by Nick Lough
Stephen Darby says he is honoured to captain such an ‘historical club’ in Bradford City – and draws comparisons to his boyhood club and five-time European champions, Liverpool.
The 27-year-old was handed the armband back in 2014 despite being at the club for just two years after moving from Anfield, but he has flourished in his leadership role among the Bantams’ back four.
Both Liverpool and Bradford suffered dreadful disasters during the 1980s and Darby says the players strive not only to succeed for the supporters in the stands but, in Bradford’s case, also for the 56 who died supporting their club.
“It means everything to me to be captain,” he told The FLP. “At Liverpool, the fans are passionate and there’s a lot of history there. I see those qualities in Bradford.
“It’s up to us as players and as a club to remember those fans. Every time we put that shirt on, we give it our all, not just for the fans in the stadiums but for those who lost their lives supporting the club.
“It’s important we wear the shirt with pride and that the club and community pull together as one and show that spirit.”
A product of the Liverpool academy, Darby’s first exposure to first-team football came back in 2006 when the Reds returned to the scene of their famous 2005 Champions League triumph, Galatasaray.
Darby recalled what it was like to join some of his esteemed team-mates at the stadium of the Turkish champions, but also how he had to rush back to Merseyside to feature in a Youth Cup match away at West Brom just 24 hours later!
“We played Galatasaray, so it was a return to the Ataturk Stadium, where Liverpool had famously won the European Cup 12 months before,” he said.
“On the coach going to the ground, some of the lads who were involved then spoke about their feelings that night.
“It was a very hostile environment but very surreal and a terrific experience for me.
“I was an unused sub, so I knew I would be ready and back in time to play in the Youth Cup. As soon as we touched down, I asked Rafa Benitez if I could play and he agreed.
“I bolted off to Melwood and Steve Heighway picked me up in the car, and I met up with the lads pre-match.
“I’m glad we made it back because we went on to win it for the second season in a row!”
After being promoted from the U18s, Darby played under former Liverpool and Everton defender Gary Ablett in the Reds’ reserve team.
He had just joined Bradford when news came through that his former boss had died of cancer.
Darby paid tribute to not only one of the best coaches he’s ever had – but one of the greatest men he’s ever met.
“Gary had a devastating illness and it was absolutely devastating for his family and everyone who knew him,” he said.
“Not only was he a great coach, which most people see, but I got to know Gary as a person and he was an unbelievable man.
“He always had time to speak to me, whether it was advice about football or off-the-pitch things.
“He was well respected on both sides of Merseyside, which is something you don’t often find. I couldn’t speak more highly of him as a coach, but, more importantly, as a man.”
Having experienced some great moments during his time in West Yorkshire, Darby is hoping he can add one more to his CV, with promotion to the Championship.
“I’ve been fortunate to play in some big games since I’ve been here, like the League Cup final and the FA Cup win at Chelsea, but, to me, the 2-1 win over Leeds was my favourite,” he adds. I’ve never seen Valley Parade bounce so much!
“Everything is in place for us to do well and, year on year, we’ve progressed in the league.
“It’s a tough league and it’s very tight, but there’s plenty of games left and we take it game by game.”