Written by Jason McKeown(Images by Mike Holdsworth)
This time around, the walk down Wembley Way failed to carry the same sense of aura. From being blown away, last February, by the size of the stadium and feeling giddy with excitement about stepping inside, the prestige was lost and the wow factor gone.
Been there, done it and literally bought the t-shirt. It would surely be impossible to ever feel blasé about a trip to Wembley, but this time around it felt all the more serious. Just another day at the office, albeit a very important one at that.
That such sentiment was reflected in spectacular style by the players was the story behind Bradford City’s play off final success. Whatever the motivation was – righting the Swansea wrongs, or simply ensuring a 64-game season wasn’t ultimately deemed futile – the single-minded focus and determination to win the game was incredible.
Just as not many teams could have lived with Swansea last February, Northampton stood no chance of stopping us on Saturday. For sure, they were awful and froze on the big occasion in the same manner we did in the League Cup Final. But let’s not downplay the achievements of our players. It looked easy because we made it so easy.
Every City player was on their game. The defence, led in typically impressive manner by Andrew Davies, stood up to the Northampton physicality with relish. Aidy Boothroyd has attempted to counter City’s tactic, used in the April league match, of Davies attacking every ball launched into the Bantams’ box by deploying a player specifically to block him. It caused a few jittery moments, but Davies still by and large won everything. Alongside him, it was great to see Rory McArdle back at his best.
The only question over team selection had been whether Nathan Doyle would retain his place over Ricky Ravenhill. Doyle more than justified the nod, with a composed display in the engine room alongside Gary Jones. Kyel Reid had his best game for weeks and Garry Thompson maintained his outstanding form from the second half to the season. James Hanson and Nahki Wells were unplayable, with Northampton defender Clarke Carlisle admitting that Hanson “owned” him.
If the three-goal burst wasn’t stunning enough, the manner in which the players continued to drive on impressed greatly too. Each goal was celebrated wildly of course; but led by Jones, you could see everyone quickly telling each other that the focus had to be retained and there should be no let up. The high standards at 0-0, which led to us scoring three goals, were just as prevalent at 3-0. Even in the closing stages.
For us supporters, it meant the afternoon went by remarkably stress-free. The tension at kick off was huge – again, a contrast to our visit to play Swansea City, where we were on such a high just to be there and it all went downhill from kick off. When Hanson scored, bedlam. Same with McArdle’s Aston Villa-esqe header. After Wells had netted and we’d gone crazy once more, the tension no longer weighed heavily on our shoulders. No one was relaxing – football has produced stranger things than a Northampton comeback – but we were at least able to enjoy it.
When Gary Jones and Ricky Ravenhill jointly lifted the trophy, I was surprised by how emotional the moment proved to be. A release of joy, of relief in some respects. Ultimate confirmation that we had done it. That we had achieved a promotion – which for so much of our six-year stay in League Two has appeared to be an impossible task.
All we have wanted to do, since relegation from League One was confirmed at Saltergate in April 2007, was get out of the basement division. That single ambition has sparked so much pain and anguish, in response to generally making such a poor fist of it. It led to a club legend departing Valley Parade in a manner unbefitting of such a great man. Four managers, a huge turnover of players. Barry Conlon, Scott Dobbie, Lewis Hunt, Paul McLaren.
This makes up for the dark times of the past six seasons. For losing to Morecambe; routinely getting humbled by Accrington; Notts County 5 Bradford City 0; Barnet 4 Bradford City 1; Southend 4 Bradford City 0; Bradford City 1 Crewe 5. We now swap trips to Fleetwood, Dagenham and Torquay with visits to Wolves, Sheffield United, Preston, Coventry and Tranmere.
Next year looks very exciting, but it will have to go a long, long way to top the drama of this season. Last summer, Width of a Post ran a survey with readers to vote for their favourite Bradford City matches of all time. Whether you have supported the club for four years or 40, it’s surely the case that your top five or top 10 now needs rewriting. The occasions like Wigan, Arsenal, Aston Villa (twice!), Burton and Northampton will take a prominent place in the history of this club. 110-years-old, and there has never been a campaign quite like this.
That the season got its finale of promotion via Wembley, in game 64, is as fitting as it is joyous and exhilarating. This feeling will last long into the summer. A summer that we will spend looking to the future with relish, whilst re-living the colourful memories of 2012/13 again and again. Look back, look forward, smile. This is a fantastic time to be a Bradford City supporter.
And for that we have to thank this group of players, and Phil Parkinson and his management team. No one should dismiss how difficult it is to manage or play for this club. Our expectations often outstrip the abilities of those we can afford to employ. Performing in such a pressure environment is not easy and has got the better of many good people.
These players are a mirror of ourselves and what we demand. They give everything they have, they take pride in wearing the claret and amber colours. They want to succeed just as badly as we want to see them succeed. That might sound like a simple statement. But when you’ve had years and years of the opposite being true, it makes it all the more meaningful to see the basic principles in place and working so stunningly.
Thank you Phil Parkinson. Thank you to every player in that squad. We thought days like Saturday were doomed never to occur again, yet you have provided us with a season full of them. Whatever happens in the summer and over the next few years, the names of this squad will never be forgotten.
Just as that feeling, when the trophy was lifted, will stay with us forever.