The second-worst 2018 record in the entire Football League: City’s annus horribilis

Four managers, countless defeats and a horrendous tumble down the League One table – there is little doubting that thus far, 2018 ranks as one of City’s worst calendar years on record.

And that is reflected in a look across how all the other sides in the Football League have performed since New Years Day – with only ONE side out of the 72 currently playing in the Championship, League One and League Two producing a worse points-per-game return than the Bantams in 2018.

To date, City have played 34 games and earned a miserable 28 points in 2018 – a return of 0.82 PPG. That in itself underlines why City find themselves where they are at the minute – but only one side across tiers two, three and four can boast a record that returns fewer points per game than that.

There are some sides who hover just above City in that regard. Stoke City are one such example; they have played 29 league games in 2018 and earned 29 points, a return of exactly 1.00 PPG. Hull City offer the same return, with 33 points earned from 33 league games.

Cheltenham Town offer a marginally-better return than the Bantams: they have 29 points from 34 league games in 2018, which is a return of 0.85 PPG. You then find City with their 0.82 return – which is exactly the same as what Grimsby Town can boast from their 2018 so far.

And below City and the Mariners? Only one team across the entirety of the Football League: Reading. City’s conquerers in the FA Cup quarter-finals a few years ago are the only side in the Football League who have returned fewer points-per-game than the Bantams this year. They have 25 points from their 33 games: a return of 0.76 PPG.

Things can change quickly in football, we all know that. Earlier this month, we looked at how some of City’s poorest starts to a league campaign often resulted in top-half finishes and better – but this underlines how worrying things are at the moment.

 

Why City’s history proves that a poor start doesn’t always result in a poor season

Nobody likes a slow start to a league season. The summer suddenly feels like lightyears ago, with all the pre-season hype and anticipation quickly fizzling away: and it’s easy to put this season firmly in that bracket so far.

We are already a quarter of the way through the 46-game league campaign (give or take a few minutes!), and we’re constantly told that 10 games in is when we should properly judge our team’s fortunes for the season ahead.

Or should we?

This hasn’t been the best start for the Bantams – but make no mistake about it, it’s by no means been the worst. Most City fans would take this start over the way we began the 1926-27 campaign, for example: when we won one league game (against South Shields) between the start of the season and mid-December!

But the Bantams’ history proves that while a slow start is by no means uncommon, it’s not always indicative of a season of struggle. Here’s how our start this year stacks up against some of those examples..

1904-05
Record after 11 games: 3 wins, 2 draws, 6 losses
Final position: 8th in Division Two

Three points for a win wasn’t introduced until 1981, but under the current system, City’s second-ever league campaign would have yielded a start of 11 points from 11 games, just one more than where this year’s group sit.

Robert Campbell’s men would win nine of their final 23 games though to end the year comfortably mid-table, finishing 8th on the 18-team Division Two table.

1927-28
Record after 11 games: 3 wins, 5 draws, 3 losses
Final position: 6th in Division Three (North)

Again taking today’s rules into consideration, City would have picked up 14 points from their first 11 games in 1927-28, the year after being relegated from Division Two.

Cross-city rivals Bradford Park Avenue were champions that season,  but City still ended up finishing a respectable sixth.

1963-64
Record after 11 games: 2 wins, 4 draws, 5 losses
Final position: 5th in Division Four

Bob Brocklebank’s class of 1963-64 (again, adopting the current three points for a win system) had an identical 10 points from 11 games following the opening quarter of that campaign, and looked to be in some trouble at the bottom end of Division Four.

They turned it around though, ending up fifth following two five-match winning runs at different points in the season guiding them to the right end of the division for a rare occasion during those lean years in the club’s history which were the 1960s.

1983-84
Record after 11 games: 1 win, 3 draws, 7 losses
Final position: 7th in Division Three

A City squad featuring the likes of Peter Jackson, Stuart McCall and Bobby Campbell won just ONCE in the club’s opening 15 games of 1983-84, a remarkable start.

Inevitably, it sparked fears over a return to Division Four, but November provided a turnaround in fortunes which resulted in a romp up the table. Trevor Cherry’s side won 10 games in a row between November 26th and February 3rd, which eventually led the Bantams to a seventh-placed finish. The following season, they were champions.

1998-99
Record after 11 games: 4 wins, 2 draws, 5 losses
Final position: 2nd in Division One (promoted)

Though Paul Jewell’s legendary promotion-winning side had a respectable enough 14 points at this stage 20 years ago, they only did so courtesy of a three-match winning run in games 9, 10 and 11.

Prior to that, City won once in their opening seven games, the new-look side assembled by Jewell clearly taking time to gel. How it clicked thereafter though – and if there is absolutely any proof that a poor start doesn’t always mean a poor season, it’s the 1998-99 campaign that sums it up.

2007-08
Record after 11 games: 3 wins, 1 draw, 7 losses
Final position: 10th in League Two

Times were tough in the opening two months of Stuart McCall’s first reign as Bradford City manager. The Bantams found it tough to adjust to life in League Two having been relegated the following season, producing an identical record to this season’s squad after 11 games.

However, McCall stabilised things thereafter, and City eventually ended up finishing 10th in their first season back in the bottom tier of English football.

2015-16
Record after 11 games: 3 wins, 4 draws, 4 losses
Final position: 5th in League One (lost play-off semi-final)

Even the most recent years of our history have a fine example of a poor start eventually resulting in a commendable league finish – and in the case of Phil Parkinson’s squad of 2015-16, it was much more than respectable.

Prior to the 3-1 win against Rochdale in the 11th game of the season, City had scored only nine goals in their first ten games, and were seriously struggling to pick up wins. However, that Rochdale win was the start of a nine-match unbeaten run which provided the platform for City to eventually make the play-offs by the season’s end.

A look at City’s lowest-ever crowds after setting a new record v Man City U21s

For only the third time in the club’s ENTIRE 115-year history, Bradford City attracted a crowd smaller than 1,000 for a professional, competitive fixture against Manchester City’s under-21s in September 2019.

It’s a stat which underlines the popularity – or lack of – of the Football League Trophy since Premier League Academy sides were allowed into the competition more than anything – not least because all three crowds came in the revamped competition.

The 868 which watched City beat Pep Guardiola’s under-21s side on penalties fractionally beats the 902 and 931 which attended games  against Everton’s under-21s and Rotherham respectively in the same competition. So with a new record officially set, here’s a closer look at City’s lowest-ever crowds – in both league and all competitions.

City’s lowest-ever crowds: all competitions

The attitude towards cup competitions have shifted almost 180 degrees over the last generation or so. When City were struggling in the 1960s and 70s at the foot of Division Four, they would attract small league crowds but much bigger crowds for cup games. Evidence of that is in 1972-73, when a low of 1,628 watched City play Newport – before a couple of months later, 14,205 attended an FA Cup tie at home to Blackpool.

These days, however, it’s cup competition which attracts the lowest crowds – and almost all of City’s all-time lowest gates come in non-league competition.

868 v Man City U21s (24 September 2019, FL Trophy)
902 v Everton U21s (25 September 2018, FL Trophy)

931 v Rotherham (7 November 2017, FL Trophy)
1,015 v Oldham (9 October 2018, FL Trophy)
1,036 v Oldham (5 December 2017, FL Trophy)
1,249 v Hereford United (15 May 1981, Division Four)
1,287 v Carlisle United (17 October 1995, FL Trophy)
1,353 v Wrexham (12 May 1966, Division Four)
1,360 v Cambridge United (7 December 2016, FL Trophy)

City’s lowest-ever crowds: league

Mercifully, the story is slightly cheerier in league competition: but only slightly. City have never attracted a crowd of fewer than 1,000 for a regular-season league game, but they only scraped over that on a few occasions during the nadir of their time at the foot of the Football League.

In fact, some of City’s smallest crowds came in the seasons when they finished 23rd in Division Four, and were forced to apply for re-election to the league. That happened twice; in 1962-63 and 65-66.

1,249 v Hereford United (15 May 1981, Division Four)
1,353 v Wrexham (12 May 1966, Division Four)
1,628 v Newport County (11 October 1972, Division Four)
1,676 v Newport County (3 May 1976, Division Four)
1,697 v Northampton Town (23 April 1975, Division Four)

City’s record in penalty shootouts: like no other!

With two of the three cup competitions that City regularly participate in now scrapping extra-time in favour of heading straight to a penalty shootout (the League Cup and the Football League Trophy), it’s no surprise the shootout becoming a more and more important way of settling a game.

Unfortunately, City’s exit at the hands of Macclesfield via the penalty spot this season didn’t favour the Bantams – but not so long ago, we were regarded as the penalty shootout kings. So what’s our overall record like from 12 yards in a shootout?

Origins of the shootout format

Following success across various leagues and competitions in mainland Europe like the Coppa Italia, the FA finally bit the bullet in 1970 and introduced penalty shootouts. Prior to that, cup ties would be decided by as many replays as possible to determine a winner; it wasn’t uncommon for games to go to second, third or even fourth replays.

Yet it wasn’t until the 1991-92 season when they were introduced to settle games which were still level after one replay, the format the FA Cup still operates under to this day. City flirted with the odd shootout here and there prior to the new millennium – but it wasn’t until after that when they found themselves regularly taking penalties to determine games.

City’s early history from the spot

City’s first shootout in all competitions came in the short-lived Football League Group Cup, introduced as a replacement for the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1981-82 season. City lost 4-3 to Shrewsbury on penalties in the quarter-finals, after a 1-1 draw after extra-time.

The following season, in exactly the same stage of the same competition almost a year to the day, City were again beaten on penalties in the quarter-finals, this time away at Millwall. The result of the shootout was 4-2. And that was that for City and penalties – until all the way into 2003.

The new millennium and penalties

By the time City stepped up in a shootout again, they had been in and out of the Premier League for two seasons, and financial difficulties were beginning to take their hold. It was to lower-league opposition in the shape of Darlington – with City again failing to win their first shootout, going out 5-3 after a 0-0 draw, Tom Kearney missing the decisive penalty.

By the time we played a penalty shootout again – once more in the first round of the League Cup, this time at Carlisle – City fans could have been forgiven for thinking they’d never win a shootout. After a 1-1 draw, the Bantams lost 4-3 on penalties; Dean Windass and Alan Rogers missing. From there though, City went on a quite unbelievable run.

A record penalty shootout run

It took until 2009 for City’s first penalty shootout victory, when Simon Eastwood saved from fellow keeper Kasper Schmeichel to help the Bantams knock Notts County out of the Football League Trophy. Less than a month later, City did the same to Port Vale to reach the area semi-finals – though they were beaten by Carlisle 3-0.

Fast forward to August 2011, and City won their third straight shootout, this time knocking Sheffield Wednesday out of the Football League Trophy. The same season, Huddersfield were handed the same fate after a 2-2 draw following 120 minutes.

Four straight wins became five a month later, this time when Sheffield United were dispatched on penalties. The following season, Jon McLaughlin was the hero as Hartlepool were dumped out from the spot.

Then, of course, things began to get seriously high-profile. The legendary history-making season of 2012/13 saw another three penalty shootout wins; the Hartlepool one and the victory against Northampton in the first round of the FA Cup are footnotes on that season – given how two Premier League sides, Wigan and Arsenal, were beaten on penalties. Goalkeeper Matt Duke will forever be remembered for his exploits between the posts on both occasions.

But amazingly, that night under the lights against Arsene Wenger’s side remains the last time City have won a shootout. Since then, defeats to York and Bury in the same season (in the League Cup and FA Cup respectively) have been followed by defeats to Accrington (a staggering 11-10 final scoreline, in which City keeper Colin Doyle scored) and the recent defeat to Macclesfield.

That means after losing their first four shootouts, then winning their next nine, City lost four in a row once again – a run which ended in September when Everton’s academy side were beaten in the Checkatrade Trophy on penalties.

City’s record in penalty shootouts in all competitions
Played: 18 Won: 10 Lost: 8

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
2012-17

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