Pain of relegation drives on Pickford to succeed

IT was the worst moment of Jordan Pickford’s admittedly short career and one he will not forget in a hurry.

Bradford goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Carlisle United had just been relegated courtesy of defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers on the final day of last season.

Results elsewhere were not to blame; the Cumbrians had lost 3-0 to extinguish any hopes of a dramatic great escape at the expense of the trio of clubs who had also gone into the season’s climax still in danger of the drop.

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As the distraught Carlisle players sat in silence, deep in the bowels of Molineux, Pickford –then still a teenager and on loan with the Cumbrians from Sunderland – made a quiet vow to himself.

The goalkeeper, who is now on loan at Bradford City, when asked by The Yorkshire Post about his first experience of relegation replied: “I looked around and thought, ‘I don’t want to feel like this again, it is not what I want’.

“The whole day Carlisle went down was just not nice at all. Everyone was so down in the dressing room.

“Everyone had families there and everyone was upset. It was horrible.”

Pickford, an England Under-19 international, is again out on loan in League One, but the signs are much more positive.

Bradford, with the 20-year-old an ever-present in the league, sit just one place outside the play-off places and this tea-time host Sheffield United in an eagerly-anticipated Yorkshire derby that will be shown live by Sky.

It is a game Pickford, who joined Sunderland as a seven-year-old schoolboy, cannot wait to get underway.

“Derby games are a big thing,” he said. “I didn’t think Barnsley (last Sunday when City lost 3-1) was that much of a derby, but this one will be. Sheffield United are a big club and it should be a great game.

“The fans will be desperate to win so we need to do that for them. I really enjoy playing at Valley Parade.

“I hadn’t be here before in my career so the opening day was a big one. We beat Coventry and the atmosphere was really special. I loved being part of it.”

Pickford, whose birthplace Washington is split between Newcastle and Sunderland fans, is highly regarded at the Stadium of Light.

As a boy, he relished playing in midfield for his school team.

“I loved a tackle,” he said with a smile. But Pickford’s heroes were Thomas Sorensen and Peter Schmeichel, and his only appearances for the Black Cats have come with the gloves on.

“I thought Sorensen and Schmeichel were brilliant,” said the Bantams loanee. “I hope, one day, to play for Sunderland. But, for now, I just want to do well for Bradford. The rest can wait.”

Pickford’s football education beyond Sunderland’s Academy began with his first loan move.

Darlington, then of the Conference and just a few months away from folding, was the youngster’s destination.

Next came Alfreton Town before a switch to Burton Albion in the summer of 2013 brought a first taste of the Football League.

He went on to make 12 starts in the Brewers’ first 16 league games en route to reaching the play-offs.

Sunderland, wanting to test their players at a higher level, then recalled Pickford before sending him to Carlisle.

Asked about that first season in the League, Pickford said: “I enjoyed it at Burton. First-team football with a League club was something I had always wanted. Living away from home was a new thing for me, too.

“I was in a hotel at first and that was different to what I am used to. If I am honest, I didn’t enjoy it. There were no home comforts and it was all a bit boring for me.

“But I got used to it in the end. It helped that my family came down to games, they would come to as many as they could. London was a bit far but they tried to be at as many of the others as possible.

“I enjoyed it at Burton and was playing regularly, but the club wanted me to learn about different levels and that is how I went to Carlisle.

“There was a chance to go back to Burton after my first loan finished. But I did fancy League One and I actually found the step up from League Two to League One not that big.

“Maybe I had matured a bit but I found League One a bit easier.

“People might say I should have stayed at Burton but I think the earlier you do step up a level as a player, then hopefully the higher you will go in the long run.

“It was the same when I came to Bradford. They were a higher League One club than Carlisle so it was all about testing myself.

“The pressure was different at Carlisle to what I had been used to at Burton.

“They were struggling a bit and obviously got relegated. But I did enjoy myself there.

“I enjoyed the pressure and that experience will help me a lot. I learned a lot about how to deal with certain situations.

“If you get those under your belt when younger, it can only help you later.”

Bradford are now benefiting from that development this season, with manager Phil Parkinson delighted with how his loan signing is performing.

The City manager said: “Jordan is a good, young goalkeeper who has a great mentality. That is the most important thing. He is a tough lad, both mentally and physically. He is young but improving all the time.”

As for Pickford himself, he is in no doubt as to how beneficial his time at Valley Parade is proving. “I am playing every week,” he said, “and that is what I needed.

“I need to get some experience at my age and the fact Bradford was just down the road, had made some good signings and were clearly a club on the move made it an easy decision.

“It seemed a great move all round and so far that is what it has been.”