By Rob Craven
Featuring Stan Grant, Liam Grant, Jim Nicholson and Tom Warden
Compared with living in the North, London comes with some minor problems and irritancies. There is the high cost of rent, the constant flow of tourists, the price of a pint and let’s not even get started on the bad fish and chips or mention the lack of Bradford City action. Football in general however is never very far away. A rich tapestry runs right across the capital with no fewer than 14 league clubs calling London home, and in our neck of the woods one club rules the roost.
This corner of London was illuminated with excitement on Wednesday 31st October following the draw for the quarter finals of the Capital One cup. Text messages and voice mails were a flourish as we realised that we had landed none other than our close pals’ beloved team, our most local club and one of the biggest in the English game, Arsenal.
Many an afternoon and evening have been spent in the boozers of North London watching the Gooners take on various outfits from across the Premiership and Europe with our Arsenal supporting friends. Likewise those same friends have joined us Bradford exiles for trips to southern grounds for some northern wit and gritty cup and League 2 action.
We have all become accustomed with the ways of each-others clubs and to each-others joy, love, expectation and bitter disappointment. We have been a sympathetic ear in difficult times and are an excitable comrade when things are looking up, but since the draw the only football that has been discussed between us has been to arrange where we will be watching this prized encounter.
For on 11th December 2012 thousands of fans will be packed into Valley Parade on the cold Tuesday night with even more watching at home and in pubs nationwide. Many will be hoping to see an Arsenal team turn up wearing their gloves and snoods unaware of the cauldron they have just walked into, and who knows, maybe just maybe, a surprise result. After all this is the cup and we are not a typical League Two club. I am sure the 11 players on the pitch and the 20,000 plus supporters off it will make the match as uncomfortable as possible for the fledgling gunners.
Width of a Post invited four of these friends to turn pundit and answer questions, discuss their hopes, feelings and expectations for the game. From London and proud supporters of our guests Arsenal are Stan and Liam and flying the claret and amber flag high in London from Bradford are Jim and Width of a Post’s own Tom.
This is Bradford City vs. Arsenal – The London Look
To begin with, tell us who you are, where you are from and who you support?
Stan: Stan, 29, Teacher, born and bred North-West London. I’ve been an ardent Arsenal fan for 23 years since attending my first game in 1989; a scorching 3-3 vs. Celtic in a testimonial game for the legendary Paul Davis.
Liam: I’m Liam, from North London. I currently live within view of the Emirates and can indeed see the scoreboard from my bedroom, which is nice. Being an Arsenal fan and having this proximity to the club helps me feel connected in some way when I can’t get to games as often as I wish. I can proudly say I have been an Arsenal fan all my life since turning to my big brother one day as a 6 year old and asking him whom I supported.
Jim: I’m Jim. I’m a Bradfordian living in North London and I support Bradford City. My favourite player of all-time is Brian Mitchell (I was young and my auntie dated him, default hero). The best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced was against Barnsley at Valley Parade in 1998 (Gordon Watson’s comeback, ill-advised rain macs for people on The Kop). The scariest place I’ve ever visited is Maine Road (15 years old, lost in Moss Side). My most memorable season was 1996-97 (first season ticket, standing on The Kop, Nigel Pepper). And, the thing I always tell people about? I asked Rob Steiner at the end of his original loan period why he was leaving. He replied, “Sometimes you’ve got to do things you don’t want to do” (legend).
Tom: A Bradford boy, born within the shadow of Lister Mills, I now live in London, having left Yorkshire at 18 and arrived here via Chester, Manchester and Melbourne. No matter how far away I’ve been though, I’ve still managed to follow City, my first game was against Hartlepool in 1991 and I haven’t looked back since (though waking up to results from the Taylor era on Sunday mornings in Australia was demoralising…)
What does it mean to you personally to be playing a team that is inadvertently close to you?
S: If you had asked me a few years ago that I would be looking out for the results of Bradford City I think I would have been pointing you in the direction of the nearest doctor. Now I find myself willingly sitting in the middle of pubs full of rowdy drunks in Finsbury Park being one of two people watching City play their only Sky game of the year. Coupling this almost guilty pleasure with the great banter that it is to play teams that your mates support makes it all the more special.
L: Having a fair few Bradfordians as friends these days it was one of the draws I was hoping for, mainly for bragging rights. Of course from my point of view there will be a bit of banter, some haha’s and oh’s on the way, then we’ll win. If I thought we were going to get beaten I might be looking forward to the game less than I am. It’s also nice to have a footballing connection between our teams that doesn’t come about as often as it has done. I do enjoy the cups for their ability to throw teams together in matches such as these.
J: It means a hell of a lot. I live in an Arsenal dominated area of North London, and so to see our name on the chalk boards outside the pubs and to hear people talking about the club makes me very proud as both a Bradfordian and a supporter of Bradford City.
T: Playing Arsenal certainly adds an extra little bit of something as I have several friends who are Gooners. I do love to needle my friends, especially those of the bigger sides, when things go wrong; and if I can do so with the added bonus of my team being the team that causes the upset then all the better!
What sort of season is your club having leading up to the game?
L: Our season this time out began in an almost depressingly familiar fashion, us losing our prized assets to other big clubs we are hoping to challenge for honours. Though not quite as heart wrenchingly sudden, arguably the impact on the team has not been higher. Selling RVP, a player at the height of his powers, somehow hurts more than losing a Henry or Vieria, players who had given us years of service and were past their peak, or even Cesc or Nasri who were undoubtedly talented players but never quite blossomed fully. Seeing Van Persie wheeling away arms outstretched after scoring yet another goal for another English club is a bit hard to take, akin to seeing your gorgeous ex-girlfriend snogging her new handsome and really nice boyfriend, I imagine. But despite this we have evolved as all clubs do; the return of Jack Wilshere and the new arrivals having had some time to settle has seen us begin to find ourselves again.
T: A promising one, having been on the slide for over a decade, it finally seems like we may have a side capable of challenging for promotion from the basement, but more importantly, we seem to have a side full of players who the fans can get behind. Too often the players and fans have been on a different page but right now I feel an affinity with this team. Winning obviously breeds that positive relationship but with less bile and more support pouring from the stands meaning the players have time to concentrate on their job on the pitch and not fear fan retribution, it seems like we may have found a good formula.
Being a cup game, how do you think your club will approach the game?
S: I think we’ll approach this game the same way we have approached all games in this competition over the past years; with a calm professionalism. While we’ll definitely be looking to progress I think we’ll also take the chance to rest some of our key players.
J: For Bradford City the pressure is completely off. We’re the plucky Bantams against the mighty Gunners, the League 2 minnows against the Premier League giants. I think we’ll go into the game with the intention of frustrating Arsenal. We’ll probably play with a flat back ten when we’re out of possession and will attempt to counter-attack with pace when we have the ball. The key for me will be our use of set-pieces – we’re a big, strong side and I think we could intimidate what is most likely to be a young and inexperienced Arsenal back-line.
As a result of this, what strength team do you expect to field?
S: I think you’ll see a few more senior players on the bench than in previous rounds but I expect Arsene to stick to his policy of giving fringe and youth players a game.
J: Being our most high-profile game in a decade, our first quarter final appearance since the eighties and being live on TV, I imagine we’ll field a full strength team.
Do you have any niggling worries about your team?
L: Any time there is potential for Squillaci or Santos getting near the starting XI there is always a worry I have to say. Generally however I do not have any specific worries. I am sure you will hear the normal talk form the manager in the build-up to the fixture about playing our own game and no focusing too much on the opponent. I am happy to think in this instance that this will be true; if we play to our potential we should win.
T: In a word, defence. Who knows, by the time the game rolls around we could have kept 3 clean sheets but the injuries to Davies and Oliver have hit what was arguably the strongest area of the team. With James Hanson and Nahki Wells cementing themselves as first choice strike partnership and G. Jones and Nathan Doyle running the centre of midfield it seems the least settled part of the team is at the back, which means it could be a problem.
What strength team are you expecting to be playing against?
S: With all due respect Bradford will be the weakest side that we’ll play all season. I am looking forward to seeing Nakhi Wells play. I’ve no idea who this bloke is but he’s got a great name and it sounds even better if you say it in a Bradfordian drawl.
T: Arsene Wenger has a great tradition of playing his second string/youth side in this competition and the remarkable game against Reading in the previous round was no different, being played out by a team of stiffs. We may see a few fringe faces such as Walcott and Mannone but I expect Wenger to be resting the likes of Cazorla and Giroud to ensure they are in the hunt to win the trophy for 4th place at the end of the season.
Who do you think will be your Key Player or one to watch?
S: If he plays, Olivier Giroud. This big jolly Frenchman seems to be on the fast track to becoming a cult hero at the Emirates.
L: The real one to watch has to be Serge Gnabry. The talented German youngster looks set to be our latest product from the youth team who has a chance of making an impact on the side since joining form Stuttgart in the summer of 2011. Similar to the Ox in build, he currently is also used mainly out wide but should aim to make an impact in the centre of the pitch as he matures. I was very much looking forward to seeing him in the last round but unfortunately he was virtually anonymous in the 60mins or so he played there. Hopefully this time out he can warm up the crowd on a cold Yorkshire night.
J: Will Atkinson. Alongside the show-stealing styles of Jones and Doyle, his metronomic passing and excellent ball retention often goes unnoticed. This season, his move to a more central role has seen him flourish, keeping the engine room of the midfield ticking over and providing valuable cover or link-up play when needed. To me, as I believe he is to Alex Scott, Will Atkinson is the Michael Carrick of League 2. A player often under-appreciated, but one who should never be under-valued.
T: For City Nahki Wells will be looking to make a keen impression and show that he can play (and score goals) against a top class side, his pace could trouble Arsenal’s inconsistent back line.
This is the game of the decade for Bradford, and a menial bump along the road for Arsenal but what will a victory mean to your club in this game and in turn, defeat?
L: I think the question alludes to the answer well. Were we to win in the manner expected, which is comfortably, it’s hard to see this going down in the history books as a milestone. Even the 5-7 win in the last round has faded into the haze somewhat as the league and Champions League hurtle on towards Xmas. Conversely a loss has the potential to derail whatever momentum we have been building. Even at this stage exiting is a disappointment mostly as it restricts some of the youngsters’ opportunities for game time though losing out on a winnable bit of silverware at a time when it would go down well comes a close second.
J: If we win, we’ll be talking about it for years to come, with people remembering where they were on the day that young Carl McHugh wrote his name in the history books by scoring a bicycle kick in the last minute of extra-time to win the game. On the other hand, if we lose we’ll all probably forget about it quite quickly. After all, it’s only a cup…
Obviously the game has added spice for you all personally, so what is your overriding feeling prior to the game?
S: It’s one of those that you can’t win. If we win everyone will say we should have and if we lose… Well, I doubt I’ll ever hear the end of it.
L: A calm confidence. I want to say I hope we don’t tear them apart, that it’s a close fought encounter with many a drama. Buuuut no, give me a goal in the first 10 minutes followed by 80% possession until our second in the 70th minute. Somehow don’t think that’ll happen though.
J: Excitement, apprehension, nerves, nausea, and the list goes on… you name it and I’ve probably felt it.
T: I’m excited, as a fan you want to see your team testing itself at the highest level, and I want to be able to lord it over some Londoners (and one Northerner living in South Korea – you know who you are.)
So it seems both sets of London based supporters feel that City and Arsenal have bigger fish to fry elsewhere this season, yet the excitement and expectation for this game is palpable, with the Bantams selling out Valley Parade for the first time since its completion, and a place in the Semi Finals up for grabs.
The Gunners aren’t expecting to take this game lightly and are in no way expecting a shock. We however have already seen on a number of occasions this season what the Bantams can do against teams from the leagues above. If we hit Arsenal with the same intensity which took Roberto Martinez’s Wigan by surprise both on and off the pitch then there is no reason why we can’t give them a good run for their money.
As for friendships they are sure to be a blur for the 90 minutes of the game as we all watch on with everything crossed hoping for the right result. Temporarily gone will be the banter and use of funny southernisms or northernisms instead replaced by a competitive desire and hope that we get one over our mightiest/mousiest of opponents. By the end of the evening I know that this writer and two of the above pundits will be hoping that it is the Bantams that have knocked the Gunners off their perch and are indeed celebrating as not only the cock of the North but also the Cock of North London.
Categories: The Arsenal game