Despite now sitting four points outside the League Two play-off positions, Bradford City once embarked on a bizarre European campaign thanks to the clubs unlikely escape from Premier League relegation during the 1999/2000 season.
The cup run led the Bantams on trips to Lithuania, the Netherlands and Russia and gave former Arsenal forward Andrey Arshavin his first taste of English football.
Avoiding relegation from the Premier League in their inaugural season thanks to a home win against Liverpool on the final matchday, Bradford City were entered into the 2000 UEFA Intertoto Cup. The Intertoto Cup is arguably one of the stranger competitions that has existed in European competition history. With three winners – instead of the usual one – victorious sides would earn qualification to the UEFA Cup later the same season. The competition was aimed at ‘mid-sized’ clubs across Europe and was more invitation based than success driven. After an unnamed Italian team pulled out of the competition in 2000, Bradford chairman Geoffrey Richmond applied and the club were invited to join the competition by UEFA.
The start was beyond rocky. Manager Paul Jewell – who had led the Bantams to the Premier League then produced a miracle to save them from the drop the season after – resigned after allegedly never hearing that his team would be playing in the Intertoto cup that season. This was followed up by the fact that seven first team players would miss the first leg of their first match in the competition due to already organising much-deserved summer holidays which they were reluctant to cancel.
The second round – City had a bye in the first – would match up the West Yorkshire side with FK Atlantas, a not so glamorous trip to the port city of Klaipeda in Lithuania awaited. Prior to the game there was more calamity in store as the club’s chartered flight was hit by technical problems which led to lengthy delays.
On the pitch though it went well for the Yorkshire side and their 30 travelling fans in Lithuania. With goals from Isaiah Rankin, Dean Windass and Robbie Blake, a youthful looking City won the first leg 3-1. Over 10,000 home fans turned out for the second leg a week later at Valley Parade with around 70 FK Atlantas fans making the trip via Leeds-Bradford airport. Supposedly only 10 or so away fans actually turned up for the match and it’s widely believed that the other 20 used the trip to enter Britain on a permanent basis.
Bradford ran out comfortable 4-1 winners and won 7-2 on aggregate to progress, with perhaps the best moment of this match coming in the last-minute with a consolation for FK Atlantas. After bending a superb free kick into the top corner, midfielder Martynas Karalius celebrated wildly, ending up in the away section of the crowd at the far end of the pitch. The Lithuanians had been dispatched by the far superior team which would leave the Bantams in the hat for the next round.
The third round of the Intertoto cup that season pitted Bradford against Dutch side RKC Waalwijk. Despite their low profile across Europe at the time, Waalwijk would go on to finish sixth in the Eredivisie later that season under former Spurs boss Martin Jol.
The home leg came first for Bradford this time around, the score finishing 2-0 with striker Dean Windass grabbing both goals. City played well and took the lead with them a week later to the Netherlands.
According to reports, on arrival at Waalwijk, Bradford City fans were met by a large police presence dressed in full riot gear. Expecting the usual English hooligan stereotypes to have made the short trip from Yorkshire, the local police were surprised to find that many Bradford fans were in fact families treating the match as a reason to get away on holiday during the summer.
On the pitch it was Bradford who would once again claim the win. Even though Windass missed an early first half penalty, his strike partner Lee Mills was on hand to finish off the tie in the 81st minute. The Bantams won the away leg 1-0 and the tie 3-0. It was plain sailing for the Bantams on their European adventure so far but the sides fortunes were about to drastically change.
Round 4 and City’s opponents this time would be Russian side Zenit St Petersburg. Zenit were by far the strongest side Bradford would face in the Intertoto cup and due to the Russian domestic calendar, were already half way through their own season. Fitness would play a pivotal part over the two legs with fatigue catching up with Bradford’s players late on during the second leg. Whilst Zenit’s squad was fully match fit, Bradford’s players were effectively in week five of their pre-season regime that for many had started too soon.
Can you name Bradford City’s top goalscorers from the last 15 seasons? Have a go now!
City were drawn away in the first leg and an army of 12 Bradford fans would follow them to Northern Russia. In the first leg the Bantams escaped with only a 1-0 loss as Zenit dominated the 90 minutes of play but worse was to come a week later at Valley Parade. Despite City holding out for most of another one-sided match in West Yorkshire, Zenit would eventually run out 3-0 winners thanks to a second-half double from Denis Ugarov and a late strike from Yevgeny Tarasov. During the second leg, former Arsenal forward Andrey Arshavin made his senior debut as an early first-half substitution for the away side.
Out of the Intertoto cup, the Bantams now had to focus on the upcoming 2000/2001 Premier League season which was still two weeks away after defeat to Zenit. At first the decision to accept UEFA’s invitation to the competition and play over the summer looked like it had paid off with another solid Premier League start, beating Chelsea at home before grabbing unlikely draws against Arsenal and Leicester.
In the end it wasn’t to be for Bradford City who endured relegation from the Premier League that season. The relegation spiralled the club into two administrations and dropped the West Yorkshire side into the lower leagues of English football, a place where the Bantams are yet to emerge from despite recent famous cup runs.
The fact remains though that whether you knew about it before or not, Bradford City have played in Europe and that’s a proud memory that their fans will still cherish for decades to come.