The greatest night in Bradford City’s history?


Aston Villa 2

Benteke 24, Weimann 89

Bradford City 1

Hanson 55

Bradford City win 4-3 on aggregate

Tuesday 22 January, 2013

By Jason McKeown

The secret behind ageing – or maturing if you will – is the level of weariness you build up in your head. You’ve seen it all before, you know how life works – its ups and its downs – and it feels as though nothing can truly surprise you again. And yet last night at Villa Park, I experienced emotions that I did not know existed, and was part of events that three decades on this planet has taught me can never happen. Is this a life-changing moment, or a coming of age? Far from being 31-years-old this morning, I feel like a child filled with wonderment.

Bradford City, our Bradford City, has beaten Aston Villa to reach the League Cup Final, and will be playing at Wembley. Take a moment to enjoy that sentence, please. This match report can almost end now; there is nothing else I can write to equal that shock value or level of pleasure. This type of scenario – a fourth tier club knocking out three Premier League sides to reach a major final – doesn’t happen. Failure was surely our destiny. Glorious failure, maybe, but failure nonetheless.

Instead we have been treated to a series of moments, and a certain February 24 date, that I never thought was possible. Growing up watching football for the best part of two decades, that feeling of jealousy when I watch teams walk out for League Cup or FA Cup finals never dims. Ever since I first stumbled across the Bantams, I had dreamed of us making a cup final. But I had long, long since accepted that such occasions would never occur. They are not for the likes of us. And certainly not when we are a League Two side, who in recent times has struggled even to hold onto that lowly status.

When the final whistle went at Villa Park, it was difficult to take in the realisation of what the players and management had just achieved. But we certainly did our best to, revelling in celebrations that in a flash took you back to Wolves in 1999. Was this better, or not quite at that level? I find it impossible to compare, not yet anyway. All I know was this felt different. This time I cried.

The whole evening was set to be special, no matter what. A build up featuring days and days of being riddled with nerves, failing hopelessly to sleep at night, finally gave way to match day and the beginning of celebrating whatever fate had in store. As soon as we set foot inside a raucous Witton Arms pub two minutes from the away end – jam-packed full of City fans inside and outside, loudly going through our back catalogue of chants – the nerves melted away. You simply have to live and breathe in every second of this, while at the back of your head you continue building your defence mechanisms to cope with the inevitably of City bowing out.

Inside Villa Park, the eeriness of thousands of light blue seats half an hour before kick off gradually transformed into a crescendo of noise from a packed out stadium. And at around 7.30pm, the home fans unleashed their secret weapon upon us – every one of them had been given a flag to wave. It looked impressive for sure, but somewhat Premier League plastic fantastic. The fact the club had to fork out a significant sum of brass buying these flags, in order to aid their fans in backing them on the field, helped to smash all illusions that 35,000 Brummies were going to intimidate our players. We can do this.DSCF6344

It was a tough one for Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin. Taking a two-goal lead to a second leg was not an easy scenario to prepare the team for. Go for it in the attack, or keep 10 men behind the ball and deny them space? City seemed caught between two minds. They got the ball up to James Hanson quickly enough, but left only Nahki Wells as an option to flick the ball onto. Zavon Hines continued to relish his personal battle with Joe Bennett; but it was as though the other seven outfield players daren’t cross the half way line. First move to Villa.

The home side started off doing everything right, from their point of view. They began to apply strong pressure that encouraged their crowd, with Charles N’Zogbia and Christian Benteke looking every inch those scary blokes who can rip apart our dreams whilst barely breaking into a sweat. The true secret to a strong first half was Paul Lambert’s decision to play Steven Ireland in a free role behind his front three players. The Irishman popped up all over the park, leaving the excellent Curtis Good – who would probably have expected to be marking him – in an awkward position regarding who he should pick up. At times Good had to play as a third centre back and Will Atkinson left back to cover, inviting more Villa players to get forward.

But yet, 24 minutes of pressure seemed to be fizzling out. The home crowd’s flags had long since stopped waving. It was all getting quiet. We seemed to have sorted out the initial issues and were looking stronger. Alas, Bennett was allowed space to cross the ball from deep, and the otherwise magnificent Rory McArdle lost Benteke for a split second. Bang, the Belgian volleyed the ball past Matt Duke. Stephen Darby and Hines argued over who should have stopped the cross.

The encouragement that reducing the arrears offered Villa saw them continue to pour forward. Duke made a string of outstanding saves – the best a tip over from N’Zogbia’s long-range piledriver. Ireland was pulling the strings. Benteke blew a glorious chance to make it 2-0. It was a horrible half of football to watch. Tortuous in the extreme. Just get to the interval only 1-0 down, please. Yet the clock was ticking by painfully slowly. Finally a good City chance saw Wells fire a shot narrowly past the post with Shay Given scrambling. But it was a relief to finally hear the half time whistle soon after.

Parkinson used the interval well. Oh to be a fly on the wall to hear his words of motivation. City became more organised and disciplined in their shape, but crucially more confident and finally starting to do something they failed badly at during the first 45 – keep possession. Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle – anonymous up to then – finally started to play like the men we know they are. Yet the tide had not fully turned, and Villa came out strongly again. When Good sliced a clearance that fortuitously fell into Duke’s hands, you wondered if we were about to collapse.

But that panicky mistake by Good ultimately was THE turning point. The moment the players seemed to collectively shake themselves up and down and say to each other, “right, no more of this”. And they duly went down the other end and scored.

Just like the opening goal in the first leg, Hines’ trickery and pace forced Bennett into the concession of a corner. Just like the second goal in the first leg, the first corner attempt by Gary Jones ended with the ball coming off a Villa player and allowing Jones another opportunity. From the second corner, he delivered the ball invitingly to the back post. Hanson pulled away from Ron Vlaar, Benteke could not react in time, and City’s number nine was free to plant a bullet header into the net. I was so pleased for him.

The celebrations. Wow. We’ve had some incredible goal moments over the last few weeks, but like the evening as a whole this one felt different to any other that I have celebrated before. It was like an out of body experience. As though I had floated up and was looking down on myself going absolutely crazy. I had no control over what my body was doing. There was no way I could stop myself from jumping up and down, even if I had wanted to. Yet ultimately I had not conceded control of my arms and legs, but my mind. I was completely lost in the sea of delirium. I’ve no idea how long it lasted, but it was some time before I came to.

I’m sure it was like that for everyone else there tonight. No offence to the extra 10,000 or so City supporters who came to the Arsenal and Villa home games – and, equally, I know full well that some of our most committed fans could not be here tonight, my wife for example – but this felt like a night where the faith of City’s hardcore supporters was rewarded. As I finally calmed down, I looked over at my friend – and fellow Width of a Post writer – Gareth Walker stood next to me, and realised he’d had to sit down for a few moments because he was so overcome with emotion. Around me there was a sea of happy, happy faces.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Just like the first leg, City scoring completely altered Villa’s performance. Now 4-2 down on aggregate, their brittle confidence was back on show. The introduction of Darren Bent did nothing to change the pattern of the game that was now seeing direct long balls launched aimlessly by the Premier League side, and passing football from the League Two outfit. The defence were looking strong, with Carl McHugh probably man of the match for City. (How old? unbelievable composure from the lad.) Hanson had another great opportunity when presented with a free header. He should have scored, in truth. Soon after the superb Darby charged down the wing and crossed the ball for substitute Garry Thompson, who with his first touch fired a half volley that rattled the crossbar.

However it was Villa who would find the net again, when another substitute, Andreas Weimann, was played through on goal by Bent, rounded Duke and slotted the ball home. The tie had looked all over, Villa fans were even flooding for the exits. But now there was another minute and four additional for stoppage time to get through. 3-4 on aggregate. One more Villa goal would force extra time. Cue those nerves again.

I could barely watch, especially when Villa won a corner during the first of those four injury time minutes. Everyone but Given was in our box, and although we got it away eventually the ball kept coming back. Some superb play by Thompson in getting the ball to the corner flag alleviated the tension, but for the final minute all I could do was stare at Phil Dowd, longing for him to put us out of our misery. Tears of joy had started to fall down my face. I can’t believe what we are about to achieve.

In hindsight – and I do stress, in hindsight (it was bloody awful at the time) – Villa’s winner on the night was a good thing because it allowed the celebrations at the final whistle to carry that extra edge. Five minutes between Weimann’s goal and Dowd’s ending of the game had built up an unbearable level of tension, but now we had our release. For the second time in the evening, I was no longer in control of my thoughts, emotions and legs. When self-awareness eventually returned, I and almost everyone around me was stood on our chairs cheering the players, who looked equally happy, in front of us. Not even an idiotic Villa fan who invaded the pitch to make a half-hearted attempt at attacking our players could spoil the moment.

We’re going to Wembley!

The lights were turned out on the stand before we realised it was finally time to leave. But fair play to the Villa fans who were still around outside, for congratulating us and saying nice things. And where have all these ‘City Wembley 2013’ flags come from, which several fans were purchasing? A very opportunistic sales vendor had taken an almighty risk getting those produced before the match.

I think that any great football supporting moment gives rise to spouting clichés and going through a thesaurus to fire off superlatives. Like all clichés, they exist because they are riddled in truth, of course. But to me this evening was different to anything I have ever experienced before and probably will again.

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

City have completely redefined what is possible within football, and at the same time should provide us with inspiration that we can apply away from football – inspiration that can serve us well for years. Bradford as a city is a great example. It is so bogged down with failure and tripping over itself – no more can we accept this state of affairs. “The sixth biggest city in the country” was uttered on the radio several times on the journey home; well now it’s time the sixth biggest city in the country followed its football club’s lead and built a better place befitting that status. Don’t tell me that’s not possible. League Two Bradford City getting to the League Cup Final, that’s not possible.

Whatever happens at Wembley, nothing can – or should – ever be the same again. Financially, the club is surely set up for years now. That will give us the momentum to rise up the divisions over the next few years, regardless of whether we can do it this time around. The future is unexpectedly, and quite stunning, brighter than it has ever looked.

City: Duke, Darby, McArdle, McHugh, Good, Hines (Thompson 71), Gary Jones, Doyle, Atkinson, Hanson, Wells (Turgott 87)

Not used: McLaughlin, Nelson, Ravenhill, Reid, Connell



Width of a Post writers Mark Scully, Rob Craven, Gareth Walker and Jason McKeown before the match.

Width of a Post writers Mark Scully, Rob Craven, Gareth Walker and Jason McKeown before the match.

Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. I think you have captured the essence of the evening there. the Villa colapse following our goal was incedible – they were absolutely woeful. The shock was that it was them rather than us who scored the next goal but I can honestly say even then I never felt they would score another. An unforgettable evening – great atmosphere, fans, ground an an exciting cup tie with the correct outcome. Roll on Wembley

  2. Best night of my life? Pretty damn close call!

  3. Fortunate to get tickets in upper tier in the fancy seats. Only trouble is, when we scored there was too much space, which meant that we jumped around madly, I got nudged and fell over three rows of seats, ripping a whole in the bum cheek of my jeans and getting a badly sprained ankle. My mate did the same 5 seconds later but fortunately for him his fall was cushioned by me. Such a great night needs a few war wounds to remember it by. The hugging and random high fives with complete strangers showed the passion. Not sure Andrew Davies and his mate sat next to us could quite believe the pandomeum when we scored.

    • I dread to think what’ll happen if we score at the big W.
      You’d better take a tin hat and some shin pads!…or a bottle of whisky

  4. Top Drawer piece Jason – at a moment in time when words cannot come close to describing emotion

  5. That, even by your standards, is a great article. It must have been wonderful to be there when it was all over. It was excruciating to watch on TV, but the abiding memory will always be the effort and skill of the team. I think they outlasted Villa. The supporters were fantastic.
    Thank you.
    Whether it was the greatest ever City performance must be a matter of opinion, but I think it was. 1911 was at a time when City were a top side, and was not really a shock result.
    Wolves was great, but City were, at that time, a better team than Wolves.
    Liverpool-yes, but City were a Premier League team.

  6. What an eloquent article! it brought tears to my eyes-With deep regret i didn`t make the trip to Villa but i`m so thriled for 6500 that made the effort to be rewarded in such a manner. I thought the home leg would take some beating for atmosphere, but obviously this was surpassed!!!

  7. Jason. I’m trying to calm down and you write a piece like that. I’m nearly in tears reading that!

    The first half was like watching Dr Who in the 70s, if I could have got behind the sofa I would have! The second half we were superb and deserved it. When Hanson scored I jumped up so quick that I nearly choked on my Creme Egg and then punched the air so hard I’ve put my back out. But who cares, I don’t care my back hurts, we’re at Wembley.

    When Villa scored their second, my eldest lad went & hid in his room, until 5mins later we all screamed and he ran down to join us!

    Again wish I could have been there – now where’s this Wembley place?

  8. Brilliant, reading this at work has made me well up again! Never in my lifetime did I think I would see our club get to a cup final of any kind, let alone a major one. Fantastic achievement and one that should give a huge boost to both the club and the city.

  9. Great article that really captures the night.

    One disagreement the Villa flags were not plastic and of quite good quality, we got a collection of them after the match!

  10. Great article Jason.
    It totally captures the significance of the night.This is without doubt the greatest highlight I’ve ever experienced as a City fan.
    I was there for all the other big games…wolves, blackpool away, Notts county at the old Wembley and the last game of the season against Liverpool to stay up, but none of those games can realistically compare to what happened last night, absolutely incredible.

    Even today I cannot believe it really happened, very surreal.
    Well done lads you have made every Bradfordian proud.

    Wem-ber-ley, wem-ber-ley…we’re the famous Bradford city and we’re off to Wem-ber-ley!

  11. Great piece Jason, still can’t get my head round what happened but when it sinks in am sure my pride will only increase in everyone involved with last night. We were immense on and off the field, special mention to James Hanson, I’ll defend him to the hilt and last night showed the value he has for the team, haven’t seen it again but I think the chance he missed got a slight touch off the defender in front of him and that put him off, whatever he was brilliant as was everyone around him. Like Gareth I had to sit down during the celebrations as I was just overcome with emotion and in tears, I missed Blackpool ’96 and although I’m still disappointed about it I think last night made up for it. Bring on Wembley, let’s show the rest of football what a real team with real fans is all about.

  12. Jason,Your article captures the whole night brilliantly. I hope all the real supporters get tickets because it will be one hell of a day out! Well done all connected to the club, including LUFC who allowed us to use their indoor training facilities.

  13. Those days of putting money around the pitch touchline to save the club (£80 of change that was in a tin under my bed), putting any spare change in the buckets, clapping your team despite the fact we have been relegated, only seeing your team win 8 times in ten years (I’ve not been a season ticket holder, but always attend a few matches a year when I can, I just seem to pick the wrong ones!). This makes it all ok. No, more than ok, this makes it awesome and I can only hope that all of those people who have been through the barren years have the chance to see their team walk out at Wembley.

  14. Great article! Today has been a bit of a whirlwind; I have spent most of the afternoon just reading almost identical reports from any source I can think of, probably in the hope that eventually it will actually sink in.

    It’s interesting that a lot of the write-ups are laden with almost unthinking condescension, some are even downright patronising. For today I don’t care, I am just loving the fact that people are talking about us. But the carbon-copy articles springing up all over reflect a laziness in the footballing media when it comes to discussing anything outside the Premier League. Even when something like last night happens to shake this fraternity out of its Premier League obsessed reverie, they don’t really put much effort in. None of their articles pose questions or uncover information of any interest to us City fans, it is just a superficial ‘team only cost £7,500’ etc etc. The only reasonably insightful stuff published by the mainstream since half nine on Tuesday night has focused on Villa, their frailties and future direction. I don’t suppose it matters, nor am I surprised, but what happened last night, what has happened in this tournament, is nothing short of a miracle and I honestly think it deserves so much more attention and detailed analysis than it has been getting.

    Where is that rant going? Nowhere, except to say thank God for WOAP and all the other fantastic sites that allow lower league fans to ignore the Premier League and focus on real football. The coverage on here has increased my enjoyment of the season and especially the cup run immeasurably; thanks to you all!!

    And as for the actual article itself, yes, without a doubt, the greatest night in our history. So far.

  15. Stop it – just stop it. You’ll make me start crying again…

    “This is the best trip – I’ve ever been on”

  16. Great article Jason.
    Glad you mentioned the nerves in the build up to the game, i’ve never been so nervous in my life! Quite uncomfortable feeling during 1st half too up until they scored, guess we knew it was coming. The team were brilliant in front of so many villa fans in an imposing stadium. So pleased for Hanson (when do we ever call him ‘big Jim’?!)

    Made some great friendships on the night, a fantastic camaraderie. Any fans trying to sing Wembley songs were shushed immediately as fans got superstitious and worried about jinxing the result. Celebrations were wild, on both occasions. The feeling of our club making the cup final…just amazing. The last 5 mins were sheer hell but its typical bradford city and we’ll never change!

    Best ever nights for me were Blackpool and Villa. The former was the first time we got to Wembley and that feeling can never be recreated- just unreal as the 1700 city fans (and players in with us) looked at each other knowing we were actually heading to that footballing mecca against the odds. The feeling of getting to the cup final too is so amazing it is difficult to put into words as it’s not happened for over 100 years and you just know it won’t happen again, just sooo glad i was there and played my part.

    Got flag, t-shirt and scarf on way back…souvenirs aplenty, sit nicely alongside the memories of an amazing night

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