Category Archives: Former Greats in Profile

Stephen Darby: The unassuming hero who helped restore the pride in Bradford City

“If you had 11 Stephen Darby’s wearing claret and amber every week, you wouldn’t go far wrong.”

July 2012. Bradford City is, by the admission of most fans, a pretty bleak place.

Phil Parkinson has helped guide City to Football League survival months earlier, and set on rebuilding the club’s fortunes, oversees a massive overhaul which includes the addition of respectable Football League veterans such as Gary Jones and Garry Thompson.

As we know, every player signed that summer would go on to etch their name in Bradford City’s history – and while the 2012/13 campaign may be instantly remembered for Nahki Wells’ glut of goals, James Hanson’s knack of scoring at exactly the right time or the leadership heroics of Jones, you suspect it would have all been impossible without players like Stephen Darby.

Awarded Heritage Number #1134 following his debut against Notts County on 11 August 2012, Darby would quickly establish himself as not only a mainstay of the side which created history under Parkinson, but one of the most popular full-backs ever to wear claret and amber.

Reliable, comfortable on the ball and never shirking of his responsibilities in defence, Darby quickly became arguably one of the more underrated players of the history makers. It’s hard to imagine any of that great side being replaced by someone else for a fixed period: but a City back-four under Parkinson without Darby? The mind boggles at that particular thought.

Darby’s numbers and stats are hugely impressive. In five seasons with Bradford City, he became part of a group containing fewer than 50 men to make 200 league appearances for our club. That’s a group that greats such as Terry Dolan and John Hendrie couldn’t make it into. Darby’s partners in crime in the back-four, Rory McArdle and James Meredith, also fell short.

That number of appearances is in no small part down to an astonishing run of games in the final three seasons under Parkinson –  when between August 2013 and May 2016, Darby missed just ONE league game: a 2-2 draw at Bristol City in October 2014.

There was only one goal – but how it was a special one. City needed something in extra-time against Burton Albion in that legendary League Cup campaign; Darby’s rasping 20-yarder put City on their way to a last 16 tie with Wigan. We all know what happened next.

When Gary Jones left in the summer of 2014, there was only ever one man likely to take the armband. The man who epitomised the characteristics required to lead Bradford City into battle every single weekend.

But for all the heroics on the field, what Stephen Darby truly holds a place in the heart of City fans for is how he helped piece back together the rubble of a relationship between the club, the city and the fans. When Parkinson joined, followed by players like Darby, City were a mess on the field and off it.

Yet every single May, Darby, Parkinson and the squad would be in attendance at the fire memorial to pay their respects to those who were impacted by Bradford City’s darkest day. To them, it wasn’t a chore or something they had to do – it was something they wanted to do. And the fans understood that, and will never forget it.

We all remember the banners and mottos expertly put together by the then PR team during those heady days, and it was players like Darby that represented a core part of the Bantams family. Nothing sums his relationship with City and the supporters up better than when, after beating Chelsea 4-2 – a game he captained City to victory in – he joined a minibus of fans to lead a chorus of ‘Everywhere We Go’.

It was moments like this which, in essence, made fans believe Bradford City was worth investing their emotions in again. Parkinson drove those standards from the top and spoke openly and affectionately about the relationship between club and fan, but the players helped deliver his message emphatically. Darby was at the heart of that.

Sponsor events, media, fan group meetings.. Darby would never shy away from doing his bit off the field. The bond established between Bradford City and the people who adore the club helped City ride a wave through some of the most incredible moments you are ever likely to see. Players like Stephen Darby were identifiable to fans; they weren’t hiding away and simply turning up on a Saturday afternoon – they wanted to feel Bradford City. They wanted to understand what it means to all of us. And it’s that, above the games, the goal (!) and the cup runs which mean more than anything.

Darby’s achievements and accolades on the field, and the unforgettable nights he helped City fans experience, are likely to never be bettered again. Yet it’s what he helped to piece together off it which perhaps symbolises why he deserves his place among the club’s all-time greats.

Stephen, this club will never forget your incredible contribution to Bradford City, and how you and those legendary players went above and beyond to identify with supporters. We will be with you every step of the way. You will always be a Bantam – and a bloody great one, at that.

As our Twitter account said yesterday: 239 games, countless magical memories.. but truly only one Stephen Darby, baby.

#1134 – Stephen Darby
239 apps, 1 goal

Brian Close: the cricketing legend who played for Bradford City

Over the course of Bradford City’s rich and illustrious history, many famous names have worn the claret and amber shirt.

Most, if not all, of those have made their name in professional football and become household names in that sport: but over 60 years ago, one of Britain’s – and Yorkshire’s – most revered and respected sportsmen switched professions and had a short-lived spell as a Bradford City player.

Cricketers playing professional football is not completely unique; as most people will know from Ian Botham’s infamous stints at Yeovil and Scunthorpe United in the 1970s and 80s. 30 years earlier, however, Bradford City had their own cricketing legend on the books for a brief period.

Look through our heritage numbers, and you may not see the name Brian Close. That’s because his actual first name was Dennis. By the time the 1952-53 season had begun, Close had already made his Test debut for England and had established himself as a pivotal part of the Yorkshire side – so much so, that legend has it former Bradford MP Maurice Webb championed the case for Close to finish the domestic season with Yorkshire before commencing his National Service.

Close had already dabbled into professional football without success, actually signing for Arsenal in 1950 and became a prominent member of their A team. Close didn’t play at all during the 1950-51 season; he was also serving in the Royal Signals until September 1951.

And his time with Arsenal didn’t play out as expected; Close was reportedly given permission to leave a Yorkshire game early by his captain, Norman Yardley, to play for Arsenal. That decision was later overturned, meaning when Close arrived late for a reserves game against Fulham in April that year, he was unable to take his place on the field. Just days after that, he was informed he would not be retained by the Gunners.

Unperturbed by that, Close earned himself a chance at professional football much closer to his Rawdon roots: signing for the Bantams after the conclusion of the 1952 domestic cricket season, making his City debut on November 1, 1952 against Tranmere Rovers.

Playing centre-forward, Close scored on his next appearance for City in a 2-1 win over Chesterfield a week later – and he would go on to make six appearances for the Bantams in Division Three (North) that season, scoring on two occasions: his other goal in the league coming against Halifax Town on November 29 in a 1-1 draw.

Close was arguably more influential in City’s FA Cup campaign of that season, scoring three times in three appearances. Close scored twice in the 4-0 victory over Rhyl Athletic (now simply known as Rhyl FC) in the first round, before netting again in the second round, when City drew 1-1 with Ipswich at Valley Parade.

Close played in the replay, but City were hammered 5-1 in what was one of Close’s final appearances for the Bantams. He featured against Oldham and Port Vale following that defeat, but it was in that game against Vale when he suffered a serious knee injury which could have been even more damaging than it actually proved to be.

Ultimately, it ended not only Close’s time with City, but his professional football career altogether, Close unable to recover from that and resume his football career.

It even severely limited the amount of cricket he was able to play in the 1953 domestic season too – featuring only twice for Yorkshire throughout that entire campaign.

Thankfully, Close was able to return to cricket at the highest level on a permanent basis – winning back his place in the England Test side and remaining an integral part of Yorkshire’s successes throughout the 1950s, which included the County Championship triumph of 1959. Close then went on to captain the White Rose throughout a period of incredible success, captaining them to another four Championship titles.

He eventually moved onto Somerset, where he is still regarded in cricket for helping to develop a young Botham into the success he became – although quite whether he had an impact on his footballing career after his own time with City is not completely clear!

What is clear though, is that one of the most successful and respected sportsmen of his generation – and one of the finest stars Yorkshire has ever produced – had the distinction of representing Bradford City FC: even if it was for slightly less time than he would have liked.

Close remained in and around cricket for years after retirement. He passed away in 2015.

Heritage No. 474: Dennis Brian Close
Debut: 1/11/1952 v Tranmere
Apps in All Comps: 9 – Goals in All Comps: 5
League Apps: 6 – League Goals: 2
FA Cup Apps: 3 – FA Cup Goals: 3