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Bradford City fans took classy skipper Gary Jones to their hearts
Bradford City’s love affair with Gary Jones was sealed with a kiss.
There were many magical images during the club’s unprecedented ride to Wembley in the Capital One Cup.
But one stood out, as Jones broke off from the euphoric celebrations at Villa Park to plant a smacker on the head of brain tumour survivor Jake Turton. He also gave the youngster his sweat-stained shirt as a souvenir.
It was a touch of class from the skipper – but then that was what he was all about.
There may never be another Stuart McCall in the eyes of City fans. But Jones sure came damn close.
The outpouring of emotion and flood of well wishes after Friday’s announcement that he was leaving the club summed up how Bradford had taken him to their hearts.
City owe Jones a huge debt of gratitude for two years of terrific toil and total dedication. He introduced a winning ethic into a dressing room that had long forgotten what it was like to be successful.
His name is synonymous with Rochdale, where he appeared 531 times in 11 years. He skippered Dale to their first promotion in 41 years in 2010 and then played every game in both seasons in League One.
But Jones’ impact at Valley Parade was just as significant. His final outing at Tranmere was his 100th in the claret and amber – a nice milestone which once again summed up the fact that, even knocking on for 37, he never misses a game.
His capture was well worth dragging Steve Parkin out of a Greek taverna to secure.
Phil Parkinson got plenty of signings right during the summer of 2012 that shaped City’s revival. Jones, arguably the biggest, came almost by accident.
Parkinson had been studying videos of Stephen Darby playing on loan for Rochdale. But this busy number eight seemed to be in every shot.
“He was always in the picture,” recalled the City boss, whose interest was pricked enough to interrupt his assistant’s holiday.
Parkin, who knew Jones well from working with him over a 15-year period, replied: “The best thing I can tell you about Gary is that the only time he is ever happy is 5pm on a Saturday when his team have won.”
That clinched it for Parkinson and when an agent then rang to say that Jones might be available after failing to see eye-to-eye with then Dale boss John Coleman, the response confirmed that he was already top of their list.
His arrival brought a predictable minority of keyboard moans arguing about his age, in the light of David Syers quitting for Doncaster.
“If this is the best we can do,” grumbled one, “then we may as well wave the white flag now.”
Mr Magoo would have been proud of such laughable short-sightedness. Here, after all, was a player who turned up every single week without fail.
Jones always insisted that age was just a number. Every time the figure was brought up – and it would be frequently – he would roll his eyes and smile.
“People have been telling me I’m past it since I was 30,” he said in an early interview.
“I’m not coming here to make up the numbers. I think this will really revitalise me. It’s the kick up the backside that I needed.”
The infectiousness of their midfield warhorse certainly planted a size ten up the collective posterior of his new club.
Ask any team-mate, young or old, about Jones’ qualities and the answer would always be the same.
He was the general driving them forward time after time. If this guy who had been playing for countless years could constantly summon up the energy, then how could those around him not follow suit?
Jones had the privilege of twice leading out City on to the hallowed Wembley turf. He also claimed the dubious honour of having their only shot on target in the cup final.
But his contribution was more than that. Think back to Bramall Lane in January and the second-half fightback against Sheffield United – that was Jones in a nutshell.
Two down with the threat of heavier punishment to follow, the captain dragged his team back from the brink virtually single-handedly to rescue a point. It was that belief and refusal to give in that made him such a massive character.
By going now, City will remember that warrior in full flow; bellowing and fist-pumping to the end.
A shake-up is required and Parkinson has drawn a line in the sand by releasing the figurehead. It was a big call.
There was no offer of a coaching sideline either when they met last week. But then Jones, only ten games off 700 now, wants to keep on playing – and he is unlikely to be short of opportunities, even given his advancing years.
He is the perfect role model, as Parkinson acknowledged when bringing the curtain down on his City stay.
Jones may not be magic, as the song goes, but he cast a bewitching spell on BD8. He says goodbye to a club that has been completely transformed in his presence.
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