The Wembley experience

26 Feb

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Width of a Post writers Mark Scully, Damien Wilkinson, David Lawrence, Rob Craven and Tim Roche share their views on the cup final experience

Your Wembley weekend in a nutshell…

Mark: A surreal experience – something that I don’t think I will be fully appreciated of for months to come. The sea of claret and amber all weekend around London was a breath taking sight, and within the ground the flag waving carnival atmosphere will live long in the memory.

Damien: As I travelled down with the Shipley Bantams on Sunday, most of the weekend was spent waiting for Sunday morning to come around. I enjoyed the TV coverage over the weekend ranging from the One Show, Paul Hudson’s programme, to Jamie Lawrence and others on Soccer AM, and also spent some time down at VP and Bradford City centre in the afternoon just trying desperately to kill some time but also be part of things in some shape or form.

The coach down to Wembley was enjoyable, with some good banter amongst the fans, the spectacle of the sea of claret and banter on the M1 and service stations, and we also watched the first leg of the Villa match to get us in the mood.

After the match, and common with thousands of others, the journey back was more problematic, and we didn’t get back to Shipley until around 1am, leaving me a further 40 minute journey on to my home in Hellifield!

Tim: This was my fifth visit to the ‘new’ Wembley and it never fails to impress me. The walk up Wembley/Olympic Way is always a spine-tingling experience but seeing the Bradford City banners adorning the lampposts and outer walls of the stadium felt unbelievably surreal. Once inside, the facilities are first-class and light years away from the ‘old’ stadium. It’s often said that there isn’t a bad seat in the stadium; from my experience this appears to be true.

Rob: Intense, funny, overwhelming, strange, magical, frustrating, incredible.

What did you make of Wembley stadium?

David: Architecturally the stadium is somewhat bland, particularly from the outside. The arch appears to have been built just to appease those that didn’t want the old twin towers demolished by giving them something ‘symbolic’. To me the arch resembles a fair ride roller-coaster structure; quite naff. The surroundings are also less than impressive and have an industrial estate feel. In addition the area seems to have cornered the market in ‘tacky’ hotels. The one saving grace is Wembley Way, which looked magnificent in strikingly attractive Claret and Amber.

Of note outside the ground was the Bobby Moore statue, which was directly outside the function suite of the same name that would be my experience of the stadium. Yes, I’d managed to ‘bag’ complimentary fare with ‘the prawn sandwich brigade’ or Club Wembley to give them their commercial name. Once through check-in we were lanyarded and greeted by rows of beautiful women dressed like air hostesses keen to usher us to our table and then cater to our every whim.

The cavernous function suite was beautifully adorned with special touches such as flower arrangements in the two club’s colours. Champagne was soon in hand and followed by a sumptuous three course meal that was washed down with claret to the sound of the smooth live band covering Nora Jones and other elevator type music. It was intoxicating! However, I’d promised myself to go steady as I really wanted to remember the whole occasion, particularly the match.

Rob: It is just massive. Living in North London I often see the arch from various points across the city, but never until we took the walk down Wembley way did I feel the sheer size of it. Watching our fans walk up Wembley way and soaking up the pre match atmosphere was a crazy but humbling experience. It felt like everyone making their way to the stadium were in awe and couldn’t quite believe what was going on. Walking out of the tunnel to see the stadium from the inside was just incredible, it was emotional.

Mark: Wembley is a great stadium, having been twice before to watch England on both occasions I knew what to expect. However, seeing my beloved Bradford City walk out in a major cup final at the home of English football is very special to see. Personally I prefer the old Wembley, but the new is mighty impressive.

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It’s 3.50pm and Rudimental ‘Feel the Love’ is blasting out the stadium: where are you and how are you feeling?

David: So at around twenty to four I torn myself away from the free bar and took the short walk to my seat in the magnificent inner sanctum of the stadium. I was sat just back of the dug outs in an area for neutrals. Sadly there were a lot of empty seats that could have been filled by keener football fans. Of those there it was hard to decide which team they would be supporting as club Wembley rules state that no club colours are allowed to be worn. As it turned out there was a nice mix of Bantams, Swans and neutrals.

It only took about 5 minutes of the game for me and my friends to leave nobody in any doubt about who we supported! This was when the players emerged. I was so proud, so excited and so sure we’d give the Swans a real game.

Damien: By the stage, I was stood flag poised and eagerly awaiting the entry of the players.  I think the big flag was just going past us at that stage. The crescendo of noise, colours and movement from all the flags around the stadium will live long in the memory.

Tim: I’m in my seat on row 9 of block 131 just trying to take it all in. The ‘arrival’ of the trophy and the unveiling of the floating Bradford City banner were absolutely spectacular. Just looking around and seeing over 30,000 Bradford City fans in one place felt unreal!

The claret and amber shirts, scarves and flags seemed so bright and must have created an amazing sight for the players’ entrance. I felt immensely proud of our club and what we had achieved; we weren’t just there to make up the numbers – we were there on merit and it was clear we were going to enjoy the day whatever happened.

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What are your thoughts on how the game went?

Mark: In the back of my mind I had a nagging feeling that we could get heavily beaten and so it happened. However, put most teams in that arena alongside Swansea on Sunday and the outcome would of been the same. They were sensational, Swansea are the blueprint for any lower league club: a joy to watch, slick passing and moving – very Barcelona esc with the Tika-Taka style of play. Yes, we chased shadows all the game, but let’s not forget we are a League Two club and they are a classy Premier League outfit.

Even at 2-0 at half-time my misplaced optimism felt we still could get back in it with a goal, but the third goal really killed things off.  In the wake of the sending off and penalty it was very much damage limitation time and the fact that a corner and shot of sorts in the late stages, garnered such a cheer unfortunately summed things up.

Tim: For the first 15 minutes or so I was satisfied with how the game was panning out. City seemed content to try and soak up Swansea pressure in a similar manner to the first half at Villa Park. Unfortunately Swansea are a much better side than Aston Villa and it began to show. I thought City were quite unlucky with the first goal and there was little else Matt Duke could have done. I felt if we could keep it to 0-1 at half time we would still be in with a chance, so the second goal was a hammer blow. Swansea really seemed to be hitting their stride without even breaking a sweat.

Whether Swansea ‘eased up’ on us after the fourth went in is debatable, however it appeared that the outstanding backing from the City supporters lifted our players for the last twenty minutes. All in all we can’t have any real complaints with the final outcome and it’s likely to be a long time before we face a side as good as Swansea again.

Rob: Maybe we have been spoilt in the previous rounds but I felt a lack of cohesion all around. I can only put this down to the overwhelming nature of the occasion and the talented Swansea demolition, but some of the players didn’t seem 100% on it.

From a game plan perspective, it couldn’t have gone much worse. Don’t concede in the first 20 minutes, keep them down to 1-0 until half time, don’t concede early in the second half, get into set piece territory etc. It felt like the polar opposite to the quarter and semi final games.

How did you rate City’s performance?

David: It wasn’t a vintage performance by City by a long way. In fact it was the worst they had played in the competition this time around. In any sport if you set yourself up solely to negate the opposition you’re setting yourself up for failure. Far too negative Mr P.

Maybe in all his analytical preparation he’d neglected the effect an agricultural fourth division tackle would have in raising the City crowd and intimidating the Swans. The ‘Faithful’ were crying out for something to orchestrate them. Instead, City were timid and it took the score line to become ridiculous before they became more animated, but just like the players for all their efforts they seemed unable to sing from the same hymn sheet. Impressive looking flag waving though, chaps.

Tim: I thought some players did quite well in patches, especially Stephen Darby and Gary Jones. Unfortunately it seemed that too many ‘froze’ on the big occasion which in my opinion is fully understandable! The sense of occasion was always going to affect some of our players and it showed. I was slightly disappointed that we were unable to really trouble Swansea’s defence at any point and we seemed to be lacking a ‘spark’ to take us forward.

Initially I felt Phil Parkinson had made the right decision in sticking with the back four who played at Villa Park but with hindsight Andrew Davies should probably have started. At half time I would have liked to see Hines and Reid come on to ‘have a go’ at the Swansea full backs however Parkinson’s hand was slightly forced by Curtis Good’s difficult first half and latterly Duke’s sending off which used up two substitutions.

Damien: Disappointing. I think we were either over-awed by the occasion or the team showed far too much respect to the Swans. We never got at them in the opening stages and leaving the gaps we did, their quality on the ball, passing and movement was always going to cause us massive problems.

That we went the whole of the first half without actually committing a foul is a very telling fact.

Having said that, Swansea oozed Premier League quality, and we very much looked like a League 2 side. Whilst they took their foot off the gas somewhat, playing with 10 men for the last 30 minutes against them must have been draining, particularly on a pitch the size of Wembley, and you could argue keeping the score down to five was a feat!

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What were your thoughts when leaving the stadium?

Mark: I felt very flat at the end of the game, absolutely gutted. Despite knowing we would more than likely lose, it hurt to see it happen against Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa I always thought if we are going to lose then don’t get embarrassed. Losing 5-0 in a final and not having a shot until a couple of minutes from time would normally in my eyes count as an embarrassment but not for me on this occasion.

Rob: Proud. I felt so proud to be there and to watch our heroes play in front of the world in such an amazing stadium. Watching them collect their runners up medals was such a proud moment even if it was slightly sad. What an incredible journey this has been and what an incredible weekend this was.

Gutted. Because of the manner we had lost. I can honestly say I don’t care about the result, 1-0, 5-0, or 10-0, if the players had given there all it just wouldn’t matter, the occasion was superb, but I felt they could have given a better show of themselves.

Overwhelmed. Even writing this now my emotions are everywhere. I feel sad that this journey has come to an end but couldn’t be more elated by the achievement of Phil Parkinson and his team and the journey he has taken us on. I still can’t believe we beat Arsenal.

David: Even the warm pies waiting for us on the tables back in the Bobby Moore suite looked forlorn. There was nothing left to it than to drown sorrows and then leave. I’d nearly forgotten the game by the time we left. The masses had long since gone, but a few were still quietly making their way to their transport whilst gathering their thoughts. My reflections were of a day of contrasts. The working class man in the posh seats. The David vs the not-so Goliaths. The optimism vs the despair at the performance. The reality.

Damien: A slight tinge of disappointment that things had not worked out and perhaps we hadn’t given it enough of a go, but overall I felt the day had been fantastic and a wonderful experience and it was great to be part of it all.

Looking back at the Wembley arch, now lit up in the background, it was difficult not to get the feeling that somehow we are destined to return at the end of the season for the play off final. Maybe that’s more misplaced optimism, but it is still very much in our own hands.

What will be your overriding memory of this weekend?

David: I had a fabulous day. I’d travelled to London hoping to see my team give a really good account of themselves and maybe even lift the cup. Instead, I’d had a wonderful day in the company of good friends in an excellent facility (see photo). Things that are priceless and worth celebrating don’t always come with a cup.david 2

Mark: IMMENSE PRIDE! Will we ever reach another major cup final, and if we do I suspect we’d be a lot higher up the football pyramid so would it feel as special as this cup run.

Saturday was also special for me, a few quite pints and great laughter with fellow writers Gareth, David and Jason as well as fellow friends, a brilliant group of people. The banter we had with the Swansea fans both in the pubs and hotel bar was brilliant. Nothing nasty both sets of fans out to have a great time. We might have lost the final, but our finals were against Arsenal and especially Villa. The memories we have from them will never leave us – this cup run has been truly special.

Damien: One of immense pride at both the team and the fans.  There is a very special bond at the moment, as illustrated by the last few months, and in particular the last 20 minutes of the match, with everyone stood up, singing and waving their flags was magnificent.

We have got some absolutely amazing memories from this cup run, and we deservedly should take the mantle of the runners up that people remember, for many years to come. We are certainly part of history, something probably never to be repeated, and that is a wonderful feeling!

Rob: For me this weekend was all about friends and family of Bradford City enjoying a monumental day out. Sing, cheer and enjoy the occasion regardless of the result. It was an amazing weekend that none of us will ever forget.

Experiencing Bradford City fans taking over central London on Saturday, as an exile, was incredible. The Chandos pub in Trafalgar Sq was totally over run by Bantams singing the whole repertoire of City songs from years gone by. I cried laughing at “The 12 Molenaars” and “You are my Sungot”.

Wembley 2013 is now a welcome member of the Bradford City history books and the achievement of reaching the final and this entire cup run is just stunning and will be marvelled at by us and every other football fan for decades to come.

Tim: With twenty minutes to go the volume and colour created by our supporters was unbelievable. My overriding memory will be the sight of the thousands of Bradford City flags being waved frantically to accompany a party atmosphere. With twenty minutes left I, like many others, made a conscious decision to forget the result, put disappointment to one side and just celebrate the fact we were there! The Swansea fans seemed timid by comparison and you wouldn’t have guessed that they were just about to lift their first major trophy! Upon reflection of the whole day I regret how it ended on the field but the feeling of pride of being a Bradford City fan will linger for a long time and undoubtedly outweigh any disappointment.

We have just watched our team in a major cup final at Wembley and nobody can ever take that away from us.

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