Tag Archives: Arsenal

League Cup miracle, one year on: Arsenal

11 Dec

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Width of a Post’s retrospective look back on last season’s incredible League Cup run has reached Arsenal in the quarter finals – one year ago t0day. Katie Whyatt recalls the night when the Bantams beat the mighty Gunners.

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

We’re going to win, I tell myself – and anyone who’ll listen – as I wrap up against the December cold and take the walk down a darkened Manningham Lane littered with the painful memories of the journeys home from too many crushing defeats. We have to win this. ‘Cupsets’ happen every year, and it’s our turn to be the heroes, to take the starring role in a David and Goliath fairytale, to be the plucky underdog the nation coos over. We’ve just got to score first, and then defend everything out of the game. Or keep calm and take it to penalties. Either – or both – will do just fine.

We are joined by my brother’s friend, Alfie, an Arsenal fan (I treat this with quiet enthrallment, admiring him as you might a curious animal at a zoo – ‘one of them is in our territory’), as we weave in and out the throngs of claret and amber. Alfie is confident. And it’s assured, well-founded confidence, rooted in the fact his team is in the Premier League, is bursting to the brim with millions of pounds worth of talent and comprises entirely of seasoned internationals – not that any of them will play. Wenger wouldn’t waste his prize assets on a cup competition, especially one against a League Two club that has spent the best part of the last ten years struggling down the slippery slide from the top flight.

Still, the thought of losing is a sobering one. I don’t want to get knocked out tonight. I don’t want to have to be consoled at the final whistle. I don’t want to be the one rueing missed chances during the post-mortem at school tomorrow. I don’t want to have to ultimately concede that the magic of the cup shrouded me in ignorance and left me prone to delusion, my ill-advised optimism just a means of protecting myself from the inevitable. We’re going to give it everything, I decide. It’s written in the stars.

A crisp layer of frost coats the turf as winter grips the stadium, the Valley Parade night enfolded in a sheet of bitingly cold December air. A harsh chill is afoot, and one that will regress to sub zero by the time the additional half hour rolls in, but it doesn’t matter – we won’t be staying long. Arsenal will brush us aside, and that will be it. We take the short walk to our seats and gasp at how perfect our position is: metres from the press box (a source of quiet fascination for an aspiring writer and avid Bantams Banter listener), metres from the tunnel and just centimetres from the pitch.

Touching distance. Poised for an upset.

Wenger’s side warm up in front of us. The media were wrong; there are some big names on that pitch. Flipping heck! He’s not been conservative, that Arsene Wenger, and his oddly flattering team selection sets the heart racing: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Coquelin, Podolski, Gervinho. His bench alone could pass for a first-string Champions League side.

We take pictures of all four stands, of the scoreboard, of random Arsenal players, and film the fans as they chant, “Bring on the Arsenal!” This is the best atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed at City. The raucous roars exuded by the Kop, complemented perfectly by the unrelenting crackle of applause from the fans housed in the TL Dallas stand, is magic. As the stadium announcer runs through the teamsheets, it’s clear the shiver down my spine can be attributed to more than the low temperature.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we will be kicking off in just under five minutes.”

Five minutes? That went quick! The air is rife with anticipation now, the suspense building with each foreboding pound of the infamous Valley Parade drum. Bradford City and Arsenal. This is really happening.

Then, that’s it.

Crunch time.

Only at the shrill ring of the referee’s whistle do I realise what I’ve let myself in for. The butterflies lurch around violently in my stomach and I pin my eyes to the pitch, too scared to glance away, to blink, to look at anything other than the battle between the megastars and the minnows that’s playing out before me. Thankfully, City are holding their own. Wells looks threatening. Doyle and Jones are controlling the middle, giving Arsenal a tough time of it. The back four look sharp. But, most significantly of all, Hanson is terrifying Mertesacker. He’s winning headers and the defender’s giving him a wide berth. I think Alfie’s quietly impressed.

Suddenly, Wells breaks free down the right. He rages into space. The Arsenal midfielders trail in the slipstream. He’s sent tumbling down. Valley Parade pauses. The stadium waits. The referee points to the floor.

Free kick.

Gary Jones raises his arm to the sky, charges and swings his boot. His perfectly executed cross finds the head of a rising Will Atkinson. Garry Thompson, stood beyond the far post, unmarked, hands in fictional pockets, just chillin’, suddenly springs to life, and fires home with a sweet left-foot volley. 1-0.

This is mad. This is just mad. We are leading. We are leading. WE ARE LEADING! This is our second in the spotlight! This is our glorious underdog moment! This is why we kept faith through every relegation battle, every failed promotion campaign, every defeat to Accrington, every disparaging comment from Leeds supporters.

Garry Thompson, the man who had been panned a month or so ago for looking lacklustre on the wing, has just smashed City in front against Arsenal. A-R-S-E-N-A-L. People will tell their children, their grandchildren, their great grandchildren, about this moment, about that man. Garry Thompson, cemented in our history books: our new cult hero, inaugurated on what’s quickly becoming the greatest night of our history. I imagine this is what the Premier League days must have felt like: powerful, intoxicating, an emotion verging on euphoria. All those tiny teams I’d willed through the cup over the years – Barnsley, Havant and Waterlooville, Histon… We are now among them.

We are giant-killers.

It takes just a minute before the chanting starts. Brash, bold, confident, the product of the ethereality leaking from every pore.

“You’re getting SACKED in the morning! You’re getting SACKED in the morning. SACKED in the morning! YOU’RE GETTING SACKED IN THE MORNING!”

I can’t believe it. We’re singing that to Arsene Wenger. The Arsene Wenger. The one more used to frequenting the Emirates, and trudging up and down the touchlines of Anfield and the Etihad. The one who wears that coat. The one on television every day. The one who’s now scowling morosely at his players, brow furrowed, arms folded, staring at the pitch in subdued embarrassment.

“YOU’RE GETTING SACKED IN THE MORNING!”

The chant is intensifying, growing louder with each word. Before tonight, I didn’t know you could sing that loudly and that passionately about a team, that a goal could mean that much to that many people. But now I do. And I’m joining in with every single song.

City continue to hold out as the volume is cranked up to full. Arsenal are enjoying the lion’s share of the possession, but they’re failing to capitalise on their dominance. The ball goes over, wide, against Matt Duke, anywhere but actually in the net. Promising play from Jack Wilshere undoes the Bantams midfield and the Gunners look set to score, but the ball skirts past a hapless Gervinho in potentially the most comedic miss ever. The Kop heave a collective sigh of relief.

Arsenal throw everything forward, exploring every avenue, simply refusing to lie down. Chamakh to Duke. Wilshere to Duke. Gibbs and Sagna and Oxlade- Chamberlain to Duke. Cazorla strikes the upright. Meredith wins a challenge. Darby follows suit. McArdle belts it forward. City are clinging on by their fingertips and I don’t know how much more I can take.

Arsenal corner.

Cazorla crosses in from the flag and the ball is knocked clear. But it’s not good enough. It’s swung back in, and Vermaelen hops through the cluster of defenders to fire home.

“NO!”

This isn’t happening. No. This isn’t how it’s meant to be. It can’t end like this. Please. Not after everything.

Two minutes from time. Just two minutes. Practically over the finish line. Nearly clasping the upset we’d been craving. And now we have to endure half an hour of Arsenal scoring for fun. This isn’t fair; this is cruel.

And what makes it even crueller is that the Bantams could’ve won this. They genuinely could have. To come this far, to defend as well as they did, and to leave with nothing, is criminal – anyone will tell you that. But the Gunners had been playing with us all along: teasing us, taunting us, tricking us into believing we had a chance. I resign myself to a loss and slump in my seat.

But it starts. The infamous chant that’s been following the team since Burton. The one they’ve been unable to shake off. A slow rumble, at first, coming from the Kop. Then, from the Bradford End. And, before we know it, it’s sweeping across the Main Stand and we’re all united together in a passionate, all-engulfing wall of noise, determined to see this one through.

“IT’S ONLY A CUP! WHO GIVES A F**K? WE’RE SUPER CITY AND WE’RE GOING UP!”

The noise is unrelenting, Arsenal also. It’s all blue shirts. How they’re not finding the net is beyond me.

Slowly, the seconds die away. The clock begins to tick down. 3, 2, 1, 00:00. It’s all over. The referee blows his whistle. Cheers, applause, throaty shouts – the promise of penalties celebrated almost as loudly as the Garry Thompson goal. Because City might be bruised, battle scarred and absolutely shattered, but they’ve made it to the shootout.

Which means there’s only one outcome.

Doyle and Jones slot home to give City a confident start, but the impossible happens for the visitors: Duke and the post deny Cazorla and Chamakh respectively. What’s going on? We’re all alive now, daring to believe. We can really do this.

The party stalls as Stephen Darby’s weak penalty is all too easily parried away by Szczesny, and the tension mounts further when Jack Wilshere flashes in with a clean effort. Alan Connell shows both sides how it’s done with an unstoppable smash into the roof of the net, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gladly retorts to put Arsenal back in the contest. Ritchie Jones’ feeble effort is then brushed away.

By now, I’ve lost count of what means what, who has to score and who doesn’t. So, when Thomas Vermaelen begins the long walk to the spot, I don’t know what’s happening. I see him step back, run and hit it. Duke dives the wrong way. An open net gapes invitingly before the Belgian.

He hits the post.

The celebrations are delayed for me. It is only when I see the players sprinting over to Matt Duke, the fans invading the pitch, Jack Wilshere flopping to the floor, that I know what’s just happened.

“WE’VE JUST BEATEN ARSENAL!”

The hurt of a thousand fruitless seasons suddenly begins to pale. All the pent-up anger, pain and frustration are exorcised in one big, cathartic release. The elation is mind blowing, incomprehensible. You can’t buy this. You really can’t. I don’t know where I am, what’s just happened, if what I’ve just seen was real. But it is, and I don’t want it to end. I am in a glorious bubble of Bradford City and Arsenal, oblivious to the rest of the world. Tonight, nothing else matters.

Tonight, we have just beaten Arsenal.

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Read our look back on the League Cup miracle

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

Bradford City 3 Burton Albion 2

The early rounds

The best is yet to come?

11 Jun

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By Andrew Baxter

I kid you not; someone called me a “glory hunter” a couple of weeks ago, for following my beloved Bradford City to Wembley. How times have changed!

Being 17-years-old, I only vaguely remember the “glory years” of Molineux 1999 and the Premiership era. My first ever City game was Aston Villa at home, on 3 February, 2001. I was just five years old, so my recollections are sparse at best. Although I can’t remember much about the game, I have been reliably informed that season that City lost 3-0. Typical, you might say! 11 years on, I was sat in nearly the exact same seat to see the Bradford City crop of 2013 take on Aston Villa in the League Cup semi final.

It was during that Villa game that I realised how much the club had changed in the 11 years I have been going to see them. I’ve seen three relegations, two administrations, nine managers and numerous defeats, in exotic locations such as Macclesfield and Accrington. My generation is one which has mainly associated City with decline (we almost went out of the Football League altogether last season!) with defeats, and general negativity.

I’ve had several taunts of “why support Bradford? They never win!”, but in my view, that’s not the point of supporting a team. I could never gain as much satisfaction from watching Manchester United pick up another trophy than I did when Garry Thompson scored “that” goal against Arsenal.

But this season has showed a complete reversal of the fortunes of the club. Gone are the dull, dreary home defeats against footballing giants such as Stockport and Barnet, these have been replaced by demolitions of teams, even some at the very top, to the stage where James Hanson (who used to work in the Co-op, as the song goes) outplayed Per Mertesacker (two World Cup semi-finals, and a Euro 2008 runner’s up medal). Gary Jones (a 36-year-old from Birkenhead) outclassing Santi Cazorla (World Cup and European Championship winner). It is the stuff that dreams are made of!

My Dad used to (and still does) tell me of cup runs of the past – Southampton at home, Everton away – but these are merely a selection of YouTube clips to a youngster like me. This season will live long in the memory, and could have long-term benefits for the club in general.

Apart from the obvious financial rewards for the club, the cup run has inspired the next generation of youngsters to support Bradford, rather than one of the “big” teams, like Chelsea. This is evident from the 31,000 we took to Wembley for the League Cup final (and the 25,000 we took again for the play off final). This can only be good for the club, as perhaps these youngsters could persuade their friends and families to come watch The Bantams in action.

Another possible positive is the amount of under-16s playing football in the region, as a result of City’s rise and success this season. More children supporting the club and playing regularly surely will result in a greater chance of a hidden gem being unearthed. The Bradford Schools’ under-15 side won the National Schools Cup the other week. And, with five of the team in the Bradford City youth system, this can only be beneficial for the club.

With more children playing regularly, comes more talent, and a possible chance of a future first-team player that supports the club through and through.

It has been proven before that success for Bradford can provide future positives for the club. For example, after the Premiership years, youngsters like Clayton Donaldson (who we released, incidentally, but has still forged a successful career) and Luke O’Brien have come through the youth system.

Hopefully in five years’ time there will be another crop of promising youngsters proudly wearing the claret and amber of Bradford City. And if this is the case, then (as Frank Sinatra sang), the best is yet to come!

Andrew Baxter’s own blog, The Field of Play, can be found here.

2012/13 season review: The best trip, I’ve ever been on

28 May

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By Jason McKeown

It was the year of walking onto the field to the supporter-created song ‘claret and amber’. Of hooped home shirts. Of Flexi-cards. A year where Valley Parade was filled to capacity for the first time in over a decade. Where we were looking up the league rather than down. Of over-achieving in the cups. Of selling out numerous away games. Of Gary Jones.

Right from the start, you suspected this could be a special one. League One Notts County away in the League Cup kicked off the season. We travelled to Nottingham on a baking hot day merely in the hope of a good performance, accomplishing not only that but a credible 1-0 win. The BBC called it a “giant killing”. This was just the warm up.

The league began with a bang too. After an opening day loss, back-to-back home wins over Fleetwood and Wimbledon set the tone for a sustainable promotion push. The Dons were swept aside in stunning first-half fashion – 5-1 at the interval – and it was hard to avoid feeling wildly optimistic. “Champions by Christmas” one of group of friends quipped. “No”, responded someone else. “Champions by August Bank Holiday”.

Pre-match optimism

Rotherham was a reality check. The first of many City away sell outs, we rocked up to the wonderful New York Stadium in expectation, but went 1-0 down within 75 seconds and would go on to lose 4-0. Accrington a week after not much better, despite a 1-1 draw. Perhaps it won’t be so easy: Champions by Easter?

But we soon got into our stride. Barnet were woeful, Morecambe swept aside in thrilling fashion – Jones’ first City goal met with a pump-fist celebration in front of the Kop. He and Nathan Doyle were forming a great partnership, James Hanson and Nahki Wells could not stop scoring. The summer warmth lingered long enough for a t-shirt day at Oxford in late September, with a 2-0 win taking us joint second.

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A fourth win on the trot was achieved in the cup against Burton. What a night that was. Even at 2-0 down at half time, confidence was high that we could win it. Kyel Reid came off the bench and destroyed the Brewers, and fellow sub Wells netted two late goals. The celebrations for his last minute equaliser up there with any moment we’ve experienced this season. Stephen Darby’s extra time winner was academic.

Bumps on the road to promotion followed. Port Vale ending City’s 100% home record – undeservedly so – 10-men Rochdale could not be beaten on their own patch, and then at Dagenham the Bantams managed to go 4-1 down with a late two-goal fightback in vein. A trip up the A1 to Hartlepool in the JPT was memorable only for another City penalty shootout victory and a nightmare drive home due to roadworks.

We needed a big win, and defeating a fellow promotion rival – Cheltenham – provided that. 3-1 having fallen behind. Mark Yates correctly moaning about being denied a penalty when his side was 1-0 up. Wells was the hero. Not a great performance, but a great win. Wells netted again three days later at Northampton. Now we’re cooking.

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The League Cup run was getting really exciting. We went to Premier League Wigan in Round Four – initially a disappointing prospect, but following news of a 5,000 City away end sell-out, excitement for a good night. Losing at Burton three days earlier – with the added nightmare of injuries robbing us of Luke Oliver for the rest of the season and Andrew Davies until February – meant we went to the DW Stadium with little hope. A stunning performance ensued, capped off by a penalty shootout win. Duuukkkkkeeeee!

That set up a quarter final home tie with Arsenal. How to concentrate for the six weeks in-between? Progress in the FA Cup occurred with a memorable 3-3 replay – and yes, another shootout success – over Northampton. City’s lowest home crowd of the season, but one of the best games.  In the league, form was mixed, but a trip to Bristol Rovers stands out as one of the season’s highlights. It was wet – very wet – and the away terrace offered no protection. But we skidded in the rain in celebration of City coming from behind three times to earn a point. Fantastic character.

But it was all about waiting for Arsenal. Tick the games off. Port Vale in the JPT, good fun. Brentford on a Friday night in the FA Cup, notable for how drunk one of our group was (“It is pay day drinks!”) and City temporarily getting kicked out the competition for fielding loanee Curtis Good. Three days before the Gunners came to town, an important 1-0 home win over Torquay was sealed by a superb Alan Connell strike. He was fast cementing his status as super sub. Will Atkinson, James Meredith and Rory McArdle were also in excellent form.

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So now we can enjoy the Arsenal game. It was bitterly cold, and Manningham Lane an hour before kick off was packed out in a way I’ve not seen for years. Long queues to get inside the Kop; and just as we made our way to our seats, the Arsenal team was announced. Blimey, they are taking it seriously.

Garry Thompson’s opening goal is one that we will treasure for years to come. We’re beating Arsenal! Just 70 minutes to go! Incredibly, we almost held out. A late Gunners equaliser would surely cost us, but we held on through extra time with the noise levels from a packed out Valley Parade never relenting. Penalties. Say no more.

The next night, a group of us got together to watch the semi final draw. Please be Villa, at home first, was my wish. That is what we got. Another scramble for tickets, but both legs sorted out with only a couple of sleepness nights. Now back to the League…oh dear. After scrambling to victory over Accrington on Boxing Day (Connell again!), form fell off a cliff. Rochdale embarrassed us; at Morecambe we rued that miss by Hanson; Barnet thumped us 2-0 three days before Villa. At least the likes of Stephen Darby and Zavon Hines were impressing.

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Oh what a night we had, in the home leg against Villa. I’ll always remember a friend in the pub beforehand predicting “3-1…and I begrudge Villa that 1!” and thinking he was mad. But he could not have been more right. Rory McArdle’s header that made it 2-0 saw Valley Parade rock like it hasn’t since Gordon Watson netted a brace in front of the same Kop end in September 1998. I lost the plot celebrating. The wonderfully promising Carl McHugh’s goal for 3-1 was special too. If you could dismiss the Wigan and Arsenal wins as being on penalties, there was no talking down of this one. League Two Bradford City had beaten Premier League Aston Villa over 90 minutes.

Other games happened in-between the two legs, but attention was only on Villa Park. A 4-1 thumping to Crewe in the JPT was painless in the circumstances, save for how ridiculously cold it was. No one minded that Saturday’s trip to Vale was called off, let’s just hope this heavy snow doesn’t make it impossible to travel to Birmingham.

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I took a car-load to this game. As a group some of us barely knew each other, but by the time we met up on the street outside Villa Park at full time, we were on hugging terms. The first half was horrible as Villa came flying out the blocks; but then Gary Jones swung a corner onto Hanson’s head, 10 minutes into the second half, and we were gleefully celebrating an improbable equaliser. I will always remember my good friend and fellow Width of a Post writer Gareth Walker needing a sit down next to me, as he was so overcome with emotion. A late Villa winner added anxiety, but we did it. What a night. Perhaps the best moment of my time supporting Bradford City.

We were in the League Cup Final at Wembley. Even writing this article months after, I can’t help but smile at the absurdity of that statement. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime.

Reality bit back at Fleetwood a week later, with a 2-2 draw on the North-West coast not what we needed to close the gap to the play offs. A 1-0 defeat at home to leaders Gillingham – our only home game in-between Villa and Wembley – was played out with an air of obvious distraction on and off the field. At least we beat Wycombe away in midweek, but a 2-1 loss to bottom of the table Wimbledon eight days before Wembley was not ideal.

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What more can you say about Wembley One? The build up was phenomenal.  The world’s media camped out at Bradford, covering every angle possible. Revel in all the TV and newspaper coverage, enjoy the players being treated like rock stars. “Now live to the Cedar Hotel in Bradford, where the players are about to board the coach to Wembley” Sky Sports News told us. The challenges of producing this website were increased by numerous media requests. I loved it.

As I loved Wembley. It was a special feeling alighting from the train nearby and walking down the streets with hundreds of City fans. The pubs were packed out, the nerves were growing. A walk up and down Wembley Way was more wonderful than I could ever imagine. The first look inside Wembley was an awesome moment. 33,000 Bradford City fans making an almighty racket. I shed a tear before a kick off. An incredible day out.

Shame about the football.

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The hangover from Wembley was not insignificant. With so much ground to make up on the play offs, every game felt win or bust. A good 2-0 victory at York aside, it was a tale of dropped points and anger. “Does Phil Parkinson deserve his new contract?” some asked. A couple of miserable buggers even plummeted to the depths of writing off the cup run as “lucky”.

The nadir moment, for me, was a 0-0 draw at Plymouth on a Tuesday night in March. I travelled down with two friends, booked into a Travelodge, and the tame performance convinced me that faint play off hopes were over. That we couldn’t get on a run of wins. That it was time to start planning for next season. A 4-1 loss at Exeter the following Saturday only added to that conviction.

But how wrong I was. The surge began with a low key 1-0 win over Wycombe. A 2-2 draw with Southend felt like two dropped points, but then three wins in a row over Torquay, Northampton and Bristol Rovers improbably put us in the top seven. Even automatic hopes weren’t over! Thompson was in great form, Davies a rock in the centre of defence and Reid had rediscovered his swagger. The decision to pick Ricky Ravenhill over a fading Doyle had also helped. RR’s sitting in front of the back four bringing the best out of Gary Jones.

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The stall came with a 2-2 draw at Chesterfield in what was a superb atmosphere, followed by a 2-0 loss to Rotherham in front of a packed out Valley Parade. Still, seventh spot was sealed with a 1-0 win over Burton. A trip to Cheltenham on the last day meaningless, but we had a good time nonetheless.

Bring on the play offs! Burton had the best home record in the Football League, so taking a lead to the Perelli Stadium for the second leg seemed vital. Alas, we endured a dreadful first 45 at Valley Parade to go in at half time 3-1 down – and they might have had more. We’ve frozen, blown it, folded. Burton could have finished us, but a save from Jon McLaughlin, at 2-0 Burton, was vital. Thompson’s stunner gave us hope for the second leg. Burton had let us off the hook.

At Burton, the players more than made amends. Determined, bullish, confident. Wells made it 1-0 to level the tie, and we never looked back. Hanson’s stunner early in the second half sparked delirium. Wells made it 3-1 and we were in dreamland. Blow your whistle ref…six minutes injury time, eh?…blow your whistle ref!

The final whistle brought relief and ecstatic celebrations on and off the pitch. What a wonderful sight to see the players going crazy in front of us. What an uplifting moment to see Parkinson punching the air.

Back to Wembley!

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More serious this time, the consequences of losing would be. We’re not massive underdogs on this occasion, the expectation level was much higher. Less time spent taking photos down Wembley Way, leave that to the Northampton fans. We’ve got work to do.

What a time to produce your best performance of the season! We never gave the Cobblers a sniff. Three goals in 13 minutes. All pile on top of each other. Disbelief at how easy it was. No relaxing until the closing stages. See out the job. The atmosphere was so special.

When Gary Jones and Ricky Ravenhill lifted the trophy, the outpouring of joy topped anything we’d seen all season. And there had been plenty of other outpourings of joy. Promotion a fitting reward for an incredible campaign. 64 games. I personally saw 52 of them. I don’t want to think about how much that cost me, but it was worth every single penny.

The 2012/13 season – one of the greatest in the club’s history. And undoubtedly the most fun I’ve ever had.

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The 2012/13 Width of a Post Match of the Season

26 May

By Jason McKeown

In addition to voting for Player of the Season, Width of a Post writers were asked to rank their favourite matches of the 2012/13 season.

In fifth place…City 1 Arsenal 1 (City won 3-2 on penalties)

League Cup quarter final, Tuesday 11 December 2012

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In any other season, this evening would have stood head and shoulders above everything else as the highlight. Yet this would prove to be just the beginning. Sky commentator Bill Leslie stated after the final whistle, “Cue the celebrations, the like of which they have not seen for many a year”, which was true. But such celebrations would be repeated numerous times over the subsequent months.

An Arsenal side packed full of big names, a sold out Valley Parade, a cup quarter final – this was special. We all expected to lose, but then Garry Thompson smashed City in front to spark delirium. We almost held out until the final whistle, but a late Thomas Vermaelen header forced the game into extra time. Despite strong Gunners pressure, the Bantams hung on and triumphed in a nervy shootout.

The media said:

“Bradford boss Phil Parkinson, who used to scout for Arsenal, assembled his team for just £7,000 while Wenger’s team cost more than £70m. But you cannot buy heart and fairytales like this. It was an upset that will live long in Bradford folklore even if Wenger will be desperate to forget.” John Cross, Daily Mirror

We said:

“When Garry Thompson fired the Bantams into a 16th minute lead against the Gunners this evening, a packed out Valley Parade erupted. There were wild celebrations everywhere you looked, the sheer volume of which must have been heard for miles around Bradford.”

Read Width of a Post match report of City 1 Arsenal (3-2 pens)

In fourth place…Burton Albion 1 City 3

League Two play off semi final second leg, Sunday 5 May 2013

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It looked as though City had blown it in the first leg, but a steely determination and resilience to recover – not just the 3-2 deficit, but a poor start at the Perelli – saw the visitors book a second trip to Wembley.

Nahki Wells changed the tie when he latched onto a poor back header to score. James Hanson brilliantly half volleyed the second just after half time. A successfully converted Burton penalty added to the tension, but within a minute Wells had struck again to seal it.

The sold out away end – some fans queued overnight for a ticket – was in fine voice throughout. The feeling of triumph at full time was shared by players and supporters, in scenes that continued a good half hour after the final whistle. Back to Wembley, typically achieved the hard way.

The media said:

“Brewers manager Gary Rowett’s plan to shackle Hanson was identical to the first leg with Zander Diamond being deployed in front of the back four and instructed to double up on the City striker at every opportunity…As can happen in football, however, focusing so much on one individual threat can leave a team vulnerable to another and so it proved on 26 minutes when a long punt forward by Jon McLaughlin led to the opening goal.” Richard Sutcliffe, Yorkshire Post

We said:

“It is for days like this that we put in all their effort, spend all that money, and sing all those songs following the club up and down the country.”

Read Width of a Post match report of Burton 1 City 3

In third place…City 3 Aston Villa 1

League Cup semi final first leg, Tuesday 8 January 2013

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No one expected to defeat Premier League Aston Villa over two games, and seemingly the priority for the first leg was to ensure we could travel to Villa Park without the tie being over.

We achieved so much more, placing one foot in the final and sudden belief we could actually do it. Villa started well, but Wells beat the offside trap to give City the lead on 19 minutes. Matt Duke made a series of fine saves, and then with 13 minutes to go Rory McArdle headed home Gary Jones’ cross to spark delirium. Villa pulled one back – which looked crucial – but then Carl McHugh met Jones’ corner with a bullet header to restore the two-goal lead.

To beat a Premier League side over 90 minutes – and deservedly so too – was truly memorable. One of the best evenings Valley Parade has ever hosted.

The media said:

“Gary Jones has led by example in the middle of the park and goalkeeper Matt Duke has been magnificent. They have all been terrific to beat a Premier League side. It was an unbelievable tie – one of the best I have ever seen.” Robbie Savage, BBC

We said:

“The celebrations are manic everywhere you look. I’m hugging the wife. I’m hugging my friends. I’m hugging strangers. It is absolute bedlam. Unconfined joy. I was at Wolves in ’99, and here for Liverpool in ’00, but it feels like this moment – this goal – tops the lot of them as the best moment I’ve ever experienced supporting City. It is the realisation – for the first time – that we CAN actually do this. That League Two Bradford City defeating Villa over two legs, and taking our place in the League Cup final at Wembley, CAN happen. It is the point where you dare to believe.”

Read Width of a Post match report of City 3 Aston Villa 1

In second place…Aston Villa 2 City 1

League Cup semi final second leg, Tuesday 22 January 2013

DSCF6348It was snowy in Birmingham. It was unbelievably nerve wracking too. 90 minutes away from a major cup final, but a difficult dilemma over whether to attack or simply defend. 6,000 of us filled the two away sections and loudly made our presence felt; but when the teams came out to a deafening roar and 36,000 Villa fans were waving flags, the scale of the task was abundant.

A difficult first 45 saw City barely get out of their own half but, crucially, only concede once. Then came the moment, 10 minutes into the second half: Hanson glanced home Jones’ corner for 1-1. Pandemonium in the away end.

We held on remarkably comfortably for the last half hour and might even have won it. A late Villa goal sparked huge tension, but finally Phil Dowd brought the game to an end and we were in dreamland – Villa 3 City 4 on aggregate. To reach a major cup final far beyond our wildest dreams. No one minded – or in fact even noticed – that it was so bitterly cold.

The media said:

“Many will delight in Bradford’s performance and success, confirmation that the dream factory of football is occasionally open for business. The underdog can have his day.” Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph

We said:

“This wasn’t the greatest feeling I could possibly ever experience following a football club – it was better than that. This wasn’t just about winning a two-legged game of football, it was realising that the boundaries City have just smashed prove that the limitations we think exist within our own lives can be smashed as well.”

Read Width of a Post match report of Aston Villa 2 City 1

And the Width of a Post 2012/13 Match of the Season is…City 3 Northampton 0

League Two play off final, Saturday 18 May 2013

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It’s often said that the play off route is the best way to get promoted and we certainly discovered that to be true. After the drama against Burton in the semis, the final against Northampton a surprisingly straightforward affair. City were outstanding, and over-powered the Cobblers with a three-goal burst inside half an hour. Hanson, McArdle and Wells – we could have scored more.

Each goal was greeted by manic celebrations in the City end, and as the game petered out the atmosphere was electric as we closed in on promotion. The lifting of the trophy by Ricky Ravenhill and Gary Jones topped off an amazing afternoon.

The greatest moment of the greatest of seasons.

The media said:

“Both these clubs came perilously close to relegation last season but as they watched their Bradford counterparts rejoicing, Northampton supporters in a crowd of nearly 48,000 must have found it hard to take consolation. Last time Bradford fans were here they left acclaiming their team’s guts. This time they got the glory, too.” Paul Doyle, The Observer

We said:

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

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

Read Width of a Post match report of City 3 Northampton 0

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The Width of a Post 2012/13 Match of the Season was voted for by: Mark Danylczuk, Mark Scully, Jason McKeown, Gareth Walker, Alex Scott, Damien Wilkinson, David Lawrence, Rob Craven, Mahesh Johal, Tim Roche and Ian Sheard.

From Wigan to Wembley – a view from the psychiatrist’s couch

1 Mar

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By Martin Keighley

My life and lifestyle has always been strongly linked with the ups and downs of Bradford City.

City fans understand and celebrate success more than most because, on the whole, they have tasted large slices of disappointment more often than most. It’s not like supporting Manchester United or Liverpool. For a start you can afford to go to most games so the suffering and rare moments of elation are truly hands-on.

On 30 October, 2012 – the evening Wigan were defeated on penalties – my relationship with Bradford City would change and I was to become unbearable for 117 days. During this time I became a Twitter addict about all things #bcafc, I checked the City website and the message boards four times a day and my only conversation topic was Bradford City. As the days wore on I gradually became an emotional wreck, an addict desperate for another score.

On that cold Tuesday night in Wigan I got home at 1am, shattered, exhausted and utterly euphoric. I felt fantastic. The dose of drama that was the extra time and penalties at Wigan left me wanting more. I was physically ill with sore hands and no voice, but it was the psychological after-effects that were to become the biggest worry. My wife was extremely tolerant and my non-football friends would often nod with that “oh he’s off talking Bradford City again” sort of look. But I was totally oblivious.

I was well and truly hooked and like any junkie I was desperate for another big fix. But the next one was big, really big. Watching the Arsenal team bus arrive a Valley Parade to the chants of “you’re only here for the Bradford” to watching the full TV coverage when I got home lasted almost eleven hours. I was now insufferable, and it was going to get worse, much worse.

After the Villa home game I would unconsciously watch the TV coverage over and over again in some kind of ritual preparation for the second leg. Meanwhile the league form resembled the normality of the last ten years, providing a little hope interspersed with large doses of averageness. My social life fell apart, my skin became pale and the only people who understood were my fellow junkies.

Villa away was my first overdose. This time my Bradford City hit lasted around fifteen straight hours, but during the aftermath I was impossible.  I’d never sung “que sera sera” before, and now I couldn’t get the tune out of my head. I was in danger of total social withdrawal.

For the next thirty three days I was restless, almost sleepless, and my health continued to deteriorate. I started to have weird dreams and my hallucinations became worse. All sense of normality and logic seemed to dissolve away as I imagined Gary Jones lifting the cup. I really needed help but just didn’t know it.

Was Wembley to be the answer? A massive shot of hope, expectation and above all, pride, was to be quickly followed by the cold turkey of football realism. There was of course one last finale as the last twenty five minutes of singing and flag waving once again ripped my emotions to shreds. I was finally beaten. It was all over.

I knew I was clean the next morning as I awoke from my first proper sleep in weeks, ate sensibly, and found I could make non-football conversation without effort. I looked forward to the normality of a midweek evening Division Two match. My 117 days of agony was over.

Cup Final: City aim to emulate legend Jamie Lawrence

18 Feb

Jamie Lawrence

By Jason McKeown

Befitting his unusual playing career, Bradford City legend Jamie Lawrence is a member of an elite group of footballers who have lifted the League Cup – despite the right winger never having played at Wembley.

Back in 1997, Jamie was an extra time substitute for Leicester City in their League Cup Final replay victory over Middlesbrough – a match played at Hillsborough stadium. Fellow Bantam alumni Steve Claridge netted the only goal, which meant Jamie and his team mates picked up winners’ medals and a place in Europe. Now the 42-year-old – who will be at Wembley on Sunday – is backing the current Bradford City squad to repeat Leicester’s triumph.

“How many Premiership teams have we knocked out along the way?” Jamie pointed out when Width of a Post asked him to assess City’s chances at Wembley. “Anything is possible, and we’ve got to remember that it’s 11 against 11. We’ve got to have a right go at them and see what happens.”

Despite the glory of his own League Cup triumph 16 years ago, Lawrence has mixed memories when looking back. Martin O’Neill had dropped him from his matchday squad for the initial match at Wembley; a game in which Leicester forced a replay thanks to a 90th minute equaliser from Emile Heskey. “I had played in every single game leading up to the final,” revealed Jamie. “So it was one of the worst moments of my career when Martin dropped me for that game.

“But what I’ve always done in my career, when I have been dropped, is work even harder to come back. In-between Wembley and the replay at Hillsborough, we had a game against Arsenal where the gaffer played all the fringe players. So I got to start and I did really well. And then we went to Hillsborough and he named me in the 14.

“I remember coming on for 20 minutes, and Steve Claridge scored a world class goal to win us the cup. Coming back home Heskey had drunk a bottle of champagne by himself, and his dad had to come onto the team bus and take him home, because he was puking up all over the place!”

It’s almost a decade since Jamie departed Valley Parade after an eventful six seasons that saw City rise into the Premier League and then begin their bumpy descent – and remarkably he is still playing, turning out for Isthmian League Division One South outfit Tooting & Mitcham United. Jamie has also enjoyed a first-hand view of Bradford City’s memorable cup run, going all the way back to the first round fixture at Notts County, back in August.

“I had attended the club’s pre-season tour of Ireland,” explained Jamie. “I know the gaffer (Phil Parkinson), so I had approached him with two players for him to look at, which he agreed to take on trial in Ireland. I already knew Kyel (Reid) and Zav (Hines), and I also got to meet a few of the other players while I was out there.

“During the tour I said to the players that, because I had a weekend off from playing football myself, I would come up for the Notts County game. I really enjoyed that match, and I remember James Hanson scored a worldly to win us the game.”

Jamie’s presence in the City away end that day did not go unnoticed, with City fans chanting his name during the match and mobbing him for autographs at the end. On the reception he received, Jamie admitted, “The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. It’s nice to still be appreciated, and that afternoon was quite emotional to tell you the truth.”

Jamie also attended the Arsenal quarter final and both legs of the Aston Villa semi finals. He believes that the strong vocal backing the players received from supporters made a huge difference. “The atmosphere was amazing, it took me right back to the days when we were playing in the Premier League or doing really well in the Championship,” he stated. “Watching the games, you get really involved in the atmosphere, and as a player it can only spur you on, because the fans act as the 12th man.

“The second leg at Villa Park was one of the best nights of sport I have ever experienced. I can only imagine what it must have been like as a player, and how the fans helped them to get through those 90 minutes. The fans were tremendous that night.”

Having seen the players up close in Ireland and from the stands on the road to Wembley, Jamie has been able to identify the qualities he believes have helped them to perform such cup miracles. “I see a lot of similarities with this team and the successful City teams I was part of,” explained Jamie. “They never know when they are dead. The spirit is great. They look like they are playing as a team and not as individuals. For me, when you get a collective team spirit like that, it can get you so much further than the individual talent available.

“The season that we went down from the Premier League, we had a lot of individuals. But I think that this season we can gatecrash the promotion party, and anything can happen as Wembley.”

The day before City march out to face Swansea, Jamie has his own game to complete as Tooting & Mitcham United welcome Worthing to the KNK stadium. A sizeable number of City supporters are planning to attend the match – something which Jamie is really excited by.

“I can’t wait to play in front of Bradford City fans again,” he revealed. “It’s been a long time. This Twitter thing has opened a lot of doors for me and I’ve got a relationship back with the fans. A lot them are saying they want to come and watch me on Saturday, and it’s a game against one of my old clubs too. So it will be really nice to have all the fans there and have a pint with them after.”

And then it’s on to Wembley with a mixture of friends accompanying Jamie that includes former Spurs, West Ham and Walsall goalkeeper Jimmy Walker (“I’ve turned him into a closet Bradford City fan!”) plus other City fans that he has become close to. Regardless of whether the club cause another upset, Jamie believes there is a lot to smile about.

“The players and management can be really, really proud of themselves. I’m also pleased for Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes, because they have gone through some bad times at Bradford City. I firmly believe that the club is on the right path towards getting back to where they should be.”

Post your good luck message to Bradford City.

Cup Final: Width of a Post build-up

The eyes of the world are upon us, but it is what we see with our own that matters

28 Jan

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By Jason McKeown

If I have one regret about Bradford City’s time in the Premier League, purely from the perspective of being a supporter, it was the lack of interest I took in the national media coverage at the time. I barely read any newspapers, paid little attention to what they said on 5Live and – although I watched Match of the Day most weeks – rarely recorded an episode for prosperity. Over the subsequent years of City rarely being mentioned outside of our local media outlets, and beyond a 20-second clip of the weekend’s goals on an ITV/BBC highlights programme, it felt like the media glare of the Premier League days had been a missed opportunity.

So the current media storm around the club is a wonderful feeling, stirring memories of how it felt being a large part of the nation’s consciousness at the turn of the millennium. Yet in other ways it feels less engaging than I imagined it would be. I don’t find myself trawling through every column inch that every newspaper is affording us, when over the last few years any tiny scrap of national media attention was considered something to savour. I feel a bit blasé about us appearing on Sky Sports News so often.

Don’t get me wrong, it is lovely still. I am proud as punch when I read the likes of Henry Winter, Oliver Kay and David Conn – personal heroes of mine – writing such positive things about our cup exploits. Martin Tyler is the king of commentators for me, and re-watching both legs of the Aston Villa semi final are enhanced by the way the Sky man superbly captures the emotion of the occasion. It’s also fantastic to see such wonderfully kind people like Gary Jones, Matt Duke, Carl McHugh and James Hanson being interviewed in-depth by newspapers and TV – they deserve it. But a lot of the other media coverage is just noise. Quantity making it harder to pick out the quality. This isn’t a moan at all, just a personal surprise that the novelty factor hasn’t lasted quite as long as I might have expected.

Part of this reason of reserved feelings is the sharing of something so personally important and precious to you with people who don’t hold that same love and care of attention. For all the very high quality articles that have been produced, it’s not hard to find others littered with factual errors and even spelling mistakes. Zavon Hines got the opening goal in the first leg against Villa, apparently. As supporters, we have such an in-depth level of knowledge about our specialist subject of Bradford City, that reading, hearing or viewing somebody else wilfully display their comparative ignorance can be irritating. As Alan Partridge once said, “Stop getting Bond wrong”.

Then there are the idiots, ones who try to take advantage of the situation to further their own standing. As we pulled up to Villa Park last Tuesday, Talksport presenter Adrian Durham was telling a national radio audience that a Bradford City win this evening would be a bad thing for English football. His reasoning? If we were to earn a spot in the Europa League, it would reflect badly on the nation when we inevitably bowed out of the competition straight away. Don’t bother trying to pick holes in Durham’s argument – such as why one of the greatest modern day football fairy tales football should be considered less important than who next season might represent England in a competition most people couldn’t give a toss about. Durham didn’t mean what he said; he was just trying to get a reaction.

In a flash I was taken back to our Premier League days, and a name that became synonymous with our battle against the odds during 1999/00: Rodney Marsh. A run-of-the-mill pundit on Sky (but great player, so I’m told), on the eve of that season Marsh predicted we would have no chance of staying up and went on to attack our efforts on a weekly basis. “If Bradford stay up I will shave my head” was his bold claim. “Are you watching Rodney Marsh?” was our defiant chant whenever we won.

But it wasn’t long after Marsh was forced into the ‘humiliation’ of having his head shaved at Valley Parade that you realised that, ultimately, he was never concerned with whether he was going to be proven right or wrong, or stupid. He was simply furthering his own punditry career by spouting controversial views, to gain attention. And it worked for him (for a time). He rode on the back of our success, and we had no choice but to put him on the map.

Durham’s efforts are similarly intended: look at me. He doesn’t think that City winning the League Cup would be bad for English football, deep down – what right-thinking football fan would? – he just wanted the attention and to stand out from the bulging media crowd. Ignore him.

Equally disappointing is the sudden volume of attacks Bradford City have experienced from other football supporters. Sure, 99% have been magnificent towards us – even followers of our near neighbours Huddersfield and Leeds – but a minority have used this moment to attack the club over the two spells of administration experienced ten and eight years ago respectively. One typical comment was the sarcastic, “Good for plucky little minnows Bradford and their 25,000 all-seater £40m stadium and recent administration to escape millions in tax. A true football fairy tale.”

Given the colossal amount of football clubs who have gone through administration since us – many of whom renegaded on debt obligations in a quite shameful manner, with barely a bump in their on-the-field fortunes – for us to attacked in this way feels genuinely hurtful. I mean administration was far from our finest hour and no one is expecting sympathy for what we went through, but a quick look at how the club has sunk down the divisions since the double-administration – still saddled with some of the issues – would surely demonstrate that we have hardly profited from it. Or do we deserve a life sentence of never being happy again?

I guess this placing of everything Bradford City under the microscope in the manner that has occurred is always going to throw up a few bum notes. And the arrows that Durham, plus a few bitter rival fans, have attempted to throw at us should be weighed up against the incredible amount of goodwill and nice things that have been said about us. A minor voice in a sea of positive noise. But it all reinforces a natural urge to throw a protective cloak over this football club and the community of supporters. This is our life that you are talking about.

Because as fantastic as it is to be generating headlines around the world; to have a huge amount of work colleagues who want to talk City; to know that other football fans have opinions on Nahki Wells’ potential to play in the Championship; to be trending on Twitter; and to have many, many Bradford City fans suddenly rediscover a love for the club that had been lost – these aren’t, and shouldn’t, be dictating the mood. Merely providing the background.

I have enjoyed reading dozens and dozens of newspaper match reports of the Arsenal and Aston Villa home and away games, but I didn’t need to read them. I have re-watched all three televised on my Sky TV box, but when I close my eyes and picture those great evenings it is from the viewpoint of my place in the stadium rather than the multiple angles TV provides. I was fortunate to be there first hand to witness all the incredible evenings. Collecting from them a vast portfolio of happy memories – memories that will stay with me for many, many years to come. Witnessing history being made first hand, that is priceless. Everything else is a souvenir to remind you of this incredible journey.

Unsure of your travel plans to Wembley? Want to show your appreciation to the club for their cup run or to wish them luck? Get involved with our community pages.

Bradford City vs Aston Villa build up: How we got here

8 Jan

It has been some journey to reach this point. Width of a Post writers recall their memories of how Bradford City have made it through five rounds of the League Cup to achieve a spot in the semi finals.

Round 1 – Notts County 0 City 1

@Meadow Lane on Saturday 11 August, 2012

By Jason McKeown

As is the law for the first game of the campaign, it was a lovely warm summer’s day and a mini-tour around the nearby Nottingham boozers put myself and friend Steve in the mood for another Bradford City season. Away to a very good League One side in the cup, in truth we didn’t expect much.

Yet backed by a near 900-strong City following (which included Jamie Lawrence, who was sat some 10 rows in front of us), the players did us proud with an accomplished away performance that deserved a place in round two. The standout memories for me included it being the first time we saw Will Atkinson impress in a City shirt. Will, who had been signed during the summer after an underwhelming loan spell the year before, played central midfield alongside the superb Gary Jones. He displayed commendable work-rate and produced a repertoire of flicks and clever passing that we’ve now come to expect from him. I also remember Yoann Arquinn missing an open goal for County in the last minute of normal time. It was up there with Ronny Rosenthal.

The goal itself was also special, coming five minutes into the first period of extra time. Nahki Wells linked up well with Kyel Reid, before the ball was played back for James Hanson to smash home from the edge of the penalty area. It was a quality finish by James, and it was a quality team display from Phil Parkinson’s new-look side. The season had begun in the best possible fashion, raising the bar to a level that has largely been maintained since.

Read the WOAP match report of Notts County 0 City 1

Round 2 – Watford 1 City 2

@Vicarage Road on Tuesday 28 August, 2012

By Tom Warden

There aren’t many places further from Bradfordians to go on a weekday evening than Hertfordshire, and the early rounds of a cup are never very enticing fare for Bantams fans as, lets face it, we normally aren’t very good in them.

However, this was personally a chance to get back into following my team. I was advised that the FA Cup tie there last year was a good day out and it gave me a chance to visit a ground that I hadn’t seen before, so why not? The second string sides put out by both Parkinson and Gianfranco Zola gave this a feel of a match which was more distraction than priority, but that did not mean the travelling fans who did make the journey saw a drab game, far from it.

Watford dominated proceedings, targeting debutant left-back Carl McHugh with diagonal balls which regularly caught him out, leading to him getting a severe rollicking from Rory McArdle. It’s amazing how Mchugh has stepped up to become an important player this season as, on this performance, I didn’t think he would get back into the side again! City created a few chances but as time wore on, it looked like the bookies would be right again.

Sure enough, Watford took the lead when Ikechi Anya latched onto a loose ball and sent a rocket past Jon McLaughlin into the top corner with 20 minutes to go. Oh well, we kind of expected to lose here, never mind. But then James Hanson and Kyel Reid came on, The physicality and trickery caused instant problems, and all of a sudden Reid was on hand to smash home after a bit of penalty box pinball, we started looking at watches, last train home or extra time? Luckily we didn’t have to make that choice; in the dying seconds Nathan Doyle hooked a free kick back into the area and the ball fell invitingly for Garry Thompson to drive home.

Watford deflated, we celebrated a bit of a scalp, a very productive evening, little did we know that there were much bigger scalps to come.

Read the WOAP match report of Watford 1 City 2

Round 3 – City 3 Burton 2 (AET)

@Valley Parade on Tuesday 25 September, 2012

City exit Valley Parade after defeating Burton Albion

City exit Valley Parade after defeating Burton Albion

By Gareth Walker

It was a last minute decision for me to attend this game, but boy am I glad I did!

The groans from all City fans would have been audible down in Burton when we drew them rather than one of the “Big Boys” for our third round clash. It wasn’t the draw we had hoped for after our massive performance down at Watford. To be fair it probably wasn’t the draw that Burton wanted either.

What both sets of supporters got however was one of the games of the season, particular from a City side who completely dominated despite going two goals down. Billy Kee and Aaron Webster had The Brewers two up totally against the run of play after just half an hour. City had been on top on a wet and windy night where the slippy pitch was proving troublesome for both goalkeepers.

We hadn’t had the luck of the bounce when Stuart Tomlinson had spilled numerous early shots, but Matt Duke had been beaten twice from three clear Burton chances. Webster’s headed goal coming from the third of these when he had been left unmarked for the second time at a corner in the space of about five minutes.

City had fielded a team with Alan Connell and Garry Thompson upfront amidst a number of players who needed game time. However, we were failing to turn our dominance of possession into goals. Cue the introduction of the Big Guns: Nahki Wells, Kyel Reid and James Hanson, to completely turn the game on its head. Having been introduced after an hour’s play, they turned our domination into clear cut chances, but it took until 83rd minute for us to pull one back when Wells scored a stunning volley from an angle.

Up until that point it looked as though it was just going to be one of those games as Burton threw their bodies on the line to block shot after shot. However, after the first goal City piled forward and got a deserved equaliser again through Wells after a bit of a scrappy corner move.

In extra time, there was only going to be one winner as Burton heads dropped and The Bantams had their tails up. Stephen Darby scored an absolute screamer to save us from penalties and we were the League Two side that went on to have another chance of getting a lucrative draw in Round Four.

Read the WOAP match report of City 3 Burton 2 (AET)

Round 4 – Wigan 0 City 0 (City won 4-2 on pens)

@DW Stadium on Tuesday 30 October, 2012

By Mark Danylczuk

A League Two side beating a Premier League team? You’d think it would be enough to make the first story on Sky Sports News, but a certain 12 goal thriller between Reading and Arsenal on the same evening made sure this was not the case.

However, we knew it was memorable. City last knocked out a Premier League club from the League Cup in September 1995, when we beat Nottingham Forest over two legs in the second round. But this time a new generation of City fans had witnessed their own piece of magic.

It wasn’t the glamour tie that we had all hoped for; but on the other hand, it was a Premier League team away from home and we knew that with a passionate following (possibly outnumbering the home fans), that we could roar the boys on to victory.

The journey for me started on a cold and rainy Tuesday morning at Victoria Station in London catching the train up to Manchester. Following a brief stop at the excellent National Football Museum (and a chance meeting with ex-City player Allan Gilliver), it was off to the DW Stadium. The rain didn’t let up in Wigan, but the sense of anticipation and the mass away following kept our spirits up.

The game itself was a very one-sided spectacle; virtually a game of attack and defend. City defended resolutely, Duke kept us in the game with some fantastic saves and Wigan missed a fair few chances. After 120 minutes of fingernail-biting tension, it was down to penalties with the City faithful confident of securing a famous upset and so it came; the misses of Shaun Moloney and then Jordi Gomez sending the City camp into raptures and securing a slot in the quarter finals.

On returning home and after catching up on the bizarre and incredible 7-5 at the Madejski, it was time to recap on City’s heroics on TV and the memories were enough to keep me entertained on the return coach journey to London the following morning.  That evening it was off to the pub to see the draw for the semi’s, and finally justice had arrived with the glamour tie of Arsenal and the potential of a full City ground and some coveted TV money.

Taking two days annual leave to watch a City match? Some people would think it crazy, but I, along with the 5,000 City fans, had the last laugh with the memorable stories to treasure from this evening.

Read the WOAP match report of Wigan 0 City 0 (City win 4-2 on pens)

Round 5 – City 1 Arsenal 1 (City win 3-2 on pens)

@Valley Parade on Tuesday 11 December, 2012

By Alex Scott

I wrote after the fact that it was the greatest feeling I’d ever had watching football, a statement I stand by. Perhaps the strangest part of the feeling was how it all fit the plan in my head. Everything happened the way it was supposed to, dramatically out of character for the team, and my own brand of perpetual ill-prepared chaos.

I ducked out of work at half three (shout out to FlexiTime) and scrambled up to King’s Cross for my train north. No delays, no dramas, I was in the ground for half seven.

My outward logic that ‘we probably won’t win, but if we did, and I missed it, I just couldn’t bear it’ was actually an act of self-delusion, in that I was far more confident than I let on. I could only see the game playing out in one of two ways, either the way we witnessed, or a 4-1 reverse. and I was actually confident! But I was scared. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. Even on the train up, rolling out past the Emirates, being eyed suspiciously by a gaggle of red-and-white clad fans down the carriage (collective noun for drunk football fans?), I told them to watch for #21, but that ‘you’ll win comfortably’. I would never have characterised myself as superstitious before then, but my unwillingness to jinx anything overpowered any considered rationality I wish to emit.

Most nights before an early train, I spend my time staring at my watch mentally calculating the potential sleep remaining. That night it never even crossed my mind until I went to bed and set my alarm, noticing it was in 3 hours and 21 minutes time.

I don’t really remember much from the game, I remember it through the eyes of the Sky cameras, through Bill Leslie’s excitable commentary, and Peter Beagrie’s ever-increasing anxiety.

Unsurprisingly, the next day was a coffee-fuelled, uncommunicative haze. But walking into that Central London office at ten past nine, past my Arsenal-supporting peers, with one hand wrapped around my City scarf and the other around a large Americano is a moment I won’t soon forget.

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Read the WOAP match report of City 1 Arsenal 1 (City win 3-2 on pens)

Bradford City vs Aston Villa build up: The Road from Wigan Pier

7 Jan

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By David Pendleton

I sat in the Orwell pub at Wigan looking out over the Leeds & Liverpool canal. In my mind’s eye I followed the silvery waters as they meander over the Pennines, forming an umbilical link between the great industrial towns and cities of the north. Liverpool aside, the canal seems to having a liking for towns whose football clubs encounters with the Premier League have been either brief, financially catastrophic or fraught with relegation fears: Wigan, Blackburn, Burnley, Bradford and Leeds.

To be truthful I was mentally composing a piece that would contrast the recent histories of Bradford City and Wigan Athletic set against a backdrop of a comprehensive defeat. The compensation of which would be the huge visiting support and the possibility that it signaled a change in attitudes at Valley Parade. I hardly dared dream of anything other than a defeat of acceptable margins, but I hoped that the return of the club’s self-belief, physically represented by the away end packed with five thousand noisy supporters, heralded a brighter future.

Fast-forward six weeks and in December 2012 Bradford City fans were relearning long forgotten skills: securing a match ticket as Valley Parade rapidly sold out. Not since the heady days of Wetherall, Beagrie and McCall (mark two) have supporters had sleepless nights worrying about getting into a match. Even more surprising is that the clamour for tickets is for the League Cup, a competition that until recently, in fact very recently, ranked below the JPT in City supporters’ lists of preference.

With the national media crawling all over Valley Parade it is easy to forget that at two-nil down against Burton Albion (or indeed one-nil down at Watford) the fans present didn’t appear too concerned. The Kop chanted the now ubiquitous ‘it’s only a cup’ ditty as City teetered on the brink. Even when it came to the penalty shoot out, and as Ricky Ravenhill limped to take the deciding spot kick, thoughts were more concerned with retaining our remarkable shoot out record than making the next round. Then in a mad whirl of a few weeks there was Wigan, Arsenal and Bradford City in the League Cup semi-final. Utter madness. It still takes some believing.

Is it possible to gain some perspective on the club’s achievement? As the years pass that will be made somewhat easier, for example if the semi-final appearance leads to a sustained push up the Football League then the cup run will be seen as a turning point; a full stop to the decade of decline that began with relegation from the Premier League in 2001.

However, it is worth reiterating that this is the club’s first cup semi-final since 1911 – fully 102 years. More remarkable is the contrast between Bradford City 1911 and Bradford City 2013. In 1911 City, along with our opponents Aston Villa, were one of the top five clubs in the country; in 2013 almost the entire length of the Football League separates the two sides. Although City are quite clearly no ordinary League Two side (in terms of support level, infrastructure and expectation) the fact remains that we ply our trade in the fourth tier of English football. To get to a semi-final is nothing short of stunning, especially when one considers the opponents we have disposed of en route. This has been no easy road and yet here we are standing within a few hours of Wembley and the League Cup Final.

To put this in its historical perspective, it is probably one of THE most remarkable feats in the club’s history when one takes into account our current league status. The club winning the FA Cup within eight years of its formation was probably our greatest feat, but again one has to consider the fact that in 1911 Bradford was one of the richest cities in the world and that wealth had been used to build a team that of remarkable talents. By contrast in 2013 Bradford is one of the poorest cities in Britain and the team of 2012/13 cost a mere £7,500 to assemble. We are living history and, for however long it lasts, we should embrace it and celebrate it.

Legacy was the buzzword of 2012. Quite what the legacy will be, both financial and playing wise, is difficult to comprehend at the moment. But, for the supporters (especially for those under the age of 25) the cup run is a defining moment. For the two lads of school age stood in front of me at Wigan it was undoubtedly their first really big night supporting Bradford City. Another generation has been hooked. They saw at first hand the potential of the club. If Wigan was the boot, Arsenal was the laces. What an immense boost the cup run has had on the morale of Bradford City. I thought that merely to go to Wigan, and then play Arsenal, was enough. We would stand packed together to reaffirm that, despite the decade from hell, Bradford City was still standing. The proud, colourful and vibrant club many still remember from our heady days in the Premier League.

Well, we not only packed the terraces at Wigan and Valley Parade, we didn’t only create an electric atmosphere, we won the matches against all the odds. Whatever happens against Villa, we have at last, at long long last, written a new chapter in the club’s history. It might be the nine in a row world record penalty shoot out victories; it might be getting to the cup semi-finals; it might be a spring board to promotion; it might even be Bradford City as the most unlikely cup finalists of all time.

We dare to dream – and that my friend is priceless. Welcome to your future.

Bradford City vs Aston Villa build up: David Baldwin on the club’s planning

6 Jan

As Bradford City prepare for two of the biggest games in its entire history, Head of Operations David Baldwin kindly spoke to Width of a Post about the operational arrangements, the potential financial rewards of this remarkable cup run, Phil Parkinson’s contract, transfer plans for the January window and the appointment of Russ Richardson.

By Jason McKeown

Bradford City’s 2012/13 average League Two attendance of 9,975 might be more than double that of 14 of its 23 divisional rivals, but Tuesday’s likely crowd of over 23,000 is anything but the norm for the club. It requires a huge amount of additional operational planning in order to ensure two-and-a-half times the usual matchday crowd are accommodated for, with over 200 additional staff needing to be recruited for one evening’s work. Fortunately, the successful staging of the Arsenal quarter final means the club has been through it once before, and can be confident of getting it right.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in order to be ready for with next Tuesday’s game,” revealed Head of Operations, David Baldwin. “We were generally pleased with how the Arsenal game went. There were some minor problems, but in terms of the number of complaints we received, you’re talking less than a dozen. The ideal for me is that we have no complaints; I don’t want anyone to have a problem when they come to the game. You want them to have enjoyed the experience.

“Generally everybody who has contacted us who did have a problem, we have rectified matters to make sure that problem doesn’t repeat itself for the Villa game.”

The scale of operation is undoubtedly the biggest challenge, but David was encouraged by how well his staff coped with having so many extra customers against Arsenal, “From a queuing perspective, getting into the stadium wasn’t too bad. It was within time tolerance, and pretty much everyone was in from the point of kick off. It’s one of those things where, if you were doing that week in week out, the staffing levels that you’d have and their skill set means you would get rid of the small problems very quickly.

“One of the examples of the problems was that, in the upper tier of the main stand, the water ran out. Simply what had happened was the reserve tank couldn’t fill up quick enough for the volume of water that was consumed. For this type of situation, I don’t think the stadium, even from its construction, had ever been tested to that limit before! It’s an issue that we would have to consider going forward, should we have theses level of supporter numbers at games on a week in week out basis. There’s unfortunately not a lot we can do about it for the Aston Villa game, because you’re talking about major construction issues to try and rectify this issue. But it is on our radar now.”

The big game on Tuesday

In terms of the Aston Villa home leg, the club will once again take on temporary staff – which is likely to mean training new people up from scratch. “The very nature of temporary staff is that they are not necessarily readily available next time,” admitted David. “We have gone through the same supply routes that we went through last time, and you would hope that we can bring in some of the temporary staff who have already worked at the stadium for the Arsenal game back, so that we are not having to get them familiar with the stadium environment.

“The basic principles of how we operated the evening and how we have operated the preparation for the evening – clearly the model worked. It’s just about nipping individual errors quicker.”

The biggest change David is implementing this time around is to offload some of the pressure from the club’s Safety Officer and Facilities Manager, David Dowse. Baldwin explained, “We need to make sure that other departments don’t draw on the time of David from 9am on the Tuesday morning of the game. Against Arsenal he was still getting pulled by other departments to rectify outstanding issues.

“Nobody will be pulling on David’s time on the matchday this time. So he can focus solely on his management of the stewards, medical staff and maintenance staff. You don’t want to be putting the most important person in the ground – the only person who can sanction the ground to be ready and open – under undue pressure.”

Filling the ground

The club is set for another bumper attendance on Tuesday, with interest in City’s first ever League Cup semi final understandably very high. “There was a massive surge on the first day tickets went on sale, we sold over 8,000 tickets on the first day just for the home fans,” revealed David. For season ticket and Flexi-card holders, prices have been set slightly more expensive, from £20 against Arsenal to £25. David explained that this decision was largely out of the club’s hands, “Both clubs present their prices and both clubs have to be in agreement with those prices. And that’s the pricing structure that we were able to agree with Villa. We weren’t able to agree an alternative one.

“The rules of the competition say that you have to have agreeable prices. We choose ours and they choose theirs, and I had a say on the prices they were quoting for the second leg, and they have a say over mine.

“But you know, we are one opposition away from Wembley.”

In addition, the club has had to start making plans for a potential date at the English national stadium in February, just in case City can squeeze past Villa. “The safety officer and the ticket office manager have been to Wembley already, as did all the other clubs in the semi finals, to discuss what potentially would need to be done and the pricing structure for the final, which is already in place,” said David.

“One thing we don’t dictate – and we don’t want to make any assumptions that we will be there – is that Wembley and the Football League set the ticket prices for the final. But the final would be another massive operation, one that we have to be ready for.”

The financial windfall

The financial rewards for City’s progress are clearly huge. Although David is unsure exactly how much they will make from the two semi finals, the club are earmarking this windfall for covering the playing budget deficit and strengthening Phil Parkinson’s hand in the promotion push. David outlined, “When you look at the situation of the Arsenal money and the potential of the Aston Villa money – the amount of which is not confirmed yet – the first thing that money goes towards is clearing that budget deficit. We’ve always talked about this £650-£700k overspend.

“The chances are that the money from these two semi final games will generate something in the region of anything from £1.1 to £1.3 million. What that leaves is the potential for £400-£600k surplus within that. Some of that surplus will be used to enable the manager to strengthen the team in January if he chooses to do so; he has got permission to do that if he wants to. The other part of that surplus may potentially be used for maintaining a decent playing budget for next season as well.

“This money doesn’t want to be wasted away, it needs to be spent wisely. That’s the key. It’s got to be used sensibly for the long-term good benefit of the club, not just the short-term.”

Key to any January transfer spending is the appointment of Russ Richardson as Head of Player Recruitment. A move which David believes will enable both himself and Phil Parkinson to concentrate on other matters, while Russ finds suitable players for the manager to consider. “The bottom line is that our goal this season is to get out of this division. Phil has been given a very clear brief in terms of him telling us what he needs in order to achieve that goal. And he is currently working on that. The reason we have recruited Russ Richardson is to help with that.

“Russ has really good market knowledge of League One and the Championship. He is very aware of what players are around it. January is such a key time for us, so we now have someone whose sole responsibility is to be looking at available players, looking at players coming out of contract, looking at players who might be interested in a move, or even a loan move, all those permutations. And if he feeds this back into Phil, and then Phil feeds back his choices to Julian, Mark and myself, then we can go after our targets.

“Phil needs people to have done the homework for him, and that’s Russ’ job now.

“I noticed that one or two supporters made comparisons to Russ with Archie Christie’s role. It’s a very different type of process. Russ will be carrying out scouting and fact-finding missions for the manager, whereas Archie’s role was about developing a Development Squad as well as identifying talented players who we might want to sign. So it’s a very different set up. And we’re just taking Russ on a short-term basis, while we have a need for it, and we will take stock of how it’s working out on a month-by-month basis.”

The glare of the spotlight

The build-up to City’s quarter final with Arsenal saw the club receive a huge amount of national media attention, and it barely seems to have gone away since. But are any of the players who impressed so much on national TV now the subject of interest?

“Good players always attract interest, but from our perspective we have got no desire to sell anybody,” declared David. “It’s more of a case of who can we bring in. The only player subject to a serious negotiation and bid is Ross Hannah.

“In terms of the players who have been starting regularly for the team, in the run up to the Villa game, such as Nahki Wells, we are certainly not looking to sell these players at this stage. Our primary objective is to get promoted and you want the best players in order to do it.”

And what of the manager himself attracting interest? A week after the City win, Reading fans were heard on national TV chanting the name of their much-loved former player. Meanwhile Phil, out of contract in the summer, has spoken in the local paper about agreeing a new deal at Valley Parade. I was speaking to David on New Year’s Eve (Monday), and he revealed that Phil’s comments in the T&A are now set to trigger contract talks.

“With the way that it has gone, Saturday-Tuesday games continually – since Phil spoke in the press – the two chairmen, myself and Phil haven’t had the opportunity to sit down together to talk about it (a new contract) ,” David explained.  “We generally do that on a Thursday, and I dare say that it will come up when we have our meeting this Thursday (3rd January). Or if it doesn’t come up in that meeting it will come up in the following Thursday meeting.

“Because it has been tabled by Phil now, we might as well ask the question about extending his contract and then discuss it.”

Good news then, with Phil enjoying a level of popularity amongst supporters we have not seen for a long time. And as the club prepare for the first leg of the League Cup semi final with nothing to lose, it’s clear that no one is taking their eyes off the main prize this season. David explained that after the Arsenal game, “You move on, and that’s what we did after the initial euphoria of the press, we said right well let’s get back to the main business of trying to get promoted out of this league and getting ready, operationally, for the likes of the January transfer window.”

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