Clarke, only for his goal-bound effort to be cleared off the line by some desperate defending. 


At this stage at the Dell, Southampton and Wimbledon were still to break the deadlock.


The Reds were beginning to pile on the pressure with Emile Heskey and Michael Owen denied by desperate blocks in quick succession at the start of the second period. The Bantams got the timely boost they needed, however, when news filtered through from Southampton that Wayne Bridge had scored against Wimbledon. 


The goal was greeted in the stands with nearly as big a roar as when Wetherall had scored. 


As Liverpool pushed, Bradford had a great chance to double their advantage midway through the second half but Windass was denied by a Dominic Matteo block.


Valley Parade was at fever pitch though moments later when Marian Pahars put Southampton 2-0 up. It also meant a draw would surely be enough for Bradford.


The home crowd still had to endure some nervy moments when Owen and Vladimir Smicer both went close for the increasingly desperate Reds. Substitute Isaiah Rankin had a chance to put the game to bed for City on the counter-attack but he chipped agonisingly wide of the post.


After a nervy wait, referee Dermot Gallagher finally blew the final whistle on the season - City had done it,  the Bantams had achieved the great escape.


Match Stats

City: Clarke, Halle, Sharpe, O'Brien, Wetherall, Lawrence, McCall, Dreyer, Beagrie (Jacobs 81), Saunders (Rankin 78), Windass
Subs not used: Westwood, Blake, Davison


Liverpool: Westerveld, Carragher, Hyypia, Henchoz, Matteo (Meijer 82), Redknapp, Berger (Camara 61), Hamann, Gerrard (Smicer 61) Heskey, Owen
Subs not used: Song, Nielsen


Bookings:


City: Dreyer
Liverpool: Hamann, Henchoz


Goals:
City: Wetherall (12)


Attendance: 18,276


Media coverage from fifteen years ago


BBC
(From BBC Sport website)

It truly was a 'great escape' when Bradford City somehow avoided relegation from the Premiership on the final day of the 1999/2000 campaign.


Victory at home against Liverpool was enough to condemn Wimbledon to the First Division. Against all the odds, the Bantams survived to fight another day.


While City ran out 1-0 winners over the Merseysiders, relegation rivals Wimbledon slipped to a 2-0 defeat at Southampton. The results combined were enough to save the west Yorkshire club.


The result sparked off emotional scenes at Valley Parade and the win was dedicated to 56 fans who died in the fire at the ground 15 years earlier.


Manager Paul Jewell said: "Last year we dedicated promotion to those people who lost their lives and it's a honour to dedicate Premiership survival to them.

"I have no sympathy for Wimbledon. I don't mean to be nasty but it's about us. It's a great achievement but it's not just about today, it's about all season long. I'm pleased for all the squad, everybody has played their part."


Chairman Geoffrey Richmond was also emotional after referee Dermot Gallagher blew the final whistle and City were staying up.

He said: "You are not going to get a lot of sense from me. Today was not about money. It was about pride and passion and the supporters. "Before a ball was kicked we were favourites for relegation, many saying we would be down by Christmas," he recalled.


Bradford went into the first season back in the top-flight for 72 years as an unknown quantity - though they did have a number of experienced players who had played at such a high level.


City won their first ever Premiership game with a goal a minute from time on the opening day of the season at Middlesbrough. But successive defeats at Watford, Arsenal and West Ham left Bradford 18th in the table and facing up to the stark realities of life among the big boys.


City were still 18th in January but wins over Watford and Arsenal gave them hope before an amazing 5-4 defeat at West Ham. A dreadful run of six straight defeats was halted in April by a 4-4 draw against Derby.

Just as City looked certain to fail, wins at Sunderland and crucially at home against Wimbledon gave them renewed hope only for them to lose 2-0 in their penultimate match against Leicester. That set up the cliff-hanger finish which meant victory over Liverpool was imperative to their slender survival chances. The rest, as they say, is history.


Telegraph & Argus
(coverage of the day)

They said it would be a miracle if Bradford City survived in the world's toughest football league, but the band of players dubbed Dad's Army yesterday pulled off that miracle in sensational style.


Paul Jewell's heroes outplayed and out-fought the mighty Liverpool to clinch a fabulous 1-0 victory in front of a nail-biting but ultimately ecstatic Bantams' army.


David Wetherall's superb 12th-minute header gave City the lead fans could only have dreamed about.


And for the remaining, pulsating 78 minutes the City heroes gave every ounce of energy and spirit to hold on for those precious three points.


And when the news came through that relegation 'rivals' Wimbledon had lost at Southampton, it was the signal for huge celebrations to begin.


Across the city car horns sounded and thousands of fans unfurled their banners to celebrate one of the greatest days in City's history.


T&A coverage - part ii

The party to end all parties

Bradford was today in party mood after hanging on to its Premiership status in a nail-biting game against Liverpool at Valley Parade.


The Champagne was flowing after Bradford City won the final game of the season with a thunderous header by David Wetherall in the 12th minute.


And ecstatic Bantams fans celebrated the vital win at pubs across the city last night. David Haigh, landlord of the Bradford City pub Haigy's in Lumb Lane, Manningham, said: "Everyone is ecstatic. They've been dancing, singing, and generally enjoying themselves.


"It's the party of all parties and will no doubt continue all week. I'm not a City fan myself, but I'm delighted they've stayed up. I support Bradford Bulls and with us winning the Challenge Cup the other week and now this it certainly is a great time for Bradford."


And the celebrations were to continue today when the victorious players arrive in Centenary Square, via Market Street, in an open top bus at 6:00pm.


A civic reception hosted by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Harry Mason and Lady Mayoress, Christine Mason, will follow to mark the team's 'Great Escape' from relegation. The Lord Mayor said: "I congratulate the Bradford City players on an excellent result and we'll be holding a civic reception tonight to celebrate.

"They played an excellent game and deserve the result.

"Last year we couldn't believe it when they went up, and to have stayed up is even better."


Ian Stewart, Bradford Council's Chief Executive, said: "I'm absolutely over the moon.

"I've been involved in football myself but I was more excited today than I've ever been during my own football career.

"It means so much to Bradford. It's absolutely wonderful.

"I've been on edge all day waiting for the result and couldn't bear going to the ground to watch them play for fear of them losing, although I was positive they'd stay up.

"Both Bradford City and Bradford Bulls have done marvellously and now we have to try to sort the city and the district out.

"Now they've shown us we can do it and we should use this to build on to make the city a better place to work, live and play."


The Bishop of Bradford, the Right Rev David Smith said he was following the game on radio in between services yesterday.

"It was absolutely brilliant and it's a great encouragement for the whole of Bradford," he said.

"When a football team is doing well it has an effect on the city and everyone feels the benefits.

"I love football and have been a football fan since I was about seven or eight. At ten to five on a Saturday I'm tuning in for the results.

"I only hope next season I get to see more City games - as long as they're not on a Sunday. It's a busy day for me."


Bary Malik, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, called the Telegraph & Argus as soon as the final whistle was blown to pass on his congratulations. It's good news for Bradford and it's excellent for Bradford City," he said. "It was just the result we needed and means so much for the city.

"The team played excellently. I listened to it on the radio and they deserve it. They are true heroes."


Julie Stainthorp, chairman of Bradford City Supporters' Club, said the Premiership was where the team belonged.

"We've shown them it's where we should be and we're staying up for good," she said. "The match was superb and the atmosphere brilliant.

"I had a strong feeling we would do it. I'd said for a few weeks it would be the Ws - Watford, Wimbledon and Wednesday who would be going down and I was right."


T&A coverage part iii

A rollercoaster ride of emotions during City's biggest day. City supporter Joanne Earp reported on the atmosphere on the Kop for the Telegraph & Argus as her beloved Bantams complete the great escape in style.


Unbelievable was the word on the lips of thousands of Bantams fans as we streamed out of Valley Parade.

Forget the promotion clincher at Wolves - this one will go down as the greatest achievement in Bradford City's history.


As I passed through the Kop turnstiles I saw a sign on the betting shop window which read "Bradford 5/2 to stay up, 4-1 against to go down".

No change there, then. Pundits and so-called experts like the soon-to-be-scalped Rodney Marsh had been writing us off all season.


But defying the odds is what Bradford City do best. As for the fans - they were determined to turn the stadium into a cauldron of noise and passion.

As if to heighten the tension to an almost unbearable level the PA system was blaring out The Final Countdown.

And there was confetti - tonnes of it. It was like an American ticker-tape parade.


A few moments later you could have heard a pin drop. It was fitting that on the 15th anniversary of the Bradford Fire City played host to Liverpool - a club which also experienced tragedy.

The minute's silence in memory of those fans who lost their lives at Valley Parade and Hillsborough was perfectly observed and certainly put things into perspective.

Then the rollercoaster ride began. With 13 minutes on the clock Bradford won a free kick on the edge of the Liverpool area.


I turned to my sister and said "This is it - a David Wetherall special". And there he was to power a header into the top corner and send the crowd wild.


With City in the driving seat some of the fans were turning their attentions to events at Southampton. Then the crowd cheered a Southampton goal and chahted "Oh When the Saints Go Marching In". Half of me wanted to be there and the other half wanted to be locked away until the final whistle.


Then came the lift the City players needed - a second Southampton goal with ten minutes to go. "Are You Watching Rodney Marsh" was sung with a passion. Three minutes of injury time were played out to screams and whistles.


At the final whistle grown men started crying (the children were looking at them like they were mad).


And as the PA system belted out Simply The Best, the team returned for a lap of honour. Even the Liverpool fans stayed behind to applaud.

Yes, it's still not quite sunk in, but 5.49pm on Sunday, May 14, 2000 marked the end of one of one of the greatest escapes football has ever seen.

And how we celebrated...


Quotes of the day

David Wetherall
"I was due a goal, I hadn't scored for half a season. And I certainly pick my games don't I?!"


"It's something I'll remember for the rest of my life, It means some much to everyone. Everyone has been writing us of all season and to stick it to them means so much".


Paul Jewell
"The players were fantastic, not just the eleven today, but all the players involved this season.

The lads have been fantastic and so has the team spirit. We've just taken on a world class team (Liverpool) and we've worked so hard to get blocks in and headers in. I'm just so pleased for everyone connected with the club, supporters, players, chairman.


"I think we deserved it on endeavour and work rate. On paper, there was no point us turning up, but I know these players and what it means to them and if I didn't think they (the players) could do it then there would have been no point turning up.


"I am just delighted for the football club, the players have performed miracles today and throughout the season.


"When we had made it I thought it had been a bigger achievement than promotion".


Dean Windass
"It's unbelievable, this is what we have worked hard for in pre-season and we've got our rewards".


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