Twenty Years Ago

The Day Bradford City Achieved Premier League Survival

Modern football invites cynicism but 14th May 2000 was a day of fairy tales and memories to last a lifetime. Against all the odds, Bradford City defeated Liverpool to avoid relegation on the last day of the club’s first season in the Premier League. 

The task could not have been greater – Liverpool had every incentive to win with a place in the UEFA Champions League at stake whilst nothing but a win would suffice for the Bantams to beat the drop. Yet although this was a league fixture, the game had all the characteristics of a cup tie and Liverpool joined the ranks of other famous sides to have suffered a giant-killing at Valley Parade. Indeed, the Reds had suffered the same fate on their last visit to Bradford in August, 1980.

It was a victory of self-belief and endeavour, true to the city of Bradford motto ‘Labor Omnia Vincit’. The achievement also came to be recognised for progress made in the 15 years since the Fire Disaster at the ground and the rebuilding of the club.

The match has been immortalised by the sight of David Wetherall out-jumping the Liverpool defence to head home a free kick from Gunnar Halle in the 12th minute. His celebratory dive across the grass was equally something to behold. The next 78 minutes were nail biting for the capacity crowd and those watching the game live on TV. Liverpool pressed for the equaliser with the club’s England international, Michael Owen a constant threat.

Somehow, the City defence held firm with Wetherall outstanding at the back and goalkeeper Matt Clarke performing heroics. It was ultimately a team effort from a side that had been unfancied ever since the beginning of the season. Media pundit Rodney Marsh had famously claimed that he would have his head shaved if the Bantams could avoid relegation and he lived to regret his words.

The win could have been greater with Isiah Rankin and Dean Windass coming close to securing a second goal in the final minutes but in the end it did not matter. The celebrations continued long into the night and it seemed that good fortune had finally shone upon the club. 

In hindsight the win came to be seen as a major turning point for Bradford City. A new-found hubris brought with it reckless spending during six weeks of madness that summer which was followed by financial ruin shortly after. From seemingly flying too close to the sun, the club found itself in the fourth tier of English football only seven years later.

John Dewhirst

In addition to John’s account, Andy Ruddy has co-written a song with David Nowakowski which makes reference to this notable day. It can be heard on Soundcloud and Andy has also kindly supplied the lyrics:

Heaven 17th

(I’m coming home again, I’m coming home again, nowhere ever made me feel the way that I did then)

I took the bus I always took,
nowhere to go, was just to look,
at all the traces and the tricks, 
the little things I missed,
with my head full of pretty girls and bad song ideas.
Looking for a destination,
took for granted all the things so soon to be taken,
but one thing was so clear when we started here,
we stood at the foot of the mountain with no fear.

Just looking for that feeling, looking for that hope,
looking for that lightning strike like years ago,
I’m tired of looking in the mirror wondering ‘where’d the old me go?’. 
Restart the fire in my soul, restart the fire in my soul.

And it was heaven 17th, How we’d never hear em’call,
Telling us what we would be, greeting giants and they’d fall,
the jewel in the crown was how we’d found those days at all,
And maybe it couldn’t last, two dozen years went by so fast,
whether all that we are dreaming can touch the things we saw,
throw caution to the wind as we’re playing for the draw,

Just looking for that feeling, looking for that hope,
looking for that lightning strike like years ago,
I’m tired of looking in the mirror wondering ‘where’d the old me go?’ 
Restart the fire in my soul, restart the fire in my soul

Restart the fire in my soul, the one you found those years ago, restart the fire in my soul

Now I’m looking for that feeling, looking for that hope,
looking for your lightning strike like years ago,
I’m tired of looking in the mirror wondering ‘where’d the old me go?’. 
Restart the fire in my soul, restart the fire in my soul,
Restart the fire in my soul, 
I’m tired of looking in the mirror wondering ‘where’d the old me go?’,
Restart the fire in my soul, I’m coming home
(I’m coming home again, I’m coming home again, nowhere ever made me feel the way that I did then)

John Dewhirst has authored a number of books about the history of Bradford City and is currently working on a history of the Bradford City / Park Avenue rivalry. Details of his books can be found at bantamspast.net and his blog is at johndewhirst.blog

Photographs: Ian Beesley A friend and supporter of Bradford Museums Photo Archive, Ian is Artist in Residence for the Bradford Institute of Health Research and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.

Andy Ruddy is a singer songwriter and lifelong Bradford City fan from Bradford, now based in London. His first two albums both charted in the top 20 of the iTunes Singer Songwriter charts and can be found at andyruddy.com 

David Nowakowski is a professional musician and presenter from Bradford. As part of the band Scars on 45 he has had singles on the US Billboard charts and his band’s music has been used on US primetime shows such as Grey’s anatomy. www.scarson45.com