In part 12 of the Richmond Years, Bradford City start early to embark on their first European tour.

LITHUANIA – the next unlikely stop on the Richmond rollercoaster for Bradford City.

It was the summer of 2000 and the Bantams were playing in Europe for the first time.

All right, it was the Intertoto Cup – the much-derided competition that kicked off before the schools had broken up and would eventually wend its way into the early rounds of the UEFA Cup.

But it was still European competition for the first time in the club’s 95-year existence. And it’s not every day you get to fly on a plane used by racing magnate, the Aga Khan.

Having survived to fight another season in the Premiership, Paul Jewell had been firmly against the idea of starting their next campaign so early.

But Geoffrey Richmond had absolutely no doubts when Arsenal chairman David Dein, the league’s delegate at UEFA, had called to ask if City were in or out.

“What a silly question,” said Richmond. “Of course, we wanted it, another dream fulfilled. We’re not turning down that sort of opportunity.”

Less than five weeks before the opening game against FK Atlantas in Lithuania, Jewell was gone. Instead, it would be Chris Hutchings who would lead City into unchartered territory.

Few managers will have made their debut in Klaipeda – “I’d never been there before,” laughed Richmond, “and I don’t think anyone had been there before.”

The fans loved the escapism more than the players. The joke went round the squad to keep your mobiles turned off as the call went out to return for pre-season training in June.

It was a mix-and-match squad, missing the likes of Stuart McCall, Peter Beagrie, David Wetherall and Jamie Lawrence, that lined up for Hutchings in his first game in charge on July 1.

Lithuania was an eye-opener for the travellers. The grey, rundown location was hardly the most exotic stage compared with the previous pre-season jaunt to St Kitts.

The crumbling, concrete stadium where they would take on hosts FK Atlantas looked like an Eastern Bloc non-league ground.

Isaiah Rankin became the quiz answer by scoring City’s first European goal – with what would be his last one for the club.

But it did answer the racist chanting that could sadly be heard throughout the game.

Dean Windass and Robbie Blake were also on target in a 3-1 win that made qualification to the next round a formality.

There was a notable return journey after a mix-up over planes left Richmond demanding a top-of-the-range replacement.

They were treated to the Aga Khan’s own private jet and dined on veal with silver service on the way back to Leeds/Bradford!

The teams met again eight days later at Valley Parade where a Lee Mills double put City on the way to a comfortable 4-1 success.

The games now came thick and fast as they were pitted against RKC Waalwijk from Holland.

Dean Windass scored both to win the home leg 2-0 but missed a penalty a week later in Holland.

He made up for that by supplying the through ball for Mills to convert with nine minutes left and ensure a fourth straight win.

Richmond was beaming as he faced the press.

"The players are enjoying it, the supporters are loving it, and if we have an opportunity to enter the competition next season then we will most certainly take it."

But the challenges were growing harder and Russians Zenit St Petersburg in the Intertoto’s “semi-final” stage represented a serious step up in class.

The first leg was away – and only 12 City fans made the long trip.

Defender Yevgeny Tarasov’s 16th-minute effort saw the Bantams fall behind for the first time in the Hutchings era. But a 1-0 defeat, left plenty of cause for optimism for the rookie boss.

That evaporated a week later when the final whistle sounded on their European ambitions. Zenit were always in control at a rainy Valley Parade, even if they had to wait until the second half to score.

Denis Ugarov headed the opener the Russians deserved after 68 minutes and the midfielder quickly followed up with a second. He also set up Tarasov for a late third to seal a miserable evening for City.

It was a worrying night. The manner in which they had succumbed to opponents not a patch on what they could expect in the Premier League did not bode well.

The Intertoto adventure – and the fatigue caused by starting back so early – would later be held up as one of the factors in City’s subsequent relegation.

When asked about it a couple of years later, Richmond was dismissive.

“I don’t believe it harmed us in any way,” he said. “It became an issue as the season wore on but I think players are extremely good at making excuses.

“If they lose matches it might be the referee’s fault, it might be the manager’s fault, it might be the groundsman’s fault, it might be the fans’ fault for not getting behind them.

“But it is never the fault of the players.”

The Richmond Years will be back in two weeks.