Bradford City v Crawley Town: Battle of Valley Parade was 'wrong on so many levels', says ex-Bantam Lee Bullock

Bradford City host Crawley Town in League Two today, a fixture that you wouldn't necessarily expect to capture the imagination of too many football fans.
Lee Bullock played for Bradford City between 2008 and 2012. Picture: Getty ImagesLee Bullock played for Bradford City between 2008 and 2012. Picture: Getty Images
Lee Bullock played for Bradford City between 2008 and 2012. Picture: Getty Images

That said, one meeting between the two sides back in March 2012 did exactly that, but for all the wrong reasons.

Phil Parkinson's struggling Bantams side lost out 2-1 to the high-flying red devils, then under the guidance of the controversial Steve Evans.

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There was nothing extraordinary in the outcome of the game. City had won just one of their previous seven matches and found themselves sliding closer and closer towards the relegation zone, thus another defeat at Valley Parade against a team heading in the opposite direction and challenging for automatic promotion wasn't any kind of a surprise.

Nor, given the way that Crawley and boss Evans operated, was the fact that the match descended into an ill-tempered affair with six visiting players booked during the course of the 90-odd minutes.

That, however, was just a taster of things to come.

Shortly after the full-time whistle, a huge brawl erupted on the field, with the match officials powerless to do anything as players from both sides slugged it out close to the halfway line.

"It was the usual situation, we were struggling and needed a result but got beaten by a team who were flying at the time," recalls former Bantam Lee Bullock, now assistant manager at Whitby Town and part of the City midfield that night seven years ago.

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"If we'd have won the game, I think things would have been very different at the final whistle, but obviously we weren't too happy.

"I always tried not to get any involved in any of that nonsense, but Steve Evans was winding up our dugout, winding up the fans and it affected us on the pitch as well. The atmosphere became aggressive inside the ground.

"That Crawley team were know for their aggression. They had that reputation and fair play to them, they were good at what they did.

"I think there was some history between Dava [Andrew Davies] and the Crawley lad, Claude Davis. They'd been at it during the match and then at full-time it just exploded."

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While two players going to toe-to-toe on a football pitch isn't necessarily unheard of, what unfolded in BD8 that night ended up attracting serious attention from the national media.

"It started with Dava and then big Luke Oliver, who isn't a lad you'd ever want to mess with, waded in," Bullock added.

"I'm laughing about it now, even though I shouldn't, but the weirdest bit was when our goalkeeper Jonny Mac [McLaughlin] ran half the length of the pitch to get involved.

"He was an educated lad from Harrogate, not long out of university and quite a reserved character but he was in there throwing punches, though I don't think he came off too well. I remember him being sat in the dressing room afterwards with a few bruises.

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"It was wrong on so many levels and not something you want to see on a football pitch, but like I say there was that aggression inside the ground and then it just exploded."

The upshot was that, after things eventually calmed down, referee Iain Williamson visited both changing rooms, showing red cards to Davies, Oliver and McLaughlin as well as Crawley's Davis and their captain Pablo Mills.

Kyle McFadzean was also later charged by the FA with violent conduct and both clubs were fined for failing to control their players - City £9,00 and the visitors double that amount due to it not being their first misdemeanour of that nature.

"It really didn't look good," Bullock said.

"Phil Parkinson was devastated, the club were devastated. It was on the BBC news and brought a lot of attention, but not the kind you want.

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"I remember at the time that Bradford really feared that they were going to be on the end of a points deduction, which, given our poor league position could have put us in real danger of going down.

"I think I was club captain at the time and possibly our PFA representative as well and I was quite heavily involved in the aftermath and it was a relief when we only ended up with a fine and didn't lose any points.

"That night is something that I obviously won't ever forget, however there were plenty more memorable moments from my time at City that I'd much rather look back on.

"There were plenty of good days and nights, and a lot of bad ones too, but that was definitely the worst."