Tag Archives: Wembley

We Made History one year on: ending 12 years of hurt

17 May

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On this weekend one year ago, Bradford City were promoted to League One after defeating Northampton Town 3-0 at Wembley in the play off final. In the first of two articles looking back, Jason McKeown reflects on this unexpected achievement.

It seemed as though everybody had given up, I know that I had. Promotion from League Two just wasn’t going to happen. Too much ground to make up, too little time remaining. A seventh straight year in the basement division beckoned, it was time to come to terms with this frustrating reality.

My personal belief that we could do it was extinguished on a Tuesday evening at Plymouth, in the middle of March. Bradford City drew 0-0 with the then-basement club. And though the second half performance was good, the failure to turn late pressure into a winning goal seemed symbolic of what was surely to come in the final few weeks. I departed Home Park frustrated and deflated. There was plenty of consolation to take from the League Cup heroics that would ensure 2012/13 would go down as a good season, but in the league, it seemed, it was all over and all that was left was a nagging sense of what might have been.

When, a few days later, City were thrashed 4-1 at play off contenders Exeter, it appeared to be confirmation that my immediate Plymouth reaction had been right. I listened to the St. James Park capitulation at home on the radio, and began to think about next season. Defeat left the Bantams languishing in 11th place, 12 points behind the Grecians all be it with two games in hand. Too much ground to make up, too little time remaining. Year after year of watching failure suggested that a familiar tale was being played out in front of us again. Ah well, at least we had some fantastic memories to take away from this season. At least it wasn’t as bad a campaign as the last two.

The Exeter loss

The Exeter loss

Two months and two days after the Exeter debacle, Bradford City were celebrating promotion at Wembley stadium.

It was an incredible turn around in form. Started, it was said, the day after the Exeter defeat when Phil Parkinson held a summit meeting with his players. Whatever was said at the training ground that Sunday morning, it had a drastic effect. In the nine remaining games, City produced five wins, three draws and a defeat. Enough to secure the final play off place with a game to spare – a place they snatched from Exeter, for whom the 4-1 Bantams victory would be their final win of the season.

Initially it was difficult to tell that anything special was beginning. The next league match was Wycombe at Valley Parade on a Tuesday, with an early Garry Thompson goal enough to settle a contest between two sides seemingly with little to play for. Any hopes of rekindling play off ambitions seemed to quickly extinguish in the next match, at home to Southend, as City found themselves 2-0 down after just 11 minutes. A commendable comeback saw Zavon Hines and James Hanson make it 2-2 with a minute remaining, but when Kyel Reid had a stoppage time penalty appeal turned away you assumed that that really was it.

Easter Monday at Torquay was the true rebirth to the hopes. That City won 3-1 at Plainmoor wasn’t exactly earth-shattering, but the realisation that every other result had gone our way suddenly made promotion seem a realistic hope once more. We were back in this.

Northampton were next at Valley Parade. Nahki Wells ended his personal goal drought with an early tap in, and it proved enough to secure back-to-back victories. Make that three in a row, after Bristol Rovers were swept aside in superb fashion three days later. 3-0 at half time through Wells (twice) and Andrew Davies; Thompson sealed a 4-1 win in the second half and, amazingly, City walked off the field at full time inside the play off places.

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Exciting, thrilling and unexpected times. Chesterfield away followed and the away end was bouncing. With the score 1-1, Ricky Ravenhill drilled home a lot shot from the edge of the box to spark wild celebrations. So good was City’s form and so indifferent those around them, that a top three finish was in grasp. A stoppage time equaliser by Chesterfield all but ruled that out, and the following Tuesday promotion rivals Rotherham punctured the mood with a smash and grab 2-0 Valley Parade victory. Forget automatic promotion; let’s just get over the play off line.

The final regular home game saw Burton Albion rock up. They looked ordinary, with Calvin Zola in the centre lifeless. Hanson scored a scrappy goal before half time, Lee Bell was sent off for the Brewers early in the second. City held on comfortably and, due to results elsewhere, were guaranteed a play off spot with a game to spare (a game that, at Cheltenham, was used to rest players). There were fantastic celebrations at full time. Finally, after five previous years where we only once came close, City were part of the end of season shootout.

Burton were back for the play off semi finals, and in the first leg at Valley Parade looked a different side. They were far from ordinary, with Calvin Zola full of life. He scored two brilliant goals, Jacques Maghoma tore Stephen Darby to pieces. Half time and City went in 3-1 behind and in big trouble. The second half of the first leg was crucial. Burton failed to press home the fact that we were on the ropes and sat back on their lead. Thompson reduced the arrears with a quality strike from distance. We left the ground feeling disappointed but also relieved – Burton had let us off the hook. Whether we could turn it around at their ground was unclear, but there was certainly no way we would play as badly.

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Sunday May 5 was such a memorable day. The sun was shining brightly, the away end sold out, and as we drove up to Burton the pubs were packed out with City fans full of confidence. I really believed we would do it, although as soon as the game kicked off I was filled with terror and nerves about just what was at stake. This means everything.

We started the game slowly, but then grew into it and – 27 minutes in – a mistake put Wells in to give City the lead and level the tie. Then, five minutes into the second half, Hanson struck a thunderbolt from the edge of the box that arrowed into the bottom corner. Pandemonium. Burton made it 2-1 straightaway to level the tie at 4-4, but then in another instant Wells had made it 3-1 and caused another outbreak of jubilant scenes behind the goal that he scored.

What an afternoon Burton was. The impressive way that City came back, the sheer determination to get to the play off final and the brilliance of Wells and Hanson. “We’re proud of you” was sung at full time and the on-pitch celebrations seemed to go on another hour. Me and my group of friends kept the party going all night when we got back to Yorkshire.

We’re off to Wembley, again.

Meeting Peter Beagrie

Meeting Peter Beagrie

Saturday 18 May, 2013 began for me at 4am. I was riding down on a bus with the Skipton Bantams supporters club, which was departing at the ungodly hour of 5am. We were parked up on the edge of London before 9am, already merry from alcohol. A fry-up in a pub, a short underground journey to Wembley, and more beers in the Hilton Hotel next to the ground. I even bumped into City legend and Sky pundit Peter Beagrie. His former team mate and another Bantams legend, Jamie Lawrence, was sat on the row behind me inside the stadium.

Unlike the sheer I-can’t-believe-we-are-here-wow joy of the Swansea cup final, this visit to Wembley was filled with nerves, panic and fear. Game 64, and a whole season rested on this. It didn’t bear think about, losing twice here in one season, yet there was every chance that this was how it was going to end.

The players clearly did not agree. They were so determined, so focused, so ruthless. They blew Northampton away in the first half. Hanson – goal! Everyone around me was hugging everyone. McArdle – goal! This is unbelievable. Wells – goal! 3-0 and only 28 minutes played. We celebrated in stunned disbelief. No one thought this would be easy, but that’s just what it was proving.

Some people say the second half was an anti-climax, but I didn’t agree. The worry that Northampton might score kept me nervous, and then, as time ticked by and you realised that the improbable was now impossible, excitement grew. We have done it! Promotion, at last. Let’s have that final whistle blown, let’s begin the party, let’s ‘ave it!

The moment of Gary Jones and Ravenhill jointly lifting the trophy will stay with me forever. It was the near-perfect day, and to have finally escaped the bottom division meant the world to us supporters. I attended the Centenary Square open top bus ride a few days later to revel in more public celebrations.

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Supporting a football team like Bradford City carries one undisputable guarantee – the bad days will outnumber the good ones. It means that, when something truly special occurs, like a promotion, a cup run or a thrilling late victory, you savour the occasion that bit more because of what it means.

Perhaps as Manchester City fans celebrated clinching the title last weekend, in a much more reserved fashion than when they won it two years earlier, they would reflect that the thrill of success dulls when it occurs more and more often. It was notable that when Man City fans talked of the bad times, they still referred to their brief flirtation with third tier football in 1998/99, rather than anything since their first Premier League title win. It might have been fun to support Man City this season, but it was probably even better in 2011/12, when it was all so new to them.

1998/99 was also the year of Bradford City’s last promotion. In between that day and the start of the 2012/13 season there had been an even greater ratio of bad days to good ones. Only defeating Liverpool to avoid Premier League relegation in 2000 counted as success over that period. The League Cup miracle was the first subsequent occasion of hedonistic times in 12 years, and it was continued with promotion in May.

Of the two Wembley games, you’d have picked the play off final as the one to win. It all worked out perfectly, and for that we are left with a treasure chest of memories from 2012/13 that we will store lovingly until the day we die.

For all we had been through in the 12 years prior, May 18, 2013 truly was one of the greatest days in the club’s history.

Lessons in history as Bradford City go to Coventry

1 Apr
Picture by Claire Epton

Picture by Claire Epton

Coventry City vs Bradford City preview

@Sixfields (Northampton) on Tuesday 1 April, 2014

By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

League Cup miracle one year on: Swansea City

24 Feb

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By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swansea were simply outstanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read our look back on the League Cup miracle

Aston Villa 2 Bradford City 1

Bradford City 3 Aston Villa 1

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

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

Bradford City 3 Burton Albion 2

The early rounds

2013 reviewed by Bantams Banter and Width of a Post

16 Jan

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

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

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

Click on the image below to listen to the podcast.

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2013 reviewed part three: Doing it for Bradford

30 Dec

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By Jason McKeown

Of all the many, many wonderful Bradford City memories that we can take from 2013 and lovingly store forever, it was the scene of May 22, 2013 which deserves a place amongst the most prominent. On that sunny, spring evening, thousands packed out Centenary Square to cheer the Bradford City players and management as they completed an open top bus parade around the city.

Our League Cup finalists. Our League Two play off winners.

Congregating in the heart of the town was not just City supporters, but Bradfordians. A community occasion, one which attracted a wide and diverse range of people. This was not only a moment to celebrate 12 years of football club misery coming to an end, but a gathering of civic pride. And though it sounds like some terrible cliché; as we headed back to the car afterwards, walking in front of us was an Asian family decked out in claret and amber souvenirs, bought from enterprising street vendors at Centenary Square. One of many, many examples suggesting the club’s achievements had touched more than just those who have been regularly setting foot inside Valley Parade over recent years.

2013 was not without its problems, but in many ways proved a very good year for Bradford. It was a year where the threat of closure of a unique landmark – the National Media Museum – was memorably challenged by a public already scarred by so many other Bradford buildings and attractions taken away. The campaigning helped to result in the museum’s owners, the Science Museum Group, shelving their plans, and the National Media Museum is still with us.

It was the year when a prominent BBC One show ‘Bradford: City of Dreams’ painted a heart-warming picture of the entrepreneurial spirit that the city’s vast depth of multiculturalism has fostered over the years. (Some people said the two-part series was vastly one-sided, ignoring the problems that continue to hold back Bradford. But if any city deserved to be the subject of a rose-tinted, over-optimistic programme, it was surely Bradford, which normally endures so much negative publicity.)

It was the year when a Bradford Jewish synagogue was saved by its Muslim community. A year where – hold the front page here – Westfield finally gave a firm commitment to build that bloody shopping centre they promised us over a decade ago, before they left us with an embarrassing hole in our city centre.

And it was the year when Bradford City caught the local and national public imagination, generating with it so much goodwill. The improbable journey of a League Two club reaching the League Cup Final. As the world’s media descended upon Valley Parade in the build up to the Wembley meeting with Swansea City, the angles they covered stretched beyond the miracle of Phil Parkinson’s management and the working class hero, James Hanson; and to examining the city itself. Broadsheets, and your more serious news shows, in particular took an in-depth look at how Bradford the place was holding up in 2013, revisiting a city that had not been so vividly in the national and international spotlight since the race riots of 2002.

The football team that represented the city had performed incredible heroics against all odds, and it wasn’t a surprise that the media searched for a connection between a League Two club beating three Premier League sides and a city riddled with so many problems, trying to bounce back from the severe global economic downturn.

What can bring Bradford together?

Two days after the League Cup Final, I was a guest panellist at a British Future think tank event held at Bradford’s Carlisle Business Centre, barely a mile from Valley Parade. The event was to publically debate the question: “What can bring Bradford together?” and what came across from the audience that night was the feeling of community inclusion that City’s cup run had sparked.

Although within our fanbase there had been some disquiet about whether certain people ‘deserved’ to attend the Wembley occasion, the general feeling was that new, lapsed and existing supporters of the club all bonded together well and contributed to a stunning atmosphere. As Labour Councilor Jan West stated on the night, “The Wembley crowd was very different to a normal Bradford City crowd. It certainly had a bigger racial diversity. But the other thing that is increasingly expanding is the number of women going, and the amount of different ages, from people who are quite elderly, right down to young kids. You had people with disabilities, I saw a lot of people in wheelchairs.

“That diversity and widening is pretty powerful to see.”

As the players were being outclassed by Swansea on the field at Wembley, in the stands there was that memorable show of pride and defiance by the 33,000 City fans present. 4-0 down, we stood to our feet, waved our flags and chanted non-stop in support of our team. As Alex Scott wrote on Width of a Post a few days later, “The story which will live on, which will define this year, which will define our club, which will define our city, is us.”

It would have been easy for that to have proven the peak moment and for the Bantams to return to their perennial mediocrity, loved only by an ever-dwindling support. But the club, which walked out at Wembley to face Swansea lying in 12th place in League Two, overcame the odds once again to book a second trip to Wembley, for the League Two Play Off Final. And though this time the number of City supporters who descended upon Wembley Way was lower, the 24,000 who did still makes for an impressive number (over twice the club’s average Valley Parade attendance for the 2012/13 season).

This time the team delivered, and the celebrations could begin. Sunder Katwala, British Future’s director, was at Wembley on May 18, 2013, and wrote, “As the team parade their trophy around the city on an open-top bus on Wednesday, the final act may demonstrate one lasting impact of this incredible football fairytale, by capturing how the club’s claret and amber colours have become embraced more strongly than ever before, across Bradford, as an inclusive source of a deep and shared civic pride.”

There is an never-ending temptation for those within football – and certainly those who cover it – to overplay the sport’s role on regular people’s lives. No one should believe that the Bantams winning a few football matches can fundamentally change the city it represents. But still, there is no doubt that the achievements of those in claret and amber have made a positive difference, beyond regular supporters.

City’s achievements have brought people together. City’s victories have won hearts and minds, resulting in new Bradford City supporters. In these times of identikit cultures where every town and city centre is uniformly the same, Bradford’s professional football club has offered a sense of identity that residents can take pride in.

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Picture by Claire Epton

The legacy of City’s unprecedented 2012/13 season can be seen in the way that crowds have swelled at Valley Parade for our 2013/14 League One adventure. This includes the fantastic re-launch of a community enclosure, which is packed out for almost every game. There has been a tremendous atmosphere inside the ground this season, with so much noise, singing and positive backing for the players. As a seasoned watcher, I have found visiting Valley Parade this season to be hugely special, and it reminds me of what it was like when I first discovered Bradford City. I’d like to think that a new generation are currently going through what we all did when we first caught the Bantams bug. I’d like to think that it will stand the club in good stead for years to come.

Bradford City has become an exciting attraction for its community. Valley Parade is a place where young and old can sing and cheer together for a common cause. The players are celebrated heroes, whose fame stretches beyond the four sides of the stadium they regularly appear in. This year, James Hanson turned on the Bradford Christmas lights. The guy who worked in a local Co-op and scored the goal that took City to Wembley, now the subject of a children’s book. An inspiration to so many people: who else could have turned on the lights, in this year of all years?

The future

As we move into 2014, questions need to be raised about whether the positivity of 2013 on Bradford the city can be continued – or even if we want it to be. A bright start to life in League One understandably raised expectations in us all, but as City drift away from the play off picture and star striker Nahki Wells looks set to exit soon, a debate about the financial practicalities of continuing our progress has seen the well-established season ticket initiative be criticised by many of the supporters who have benefited from it.

For all of City’s years of struggle in League Two, the cheap season tickets was one (sometimes the only) thing to be proud of as a supporter. It was a shame that it took so long for success to occur on the pitch, and it meant crowds dwindled significantly. But the combination of cheap season tickets and belated footballing progress has resulted in higher crowds and wonderful atmospheres.

There are calls to significantly increase season ticket prices for next season. That the cheap initiative will hold us back from progressing and achieving the long-term goal of Championship football. With no sign of a rich investor, the club’s future fortunes are intrinsically linked to gate receipts.

It is a big dilemma for sure, but I’d personally find it hugely depressing if – at the point where interest in Bradford City is its highest in a decade – we price out a number of people by ramping up the cost of watching the Bantams. There is a good portion of us die-hards who will purchase a season ticket whatever the cost – and less of us paying more would probably result in more overall revenue – but the objectives of this club should not be restricted to winning on a Saturday or getting promoted, we need to continue building up the strength of our club.

I first started watching City in the mid-90s. During that era, average attendances tripled in under five years. The spectacular achievements on the field ultimately helped to attract so many new supporters, but the cheap prices at that time were a big help, too. It would cost me a fiver to stand on the Kop. The year City were promoted to the Premiership, my student season ticket cost just £66. Players like Edinho, Nigel Pepper and Darren Moore captured my heart and imagination, but none of that would have been possible if the cost of watching my new-found heroes was beyond my means.

The modern day Bradford City has a chance to replicate that era of progress – and keeping ticket prices affordable should be considered a key part of that strategy. This was the year that the city of Bradford rediscovered and fell in love with its professional football club, and now we have to ensure that continued progress does not come at the cost of closing the doors on the wider community.

2013 reviewed part one – the alternative Wembley view

2013 reviewed part two – Bantams Banter witness history being made

2013 reviewed part two – Bantams Banter witness history being made

23 Dec

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

The Aston Villa semi final

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

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

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

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

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

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

The build-up to Swansea final

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cup final experience

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

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

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

Back to Wembley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Centenary Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life in League One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tis the season, of the mighty Bantams”

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

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

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

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

2013 reviewed part one – the alternative Wembley view

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

2013 reviewed part one – the alternative Wembley view

16 Dec

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

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Swansea City 5 Bradford City 0

League Cup Final

By Huw Richards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bradford City 3 Northampton Town 0

League Two Play Off Final

By Danny Brothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet dreams are made of this

4 Dec

we made history poster

By Damien Wilkinson

Monday 2 December, saw the worldwide premiere of the short film, ‘We Made History – the Fans’, at the Cubby Broccoli cinema in the National Media Museum.

Width of a Post was lucky to be amongst those present, and special guests included the Lord Mayor of Bradford, City’s Mark Lawn, Garry Thompson and James Meredith, and not to forget fan Charlie Murgatroyd, whose iconic arms raised and pointing to heaven salute, adorns the promotional posters.

The film, the brainchild of Bradford fan and musician, David Novakowski, depicts the culmination of City’s 2012/13 season and the epic Wembley play off victory, using mobile phone camera footage provided by fans.

At the time of City’s first Wembley visit last season, David had been touring the US with his band, causing him to unfortunately miss the League Cup Final. And after struggling to watch shaky lap-top footage of the match, had made a promise, should City return to Wembley, to capture the event in some kind of unique way.

The seed of a social media experiment was sown, and with the memories of the City fans singing and waving flags towards the end of the League Cup Final in his mind, the concept of capturing the event from the perspective of the fans was devised.  Whilst the Bantams’ play off bid faltered, the idea also began to fade but it well and truly re-emerged, as David’s friends were quick to remind him, as they returned back from the momentous Burton second leg play off turn around.

Not wanting to go back on his promise, David was then faced with the unenviable task of trying to canvass as many fans as possible within a two week window, to agree to capture their experiences, primarily using mobile phones, of the Wembley final on May 18 2013.  This was done through a blitz of emails, Twitter and Facebook campaigns as well as radio and TV publicity.

That David received over 1,000 clips of footage from this campaign was testament to his hard work and persistence, not to mention the increasing power of social networking sites.  It did, however, then leave him with the nightmare of what to do with such a volume and varying quality of clips, even if some clips of people’s feet walking up Wembley way, or those uttering the immortal words ‘Is it switched on?’ were soon discarded!

Despite making some on-tour behind the scenes documentaries of his band, Scars on 45, which surfaced on YouTube, David had no other real experience of film making.  Enter the Minneapolis Film School – whilst still based in the US, he approached the Film School and managed to engage the interest of one of their top students, Taylor Allen, who expressed much keenness to get involved in a ‘Soccer’ film.

Many, many hours of laborious editing and meticulous attention to detail then followed, as they both sifted through the footage, with David keen to stick to his original vision as much as possible, despite it been his first ever film.  With the differing formats and quality of the raw output received, there were numerous technical problems, but David was also able to call on help from David Wilson, Director of Bradford UNESCO City of Film, for valuable advice and assistance.

Finally, after working through the night in August, the final editing was done, and with the footage whittled down to around 14 minutes, David left the studio at 6am, tired but jubilant. Only to find his car had been towed away!

Plans were then made to publicise and launch the film and it was eventually decided to do this at the National Media Museum – which brings us nicely up to this press launch tonight.

After initial introductions by David Wilson and then an understandably nervous, but proud, director the lights were dimmed and a surprise was unfurled as a number of members of the audience stood up and began to sing a very vocally proficient version of ‘Take Me Home, Midland Road’.  It later transpired the singers were members of local choir group ‘Chordiality’, whose rendition also features in the opening sequence of the film.  Unexpected, but it worked well as an innovative spine-tingling precursor to the main feature.

The film traces footage from the start of the day on May 18 2013 to the very end (and also includes footage from the open top bus parade in the City Centre the week after) with submissions from a wide range of City fans young and old, and those both on the Wembley trip or watching the match in more remote locations as diverse as Dublin and Hong Kong.

Whilst the footage is obviously not of normal cinema quality, it holds up remarkably well on the big screen, and actually adds to the raw emotion on display in many parts.  Shaky, pixelated footage of the three goals, for example, followed by the outpouring of joy in so many different ways, remarkably captures the moments both beautifully and poignantly.  It somehow exacerbates the spontaneity and significance of such emotions which definitely can’t be rewritten.

Whilst some of the usual suspects (Lenny the City Gent and the aforementioned Charlie) appear there is some endearing footage of some of the younger generation of City fans enjoying the day and debating who is the best – Wells or Hanson; together with lots of older fans shouting, singing, dancing around and generally going mental!

There is also some footage taken by the players themselves in and amongst the clips – the pre-match walk on the pitch, singing on the team bus on the way home and a seemingly riotous party when home, which certainly adds to the film and displays the emotions and joy of the team itself.

The various clips gel together remarkably to provide a well-paced and coherent account of the day, and reflect the many hours David must have put in to fulfil his initial vision, and capture the variety of emotions on show.

As the final credits roll, the film is fittingly dedicated to the memory of the 56 and the aim is for the Bradford Burns Unit to benefit from any future proceeds that the film may make, which is a fantastic gesture.

At 14 minutes, the film does not outstay its welcome or become too specific or unique to the fans supplying the clips, and is sure to become a vital accompaniment to the Club’s own ‘We Made History’ DVD recently launched.  Given its length and brisk pace, I would imagine it holds up well to repeat viewings, particularly for those of a ‘spot the person you know’ persuasion.  Longer term it will undoubtedly be a valuable and unique historical record of such a fantastic season.

The film will be subsequently shown at the Pictureville cinema at the National Media Museum on:

  • Friday 6 December with the film, Nebraska (17.40).
  • Saturday 21 December with the film, It’s a Wonderful Life (11.40)
  • Thursday 26 December with the film, It’s a Wonderful Life (17.05)

David is planning to monitor feedback from the showings prior to making a decision as to how to take the film forward, be it future screenings (eg at City, or a DVD release etc) and it is to be hoped that the aim of benefitting the Burns Unit can be maximised as part of this.

Overall it’s a must watch memento of an unforgettable season and I would really urge City fans to give the film the support it deserves and attend the further showings, particular given that the big screen airings may well not happen again.

David set out with a vision to capture the fans’ experience of the conclusion to what was a remarkable season, in a unique and long lasting way.  He has certainly achieved that.

We made history…the fans – a short film

29 Nov

By David Nowakowski

Experience a stomach churning tension like your first day at school or wedding day nerves as fans of all ages follow their team to Wembley for the second time in a matter of months.

Nervousness and tension turns to sheer joy and elation as the fans dare to dream of sweet victory.

We made history – the fans, was made by the fans, for the fans, to commemorate this very special day in the 120-year history of Bradford City Football Club.

Small children at the game will show their grandchildren this in years to come and be proud to have been part of an historic moment in English football, seen through the eyes and hearts of the fans.

Fans were asked to submit video footage captured on phones and personal cameras via social media networks to create a visual documentation of this special event seen from the fans eyes.

I then had to sift through the raw material and working with the Minneapolis Film School has produced a short film which will be showcased at the National Media Museum in the lead up to Christmas.

I was overwhelmed at the response and received over 1,000 clips of footage. I approached this as a social media experiment which has turned out to be something really rather special.

David Wilson, Director of Bradford UNESCO City of Film said, “This is a real meeting of hearts and minds, using new technology and social networks to assemble a 1,000-strong team of film-makers which was then skilfully crafted together as evidence of this great sporting achievement.”

The short film will be screened at the National Media Museum on the following dates in the lead up to Christmas to accompany a full length feature film:

  • Friday 6 December with the film, Nebraska (17.40).
  • Saturday 21 December with the film, It’s a Wonderful Life (11.40)
  • Thursday 26 December with the film, It’s a Wonderful Life (17.05)

Catching up with David Baldwin (part one)

19 Nov
Picture courtesy of Bradford City FC

Picture courtesy of Bradford City FC

By Jason McKeown

It is just shy of one year ago since I met with David Baldwin in his Cullingworth local for an in-depth interview for Width of a Post – and it’s fair to say that plenty has happened since.

Two trips to Wembley – not to mention the respective two-legged semi finals that preceded them – and promotion has brought the club huge amounts of joy but also major workloads for the staff. Holding the title of Head of Operations/Chief Executive, no one will have felt this side-effect of the club’s success more keenly than David. Even now, long hours are a regular part of the job, rather than an anomaly.

As we meet again at 8.30pm in the same pub the evening after City’s pulsating 3-3 draw with Coventry, David is fulfilling the last duty of a working day that began before 7am. He won’t return home from our chat until after 10pm (“I’ve not had my tea yet”). At the weekend he is travelling to Spain to meet officials at Real Sociedad, mainly in relation to RIASA (“There might be some Spanish players that the club can look at”) and then it’s off to the Court of Arbitration to stand in the witness box for the hearing into Mark Stewart’s Falkirk transfer fee.

“I have definitely aged a bit in the last year,” chuckled David. “My poor wife has put up with some really long working days away. But at the end of the day, it’s my club and I want to do the best for my club. She is fully supportive of that, and that’s very important. I couldn’t speak more highly of her.”

Reflecting on the personal successes of the past 12 months, David immediately points to the way that the club handled the unprecedented demand for tickets for games like the League Cup Final. “What’s nice is when people come up and thank you. When they say how the organisation of the Wembley tickets was brilliant, for example. We know that we are not going to get everything right. But when I looked back at the stats for the Capital One Cup Final, we sold 27,000 tickets in less than six hours.

“We introduced an online ticket system a year earlier, because we had to move into the 21st century. The implementation of that was costly to the club. In terms of did it pay dividends? Without a shadow of a doubt, with the Capital One Cup.

“So that side of things I took a great deal of personal satisfaction from, knowing we implemented that. And it was nice to get good feedback from fans on it. Those who did have problems, we got them sorted really quickly.”

The scale of this achievement is further emphasised by how few full-time members of staff the club employs. David said, “I think people think we have a huge amount of staff and we don’t, certainly not away from match days. The actual day-to-day running of the business is done by a dozen people on a full-time basis. That’s not a lot of people to run a 25,000 seater stadium.

“The reality is that every penny you spend off the pitch, to improve things, is a reduction in the manager’s playing budget. And the feeling is we want to give as much budget as possible to the manager, to get the best possible product to rise up the divisions.

“In the month of the play off final, we received 33,000 calls. So it was all a mammoth task. A big thank you to the staff for that. It was a real team effort.”

The here and now

As the club establishes itself in League One and currently finds itself in the mix for a second successive promotion, David’s focus has quickly shifted to building on the successes of last season and providing Phil Parkinson and his coaching staff with the tools they require.

“The key thing is it is about making forward steps,” revealed David. “Take the training facilities. We are still in the process of developing a second pitch at the training ground, which is coming along nicely. Come next season, we will have two pristine pitches for training. We have a new full-time ground member of staff, based at the training ground. That’s an investment.

“That’s your forwards step. Last season, the forwards step was developing the relationship with Woodhouse Grove (who own the land where City’s training facilities are based). We have invested in gym equipment. Nick Allamby was very specific about some of the equipment he wanted, and we have found the budget to provide him that.

“It’s step by step improvement. Then, when you eventually look back, you realise we have made quite big strides. We haven’t just jumped; we have built upon things that are sustainable. I think that’s key. It’s no good having a go one year and then it collapsing. It’s putting improvements in place that will be seen year after year.”

Much of this has been funded by the League Cup windfall, so how was this revenue split between on and off the field matters? David explained, “I think some people think we have got this big pot of money just waiting to be used. It’s been well-documented that, in reality, there are three facets to the way the cup money is being used.

“Step one was the fact we had set a speculative budget last year to try and get out of the division, so there was already an overspend to make up. Step two was Mark Lawn having a loan in the company to be paid back, and step three was that we wanted to give the manager a decent budget if we got promoted. So the manager already has a budget this year that is greater than the break-even point.

“The position we ideally want to get to is that, come the end of this season, we have a controlled deficit. We don’t want to have massive debts, but we want to have given the manager a budget to have a go. There is quite a sizeable difference between break even point and the budget we have given the manager, but we are now a third into the season and in and around the play offs. That wouldn’t have happened with a lot less budget. The aim was to see if we could compete in this league.”

David continued, “We are very close to all the Capital One Cup money being gone, but we are sustainable as a club. Come the end of the season, we will be back to that position of needing to determine how we can continue to have a sustainable budget going forward. There are all sorts of ways we can do that, you look at the young lads coming through who we might be able to capitalise on. You look at the existing squad and decide whether to let someone go to freshen it up. Those decisions are for another day.”

So what of January and the transfer window: will there be money to spend? In August, Julian Rhodes told Width of a Post that the club were committed to 55% salary-of-turnover, with the maximum allowed by the Football League 60%. Since then Caleb Folan and Matthew Bates have been recruited, suggesting Parkinson will need to move people out to bring people in. “There’s a financial review of the wage cap due by the 8 December,” said David. “What you do is analyse whether what you projected for your income is up or down, and you make adjustments accordingly. So far, in terms of income and budgets, we are a little bit ahead of the game, although not by a lot.

“In terms of ticket income, we are probably slightly ahead of the game at the minute. By nature of the flexi-card system, positive results do improve attendances. If we had a run of bad results, that group could shrink down again. It’s a big pendulum swing.

“In terms of cup revenue, we are nearly on budget. We budget to go out of the first round of each one, but we had two good first round draws in Huddersfield and Rotherham from a revenue perspective.

“The commercial, advertising and catering side – those numbers are where they should be. And running costs are also where they should be. The adjustments that we need to make in the December report will show we have a slight improvement that may release a bit more money, but not a huge amount.

“Fundamentally I think you have to accept that to bring someone in, it could involve other players going out on loan to facilitate that.”

One longer-term money consideration is tying down James Hanson – out of contract in the summer – on a new deal. David confirmed that talks have been held with the striker, “Dialogue is still ongoing. It’s important to retain good players and we want to. Ideally, the club would like to retain his services and I think every fan would say that also.”

Although recent form has not been great, David is still pleased with the team’s progress this season, “I think you have to realise that teams will have dips in football. When you lose two of your most influential players, Andrew Davies and Nahki Wells – one at the back and one up front – you are likely to leak a few more goals and score less. So we have to be philosophical and treat it as a section of time.

“If you take the marker point of the first round of the FA Cup. Last summer if someone had said you will be in a play off spot come the first round, you’d think ‘that is successful’. There are a good dozen teams who could get promoted this year, at least.

“The Coventry game was against the most in-form team in the league, and we went 2-0 down after seven minutes. Yet we got back up off the canvas and came back, and I think that says a lot about the spirit of the club – on and off the pitch.”

SAM_0013

The 2012/13 legacy

With the club firmly in the mix to challenge for a place in next season’s Championship, the board potentially face a dilemma over the future of season ticket prices. Do they continue with the cheap initiative, or will that change as crowds continue to increase? “The ethos is there to try to remain as competitive as possible with season ticket prices. I think that it is important that we make them affordable.”

Will there be another Christmas campaign? “Allowing the season tickets to run through last year was successful in terms of people buying, so we have no immediate plan to look at a Christmas campaign this time. Things can change very quickly in football so I’m not going to say we don’t do one, but as it stands we are concentrating our efforts on potentially having an early bird offer later in the season. There are a lot of factors we need to consider.

“Even if we don’t run one. If people wanted to buy one for Christmas for a loved one, I am very happy to create a voucher that can be used to get money off buying a season ticket when they do go on sale. If anyone wants to do that for a loved one, please email me direct (davidbaldwin@the-bantams.co.uk)”

I asked David about the legacy of last season and the huge amount of interest the club’s exploits generated from the city of Bradford – how can this be maximised on? He pointed to the club’s understated community efforts, which he is clearly proud of. “We outreach to over 2,000 children a week, in and around some very deprived areas. We offer the ability to be coached, and not just football, but rugby and cricket. There are links to Yorkshire cricket and Bradford Bulls as well as ourselves. That’s one of the things we have worked quite closely with the charity One in a Million on. We signed one of the first partnership agreements with One in a Million.

“That is very much at the heart of what I believe in doing, as an individual. We have a responsibility to allow our collective community of the people of Bradford to feel part of something that is about much more than 11 guys who play football on a Saturday. I think the evidence is there to see. Through One in a Million and also Football in the Community, our links with the Bradford City disabled team, and the Bradford Positive Life Centre. These are not things that have been happening the last six months, but in many cases the last eight years. I’m very proud of that. I’m proud of our partners.

“We don’t massively blow our own trumpet about the things we do, because I think there should be some modesty about it.

“I was at an awards dinner for One in a Million a week last Saturday as a guest of Wayne Jacobs, to present an award. And I have to admit that, sitting in a car park at Rotherham at 5.30pm, it was the last place I wanted to go to. I wanted to go home and hide. But I went and, by the end of the night, I left feeling really inspired by it.”

In part two, David discusses recent controversial issues, plus the Supporters Board, RIASA and future objectives of the club.

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