Big Interview - The love affair between Bradford City and Edinho that still endures

HE arrived in the depths of winter as an unknown quantity, albeit an exotic one due to being Bradford City’s first – and so far only – Brazilian footballer.

Former Bradford City striker, Edinho, pictured in Portugal last week. Picture: Richard Sutcliffe.

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Edinho left Valley Parade a little over two years later with 17 goals from 64 appearances to his name, statistics that hardly point towards legendary status. But that is exactly what the one-time striker enjoys in the West Yorkshire city. Bantams supporters, reared for decades on heroes who were more artisan than artist, quickly fell head over heels in love with the boy from Brazil.

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Edinho, in action for Bradford City against Derby County.

Never mind that the new arrival’s English barely stretched further than a mumbled ‘hello’ or the word ‘City’, the latter invariably accompanied by a thumbs up. Bradford embraced Edinho and he embraced the city back.

That love affair has endured despite almost 21 years having passed since Edinho last sported claret and amber.

“Bradford City was a very special time in my life,” the 52-year-old tells The Yorkshire Post as we settle down for a chat in the sunshine near his Portuguese home.

“I had two years playing football in a nice city full of nice people. I enjoyed living in Bradford very, very, very much. The fans were very good to me. I did not know the language and I did not know many people.

Edinho celebrates scoring a second goal against Middlesborough.

“I had my family but the people were like a family as well.”

Stories about Edinho abound in Bradford. And not all surround his deeds on the pitch. There was the night he was invited to open a recently renovated City-themed pub in Bradford and then asked to say a few words.

“I like Guinness,” came the short but sweet oration before the microphone was handed back.

Then there was the night Edinho found himself invited to join a family who had seen the striker dining alone in a city restaurant. He duly did so, later picked up the tab and yet the only word he was able to say throughout was ‘hello’.

Edinho, in training for Bradford City

As the City correspondent for the local evening newspaper back then, this lack of language skills on both our parts – I could say ‘obrigado’ in Portuguese and nothing else – was a major frustration.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, after a game at QPR to spy Edinho on the team bus, flicking through a copy of The Sunday Telegraph.

I decided to have a bit of fun in the paper’s end of season review, detailing the incident under the tongue-in-cheek headline, ‘Ever get the feeling you are being conned?’

Two days later, our paths crossed and the trademark smile had gone. Edinho clearly felt awful and promised, “We speak next year”. It never happened, as the Brazilian moved to Dunfermline Athletic. But the gesture was appreciated.

All these years on, Edinho’s English has improved hugely. Son, Edinho Junior, also a striker with Portuguese third tier outfit Ferreiras, has to help out a couple of times during our interview when dad cannot find the right word but, otherwise, all is good.

“Chris Kamara signed me,” says Edinho when asked how he ended up in a city he had never heard of before it became his adopted home in February, 1997.

“I was playing here in Portugal at Vitoria Guimaraes and Kamara see me play. I do not know how. But he see me.

“I liked Kamara. He helped me a lot. He trusted me as a striker. He talk to me all the time. Help me and say I was good for the English football.

“It was different to what I play in Portugal. But Kamara make me feel good.”

Edinho was among the goals almost straight away. He took just two appearances to find the net for a Bantams side embroiled in a relegation fight near the foot of what is now known as the Championship.

The celebrations with the travelling fans after his opener in a 2-1 win at Oldham Athletic were suitably manic to suggest even then that a new cult hero had been born.

By the time he avoided a mandatory booking for taking his shirt off after finding the net against Swindon Town by sporting a second shirt underneath, Bradford was smitten.

Not that officials always saw the funny side with Edinho. His solitary red card in England came after he had helped spark a brawl involving both teams by striking Bury forward Peter Swan, who moments earlier had deliberately booted the ball straight at the prone Brazilian on the floor.

As matters spiralled out of control and punches were being exchanged, Edinho quietly withdrew from the melee with an innocent look on his face.

Referee Graham Frankland was not fooled, however, and brandished a card to match the Bantams striker’s bright red boots.

Other officials, though, were taken in. Such as when clashes against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City boiled over as a result of Edinho winding up the opposition defence before getting off scot free. Or the time his goal at Charlton Athletic stood despite clearly going in via his hand.

This all added to Edinho’s charm in the eyes of his adoring Bradford public. It also had a serious side, though, with his introduction to English football having underlined the need to protect himself.

“I sign before the Huddersfield game and watch from the box of the president,” he says of the infamous 1997 derby that saw Gordon Watson’s leg shattered by a challenge from Terriers defender Kevin Gray that later saw the two men appear in court.

“He (Watson) broke his leg. It was very bad. But I was not scared. I did not worry about playing in England.

“My friends helped me at all times. They looked after me. And I liked the ways of English football.

“In Portugal, the ball was always controlled. In England, it is fast, fast, fast. I was strong and I loved it. I was kicked but I was not scared. I enjoyed kicking back.”

Edinho, by now down the pecking order behind deadly partnership Robbie Blake and Lee Mills, left Valley Parade on loan for Dunfermline just a few months into the 1998-99 season that would end with City being promoted to the Premier League. He then returned to Portugal permanently the following March.

He played for a further decade before retiring at 42. Now, he watches Edinho Junior, who was a peer of Sheffield United defender Jack O’Connell at Blackburn Rovers’ Academy.

“He is a striker as well,” says proud Dad, who looks as fit as the days when he led the Bradford attack. “But not like me. He is bigger and more technical as a player. He plays in Portugal but I hope he can return to England.”

As for his own career in this country, the 52-year-old former striker adds: “I worked hard. I trained, trained, trained. I wanted to be my best. That was for the fans. They shouted ‘Edinho, Edinho, Edinho’.

“I had been told about the passion of the England fans. And I saw that at Bradford. It is why I was sad to leave Bradford, very sad. I am asked about my one memory from Bradford. But I do not have one. I have many, many good memories.”