Tag Archives: Aston Villa

The Midweek Player Focus #53: Carl McHugh

27 Feb


By Andrew Baxter

Tuesday 8 January, 2013, on a cold night at Valley Parade. It’s nearing the end of the game, and Bradford City are two minutes away from pulling off one of the greatest cup wins in recent memory. Gary Jones whips in another inch-perfect cross, and a 19-year-old from County Donegal in Ireland meets it with a thumping header. It rockets past the Aston Villa keeper, Shay Given, and into the back of the net.

When Carl McHugh’s name is mentioned, it is this goal that stands out for me; the first thing that comes to mind, and is an example of the talent and potential that he possesses.

A left-footed centre back, who can play at left-back, McHugh’s versatility, and matureness for someone so (relatively) young has been impressive. His main attribute, however, is his willingness to do anything for the team. As has been previously mentioned, Parkinson says that McHugh will “do anything you ask of him for the good of the team”. Whether that be to play at left-back (a position he is comfortable, but not naturally suited to), or to constantly overlap and create space for the winger in front of him, McHugh will do it. There may be stronger defenders, quicker defenders, technically better defenders, but McHugh’s attitude and work ethic is unquestionable.

In comparison to Oliver McBurnie, who is being drip-fed into the first team, with a gradual increase in his workload, McHugh was thrusted straight into the limelight. His first two starts for the Bantams were both away from home, at Championship free-scorers Watford, and (then) Premiership outfit Wigan. Despite having no previous Football League experience, City conceded just once in 210 minutes during those games; an impressive statistic, considering the inexperience of McHugh.

McHugh went from being a free agent and pre-season trialist, to playing out of his skin against Arsenal, in just over four months. Keeping the likes of Jack Wilshere, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla quiet is a feat to be applauded for any defender, never mind a 19-year-old with a handful of first-team appearances to his name.

Last season also saw McHugh play the full 90 minutes in a League Cup final; an achievement he never could possibly have dreamed of when he was released by Reading in June 2012. Despite McHugh having a (relatively) poor game, and City conceding five, the experience of playing in a major domestic cup final has matured the Irishman, and this experience is now evident in his play.

McHugh’s distribution is impressive, and has improved from when he first came to the club. Rather than going direct, and pumping the ball upfield, McHugh looks for the midfield, and tends to pass it into feet – allowing City to carve out chances. Even when playing at left back, McHugh looks for the winger, or for one of the two central midfielders, rather than hitting a hopeful ball down the pitch.

McHugh’s contributions from set-pieces are also very handy, especially in a team that has had periods of struggling to score. A return of four in 38 games may not sound spectacular, but his ability to chip in with crucial goals is very useful. For example, his goal in the last minute of the FA Cup tie at home to Northampton last season took the game to penalties, which City consequently won. Another example is from a week last Tuesday, when McHugh’s injury-time winner was the difference between the two sides.

It is important to note, however, that McHugh’s contract expires in June, along with several other first-team players. With McHugh being largely a peripheral figure in the squad until mid-December, he must do all he can whilst he has his run in the team to persuade Phil Parkinson that he is worth retaining.

The remaining 14 games, therefore, could essentially be an extended trial in a bid to retain his place in the squad for next season. With fellow defenders Rory McArdle and Matthew Bates also out of contract, as well as Andrew Davies and Matt Taylor having deals that will run to June 2015, is having five centre backs at the club simply too expensive, and unnecessary?

If I was Phil Parkinson, I would certainly keep hold of McHugh. Whilst he may not be the strongest or quickest defender to put on the claret and amber shirt, McHugh’s determination and maturity makes him a great player to have in the squad. The cliché “old head on young shoulders” is over-used, but appropriate for McHugh. He has only just turned 21, remember, and is eight years younger than Andrew Davies, and five and a half years younger than Rory McArdle.

There have been better defenders at Valley Parade, but in terms of courage and commitment to the team, there are very few who can match McHugh.

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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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

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!!!”

Bradford City 3 Aston Villa 1

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.


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.


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.



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.


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.



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.


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

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


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!

The best is yet to come?

11 Jun


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: Dan, Me and Bradford City

31 May


By Philip Jackson

It was a warm, glorious day in April 2011, the road twisted towards Hereford from Worcester, breathing in the scenery all around us, quintessentially English, bright greens and golds, trees and flowers in bloom stood before the bright blue sky above.  A dream, everything was right with the world, what could be wrong?

As the season wound to its penultimate match, Bradford City were still not mathematically safe but should be okay, surely!  This unremarkable season sliding to an unremarkable conclusion.  You may be wondering what the significance of this insignificant game is, for me it was just another game, my Bantams history had as many ups and downs as that road to Hereford. But it was significant, it was my son Daniel’s first City game, he was eight.

Living in Birmingham, I had been struggling for some time with how to deal with attaching him to a football team.  He was born and had lived his whole life here (a true Brummie I guess).  As an exiled City fan since 1987, could and should I expect him to follow my team, from a place he knew little of and one that in recent years had failed to bring much joy to one’s life?  Should I take him to Blues or Villa? Will he attach himself to following one of the big boys? I resolved that if I was going to a match, I’d invite him along and see how it goes.

So we drove to Hereford, a short-ish drive down the M5, nice and easy.  The City faithful that day were spread out in the old Edgar St. stand, the upper tier of which gave wonderful views of the rooftops and church spires of the town and the lush green hills beyond (unfortunately not such great views of the action along the nearside touchline! A key feature of the stands appeal I guess).

A City side of: Pidgeley, Threlfall, Hunt, Oliver, Bullock, Syers, Daley, Worthington, Evans, Hanson and Speight, played okay. Joe Colbeck got booed and nothing much happened, by half time, it was clear we were definitely safe, Dan was enjoying the game, asking questions, the offside rule was explained, then we scored! Great, eight minutes left, in his first match, Dan was probably going to see a City win.

Late on however, Hereford get a free kick on the edge of the box, and neatly curled the ball into the bottom corner Pidgeley’s goal.  Cue wild scenes of celebration from the home supporters (they are reprieved from relegation for a year), shrugs from the City fans. No bother really, seen all this before. That is except one person hadn’t; Dan.

In that one, quiet nothing sort of a game, in his first experience of live football, he was hooked. Without knowing what will lies ahead and what has already passed, his young mind is made up, he’s following his Dad’s team, he’s following City.  In years to come, he may recall this match as where it all started.  He was truly disappointed by that late equaliser, with the City fans and his Dad all match, wanting one team to win and one to lose, that was what mattered. He had no idea about the league position, no cares for troubles behind the scenes or possible disharmony in the dressing-room, just what happened on that rectangle of green grass, simple.

He got home, kept the programme and stuck his ticket on his bedroom door.


Fast-forward a year and another City ticketing masterstroke comes into being ‘the Flexicard’; the Marmite of Valley Parade, for myself and many others in my position no doubt are in the ‘love it’ camp. 135 miles away, busy family life, the season ticket just doesn’t work, but this might just do it.  £50 for me and a whole £5 for a junior season ticket.

City draw Arsenal in the cup, “Did you manage to get tickets?” “OH YES!” Yes, but it’s a school night, no bother have two days off, just don’t mention to ANYONE at school where we’re going, “No Dad”.

Tuesday 11 December 2012. AM, phone rings, Dan’s headteacher “Why isn’t Daniel at school?” “He’s poorly” “Oh, because some classmates said he’d said about going to a football match” “Ah, yes” phone down,  “Dan, did you mention to anyone about the match?” “No” “So how come I’ve just had Mrs Chamberlain on the phone with this knowledge?” “I may have mentioned it to Katie” “Cheers son, and the rest, get your uniform on (Claret and Amber by the way!) and we’ll have to drive straight from school, and you’ll be in tomorrow as well!”

We arrive to the strains of ‘Claret, Amber’, in time.  Due to various issues ‘our’ seats in B block, just behind the dugouts had gone, so it’s a sprint up the stairs and out into a scene that both Dan and I were new to: ‘Valley Parade, FULL!’. Up in the top deck of the Sunwin stand, in line with the goal line, perfect to see the shape and co-operation of City’s formation, and THAT Gervinho moment.  We are doing ourselves proud, we’re not getting blown away, we are on!

Dan embraces every minute, every song, clapping, chanting, chatting with the lad next to me, the boy is in his element, bought in 100%.  A stunning win, a stunning day, soak it all up son, as it may never be like this again, he gets this as his first ever Valley Parade experience!  Out we go, I take him to the Fire Memorial.  This happened, it happened right here, it matters, this is part of being a City fan, you need to know.

He stands in the crisp winter’s night looking at the marble, the names, scarves and flowers and takes it all in, he understands, when he gets home he tells his mum about the memorial and the fire, which was very touching.  We walk through the dazed throngs of happy Bantams, back to the car and then the drive home. Minus two degrees has never felt so warm.

Back in ‘our’ seats for the Christmas games, seven rows from the action, these players are real, you see their faces, expressions and shouts, the benches, them walking onto and off the pitch, responding to your cheers and applause, they become more than his heroes, more like friends.  Dan loves the live experience, learning more, now in the incessant rain, in the flesh than 1,000 matches on TV could, he was never bothered by football on the telly, but this! Yes, the songs, the togetherness, already these people in our colours are good people, they are family.

We get Villa, and decide to go to the away leg.  Dan, the proud bantam has confidence (more than his battle-weary father) “You’re gonna get battered” he’s told by friends at school, water off a duck’s back to our Dan.  Everyone knows he’s the only one, he knows he’s the only one and he loves it.  The night of the 1st leg, he’s not sleeping, he listens to every pass, every moment, all the drama, his team wins, our team wins, he’ll be the winner in school again.


The next two weeks finally pass and we get to 22 January. “The most nervous day ever” we finally go, through the suburbs of South Birmingham, past the house of the mad Villa fans I play 5-a-side with every Friday, past 4 Co-Ops none of which James Hanson worked at. I tell him to take it all in, relish tonight because there is no guarantee we’ll get another night like tonight.

Out come the teams and out come the flags, all you can see is a sea of light blue waving frantically, let’s hope they’ll be waving the white flag in a bit.  We all stand, no sitting tonight, Dan stand on your seat, we can see, we can see Villa attacking our way, we forget to keep the ball, concede the initiative, Villa threaten but they are not ruthless, they really aren’t that special. If we focus like against Arsenal we could see this out.  Villa’s goal comes, but with it, they ease back and we see the half out.

The snow starts falling, beautiful big white flakes down from the clear black sky.  Parky has had a word, we start the 2nd half better, passing, moving, playing our game, on the front foot, playing towards the screaming hoards in claret and amber. Corner, we see Jones walk directly towards us by the corner flag, we scream at him, unbelievable noise straight into his soul, he must be lifted by it. Corner two, the pressure builds, we can will this ball in, we can make these Villa boys wilt. In swings the corner, a perfect trajectory, Villa stop, it’s found a City head.

Watching the net react and fill as it is contacted by the ball, tells me it has happened, a goal has never, ever felt this good before. I grab Dan (I am still his father and still have to ensure he doesn’t get mullered by everyone around us)  we go mental, everyone is going mental.

Time is ticked off in 10 minute chunks, as each go by the knots in my stomach tighten, the knots in the throats of the City faithful tighten.  Villa score, finally, the tricky Austrian who scored in the first leg, the only Villain with any sort of fight finds the net.

The last high ball into the box is cleared, the final desperate card of a team out of ideas and unable to think straight, and referee Phil Dowd ends the match and the impossible has happened.

Dan and I have witnessed one of City’s greatest nights, in his first full season he has got this, my first season bringing him along he’s hit the jackpot. We sing till it hurts, then we sing some more, Villa park empties but we don’t want to leave, we are all family together and we are going to savour this as long as we can.

Dan goes into school, the conquering hero, champion of champions.  You said we’d get thrashed, well I was there and we were great, I’m going to Wembley, this is what it’s about, City is his team. I ask him occasionally if he wants to support Villa, we both burst out laughing spontaneously. Like yeah Dad like I’m going to support that load of rubbish team. No thanks, I know where I want to be.


We drive down to Watford, and stop into his Uncle and Aunt’s, he drops us off at Croxley tube and we wait on a deserted platform, wrapped up in our City hats and scarves. We bump into a nice family from Swansea and have a pleasant journey into Wembley Park. The stadium looms large above its surroundings, a huge glass hulk completely at odds with what lies around it.  We wish the Swansea family well and join the milling throngs.

Damn we turn out well, a majestic sea of claret and amber, we belong here, proud to see our crest emblazoned on the side of the ground.  Let’s get inside, the greyness of the exterior is in contract with the glorious colours inside, the sponsors’ pump the place full of activity, but it’s the noise and passion of the supporters that make it what it is.

The team come out, I well up with emotion. I’m so proud of our team and what we’ve achieved, we get a momentary blast of heat off the jets of fire and I well up inside.

Just play your game lads, do us proud once more, man! Swansea are good, they are so fast, the passes fizz from man to man, into space leading teammates on, give and go, every ricochet and bounce goes their way. We finally get the ball and head forward, it stalls, they break, without the numbers back we are exposed. Duke makes a save, but a swift Swansea foot gets to steer the ball in before his City marker can block.

Unlike Wigan, Arsenal and Villa they are clinical, dive on any error, get to loose balls, through two sets of legs and in.  We’re both quiet, slumped in our seats through half time we look for any distant hope to cling to, but can’t see it.

By the time it’s 4-0 and the Swansea vultures have stopped bickering over who can pick over our carcass, our self-reflection has passed and as one, realise we need to soak in the last quarter of the game, back our boys and thank them for all they’ve done.  The next 20 minutes perplexes the sensibilities of the cossetted Premier League and armchair watchers, why are they doing this?

Wow, supporters supporting their team, we’re not deserting them, we’re not going to throw off our claret and amber for a nice Manchester red or Chelsea blue. We’re here and we’re going to make sure you don’t forget about us.

Remember this Wembley, remember this world we will return.

2013-04-20 16.42.12

Now we just need to get out of this league Dan, yes we do Dad.  He is still singing the Claret and Amber song, he still loves his club, proudly wears his colours, we get statistical and logical updates from his friend Benny on how we’re doing and where we are in the table, like we don’t know. We just need to get a few wins, you never know, we’ve seen we are better than these teams, we get points and results.

Back into a gloriously sunny day in Bradford, Northampton at home. The ugly up and unders and the long throws are repelled, is that as many fans as you can muster for a crucial end-of-season game? Funny!  In our seats, down the front for autographs, shouting out warnings to James Meredith, urging them on. They can hear us, we can make a difference, Dan involved in all the banter, copying his Dad berating the ref (must stop that), happy to be home, clear off Northampton, clueless, only playing one way, how did you get to 3rd?

Dan has already asked “When does the new season start?” This lad is hungry for more, he want to be back at Valley Parade and getting into it all over again!

Back up to another beautiful Bradford day, for Burton in the play offs, nice and early, car on Midland Road.  Dan wants more City merchandise, a team poster, a nice top to wear at football on a Friday, standing out amid the Chelsea and Manchester United strips.  He knows his team’s players, not distant figures seen on the TV or in a magazine, but real, working, fighting and producing right before his eyes.

The ground is fuller than normal. The seats around us have filled up, although not the Burton section, is that it for a play off semi?  The teams parade out, Burton conspicuous by their bulk, a team of body builders or rugby players, with no little hint of chemical enhancement. They dominate, never have goals been celebrated with so little noise. My frustration twists my insides.

Thompson scores a cracker, and 2-3 seems like a victory in some senses. The Burton fans look happy with their night’s work, Dan asks if we can still do it, I tell him if we play like we know we can, then yes!  And so they did, another sunny day brings forth the result we need and Wembley approaches.


The final is on 18 May, oh, that’s the same day as your baby cousin’s 1st birthday party up in Leeds, which do you want to go to Dan?  Ha ha very funny Dad, what do you think?

Saturday arrives. Back off to Watford, this time it’s a load of City fans at Croxley station, all the way in.  We don’t need photos, already got them, we’re not here to mess about, this is it Dan.

Up in the top tier, looking down on the half-way line, we start on top I turn to Dan “We need an early goal” we need to get some reward for our dominance.  Up in the top tier, City’s play can be appreciated for what it is, all the interplay, movement and dominance, near post, far post, back to near post an un-marked Hanson can loop his header back over the keeper. Beautiful.  Those Northampton fans on our left can start to shut up.

Again near post, far post and Rory McArdle relives his goal against Villa. What worked against them does again against this lot.

For a 3rd time our movement across the goal loses the Northampton defence we can all see Nahki Wells alone this side. So can Thompson. The goalie slumps to his knees against his left-hand post knowing his team is getting blown away.  City are doing exactly what they need to do, the opponent is on the canvas and they are not being allowed to get up.

In the end it feels like we are having our own party, enclosed in this arena, away from the world, Northampton have gone by now, the world seems to have gone by now, it must be hard for others to feel what this means, after years of strife, days of coming home, not knowing if your club will still be around, not knowing where they will be playing, unsure of when it will turn around and almost believing that that may never happen.

And we were there, me and my son, his first proper season, my first with a football companion since the mid ‘90s, the pain and waiting made it all the sweeter.  This story started on a sunny spring day and will finish the same way.  The event organisers at Wembley feel they need to ‘create’ a party atmosphere for winners, so we had endless ‘celebratory’ songs. But I’d rather we could have just sung ourselves hoarse with our own songs, rather than almost feeling like a spectator due to this insistence on blaring out their own playlist.

So the summer is here, a time of looking back and looking forward, of watching Dan in his City top and listening to him hum ‘Claret, Amber’ over and over again and waiting to get my new Flexicard for another season with my Bradford City mad brummie.

Thank you to Julian and Mark for going above and beyond for years now. To David Baldwin and all the staff at City. To Parky and Steve and all of the team – for giving us a team to love again and making us feel like excited kids once more.


2012/13 season review: Life on the road

29 May


By Gareth Walker

I was recently reminded that, back in June, I made the bold statement I would only be attending two away games during the 2012/13 campaign. Including the two trips to Wembley, I ended up attending 18 – including Plymouth away on a Tuesday night.

In total, I attended 45 of our 64 games this season. I missed one home match, which was the FA Cup Replay victory over Northampton. So what happened? What made me go so against my well-meant intentions?

Well, first of all, I have to say that the me who was speaking last summer was the Sensible Me. The Sane Me. The one who at the time wasn’t suffering from the Football Bug. I was thinking clearly. I knew that, with only the wife working in our house – whilst I took on the role of ‘Stay at Home Dad’ – money was very tight and luxuries were unaffordable. I had even pinpointed which two away games I was going to attend: Accrington, because I could walk to that game from our house, and Fleetwood because a lads’ weekend was being organised for it.

But therein that statement lies the issue that changed everything. At some point, the luxury of going to the matches became a necessity. It all started to go wrong last June when the fixture list came out and pressure intensified further towards the end of July as the first game of the season approached.

Inevitably, the text message came through. “Anyone fancy Gillingham away?” I was on holiday and I’d had a beer or two at the time. I could excuse this one surely? It was the first game of the season after all; and if I offered to drive then it would bring down the cost. “I’m in” was my reply. I’d straighten it out with the Mrs later.

Looking back, that was my biggest mistake. And I’d made it almost without a second thought. I’ve often spoken to people about why away games are so addictive. Almost like a drug, in the buzz they provide when your team scores in front of the packed away terrace you are stood on. Once I’d committed to that first hit, there was no going back.

I dread to think how many miles I have travelled this season – by train, minibus and car – and, more worryingly, how much money I have spent. Both must have reached the thousands.

I got my hit many times of course. Raucous celebrations with friends as Alan Connell scored at Accrington, Garry Thompson netted at York and Ravenhill bagged one at Chesterfield, to name just three.

As this season developed into a successful one, the whole club seemed to become more united. People were starting to utter the words ‘Bantams Family’ again; as finally supporters and the club began to feel closer, after years of feeling poles apart. That is something that we all enjoy being part of, and matchdays beaome much more than just going to games.

I have made some really good mates during my time following City; but those that I have made during City’s seasons in the doldrums, over the last few years, have become especially close because of what we have shared together. We have travelled the length and breadth of the country to watch some horror shows and, finally, this season we have been rewarded. No real fan will ever change their football club, and, as such, these friends will be of the life long variety. You just can’t put a price on that.

Hanson’s header at Villa and his goal at Burton. Victories over Wigan, Arsenal and Villa. Wembley TWICE, and, of course, promotion – the third that I have seen whilst supporting the club. Nobody can take these memories away from me and they will live with me forever.

As a City fan, I will be thanking this season’s team and its management for years to come. Their names are now edged in Bradford City Folklore, and I was fortunate enough to be there to see most of the key moments.

On a personal level however, I have to thank my wife and son; because no matter what the cost to our finances, they have understood that this season has been a once in a lifetime experience. If you gave me the opportunity, then I’d do it all over again without question.

For that reason alone, and even with our second child due in November, I have avoided making the same mistake of predicting how many games I will attend next season.



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