As ‘que sera sera we’re going to Wembley’ rang out loud and proud from the thousands of travelling away supporters on Tuesday, shock and disbelief was also etched all over Bradford fans faces. The dream had come true, the unthinkable had become possible – I personally had started to lose my voice and had already broken my glasses, (going giddy celebrating James Hanson’s goal), but the night of the 22nd January 2013 will never be forgotten; it truly was a ‘I was there moment’.
Bradford City had just reached The Capital One Cup Final! After knocking out Premier League side Aston Villa over two legs. In the words of the last manager to take The Bantams to Wembley (Chris Kamara), Unbelievable Jeff!! This wasn’t a fluke, Villa wanted to get to Wembley, over both legs they played their strongest eleven. Lady Luck was shining down on Bradford as the Premier League side missed a string of chances across both games but that’s the magic of the cup!
Bradford might have lost the game 2-1 on the night, but the 3-1 lead we had from the first leg meant there was to be a fairy tale end to a Roy of the Rovers style cup run. Villa, in front of a capacity crowd at Villa Park, came roaring out of the blocks and deservedly took the lead through Benteke. The big striker missed several chances at Valley Parade two weeks ago, but looked to of started the comeback for the home side. However, despite substantial pressure and numerous excellent saves from Matt Duke, Villa just couldn’t get that key second goal.
At half time, I sat there nervous in the away end. Daring to dream that in 45 minutes time my beloved Bantams will be Wembley bound but something had to change, the first half was all Villa – City had to go at Villa. It’s well documented that Paul Lambert’s side are fragile defensively and so it was proven and just like two of the three goals in the first leg, it was to be a header that opened up that fragile Villa defence. Gary Jones delivered a peach of a corner right on to the head of the former Co-op shelf stacker James Hanson. The big man sent the 6,500 away following absolutely mental! Resulting in my glasses coming flying off in the celebrations only to spot a guy two rows in front waving them around, bent and scratched but I wasn’t bothered! We had the two goal cushion again, but more importantly that key away goal, Villa Park was silenced.
Was the dream going to come true just over half an hour to wait. That half an hour lasted a lifetime, having said I thought after Hanson scored Bradford looked very comfortable, the striker had a great chance to double the lead with another header before substitute Garry Thompson hit the bar. Villa were restricted to long range efforts which either went well wide or straight at the superb Matt Duke. The real drama started to kick in just when it looked like City had done enough, with the home side devoid of ideas and the Villa fans streaming out of the ground, a long route one hopeful ball went all the way though allowing Villa sub Weimann to nip in on 89 minutes to round Duke and tap home – Cue 4 minutes of added on time. A professional display continued during that period before Phil Dowd blew the full time whistle sparking absolute wild scenes from the away fans. ‘We’re going to Wembley’ sang out by the Bradford fans who could barely believe their eyes – it took the meter in Villa’s electric cupboard to run out and the lights to go off to get the Bradford fans out of Villa Park.
A fourth division club getting to a major domestic cup final is virtually unheard of, will it happen again anytime soon? Very unlikely I’d imagine. It’s the first time in over 50 years that this has been achieved and the last bottom division side to get to a major cup final was Rochdale, but back then the cup was option for the bigger sides. Having beaten Notts County away, Watford away, Burton Albion home, Wigan Athletic away, Arsenal home and Aston Villa over two legs Bradford have certainly earned their right to be part of the showpiece event. Naturally Swansea are favourites for the final, but then so were the last three Premier League sides that have fallen at the feet of the Bantams.
£7,500 is the amount that’s been spent on the team, and that was all on the former Co-op top shelf stacker. The rest is a team of free transfers and loanees. Some of these players may never get a chance to play at Wembley again especially not under these circumstances. It really is a sensational achievement. The whole cup run and certainly now has put the club back firmly on the map and the national media attention that The Bantams are receiving is brilliant. Since relegation from the Premier League 12 years ago, there has been very little to cheer about. Two administrations and relegations all the way to League Two but this season has been extraordinary. The financial gains from the cup run will set the club up for years to come.
Away from the exploits of the cup, the league form has stuttered in recent weeks with The Bantams dropping down to 10th in the league. Hardly time to push the panic button, but I would like to see City back in the play-offs by the time the cup final comes around at the end of February. The gaffer Phil Parkinson who has masterminded the amazing cup run has turned down an approach from Championship side Blackpool to become there new manager. Andy Gray has rejoined the club from Leeds United to help the likes of James Hanson, Nahki Wells and Alan Connell upfront whilst big defender Michael Nelson has joined from Kilmarnock – where he won the Scottish League Cup last season – maybe it’s an omen…
The 24th February can’t come around some enough, Bradford City-vs-Swansea City….England-vs-Wales and who knows will the dream end. Fans certainly hope it ends with Gary Jones lifting the trophy. We can dream but for me, my dream will be a reality on the 24th. I will seeing the club I’ve supported since a very young age walk out in a major cup final – that will be a sight to savour….
Written by Mark Scully, We Are Going Up’s Bradford City Blogger
Mark tweets at @scully87