League Cup miracle, one year on: Burton

With no cup run to speak of this season, Width of a Post editor Jason McKeown will be looking back on the spectacular 2012/13 League Cup miracle in a series of articles re-living each round of the adventure. One year to the day of beating Burton Albion in round three, we reflect on the story of that memorable night.

Bradford City 3 (Wells 83+90, Darby 115) Burton Albion 2 (Kee 18, Webster 29)

In return for the £15 handed over at the turnstile is not just entry to tonight’s match, but a green ticket stub with a message printed across it in block capitals: KEEP THIS RECEIPT.

Having made the hat for a potentially lucrative League Cup draw, being drawn to play Burton Albion in round three was not the reward that knocking two higher league teams out of the cup in their own backyard might have delivered. But it did still offer something rather tantalising: a fantastic opportunity to make the final 16 of the competition.

Defeat fellow League Two outfit Burton on our own patch tonight, and who knows where it might take us? The green stub now folded carefully in my wallet was Bradford City’s version of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. The club having announced that it will guarantee a seat against whoever we might play in the next round, should we get past the Brewers.

So excitement – and a huge deluge of rain – is in the air. The weather has looked like a troubling factor that might prevent the game from even taking place tonight, such has been the sheer volume of water than has fallen upon Valley Parade’s recently re-laid playing surface during the day. The Bradford City groundsman, Mick Doyle, has done a remarkable job getting this game on, and the zippy-looking playing surface no doubt inspires a similar topic of conversation across the three sides of the stadium that are open: we need to shoot from distance – on this surface, you just never know.

Despite the lure of a potentially magical green ticket stub, Valley Parade is relatively empty – just 4,178 souls present. Yet noise-wise you wouldn’t know any different, as a combination of the loud drum and some of City’s most boisterous supporters make an almighty, infectious racket in greeting the teams onto the field. In recent years, these early round cup matches have provided some of the best home atmospheres. It seems that the people who attend league matches and sit on their hands – only getting vocal when they feel they have something to grumble about – don’t bother coming to these types of games. Spend £15, recieve a green ticket, sing your hearts out for the lads.

For a time it looks all in vain. A reshuffled City side begin decently enough, with back up strikers Garry Thompson and Alan Connell linking up reasonably well; but then we fall behind to Burton’s first attack after striker Billy Kee found a gap between midfield and defence to fire home a low cross. 11 minutes later, Aaron Webster heads home from a corner for 2-0 and the Burton defender could even have made it 3-0 in near-identical fashion two minutes later.

But that was it from Burton. Just three first half attacks – albeit opportunities clinically taken – but then on the back foot for virtually the whole 45. Although the fringe players who came in to the side tonight slightly struggled and some of City’s play is disjointed, the Bantams continued to attack and put pressure on the Burton backline, seemingly unruffled by the scoreline. In usual circumstances, trooping off at half time 2-0 behind would prompt boos from City supporters – but these aren’t usual circumstances. We applaud the players as they head to the dressing room after a first half full of effort.

I don’t think I have ever seen City 2-0 down at half time and yet felt so confident that we would still win the game. The workrate, the application and the determination of the players had been first class. Burton did not deserve their lead, and that fact was something to take strength from rather than sulk over. Get a goal back early in the second, and they will surely wobble. Let’s keep up the noise.

And the pattern of the first half did indeed continue in the second. Burton could not get out of their half; City produced a tidal wave of attacks and were unrelenting in their pressure. On the hour, Parkinson makes a triple substitution of throwing on James Hanson, Nahki Wells and Kyel Reid. All three were typically fantastic, with Reid enjoying what for me remains his finest outing in claret and amber. Burton could not live with him as he beat players for fun and whipped in numerous excellent balls. City had penalty appeals turned away; shots were blocked by Burton defenders or flew narrowly wide; the door continued to be knocked on very loudly.

But still, time is getting on. Less than 10 minutes on the clock, and for the first time all evening the loudness of the chanting recedes. There seems to be a growing realisation that, for however well we have played tonight, we are bowing out of the cup. That there will be no place in the last 16. That the green ticket stub will be fit only for the dustbin.

And then a chant of defiance can be heard from a few rows behind, sung only by a few people initially.

“It’s only a cup, who gives a f**k? We’re super City and we’re going up.”

Reluctantly, you can only concede that it sums up the evening. Sure, a cup run would be nice, and we’ll all grimace tomorrow when we find out which Premier League giant Burton land in the next round of the cup, but promotion from League Two is the priority. We can shake off the disappointment of this impending exit and be consoled by the excellent performance.

“It’s only a cup, who gives a f**k? We’re super City and we’re going up.”

The volume of the chant is getting louder. More of us are joining in. Around you there are smiles on people’s faces. Smiles at the comedic value of the song and of the rebellious nature of its content. It beautifully sums up the evening. It sums up this prevailing outlook of always supporting your team in victory or defeat. Now eight minutes away from the final whistle, we’ve accepted our fate.

“It’s only a cup, who gives a f**k? We’re super City and we’re going up.”

Then Wells breaks clear on the Main Stand side of the pitch, with players charging into the box to get on the end of a likely cross. Nahki has other ideas, however, and sends a beautiful curling shot that flies into the top corner of the net. 1-2. Back in it. How long left? Turn the volume up.

“IT’S ONLY A CUP, WHO GIVES A F**K? WE’RE SUPER CITY AND WE’RE GOING UP.”

The games goes into stoppage time, and we’re all so desperate for it to extend it into extra time. There’s a scramble in the box, the ball ends up going towards Hanson who unexpectedly attempts an overhead kick at goal. The ball is travelling goalwards but slightly wide and at a slow pace. But there is Wells getting a yard clear of his marker. There is Wells forcing the ball over the line.

Pandemonium.

I don’t think I’ve celebrated a goal at Valley Parade quite as feverishly as am I right now for several years. It is a jaw-dropping, out-of-body moment where you lose yourself in celebrating. I’ve spent the night stood next to my friend – and work colleague – Luke Lockwood. When I rediscover some level of self-awareness I realise that he is jumping up and down just as manically as me. Perhaps we don’t quite know each other well enough to hug (that will change outside Villa Park in four months time) but it’s a special moment that I relish sharing with him.

There’s a huge sense of gratification that keeping the faith, not turning on the players and continuing to sing non-stop in support of their efforts to come back has been rewarded. And there is no doubt about which song to break out into.

“IT’S ONLY A CUP, WHO GIVES A F**K? WE’RE SUPER CITY AND WE’RE GOING UP.”

Extra time feels like a formality, to be honest. After all we’ve gone through there’s no way we will lose it now. Stephen Darby nets the winner with a long range shot that improbably bounces on the turf a couple of times and past the Burton keeper. That sort of shot that at 7.30pm we were all saying should be attempted on this slippy surface. And though Burton force some late pressure it’s all academic. The final whistle arrives surprisingly quickly.

It was a vital evening in City’s season, perhaps one of the most crucial of the 64 games we end up playing. In terms of breeding belief, character and confidence, this mattered. At 2-0 down City teams from our recent past would have given up and accepted their fate. This lot continued chased every lost cause and fought for every ball right to the end, achieving something spectacular as their reward. It boded so well for the future.

A double-check on the journey home that I had not done something foolish like throw away the green ticket, and 24 hours nervously contemplating who we would be drawn to face in the last 16. A glamour tie with a Premier Leaguer big gun is surely our reward. Please, at least don’t hand us some rubbish away tie like Norwich or Wigan…

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Categories: Retrospective

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3 replies

  1. I have to say this was one of my favourite games of last season. We dominated all game as it says in the article and at half time the players were applauded off the pitch despite losing 2-0. What I remember vividly was when Reid, Hanson and Wells came on. The crowd was so receptive and loud. Despite there only being 4-5000 in the ground the roar of approval was equivalent to 10,000 in the stands. When the second goal went in people were running up and down the steps in the top tier of the Kop. It went mental when Darby scored. If it wasn’t for this come-back we would never have got to the final.You could question it may have dented the self belief within the squad if they had lost. Instead it helped galvanise the squad, only to be brought together further by the win at Wigan.

  2. Superb article as ever that captures the rollercoaster of an evening well. I agree that the atmosphere was far louder that night than the relatively low attendance should offer.

    Football is all about fine margins. Margins between success and failure are so often tiny. We could have easily lost that night and not really been too disappointed about it. But we didn’t and the rest is history… Very very fine margins!

    I’d be interested if anybody knows the origin of the famous chant? I hoped that it had come from our own fans but it has been suggested otherwise to me. Depressingly that it might have first been sung by our deluded neighbours down at Elland Road. I hope this is not the case.

  3. Excellent review of a match I didn’t go to, in fact my first away game since we were last in the Championship was to Wembley for the final.
    I don’t like cup matches, particurlarly over recent years, my thinking being that ‘we need to concentrate on getting out of league 2’.
    I hold my hands up to those who go to each and every game, it;s just not for me these days. Maybe I’ll be tempted now that my sons are into it after our trips to Wembley, Burton and Wembley again..?

    I listened to the radio in disbelief on the night, and again at Wigan, on both occasions thinking ‘oh well, it was fun while it lasted, a few quid in the kitty and lets concentrate on the league now’ only to be proud, stunned and just pleased for something to smile about, when we got through.
    Who would have thought what was about to happen from that night…?

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