Tag Archives: 2012/13

Lessons in history as Bradford City go to Coventry

1 Apr
Picture by Claire Epton

Picture by Claire Epton

Coventry City vs Bradford City preview

@Sixfields (Northampton) on Tuesday 1 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

In the 20 years that the Sixfields stadium, Northampton, has stood, it has never been so overused and yet so sparsely populated as it has this season. Former Premier League outfit Coventry City moved in last summer, 70 miles away from their home city, with average crowds of 2,222 indirectly bolstered by protesting Coventry supporters on that large hill outside. Not since Wimbledon saw out their final days at Selhurst Park in front of one man and his dog, before relocating to Milton Keynes, have Bradford City embarked on such an unusual away fixture as tonight’s.

Yet it is the permanent proprietors of Sixfields who offer the more fitting perspective to the Bantams current struggles. Northampton Town lie second bottom of League Two, fighting for their lives to avoid relegation. The Cobblers were, of course, City’s play off final opponents 10-and-a-half months ago, crushed 3-0 at Wembley. After another 3-0 loss – to Bury at home, on Saturday - they are in deep trouble.

Only one of the previous 17 fourth tier beaten play off finalists have gone on to be promoted the following season – yet Northampton’s bouncebackability has been especially poor. They have gone from being disappointed not to leave League Two, to now desperate simply to remain in it. Sixfields is in serious danger of becoming a non-league stadium.

There but for the grace of God, and all that.

In the 30 years that the City Gent fanzine has existed, they can scarcely have published a more bizarre reader letter than one which appears in the latest edition, comparing Phil Parkinson to Hitler. Oddly bemoaning that Parkinson is too good-looking and that “if he had a face like a bag of turds and dressed like a tramp waiting for chips, would we have given him this much leeway?”, the letter-writing supporter goes onto state, “He is eloquent I will give you that, but so too was Hitler, and we all know how that turned out.” If I were Mark Lawn, I’d be carefully searching Phil’s desk to check that those opposition scout reports aren’t really secret plans to invade Poland.

Such stupidity represents the far extreme of negative views aired about Parkinson by an increasing number of City supporters, in the wake of some of the worst performances of the season against Shrewsbury and Walsall. There is undoubtedly a growing thought that the manager has taken the club as far as he can, with calls for a change growing in volume, if quietened by Saturday.

Writing as someone still very much in the pro-Parkinson camp (although please don’t mistake my personal views as WOAP editorial policy, we welcome contrary views and articles), the tone of the criticism directed his way continues to sadden me. Read the Bradford City Facebook page, Twitter and the Telegraph & Argus boards – and, in so many cases, what you see is abuse and hatred. It should be easy to put together a constructive argument for why the manager should, at the very least, currently be having his future questioned; but those people who are attempting to do just that are largely being drowned out by outright abuse from others.

It is completely unfair that any manager of Bradford City be the subject of such nasty and vile anger. You think of everything Parkinson has given to the club, of the loyalty he has shown, and you wonder how there could such little respect afforded to him by some people. There is a big difference between no longer believing in a manager and hating him, or at least there should be.

In the 111 years that Bradford City Football Club has toiled, rarely has there been a season as memorable as 2012/13. The 64 game marathon featured a rollercoaster of emotions. The drama, the excitement, the joy, the pride. What a happy ending: a first promotion in 14 years. It meant so much.

As City celebrated reaching Wembley for a second time in three months with victory in the play off semi final at Burton, the 1,600 visiting supporters that packed out the Perelli Stadium serenaded the players with the words “We’re proud of you” and responded to Parkinson’s clenched fist celebrations with a round of “Parkinson’s Bradford Army”. The pride indeed. The glow of which only increased further after the Northampton play off final victory.

As form has fallen off a cliff over the winter months of this season, not unreasonably, several people declared that last season is now irrelevant, and how we all needed to stop talking about it. As Parkinson came under his first genuine spell of pressure in February, the early advocates for change went further, arguing that his 2012/13 achievements should not count in any debates about his future. But of course, that is impossible to do. When evaluating the ability of someone to lead the club forwards, his past record has to come into consideration.

And so, the new, recent theme from some has been to talk down the past. ‘We made history’ has now become ‘Let’s re-write history’. Suddenly, promotion last season is being dubbed a fluke by many people. One that was only achieved because of Exeter’s late collapse in their form; one that was only achieved due to the Bantams scraping a seventh-place finish. A decent manager would not have luckily taken City up last season, they say, but won the league.

Words fail me at such a miserable outlook. That all those warm memories of last season’s run-in are retrospectively downgraded by some as ‘lucky’ and, by association, the success achieved viewed as unmerited. Did people really feel that way at the time? Did they not enjoy those late season victories? That afternoon at Burton? That second trip to Wembley?

Only seventh? Not since 1999 have City finished higher in the division they are in. Only through the play offs? In the five previous League Two seasons, only once did we come close to achieving that basic expectation (and in that year, 2008/09, we did an Exeter and fell away at the end). And we haven’t even mentioned that first trip to Wembley. You could talk down Parkinson’s achievements if they were happening all the time to the club, but years and years of struggle and underperformance should serve to highlight just how incredible last season’s success was.

Yet equally – and let’s be honest – 2012/13′s late run-in featured more than our fair share of luck. Exeter did indeed collapse when they (or other challengers ahead of us in mid-March) should have sealed that last play off spot. But still, that doesn’t change City’s achievement of only losing three of their final 15 games post-Swansea; of picking up 15 points from a possible 24 to steal into seventh, when others dithered. They made the most of the luck that came their way, capitalising in clinical fashion.

Parkinson’s influence on that never-say-die run-in does not deserve to be downgraded 12 months on, simply to suit the debate of today. There is nothing wrong with arguing he deserves to go in spite of last season if that is what you believe, but please don’t attempt to say he deserves to go because of last season. After all, if you’re not happy about last season…well why bother supporting this club?

Not since 1996 have City enjoyed such a spectacular late run of form. Year after year we have either been nowhere near or choked. Last season should always be remembered with fondness – not twisted and distorted.

In the first two years that Phil Parkinson managed Bradford City, he impressed not only those inside Valley Parade but the outside world. Blackpool looked to him as the answer to their struggles, and other clubs would be linked with his services. Parkinson was one of the hottest properties in management, and City did very well to keep him.

“Three years? What were they thinking!” has been a recent grumble, in light of the contract that Parkinson was offered by the club – and signed – last May. It makes debates about his future seem somewhat worthless, given it will likely cost a six-figure sum of money to dispense with his services. We are stuck with him.

Which suits me just fine. I have long believed in long-term thinking. By plotting a future in terms of years and not months, the club has a much greater chance of being rebuilt on firmer foundations. The three-year contract is a three-year plan, one that needs to conclude with City knocking on the door of the Championship, for it to be extended further.

Year one’s objective of staying in League One is a fair and realistic goal. It has not yet been achieved, and crossing that 50-point mark is proving to be an unnecessarily laboured task, but it is progress. We can question the route to get here – the edge of survival – but not the destination. It is vital that City remain a League One club, and that target is within touching distance after Saturday’s impressive away win at Leyton Orient.

As for the three-year debate; whilst there is no doubt that some did question the wisdom when the contract was agreed last year, they were very much in the minority. Very few people were against it, in fact the majority were for it.

That’s why I find those who are now questioning the logic of the contract difficult to take seriously. If we, as supporters, believe we deserve a say in how this club is run, you have to share in responsibility for the decisions you previously backed. If you wanted Parkinson to remain as manager 12 months ago, only for the club to go and make sure that was the case, it is unfair to now pretend you didn’t agree with that decision. And let’s be clear, had Parkinson walked away from Valley Parade last summer, the chairmen would have copped it big style.

In the 11 years that Phil Parkinson has been a football manager, he has made mistakes but also enjoyed notable success. He is a smarter, wiser and cleverer manager for going through those bad times. And what he will have learned over the past 12 months will undoubtedly make him an even better manager. We should be confident that he can apply this greater experience next season.

When looking back on Parkinson’s achievements at Valley Parade, his success in steering the club away from relegation to non-league, during his first season in charge, seems especially relevant at the moment. Today is two years and five days since that horrendous evening against Crawley, where you really feared for the future. Parkinson was able to lift the club from such dark times, and the rest is history.

His first season seems especially relevant at the moment, given the task facing the manager this summer – rebuilding the squad. In September 2011 he took charge of a Bantams squad that was woefully lacking in quality and, in 18 months, had turned them into League Cup finalists. I have no fears that he can deliver the improvements that are needed for next season.

Yet the problem of the here and now is that the sweeping changes needed cannot be implemented until this season is over. Parkinson has made major mistakes in the transfer market which he is in no position to rectify in the short-term. He must continue to make do with a squad that has over recent months let him down on several occasions, and who over the final seven games will continue to deliver inconsistent performances. And poor results will continue to make Parkinson look bad, adding to the pressure now placed on his shoulders.

The short-term outlook is not great. Parkinson must get us over that 50+ point line, even if it’s an undignified stumble – and then he must prove that he can take the club forwards in line with our long-term ambitions.

I have confidence he can do just that, although there are no guarantees he will succeed. The bottom line, however, is that he has earned the right to get that opportunity. After everything he has done for this football club and all the wonderful memories he has provided, Parkinson deserves our support and backing during these more difficult times.

In the 39 matches that Bradford City have played this season, they sit right in the middle of the table. Currently eight points clear of the drop zone but 10 away from the play offs, this looks set to be a season where both promotion and relegation was never seriously on the table.

And all things considered – not least our recent history - that will do just fine.

 

League Cup miracle one year on: Swansea City

24 Feb

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By Jason McKeown

It is one year ago today since Bradford City took part in only the second – and in all likelihood the last – major cup final in its history. 33,000 Bradfordonians filled one half of the vast Wembley bowl, taking part in an occasion that none of us would ever believe we would be invited to.

Bradford City – our Bradford City. Slumped at the time in 12th position of English football’s fourth division. Taking on the might of Premier League Swansea and looking for another top flight scalp. One game away from qualifying to play in the Europa League. 90 minutes away from lifting a major trophy. It is wonderful to look back and reflect upon how excited and proud we all felt as the teams marched out onto the pitch. That even though we strongly suspected we were going to be defeated, there was nevertheless a glimmer of hope that our name was on that cup.

It wasn’t just about that wintry February afternoon in the capital, but the whole build-up to the big match which was like nothing we had ever experienced before. When City defeated Wigan in the last 16, the October before, the national media mentioned us only in passing, behind Arsenal’s remarkable 7-5 victory over Reading. Come December when the Bantams and Gunners met, the incredible penalty shootout victory over Arsene Wenger’s men sent shockwaves around the football world. Then came Aston Villa and the even bigger achievement of defeating Premier League opposition over two legs. The Villa Park celebrations eventually subsided, but the international spotlight would not be dimmed.

There were four-and-a-half weeks in-between that barmy night in Birmingham and walking down Wembley Way, and being a Bradford City supporter had this centre-of-the-universe feel. The media went to town covering every angle – not only looking at the football club, but the city of Bradford itself. The week before the game was especially memorable, as Sky Sports News featured City heavily each day, BBC Radio 5Live hosted a special supporters forum at Valley Parade and on the Friday evening you could watch back-to-back TV programmes devoted to the Bantams.

When earlier that day the players set off from Bradford’s Cedar Court Hotel down South, the moment was captured live on Sky Sports News. It must have been thrilling for the players, many of whom had never received such media attention. There was a wonderful story to tell about City’s cup final opponents, Swansea, but they were completely overshadowed by the exploits of the fourth tier side.

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My main memories of that period are how hectic it all was. We went to town with our Width of a Post coverage, which required a lot of planning and hard work from many different people. We received numerous emails from supporters pleading for help getting a ticket to the game and tried to help those who we could. We assisted TV and magazine researchers by providing background information on the club which helped them to shape their stories. We helped Bantams Banter get permission to broadcast at Wembley.

And like other City sites and fan groups, we received our own media requests. I spent one afternoon at Valley Parade meeting BBC Yorkshire’s Paul Hudson (a top bloke) for a documentary, appeared on college radio in the USA, wrote an article for the When Saturday Comes website, contributed to a special League Cup magazine and Mahesh Johal was interviewed for New Statesman magazine. Proudest of all, on a personal level, was being interviewed on BBC Two’s Newsnight, with the caption ‘widthofapost.com’ appearing on national TV.

It was hard to take in all of the attention bestowed on Bradford City. Our Bradford City. You tried to read as many newspapers articles as possible, watch all the TV specials and listen to bits on the radio, but it was all very wonderfully overwhelming. I was regularly stopped in the office by people wanting to chat about City (“Are you going to the game Jason?” Stupid question) and it was strangely enjoyable to listen to people who three months ago knew nothing about the club share their opinions on your players.

“You’re going to win” a completely trollied Geordie told us on the train journey from Kings Cross back to our hotel, the night before the match. That expert judgement will do me.

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Game day brought panic and terror. I barely slept a wink the night before, as I had become so nervous about it all. Knowing that the rest of the world was watching our Bradford City made you proud, but also apprehensive. What if we seriously embarrass ourselves? What can we realistically expect from our team today?

The morning saw us share a champagne breakfast with Archie Christie and then spend a few hours in the Hilton Hotel by Wembley stadium, supping drinks in the same room as several Bradford City directors. You tried to enjoy it all, but it was difficult to focus on anything beyond those fears about the game. I loved walking up and down Wembley Way, and we set foot inside the stadium at around 3.20pm. The atmosphere was already incredible. When, with 10 minutes to go, Rudimental’s ‘Feel the Love’ came over the PA system and everyone waved their flags frantically, I unexpectedly burst into tears. The nerves giving way to pure happiness.

It seems needlessly painful to go over the game, but equally it has long haunted me. It’s not that I thought we would win, but I expected far better than for us to wait until the 86th minute to have a shot on goal (and a rubbish shot at that). I’ve reflected back so many times on what Phil Parkinson might have done differently and how we could have given Swansea a better game, but there really was nothing that we could do.

Swansea were simply outstanding.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t one of those supporters who could shrug it off and merely be happy with the non-stop chanting for the last 25 minutes. I joined in of course, and I felt proud of the way we supporters responded to such adversity. But for all the times in the build up that I told myself we had no chance of winning, part of you still clung onto the hope. Even the most pessimistic amongst us wanted to win the game. It was a cup final, something we will probably never experience again in our lifetimes. And so it was devastating to watch that impossible dream be ripped up in front of our eyes in such clinical, brutal fashion.

It hurt. A hell of a lot. Rationale and reason simply go out the window at moments such as Matt Duke’s red card. I stayed at full time and applauded our players – they deserved it no matter what had happened on the pitch. I cheered them up the steps to collect their losers medals and applauded Ashley Williams as he lifted the trophy. Then we walked out of the stadium and into the London night, feeling empty.

The bubble popped so quickly; and to go from all the giddy excitement of the build up, straight to feeling crushed, was difficult to take. I remember thousands of us City fans walking back to the train station in near silence. The party was just getting starting inside the stadium behind us, but we had been locked out.

The national media dropped us like a stone. In the post-game coverage they focused solely on Swansea’s brilliance – good on them, they deserved it – and we went back to life in League Two, with the most unglamorous fixture possible to look forward to in three days time: Dagenham & Redbridge.

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Being honest, it took me weeks to get over the cup final defeat. I shared in the pride of how we supporters stuck with the players and loved the amount of praise that came our way for it; but for a four-month period it seemed that the League Cup miracle had completely dominated our lives. To have all those glorious moments come to end in such miserable fashion was unbefitting. Getting back to reality was hard. The struggles of the players over the subsequent weeks suggested they felt the same way, too.

As we look back a year on, the pain has long since faded and the return to Wembley for the play off final three months later exorcised the demons. It was our turn to dominate the opposition to the point they didn’t have a shot on goal until the final minute; it was our turn to lift a piece of silverware in the royal box and to dance around Wembley. And if, a year ago, we’d have been asked to pick which of the two Wembley games we’d prefer to win, I dare say 99.9% of City fans would have voted with me in choosing the play off final.

I’ve watched the League Cup Final back on my Sky box several times. The heartache dulled, I just enjoy the fact we were part of such a wonderful occasion. Proud of such an incredible cup run, one that we will never experience again. Relieved that the story was to have a happy ending in the shape of League Two promotion.

One year ago today was one of the proudest days of my life. It’s just a shame that the day didn’t end at 4.01pm.

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Read our look back on the League Cup miracle

Aston Villa 2 Bradford City 1

Bradford City 3 Aston Villa 1

Bradford City 1 Arsenal 1 (City win 3-2 on pens)

Wigan Athletic 0 Bradford City 0 (City win 4-2 on pens) 

Bradford City 3 Burton Albion 2

The early rounds

The Midweek Player Focus #52: Luke Oliver

5 Feb

The Width of a Post 2011/12 player of the season, Luke Oliver

By Jason McKeown

Some players are cruelly sentenced to never be remembered as fondly as they deserve to be. Not due to any personal failings or mistakes, but because the period during which they excelled was a more generally unhappy one. Luke Oliver is unquestionably a Valley Parade hero, yet his accomplishments occurred during a 15-month period where things were generally dismal at Valley Parade – an era we’d all rather forget.

In both 2010/11 and 2011/12, City finished 18th in League Two and along the way triggered very, very real concerns about the likelihood of retaining their Football League status. No one stepped up to the plate more than central defender Oliver, who put in some masterful performances that ensured City didn’t fall down the non-league trapdoor. During what represented a modern-day low ebb for the football club, Oliver led the rescue mission. He will always be thought of affectionately by City supporters for it.

Oliver departed Valley Parade last week on an ill-fitting low key note. That horrendous ruptured achilles injury, picked up at Burton Albion’s Perelli Stadium in October 2012, put Oliver out of action for nine months and saw him cruelly get left behind. On the evening that the extent of Oliver’s injury was made public, City knocked Premier League Wigan out of the League Cup.

Go through the many, many wonderful moments of the 2012/13 season, and Oliver’s name was absent from the story. It’s not easy for a six foot seven inch person to blend into the background, but that’s unfortunately what happened to Oliver. We Made History – largely without him.

But if it wasn’t for Oliver’s heroics before the 2012/13 season, City probably wouldn’t have even been a Football League club and gone through them. None of it would have happened, without him and others ensuring that the foundations remained in their place during some stormy times.

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If – the day after Peter Taylor left Valley Parade following that nerve-jangling victory over nine-men Stockport County in February 2011 – you were asked to select members of the-then squad to step up and save the club from relegation, Oliver’s name would have appeared near the bottom of most people’s lists.

Oliver was signed 12 months earlier by Taylor, initially on loan from Wycombe, with warnings from supporters of his old clubs that he was a calamitous defender prone to making gaffes. Taylor had worked with Oliver at Stevenage and Wycombe, and you assumed that he would know how to get the best out of him. So when a permanent deal was agreed for Oliver to join the Bantams that summer, no one was too worried.

Yet Taylor’s first – and only – proper season in the Valley Parade hot seat was a huge disappointment. All but David Syers, of his summer signings, under-performed, and the manager’s attempts to patch up the many leaky holes with questionable loan signings clearly damaged squad morale. Oliver started slowly; and then when James Hanson was injured, was thrust up front as an emergency targetman for almost a month. It coincided with some of the most wretched football I have ever seen from a Bradford City side.

Oliver up front, City playing long ball football and with three strikers sat on the bench – it was a set of circumstances that understandably drew dismay from supporters. Especially as it all left City second bottom of the Football League by early October.

With Hanson back and Jason Price brought in on loan, Oliver was thankfully kept away from the forward line but still struggled on return to his centre back role. There was at least one mistake in him per match. He bumbled his way along in a team that just couldn’t get going. And when Taylor and club decided it was best to change manager, we all assumed that Luke would quickly follow him out the door. A modern day Jason Gavin.

Yet something happened immediately post-Taylor: Oliver started playing well. At first not many supporters – understandably fed up of a season’s worth of poor displays from him – noticed. But in crucial games during that relegation run-in, Oliver was a rock. A Tuesday night home game against relegation rivals Burton springs to mind. City weren’t great and should really have lost, but Oliver’s man of the match display helped ensure a valuable point was gained. He also performed exceptionally during a vital Easter Monday victory over Aldershot that all-but-ensured survival. The gentle giant had grown tall.

Nevertheless, his future seemed destined elsewhere. Interim manager Peter Jackson fed upon the mood of supporter discontent towards the squad by putting everyone up for sale. Oliver found himself relegated to playing in a Development Squad pre-season friendly at Silsden, alongside fellow outcasts Michael Flynn and Robbie Threlfall. Guy Branston had been brought in, Steve Williams’ career hadn’t yet stalled; so Oliver began the season as fourth choice centre back – even central midfielder Lee Bullock was favoured ahead of him on the opening day of the season.

But as injuries arose, Oliver was given a chance and carried on in the manner he ended the previous season: hugely impressive. While Branston struggled to live up to his and Peter Jackson’s hype, Phil Parkinson came in and quickly rebuilt the back four around Luke. Andrew Davies was signed on loan to partner him with Guy shipped out on loan, and the club’s struggles that season would be the result of other, weaker areas of the team.

For Oliver was simply outstanding – even being nominated for the December League Two Player of the Month. His new-found confidence best illustrated by his gradual comfortableness on the ball and in bringing it out of defence. Strong in the air but also agile on the deck, Oliver was tasked with attacking the ball when it came into City’s box, with Davies on hand to clear up anything he didn’t repel.

As the club made hard work of avoiding relegation, Oliver and Davies were more and more vital. The bad night against Crawley robbed Parkinson of his centre back pairing, but Oliver returned from suspension in the nick of time to be the lynchpin of back-to-back April victories over Northampton and Macclesfield which confirmed survival. He was the runaway winner of the Player of the Season awards, and could look forward to playing a key role in future, happier times.

Alas, soon after injury struck. Oliver began 2012/13 in the side and, though perhaps not hitting the heights of the previous year, he was letting no one down. Ever-present in the league, until that fateful day in the East Midlands. One can only imagine how bittersweet it must have been for Oliver to see the club enjoy such spectacular success without him.

The worst thing was that Oliver was not missed. Rory McArdle looked superb in taking his place in the centre. Carl McHugh emerged from nowhere to impress in Davies’ absence. Nevertheless, there was hope that he would still have a future at Valley Parade, this season.

Starting off on the sidelines as he battled to prove his fitness, Parkinson talked of letting him go out on loan and then, a matter of days later, brought him in to start against Brentford due to McArdle being on international duty. City won 4-0 and Oliver was terrific. He filled in twice more for Rory, but the long-term absence of Davies in October did not open the door for him. In came Matthew Bates to partner Rory, instead. The fact both Oliver and McArdle are so right-sided ruled out any realistic prospect of forming a partnership.

Perhaps saddest aspect of all was that Oliver’s final appearance in claret and amber came in that old Taylor positon – up front. A Boxing Day home loss to Rotherham, with City badly missing Hanson through injury, saw him introduced from the bench to play targetman with three minutes to go. He barely touched the ball as City were deservedly beaten. It was no way for our hero to bow out.

Oliver does not reach his 30th birthday until this May, and I really hope that he has another five or six good years left in him to make up for the lost time of the past 18 months. It was the cruellest of twists of fate that a player who truly stood up when the chips were down didn’t subsequently get to enjoy the good times, but the mention of his name will always spark great affection.

He set the standards that others have followed. He raised the bar when it seemed no one else could or would stop it from falling further. He played a key role in applying the brakes and in turning around this club – and for that we will always be thankful.

The Midweek Player Focus #51: Gary Jones

24 Jan

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By Alex Scott

I’m not even sure it was the celebration that I’m remembering. I think it may have been winning a corner actually. After the ball spun away behind the dead ball line not long after half time, City’s captain bellowed a rallying call to his crowd behind the Bramall Lane goal. In that one moment completely changing the atmosphere, the momentum of the game, like a light switch.

He was a man in control. A man who would not be denied.

My favourite line from the manager over the past 18 months has been how he noted that he needed to build a team which the fans could believe in. Build it and they will come. That is Gary Jones.

That entire game was a vintage Jones moment. Everything from start to finish was just text book. The award of a “Man of the Match” felt like it was created for performances just like that.

Amidst the nadir of this demoralising run, Gary Jones dragged his City team kicking and screaming toward a point they had absolutely no business in earning. They didn’t come easily, some of the defending on show was beyond the last ditch, but Jones flatly refused to let them lose. Not on his watch.

It was almost Gerrardian in its single-mindedness. One man holding back the tide, Gary Jones harked back to the performances last year which endeared him so greatly to this City fan base, the likes of which have been less frequent this term.

A little over 18 months into his City career, Jones has achieved as much as anyone before him. Saturday’s performance illustrated that he isn’t finished just yet.

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As the story goes, he was noticed by Parkinson whilst scouting Stephen Darby, and on the recommendation of his assistant Steve Parkin, Jones was recruited. Not to be a spearhead as such, more like the spear itself. Jones was the man they needed for the short term, despite just turning 35. To clear space for him, Parkinson let go of budding young midfielder David Syers, who went up a league to recently-relegated Doncaster, for no fee. The irony that Syers is now plying away (successfully) in the division below City offers an apt vindication for the manager on that one. Especially because most of that fact is down to the work of Gary Jones.

Without Jones last season couldn’t have happened. After a long career as a cult hero at Rochdale, most looked at his signature at Valley Parade as something of a pension. Rochdale likely wouldn’t have offered a two year extension on those terms, and Jones could now secure his future a little longer. It should be noted that I was definitively of that mind at the time.

But, as with most things, and people really should never lose sight of this: I am a moron. I am not in the room; I cannot witness the intangibles he brings. Not that anyone can, being intangible and all, but you know what I mean. At that time when I would read words like “leadership” and “responsibility”, I would think immediately of Guy Branston’s inglorious tenure. And that’s on me, and I’ve learned that lesson. Branston didn’t fail because he was painted as a leader; he failed because he wasn’t up to it. Everything else was a sideshow.

However, when it comes to Jones, he has succeeded because he is a leader. His personality is woven in this team, and has carried them through some tough times and some great ones over the past 18 months. Which why anyone questioning his role in a time like this is just infuriating. Ritchie Jones being our starting central midfielder is really not that long ago.

Alongside Nathan Doyle in the middle of the park, Gary Jones made up the beating heart of a City side which was defined by its spine. A rock solid central defensive partnership led by Andrew Davies and the best strike partnership in the division book ended the midfield pairing which had the remit of setting the tone.

The rest of the team were relative stars at that level, but even in spite of that it looked often like they needed a spark, a thrust. And that definitively came from the tone set by Gary Jones. Involved in every set piece, he took responsibility from day one, single-handedly at times making them perform. From the first day of the season to the last he was pivotal.

Without him, the identity of the team would be… I don’t even know what it would be. The personality of Bradford City is as much Gary Jones as it is Phil Parkinson. The composed determination of the squad is actually often at odds with their manager’s frenetic demeanour.

Moving into this season, Jones and his charges managed to keep the engine ticking over until the loss of Andrew Davies, when the increased quality of the league proved a little too much to muddle through. But they still aren’t getting beaten. Despite a talent deficit, they are grinding out results, keeping their head above water unlike any City team in the modern era, which would already be at the bottom of the sea by now.

After one win in fifteen, and facing a two-nil deficit at half time, that second half performance at Bramall Lane could have been a turning point, for the first time in a long time, they looked like they were drowning. Enter Gary Jones.

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It’s curious that the rising tides of discontent which submerged our struggling central midfield last week have yet to reach Gary Jones. Not that I’m an advocate of it as such. It’s just weird, from the outside. You read the odd catcall of fans on the internet complaining about Jones, normally following a defeat, but it’s rare in comparison to what Jason Kennedy has had to deal with.

The likely explanation is that any argument over Jones’ worth can be debunked by pointing to games like the one last Saturday. Performances like that render any discussion asinine. And anyone who could have watched that performance and concluded that Jones was the key problem wasn’t paying attention. I’m not here to talk about his worth really. There isn’t really an argument to frame, and in all likelihood, the anti-Jones argument is a bit of a straw man anyway.

For where the team is, they need someone like Gary Jones far more than a nebulous quote creative midfielder end quote, whatever one of those is. And for fans who’ve sat through the last ten years not to appreciate that is insane. Paul McLaren was a quote creative midfielder end quote.

The team need people willing to take responsibility, at a time like this more than any other. They need people who won’t accept anything less than what is required. Gary Jones flatly refused to let City lose that game. After a disappointing performance first half where Jones spent the majority of his time screaming at his back four – not one ever pointing in the same direction as another – he came out for the second half and led.

That was it. He didn’t perform particularly well, but even with that caveat was still our most impressive performer. He dragged a team in the midst of a truly terrible performance (really don’t let anyone undersell how bad they were first half) kicking and screaming into a point. They didn’t even play well second half! They just willed their way to a point in a game where they should have lost by two or three.

He scored a deflected goal, willing to take a chance, and then set up the equaliser with the only bit of skill from an amber shirt all day long. He ran around the pitch screaming, lifting, dragging everyone. And he did it in a manner which openly took responsibility. The opposite of hiding. The anti-Yeates.

He played like the man Guy Branston wanted to think of himself as. But Jones actually had the wherewithal to back up the bravado. Gary Jones would not let them lose on Saturday. Anyone else in there, even a more gifted player, and City would have been comfortably beaten.

Jones’ running, and credit where it’s due, Aaron McLean’s running, gave everyone else a lift, raising the standard of what was acceptable. And those standards have been one of the running themes of this team. Jones is a big part of that. This side very seldom crumble and get beaten. They’ve been beaten by more than one goal only once all season: Notts County away, where the hosts scored two goals in injury time. For all the fatalistic talk swirling, that’s not a bad record. When James Hanson has started alongside either Nahki Wells or Aaron McLean, City have only lost one game also: Port Vale away at the start of the year.

Despite an apparent talent deficit and a team descending further and further out of form, they are rarely being beaten. They are hanging in. They are determined beyond anyone’s expectations. They will not be denied.

~~~~~~~~

It is curious that the talk around Jones hasn’t started in earnest though. Looking from the outside, one could rightly assume that a contingency plan for the 36-year-old captain out of contract in the summer should now be in place. In fact they look more reliant on Jones than ever. The future without him less imaginable.

And this is the conversation people should be having. Not that City should replace Jones now. This would be obviously insane. But shouldn’t there be some semblance of a plan? What if Jones wants to retire in the summer?

The mischievous soul in me would posit that perhaps Phil Parkinson is doing that with Jason Kennedy. Jones’ former teammate, nine years his junior, was signed on a two-year deal last summer, without a clear role in the team. Unless it would be as a back-up to Jones this year, with an assumption that by the beginning of next season Kennedy would be able to take up the mantle of his mentor.

Now I don’t know if that was the plan, but if it was, I’d argue that so far that such a plan may require revision. For all the will in the world Kennedy has seldom looked up to the task. This, of course, isn’t to say that he won’t ever be. It also isn’t like Jones has torn up trees in his play this year. The argument that Kennedy for a lot of the time looks like Gary Jones, but without the inspiration and leadership, is strong.

Beyond Kennedy, the reason there hasn’t been any new players blooded this year to spell Jones is that there aren’t any. Scott Brown was let go so that he could join Scottish Premiership outfit St Johnstone, and last week signed a new two-year deal, after making his league debut in October. Looking at the way the season has panned out, he’d probably have got some playing time actually. But with the acquisition of Kennedy in the summer, Scott had no choice but to leave.

The cupboard is bare behind Jones. He has played every minute this season, something that at 36 cannot have been part of the design from the off-season. But needs must. The manager obviously didn’t foresee such a dearth of performers in midfield, otherwise he wouldn’t have signed who he did.

~~~~~~

Gary Jones was the man the side needed coming from the bottom of League Two, and they undoubtedly overachieved. As we have seen over the past few weeks, with Saturday’s game as the exclamation point, he is still needed here. With his initial contract at the club winding down, and the aims over the next few years to establish and push on at this level, the question becomes inevitable: will he be the man they need?

Gun to my head, I’d say he will be. But it’s by no means a sure thing. Jones, along with Doyle, Ricky Ravenhill, Garry Thompson, and Kyel Reid are hitting the free agent market in the summer, and that moment marks a clear opportunity, and maybe a necessity, for Parkinson to recast his midfield.

The acquisition of Aaron McLean to partner James Hanson inevitably means that the tried and tested 4-4-2 will be retained, but the actual four in the middle of that are still up in the air. From that list, I’d think only Jones and Doyle were on the positive side of a 50-50 chance of returning. But if Parkinson was that way inclined, he could blow it up this summer. Kennedy and Mark Yeates are the only hold-overs from the midfield, so the manager does hold the freedom to re-draw the position group in any combination he likes.

The underlying theory of the midfield – two deep lying protectors and two attacking outlets wide – will not change next year. Hanson casts a shadow over the rest of the team in this regard, pun intended, and it has served us well enough thus far. You don’t have a team with James Hanson and not build around crosses into the box.

As this season has worn on, the questioning has been on the effectiveness of the team at this level, and whether one can win playing in the manner which we set out so often. A line of questioning which is really a moot point, as every time the side try anything else they look hopelessly out of their comfort zone. Again bringing me back to my last point, why have someone with such a powerful competitive advantage in Hanson’s height and not use it?

It shouldn’t be forgotten that at the start of the year it did actually work, very well. Now Hanson and McLean have been locked up for the foreseeable future, the method won’t change. They just need to get better at it.

The question for the manager with regard to Jones is whether that in the limited scope of a predominantly defensive midfielder the improvement over Jones he could gain from a free agent would outweigh the loss of his leadership?

Now I don’t know the market enough to come close to answering that, but from watching this team so often over the past couple of years, they’ve been defined by Jones. I’d, quite vehemently, argue that the impact of a central midfielder in this system is limited, and any improvement over Jones won’t cover the loss of his presence in the team.

This is obviously with the caveat over his level of play. Right now he is doing just about enough in his actual play to keep his place regardless, but if there was a regression over the next 12 months, not an unfair supposition, then the balance of that equation may shift. But for right now, that’s not yet a problem.

A conclusion that leads me to think that Jones probably will be back captaining us next season. He’s played every minute this season, and does as much running as anyone. The marginal cost of the next six months for him may not be as big as you’d expect for someone his age. He’s been playing this way 20 years. What’s another 60 games if you’ve already played 600?

And in the end, all of this is missing the point of Gary Jones. Do you want to watch him or not? Would you rather watch a City team with him in it or without? Isn’t thinking about Gary Jones and this Bradford City team a tautology at this point? He has to stay, because of course he does. He has to. They need him. We need him.

~~~~~~~

Objectively, I’m not sure Jones’ performances have necessarily improved or regressed from last year. The level of competition has obviously risen, and with that he has become less notable in his performances. Something which had to have been expected. But the question of his growth isn’t really the issue; he’s 36-years-old. The question is really about how much the side have grown around him?

The rest of the team are still reliant on Jones to carry them through the tough times. The vision of the team as currently constituted without him is a worrying thought. He isn’t as much a water carrier, as the water itself.

At this point the team, the club still need him. They haven’t proven themselves strong enough outgrow his shadow yet. Jones doesn’t need their protection; they need it from him, if anything. At this point they still need him, and even in the medium term, any team without him would be a fundamentally different outfit. They would be a fundamentally less inspiring outfit. For us and them.

League Cup miracle, one year on: Aston Villa part two

22 Jan

Width of a Post’s retrospective look back on last year’s astonishing League Cup run continues, as one year ago today Bradford City went to Villa Park and experienced one of the greatest nights in its history. Jason McKeown re-lives his evening.

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Two topics have dominated almost every conversation I have been part of since the League Cup semi final first leg, two weeks ago. The first – and most obvious – is whether we can we finish off the job at Villa Park. The other is the bloody weather.

Snow is covering up large parts of the country, especially down in the West Midlands. It presents hazardous driving conditions and prompts numerous warnings from TV weathermen to “only travel where absolutely necessary”. I’m spending a good chunk of my lunchtimes at work carefully monitoring the BBC weather 5-day forecasts. Will Villa Park be accessible? What sort of state is the M6 likely to be in on Tuesday 22 January, 2013?

Seven days before the big match we are halfway down the M6 – at Crewe – watching a 4-1 JPT defeat, with no one’s mind fully on the job. We are due to return to the same M6 junction on Saturday for a league meeting with Port Vale, but the game is called off on the Friday due to the weather. Good news for the players’ freshness for Tuesday, but more apprehension about getting to see it. The weather, the bloody weather. It could ruin everything.

The match itself won’t be in any doubt of course. Villa Park is a Premier League ground with undersoil, snow-destroying heating. And the fact that the game is live on Sky means the pressure of TV scheduling will be too great to worry about whether us ordinary supporters can actually make it. Keep watching the weather forecast, keep hoping. “Only travel where absolutely necessary.” A once-in-a-lifetime, major cup semi final, 100+ miles away obviously meets that requirement.

Distraction comes from planning. I’m driving to Villa Park – I drive to most away games – and with me will be my trusted friend and long-time City watching-partner, Steve. Then Luke, who sits next to me at work, asks if he can have a lift too. And then Kev – husband of our fellow work colleague Becky – is added to make it four. In the pub before the first leg against Villa, I’m introduced to a young lad named Sam. He will later find out that his Villa Park travel plans have fallen through, so gets in touch with me for help. Five of us in a car, this could be fun.

The planning is focused upon getting down there as quickly as possible, thereby allowing us a cushion to cope with any snow-caused travel delays. Some of my friends are setting off to Birmingham first thing, others are departing at 4pm. Me and Luke are on a half day at work so we agree to set off straightaway at 12.30pm. A military-precise schedule is devised for picking up Steve, Kev and Sam. We need to be firmly on our way by 1300 hours.

The distraction of snow and car pick ups is more welcome than I realise. It stops me thinking solely about the match itself. But as I wake up on the morning of the second leg semi final, fear and apprehension strikes heavily. Tonight, our emotions are laid on the line. It is all or nothing. A night of hedonism we can scarcely dream of, should City triumph, or a night of total and utter despair. There’s nothing in-between. I feel excited and concerned at different moments – but most of all I’m just utterly, utterly nervous.

The morning at work goes by slowly – painfully slowly – but finally it is 12.30pm. Close the lap top, quick change of clothes, get in the car with Luke. Get Sam, then Kev, then Steve. It all works perfectly and we are on our way to Villa Park. From Skipton through the traffic bottle-neck town of Colne and onto the M65, finally reaching the M6 junction. Weather conditions aren’t perfect but they’re more than passable. TalkSport keeps us company as the widely-felt nerves limit any great conversation.

Me and Kev are both due to become fathers for the first time during the summer, and as we whizz down the M6 talking about the realities of having a pregnant partner, I’m left secretly hoping that our children will grow up as friends, willing to one day be regaled by the tale of how the two dads once went to Villa Park together for a League Cup semi final.

By the time we reach Birmingham the late afternoon winter darkness has crept over and the snow on the ground is a lot deeper than it was in Yorkshire. We spot Villa Park’s floodlights and begin looking for somewhere to park. TalkSport’s Adrian Durham comes on air and does his best to quell our excitement with some rather unexpected views on our prospects of tonight’s game. For some reason deeply concerned about that widely unloved competition, the Europa League, he expresses hope that we lose tonight in case we accidently qualify to play in it. “For the good of English football, Bradford City must lose tonight.”

Ouch.

No matter, we are parked up and struggling to walk through the snow. A plan was in place to catch a train into Birmingham city centre to meet other friends for a beer, but it takes an age to find the nearby train station. When finally we do and are stood at the platform waiting for a train, my mobile rings. Change of plan, they’re coming to us. “Meet you in the Witton Arms”. We head out of the station; walk past Villa Park and find the said pub – where it seems most City fans are congregating.

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It is £2 to enter the Witton Arms, but there’s an unexpected bonus beyond the beer being reasonably cheap: you get to leave your fear at the gate outside. As we head around the corner of the building towards its main entrance, we are greeted by the sight of hundreds of City fans stood in the beer garden, loudly chanting about the team. Inside the pub it is a similar story – you can barely get through the door – and after we buy our pints, the five of us gather back outside to enjoy the mood. The rest of our friends are soon here to meet us, and the buzz is huge.

You leave your fear at the gate and revel in the moment. The beer garden is bulging with City fans and the chanting is non-stop. Rattle through the classics; stay warm through singing at the top of your voice. This is fantastic.

I feel electric. Forget the match, being here and part of these scenes ensures we will at least have some fond memories to take from tonight. The weather seems to be getting worse, but we’re here and we are parked up. Nothing is going to stop us from witnessing history.

Soon enough we decide to make the short, two-minute walk to the ground. At the gate where we paid £2, our fear is handed back to us like a coat stored in a nightclub cloakroom. This is it. This is it. Through the turnstiles, through the concourse and out into the away section. There’s half an hour to kick off and the ground feels very empty. The players warm up in front of us. The calm before the storm.

As is the way with all football stadiums, the home stands remain empty-looking until just before the match begins, but then suddenly become packed out. A fantastic sight. I’ve been here once before, back in the Premiership years, but wasn’t that impressed at the time. Tonight, Villa Park is imposing and feels rich with history. What a wonderful stadium, what a wonderful venue at which to complete the job.

The flags – where did they come from? Just before kick off, the 34,000 Villa fans present start waving claret flags and making an almighty racket. Gulp. The task at hand grows that bit larger in size. There are 6,500 of us City fans here, singing our hearts out too, but we are very much the little guys. They are the big bad wolves, now huffing and puffing at the door. There are three divisions between us, and all they need to do is beat us by three goals to smash our dream.

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The first half is horrible. I can barely look. Our players freeze, their players roar forwards and take the game to us. We are pinned back, barely able to touch the ball. The home fans are loud, so very loud. All of the worry and effort to be here tonight, and now I just want these 90 minutes to be over.

After we appeared to have weathered the early storm, Zavon Hines doesn’t get tight enough to the full back Matt Lawton and Christian Benteke menacingly volleys the resultant cross into the net. Feel the noise. The home fans are loud, so very loud. A few seconds later they score again, but it is disallowed for offside. Breathe. Soon after Benteke wastes a glorious chance to make it 2-0 and level the tie. Stephen Ireland is pulling the strings. I can’t look. This is torture. Our dream is being torn to shreds right in front of our eyes. The home fans are loud, so very loud.

Half time brings a huge relief. I look at my phone and amongst the numerous texts there is a delightfully sarcastic one from my boss, watching on TV at home. “Sky have sent home the cameraman covering the end you’re attacking,” he says. “There is nothing for them to film.”

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The second half begins better for us. We seem more of the ball, and Villa are knocking on the door less frequently. Still, it’s going to be a long 45. If only we could score. Ha! No chance. But then Hines wins a corner that is swung in and cleared for another. Gary Jones – stood a few yards in front of us – prepares to have another go. Prepares to take aim.

I’m sure there were a couple of seconds in-between James Hanson heading the ball into the net and the commencement of my celebrations. I had a clear view of the goal (and I can still picture my angle of it from inside Villa Park, one year on) but my mind simply refused to believe what I saw as Hanson’s header flew past Shay Given. I stood still and froze – did that really just happen?

Then, pandemonium.

We all completely lost the plot celebrating – one of my friends loses his glasses, twice. I’m hugging people next to me, in front of me, behind me. Jumping up and down for what seemed like half an hour. When I came to, everyone is still hugging each other and one of my friends even has to have a sit down, he is so shocked and overwhelmed. This just happened. This really did just happen.

And now, the Villa fans are so quiet, so very quiet.

The game completely changes. Villa don’t react well to the blow of conceding, they fall apart in front of our eyes. The singing is coming almost entirely from the 6,500 City fans, who are on cloud nine. The team more likely to score next – incredibly – is us. Hanson should really have a second but mis-directs a header. Then substitute Garry Thompson smacks a shot against the bar with his first touch. Villa are on the ropes. It would just take one more jab to finish them off. But no matter, time is running out and we are ready to score a points victory.

Minutes away from stoppage time, another sub, Blair Turgott, nearly throws it all away. He has the ball by Villa’s corner flag and just needs to keep it there. Inexplicably, he crosses it into a penalty area that is occupied by just one City player. Given easily catches the ball, boots it down the field and Andreas Wiemann runs around Matt Duke to score.

F~^k.

The game is back in the balance. One more Villa goal and they force extra time. Four minutes of stoppage time still to play. The Villa fans are loud, so very loud. They force a corner. I can’t watch. I have to watch. The corner is cleared. Villa win back to the ball. I can’t watch. I have to watch.

The fourth minute of stoppage time is over, and we are just about there. The realisation of what we are about to achieve begins to sink in, and I have tears rolling down my face. All my football-supporting life I have dreamed of going to a major cup final. I never thought it would ever actually happen, but here we are. The final whistle blows, and somewhere on the Sky TV gantry Martin Tyler immortalises the moment with the words “Bradford City go to Wembley, Bradford City go to Wembley”.

The League Two side has defeated the Premiership club. A bad thing for English football, apparently – but an incredible thing for us.

We’re cheering just as wildly as when Hanson scored 40 minutes earlier. The players are going potty in front of us, looking as disbelieving as ourselves. This sort of thing never happens. Never. We are going to Wembley stadium for a major cup final. The City fans are loud, so very loud.

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I don’t know how long we celebrate for, but before long Villa Park is empty apart from the 6,500 City fans. The lights are switched off, “We’ll sing in the dark” is the chant. But eventually we head out into the Birmingham night. In all the chaos me and Steve eventually find Luke, Kev and Sam so we can head towards the car. We’re hugging each other, talking like five-year-olds on Christmas day morning. Villa fans come up and wish us good luck for the final. I look at my mobile and I have dozens of congratulatory text messages and several missed calls.

We finally get back to the car and we’re back on the motorway surprisingly quickly. In the rear view mirror I take one last look at the floodlights – and realise I’ve not stopped smiling for the best part of an hour.

This feeling, this pride – you want to bottle it up forever. I was at Molinuex when City were promoted to the Premier League 14 years ago, but this somehow feels even more exhilarating. Hanson’s goal was one that I have celebrated like no other. Football supporting doesn’t get better than nights like these; where the sense of achievement is incalculable and the realisation of what’s still to come leaves you excited that this party is a long way from being over.

The conversation is not going to change for weeks yet.

______________________________________________

Read our look back on the League Cup miracle

Bradford City 3 Aston Villa 1

Bradford City 1 Arsenal 1 (City win 3-2 on pens)

Wigan Athletic 0 Bradford City 0 (City win 4-2 on pens) 

Bradford City 3 Burton Albion 2

The early rounds

2013 reviewed by Bantams Banter and Width of a Post

16 Jan

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Against a backdrop of 12 years of underachievement and crushing disappointment, 2013 will be fondly remembered by Bradford City fans for decades to come. To reflect back on the many, many achievements of Phil Parkinson and his players, Bantams Banter have recorded a special podcast reviewing 2013.

Width of a Post was delighted to be invited as guests on the one-hour programme, with writers Gareth Walker and Jason McKeown joining Tom and Dom to re-live the best Bantams Banter clips and share memories of that incredible 12-month period.

We’re unlikely to see the like of Bradford City’s 2013 again, so pour yourself a glass and indulge in some recent nostalgia.

Click on the image below to listen to the podcast.

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League Cup miracle, one year on: Aston Villa part one

8 Jan

Continuing Width of a Post’s retrospective look back on last year’s astonishing League Cup run, one year ago today Aston Villa came to Valley Parade for the first leg of the semi finals. Alex Scott re-lives an unforgettable night.

“Ohhhh my goodness! It is McHugh!!! It is three one!!!”

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I’ve watched this game a bunch of times; more than any other. Even someone who vicariously lives through sports as much as me doesn’t really watch sports events back multiple times. I have a DVD of the last Ryder Cup, bought in an attempt of forced nostalgia, but I’ve only started it once, and skipped to the denouement right away. Looking through my computer, I’ve a video of the David Tyree Super Bowl from a few years back, and a replay of the epic NBA Finals Game 6 from last year. I’ve no idea why I have these.

Needless to say, I’ve never watched them back. I suppose it’s an adrenaline thing, sports. Without that ticking clock inside you, televised sports are just watching people run about. Watching sports when delayed from real time is awful, even when you haven’t had the result spoiled. Something happens when you become disconnected with the wider world’s timeline. That’s why the vast majority of TV I watch is live sport, even sport I don’t even care about, especially sports in the middle of the night. I see you Winter Olympics, I’ll be there don’t you worry.

The Aston Villa game is an exception.

I must have watched the 10-minute video highlights package on Bantams Player a 100 times. I know every beat, every moment of the game. All the ebbs and flows. I know what Martin Tyler is going to say even before he does. In the two weeks between this game and the second leg I reckon I watched that video at least once a day.

My Dad has each of televised games from last year saved on his TiVo, and every time I’m back in Yorkshire I normally wind up watching at least one. And regardless of the meaning of the Arsenal game, or the return leg yet to come, or the final, this is the game I normally pick. The act of clicking play is the ignition in the Delorean.

Each time I watch it my mind (and body) are instantly transported back to how they were that night, fraught and manic to within an inch of the extreme, not knowing which way to turn. Sitting in the front room, with Martin and Don Goodman alongside for the ride, my heart is pounding.

This game is a time machine. Emotions were that high, the pressure was that intense. A year ago, only a year ago. In many ways I can’t believe it actually was a year ago; in more I can’t believe it was only that.

————

Don’t look to the future, because you’ll break it somehow. You’re only allowed to think and hope in the present tense. From the final whistle against Arsenal until February. Never look forward. You’ll jinx it.

This feeling is so novel. I normally only look at the long-term, it’s a wonderful excuse for the underwhelming present. Not today. No distractions needed. I’m excited and I just want to enjoy it. Or I was anyway.

I think it must have happened sometime between my office in London and St James’ Park tube station, but I can’t really remember. There wasn’t a dawning moment in particular that sticks with me; just two senses of being: one of childlike excitement, and one of abject terror.

It’s definitely dawned now in King’s Cross, as the fiver I had earmarked for an extravagant McDonald’s just wound up going on four cans of lager from M&S, panicked. Now I’m in my seat on the 1605 to Leeds 10 minutes early, my knee jigging like I’m a getaway driver waiting for an accomplice. How did I get here?

I had been excited. Even in the office not 30 minutes ago I took my colleagues’ best wishes in my stride, nonchalantly batting them back with a smile like Alastair Cook, circa January 2013. I was no longer excited. An army of Mitchell Johnsons were careering down the carriage toward me, and I only had a willow and an England helmet to protect myself.

It feels like the barrier coming down over top of me at the start of a rollercoaster. My heart is racing. The anxiety, the mania is beginning. There is nowhere to go. No control. I can only live in this moment, and I’m too preoccupied to do anything. Don’t look down. Don’t look down.

The patchy Hertfordshire phone signal means that I can’t even take up the most millennial of distractions and “read” Twitter. Not that any actual reading takes place, just instinctive pulling down on a screen, eyes scattergunning anywhere and nowhere. Instead I’m just sat, staring out of the window, looking vacant. I hope I’m blinking.

I suppose this comes with every big game. This is normal, right? It’s normal. And quit asking yourself questions, that’s what crazy people do. This is definitely different from the Arsenal game, the last time I’d pulled the 17-hour office-to-office round trip. That was fun. I was carefree on that one.

Even my reflected eyes in the window pane look nervous. I’m just rolling into Leeds city centre, that was fast. Thankfully those beers, plus those I two I bought from the man somewhere around Grantham, had the desired effect: the edge has been taken off.

After the quick connection up to Forster Square, I’ve just got the jaunt up Manningham Lane to the ground, the same trip I’ve done a thousand times. This mundane walk, those bloody Forster Square stairs I always think I’m at the top of one flight before I actually am, the same route I’ve walked a thousand times before. Another dawning moment. The excitement is beginning to coming back. Everywhere, the people. Everywhere.

In the weeks leading up, and this afternoon in the office, tonight felt like a pipedream. Even though I knew it would be real at some point, it didn’t really feel like it. Once the journey up began, that awareness dawned on me I guess. This is real, and this is massive. Everywhere. Look. This is real! And this is massive! This is alien. People talk about electricity in the air, it always sounds like one of those silly things people say, but there is something. Excitement by osmosis perhaps?

Walking across Hamm Strasse, seeing the lights from the ground streaming up from beyond the houses, calling like a homing beacon. I’m on the upwards incline of the rollercoaster. The heart is picking up, the pace of everything is firing. But I’m calm. In control. The shirts everywhere, half-and-half scarf salesmen from somewhere and everywhere, the Villa fans spilling out of the pubs, making an unholy racket in a Tesco’s car park, it was all real.

YIPPEEIIIAAA!!! YIPPEEEIIIOOO!!! This was how the other half lived, and this was fantastic. That noise. That noise.

I

You couldn’t say it had been coming. The corner was just a vent if anything. I wasn’t even sure it was a corner, not from where I was looking. A moment to breathe, that’s all it was. A release of pressure which even at this stage felt like it was about to crush. They were coming for us, and they were on top of us. Every time they attacked it looked as if the hastily assembled force field behind the makeshift back four would be breached. Christian Benteke was towering above our back line; every ball forward inextricably caught within his gravitational pull. This wasn’t the Villa I signed up for. Where was the disarray? The angst?

I still think it was handball. That was my initial reaction: screaming penalty just as the balled rolled into the corner of the net, disorientated, not really knowing what just happened. To this day I watch Zavon Hines’ shot; the imperious Howard Webb’s booming arms swipe across his body to indicate no infraction, and still don’t really understand.

After seeing the ball nestle in the corner, as I imagine most did, my eyes shot down the right touchline to the linesman waiting for the inevitable. The drop was coming. Yet nothing materialised. I still didn’t understand.

The Yippeeiiiaaas from across the Valley fell silent for the first time in forever, and even from way back here you could see the whites in the opponents’ eyes. You could see it. You could feel it. They could see in ours that we felt it. That noise. It might not have been a standing eight, but they were rocking. They were rocking because they felt it. That noise.

————

This is top of the world I think. I could just peek out over the Midland Road stand into the illuminated Yorkshire night to illustrate the great heights of where I am, but I can’t look away from this, I can’t take a moment to breathe. I’ll just have to take my own word for it. We’ve had the first release of the ride, but this is white knuckle. I can’t look away, I can’t think about breathing, I can’t look away.

Every attack they look like scoring. I haven’t prepared myself for this. Why didn’t I prepare myself better for this? Brace! Wide. Saved. Saved. Saved. There are prolonged seconds, minutes it feels where I don’t dare breathe lest it distract them down there, lest Matt lose his balance from the weight of my angst and mania. The hysteria appears to be everywhere. Saved. My friends are speaking to me, I’m not registering what they`re saying. Just smile. Wide. I can’t hear myself think anymore. Am I even thinking? Our fans are as loud as can be; their fans are turning, they’re turning!

It feels like my eyes are one more direct run from Charles N’Zogbia away from falling out of their sockets completely. The insides of my body are bouncing back and forth from skin to skin. I wish I had some alcohol to calm me down and just numb everything. I can’t take it.

Just don’t say anything, don’t think anything, stay in the present tense, stay in the present tense. Don’t look away. Brace! Saved. Don’t look down.

II

Nahki Wells was on the run for our lives. Respite had been harder to find in recent times. We’d barely reached half past nine; still far too long on the clock to think of the end. Behind him a gaggle of compatriots desperate for air; in front an ocean of green.  He was on the run, and he had to move now. The Kop were pulling him forward towards their open grasps, screaming at the rope in front of them.

Seconds were ticking off the clock. We’d just managed to dodge the best chance they were ever going to get to kill us off; this was our chance. The ball spun away for a corner and it felt like everyone in attendance knew. We’ve all watched enough football to know. Tick.

They were exhausted after 75 minutes of firing at our shape shifting target; any defensive reorganisation we could draw may lead to slip, a momentary slip. Nathan Baker a little slow; Ciaran Clark a little late. Just once. And like that… he’s gone. “The busiest footballer in the land!!!…”

The five minutes from Bent’s miss, to that header was the key period in the tie. A different outcome there, and that was that.  I remember wanting to start a conversation before the corner to attempt to reverse jinx the moment by reemphasising its potential importance, because just if… but shhhhh. Don’t look down. I instinctively grabbed my Dad’s shoulder. “Holy shit he’s unmarked!”

The rest is noise.

————

Is… Is this happening? I mean, if we could ju… Shhhh! Nobody say anything! Nobody think! Don’t say anything. Don’t think. The mania is here. This is real, this is real this is happening this is happening is this happening? The noise I can’t think I can’t breathe I can’t the noise the noise don’t look down don’t look down don’t look.

CRACK.

III

That was it. That was the chance. The chance. It had to be. Villa were dazed and confused; the defenders playing with invisible blinkers covering their eyes. James Hanson had a similar chance in the first half where he’d got a step on Ciaran Clark and it was scrambled off the line. But there was no Fabian Delph to save them this time.

It was a great ball in from Blair Turgott; he couldn’t have placed it more perfectly within that twenty yard defensive vacuum around the Villa penalty spot. They were coming apart at the seams. The noise, the moment had overwhelmed them; the referee had eight fingers up and Ciaran Clark was blinking.

Crack.

That was it. The momentum that had been built up, the hysteria snapped in an instant as everyone in attendance breathed out in unison “that was it”. We were all back in the room. Still twelve minutes left. “Away goals count right? Damn.”

As Hanson lay prostrate in the penalty box, no salvation coming, embodying how we all felt. All the momentum evaporated into the ether, and Lady Luck, our lieutenant of so many weeks in a row stepped out for a fag.

Five minutes later and the hammer dropped. There were about three minutes in there between the McArdle bullet and the crossbar where we could have dreamt. Now it was gone. I must have looked down. Reality was now at the door. One split second of indecision from our teenage centre half, and that was it. All of this would end up being an inconsequential detour. I’d have taken that this afternoon; I’d have taken it on Hamm Strasse. But not now. Not after all this. The Football Gods are cruel but even for them, this is rough.

There are still probably ten minutes left to see off; and that just dawned on everyone. Tick. Tick.

YIPPEEEIIIAAA!!! YIPPEEEIIIOOO!!! 

————

Reality bites like a stomach punch. I didn’t prepare myself well enough to deal with this. Home plate was within sight and we’re going to be left stranded on third. That had to be it. The away goal. And they were coming again. Just don’t look. Don’t look Forget down, just close your eyes.

Maybe this is OK? I mean, what more could we have hoped for, really? It’s not like we were ever going to qualify over two legs. But we’ve given them a real go here. We’ve still got a chance of a lead, not enough to protect, but enough to valiantly go down in flames in triumphant defeat. In a world like this, isn’t that the best anyone can hope for?

This is the first time I’ve looked down in 80 minutes. This is truly remarkable. Like a hypnotist has brought me back into the room and I can see all the staring faces around me, smiling. The rollercoaster carriage has floated off into the dark nothing, the adrenaline has gone, and my mind has cleared.

I wonder if this feeling is the norm in the parallel universe. The romantic in me wants to think of it like the world on the other side of Geoffrey Richmond’s coin. If he decided to swallow his hubris that summer and realised that the manager was the most important thing, this is the world we could have been living in. Night games at a packed Valley Parade, Sky cameras abound, Aston Villa in town. “…Oh it must be! And it is!!!…”

Is this feeling normal over there, or is that manic excitement from before the norm? Would they feel that? Wouldn’t they want to? Maybe this had been a dream. Or maybe everything else in between that fateful summer and this had been.

Back in the room. Go on Blair son, get at him! One more chance? Here we go again. Free spin of the wheel, house money on the table. Quick glance at the scoreboard. Tick? Don’t look down.

IV

Every time I think of that moment; I relive it with Don. I flip back through my memory tapes, and see that corner curl away to the penalty spot from my vantage point high in the Co-op; eyes drawn to Carl McHugh running away from me, with a step. But even in this video in my mind, I hear that noise. That release of breath. A disbelieving squeal. Don. 

Just like the second goal, home and away fans, players and managers alike; everyone knew. There were no calls to keep the ball in the corner, despite the proximity to a famous victory. No whistles for the referee. This is the chance. This is the moment. We’ve all seen enough football to know. It had to be put on the penalty spot for someone to become a hero…  

“Ohhh!” That noise. Don.

That noise is my memory of it really. Of course I remember the goal from both angles, mine from high above in the Co-op and ours together from the other side through the lens. But my first instinct, like a hypnotist’s bell, is that noise, followed by the rapturous cacophony from behind the goal. In my head, Don was sat next to me, leaping into the air alongside. In that moment it felt like we were all Don Goodman.

That moment would last for two weeks. That euphoria lasted for two weeks, as if I was drunk the whole time. Every moment on the tube, every moment in a queue down the shop, every moment staring at but not really watching TV, was that moment. I didn’t need to fiddle with my phone anymore. I didn’t need to occupy my mind anymore. I didn’t need any more.

The prize wasn’t financial, it wasn’t hierarchical. Because at the end of the day, whatever right? The prize was that moment. That memory. That noise.  

“And all of a sudden, we’re dreaming again, Martin. We are dreaming… again.”

————

I don’t remember what else I did that night. I wake up at the same point every time. Those moments, and the subsequent two weeks are just a haze. I don’t remember what I did, when, or with whom. It feels like I just pressed the pause button in my mind for that fortnight. Refusing to look down. Never look down. I spent most of it with Don Goodman.

My cup of tea has gone cold on the table. Every time.

______________________________________________

Read our look back on the League Cup miracle

Bradford City 1 Arsenal 1 (City win 3-2 on pens)

Wigan Athletic 0 Bradford City 0 (City win 4-2 on pens) 

Bradford City 3 Burton Albion 2

The early rounds

We Made History – where do we go from here?

28 Dec

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By Phil Woodward

2013 will live long in the memory for all associated with Bradford City, due to two Wembley visits in a season and promotion from League Two. We currently sit in the top half of League One; and although many would say that is a success at this stage of the season, there are plenty that demand more than that. We know where we’ve been (stuck in League Two for years) and we know where we are now. But where should we be heading in the next few years?

We find ourselves in a tricky position at this moment in time. We are told we are £1 million over budget for the season, despite a League Cup Final appearance and a promotion. It looks like the crown jewels could be sold to the highest bidder come January to offset some of that deficit. Many will say you get nowhere selling your best players, but can a club like ours really afford to turn down any serious offers when we see the player’s value depreciating as the months pass by, due to soon being out of contract?

The alternative is to try and keep hold of our best player(s), but then they will be expecting better wages. Where is the extra money going to come from if we provide new contracts on better wages, and can we afford to do this or will we be living beyond our means? Some suggest raising season ticket prices, while others believe the club need to do more to attract corporate interest and sponsorship to the club. That is easier said than done when so many small businesses will have been hit hard with our previous administrations and lost faith.

A mid table finish this season would not be a disaster, as long as we recruit well in the summer. That has probably been the biggest problem we have faced this season. We seem to lack any strength in depth, and players brought in, such as Jason Kennedy, Rafa De Vita, Matt Taylor and Caleb Folan, have disappointed on the whole; whereas Mark Yeates seems to have the ability but questionably not the desire or attitude to go with it at times.

The feel-good factor and momentum of last season seemed to carry us into the early stages of life in League One, but it does seem like we have been found out and it is recent performances rather than just results that have some fans worried about the rest of the season and the halt to our progress. The most worrying, for me, was the lacklustre performance at Rotherham in the FA Cup; and comments that followed that suggested the happy dressing room was not as happy as might have seemed.

One thing we can’t afford to do is stand still. I don’t care about the promised land of the Premier League, as each season the gap between them and us grows like a chasm. The Championship is where we should be aiming and, in the next three to five years, I believe the aim should be to establish ourselves as a Championship side. The local derbies would surely sell out Valley Parade, and we could look forward to local rivalries with sides such as Burnley, Barnsley, Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds.

Those sorts of games would bring the fans back to Valley Parade and would surely help the finances. I have the belief that those games would easily see between 20,000-25,000 fans at the stadium and also see an increase in season tickets sold. Promotion to that league would probably have a huge impact on finances, but then Championship players expect a Championship wage and the problems start all over again.

At a Skipton Bantams fans forum a while back, I asked Mark Lawn what the mid-term goal was for Bradford City FC. His answer was to get 3 points on Saturday, which kind of proves what I was thinking: that we don’t have a plan going forward. We seem to just throw money at a manager in the belief that a large wage bill will buy us success. How many years did we try this and get nowhere? We also found out that you can’t get promotion on the cheap or with third-rate Scottish players. Was it a large wage bill, pure luck or good management that got us to a League Cup Final and out of that god forsaken pit of a league last season?

I believe a decent wage budget helps, but a manager will be judged on his signings and working within the given budget. The signings that Parkinson has made this season have so far let him down. I am sure Kennedy was expected to take the baton from Gary Jones, but he hasn’t looked like the player we thought we were signing. We can’t write him off yet, but he needs to improve when given his chance and make his mark on the team.

If Reid were to move back down south to be with his family, then De Vita doesn’t really look like the man to fill his boots. He had a bright opening 10 minutes at Preston away and then faded out of the game and is another that hasn’t impressed when given a chance. Folan has had cameo appearances in the same mould as Alan Connell, and was unlikely to keep James Hanson out of the team; while Taylor seems like one of the most pointless signings of recent times, closely followed by Michael Nelson.

It would be interesting to hear what Lawn, Julian Rhodes, David Baldwin and Phil Parkinson now have to say about plans for the next three to five years. Establishing ourselves in League One might be the main aim, but for me the Championship has to be the objective. Surely teams like Barnsley, Huddersfield and Doncaster can’t have much bigger wage bills than us. I am sure some will point out that two of those mentioned are currently struggling at the bottom of that league, but it wasn’t that long ago we were competing with these teams.

A pessimist would say we are heading for a relegation fight and will find ourselves back in League Two within the next few years. An optimist would say we will be top half of the Championship, and a realist would probably say we will be mid table in League One. I hope those in charge of our club have the ambition to keep moving forward, and I would rather have them at the helm that some foreign sugar daddy that has no connection to the club and would want to bankroll us as a hobby and then drop us when they got bored.

The recent signing of Hanson on an improved contract was a huge plus for the club. The return of Andrew Davies will be like a new signing and will give some much-needed leadership to the defence. If we could sign Nahki on an improved contract it would be the icing on the cake. A change in personnel in the New Year could see us with another late run to the play offs similar to last season, but we must remember this is only our first season in this league and we have already shown we can compete with the best of them.

The failure to sign a creative, attacking midfielder has cost Parkinson, and it is no coincidence that teams like Rotherham and Peterborough are doing well when they have players like Tomlin and Pringle pulling the strings in the middle of the park. Maybe Yeates could fill that role, but that’s for the manager to consider. Other teams also seem to have players that will contribute to the scoring charts, whereas we have an over reliance on the front two and see Rory McArdle, on two goals, as our fourth highest scorer this season.

January will be a pivotal time for our season and possibly for the immediate future of the club. Will we be seen as a selling club that needs to cash in on our best assets to balance the books, or will be seen as serious promotion contenders that can fight off all the vultures circling round Wells as his contract runs down?

The management team have worked wonders with Hanson. I can remember times when he would mistime his jumps and fail to win headers regularly in a game. He would make straight runs towards a central defender and it wasn’t long ago that Michael Duberry had Hanson in his pocket in a game at Oxford. He now makes diagonal runs, leaps like a salmon and hardly misses a header, also getting direction on them and proving the perfect foil for Wells. This transformation has seen the former Co-op shelf stacker score in a League Cup Semi-Final and a Play Off Final.

If Steve Parkin and Parkinson can also do that with some of our other players, such as Kennedy and De Vita, then the future will be very bright. There will be players that are released and others that come in to replace them. If we can address the areas that seem most problematic and replace Wells if he does leave, we would have an outside chance of a play off spot this season.

If we don’t manage that, we still have to support the management team, the players and the chairmen to move forward and plan for next season.

2013 reviewed part two – Bantams Banter witness history being made

23 Dec

For part two of Width of a Post’s review of 2013, Jason McKeown asked the award-winning Bantams Banter podcast duo, Tom Fletcher and Dom Newton-Collinge, to share their personal highlights of a fantastic year for club and podcast.

The Aston Villa semi final

Dom: The away game against Aston Villa was my favourite ever moment as a Bradford City fan. The home leg was pretty special, but being at that away leg was just something else.

We recorded a podcast of the match and so were based in the Villa Park press box. We felt very fortunate because it gave us a unique vantage point where we were watching all of our fans enjoying the moment. We had the benefit of being able to see their reaction as well as watch the game. So from a broadcaster’s point of view, it was so amazing.

Tom: The first leg was fantastic too. But I think you went away from it thinking that we might have been a bit lucky and that Aston Villa were going to thrash us in the second leg. But the game at Villa Park was not like that in any way, and all we had to do was score a goal to as good as seal our place at Wembley. As soon as it went in from Hanson, to see our fans erupt was amazing.

Dom: When that goal went in, I felt my eyeballs move forwards – and that’s not supposed to happen to your eyeballs! The two of us cuddled. I have never cuddled anyone as tightly as we did then. And you can imagine what he was like cuddling me. It was like being attacked by a bear! I had to remember my best Bear Grylls moves to get out of it!

Tom: When the goal went in, we forgot that we were in a press box. The desks were really tight and we were knocking everyone’s gear over.

Dom: I nearly started a fight with Talksport. They weren’t happy with us!

The build-up to Swansea final

Dom: We set up this show four years ago when Bradford City were in the doldrums, because we wanted to do something that was a bit more positive. Everything was negative back then. The City Gent could be very negative, because it was full of moaning old men. We wanted to do something that – although the form on the pitch wasn’t great – would perk City fans up a bit. And it did work for those first few years. We got a lot of people listening to us, who said that we had been a positive during some really bad seasons.

To then experience success while doing this show was unreal. And in the run up to the Swansea game, we were getting phone calls from all corners of the world. We were asked to present all sorts of things.

Tom: The most surreal moment was pulling up outside Valley Parade in our campervan to do a piece for Football Focus, and just as were about to get out these Norwegian guys came up with cameras and said “Can you do a quick interview with us for Norwegian TV?” They stuck the camera in the window before we had chance to get out! That was surreal.

We also ending up dancing on the Valley Parade pitch to sing our Wembley song ‘Let’s get ready for Wembley’ for Al-Jazeera TV. I’d love to see that footage!

Dom: There were so many amazing moments. One of the best was the Radio 5Live evening at Valley Parade, where we were asked to sing ‘Let’s get ready for Wembley’. When the fans in the room started singing our song back to us, I felt like Billy-Ray Cyrus!

Tom: It made me proud, but I did feel like “oh my god” when they originally asked us. To sing live on national radio was so nerve-wracking. We shouted the chorus and we couldn’t believe it when people sang it back at us.

The cup final experience

Dom: In terms of being a Bradford City fan, Aston Villa was the best moment I’ve ever experienced. I’m not taking anything away from the play offs, but at Villa Park we scaled the top of the mountain and then everything else added to it. The play offs were a situation the club had been in before, but the cup final was completely unexpected. Finding out you are in a cup final was almost better than being in the cup final.

Tom: It was considering what happened in the cup final!

Dom: The cup final was brilliant. I mean forget about the result, because I think most City fans expected us to lose in the cup final. Getting there, being at Wembley and to see 30,000+ City fans singing proudly during the closing stages. Again we got to see that from a broadcast position. It was unreal. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was just spectacular.

Back to Wembley

Dom: For both Wembley trips, we were extraordinarily lucky to be there in the press box recording a podcast. It was a dream come true. The best thing about it was that our listeners paid for it. They paid for the licence we needed to acquire to be allowed to record the podcast. There are absolutely no words that can express what that feels like.

Tom: After getting to Wembley for the first time, we were so grateful and had thanked our listeners so much. Then it happened again with City getting to Wembley for the play off final, and me and Dom had this phone call where we said to each other, “How are we going to get there for a second time?” The thought of asking listeners to donate for the licence felt really cringe-worthy.

But, as it turned out, we didn’t have to ask. People started sending us money before we’d asked. So we thought, “Wow, we don’t really have to beg.” And again, that meant so much to us.

Dom: What other podcast show has a relationship with their fans like that? It was just unreal. That is the highlight of 2013 for the pair of us: the fact that we’ve got this fantastic relationship with our listeners. We were lucky to be able to broadcast from Wembley, and to get to number one on iTunes, because of our listeners.

Tom: Pre-match we were on Wembley Way for BBC Radio Leeds, talking to fans, which was amazing because we got to talk to hundreds of fans on the morning of the game

Dom: We were able to get a real feel of the general atmosphere before we did the podcast, which was really cool because we could pick up on everyone else’s emotions; rather than just our own.

Centenary Square

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Tom: For the promotion celebrations at Centenary Square a few days later, the Pulse (who organised proceedings) asked us to talk about our Wembley experience in front of the crowd. We were a bit daunted by it to say the least!

Dom: It has an honour of course, but standing in front of a big crowd of Bradford City fans, with probably 50% not knowing who you are, was scary.

Tom: We were on the balcony behind the players when they brought the trophy up. It was like being a witness to history, a behind the scenes viewpoint. Just surreal. I can still hardly believe our luck that we were up there.

Dom: It was really emotional for us and a real privilege.

BB award number one – BBC Radio 5Live Fans of the Year

Tom: This award was voted for by 5Live listeners. I feel like we won it because we were seen as representatives of Bradford City fans and how Bradford City fans had been perceived in the media.

Dom: For the first Wembley trip, the nation took City fans to their hearts because we showed the true football fan spirit. Even when we were losing so badly to Swansea, there was no real anger. We appreciated the fact that we were there and made the absolute most it.

I think that we Bradford City fans represented themselves so well last season; especially from the Arsenal game, where tickets sold really well and the ground was packed out. It really came to the media spotlight in terms of “look how loyally supported they are, look at how much they are enjoying this spectacular situation that a club in League Two shouldn’t find themselves in”. I think that me and Tom were put out there to win the award as a potential representative of supporters, and we won it because of what all Bradford City fans had done.

Tom: It was an absolute honour to be thought of as representatives like that, because Dom and I are less than a scratch on the surface of what Bradford City was and is, as far as fans are concerned.

Life in League One

Dom: It’s nice to cover some new teams on the podcast! We’ve gone through a few years of featuring the same opposition sides, and it can be a little bit repetitive. Especially as player turnover is not that high.

Tom: In terms of League One, I think the standard of football is slightly better, although the referees seem to be worse! And I wouldn’t have believed it possible!

Dom: As a fan, I’ve seen Bradford City fall out of League One. And when we were in League One, I remember thinking “This is a low, it can’t possibly get any worse”. But then it did. And we were stuck in the basement of league football for a long time.

Tom: I know that current form isn’t amazing, but I’m quite happy with where we are at the moment. Me and Dom chatted in pre-season about how, as long as we don’t get relegated and build on it next season, we will be pleased with this season. Because that’s progress. We’re no longer stuck in League Two. We have gone up and we have managed to hold a decent position.

Dom: Recent results haven’t been amazing, but we’ve seen a lot worse and I’m just appreciating the fact we are having a good season. I think the only Bradford City fans that will be disappointed with how things are going this season will be those who perhaps stopped going to watch us a few years ago, but have been tempted back after last season.

Tom: We’re both happy to be patient with Phil Parkinson. He has brought a lot of good things to this club. He’s changed the attitudes of many supporters. We shouldn’t be willing to let go of that just because we’ve not won many games of late.

BB award number two – Football Blogging Awards Podcast of the Year

Tom: For ourselves and Width of a Post, as representatives of Bradford City fans, to both win at the Football Blogging Awards was the cherry on the cake of what was a fantastic year. To beat Liverpool, Arsenal and Man City podcasts, in our category, was an amazing feeling. It’s a massive honour for us.

Dom: We were shortlisted in a category that – like Width of a Post’s – was heavily voted for. So we did canvas people for votes.

Tom: I think you annoyed a few people asking so much!

Dom: I did, but we received amazing backing anyway. I think Bradford City fans are generally loyal towards fan-based media. If there is something Bradford City related, they get behind it. Look at all the fundraising for the Burns Unit, for example.

Last week we sold some badges for the Bradford City Disability Squad because they wanted to raise funds to buy a mini bus, to travel to away games. And these badges sold out in one match. Which I think that shows that Bradford City fans like to get behind things. I’ve got every confidence that that is why we won the award. Same as it was for Width of a Post. Bradford City fans are appreciative of what is on offer for them, such as blogs and podcasts.

“Tis the season, of the mighty Bantams”

Dom: The club got in touch with us and said they like the idea of us doing a Christmas song. They said that if they can put it on their YouTube channel, we could have access to the players.

Tom: So we went down to film the video, and the players were really into it. They were dancing and singing along. We never thought something like that would happen. That professional footballers would be happy for two idiots to tell them when to click their fingers and start singing. They’ve got an image to maintain!

Dom: Getting the players involved with something we have done was bizarre but we felt really proud. It was a fantastic way for us to end 2013.

It’s been a great year for Bradford City – I would argue the best – and it has been a great feeling to know that we have played a part in people’s enjoyment of it.

2013 reviewed part one – the alternative Wembley view

On behalf of everyone at Width of a Post (and Tom and Dom) – Merry Christmas!

2013 reviewed part one – the alternative Wembley view

16 Dec

On each of the final three Mondays of 2013, Width of a Post is looking back on an unforgettable year. In part one we reflect on the two visits to Wembley – not from the viewpoint of Bradford City fans in the West end of the stadium, but what two opposition supporters made of their respective days.

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Swansea City 5 Bradford City 0

League Cup Final

By Huw Richards

There is visual evidence of how I felt before the League Cup Final. A picture on page 67 of Huw Bowen’s book ‘Swansea City: Road to Wembley’. A group of fans including Prof Bowen posed on Wembley Way, all smiles of anticipation. Well, nearly all. Second from left is a bearded, bespectacled 50-something in a brown leather jacket whose expression might be termed pensive. The caption reads, in best West Walian demotic ‘C’mon, Huw Richards, mun. Cheer up, it’s a blydi cup final!’.

But that was the trouble. When your club has taken 101 years to reach its first major final, there’s no reason to believe it will happen again in a hurry. To win a real trophy is the fulfilment of every football fan’s dream, cherished perhaps most fervently by those of us who spend most of our supporting lives with no realistic hope of it happening. It had to be now, or very likely never.

Bradford had inevitably, and quite rightly, dominated the build-up. To get to a final while playing at level four was an achievement deserving all the acclaim it got, and had the additional merit of diverting even the most trivial of mass media away from That Bloody Ballboy.

Nor was Bradford’s status any reason for complacency. The last time we played a League Two team, Shrewsbury in late 2011, had also been the last time we lost a League Cup tie. Our closest call on the trek to Wembley came at Crawley, lately of the same league.

Both of us had recently played Aston Villa. Bradford won over two legs, while we scraped a last minute draw at home. Bradford had knocked Arsenal out of the League Cup. Arsenal knocked us out of the FA Cup.

There would have been no disgrace in losing. A palpable air of mutual goodwill, summed up by Jason McKeown’s When Saturday Comes musing that ‘I’d be supporting them, if they weren’t playing my team,’ hung over Wembley Way. It was a contest of clubs and cities with much in common.

But we would inevitably have gone down as the Premier League club who blew their best chance of a trophy against a team from three leagues lower. However much goodwill you feel, nobody wants to be the fall guy in somebody else’s happy story.

Hence perhaps the difference in collective miens on Wembley Way. Bradford colours are much more vivid than our own, but this also seemed a rare occasion when the Swans fans were beaten for decibels per capita. Bradford’s good cheer seemed unforced, our own underlain by an edge of apprehension.

But that was also Bradford’s chief misfortune – that they ran into a rare Premier League team to whom the occasion mattered just as much. Their best chance would probably have been against one of the oligarchs, absent-mindedly chasing a trophy they see as, at best, a consolation prize.

We perhaps got lucky to be playing a lower division team whose instinct was to play football. A traditional up-and-under, stick-it-in-the-mixer-and-see-what-happens battler might have been more of a problem. But that doesn’t mean Bradford were wrong to play the way they did. Wembley isn’t the place to start playing against instinct.

So the match followed a template laid down in the first minute, when the Swans passed and passed and Bradford’s first touch was a clearance for a corner. With Bradford evidently under instructions not to dive in and commit themselves, it increasingly resembled a training session – the Swans passing, moving and switching while Bradford chased, covered and hoped to pressure them into mistakes.

Being in possession was reassuring – one element most pundits miss about Swansea’s style is that having the ball a lot is our first line of defence – but barely steadied underlying nerves. That only happened as the goals came, and it was not until number three went in on 50 minutes after a build-up featuring two superb dummies from Michu that it was really safe to believe the cup was coming our way. The ecstatic leap by Michael Laudrup, usually an impassive touchline presence, suggested he felt the same.

Then came number four, and a different sort of anxiety. I certainly didn’t want to see Matt Duke sent off in a match that was already decided, still less to see Bradford humiliated. Subsequent interviews have suggested that the Swansea players felt the same. Four was plenty, the fifth an afterthought when the risk of real humiliation had passed.

The remainder had a dream-like quality. Part of me believes that we entered a parallel universe some years ago and that in reality we’re still getting beaten 4-0 at Rushden and Diamonds. The idea that we were about to take a real trophy still seemed barely graspable.

Those closing stages belonged to the fans – the Swans exultant, Bradford still proclaiming pride in their club and its achievement. There was a hint of call and response in the Swans answer to chants of ‘Stand up for the 56’ and a glorious gallows humour in Bradford singing ‘All we are saying, is Give Us A Shot’. The applause when Gary Jones, recalled by some of us as a raw, angular midfield Scouse recruit to the Swans in another millennium, gratified that minimalist desire in the final minutes was worthy of a winning goal.

The unmatchable moment post-game had to be Ashley Williams lifting the trophy. Status, as supporters of both clubs know, is temporary. But we’ll have this for ever, just as Bradford have their 1911 FA Cup and, it can be argued, Manningham’s inaugural Rugby League championship.

But a close second was the guard of honour Swansea’s players gave to their Bradford counterparts. Whether it was planned or spontaneous, or whose idea it was, I have no idea. Laudrup made clear his respect for Bradford’s achievement ‘This match was history – a small part because of us, but mostly because of Bradford’. But if asked to guess, I’d suspect that Ashley, remembering his own years in the lower leagues, might have been the author of this gesture of respect. And while seeing your team win a trophy offers pride enough, to see them as good winners, honouring a worthy adversary, redoubled that feeling.

One problem with being in the Premier League is that the cacophony of witless chatter around it cuts out most other experience. It is easy to lose sight of the lower leagues. But I’d imagine that many Swans fans took rather more notice than usual of the later stages of League Two last season, and were delighted to see Bradford promoted. I’d not bet against us meeting again as league opponents, and sooner rather than later.

That sense of February 24th as a bit of a dream lives on. I’m unlikely to have a better year as a football fan than 2013. Three linked events stand out – the semi-final victory at Chelsea, Wembley and the Europa League win at Valencia. It was mind-blowing just to be playing Valencia, never mind winning. All three were in Cups and I’ll remember them as long as I live. But as to 2013 in the Premier League, the ‘Promised Land’ where you ‘Live the Dream’, that giant 24/365 generator of cash, bombast and bullshit in equal quantities – most of that has gone already.

There’d be a message here somewhere, if only Sky, 606 and other culprits too numerous to mention would turn down the volume so I could hear myself think.

Huw Richards is a third generation Swans fan who saw his first match in 1966. Since then he has seen Swansea lose on more than 90 different grounds (including Valley Parade). A freelance journalist based in London and well-known for contributing regularly to When Saturday Comes, Huw was also a writer on cricket and rugby for the International New York Times, former (1995-2009) rugby correspondent of the Financial Times, author of several books including The Swansea City Alphabet and co-editor of the Cambridge Companion to Football, into which he smuggled references to the Swans and to Ivor Allchurch, who he still ranks as their greatest player.

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SAM_1074

Bradford City 3 Northampton Town 0

League Two Play Off Final

By Danny Brothers

18 May 2013…a day that we, as Cobblers fans, were hoping never to forget. It ended up being a day that we wanted to rid our memories of as soon as our feet stepped back on Wembley Way. As we trooped back down the famous walk way the fact that there were just claret shirts heading for Wembley station told the whole story – the Bradford supporters were starting a party that gave them their dream ending to a season that will go down in their history.

And didn’t they just deserve it. My experience of Bradford up to that point was that they were a true sleeping giant at League Two level, always high in the betting for promotion candidates yet never fulfilling their potential. It is to their enormous credit, then, that their fantastic supporters were out in force for their second Wembley appearance of the season for a play off final of the basement division.

Not only that but they were up for it. Since the whistle blew on their fairy tale adventure to the League Cup Final a few months before they had been on a run of form that would have frightened anyone coming into the play offs, and I for one was hoping that they would finish in the top three – I fancied us against any of the other play off candidates but not the Bantams, who had used the cup final defeat to spur them on to a morale boosting finish to the league season.

Burton Albion threatened valiantly to almost bring their tale to an end but after a turnaround victory for Bradford in the other play off semi-final, coupled with the Cobblers’ narrow wins over Cheltenham, we knew how tough the final would be.

The big day came and from the moment I arrived I felt that I was there more in hope than expectation. Bradford had a real balance to their team sheet that any League Two club would have died for whilst the Cobblers had amazingly dropped Bayo Akinfenwa. The City fans were well and truly ready and confident with the Cobblers end shrouded in nerves.

That feeling spread to the pitch as well and so it was that half an hour ended any hopes at all of a glorious chapter in our history books being written. We were simply blown away across the pitch and in the stands and had no answer. James Hanson and Nahki Wells were tearing us to shreds whilst Kyel Reid was causing endless problems.

Hanson and Rory McArdle sunk us before we’d even settled and, of course, Wells got his obligatory goal against the Cobblers. After twenty eight minutes we were dead and buried with a good run of defensive form shattered by a front line gagging for more.

Pride was the only thing at stake for us in the second half with Bantams fans already planning their evening celebrations that were starting at the other end of Wembley. Bayo was brought on far too late and his final acts as a Cobblers player were minimal. Bradford had come, seen and conquered in ruthless style.

I remember sitting in my seat for an age after the final whistle – partly to reflect on how close we had come pre-Wembley but mainly to make sure I applauded the winning team as they made their rightful way up the steps to lift the trophy. In a morbid way I think I stayed to make any successes that do come one day on days like this that bit sweeter, but the Bantams were worthy of congratulations from both teams.

It was a day that I can’t ever fully erase from my memory – it was a stunning first half an hour in so many ways and Bradford completely knocked us into submission before we’d got into any stride. Their supporters were a credit to their club and I’m sure continue to be just that in League One. It’s no surprise to any Cobblers fans how well they are doing and I genuinely hope that they can make it back to back promotions come May 2014.

We will meet again one day and, though there will always be the Wembley banter, I hope that there’s a new level of respect between the two sets of supporters. Next time, though, please warn us before you smash us to smithereens!

Danny Brothers is the editor of the fantastic Northampton Town blog, A Load of Cobblers. He juggles writing his site with caring full time for his amazing daughter and keeping his house on the outskirts of Bath relatively clear of mice. Danny is very happy that City donated Matt Duke to Northampton, and is hoping Ricky Ravenhill’s loan move is soon made permanent.

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