League Cup miracle, one year on: the early rounds

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On Wednesday it will be exactly one year since Bradford City’s incredible victory over Arsenal. Width of a Post will be continuing its ‘one year on‘ retrospective series with a piece on the Gunners victory, but first David Howker recalls his memories of the road to the quarter finals. 

Round one – Notts County 0 City 1 (AET)

I’m not really a big fan of Fairport Convention, I’m not even really much of a fan of most ‘Folk Music’ in its truest sense. But it has become a tradition for my wife and I to attempt to recapture the live music of our courting years by watching bands and musicians from our era who still tour after all these years.

Or, as is the case with the Fairports, support a band who actually stage and host an annual three Day Open Air Music Festival in a beautiful setting in Oxfordshire with a fairly wide ranging mix of musical styles over a weekend in mid-August. My CD and Vinyl LP collection is fairly extensive and includes a fair smattering of Robert Plant, Squeeze, Little Feat, Status Quo, 10cc, Seasick Steve and others who have all performed in recent years at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival.

So there I am, spending a Saturday afternoon along with 20,000 others enjoying a band called Brother and Bones relaxing in the sun in a farmer’s field (surprising given the weather in 2013) – only I am not relaxed, and I’m only vaguely listening to the band. The football season has inexplicably started early and it’s the first round of a Cup competition we have traditionally been spectacularly mediocre in – ever since I can remember.

Every two or three minutes I have to crank up my ancient Nokia mobile; a device which would draw hysterical guffaws from anyone with a mobile bought in the last 10 years. In comparison to modern phones, mine looks similar to one of those bricks you see slick young executives in movies from the early nineties holding to their ears. In fact mine runs on gas it’s that old.

So while the other 19,999 people in the field applaud the last song I’m sweating on (very slow) updates on a football match taking place before the season proper has begun. Yes Saturday afternoon August 18 is strange. I’m physically in Oxfordshire, but emotionally in Nottingham. The band get a warm ovation at the end of their set, but I’m on tenterhooks due to a certain footballer who used to work at the Co-op having scored an extra-time goal and I don’t know how close it is to the end of the game.

My updates are all about 10-15 mins slow. The match must have finished – but my updates tell me there are still 10 minutes to go. On stage they are making announcements about various events relating to the festival. Can they give us the full-times ? Nobody else is concerned – our friends we sit with are Pompey supporters so they have their own concerns. Finally it comes through, probably when most City supporters are halfway back to Yorkshire: the result.

For the rest of the concert I sit in blissful comfort. The sun feels warmer, the ale tastes fresher – even Fairport Convention sound like a band whose new album I might just consider buying…

Round two – Watford 1 City 2

Back in January I hadn’t thought this one through. Anyway, this is usually a round which is of minimal significance for me. Usually it just involves checking to see how the team who beat us in the first round have got on. This time, however, we are involved, and so a few days up on the West coast of Scotland at the end of August is not good timing when City are playing in the South East of England against a Championship side based only a few miles from an overnight stay at our nephew and his wife’s apartment.

Still, as the legendary Eric Morecambe once said ‘c’est la gare!’

So it’s picking up the text commentary on my mobile. But this is the West of Scotland! Getting a signal is about as straightforward as convincing Sky-watching Premier league ‘fans’ that interesting, exciting, thrilling, etc, etc.  games don’t of necessity involve South Manchester and North London teams.

In the old days I could at least have relied on the BBC/ITV reading out the night’s football scores after the late night news. (The 70s were a different era, I realise that now.) So, wait for the next day when we go to Loch Lomond for a cruise on the lake. Nearer to Glasgow and a transmitter. My wife sits in amazement as we screech into a municipal car park and I almost fall out of the driver’s seat, already getting my mobile settings on t’internet.

I forget the exact headline on the Official Site – but it reads along the lines of Garry Thompson choosing a great time to open his Bantams’ goalscoring account. Result!

Round three – City 3 Burton Albion 2 (AET)

Having managed to be at opposite ends of the country for the first two rounds (well, far enough away for it to feel like opposite ends) we really went for it this time. How about being on a different continent in a different time zone? Brilliant!

Yes, we’re in Michigan as part of a five-week tour of the States. I have to be honest, this was booked as a special holiday celebrating retirement from teaching for both my wife and myself. Anyway, there was no chance City would be involved in the third round of the League Cup – it never happens!

In a way it could be worse. Mid-afternoon for most of the five weeks meant we were somewhere on a Freeway or Highway or mountain path miles from a possible signal for our tablet. But no, we’re at our relatives for a couple of days, just hanging around. So it’s not really odd behaviour to keep disappearing every five minutes from the conversation around the table with assorted relatives, sneaking back to our room for a surreptitious look at the official website for updates. Getting more and more morose each time I go back to the conversation. It just doesn’t appear to be happening – 1-0 down, 2-0 down, time rapidly running out.

And then …

We’ve pulled a goal back. Not even a bit of consolation really. Still we’re having a brilliant time in the States, we’ve driven through 24 different States – seen some great sights and had blooming good weather (generally speaking).

Oh well, better go back and check the Nexus…Extra-time! What?

And (here’s timing) an update ….3-2 City!

Now it’s just nail-biting time for the next 20 minutes or so.

Our American cousins are incredibly polite – or they’re convinced I have an incredibly weak bladder! The next 20 minutes seemed like 20 hours.

I had a great evening that night though.

Round four – Wigan 0 City 0 (AET, City win 4-2 on penalties)

We’re going to be back in England for the fourth round.

It’s Wigan – away.

Perfect, we live about 10 miles from the DW Stadium. Home games are a bit of a trek. This is brilliant.

Only, when I get home, to get on the website for a ticket – all 5,000 are gone.

‘Don’t Panic, Mr Mainwaring !’ I’ll bite the bullet and buy a ticket from the Wigan ticket office and sit with them. I’ll feign polite appreciation as Wigan knock the goals in through clenched teeth – at least I would be there!

‘Sorry, lad, if tha’s not bowt tickets from th’ticket office at stadium before tha’ can’t have one for this match!’

Gutted!

Then, on the Monday morning before the game, a phone call from a former colleague at work. (We were both made redundant the previous year.) ‘Am I going to the match?’ I explain it hasn’t panned out. So, he asks, do I want him to get me one – he’s a season ticket holder at Wigan and he’s going down that afternoon to get tickets for himself, his son and a couple of other mates.

Should he get me one? You can’t really bite someone’s hand off over the phone, but it’s something on those lines.

So here I am, settled in ready to watch our plucky cup run come to an end, albeit with a, hopefully, not too embarrassing defeat at a Premier League club. The sense of anticipation around me is a bit unnerving, knowing that my allegiance is with the 5,000 crammed into the stand at the other end of the ground. It’s a good view though, roughly in line with the penalty spot. So I’m geared up for a good perspective on how our probable backs-to-the-wall first 45 is going to go.

Sure enough, 10 minutes or so in, it seems the first goal of the evening has gone in. The guys around me can’t believe it is disallowed. (If I’m totally honest, where we’re sitting we have a clear view and I think they have a point – but I’ll take anything we’re given!)

After that my abiding memory of the game is quick glances at the football whilst focussing on the interminably slow progress on the clock display on the scoreboard above the stand opposite. Can we keep them out for another five minutes, another five – it’s getting towards half time, can we keep them out? Second half – more of the same. Even the Latics supporters around me seem to be more focussed now on the remarkable game unfolding at the Madejski Stadium. Maybe the same is true of the Latics players. Penalties are appearing on the horizon. Surely not!

Sitting where I was, when Duuuuke made that saving penalty it was almost as if he was running directly over to me to celebrate before the team engulfed him. Surely I hadn’t made my emotions so obvious during that shoot-out ?

Finally, all credit to the Latics fans around me – it may have been shock, or at the very least disbelief – but there was little or no barracking of the Bantams players as they celebrated, a phenomenon which all too regularly is disappointingly visible on TV coverage of many Premier League fixtures.

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1 reply

  1. As City kicked off the season, I was at Wembley to watch the Olympic footie final – Brazil v Mexico. Score updates trickled through during the game but revealed only a 0-0 stalemate heading for extra time.

    The Olympic final finished and we were spat out with thousands of others onto Wembley Way. It was whilst waiting at the underpass outside Wembley Park tube station, amongst celebrating Mexicans and still buoyant Brazilians, that my phone rumbled and the all-important result came through – 1-0 to City thanks to big James Hanson!

    So I was smiling as I made my way up the steps to the tube station, with the Wembley arch towering behind. I could not possibly comprehend that I’d be back on that spot in February to watch City in the cup final.

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