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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 19/04/03, 3.00pm
Bradford City
A bit of welly
By Matt Rowson

Somewhere in the great breaker's yard in the sky there resides a red Yugo. In fact there are probably several red Yugos, but one in particular. This red Yugo hasn't been fully functional for some time. In fact, it hasn't been fully functional since some time before it served as the chief means of transport for a group of Leeds University-based Watford fans in the early nineties.

Away trips in these days were fraught with risk. From comprehensive and joyless defeats (West Brom) to encounters with unfriendly locals (Derby), from not discovering that a game was off until we arrived thanks to the Yugo's non-functional radio (West Brom again) to prangs (Newcastle) to the driver's flexible interpretation of the highway code (every bloody week).

But the greatest risk offered by such trips was perhaps falling victim to the red Yugo's narcolepsy, which always seemed to strike with kick-off looming in some unfamiliar corner of the north of England. Perhaps fortunately, the driver knew of a cure for this frequent ailment, and ten years on one can still but wonder at how he chanced upon it.

With the Yugo obstinately motionless on the hard shoulder, the driver would pop and prop up the bonnet, before disappearing behind the car and retrieving from the boot a large, sturdy plank of wood. From the relative safety of the Yugo's interior we would watch in awe as the plank swung above the bonnet and then wince as it vanished from sight and hit the engine with a CLANG. At which point, invariably, the Yugo woke up again.

The driver swore that there was an art to it, that he had to strike the engine at just such a point with just such a force. Cobblers. Some situations are clearly best solved with a bit of welly.

And so we come to Bradford City. One of the first clubs to flirt with extinction in the wake of the ITV Digital disgrace, it's no small surprise to see the Bantams still afloat, let alone on the verge of preserving their Division One status. With players contracts having been terminated last summer, effectively to save their summer wages, Nicky Law had to reformulate something approximating to a team from the detritus of the ultimately disastrous attempt at a second season of Premiership survival. This summer, with a number of the larger contracts due to expire, another rebuild looks likely. City chairman Gordon Gibb has imposed a £2.5m cap on wages, and a £85,000 limit on any new individual salaries. It's safe to assume that many of the eleven out of contract won't be re-signing.

This is the big stick, the hefty whack. Painful and brutal, but surely the only conceivable path to securing the Bantams' long-term existence. "Cutting your cloth", as we are only too familiar with ourselves.

Aidan Davison, the regular stopper, is one of those out of contract and is not expected to re-sign. This, with Bradford just four points shy of mathematical safety, could lead to a debut for Dane Stefan Magnusson, who has a chance to establish himself as City's future number one. Dundee United's Alan Combe, who played in the fixture at Vicarage Road a year ago, is touted to return in the summer though, and Gary Walsh is also still knocking around.

At the back, Uhlenbeek, Molenaar and Myers are another three expected to be on their way out. Not so the versatile Simon Francis, who may become a regular replacement for Gus Uhlenbeek at right-back as soon as safety is confirmed - he has just signed his first professional contract. On the left, Lewis Emanuel appears to be the future although long-serving Wayne Jacobs, out with a hamstring problem, will also be at Valley Parade next season having extended his contract.

In the centre, the imposing David Wetherall and Mark Bower partnered up in recent games, although the enormous Molenaar is expected to be available for Saturday after a hamstring problem. Andy Myers is also an option.

In midfield, the sorest test of Bradford's new financial resolve lies in the future of Claus Jørgensen. Out of contract in the summer, Jørgensen has scored in each of the Bantams' last eight away League games, a Football League record, and is expected to want better than the drop in wages that staying with City will involve. He only has two goals in home games, incidentally, where City's form - one win in seven - has been poor.

Ben Muirhead is a relatively new face in the midfield, having joined from Manchester United following a trial. Peter Atherton is a more familiar face, he too is expected to leave in the summer but Australian Paul Reid is staying for another year despite a not entirely convincing first season in England.

Elsewhere, the initially exciting signing of Welshman Paul Evans from Brentford turned out to be a disappointment - he is now out for the season having torn knee ligaments whilst on loan at Blackpool. Former Everton man Tom Kearney is another absentee - missing since August with cruciate ligament damage, he is back in full training but won't be reintroduced until next season. Jamie Lawrence, meanwhile, a long-standing favourite in West Yorkshire, has left to join Walsall where he will earn more than Bradford can offer. Which says quite a lot.

All of which could see a number of newer faces introduced before the end of the season. The defensive Frazer McHugh, whose name could be that of a comedy Scotsman in the Beano, was signed from Halesowen Town having previously played for Swindon. Rob Wolleaston is on trial having been released following too long on the fringes at Chelsea whilst Craig Fishlock is another youngster to have made the bench in recent weeks.

Up front, Ashley Ward, the highest earner in the squad, is contracted for another season to the chagrin of all but Mrs.Ward, one suspects. The lumpen one is out for the season with broken ribs sustained against those delicate angels Sheffield Wednesday. With Andy Tod on loan (and back in defence) at Dundee United, Dutchman Laurens Ten Heuvel has arrived on loan from Sheffield United, who are paying his wages during the loan in return for him gaining some match experience prior to the play-offs. Plus they're not exactly short of hulking great strikers at Bramall Lane, one suspects.

Andy Gray appears to be the main man up front; with his career as a winger drifting since his introduction as "son of Frank" at Leeds, he has been far more convincing as a striker with fourteen goals and a Scottish call-up this campaign (although the latter may have come free with a packet of Coco Pops). City fan Danny Forrest is another second year scholar to have signed professional terms and has some first team games recently, although his position is threatened by the availability of Danny Cadamarteri, somehow still only twenty-three. Kevin Sanasy is another youngster to have made the bench recently, but Mark Danks is exiled on loan at Halesowen and the utterly ineffectual Juanjo is on-trial, appropriately, at Luton.

This game is a wake-up call for us as well; there's nothing quite like the wind whistling off the Pennines around the away stand at Valley Parade to dispell the Semi-Final hangovers. I would imagine. In any case, exorcising the ghosts by thundering into the next league game strikes me as infinitely preferable to pondering on Villa Park, and if City play anything like as badly as they did at Vicarage Road in December we will find them willing foil for a hearty whack.