JAMES HANSON has come a long way from the quiet lad who came to Bradford City shortly after working out his notice at his local Co-op in Idle in July, 2009.
Back in those days, the strapping striker got lifts into training from former City colleague and fellow Bradfordian Chris Brandon, who remains a good friend to this day.
Keeping in the motoring theme, it was clear as day that Hanson had L plates on in a footballing sense at the start of his professional journey after early rejection at Huddersfield.
Potential had been displayed at the likes of Eccleshill and then at Guiseley where he was brought in by former Bantams manager Terry Dolan before he was recommended to then Valley Parade chief Stuart McCall by his former team-mate and Lions coach Mark Ellis.
McCall took a punt and the rest is pretty much history, even if his debut was hardly memorable – a 5-0 loss at Notts County on August 8, 2009.
In the five full seasons since, Hanson – 27 in November – has packed plenty in. While he may still be unassuming and quietly-spoken, his performances on the pitch have spoken volumes and after being a rookie in those early days under McCall, he is now one of City’s senior men – and very much their main man up front.
Hanson hit the heights during Bradford’s unforgettable promotion and League Cup final season of 2012-13 alongside Nakhi Wells and following his exit to Huddersfield in January, has become the club’s frontman in more than one sense.
His exploits in firing 11 goals in 19 appearances since Wells left have not gone unnoticed at Championship clubs either, with the former supermarket worker’s stock having never been higher.
Short-listed for the League One player-of-the-month accolade for August – he was pipped to the award by Barnsley’s Conor Hourihane yesterday – and with five goals already this term, Hanson, now the longest serving player at City, can reflect on having coming a long way in just over five years.
The club definitely have, too, from League Two also-rans punching well below their weight to Championship contenders.
For Hanson, the firm hope is that he has not yet reached his zenith in the claret-and-amber.
Reflecting on his time at City, Hanson, just 18 goals behind the club’s third highest top-scorer, Dean Windass, said: “It has changed massively. The overall place is miles better now and, hopefully, we will keep improving.
“We used to get changed at Valley Parade and drive our cars to the training ground and go back to the ground.
“Now you get a real buzz going to the ground, having not been there all week, for match-days.
“It’s little things like being based here (at Woodhouse Grove) and having your dinner, it’s so much better.”
He added: “I want to fulfil my ambitions at Bradford.
“I am contracted for three years and it would be nice to rack up more goals and beat Dean Windass into third place. It would be an achievement to be proud of, but success with the team is the main thing.
“There were a lot of changes in the summer and it is quite hard to say where we will finish. It will be tough to finish in the play-offs with the size of the other clubs up there and their budgets.
“But we are gelling pretty quickly and, hopefully, we can chip away with the points as we knew last year we had a great start and could not maintain that.”
Praised this week by manager Phil Parkinson for his unselfishness, Hanson may be the quintessential ‘team man’ but few would begrudge him some overdue personal kudos.
Bantams fans were rooting for him to gain the monthly players’ gong after four goals and two assists last month, and while he missed out, they can rest assured that if he carries on from where he left off last month, accolades will surely come for the striker, relishing responsibility being thrust upon him ‘up top.’
That said, it is typical Hanson that he is keen to share around the credit for his form, with his manager due the lion’s share.
He added: “Working with the gaffer has really developed me and I am improving year upon year with him.
“It is just those extra bits after training and all the time, he is working with me on little bits like movement from crosses or getting my timing right and my overall play.
“Maybe, a bit of experience as well is helping and I knew I needed to score more goals and it is nice to have done that since Nahki left.
“The longer you keep doing the business in the league, the more confidence you gain – especially getting a promotion under the belt as well. The next aim is to perform well in this league and go on to play in the Championship.”
Hanson can at least reflect on making a bit of history last month, scoring the goal that earned Bradford a first Valley Parade win over neighbours Leeds since 1932.
He may have missed the monthly award but his name is firmly etched into City folklore.
He added: “That goal (in the League Cup) will probably get remembered as much as the Aston Villa one as people had been saying that we hadn’t beaten Leeds for a while.
“Living in the area, it is massive for the club. I have so many Leeds and Bradford fans as mates and it was nice to get the winner. I had so many messages afterwards and, to be honest, all of my mates who are Leeds fans congratulated me as they want the best for me as well, which was nice.”