STUART McCALL admits leading Bradford City to promotion today would eclipse even being captain during his beloved club’s remarkable rise to the Premier League.
The Bantams head to Wembley determined to end a 13-year absence from the Championship by beating Millwall in an eagerly-anticipated play-off final that is set to draw a 55,000-plus crowd.
For McCall, in his second spell as manager at Valley Parade after two stints as a player, victory over the Lions would seal his third promotion with a club he joined at 16. One of those previous successes came sporting the armband as Paul Jewell’s men reached the top flight against all the odds in 1999 via a never-to-be-forgotten final day victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The celebrations for that promotion to the Premier League memorably included McCall, rather the worse for wear following a boozy bus journey home from Molineux, falling off the top of a car outside Valley Parade while joining in with the chants of elated supporters.
“This will mean more as the manager, than even being captain did in 1999,” said the former Scotland international to The Yorkshire Post when asked about the prospect of taking Bradford into the Championship.
“We got to the Premier League that day, a place the club had not been in 70-odd years. That was an incredible time and I loved every minute.
The old saying applies now, ‘Get fire in your belly but ice in your veins’. It is true. I have been so proud of them as a unit this season. I have no doubts they will go out and do themselves justice.Stuart McCall
“But this would mean more than anything.”
McCall, like managerial counterpart Neil Harris does at The Den, enjoys legendary status among the 24,000 strong travelling army of supporters set to descend on Wembley from West Yorkshire.
He made 285 appearances during a first spell at Valley Parade that ended in the wake of Bradford’s hopes of reaching the old First Division being dashed by Middlesbrough in the 1988 play-off semi-finals and another 175 after returning a decade later.
Captaining City to promotion and then survival in the Premier League the following year further cemented his standing among the Valley Parade faithful.
A second return as manager in 2007 may have been less successful but this time around McCall has worked wonders since succeeding Phil Parkinson last June.
The Bantams spent all but the first 10 days of the campaign occupying a top-six place before edging past Fleetwood Town in the play-off semi-finals to set up today’s clash with Harris’s Millwall.
Walking out in front of his players will, McCall admits, be a proud day. But, equally, he knows from personal experience after twice being beaten in Cup finals at the old Wembley as a player with Everton that the national stadium is no place for losers.
He added: “People say to me, ‘Scoring two goals at Wembley (in the 1989 FA Cup final) must have been great?’ But, while it was great for my family, it wasn’t for me because we lost (3-2 to Liverpool).
“I would much rather have had a winners’ medal without scoring than a losers’ medal and those two goals. I would not want (City striker) Charlie Wyke to get two goals against Millwall and yet end up on the losing side.”
The scene is set for a fascinating tussle between two teams whose meetings this season both ended 1-1. Millwall, having qualified for the play-offs via a last- minute winner on the final day, will feel the momentum is with them but Bradford have kept six clean sheets in their last eight outings.
McCall added: “The old saying applies now, ‘Get fire in your belly but ice in your veins’. It is true.
“I have been so proud of them as a unit this season. I have no doubts they will go out and do themselves justice.
“There is no guarantee in terms of the result, games like this can be decided on one little thing – a decision, a mistake, whatever.
“But, mentally and physically, we are ready. We are facing a really big side and both games have been tight.
“Millwall also carry a good attacking threat. Everyone talks about (Lee) Gregory and (Steve) Morison, and so they should. For the past couple of seasons, they have been a really good partnership at this level.
“As much as people rightly mention those two lads, we have Wyke, Jones, Hiwula, Marshall, Clarke, Gilliead.
“It gives me confidence when I reel off those six attacking players. Throw Nicky Law in as well on a pitch like Wembley, it makes me excited. We are really looking forward to this game and can’t wait for kick-off.”
Big match preview: Page 3