PL25: Football short-circuits at goal-crazy Upton Park

To celebrate 25 years of the Premier League each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a memorable game that took place on the corresponding date. This time out we revisit a pulsating, loony encounter at Upton Park complete with broken limbs, goals galore, and fiery tantrums.

In hindsight the clues were there that West Ham United v Bradford City at Upton Park on February 12th 2000 would be a firecracker of a game.

Thoroughly in his element, Harry Redknapp had blended a side of experienced gnarl in Stuart Pearce and Neil Ruddock with highly promising academy kids such as Carrick, Cole, Lampard and Ferdinand – whatever became of them? He then threw in the eccentric electricity of two Paolos – Wanchope and Di Canio – for good measure before standing a safe distance back and letting his team explode and implode depending on their mood. When the great teams of the Premier League era are rattled through this one should never be overlooked.

As for Bradford their dream inaugural season in the top flight was so far going much to plan. Performances that would have ended in comfortable wins months earlier were now resulting in hard-fought draws due to the huge step up in quality and three points had become precious and scarce. Overall though they were doing themselves proud; keeping their head above the bottom three all the time aware that one slump in form or application would doom them to a swift return from whence they came.

Hope resided in the steadying influence of their midfield mainstay Stuart McCall and further optimism was sourced from two consecutive home victories the latter of which downed title challengers Arsenal in front of a delirious Valley Parade. This meant that the Bradford side that travelled down to London were full of brio and belief.

So the clues were there of a potential firecracker. But nobody could have anticipated the mayhem, high drama, goals in abundance, and sheer madness that was to come. This wasn’t merely a ‘classic’ like a free-flowing 4-2 might be considered so. This was football short-circuiting and briefly flashing up a highlights reel of what it can offer.

Five minutes in and the Hammers’ stopper Shaka Hislop collided with Dean Saunders in innocuous fashion but stayed down motionless. His broken leg necessitated the premature debut of teenager Stephen Bywater due to West Ham’s usual back-up Craig Forrest being away on international duty and sometimes such circumstances herald heroism but in this instance it did not. Bywater flapped, he spilled; every mistake adding another layer of nerves onto his next commitment.

Half an hour in Dean Windass broke the deadlock with a close-range header but the home side’s free-scoring ways meant no panic set in and they continued to carve out opportunities. Trevor Sinclair equalised during a period of intense pressure and shortly after John Moncur turned the game on its head with a low drilled effort that caught the Bradford keeper in no man’s land. Had Redknapp’s men saw the first half out it could be reasoned that they might have racked up a sizable win that day but such was their oscillation between brilliance and frailty that the Bantams drew level through a contentious pen.

It was now two-two at the break and only the most foolhardy of punters would have dared commit even a small stake on where this crazy match was heading from here on in. Certainly few would have backed the flame-haired Jamie Lawrence to score twice in quick succession as Bradford resumed where they left off: sensing weakness; sensing a famous awayday. His first was a rebound after Bywater fumbled a chest-height speculative effort. His second careered over the youngster’s scrambling arms. Bywater was having a ‘mare.

Enter stage left, Di Canio. After seeing two penalty appeals turned down – both nailed on in truth – the emotional striker signalled to the bench that he wanted to be taken off. “No more. I play no more,” he informed his gob-smacked manager as he sat cross-legged on the touchline. Redknapp’s response to the Italian’s second most famous strop in English football was industrial and included plenty of spittle, Fs and Ks.

Reborn and re-energised, Di Canio began to run the show as only he could and when the Hammers were finally awarded a spot-kick he thought little of shoving the designated taker Frank Lampard off the ball and taking it himself. It was now 4-3 to the visitors but barring a struck post that would have sealed the result the momentum had very much shifted.

Joe Cole, 19 years of age, raw and extravagant, was magnificent that day as he spied the possibility of an England call-up and with Di Canio on a personal mission from an insane god few teams could have withstood an incredible comeback. Bradford, to their immense credit, didn’t even try; too intent still on pushing forward and capitalising on the vast gaps that were now appearing here, there and everywhere.

With twenty minutes to go it became 4-4, when Cole fired in from six yards out and duly flung himself into his adoring public. The game had long confirmed itself as a classic and now it was about deciding which former pros would be reminiscing on it with a broad smile in years to come and which with a grimace.  Seven minutes remained of this pulsating, loony encounter when Di Canio charged forward, stemmed his run with a chopped control, and laid the ball off for Lampard to curl home the winner.

“That game is what it’s all about for supporters,” Redknapp gushed later. “They come to be entertained and they certainly got their money’s worth today.” Never were truer words spoken.

What happened next?

Bradford survived the drop on the final day of the season with a 1-0 win over Liverpool.

West Ham finished a respectable ninth and looked forward to a bright future that sadly never materialised.

Historically, the North London derby isn’t an easy game to predict. But if you are willing to take a position on the big rivalry game this Saturday, we have an Premier League outright win treble that will pay out handsomely! In this week’s Accy Show, we’ve also put together a fantastic EFL fourfold, with odds that could see you earn ten times your stake. Check it out and let us know where you’re putting your coins this weekend!