In the first of a series of pre-season interviews with Yorkshire’s football managers, Richard Sutcliffe talks to Bradford City’s Gary Bowyer.
GARY BOWYER has been a busy man this summer.
Not only has the Bradford City manager brought in 10 new faces following relegation from League One.
But the 48-year-old has also overseen a radical makeover at the Bantams’ training ground, where the walls are now decorated with a timeline of the club’s history and tributes to heroes from the past.
One of my first questions to those we were interested in signing was, ‘How will it be playing in front of a packed hours every week and how will you handle that?’Gary Bowyer
From Jimmy Speirs, City’s goal-scoring hero in the 1911 FA Cup final triumph, through to Stuart McCall and Phil Parkinson’s ‘History-makers’, all now enjoy pride of place at Apperley Bridge.
“I wanted to change things,” Bowyer explained to The Yorkshire Post. “I wanted to make the players more aware of the club’s history and the key people who have been successful here.
“It is important they realise what makes Bradford City special and just why the club is so important to the city.
“That is why I wanted a time-line of the club’s history put up, to remind the current crop about what has gone before them.
“The fire memorial (last May) had a huge impact on me. I watched the documentaries beforehand and spoke to people, to gain an insight into what this city went through.
“But it really brought things home at the memorial. Now, we make sure the new players are aware of what happened. Aware about the history, the passion and the spirit that kept this club together.”
Most of the summer signings have already had an insight into just how highly regarded former players can be at Valley Parade.
Earlier this month, former captain Stephen Darby returned to a hero’s reception ahead of the friendly against Liverpool.
Others from the side that joined Darby in achieving the double of reaching the 2013 League Cup final and winning promotion from the basement division, such as James Hanson and Rory McArdle, have also been warmly welcomed back even when sporting opposition colours.
“The supporters here never forget players who have given everything,” added Bowyer, who signed a two-year contract in the summer after initially succeeding David Hopkin on a short-term deal in March.
“I like that. And I want the players now to realise they could be remembered in a similar way. Challenge themselves to be part of Bradford City’s history in a good way. And create their own memories that in five, 10, 15 years will make them as fondly remembered by supporters.”
Bradford last competed at this level six years ago. Bowyer, however, has more recent experience after leading Blackpool to promotion via the play-offs in 2017.
Having had the final two months of last term to assess the Bantams squad, he knew exactly what was needed to get things up and running again.
“Character is huge,” he said. “Especially at a club like this, where the crowds are huge compared to the rest of the division.
“We needed the sort capable of carrying this club forward. They have to be able to handle the pressure. Not just in terms of wanting to win but also being able to play with freedom in front of big crowds.
“One of my first questions to those we were interested in signing was, ‘How will it be playing in front of a packed hours every week and how will you handle that?’
“Their answers and their body language told me a lot. It was a good filter. Some left me with enough doubt to suggest they might not be the right signings.”
On his quest to repeat the trick of taking a newly relegated club straight back up, the Bradford chief added: “This is a hard league. It is not easy. Having spent the summer competing with these clubs for players, I know just how keenly fought this season is going to be.
“It has not been just one or two teams, either. There have been many clubs who have invested with a view to pushing for promotion.
“Of course, we want to start well. We want to build some early momentum and take it from there.
“But you do not always get what you want. At Blackpool a couple of years ago, we were something like 15th even as late as February.
“We found it tough at times. But the players persevered, got on a run and then we had a bit of luck with injuries during the run-in. We ended up winning at Wembley.”
The recent training ground facelift overseen by Bowyer is not the first of the year at Apperley Bridge. Predecessor Hopkin, in an attempt to engender an identity among a group of players who were slipping towards League Two, ordered the walls be plastered with images of Valley Parade and the club’s badge.
Pride of place was given to one of the 20th Century’s most iconic photographs, Lunch atop a Skyscraper. The image depicts 11 men seated on a girder eating lunch, their feet dangling hundreds of feet above the streets of Manhattan during the construction of the Rockefeller Centre.
Hopkin’s intention was to stress the value of working together, no matter how precarious the position. The message, however, did not get through as City suffered a costly fall.
“There is no secret formula to be successful in this division,” added Bowyer.
“There will be tough times, make no mistake about that. Times when we need to pull together and that is what we have to do – players, staff and supporters.
“But I am delighted with how the summer has gone. A feel-good factor can be detected and that is important. Now, though, it is up to us to deliver where it matters, out on the pitch.”