SUNDAY, October 29, 2000; I was still a T&A novice sleeping on a mate’s floor in the first month of the job.
Little did I know that my first win as the Bradford City reporter was still another six weeks away.
Nor did I, or anyone else in a Valley Parade full house on that soggy Sunday afternoon, realise we would be watching the last City and Leeds derby there for 14 years.
Three relegations, two administrations, two Wembley appearances, a cup final, promotion ... it’s been quite a ride in that intervening period. And I daren’t even mention what’s gone on at Elland Road since then.
A division may separate the West Yorkshire neighbours now but City will feel they have a genuine opportunity of a first success against their rivals in 15 attempts when they meet again in the Capital One Cup a week on Wednesday.
It’s probably fair to say the odds are more in favour of a home win than they were when they shared Premier League billing on Leeds’ last visit.
That 1-1 draw was during the hangover of City’s second year among the top-flight elite; a couple of months on from Geoffrey Richmond’s “six week of madness” that would ultimately rip the heart from the club’s ambitions.
Jamie Lawrence, one of the warriors during City’s rise under Paul Jewell, had not expected to still be around when Leeds rolled into town. Marginalised by the big-name signings, he found himself on the transfer list when Chris Hutchings took over.
“He was bringing in Dan Petrescu, Beni Carbone and the like and wanted rid of me,” said Lawrence.
“I know Jagger (Jewell) wanted me at Sheffield Wednesday but the club were asking stupid money.
“They bought me for £50,000 and were telling clubs they’d have to pay £1m! It was a joke.
“So I never moved and then when things started to go wrong, they put me back in the team.”
That brings us to the Leeds game – one immortalised by a stunning goal by new arrival Stan Collymore. Signed three days before, on the say so of Richmond far more than his manager, the controversial striker immediately made his mark.
Lawrence said: “I can remember it like it was only yesterday. Everything was going pear-shaped and Hutch was under pressure.
“Nobody fancied us that day outside of the club. We were bottom and they were in the Champions’ League – thanks to us beating Liverpool at the end of the last season.
“It was pouring with rain and the soggy pitch helped us. We could really get among them and made it a game that Leeds didn’t like.
“They had a lot of ball players and we knew we couldn’t match them for technical ability. But we got in their faces and didn’t give them any time.
“It was a day for the Nolans and Athertons and me; people who loved to get stuck in. No surprise that I got booked – I did the other time we played Leeds at Valley Parade as well.
“I had a little bit to do with Stan’s goal. My shot got deflected out to Beni and when he got the cross in, Stan did this fantastic bicycle kick.
“He had a knack of scoring on his debut and I’ll always remember the celebration. He was stood right in front of the Leeds fans just mocking them.
“I think he got a fine for doing that from the FA. He probably paid the money out of the loose change in his ash tray!
“We gave it absolutely everything that day and thought we’d won it but Mark Viduka equalised right near the end. We were pig sick.
“Looking back now, I really think that could have been a turning point for us. It would have given us such a confidence boost if we’d held on to win that day.
“Instead, Hutch got sacked the following week and it was all downhill from there.
“That was Stan’s best game – he didn’t really do anything after that. But then he was never going to fit into the changing room.
“It was the same with Beni. He was a good player but just not for us – he wasn’t going to be putting tackles in and doing the ugly stuff which we’d built the team spirit on.”
That tight-knit mentality within the dressing room is a constant theme of Phil Parkinson’s management. He always talks about getting the “right type” when new players come in.
The reaction on Twitter in the aftermath of City being paired with Leeds showed the excitement within the squad. Lawrence hopes they “get it” on behalf of the supporters.
“Every player coming to Bradford needs to know about the rivalry and the importance of this match,” he added. “I’m sure the fans will let them know it’s massive.
“I bought into the whole Bradford and Leeds thing. I was from London but I knew how much it meant to people up here.
“Supporters pay a lot of money going to football and you should never forget that. With my background I could perhaps appreciate it more than someone who’s just grown up in the game.
“It’s a bigger derby than Huddersfield because Leeds are a bigger club. Everyone wants the bragging rights.
“I think Bradford have got a great chance. It’s all going on at Leeds and I’m not sure the foreigners will understand what this game is all about.
“I’m hoping to get up to Valley Parade for it but it’s not the same as being out on that pitch. I’d really love to play in this one.”