Bradford City bring back good times with Wembley return

2013-05-05 13.56.28

Burton Albion 1

Maghoma 55 (pen)

Bradford City 3

Wells 27+57, Hanson 50

(Bradford City win 5-4 on aggregate)

Sunday 2 May, 2013

By Jason McKeown

Supporting Bradford City has never been easy. You are mocked and pitied by others. You endure lots of terrible football. Disappointment becomes second nature, because it seems like, wherever you place the bar of expectation, the club will usually fall well below it. The glory days had become something from a different era. We’ve experienced some very difficult and dark times.

Which makes days like today so much more special. After enduring years of failure, testing your faith and testing your sanity, today City got their day of celebration. Today, years of frustration, heartbreak and so, so many home defeats has been rewarded. Today, every reason for supporting Bradford City was vindicated. Today.

The scenes at full time, after Bradford City had defied the odds, once again, to book a second trip of the season to Wembley, will live in the memory forever. They were every bit as electrifying as the best ever moments supporting the club. Some who were there for Blackpool 17 years ago stated this was on a par. Being at Villa Park in January may or may not have shaded this, but it’s all academic. For a club that has achieved no success since 2000, to have two occasions like this in one season is astonishing.

Astonishing because of how good it tastes. The memories of Wolves, Blackpool, Liverpool etc were beginning to fade. The mind plays tricks – were they really that good, or have we just built up a halcyon recollection of emotions that we could never possibly hope to relive again? The truth is we’d forgotten what this felt like. How amazing it is to feel this happy following your football club.

Supporting Bradford City has never been easy, but on days like this it is impossible to imagine ever wanting to do anything but.

All of which masks what was, in truth, a terrifying ordeal. Three days on from seemingly throwing promotion hopes away with that dismal first 45 minutes at Valley Parade, hope had been allowed to grow and theories of how we could turn it around given wings to fly. Beforehand I was hugely confident that we could do it, but as soon as the match kicked off I instantly questioned my stupidity in what I had been thinking. Have I just set myself up for another terrible let down? As Burton charged forwards in the opening minutes, the temptation to run out of the stadium and go home there and then was strong.

Even when City took the lead 27 minutes in, my nerves only increased when they should have eased. A horrendous misjudgement by Burton defender Marcus Holness – an attempted back header to keeper Stuart Tomlinson falling well short – allowed Nahki Wells to steal in and tap the ball home. Everyone went barmy. I could not jump up down myself, as I was hugged by people either side of me and from the row in front. Manic, but brilliant. From being 3-1 down at half time on Thursday, City had pulled the aggregate score back to 3-3. That’s why my anxiety grew. It was now in our hands. That was scary.

The goal had followed a half hour of nothingness. Andrew Davies, back from suspension, handled the still-strong Calvin Zola excellently, and Jacques Maghoma was kept quiet by a much improved Stephen Darby. Jon McLaughlin made one good save, but Phil Parkinson would later talk about the huge psychological advantage City gained from Burton resorting to 4-4-2 mid-way through the half, as the Brewer’s first leg tactics were nullified.

Indeed Burton were on the ropes. Wells’ goal unravelling their composure and revealing their insecurity. A few seconds later a scramble in the box resulted in the referee Graham Scott blowing for a City penalty and it seemed like we had one foot at Wembley. Alas, Wells was ruled to be offside in the build up and the linesman persuaded Scott to award a Burton goal kick instead. But it was still a blow of some sorts to Burton. They were hanging on, and we had nearly exposed the thinness of the margins.

Five minutes into the second half, and Gary Jones – back to his magnificent best after a no-show Thursday – sent Wells away down City’s right. He was challenged, but the ball ricocheted central towards the edge of the penalty area where James Hanson was charging forwards. A powerful low finish – Tomlinson could not get near it – and the back of the net ruffled. A huge roar. The celebrations were immense both on and off the pitch. In a season of incredible moments, this was right up there with the best.

A fitting goalscorer too. Hanson had played well Thursday but was widely criticised, as usual. Today he was unplayable. Sensational. For how much Zola has been praised over the last few days and Hanson compared unfavourably, today James’ critics must once again eat their words. He and Wells gave the performances of their lives, and Burton could not cope. Hope was turning into realism. Wembley on the horizon.

A scare came five minutes later when the home side finally came to life. Maghoma got away from Darby, and Garry Thompson’s desperate lunge to deny him a shot on goal resulted in a penalty. It is claimed that the challenge was outside the box. It is also claimed Thompson was the last man and should have gone. After the handball antics of the first leg, Burton were in no position to take the high ground on the latter point.

So just like on Thursday, the 2-0 down home side pulled one back from the penalty spot – Maghoma doing the business – but just like Thursday, the away side responded quickly. It took all of two minutes for Wells to restore City’s lead with a clever turn and shot that Tomlinson might have made a better fist of keeping out. The ball trickled slowly over the line and we were in dreamland.

Looking from the outside, the last half an hour must have seemed curiously routine for City. Burton were shot to pieces. Their attempts at coming back lacked confidence or conviction. A couple of half chances were dealt with by McLaughlin, but for the most part City reduced them to pot shots from distance that were so wayward they flew out of the ground. Meanwhile City continued to attack in a measured way, looking more likely to score.

Being on the inside, however, the last half an hour was utter torture. Burton only needed one goal to force extra time, and the minutes ticked by painfully slowly. My heart was beating so fast. My breathing got heavier and heavier. At times I had to turn the other way and stop watching the game. From being all over at half time on Thursday to the brink of Wembley, the prize was too important for anything but total devastation to occur if we let this slip from our grasp. City had two very, very strong penalty appeals turned away that might have made it safer. Where six minutes of injury time came from is a mystery.

But we were magnificent. Nathan Doyle’s return to the starting XI bringing calm and rational-thought to City’s play. Davies – complete with a head bandage in the second half – sensational at the back. Jones, Meredith, Darby, Reid, Thompson, Rory McArdle – pillars of strength. For how brilliant Burton were on Thursday, City were doubly impressive today. For how much we froze on Thursday, Burton were now the ones who had bottled it.

Finally, the final whistle. Cue the celebrations. Me and my wife hugged each other and I realised that she was in tears. The last time she had cried at City, we were 4-0 down to Swansea at Wembley. I started supporting City in 1997, so have seen some good times at least. She saw her first City match in 2002 and unfortunately could not join me at Villa Park. I’m so glad that she has at last experienced this kind of magical moment.

Some fans invaded the pitch, but the police’s heavy handiness discouraged others from joining. Instead the players were able to party in front of us. Dancing up and down to our chants, throwing their shirts into the crowd. The highlight for me – and it was possibly the highlight of the whole day – was Parkinson’s pumped up celebrations as he ran around the pitch. It’s no secret that I am a big, big Parkinson fan to the point I irritate others. I’m so pleased for him. He endured some strong criticism post Wembley that was undeserved. Please, dear reader, join me in rugby tackling Parkinson and not letting him back up until he signs that bloody contract.

The players went inside, but we were not going home until they came back out. In the meantime Mark Lawn leapt from the director’s box to pitchside and was hugged by fans at the front of the stand. Finally our heroes came back. It was still early afternoon, and the party was just getting started. Talk of Wembley is great, but let’s enjoy this achievement first.

“We’re proud of you” was the chant from the City fans and how well deserved it was. As fans we’ve spent years booing and jeering, singing “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” and, once, “love the club, hate the team”. “We’re proud of you” is praise indeed and the players and management deserve every bit of credit coming to them and more. Magnificent. Thank you.

But football supporting is, first and foremost, a selfish thing, and today belonged to us, the fans. It has been an incredibly difficult 13 years supporting Bradford City. The bad times have completely outweighed the little good. That we still have a club to support has been our biggest – neigh, our only – achievement. And it is for days like this that we put in all their effort, spend all that money, and sing all those songs following the club up and down the country.

Days like this, when, for once, the sun shines on our wonderful football club.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, Davies, McArdle, Meredith, Thompson, Doyle, Jones, Reid (Atkinson 73), Hanson, Wells

Not used: Duke, Nelson, McHugh, Ravenhill Hines, Connell

2013-05-05 13.55.45

2013-05-05 13.57.07

2013-05-05 14.14.02

Categories: Match Reviews, The 2012/13 play offs

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. Absolutely brilliant, heart stopping stuff. Surely there can only be one result at Wembley?… Surely.

  2. An old friend got me a ticket in with the Burton fans and it was torture not being able to join in the celebrations but so glad I went, I thought Hanson was immense and Wells was at his best after fluffing chances on Thursday. Key though was the return of Davies, we looked so more assured with him at the back. The nerves towards the end were incredible, my legs nearly gave way at the end and still no release of cheering the lads, I allowed myself a roar as I got back to the car, what a day, a team to be proud of now let’s finish the job.

  3. Thanks, Jason. After watching live on Thursday, it was just as bad watching on tv today. How can 30 minutes take so long?
    The Burton penalty was a correct decision, as was the Wells offside. The denial of the City handball penalty was a bad decision, as was the award of 6 minutes extra time. It should have been 3.
    To me, Wells and Hanson were great, but I think Davies made the difference. He handled Zola well, and gave him a very tough physical time, which he could not handle.
    I am so thrilled for my team, and for all of us who will go to WEMBLEY again.

  4. This day will last long in the memory for so many reasons. The enormity of beating a side on their own patch, where they’d only lost twice this term. The incredible support and almost endless chanting. Seeing faces I haven’t seen for decades and taking my son to his first away game!
    More than any of this though was the way THIS TEAM approached the match itself. Yes it was tense and screappy, but once we scored, we settled into our better passing game and (for my money) always looked the most likely winner.
    Even so, I still really can’t beleive what’s happened today – truly stunning.

    Jason, I too am a great Parky fan and have to say that I think all this season’s positivity and feelgood factor is absolutely down to him.
    His calm assured manner has helped the team to go about their business in a similar way. I had this feeling last season, even though we left it late, I felt HE was getting us on the right lines.
    I don’t always agree with his selections or tactics, but more often than not, he gets the result.

    If possible I would like to thank every member of staff for their hard work and dedication in what has been an outstanding season, but mostly I’d like to thank the organism that is Bradford City, including the supporters, as without any of the individual elelments, we’d be back where we have been for fasr too long.

    But the galvanizing factor IS Parky, so yes, if we need to lets (literally) tie him down for a very long time.

    Irrespective of how things turn out at Wembley, I really think at long, long last, this club is heading in the right direction.

  5. Magnificent! I am eating humble pie! All the optimists proved to be right – there’s still 90 minutes (pray not 120 and then dreaded penalties) to go – but this team, management, and supporters have done City proud. Jason, supporter for 13 years – you’re just a learner – try it for 44 years! Lets hope this is the start of Bantam progressivism just as it was 30 years ago and we just might in a few years reach the dizzy heights of Molineux 14 years ago.

  6. The only thing I am sad about in all this glorious euphoria is that this amazingly fantastic season has only one game to go.

    I don’t want to go back to bread and butter league football in any division after this season of highs and highs.

    This is the best trip I’ve ever been on…

    • This season will live in the memories for many years !.
      To go to Burton a goal down with there home record one of the very best in lge2
      And play in that manner was immense.
      Our front two are among the very best in lge2 no question.
      It’s going to be another Wembley appearance for us all , however there’s season tkts still to buy for next season and now Wembley tkts travel to an from
      It’s expensive for the average working man and I wouldnt be surprised to see us not filling our 39,000 allocation at wembley.
      Im looking forward to Tuesday night’s player of year awards .

  7. Super article! I was watching in a pub yet still watched much of the match through my fingers, almost not daring to look. The last few minutes were pure torture. Yes, I’ll join you in rugby tackling Parky – I’m sure between the two of us we can overpower him… See you at Wembley!

    • Another fantastic performance from the team, and it needed to be as Burton were no pushovers. And I know that this is now incidental, but has anyone really studied the footage of the Burton penalty? My initial thoughts were that it was the correct decision, and I have only seen the replay twice but I now wonder if any contact was made. Does Thommo change his mind about making a challenge at the very last minute? I wonder if anyone else thinks the same?

      • I thought it was a bizarre decision – there was no way that the ref could be sure that contact was inside the box – if indeed there was any contact at all.

        In a game of that magnitude I was amazed that it wasn’t a foul on the edge of the box. That would have been the easiest (and probably correct) decision to give.

        I was then equally amazed that the ref didn’t equal things up with the handball following Atkinson (?) shot in the second half.

        Still – lets save the luck for Wembley !

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