The Mark Douglas Column

Sunday 14 April, 2002

Life after Stuart part one: It'll never be the same again

It happens to the very best. From the travesty of Don Bradman's final innings to Linford Christie's false start at the Atlanta Olympics of '96, taking in Brian Clough's humiliating relegation in his final season at Nottingham Forest, sporting history has a knack of humbling its great and good at the last. Thus it should come as no surprise that Stuart McCall, Bradford City's finest player, is to depart on a free at the end of this, one of his most trying seasons at City.

Nicky Law's bravery is to be admired, even if the decision to release McCall is hard to stomach. When faced with a similar choice last summer Jim Jeffries didn't consider himself the appropriate man to sever the ties between Stuart and his boyhood club. Few could blame him: Stuart has an emotional bond with the supporters that is truly astonishing in an age where footballing loyalty has been reduced to nothing but empty rhetoric. He saw us through our darkest day in May 1985, and steered us to our greatest modern day achievement in May 1999. Jeffries, perhaps sensing a little bit that he was no more than a transient figure at the club, could not do it.

Law, on the other hand, is building something new at Valley Parade, and fully intends to see this, his revolution, right through to the end. This is the first in a series of moves that he hopes will make his name, and forge a future for City After Stuart. For his sake, I hope he has made the right decision.

Stuart, undoubtedly, would have been good value for another season of first division football, but I hesitate to say that I hoped he would sign another extension. His contribution in two glittering spells at the club elevates him to the status of legend - a name to be passed through the ages at Valley Parade as synonymous with commitment, skill and passion. Even in this wretched campaign Stuart has performed with a rare dignity, marshalling the Valley Parade midfield with the authority that comes from eleven years service, as if every misplaced pass and every time lost ball was an affront to the Claret and Amber, his personal coat of arms. Is it worth souring that reputation simply for the sake of sentiment?

In the end, the decision may prove a blessing in disguise. At least this way, regardless of where he ends up next season, there will be a part of Valley Parade that is forever Stuart McCall.

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