Charlton Athletic v Bradford City: Stuart McCall seeking happier outcome on return to The Valley
Not only did the former Scotland international receive a red card for the only time in 998 senior appearances as the Bantams lost 2-0, he was also asked to take charge of the team just hours later.
The dismissal of Chris Hutchings after only 137 days in charge saw then chairman Geoffrey Richmond turn to McCall, who had been combining his duties as assistant manager with captaining the team.
Perhaps understandably, the memories of that November afternoon back in 2000 in south London remain vivid as McCall prepares for City’s return tonight.
“It was the only sending-off in my entire career,” recalled the Bradford manager to The Yorkshire Post. “What made things worse was it happened in the 93rd minute.
“We were losing and Charlton were keeping the ball in the corner. I’d already been booked for dissent, I had said something like, ‘We’re up against Charlton and the ref today, lads’ after about 20 minutes because he was giving them everything.
“I deserved that one, but the second booking was very harsh. I just went in to get the ball and, although I did catch their lad, it was nothing like a booking.”
Hutchings, who had succeeded Paul Jewell the previous summer, paid the price with his job – handing McCall his first taste of management. He admits the experience was an eye-opener.
“I found out how much Beni Carbone was on, that was my first big shock,” joked McCall. “No, seriously, doing the job for those couple of games gave me a proper insight into what management was all about.
“I never wanted the job, as I still wanted to keep playing. But I took it on as caretaker for what turned out to be two games.
“We lost both, but were unlucky, especially at home to Everton and my old gaffer Walter Smith. I dropped Peter Beagrie for that one, I had to go round his house to tell him, and played Carbone in the hole.
“Not many teams were doing that back then, but, unfortunately, we got beat late on when Gary Naysmith scored.
“The next game was at Derby and we did a man-marking job on (Georgi) Kinkladze. All went well until David Wetherall had to come off injured. We had to change things around and Kinkladze had a big 10 minutes to beat us. After that, I was ready to return to playing.”
Jim Jeffries’s subsequent appointment meant McCall, after relinquishing his role as assistant, was able to return solely to playing. He retired four years later, shortly before his 41st birthday.
A dozen or so years on, McCall has carved out a decent reputation as a manager and tonight could see his Bradford side return to the League One automatic promotion places.
City are just two points behind second-placed Fleetwood Town after extending their unbeaten run to 10 games with Saturday’s 2-0 win at Coventry City.
Alex Jones, one of the goal-scorers at the Ricoh, is rated as “50-50” to recover from a dead leg, while Alex Gilliead (hamstring) and Nicky Law (knee) are both out.
If Jones is available, McCall will have plenty of in-form options up front with the January signing from Birmingham having netted three times in his last four games.
Charlie Wyke also has four goals from eight appearances since joining from Carlisle United and top scorer Jordy Hiwula took his season’s tally to 12 in Saturday’s victory.
“I am pleased with the options we have up front at the moment,” added McCall, who also has Billy Clarke available. “At Coventry, we went with all four strikers because we had to win the game.
“Jordy and Alex got the goals, but Charlie was unlucky to hit the post and this is the time when you want your strikers firing.
“Our last three or four games have been the scrappiest of the season, but that often happens at this stage of the year. Games like that are usually settled by fine margins and an in-form striker can make all the difference.”
For the second time in four days, City will travel to a club in turmoil. Charlton supporters are desperate for Roland Duchâtelet to sell and have staged several protests over the past 18 months.
“Like Coventry, Charlton have not had the best of times lately,” added McCall. “There will be a similar animosity towards the home team’s owners as we saw on Saturday, but what will be different is the surface.
“The pitch is in a much better shape at Charlton and that should suit our players. Our momentum is good at the moment, but everyone appreciates we can’t get ahead of ourselves It is the old ‘one game at a time’ cliché and next up is Charlton.”
Referee: J Linington (Isle of Wight).
Last time: Charlton Athletic 2 Bradford City 0; November 4, 2000; Premier League.