Present perfect

18 May

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Bradford City 3

Hanson 15, McArdle 19, Wells 28

Northampton Town 0

(Bradford City promoted to League One)

Saturday 18 May, 2013

Written by Alex Scott

(Images by Jason McKeown)

They have done it. After six years of toiling away in the bottom tier, Bradford City have done it.

Saving their best performance for the most important moment, Phil Parkinson’s men were dominant upon the same Wembley turf which they were humbled not three months ago. I haven’t really bought into the redemption narrative (that never felt like the point of this journey), but for those that did, any demons haunting their dreams have been well and truly exorcised.

This season has played out like a novel. The story seemed predestined. The tracks were laid. It was meant to be this way. It wasn’t that “you couldn’t write it”, because you could. This is exactly how you’d write it. The weird thing is that it actually happened. To talk of fate diminishes the sensational reality these players have delivered, but how can you not think about it? Everything that happened today felt like a callback to a seed laid months before.

In their 64th and final game, City reached a level of performance they only ever hinted at amongst the first 63. I can’t remember a Bradford City team look that assured, that dominant. To a man, they were flawless.

Picking up where they left off against Burton, City rendered Northampton helpless. Bradford looked like a team that could have beaten Aidy Boothroyd’s men in any number of ways; Northampton’s cupboard was bare from the beginning.

It is difficult to separate the two moments which have defined this year, despite the fact they were almost polar opposites. Whereas the Swansea encounter felt like more of an ‘event’, today was a football game. This was a day for real football fans, the real reason we do all this, and it was a real football game. And what a game it was.

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From minute one City were on top, and by the time anyone had time to breathe, the game was over as a contest. The 90 minutes of football from half time at the Pirelli, to half time at Wembley may have been the best in 15 years. A combined 5-1 against two of the stingiest defences, and best teams, in the division. Especially in the manner it was done, with it always looking like there was more to come.

The opening quarter of an hour saw City begin to bang on the door; the second saw it irrecoverably blown off its hinges.

James Hanson opened the scoring with a wonderful looping header back across Lee Nicholls after the reputably dominant Northampton back line again failed to reorganise, leaving Garry Thompson uncovered at the back post before he picked out the big number nine with a delicate lob across the six yard box. The Cobblers demise felt inescapable already.

The big man was unstoppable today. From beginning to end he won everything in the air, and did so against the most aerially dominantly League Two side in years. Today James Hanson fulfilled his destiny, achieving the goal he could never reach, leading us out of League Two. We can no longer underestimate his value. He led. He dominated. He put in the best performance of his career.

City’s lead was quickly doubled as Nathan Doyle wonderfully picked out Rory McArdle who reprised, almost exactly, his goal against Aston Villa with a bullet header at the near post after losing his man. Boothroyd’s men were reeling, and City dropped the hammer not long later, with a typically predatory Nahki Wells finish. The game was over before the half hour mark. These players hit their ceiling, their apex. They could have won the game by as many as they wanted to. It will never get better than that.

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The defence were magnificent in the face of constant aerial pressure. The past two games have seen Andrew Davies highlight exactly why he is so important to this team, in both games laying the foundation for the attackers to flourish. McArdle alongside him was as good as he has ever been, and in Stephen Darby (baby) and James Meredith, City may have the best young full back pairing outside of the Championship.

Gary Jones was majestic, again. He and Nathan Doyle controlled the middle of the field from beginning to end. Jones is the heart of the team, and in only a season has ensured his bust in the Bradford City Hall of Fame. Parkinson spoke about his attempts to install a new culture at the club last summer, and no one has been more important in that than Gary Jones. He is irreplaceable. He is magic.

The thing about this team which makes all of this so perfect is that the entire squad, each one of them, are so likeable. They give everything they have in every moment, they never know when they are beaten, and the morale, the atmosphere is fantastic. To see a man like Alan Connell, who has every right to be frustrated, be this happy is just a delight, and sums everything great about this squad up, These men have rewritten the destiny of Bradford City Football Club.

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Not many have played a more important role than Wells, who in perhaps his final act in claret and amber demonstrated everything that makes him so special, a phenomenal display, sealing another man of the match award. He finishes this marathon season with eight goals in the final eight games, and it speaks volumes for the heights he may be able to grace that he has come through so wonderfully when it mattered most. A fact true for the whole team, actually.

If this side were going to make the leap from good to great, it was always going to be on the shoulders of the Bermudian, and again he didn’t disappoint. Clarke Carlisle and Nathan Cameron were left tangled in his wake.

The outmanned central defensive pairing for the Cobblers epitomised their team’s performance. Never at any point did they threaten. Save a handful of impressive punches and catches from Northampton long throws, Jon McLaughlin was untested.

Boothroyd’s men were abject from start to finish and as a group of fans who know all too well about being outclassed on the biggest stage, there is sympathy with the Northampton fans, who really can’t have enjoyed that. Their team were set up in a way that (in hindsight) appears naive, and their players froze.

I’m not sure how much difference it would have made had their players shown up, as rampant as their opponents were.

There isn’t anything I can say about Phil Parkinson’s job this year that would do him justice. He has been vindicated in every decision he has made. He has been the catalyst that brought this club from the bottom of the Football League, to these magical heights in a matter of 18 months. Today will go down on the short list of our club’s greatest days, a short list within which he is already a frequent character.

As time passes and we look back, these players will go down in history amongst our pantheon of our greatest. To a man, they’ve all made a critical contribution at one point or another. But that isn’t really relevant today. What is relevant is that the club is now in place to keep its core, its young core, together and this wonderful story, this wonderful ending, may only be a beginning. The present is perfect; the future could be anything.

They have done it. They have really done it. And they have really done it in the best possible manner. They have earned it; they have deserved it. The gulf in class between the two sides on display at The Home Of Football was inescapable.

And in the end, the truth came through to the fore: it was a League Two team playing a League One team.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Thompson, Jones, Doyle (Ravenhill 87), Reid (Atkinson 78), Hanson, Wells (Connell 85)

Not use: Duke, McHugh, Nelson, Hines

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13 Responses to “Present perfect”

  1. Damien Wilkinson May 18, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

    Perfect performance.

  2. Sussex bantam May 18, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

    And this is the best trip, I’ve ever been on…

  3. Dan B May 19, 2013 at 2:34 am #

    When I stood there at Plymouth after an insipid 0-0 draw and when I stood there at Exeter after an abysmal (and soggy) 4-1 defeat I wondered why I put myself through it. And then when I stood there after a glorious 3-0 victory at Wembley versus Northampton yesterday it all became clear… I love this team.

  4. Mick Farrell May 19, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    I’ve always been a proud City fan, but this season I’ve had a team to be proud of. Thank you so much to this squad and one special manager for a truly magnificent effort.

  5. Oliver Desmond May 19, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    Fantastic performance, I worried when Parky was getting rid of players like Luke O’Brien but he has been proved right in his tactic of putting together a smaller squad, of ‘better quality player’s. And I have to say a thank you to you Alex for your great match reports and comments through the season.

  6. andy b. May 19, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    What a day, what a performance, what fantastic support never been as proud to be a bantam as yesterday bring on next season!!!

  7. glorious1911 May 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    What makes this superb is that for so long it hasn’t been fun watching BCAFC. It didn’t start in 2001, possibly sooner because although the Premier League was an experience not to miss it wasn’t that great seeing your team get walloped every week. I’m not sure what the statistics say but from 1999-2012 there will have been a lot lot more defeats than victories, not to mention abject performances. This team has played with conviction and pride which is what we have missed for so long. I genuinely believe we can capitalise on this momentum.

    However we also need to be realistic. The team will need strengthening but crucially it will also need some valuable rest. The physical – and mental – demands of the last few months cannot be taken for granted and there is a risk that if there is insufficient recovery it could be a hard start in the third division. However let’s worry about that later and just enjoy the weekend. When was it last this good – Wolves away in 1999?

    I do hope there is a bus parade to allow everyone to give their thanks to the team and management.

  8. Harry May 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    Great article Alex. Alot of fans were hung upon how many tickets we have sold. Well the 24k we took made a din from the 1st minute to the last. They represent our total passionate fan base ( call it high water mark). Brilliant, brilliant atmosphere. It was literally bouncing where I was sat. NTFC fans must have been in awe before we even scored a goal.

    My head thinks we have witnessed one of the city’s best seasons ever, as well as a feat of lower tier team reaching two Wembley finals in one year which will not be matched in many, many years to come. I throw into that Parky could arguably claim to be our best ever manager!! Bring on league 1.

    • John Dewhirst May 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

      Northampton have average gates of 4, 500 and yet managed to sell 20, 000 tickets. The vast majority of them wouldnt have known who played for them let alone how to get behind them. The fact thst their hardcore support was spread among their gloryhunters undoubtedly diluted their noise generation.

      It was notable how they all disappeared to the toilets after the second goal and started drifting away altogether after 80 minutes.

      What says it all is that they brought 460 to VP last month at a time when they were in 3rd place at a crucial stage of the season.

      The conclusion I draw is that we have had quality support this season and Saturday demonstrated to me the team’s 12th man.

  9. john wade May 19, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    I had worked out what contribution I was going to add to the match report. But, Alex, you have said it all. John Dewhirst’s comments explain perfectly why City fans outclassed their rivals as emphatically as the players did. I think NT and their fans were beaten almost before the game started. The team offered nothing but big boot, crude tackling and long throw-ins.
    It was wonderful to watch, never, after 20 minutes needing to worry, but being able to sit back in that wonderful stadium and enjoy it.
    2 incidents epitomised the City team. Jones berating one of his players for misplacing a pass. Wells dispossessing a NT player 10 yards from City’s goal-line in the first half.
    Wells must have covered every inch of the field, and he usually finished up being knocked down. He was an inspiration. But once again Davies caught the eye with his hardness and coolness.
    What a day!—–Swansea in reverse.
    And the fans must have been an inspiration.

    • wayne May 19, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

      Im pleased for everybody connected with Bradford Cty. It’s been 14 years since our last promotion, that statistic is now under the radar.
      We have seen history this year that will be talked about for many years long after I’ve passed away !
      18months it’s taken Phil Parkinson and staff to bring promotion! I wonder where we will be in another 18months under Phil Parkinson ? .
      I believe we have momentum that could possibly see us reaching play offs or near in lge1 . There’s some big clubs at that level and im sure we won’t be the big fish in the pond with teams having there Wembley cup final at valley parade .
      In my mind there no doubt teams came to valley parade and gave everything and possibly an Extra 20% in performance?.
      The question for me is this.
      We need those supporters that arrived at wembley with there replica shirts and scarfes to buy a season tkt or flexi card if we could get 14,000 season tkt holders or flexi ? We can give Phil Parkinson a wage budget to be very competitive!
      Add 3 players of championship quality
      To the pool of players and we’re ready.
      One player thats stood out at this level is moghama that Burton winger.
      Ashley chambers from York has impressed me as well.
      Given Mr Parkinson’s track record in the transfer Market I know he will bring in players of quality .

  10. Mark May 20, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    One word “Immense” what a time to pull out your best performance of the season. It looked even better on the re-run on Sky + when I got home. It’s been a great season with a Group of players that everyone can identify with. He is magic you know.

  11. Michael Brett May 26, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    Wonderful result! A week later I’m struggling to comprehend what I witnessed at Wembley. Despite being the relative tender age of 26, and following City since the Jefferies days in Division One, this City team has the potential to displace certain legends. Hopefully we can keep the majority of the team (in particular Davies, Reid, Doyle et al…) And add some further quality to consolidate next year. But this is a special time for all to behold also we have the best fans in the bottom two divisions(I suspect Wolves, United and Bristol City may dispute)! Parky’s Bradford Army…

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