Roy McFarland has used his new autobiography to reveal that leaving City was his “biggest mistake in football”.
More than 30 years on and older fans still feel a sense of betrayal about the way McFarland suddenly quit as manager to return to Derby.
Having taken the Bantams up from the old Fourth Division, McFarland himself felt that a second successive promotion “was not beyond the realms of possibility”.
But the former England international’s head was turned when Peter Taylor, the ‘other’ half of the Brian Clough era, came calling to take him back to the Rams.
Derby were fined £10,000 for an illegal approach and City were rewarded a further £55,000 in compensation. It was claimed that Valley Parade chairman Bob Martin had “trapped” Derby director Stuart Webb into revealing Taylor had tapped up the manager with a secret tape recorder hidden in a vase of flowers.
Writing in his book ‘Roy Mac, Clough’s Champion’, McFarland said: “My controversial return (to Derby) was the biggest mistake I made in football – and the circumstances behind it do not fill me with pride.
“It was too early. I should have stayed and learned my trade at Bradford but the excitement, the emotional pull, clouded my judgement. This was about more than money, it was all down to raw emotion.
“Bob told me bluntly that I was making the wrong decision ... in hindsight, he was 100 per cent right. I wasn’t ready to leave. We had a good thing going and I destroyed it.”
McFarland’s clandestine meeting with Taylor at Woodall services one evening in November 1982 ended a hugely successful 18-month first stint in management.
Habits learned from playing under Clough were introduced at Valley Parade and McFarland relished moulding a side with the likes of Bobby Campbell, David ‘Daisy’ McNiven, Barry Gallagher and Les Chapman.
Clough had offered some sage advice before he took the City job: “There’s only one thing you’ve got to do, young man, and that’s win football matches.”
McFarland arrived at a club where “money was so tight that the club secretary Terry Newman disappeared for two hours in the middle of the day to avoid the string of creditors who turned up at lunchtime.”
But they won promotion with a game to spare, as well as taking mighty Ipswich to extra-time in a replay in the League Cup.
McFarland recalled Campbell’s boozy sessions on a Thursday night and how he never challenged them.
“I thought about tackling him over his prodigious drinking and then dismissed the notion. Bobby was as rough and tough as old boots and a prolific marksman at that level.”
Campbell top-scored with 24 league goals that year and later followed McFarland to Derby – only to flop and quickly return.
McFarland also remembered the promotion celebrations at City Hall and how the “exceedingly merry” Lady Mayoress kept losing her wig!
But it was how it all ended that still dominates any conversation about the McFarland era.
The cultured defender was also playing and made his final appearance in a 0-0 cup draw against Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United. He resigned three days before the Old Trafford replay.
McFarland revealed that it was like “fighting the incoming tide” once Taylor had been in touch.
“He had found me, helped shaped me into an England international player and I knew that he needed me now.
“Anyone else but Taylor and Clough and I would have said ‘no’. Any other club but Derby would have got the thumbs down.”
Roy Mac, Clough’s Champion, co-written with Will Price, is published by Sport Media and costs £14.99