By Katie Whyatt
As the Bantams continue to embark on the crucial last stretch of the season, there seems to be a consensus amongst City fans that, this year, our promotion hopes won’t materialise into anything more, even though there’s still a glimmer of light left.
For all that historic cup run, the acquisition of three Premier League scalps and the magnificent journey to Wembley, we are still a League Two outfit. We’re still in the basement division of English football. We’ll still be playing the likes of Wycombe, Chesterfield and Morecambe next season. We’re still the same team.
And it hurts. This year, Bradford appeared to genuinely have a chance of achieving what McCall, Taylor and Jackson had all failed to do. Parkinson, the Reading legend who had made so many stellar signings over the summer, was the man to champion the mission, and we had a superb crop of hungry and passionate players. Yet, come March, we find ourselves in territory that has become all too familiar to supporters over the past six years.
Whilst the likelihood is that we won’t be joining Gillingham in the Promised Land next year, we shouldn’t complain. Why? Because we’ve spent a season in dreamland.
It’s fair to say that Bradford City’s decade of decline hasn’t left fans with many moments to shout about. The club’s fall from the dizzying heights of the top flight was punctuated by administrations, and, even in the fourth division, the rot didn’t stop. Peter Taylor’s side seemed destined for promotion, but failed spectacularly, whilst Peter Jackson departed before he had reversed the team’s fortunes. After nearly losing Valley Parade due to the crippling rent fees, Parkinson entered, but last season didn’t warrant much to cheer about: many of us were just glad to stay up, after the possibility of a point deduction following the Crawley brawl made a place in the Conference seem possible.
With previous campaigns marred by shattered promotion dreams, not many supporters were expecting a top-half finish this season, never mind the scintillating cup run that thrust our humble club onto the world stage.
It started with a victory over Notts County. To me, this wasn’t the start of an odd-defying journey in the League Cup, although this game did represent, in effect, a giant killing. For the majority, this was a way of gauging our promotion ambitions: the result signified that the Bantams could compete at a higher level.
Then, there was Watford. City headed down to Vicarage Road to play in what should have been our final – a clash with a Championship team, and one managed by a former Chelsea superstar. Somehow, though, our team managed to emerge victorious again, with Garry Thompson clinching a late winner.
After Stephen Derby’s goal against Burton fired the club into the fourth round, a clash with Wigan was on the cards. I was on tenterhooks for the majority of the tie, and the front room erupted into raptures when Matt Duke saved that final penalty to secure the result. Thank goodness for Dean Windass’ singing on the radio, which helped to diffuse some of the tension whilst the shootout was in progress.
In my time as a City supporter, I’d never known anything as exciting. Bradford City defeating Wigan Athletic? Surely not!
And the best was yet to come.
I can recall exactly where I was when the draw for the Quarter Final was televised. I remember surveying the names in the hat, deciding that I wanted to draw Chelsea or Arsenal at home. But not Middlesborough or Leeds. Definitely not Leeds.
One by one, the balls were drawn out. Ties were made. Soon, just Bradford City and a certain Premier League team remained.
“Arsenal… We’ve got ARSENAL!”
Pandemonium ensued, and the phone burst into life. Vermaelen. Wilshere. Carzola. Football’s millionaires would be coming down to Valley Parade. Ramsey and Mertesacker would be sharing a pitch with Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle. It was riveting. Goodness knows what it must have felt like for the Bradford City players.
As his side trailed 1-0, Arsene Wegner was taunted with chants of, “You’re getting sacked in the morning,” which, given his circumstances, seemed plausible. Even as Vermaelen equalised and City were under constant attack for the majority of extra time, the chants never fleeted, and my tears at the final whistle epitomised exactly what the tie meant to me.
The semi final draw. How had our lowly placed Bradford City gotten to this stage? Still not expecting – but, nonetheless, hoping – to get any further in the competition, I wanted to face Chelsea, and thereby re-live the atmosphere of the Arsenal match. It was still the occasion that mattered.
We drew Aston Villa. Whilst arguably the most beatable team in the hat (after us), Wembley was still a long, long way away. The odds were massively in Villa’s favour. Not only were they against a side from the bottom tier, they had an enviable history of success in the League Cup, winning it five times.
Progressing to the final would be a challenge, but not one that Parkinson’s men couldn’t overcome.
The first leg was 3-1 to the Bantams. On a night where claret and amber had reined supreme, Wells fired City ahead, McArdle’s blistering header rattled the back of the net and McHugh’s effort saw him beat his childhood hero. By the second half of the away leg, City were trailing and Wembley seemed further away than it ever had done: we couldn’t defend for another 45 minutes. Luckily, we didn’t need to, with James Hanson capitalising on a Gary Jones corner to book the trip to London.
It was like some mad illusion; a far-fetched story that had been dreamt up by the people of the city. Had the tale been a film script, it would have been rejected by Hollywood bosses – it would have been too barbaric, inconceivable, unrealistic, all just too much to fathom. Even the most positive supporter could never have envisaged this series of events.
The idea of running down to the club shop and purchasing a scarf with “Wembley 2013” emblazoned on it would have been laughed off with justified cynicism back in the Peter Taylor era, but it was something that so many did during the run up to the final.
The result didn’t go our way, but it didn’t matter, just as promotion isn’t the be-all-and-end-all this season.
Even though we are saddened that City probably won’t be competing in League One next year, what Parkinson has done is nothing short of miraculous. He has revitalised the club and the city, and instilled this sense of pride and hope in our football team that had rapidly faded in the six tumultuous years in League Two. Next year, with the finances secure, the club will be able to contend for the League Two title, as there is enough money to bring in more players and eliminate the fatigue element that took its toll at various stages of the season.
Four teams go up from our division every year. F-O-U-R. How many teams from the fourth tier compete in a League Cup final? Just two in the cup’s history: Rochdale and us. And we are the first to play in a Wembley final.
I missed the club’s climb to the Premiership and the era where City regularly found themselves against illustrious opposition. However, family and friends have told me stories of Bradford’s glory days: David Beckham running riot on the Valley Parade turf; David Weatherall’s superb header to secure top-flight status for a second season; my uncle giving his ‘Elvis’ jacket to Peter Beagrie and having to collect it from the club’s offices. That coat sneaked into the national newspapers the next day. Geoffrey Richmond had even had it dry cleaned for him, apparently.
Now, I have my own Premier League memories of Bradford City.
So, to Parkinson and his brilliant, brilliant boys: thank you.
At 15-years-old, Katie is the youngest writer Width of a Post has showcased and we are very proud to do so. You should also check out her own site: http://www.bantamsblogger.blogspot.co.uk/