By David Pendleton
If Gary Jones lifts the League Cup at Wembley, he will be the first Bradford City captain to hold a major trophy in 102 long years. For the players of 2012/13 there is an opportunity to not only be heroes of the present, but also to enter the realms of footballing immortality. So long as a round ball is kicked in the city of Bradford, their names will be cast for all time in our collective memories. They stand on the brink of history and we will be there to watch it, to cheer it, to live it.
Gary Jones will lead his team out at Wembley with the ghosts of 1911 at his shoulder. I write that not simply as a romantic notion, as among the claret and amber hoards will be represented friendships made in the memory of City’s goal scorer and captain in the 1911 FA Cup Final, Jimmy Speirs.
In 2007, the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, the bantamspast museum loaned the life size cut out of Speirs to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele, Belgium. Jimmy Speirs was killed in August 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele, an event that stands alongside the Somme and Verdun as a byword for slaughter in the First World War. On a muddy slope leading to the obliterated village of Passchendaele, 300,000 British and Commonwealth troops lost their lives attacking heavily defended positions in horrendous weather conditions.
Jimmy Speirs died a lonely death in a muddy shell hole after being shot through the thigh; just six years earlier he had been cheered by 100,000 people on the streets of Bradford after the Bantams won the FA Cup. The contrast is almost beyond comprehension.
In 2009 I made the journey to Belgium to bring the Speirs cut out back to Bradford. At Kortrijk railway station I met the Memorial Museum’s Frank Depoorter – a keen historian of the Great War and supporter of KV Kortrijk. He was naturally fascinated by the story of Jimmy Speirs. I remained in contact with Frank and when we held our Glorious 1911 centenary dinner at the Midland Hotel in April 2011, Frank and his family made the journey over from Belgium. The previous day they witnessed City defeat Aldershot and a firm friendship emerged.
Since then the Depoorters have been on two of our battlefield trips to France and Belgium in 2011 and 2012. Other City games they have taken in were Watford last January in the FA Cup and the opening match of this season at Gillingham. Given the links built up, and in particular the Jimmy Speirs angle, it seemed natural to invite Frank to Wembley to see if the Bantams of 2013 could match the achievements of their 1911 predecessors.
So if you hear Flemish being spoken at Wembley, it will more than likely be Bradford City’s Belgian fan club. It doesn’t end there. Frank is bringing a scarf emblazoned with the legend ‘Allez Calais’ – a scarf produced for the fourth division side’s appearance in the French Cup Final of 2000. Which is, as far as we are aware, the only other time a fourth tier club has ever got to the final of a major cup (we are discounting the Sri Lankan Navy team that won their cup final on the grounds that they relegated themselves three divisions the previous summer and that Sri Lankan football isn’t exactly of the greatest standard).
Frank’s great passion KV Kortrijk are also in the semi-finals of the Belgian Cup and play Circle Brugge on 3 March at home in the first leg and away on 27 March. I have promised to travel to Belgium to support Kortrijk if they make the cup final – did I mention that the Belgian Cup was first played for in 1911?
When you walk down Wembley Way on Sunday you are living history. Whatever happens on the field, this day will be looked back on by generations of supporters yet to be born. If there really is such a thing as footballing immortality, then I’m certain that our cup heroics will have brought a smile to the face of Jimmy Speirs and his team of immortals. That is our heritage, now let’s add to it and win the cup.
Another star for the shirt?
Cup Final: Width of a Post build-up
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