“He is an absolute steal at £100,000.”
The words of then-Bradford City manager Chris Kamara when, on 28th February 1997, the Bantams shelled out a six-figure transfer fee to bring a midfielder by the name of Colin Nigel Pepper to Valley Parade from Second Division side York City.
Pepper, who was more commonly known simply as Nigel, had become somewhat of a cult hero at York, making almost 300 appearances for the Minstermen. Little did Kamara know just how prophetic that statement about Pepper’s value would prove to be.
As Mike Scott says on Twitter – he was arguably Kamara’s most decisive signing as manager of Bradford City:
Pepper made his City debut two days later on March 1st, earning Heritage Number #876 as the Bantams lost 3-1 at Manchester City, but he quickly established himself as a pivotal part of Kamara’s side that, at that time, were fighting desperately to survive in the First Division. His debut is still remembered well by some City fans!
Signed for his goal-scoring exploits from midfield, it didn’t take Pepper long to open his account: scoring the winner, a thumping free-kick against Wolves in a 2-1 victory on March 22nd, a memory many of you still have vivid memories of:
It wouldn’t be the last time Pepper scored a crucial goal for Bradford City. He played all-but two of the run-in which ultimately led to survival, scoring another winner against Stoke on 31st March before establishing himself as one of City’s modern-day cult heroes in the final week of the season.
Kamara’s men were in deep, deep trouble at the foot of the First Division going into the final two games, both at home to Charlton and QPR. Realistically, only two wins would guarantee survival. City needed a hero; Pepper stepped up.
The goal Pepper will forever be remembered for in a claret and amber shirt was the thunderous (understatement!) free-kick in the 3-0 win against QPR on the final day – but his most crucial contribution arguably came three days earlier.
The night of 1st May, 1997 is perhaps most memorable in the UK for the General Election that resulted in a landslide victory for Labour and Tony Blair. For City fans, it wasn’t so much New Labour; it was New Bradford City, as Pepper scored a magnificent header to secure a 1-0 win over Charlton and keep City’s survival hopes alive.
Pepper wasn’t done. City ultimately stayed up with few nerves on the final day, hammering QPR 3-0 thanks largely to the marauding midfielder, who scored that free-kick that would have almost certainly caused a major incident in The Kop had there not been a net there to prevent it from travelling 100mph into the crowd!
Pepper’s four goals for City were ultimately worth six points for Kamara’s side. City stayed up by only two at the expense of Grimsby. Cult hero? That’s somewhat of an understatement. You could argue that without Pepper, there would have been no promotion campaign of 1998-99, no Premier League years and no special games against the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea (and, of course, no administration, but that’s not Pepper’s fault).
Pepper played 35 times the following season as City finished a much-more respectable 13th in the First Division in 1997-98. By the promotion season of 1998-99, he had fallen down the pecking order under Paul Jewell: but he still signed off with a goal on his final start for City, during a 3-0 win against Swindon. He then left for Aberdeen for £300,000; which is fair profit for a player who delivered so much on the field, too.
Kamara was right. Pepper was an absolute steal – and he’s rightly-regarded as one of our all-time cult heroes. The final word shouldn’t go to us here though.. it should go to the man himself: