WHEN the opportunity arose to succeed Phil Parkinson as Bradford City manager, Stuart McCall immediately sought the views of his wife.
The response was not overly positive, perhaps unsurprisingly considering the huge strain that the former Scotland international had put himself under during his first stint at the helm of a club where he will always be regarded as a favourite son.
McCall, by the time he stepped down in February 2010, with the Bantams off the pace in League Two for a third consecutive season, bore the look of a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“My missus did say when the job came up again at the start of the summer, ‘You’re not going back there’,” reveals the 52-year-old when talking to The Yorkshire Post. “She had obviously seen what it did to me last time.
“But I am a different person. I was not coming here this time as a returning Messiah or any of that nonsense. This was very much my head making the decision and not my heart, unlike in 2007.
“Back then, I came from the Premier League (as assistant to Neil Warnock at Sheffield United) to League Two. It was the right club at the wrong time. Now, I see it very much as the right club at the right time.”
City are a very different club to the one McCall returned to nine summers ago.
Back then, Bradford had just been relegated to the basement division but there was still a sense of optimism – in part fuelled by McCall’s return to a club he had served with distinction twice as a player – at Valley Parade as fans flocked to take advantage of a new cut-price season-ticket initiative.
That optimism, however, soon gave way to a heavy dose of realism. Not only did the Bantams have a squad devoid of quality but the infrastructure was also lacking, as evidenced by the players having to train at Apperley Bridge before jumping back in their cars – complete with muddy kit – to drive back to the stadium to change.
It was far from ideal and something that only changed the season after McCall had quit when agreement was reached to set up a base at Woodhouse Grove School. This increased professionalism was something Phil Parkinson was able to harness following his own appointment in 2011 to transform the club’s on-field fortunes.
Parkinson, of course, took Bradford into the play-offs last season and much is expected again this time round.
“I saw Bradford live once against Aldershot in the Cup and Greg Leigh got that great goal,” said McCall when asked if he had managed to see much of his new charges last term. “I saw a few other games but they were on TV.
“I watched the play-offs at home in Scotland. I was gutted after the Millwall second leg, never thinking for a second that three months later the new season would start with me back at the club. I have to be honest and say even when Phil left – and I was saddened and disappointed for the club that he did go to Bolton – I never thought in a million years that I would be coming back.
“Everyone was saying Uwe Rosler was nailed on and I presumed that was the case. But then a call came out of the blue.”
Having mulled over the offer, McCall decided the adage ‘never go back’ did not apply. He had, after all, proved it to be nonsense as a player when captaining City to promotion in 1999 after returning to the club where it had all begun as a teenager.
“There are no promises or guarantees,” said the former midfielder, who gave up his post as Gordon Strachan’s assistant to return to his native West Yorkshire.
“It won’t happen overnight and we have to be realistic about that.
“We came in a little bit late and trying to put a squad together hasn’t been easy due to that. But, equally, we can be as competitive as anyone. And I am certainly excited about the challenge.
“When Bradford came up, I thought, ‘This is the right time’. Nothing to do with emotion, just the ambitions matching my own. That was what brought me back. I am glad to be back but this is a job now. It isn’t like it was last time.
“Don’t get me wrong, I have loads of great memories and huge fondness for the club. But that doesn’t affect what is happening as we go forward.
“Maybe it did a little bit last time. I took a lot on my shoulders and didn’t want to let people down. All managers wants to be successful and if you have an affinity to a club then that probably adds a bit more.
“But that won’t be the case this time, I won’t be making those mistakes. I feel battle-hardened now.”