When Phil Holder’s promotion bandwagon rolled into Bradford at lunch-time in early November 1991, a fourth successive away win almost passed by unnoticed on a day when the football world was forced to play second fiddle to another sporting landmark occasion.
The Saturday afternoon fixtures coincided with the Rugby World Cup Final taking place at Twickenham and the first final to be staged in the northern hemisphere saw hosts England taking on the might of Australia in a game that kicked off at 3.00pm.
A number of football clubs – Bradford City included – brought forward the time of kick-off and the clash with Brentford got underway at 12 noon, which was all well and good for the home supporters but the unfortunate Bees fans who had been forced to leave home at the crack of dawn also found themselves unable to watch the rugby final and had to content themselves with a radio commentary on the long journey back home.
All in all, a total of 21 league clubs attracted their lowest crowds of the season on that afternoon and to add to the misery, England lost 6-12 to the team from down under.
The Division Three fixture brought together possibly the two smallest managers in the Football League with 5’5” John Docherty in the home dugout almost towering over 5’4” Phil Holder but it was the Bees man who masterminded another win on the road for his team.
The game was largely a forgettable affair and although Brentford remained in the ascendancy throughout, victory was never a foregone conclusion with the winning goal failing to arrive until seven minutes from the end. Then it was the evergreen Neil Smillie who produced the decider from all of four yards. Kevin Godfrey’s neat pass from the right edge of the penalty area found Gary Blissett with his back to goal but the big front-man spun in an anti-clockwise direction leaving his marker floundering before laying the ball off to Smillie who easily converted.
The 33-year old winger had been in fine form throughout and such had been his early season form that Phil Holder suggested that there was no reason why he couldn’t be playing into his forties, such was his enthusiasm and fitness. If David Webb hadn’t replaced Phil Holder eighteen months later, who knows whether that prediction might have come true?
The late goal produced an angry reaction from the Bradford supporters and John Docherty was subjected to a barrage of criticism although the most vitriolic abuse was directed at the chairman and his fellow board members, with chants of “out, out, out” ringing around the stadium. All this despite the fact that the Bantams sat just two points off a play-off position before the game started and had in their line-up two players whose undoubted quality made them destined for better things – Phil Babb, who later became the most expensive defender in British football when he joined Liverpool, and Dean Richards who joined Tottenham in 2001 for £8 million and tragically died just 10 years later.
Those Bees supporters who made the trek up north were able to witness one of the more bizarre moments that crop up from time to time when referee Jim Parker reduced himself to ridicule a few minutes before the half-time interval. With the scoreline goal-less, Dean Holdsworth was fouled on the edge of the penalty area and the referee’s first strange decision was to refuse Holdsworth to receive attention from physio Roy Clare. Holdsworth eventually managed to hobble away – and was later substituted with a bruised knee.
Meanwhile Brentford were concocting their by now familiar set-piece routine whereby Wilf Rostron ran over the ball, leaving Neil Smillie to take the kick. It would seem inconceivable that with Brentford on the attack, the referee could interpret that as time-wasting but that is exactly how he appeared to see things because he booked not only Rostron but, astonishingly, Smillie as well!
As every Bees fan knows only too well, Phil Holder led the team to the title in memorable fashion at the end of the season. As for John Docherty, well the Bradford fans got their way and the little Scotsman was sacked just nine days later.