Losers on the day, but on the day only

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Swansea City 5

Dyer 16 + 47, Michu 40, De Guzman 59 (pen) + 90

Bradford City 0

Sunday 24 February, 2013

By Jason McKeown

If the feeling of excitement and pride at being inside Wembley stadium to watch Bradford City in a major cup final proved even more invigorating than you’d dreamed it could possibly be; sadly, the pre-match fears of a Swansea hiding were equally utterly exceeded by the reality.

A wonderful Swansea side were able to brush us aside with an ease that bordered upon embarrassing. It was a footballing lesson. A humbling. And it hurt a lot to watch it happen. To see our cup heroes destroyed. We didn’t really turn up. We’re better than this. It wouldn’t have made any difference in terms of the outcome, but a stronger City performance would have made losing easier to take.

If all of that sounds harsh, it is not intended to be an attack or a moan. Sunday’s match up between a Premier League side and a League Two outfit proved to be just that: a match up between a Premier League side and a League Two outfit. It is probably what Wigan should have done, or Arsenal or Aston Villa. That’s not to belittle our achievements in beating the top flight trio – we were absolutely magnificent in all three ties. But this time around, the gap in quality could not be made up. This time around, the opposition were absolutely magnificent and we were below par.

But it still hurts. A hell of a lot. Yes, we were always rank outsiders in a two horse race. In our heads we knew defeat was inevitable and that the best we should hope for was to score a goal and go down to a respectable scoreline. Yet it doesn’t mean we didn’t want to win. It hasn’t prevented us from wistful daydreams of what it would be like to see Gary Jones lift the cup. We were absolutely desperate to win this match. And to come so far off achieving that aim was difficult to stomach. As my friend put it, while we watched the players go up for their losers’ medals, we will never come this close again in our lifetimes.

Ouch.

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All of which should not overshadow what a magnificent day (weekend for some of us) it had been. The tube train towards Wembley was filled with City fans, as between us we looked up pictures posted on Twitter of Leicester Forest service station awash with claret and amber. There were reports that Euston and Kings Cross stations were akin to a Bradford City carnival.

The pubs around Wembley were packed out. We found room, if not cheap beer, at the Hilton Hotel – a magnificent view of the stadium out of the window. Walking down Wembley Way was ace, though nothing could top emerging from the stadium concourse and taking in that first view of the inside of Wembley. And when Rudimental’s ‘Feel the love’ was blasted over the PA system with 30,000 Bradfordonians waving their flags and dancing about, I felt an explosion of joy and pride that I will never, ever forget. One of the best moments of my entire life. This meant so much.

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Then the match kicked off, and it all began to go wrong a little too quickly. Swansea kept the ball – we knew they would – but as long as we kept our shape we just had to be patient. 15 minutes gone, barely any City possession and no Swansea effort on goal; but then we had a chance to get forward in numbers, Garry Thompson’s cross was cleared and we were suddenly in big trouble.

Swansea broke at pace. Wayne Routledge charged down the middle, intelligently laid the ball off to Michu on the edge of the area, and the Spaniard’s shot was palmed away by Matt Duke but only into the path of the onrushing Nathan Dyer to tap home. Curtis Good – a curious choice for left back, despite making a decent fist of it in the semis – might have reacted quicker to deny Dyer.

And it began to unravel from there. Swansea’s possession football sucked away any chance of us providing roars of encouragement, because City just didn’t see the ball. When they did, the two widemen Will Atkinson and Thompson were easily outnumbered and the ball quickly lost. James Hanson did well in the air, but Nahki Wells was off the pace and frustratingly unwilling to run behind his strike partner to make something of the flick ons. I don’t understand what happened to Wells at Wembley. The chance to cement his reputation on the biggest stage, but he did not seem to possess the desire to take it.

We needed to get in to half time just one goal down, but five minutes before the interval it was 2-0. We needed to make a strong start to the second half to have any chance, but on 47 minutes Dyer had made it 3-0. Both goals were superb. First, Pablo Hernandez took City players out of the game with a stunning through ball to Michu – the vision and execution was out of our League Two world – and Swansea’s top scorer finished impressively with a shot through Carl McHugh’s legs. The third saw Dyer run at City, pass towards Michu – who dummied the ball so it went to Routledge – and then collect the resultant return ball before cutting inside and firing an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.

Damage limitation – surely part of the thinking behind the half time switch of the under-performing Good with Andrew Davies – had begun. But just as a minute’s applause in tribute to the 56 City supporters who lost their lives in the Valley Parade fire had begun, Jonathan de Guzman attempted to round Duke, only to be tripped by the City keeper for a certain penalty.

The red card for Duke by Kevin Friend was incredibly harsh. Yes, I know it’s the law and Friend was 100% correct to apply it. I get that. But still…the game was over and it was so unfitting to see the heroic Duke’s cup adventure ended with the indignity of the walk of shame. Football is a cruel, cruel game. As Swansea argued over who should take the penalty, Jon McLaughlin was delayed coming on as sub by Wells seemingly deliberately attempting to ignore his number being put up. Even after his name was read out over the tannoy, Wells took a while to acknowledge it and come off. One can share his disappointment at being taken off, but really we expected more than what he showed us at Wembley.

De Guzman scored for 4-0, and with over half an hour to play and with a man disadvantage, you really did fear the worst. And the disappointment and despondency that set in was so overwhelming you didn’t feel as though you possessed the strength to stand up again.

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We wanted this cup win so badly. And though we knew it was a heck of a long shot and to mentally be prepared for dreams to go unfulfilled, we didn’t want it go this way. Still no shot on goal, still no corner. And when we had a chance to break clear and a Swansea player fouled Thompson, we could have carried on attacking but stopped so we could have the free kick – still in our own half. It summed up our timid play. I wanted us to have a go, but we did not.

The despair was engulfing. Next to me my wife began to cry, and I felt a mixture of anguish and guilt in her pain. She’s followed City since 2005 and there’s not been many good times since. This cup run has made up for that and then some, but this final chapter was not befitting. And you think of your friends, family and work colleagues watching this on TV and feel embarrassed. Because this isn’t the Bradford City that fearlessly got us to Wembley.

But then, the chanting in the away end re-commenced and everyone got back up their feet and started waving their flags. It took a few minutes to get on board with this positive act of defiance, but soon enough my spirits felt lifted and the pride that had been lost somewhere around quarter past four began to return. The volume grew louder and louder. The waving quicker and quicker. There seemed to be silence at the Swansea end – perhaps their own achievement in winning the cup was slightly tarnished by how straightforward the victory had proven. You would not have known which side was winning and which one was 4-0 down, simply by looking at the mood in the stands.

Swansea are an outstanding footballing side, but Bradford City are in our own unique way an outstanding football club.

The players seemed to be lifted by the wall of noise from the end they were attacking and finally found some adventure. At last, a corner; and then, at last, a shot on goal (Gary Jones). We cheer this moment not sarcastically, but triumphantly. Something that for 80 minutes seemed beyond our limited capabilities has finally happened – a reward for persistence. In in the first 60 minutes Bradford City were all but humiliated, we used the final half hour to restore our dignity.

Sadly Swansea did get a fifth through De Guzman, deep in stoppage time. They looked like they fancied another too, but the final whistle came around much quicker than it seemed it was going to when we had gone 4-0 down. We stayed back to applaud the players as they walked around the stadium, and then as they went up to collect their losers medals. We applauded Swansea as they went up to lift the cup, and then made for the exits as their party truly kicked off. Well done to them, and their fans are a credit to football.

There are now two stages to the grieving process of this cup final defeat. I am truly devastated by the fact we have lost and the way that we lost, and it will take me many, many days – weeks even – to get over this. But when the pain finally eases and the scars heal; what we will be left with is a legacy that can be the catalyst for bigger and better in the league and a collection of memories that we will take to our graves.

Because the joy that we have had from Bradford City’s incredible cup run far outweighs the anguish of this Wembley trashing. We have witnessed moments that will stay with us forever, experienced emotions that we’d forgotten football can provide you, been part of occasions that we thought we’d never be invited to.

We have seen Bradford City – our Bradford City – play at Wembley in a major cup final. And for that we will be forever grateful to the players and the management team who made that possible. We will be forever recalling their exploits to anyone who’ll lend us their ear. Blackpool, Wolves, Liverpool – now joined by Wigan, Arsenal and Villa. Stallard, Waddle, Beagrie, Blake, Wetherall – in the same breath we will utter the names of Duke, Thompson, McArdle, Wells, Hanson. The huge financial windfall of the cup win is calculated on balance sheets, but some things are simply priceless.

Never has a losing cup final team won so much.

City: Duke, Darby, McArdle, McHugh, Good (Davies 46), Thompson (Hines 73), Jones, Doyle, Atkinson, Hanson, Wells (McLaughlin 57)

Not used: Ravenhill, Reid, Turgott, Connell

With special thanks to Mike Holdsworth for the superb photos

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Categories: Match Reports, Wembley 2013

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17 replies

  1. Jason – snap out of it son!

    I left Wembley with a big smile on my face and I reckon so did all the other City fans. At the end of the day the Sawns played some of the best football I have ever seen live. I doubt whether there was a team in the country that could have lived with them yesterday – they were that good.

    The boys in Claret and Amber did me proud, the 30,000 in Wembley proud, the City of Bradford proud and the 56 proud. I hope they left the dressing room last night with their heads held high and with smiles on their faces. They stepped onto that turf and gave it their all. Let the rest sneer – they gave it a go.

    This isn’t the end of our cup run. This is just the start of a new journey. We’ll know in 5 years time whether we really won at Wembley or not. If we are sitting mid table in the Championship having an outside sniff at the playoffs Sunday will have been a sucess. We’ll have created that legacy. If, in 5 years time, we’re still in L2 with no cash the result would not only be a defeat but also a tradegy.#

  2. Of course there is a disappointment. We went for two things. Firstly to see a competitive game of football and sadly that was lacking – not because of us, because of them – they were superb. We couldn’t get near enough to foul them.

    But also we went for something you put in one line – one line that could be an article in itself. It could be the match report on its own and in its entirety and sums up why we are still happy today: ” We have seen Bradford City – our Bradford City – play at Wembley in a major cup final”.

    And to my facebook ‘friend’ who probably supports Man Utd and wrote “The biggest defeat in league cup history – who’d want to be on the end of that”, you don’t understand sport so don’t comment on it, we’re quite content to be on the end of it.

  3. Jason that is the best piece of writing I have read during this cup run. Beautifully written and totally captures how I feel. Written by a true fan who knows how it feels to be in this position. It will take a long time to get over this, much longer for us than the players even.

    Great work. Keep the faith.

    • I echo this completely!

    • Completely agree, well written Jason. I too am completely gutted and just wish we’d had a chance to show how we can play. Loved the fans efforts for final 20 mins.

      Feel proud but bereft at same time.

      Hope we get back to winning ways at Wembley again soon.

  4. Jason you summed it up perfectly in one sentence “Never has a losing cup final team won so much.”. I don’t ever recall having left a stadium feeling so good after watching City getting thumped. At the moment, I just feel an immense amount of pride. The last 20 minutes were AMAZING. I have never seen anything like it. The flag waving and collective crescendo of noise left a lump in my throat. It was such a powerful show of support. The journey to Wembley will go down in folklore, I feel privileged to say I was there and share the exploits with my grand children.

  5. This was awesome. It was truly awesome. Last night, watching the highlights, afterwards I couldn’t stop crying. Not from defeat, but the disbelief we were actually there. I never thought I’d go to a major cup final regardless, let alone one featuring MY team. MY team. From the darkest depths of the Football League. There are current Premiership teams that won’t reach the League Cup Final in the next 50 years. Maybe even ever. What we’ve done is simply outstanding. Maybe even miraculous.

    I echo Jason’s point about Wigan, Arsenal and Villa (twice) should have done this to us but in four attempts, none of them could. But, think about it, how many Premier League teams go five games without defeat at any point during a season? Not many. Eventually, you play someone better than you on the day.

    For all the commotion about not performing, the pitch is so much bigger than VP. Heavier too; the ball holding up as it bounced. Brilliant for tiny, skillful Premiership wingers. Not so great for League 2 boys. And don’t forget, at the end of the day, and for all the love I have for them, not one of our players would trouble the subs’ bench of Swansea’s reserve team. If we do build this team back to Championship level, despite my overly romantic view of my team, at best only one or two of the current crop would still be around in the squad.

    Cliche though it is, “at the end of the day”, Swansea got to the final because they were the best team in the competition. Best teams in competitions very rarely get giant-killed. They usually win them.

    Very, very proud. The memory of yesterday will never, ever leave me. Welling up again.

  6. Hi Jason

    As usual an excellent read and whilst your take on the actual game are accurate I am personally immensely proud of the team. It was clear very early on that we were up against a well polished Premier League Team on a pitch made for them in terms of surface and size. I think it is a touch harsh to look at what we may or may not have done on the pitch. We could only do what Swansea let us do and they had us well and truly under control with their pace, movement and one touch technical ability. They are a class side at the moment, perhaps even a side Arsene Wenger wished he had.

    It was with this in mind that, like others who have commented above, for me yesterday was an opportunity to unite and celebrate the achievements of the club over the last 8 months or so.

    I had the opportunity to celebrate at the ‘old’ Wembley in ’96, yet yesterday felt like so much more from beginning to end and even in defeat. It felt like we were as a club, fans and a city very publically staring outwardly at the world and positively shaking off the negative shackles of the last decade. It was almost therapeutic.

    Yes we all hoped for a fairytale ending on the day, but this feels so much more like the fairytale has only just begun. Only time will tell if this true or not and I for one am looking forward to the journey. Getting promotion this season may now be a step too far however I am certain it will not be for the lack of trying by all concerned, and that is something we should all be proud of.

    I think we should all take hope from Swansea’s journey over the last 10 years, we have a financial foundation now that I hope the custodians of the club use wisely. A steady continuous improvement programme year on year will do me fine, starting this week against Dagenham and at York, but if results don’t go our way this week, let’s think of the bigger picture, stand side by side and show what Bradfordians are truly made of again.

    CTID.

  7. Well done Jason. A bold report. And too true.

    I actually feel strange today, having stayed over last night. Yesterday I allowed my adrenalin to nullify my defeat disappointment. Today I feel numb.

    Yes. The achievement was immense. Yes, I never thought I would see my team in a major domestic final. Yes, the footballing gods have allowed me to take my son to Wembley to watch City. Yes, I am eternally grateful for all the afore.

    But, we were shocking. I am hurt by the performance. I’m hurt for the players whom I like as professionals. Because players that will probably never see a major cup final again let themselves down. They didn’t play to their potential. They are better then that as witnessed in previous rounds. I would truly hate them to look back on yesterday with regret. A big opportunity missed. I think some will.

    Others won’t and that for me was part of the problem. We/they just seemed to turn up for a day out. It seemed the achievement had been fulfilled and yet it hadn’t. There was another 90 minutes to play and we didn’t.

    I’ve been going to City since 1983. So have the people I went with yesterday. Up until the flag waving the atmosphere was poor. People who don’t show their face often enough and didn’t know the songs and didn’t show the passion the true 8 or 9 thousand show.

    I hope my attitude to this final softens because right know I’m feeling pretty raw.

    Sorry.

    • Jammin, whilst I understand your emotions, for me it doesn’t matter if that was the first game for some of those in the crowd because I am certain what those individuals experienced yesterday will lead them to Valley Parade. The play off final in ’96 had the same positive effect on the club.
      Please take a deep breath, embrace the moment and if you meet one of the “newbies” at some point in the future at VP shake their hands and welcome them as a fan.
      BTW – great article Jason (wiped a tear away whilst reading it)

      • Spot on Mark from my point of view.

        It is really interesting to see an almost polarised reaction from disappointment to pragmatic joy. Both, of course, are real and totally valid, we all feel individually how we feel. My analytical mind is wondering if how you feel relates to age groups and past experiences with BCAFC – I feel a social project coming on!

        PS Does WGS mean anything to you?

    • Well said Jammin, sums up my feelings too….

  8. Jason, you nearly sum it up perfectly. But only nearly. There was nothing to be depressed about. I was there very early, and talked to some Swansea fans in a cafe and on Wembley Way. I simply said to them that we had already won the Cup, that I expected Swansea to win, hoped they would get no more than 4, and that we would score. So I was sad , but not surprised.
    City looked what they are. A decent team of 4th division players, playing on a pitch that suited the better team.
    I think, if City had tried to rough it up, they would have failed, and might have come off worse.
    I was particularly disappointed by Nakhi, and hope it was only big-match nerves, and not loss of interest.
    I note the T and A comments by “fans” that Parkinson got it wrong, but he didn’t.Swansea were superb.
    The whole day was for me an experience of a lifetime—my beloved City in a Cup Final, and the behaviour of our fans was emotionally marvellous.
    I really liked the Swansea supporters whom I met on the tube from Wembley. True fans–one lad watched every match home and away, and had done so from their days of despair. By the way, he said the most unpleasant ground of all to visit is Leeds.
    Don’t be gutted or upset.If other people sneer, laugh at them. We won., Arsenal, Villa, Wigan, Watford would have loved to trade places with us. And where were Manchester(x2), Liverpool, Chelsea?
    If promotion does not follow this year, let us hope the Chairmen do not panic, but continue to build.
    Indeed, if there is anything to learn from yesterday it may be to be like Swansea have been for the past 10 years or so—a plan, no panic, a steady build-up.We would love promotion this year, but, if the management keep it sensible, the rise is inevitable.
    Thank you, City, for giving this season to me.

  9. I had hoped that after a night’s sleep I had awoken to find it was all a nightmare…but no, my club, my beloved Bradford City, a team I have supported since I was a boy (1983 season) had got to Wembley only to be played off the park and lose convincingly.

    I’m still utterly heartbroken.

    I said to friends & family before the game that I wouldn’t mind losing particularly against a great Swansea team provided we gave a good account of ourselves.
    That is why I’m still hurting, because we didn’t even appear to try.

    I also wonder just how helpful Mr Lawn’s comments were the day before the match when he said to Greame Bryce of The Sun that he didn’t want to win for fear of it costing City too much money particularly in the early rounds and that the scenario wasn’t very likely anyway.
    “When we beat Villa, I was told, ‘You don’t really want to get into Europe — it costs you money in the early rounds’. I said, ‘Well, that’ll be fun because if it costs us money, we won’t be there’. “Realistically, it’s not going to be a problem because I don’t think we’re going to win against Swansea.”

    The heroic collective effort the team put in against Wigan, Arsenal & Villa over two legs was completely absent from this poor display.
    As a friend commented, it was almost as if we were playing to our recent league form and that we/the players had forgotten that those great nights had even happened.
    Will the real Bradford City please stand up.

    Additionally I have to say I have been very supportive of Parky, his attitude, the players he has brought to the club, his commitment and his tactical knowledge of the game in general.
    But I feel he got it totally wrong on the day. (I except that this is an easier statement to make after the event).
    The pitch at Wembley has always been known to be bigger that most grounds (105m long by 70m wide compared to Valley parade which is 103m long by 64m wide), so to play with no width was both foolhardy and negative.
    What were Hines, Reid and indeed Turgott who I thought had an excellent game against Villa – 1st leg supposed to do whilst sat on the bench?, by the time he did bring Hines on, it was too little too late.
    I also thought Parky let his heart rule his head with the omission of Andrew Davies who is arguably our best defender, whilst poor Curtis Good was thoroughly taken apart. Surely you have to field your best eleven despite the sentimental lure of playing those players who had contributed to the team getting to the final.

    Equally difficult to take was witnessing all those empty seats mostly within the sponsorship sections when there were many more people who would have gladly filled them. Yet another example of corporate greed – remember the fiasco at the Olympics anyone?

    Perhaps the wound will heal given time and getting promoted would certainly quicken the healing process, but for me personally, though I felt very proud to have my team in a cup final as I feel we deserved to be there on merit, the manner of the defeat will mean the wound will still be sore for some time yet.

    CTID.

  10. It was a great day to savour as a league 2 team being at Wembley in a final after so little joy for many years. But it was also a sad day because, for whatever reason, we didn’t take the opportunity to show the world what a great club we have been in the cup runs and that we are. And still are, by the way.

    Deep down I thought we’d lose but I wanted some memories of determination and effort on the pitch for the long future before we might get there again. I felt I didn’t get them. The redeeming feature was that I have great memories of the spirit beforehand, the joy of seeing my club being talked about in a positive way by total strangers and by the feeling during the last 20 mins. when we stood to acknowledge our team playing in a Wembley Final.

    Before the game my fear was that our day would be marred by someone being sent off – I didn’t want it for any player, the club’s reputation or us, the fans. It’s a shame Duke was sent off for a silly, reaction trip that Cloughie, that icon of good sportsmanship, would have simply called daft. The redeeming feature about the sending off is that many people actually had sympathy for Duke, totally ignoring what the laws of football required ie a red card.

    I felt we didn’t turn up for a game – we were overawed, our tactics were wrong and PP didn’t react when it was clear some players weren’t playing.

    I agree with other comments that team selection should have been different and that no matter who got us there the best team for the day should have been selected, which it wasn’t. PP could see, just as Swansea could, that we had a particular weakness at the back and they probed it in all their early attacks, eventually getting the goal due to Good losing his player. We were always vulnerable and the uncertainty meant there was anxiety in the other defenders and it showed. Had PP’s head ruled he would have made a different team selection or made an early substitution. It may have been caused by being overawed but our mid field wasn’t quick enough leaving our forwards with little but scraps to fight for and unfortunately the fight just didn’t seem to be there with everyone.

    In some ways the fans’ reaction was similar to what happened on the pitch and we didn’t find our feet (loud vocal chords, that is) until the second half. The standing and waving in the last 20 mins was a memory all who were there will surely cherish. Just being amongst it felt good and felt “dignified”. We eventually played our part and helped to raise the spirits of the team but all too late. Plenty of singing by individuals and small groups and brief, very loud chanting but no synchronised, relentless blasts of noise the players could expect if we fans had adopted better tactics and sung as a “team”.

    I don’t think many reputations were enhanced by the performance on the actual day but we must remember that yesterday only two teams were there in the final and we were one of them.

  11. One word from me.

    I live in Cheltenham deepest darkest gloucestershire with my wife and twin 5 year old boys. I’m a season ticket holder and go to a lot of the away games in the SW.

    When I got back on Sunday the lads were in bed but the following morning I gave them my flag and told them about the game. I told them that we lost, but I was proud of them. They tried their best and gave their all. The fact that they lost wasn’t their fault, it was just that the other team was very very good.

    I was so pleased when I got home from work yesterday to be told by my wife that one of them had taken the flag in and done a “show and tell”. God knows what their Chelsea / Man U / Man C classmates must have thought never mind their teachers. I was proud that my son had the bottle to do that, showing what sport is all about. I think they mirrored City’s approach to the cup and the celebration of our achievement at Wembley. If that isn’t bantam progressivism I don’t know what is!

    For the record I would have liked Hines or Reid and Davies on from the start but it wouldn’t have made a difference – we just weren’t good enough on the day.

    We played 420 minutes of premiership football just to get to the final. They played 270 minutes against Premier opposition to win the thing. I suspect that Villa and Arsenal had more shots on goal than Swansea – the different between giant killing and getting murdered can be very fine indeed. Don’t forget premier teams ini recent seasons have had 6 put past them.

    I really hope that for those of you that feel raw that time will provide perspective and that you’ll be able to look back on the day with real satisfaction and pride.

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