Class of 1911 remain the benchmark of Bantams success

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TEENAGE Bradford City fans reared on a decade of struggle may not quite believe it but there have been seasons to savour at Valley Parade previous to this one.

Nine promotions underlines that much, as do the 12 seasons Valley Parade spent hosting top-flight football.

But where, in the grand scheme of things, will the 2012-13 campaign rate if, as the estimated 24,000 Bradfordians heading south today hope, the Bantams can add promotion to that historic League Cup final appearance?

To decide, we should return to the beginning. Or, at least, the first of those nine promotions as, just five years after being formed in 1903, City romped to the Second Division title.

It began the most successful period in the club’s history, the highlight of which has to be the 1910-11 season that brought the FA Cup to Bradford along with a fifth place finish – still City’s best showing in the top flight.

In an age when the Cup is little more than an after-thought to the top clubs, comprehending just what the 1-0 triumph over Newcastle United in an Old Trafford replay meant is difficult. But 100,000 people – a third of Bradford’s population at the time – turning out on the streets to welcome home the Cup winners perhaps reveals best the civic pride felt at City lifting the trophy 102 years ago.

Unbeknown to those thronging the streets between the old Exchange Station and the Midland Hotel, where a celebratory dinner was planned, the high point of Bradford’s footballing success had been reached.

Relegation back to Division Two followed three seasons after the Great War had ended and it would be another 77 years before City would return to the top division.

In between, there were plenty of highs with promotion from Division Three (North) being claimed by a free-scoring team who found the net a staggering 128 times in 42 matches and boasted a goal difference of plus 85.

Less spectacular, though no less enjoyable for the Valley Parade faithful, were the promotions of 1957-58 (Division Three North), 1968-69 (Division Four) and 1976-77 (Division Four).

The Bantams also escaped the basement division in 1981-82 with 91 points as runners-up to Sheffield United, and three years later brought further success as Trevor Cherry led the club into Division Two.

Boasting an intoxicating mixture of youth and experience, Bradford clinched the title with a week to spare. A huge party was planned but triumph turned to tragedy on the final day as fire engulfed the main stand at Valley Parade and 56 supporters lost their lives.

The following year saw the club play ‘home’ games at Elland Road, Leeds Road and, finally, Odsal, but they still managed to adapt to a level they had last played at 48 years earlier.

A return to Division One seemed in the offing three years later only for a late stumble twhich saw Terry Dolan’s side suffer the double blow of missing out on automatic promotion and then losing in the play-off semi-finals to Middlesbrough.

With Stuart McCall and John Hendrie, two players who had done so much to power Bradford to within touching distance of the top flight, both leaving that summer, the club’s fortunes soon dipped and it would be another eight years before supporters were able to celebrate promotion.

By then, City were back in the third tier as a stunning late run saw a place in the play-offs secured on the final day before a dramatic semi-final win over Blackpool was followed by a 2-0 humbling of Notts County at Wembley.

Chris Kamara, pictured, masterminded that triumph but his sacking the following January saw Paul Jewell take charge and by 1999 Bradford’s long wait to stage top-flight football was at an end.

City beat the odds to stay up the following year, an achievement that was marked by an open-top bus ride around the city – a possible first for a team finishing fourth bottom of any league.

Since then, a miserable slide down the leagues – accompanied by two spells in administration – has tested the patience of even the most loyal fans, hence why this season’s upturn in fortunes has proved such an uplifting experience for the city.

Promotion today would, as joint chairman Julian Rhodes makes clear on the opposite page, turn a “good” season into a “phenomenal” one.

In terms of ranking where 2012-13 would figure, however, this correspondent believes even a Wembley win over Northampton would be unable to dislodge the 1910-11 and 1998-99 campaigns as the club’s most notable.

And of those, it is surely hard to argue against the double of FA Cup winners and highest placed position being the best of the lot.