By Jason McKeown
It was the year of walking onto the field to the supporter-created song ‘claret and amber’. Of hooped home shirts. Of Flexi-cards. A year where Valley Parade was filled to capacity for the first time in over a decade. Where we were looking up the league rather than down. Of over-achieving in the cups. Of selling out numerous away games. Of Gary Jones.
Right from the start, you suspected this could be a special one. League One Notts County away in the League Cup kicked off the season. We travelled to Nottingham on a baking hot day merely in the hope of a good performance, accomplishing not only that but a credible 1-0 win. The BBC called it a “giant killing”. This was just the warm up.
The league began with a bang too. After an opening day loss, back-to-back home wins over Fleetwood and Wimbledon set the tone for a sustainable promotion push. The Dons were swept aside in stunning first-half fashion – 5-1 at the interval – and it was hard to avoid feeling wildly optimistic. “Champions by Christmas” one of group of friends quipped. “No”, responded someone else. “Champions by August Bank Holiday”.
Rotherham was a reality check. The first of many City away sell outs, we rocked up to the wonderful New York Stadium in expectation, but went 1-0 down within 75 seconds and would go on to lose 4-0. Accrington a week after not much better, despite a 1-1 draw. Perhaps it won’t be so easy: Champions by Easter?
But we soon got into our stride. Barnet were woeful, Morecambe swept aside in thrilling fashion – Jones’ first City goal met with a pump-fist celebration in front of the Kop. He and Nathan Doyle were forming a great partnership, James Hanson and Nahki Wells could not stop scoring. The summer warmth lingered long enough for a t-shirt day at Oxford in late September, with a 2-0 win taking us joint second.
A fourth win on the trot was achieved in the cup against Burton. What a night that was. Even at 2-0 down at half time, confidence was high that we could win it. Kyel Reid came off the bench and destroyed the Brewers, and fellow sub Wells netted two late goals. The celebrations for his last minute equaliser up there with any moment we’ve experienced this season. Stephen Darby’s extra time winner was academic.
Bumps on the road to promotion followed. Port Vale ending City’s 100% home record – undeservedly so – 10-men Rochdale could not be beaten on their own patch, and then at Dagenham the Bantams managed to go 4-1 down with a late two-goal fightback in vein. A trip up the A1 to Hartlepool in the JPT was memorable only for another City penalty shootout victory and a nightmare drive home due to roadworks.
We needed a big win, and defeating a fellow promotion rival – Cheltenham – provided that. 3-1 having fallen behind. Mark Yates correctly moaning about being denied a penalty when his side was 1-0 up. Wells was the hero. Not a great performance, but a great win. Wells netted again three days later at Northampton. Now we’re cooking.
The League Cup run was getting really exciting. We went to Premier League Wigan in Round Four – initially a disappointing prospect, but following news of a 5,000 City away end sell-out, excitement for a good night. Losing at Burton three days earlier – with the added nightmare of injuries robbing us of Luke Oliver for the rest of the season and Andrew Davies until February – meant we went to the DW Stadium with little hope. A stunning performance ensued, capped off by a penalty shootout win. Duuukkkkkeeeee!
That set up a quarter final home tie with Arsenal. How to concentrate for the six weeks in-between? Progress in the FA Cup occurred with a memorable 3-3 replay – and yes, another shootout success – over Northampton. City’s lowest home crowd of the season, but one of the best games. In the league, form was mixed, but a trip to Bristol Rovers stands out as one of the season’s highlights. It was wet – very wet – and the away terrace offered no protection. But we skidded in the rain in celebration of City coming from behind three times to earn a point. Fantastic character.
But it was all about waiting for Arsenal. Tick the games off. Port Vale in the JPT, good fun. Brentford on a Friday night in the FA Cup, notable for how drunk one of our group was (“It is pay day drinks!”) and City temporarily getting kicked out the competition for fielding loanee Curtis Good. Three days before the Gunners came to town, an important 1-0 home win over Torquay was sealed by a superb Alan Connell strike. He was fast cementing his status as super sub. Will Atkinson, James Meredith and Rory McArdle were also in excellent form.
So now we can enjoy the Arsenal game. It was bitterly cold, and Manningham Lane an hour before kick off was packed out in a way I’ve not seen for years. Long queues to get inside the Kop; and just as we made our way to our seats, the Arsenal team was announced. Blimey, they are taking it seriously.
Garry Thompson’s opening goal is one that we will treasure for years to come. We’re beating Arsenal! Just 70 minutes to go! Incredibly, we almost held out. A late Gunners equaliser would surely cost us, but we held on through extra time with the noise levels from a packed out Valley Parade never relenting. Penalties. Say no more.
The next night, a group of us got together to watch the semi final draw. Please be Villa, at home first, was my wish. That is what we got. Another scramble for tickets, but both legs sorted out with only a couple of sleepness nights. Now back to the League…oh dear. After scrambling to victory over Accrington on Boxing Day (Connell again!), form fell off a cliff. Rochdale embarrassed us; at Morecambe we rued that miss by Hanson; Barnet thumped us 2-0 three days before Villa. At least the likes of Stephen Darby and Zavon Hines were impressing.
Oh what a night we had, in the home leg against Villa. I’ll always remember a friend in the pub beforehand predicting “3-1…and I begrudge Villa that 1!” and thinking he was mad. But he could not have been more right. Rory McArdle’s header that made it 2-0 saw Valley Parade rock like it hasn’t since Gordon Watson netted a brace in front of the same Kop end in September 1998. I lost the plot celebrating. The wonderfully promising Carl McHugh’s goal for 3-1 was special too. If you could dismiss the Wigan and Arsenal wins as being on penalties, there was no talking down of this one. League Two Bradford City had beaten Premier League Aston Villa over 90 minutes.
Other games happened in-between the two legs, but attention was only on Villa Park. A 4-1 thumping to Crewe in the JPT was painless in the circumstances, save for how ridiculously cold it was. No one minded that Saturday’s trip to Vale was called off, let’s just hope this heavy snow doesn’t make it impossible to travel to Birmingham.
I took a car-load to this game. As a group some of us barely knew each other, but by the time we met up on the street outside Villa Park at full time, we were on hugging terms. The first half was horrible as Villa came flying out the blocks; but then Gary Jones swung a corner onto Hanson’s head, 10 minutes into the second half, and we were gleefully celebrating an improbable equaliser. I will always remember my good friend and fellow Width of a Post writer Gareth Walker needing a sit down next to me, as he was so overcome with emotion. A late Villa winner added anxiety, but we did it. What a night. Perhaps the best moment of my time supporting Bradford City.
We were in the League Cup Final at Wembley. Even writing this article months after, I can’t help but smile at the absurdity of that statement. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime.
Reality bit back at Fleetwood a week later, with a 2-2 draw on the North-West coast not what we needed to close the gap to the play offs. A 1-0 defeat at home to leaders Gillingham – our only home game in-between Villa and Wembley – was played out with an air of obvious distraction on and off the field. At least we beat Wycombe away in midweek, but a 2-1 loss to bottom of the table Wimbledon eight days before Wembley was not ideal.
What more can you say about Wembley One? The build up was phenomenal. The world’s media camped out at Bradford, covering every angle possible. Revel in all the TV and newspaper coverage, enjoy the players being treated like rock stars. “Now live to the Cedar Hotel in Bradford, where the players are about to board the coach to Wembley” Sky Sports News told us. The challenges of producing this website were increased by numerous media requests. I loved it.
As I loved Wembley. It was a special feeling alighting from the train nearby and walking down the streets with hundreds of City fans. The pubs were packed out, the nerves were growing. A walk up and down Wembley Way was more wonderful than I could ever imagine. The first look inside Wembley was an awesome moment. 33,000 Bradford City fans making an almighty racket. I shed a tear before a kick off. An incredible day out.
Shame about the football.
The hangover from Wembley was not insignificant. With so much ground to make up on the play offs, every game felt win or bust. A good 2-0 victory at York aside, it was a tale of dropped points and anger. “Does Phil Parkinson deserve his new contract?” some asked. A couple of miserable buggers even plummeted to the depths of writing off the cup run as “lucky”.
The nadir moment, for me, was a 0-0 draw at Plymouth on a Tuesday night in March. I travelled down with two friends, booked into a Travelodge, and the tame performance convinced me that faint play off hopes were over. That we couldn’t get on a run of wins. That it was time to start planning for next season. A 4-1 loss at Exeter the following Saturday only added to that conviction.
But how wrong I was. The surge began with a low key 1-0 win over Wycombe. A 2-2 draw with Southend felt like two dropped points, but then three wins in a row over Torquay, Northampton and Bristol Rovers improbably put us in the top seven. Even automatic hopes weren’t over! Thompson was in great form, Davies a rock in the centre of defence and Reid had rediscovered his swagger. The decision to pick Ricky Ravenhill over a fading Doyle had also helped. RR’s sitting in front of the back four bringing the best out of Gary Jones.
The stall came with a 2-2 draw at Chesterfield in what was a superb atmosphere, followed by a 2-0 loss to Rotherham in front of a packed out Valley Parade. Still, seventh spot was sealed with a 1-0 win over Burton. A trip to Cheltenham on the last day meaningless, but we had a good time nonetheless.
Bring on the play offs! Burton had the best home record in the Football League, so taking a lead to the Perelli Stadium for the second leg seemed vital. Alas, we endured a dreadful first 45 at Valley Parade to go in at half time 3-1 down – and they might have had more. We’ve frozen, blown it, folded. Burton could have finished us, but a save from Jon McLaughlin, at 2-0 Burton, was vital. Thompson’s stunner gave us hope for the second leg. Burton had let us off the hook.
At Burton, the players more than made amends. Determined, bullish, confident. Wells made it 1-0 to level the tie, and we never looked back. Hanson’s stunner early in the second half sparked delirium. Wells made it 3-1 and we were in dreamland. Blow your whistle ref…six minutes injury time, eh?…blow your whistle ref!
The final whistle brought relief and ecstatic celebrations on and off the pitch. What a wonderful sight to see the players going crazy in front of us. What an uplifting moment to see Parkinson punching the air.
Back to Wembley!
More serious this time, the consequences of losing would be. We’re not massive underdogs on this occasion, the expectation level was much higher. Less time spent taking photos down Wembley Way, leave that to the Northampton fans. We’ve got work to do.
What a time to produce your best performance of the season! We never gave the Cobblers a sniff. Three goals in 13 minutes. All pile on top of each other. Disbelief at how easy it was. No relaxing until the closing stages. See out the job. The atmosphere was so special.
When Gary Jones and Ricky Ravenhill lifted the trophy, the outpouring of joy topped anything we’d seen all season. And there had been plenty of other outpourings of joy. Promotion a fitting reward for an incredible campaign. 64 games. I personally saw 52 of them. I don’t want to think about how much that cost me, but it was worth every single penny.
The 2012/13 season – one of the greatest in the club’s history. And undoubtedly the most fun I’ve ever had.