As the curtain falls on City’s most memorable campaign for a decade, I look back at the best bits of this fairytale season.
|Congratulations, Bradford City!|
Bradford City 5-1 A.F.C. Wimbledon:
This had to be our year. It was long, long, long overdue…
In the car on the way home, we joked about Bradford getting to the final and the possibility of competing in Europe, blissfully unaware of how one of those prospects would be dramatically realised.
Bradford City 3-1 Aston Villa:
We all know the story. Villa pressed us, but Wells coolly slotted home, followed by a thunderous McCardle header. Paul Lambert’s side bounced back, but Carl McHugh directed a Gary Jones cross past his boyhood hero to cap off one of the most remarkable nights ever for the Bantams.
It was a snowy night in Villa Park. Four great, hulking stands looked down over the frosty pitch as a plethora of claret and blue flags were waved madly in the stands, almost foreshadowing the actions of the Bantams fans at the final. Not that we were to know that. At this point, it just seemed as though the Birmingham club were trying everything to intimidate Phil Parkinson’s men.
Initially, it worked. Bradford were tentative and struggled under Villa’s early pressure, with Benteke taking advantage of a congested box to score early and give Paul Lambert a flicker of hope. However, James Hanson emerged as the hero of the match, firing a header past Shay Given to permanently etch himself into Bantams’ folklore.
The ecstatic City fans entered into a rendition of “Que, Sera, Sera”, and that said it all: we were going to Wembley.
Wembley I: Bradford City 0-5 Swansea City:
Here it was. Bradford’s date with destiny. The outing to the national stadium that we’d never expected. Make a day of it. Why not a weekend? Relish this experience, because trips to Wembley don’t come around often.
As far as I was concerned, it was written in the stars. I looked back at the number of times that City should have gone out of the cup, but didn’t: when Notts County rattled the crossbar in the First Round; when Gerviniho fired wide from a few feet out; when Darren Bent headed the ball miles over an open goal; when Stephen Ireland’s equaliser was flagged as offside. Every time, Lady Luck was on the Bantams’ side, and I was sure that she’d be there again to help the team out in the cup final.
But reality had different ideas.
Swansea were ruthless. Their clean, crisp, precise passing was simply impossible to contest, and the Wembley stage left the Bantams with nowhere to hide. It was the first time that Bradford had ever wavered, ever looked like a side from the fourth division, but it didn’t matter: they had done us proud, and I’m pretty sure that the 30,000 flag bearers did their heroes proud, too.
Back to the League, where the Bantams’ form had dipped – perhaps owing to fatigue from the mammoth number of fixtures. Following the 4-1 drubbing to Exeter that had left Bradford 8 points adrift from the final play-off place, many supporters had written off a promotion, but we didn’t mind because we’d had that amazing, amazing cup run. But that wasn’t good enough for Parkinson and his boys: they needed to fulfil their prime aim.
City slowly closed the gap to cement a spot in seventh, before clawing back a one-goal deficit to brush aside Burton Albion in the second leg. We were heading back to Wembley. Bradford were on the brink of doing what, after five dismal years, had begun to seem nigh on impossible.
Wembley II: Bradford City 3-0 Northampton Town:
As holiday homes go, Wembley’s not a bad one to have the keys to. This match proved why.
Now, it’s up there with my favourite football chants, right alongside “Stephen Darby, baby”, “He’s magic, you know” and “DUUUUUUKE”.