By Will Rook
A Bradford City fan walks into a pub in Wembley, and the barman says, ‘The usual then mate?’
We’ve all heard the joke and many variations, but let’s not kid ourselves, it never grows tiresome.
To be a fan of Bradford City, one must be made of stern stuff and you’ve got to allow yourself to enjoy moments like these when they happen, and all the joviality which goes with it. Because they don’t come around often for anyone, let alone us.
It’s fair to say over the past 12 years we haven’t really had it our own way; after a slide from the Premiership to the wrong end of the Football League and being faced with such crippling financial woe, nearly ceasing to exist on two separate occasions.
As a collective we seem to stand by the motto of, ‘We always make it difficult for ourselves’ and this has rung true for the majority of the new millennium.
Relegation to League Two was the rotten cherry which topped the cake of anguish and pain for City. And even though it was expected it never really got any better after that, until now.
Last season, in my opinion, was a turning point. Peter Jackson started the season in charge and expectations had been lowered considerably from their normal ‘play off minimum’ standard after finishing 18th the previous season, briefly flirting with relegation from the Football League. Jackson had built a squad, with the help of Archie Christie, which he believed would be competitive. Although after a poor start and only one point to show from the first four league games Jackson and the club parted ways.
Enter stage, Phil Parkinson. A young, ambitious manager with experience higher up the pyramid, just what was needed to get a squad which according to Julian Rhodes “patently wasn’t good enough” firing. Parkinson was given a target of survival for the season which, despite some poor displays and grumbles from the fans, was achieved with games to spare leaving Bradford City in another 18th placed finish. Not quite hitting the dizzy heights of the top half, but the target set out from the board at the start of his tenure had been met, an important milestone in gaining trust.
A busy summer was ahead, and Parkinson was duly backed heavily by the club’s co-Chairmen in the transfer market, taking a £600k hit on the budget. Players like Gary Jones, Garry Thompson and Rory McArdle were brought in to replace deadwood from one of the biggest squads in the league.
The quality of football was incomparable, although the huge dent in finances to get this far once again highlights how nothing for us can ever be done the ‘easy’ way.
Even in our League Cup run, when the opportunity of a ‘glamour tie’ was there, we had to get past Burton Albion and Wigan before our plum draw at home to Arsenal.
In my opinion, the Arsenal game was when the majority really started believing that we had a special crop here at Valley Parade. We’d never in our wildest dreams thought we could beat Wigan, let alone a team of Arsenal’s prestige and quality. When Thomas Vermaelen missed his penalty to spark wild celebrations, people started to realise our fortunes may have finally turned.
This was confirmed after that glorious night at Villa Park which will live long in the club’s history and I doubt any fan who was there or watched on television will forget for as long as they live, it really was an ‘I was there moment’ and promotion or no promotion even the most ardent sceptics had to admit Bradford City’s stock was on the rise once again.
The run to the final of the League Cup had sparked optimism and belief throughout, not just the football club but the entire city of Bradford, but unfortunately with this distraction came a dip in the club’s league form which had been impressive up until then. The run of results in between the Arsenal victory and the cup final looked to have put the nails in the coffin for a promotion charge which had looked more than possible at the start of the season. Once again, ‘never do things the easy way’.
The crushing defeat in the cup final had people once again questioning Parkinson and some performances left a lot to be desired, notably the 4-1 defeat away at Exeter and the first half showing at home to Southend. Fans started to give up hope once again, as they had so often been used to doing towards the end of the season.
Somewhat aided by a complete capitulation from Exeter City and amazing form, the team managed to pull themselves back into the play off race, pulling back an eight-point deficit within a week and going on to secure the last spot in the promotion lottery with a game to spare. While it was wrapped up before the end of the season, it could hardly be described as easy having to make up so many points in so little time.
Finally, our play off semi-final against Burton. Such was the sense of optimism around Valley Parade for the first leg, no-one could quite have foreseen the display we were in the first half with Parkinson admitting it was probably as poorly as we’ve defended all season. Somehow though, owing to a Garry Thompson wonder strike, we were still in the tie at 2-3 going to the Pirelli Stadium.
The mood in the air was a little less of confidence and more nervousness for the second leg, with a goal deficit to overturn away at the team with the best home record in the division. Once again though, against all adversity, this team who simply refuse to lie down came out to win 3-1 and 5-4 on aggregate setting up a Wembley play off final with Northampton Town.
Now with the final so close and the game poised tightly, fans are once again getting excited. I’d say though, whatever happens come 3.30pm on Saturday afternoon, take a look where we’ve come from, not only in the past 12 years, but more recently. For our side to have such a turnaround in fortunes in such a quick amount of time is nothing short of incredible.
Also remember this: before this season we hadn’t been to Wembley to see our team 17 years, and now we’re going twice in one magical campaign. Sure, we’ve had to put up with a lot, but at the moment we’re pretty lucky really, aren’t we?
Come on City.
Play off final: Width of a Post build-up
- Exorcising the Swansea City demons by Jason McKeown
- Song one – Wembley Twice, it’s Alright by Martin Keighley
- Since our last visit…by Mahesh Johal
- Song two – Please Mr Parkinson by Mark Heslop
- The Northampton perspective by Jason McKeown
- Divided family loyalties by Jeremy Casey
- The last promotion by Gareth Walker