Concluding Width of a Post’s 2012/13 season review, writers Gareth Walker, Ian Sheard and Joe Cockburn reflect on a memorable 10 months.
Where does the 2012/13 season rank amongst your time supporting Bradford City?
Gareth: I think a lot will depend on how we feel about this season in a few years time. It could go either way. It might grow in our affections as we look back, or it might seem less magical as time takes its toll.
Personally, at this moment in time, it is definitely amongst my top three seasons of following the club. Behind only the 98/99 promotion season and our first year in the Premier League. I hold the team and players from that era in such high regard that they are almost immortal; but this year comes about as close as is possible to emulating them.
Ian: It’s definitely up there. I thought when I first started supporting City that I was a good luck charm. Promotion then avoiding relegation. So I was lucky and thought supporting city was an easy ride. 10 years on and all the magic fell away. This season has been like all my Christmases come at once. The best!
Joe: By far the best, no contest. My first forward step as a City fan, the cup run was a bonus, but a big one at that. I will never forget so many moments this season.
When did you think that this season’s squad was going to prove to be our best in years?
Gareth: At the start of the year I was unsure whether the squad was better than the one that Stuart McCall assembled for his second season. After all, we had been here before with all the hype, hadn’t we?
I think I realised that they were superior when we beat Wigan away and then when we defeated Torquay at home in December. I said on the way home after that game that I thought that we could get automatic promotion – something that I never thought during McCall’s time as manager.
Ian: I think Wigan, a massive game where we played amazingly well. I also think the loss to Port Vale at home, knowing we had outplayed them but lost. We would have lost before the game started last season.
Joe: Early in the season, we absolutely outclassed Cheltenham at Valley Parade. I thought we would go up automatically. The Burton cup game also as we showed our never say die attitude and that has proved very important! My confidence for the league obviously dipped between Arsenal and Swansea, and after that I never truly thought we could do it.
What are your memories of the League Cup run?
Gareth: The cup was always secondary for me. I said from the outset that we never had a chance of winning it, and so promotion was far more important to me. As such, at times I failed to share some peoples’ enthusiasm over the run and it did lead to some heated debates.
I also had a splitting headache for the whole of the Arsenal game and I am afraid to say that it spoilt my experience a little bit. However, winning at Wigan was a real high for me as it was the first of the giant killings. Also, the two Villa games rank amongst my most memorable experiences following the club and the celebrations of Hanson’s header at Villa Park will live with me for a very long time.
The fact that we eventually achieved promotion too allowed me to look back and enjoy the cup run more than I would have done otherwise. And, of course, we had two trips to Wembley which will probably never happen again.
Ian: My wife asking how much more it’ll cost and me always saying, “This is the big game, we’ll be out after this”. The best game has to be Villa at home. Or Arsenal. Or…
Joe: James Hanson’s goal at Villa Park is my stand out moment. I have never celebrated a goal so much, that was unbelievable. But I will never forget Stephen Darby’s goal against Burton, how that went in I will never know.
Wow, Burton have done us a few favours this season haven’t they?!
It was a season of highs, but what was your low point?
Gareth: I am somewhat of a pessimist and I don’t take the bad times very well at all. There are a few times this season when I felt very low. The hammering away at Rotherham in September was gut-wrenching; as was the 4-1 loss at Exeter. I was also particularly low after the defeats to Barnet, Wimbledon and Oxford.
Ian: One word: Rotherham. That is all I will say!
Joe: Aside from the obvious, Rotherham, it has to be Dagenham, the game after the final. Carnival atmosphere, a great home crowd, wanting to push on, and then a dire game which we were lucky to draw. I thought we had no chance at that point.
Be honest, did you think City had blown their promotion hopes in March?
Gareth: I gave up on the promotion dream after the defeat away at Wimbledon a week before the Cup Final. I couldn’t for the life in me see us turning it around after losing to the Dons and Barnet. The draw at Plymouth and the defeat at Exeter saw the optimists amongst my group of friends give up too, and obviously this confirmed for me that we had no chance.
I didn’t start to believe again until we beat Northampton in April and, for the second game on the bounce, all the other results had gone for us.
Ian: No! I have proof. Check my preview of the Torquay game!
Joe: Yes. 100%. The chopping and changing, the missed chances, the amount of ‘must-win’ games which we lost. I was just fed up if I’m honest.
The run in was exciting, how were your emotions over the final few weeks?
Gareth: I often say that it is the belief and hope that makes following any football team so difficult. I was overjoyed when we made the top seven, but then the realisation that we now had a chance again made me a nervous wreck for the whole of the play offs.
Only at Wolves away in ’99 have I ever known time tick by as slowly as it did away at the Pirelli in the play off semi final second leg. I couldn’t watch. And, at Wembley for the play off final, I was physically sick and shaking until the third goal went in.
Ian: I didn’t think it was real. It was like the cup run. Surely we can’t do it. Credit to the Mrs for allowing me to block Saturday afternoons and Tuesdays to listen and go to games. Amazing.
Joe: Extremely up and down. The sheer overriding feeling is pride.
Pride at what this side have amazingly achieved. Pride at how they stuck at it no matter what. Pride at how they bounced back from losing 5-0 at Wembley. Unbelievable. I shed a tear chanting “we’re proud of you” at Burton. That was my one good feeling from Wembley, singing that at full time, and it just highlights the amazing turnaround and yes, pride.
And how did it feel when the final whistle went at Wembley and City were promoted?
Gareth: It was like a weight had been lifted from the club and everyone involved with it. It is hard to explain really. We had wanted to get out of the fourth tier for so long.
It was like a huge release and I’m not ashamed to say that I cried for the second time this season (the first being after we won away at Villa). A female steward looked at me and smiled. She said that she has seen quite a few grown men cry whilst working at Wembley!
Promotion didn’t start to sink in properly until we were at least half way home and I had taken a few moments to quietly reflect and calm down.
Ian: At 1-0 I turned to my mate Dave and said “We’ve done it, League One.” It was a feeling I’d had against Wolves, QPR and Liverpool. We were going to do it. I could not comprehend us not doing it.
Joe: Great. It had sunk in by then, and it is almost a shame we made it so easy. The celebrations weren’t as delirious. Just elation that we don’t have to play Dagenham and Wimbledon hopefully ever again.
What are your thoughts on the job that Phil Parkinson has done?
Gareth: This is a difficult question for me to answer as I haven’t always been his biggest fan. What is evident is that the club is in a far healthier state now than it was when he arrived.
I honestly thought that we doomed to the non-league and possible extinction before he turned up, and now we are a League One club with money in the bank. We feel like we are at one with and have pride in our club and its players again. The transformation has been sensational.
Ian: Amazing. So pleased for him and Steve Parkin. He said we’d do it and we did it. He’s so professional and so wants us to win. The players he’s brought in. The ethic. Brilliant. Also no loan players in the final third of the season left me asking the question: is this City?
Joe: I was always unsure about Parkinson, but you cannot fault his achievements this season. Like I said, to bring the team back from Wembley One is incredible. He deserves all the accolades he gets and I hope he stays at City for the next 20 years.
If you could select on single moment that summed up the 2012/13 season, what would it be?
Gareth: McHugh’s header against Villa. Unbridled joy. Keep believing.
Ian: 1-1 against Arsenal. Determination against the odds after almost fluffing it. Then Wembley. We did it when it mattered (bar Rotherham, and I didn’t count Swansea as it was cheaper to lose!)
Joe: Half time in the cup against Burton. The team were 2-0 down, yet not one supporter in the stadium thought we would lose. I can’t explain it, but that definitely sums it up.
How do you think City will do in League One next season?
Gareth: As I mentioned previously, I am a pessimist and as such I can’t help but notice how Chesterfield, Bury, Rochdale and Wycombe (twice) have lasted no longer than two seasons in League One after promotion in recent years. As such, I would be happy to avoid relegation.
Conversely, however, teams who have had a little bit of cash to spend have done well; notably Swindon, Bournemouth, Notts County and Crawley. I would hope that due to our cup exploits last season we would fall into this category and, as such, a mid-table finish shouldn’t be out of the question.
With other so called bigger hitters such as Sheffield United, Wolves and Coventry reported to be struggling financially, we could be forgiven for having a bit of a go. I certainly hope it will help that we are no longer the biggest side in the division. Hopefully teams won’t see their visit to Valley Parade as their Cup Final and might come and attack us a bit more, which could play into our hands.
Ian: Julian Rhodes said a few years ago we could do back-to-back promotions, so I’ll say we can just to have it on record. Realistically, a nice boring mid table season would suit me, my wife and our bank balance!
Joe: I think we have a serious chance. The gulf is not massive, just a few bigger stadiums to go to, and we are used to that! A top 10 finish at least. Not an expectation, a serious prediction.