Bradford City v Bury: How Bantams gave sacked Stuart McCall a special send-off

Matthew Kilgallon: Says players must share guilt for poor run.  Picture Tony Johnson.
Matthew Kilgallon: Says players must share guilt for poor run. Picture Tony Johnson.
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IT was a wake with a difference.

Glasses were raised, some good food consumed and a few cherished memories shared regarding the subject of the gathering following his sad and untimely demise.

But, in this case, that said person happened to be present.

It says everything about the standing and esteemed place in which he is held in the affections of Bradford City players that Stuart McCall – sacked by the Bantams, his club, on Monday morning – could break bread with his squad in what amounted to the footballing equivalent of a last supper 36 hours later.

The fact that the Bradford squad, in a touch of class which you do not usually associate with groups of modern-day footballers, got together and arranged an impromptu goodbye night out to ‘celebrate’ the reign of McCall also spoke volumes, too, about their relationship with him.

A vastly experienced professional and someone who has seen most things in the game he may be, but Bantams defender Matt Kilgallon admits that he had never seen anything like that before following the sacking of a manager, which is, of course, part and parcel of the footballing landscape.

The send-off was, as Bantams fans would probably wholeheartedly agree, rather fitting.

On the special get-together, Kilgallon said: “It was one. He came in Monday morning to tell us and we said: ‘Right, we will take you out for a drink just to say thank you and say it was an enjoyable time here.’

“That is what we did. We went out and had a few drinks – nothing daft – and had a few chats and a few good stories and it was a nice way to do it, I thought.

“It is very rare and the first time I have done it. It was just an off-the-cuff thing. You could see how gutted he was.

“He has played here and it means a lot to him. I think it was just a nice thing that we did and it was a good night.

“He (McCall) had a lot of presence around at training and was a really top guy as well. It was just to say thank you.

“He was great with the older lads; he really was.

“He listened to them and if anyone needed the day off from training to go in the gym, he would let you do that. It was just a way of saying thank you at having had a good time with him and was just to show our appreciation,” he added.

“We went out for a meal and it is done now. He was telling us that we need to win on Saturday and Tuesday now.

“He was so positive still. That was the thing I got from it. There was no bad-mouthing or nothing. It was all about: ‘You best win Saturday and Tuesday.’ He was not there going: ‘I want you to lose.’ He really wants us to win. That just shows the sort of man he is.”

Indeed, it was a measure of the man that McCall, even in a dark hour, could summon up the selflessness to cast aside his own pain to stress to Bradford’s players – his lads, in many respects – that the priority was all about winning this afternoon’s game against Bury and Tuesday’s match at Charlton, with it plainly not being about him.

With claret and amber coursing through his veins, it was typical McCall, who has been hurting more than most at the club’s slump which has seen them lose their last five League One games and six in all competitions.

Kilgallon admits he and his team-mates feel much guilt at that wretched run of form, which has seen McCall pay the price.

On the guilt factor, he added: “Yes, it does. On the second or first of January, we had more points than we did last season and everything was looking great.

“Then five league games on, with no wins and all losses, not scoring goals and conceding too many, the chairman has said that is enough.

“The gaffer took it well. I am sure he is gutted, but the chairman has got to make that decision. That is the way it is now in football.

“Obviously, you hear the news on Monday and, personally, I was gutted with it. But it is the way football is at the minute.

“It happens now; you don’t win in four or five games and you are always an amount of games off from getting the sack.

“He was great for me and the lads. But times have changed now and we want to stay up near the play-offs, so we need to get over it as fast as possible and crack on.

“He is a legend at the club. He played and managed them and I think a few people are sad. But if you ask the ex-gaffer, he would say it is a results business. He knows that and is not daft.

“There would be no one happier if we won on Saturday.”