Bradford City 2
O’Shea (OG) 3, Stead 61
Sunday 15 February, 2015
Written by Katie Whyatt (images by Thomas Gadd, see note below)
I thought I’d already exhausted all the pride I’d ever be able to muster for this club. As the updates filtered through from Stamford Bridge last month and Final Score replayed each of those famous finishes, one thought flickered dimly in my mind: it can’t get any better than this. The love I felt for Bradford City that night was more intense than anything I’d felt towards them in a long time – and I wasn’t even at the game.
I wouldn’t, couldn’t, ever be prouder than I was that day.
I didn’t think it was possible for Phil Parkinson to achieve any more. What else can we ask of him? In just three years, Wigan, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea and now Sunderland have fallen by his sword – Leeds and Millwall, too. David Hockaday paid with his job. Missing out on a Wembley appearance can’t have helped Paul Lambert’s case, either. Add a League Cup final for good measure, and a promotion via the League Two play offs, naturally. We raise the stakes constantly, yet he delivers with more honesty and more guile every single time.
And what makes it all the more remarkable is that it’s not that much of a surprise. It was a classic Parkinson performance, the likes of which are becoming more and more commonplace – because City have nothing and no one to fear. Shattering the glass ceiling once again, Parkinson’s charges beat Premier League Sunderland by two superbly crafted goals to nil.
Over ninety minutes, they clinically tore apart a side that sit 39 places above them in the league pyramid. Over ninety minutes, our Bradford City defeated – and defeated comfortably – the thirty-first wealthiest football brand in the world. Over ninety minutes, the cool determination of the League One side humiliated the tentative hesitancy of a team that, after last season, should have known far more about what can be achieved in the cups.
The simplicity was almost comedic. The game plan was deployed perfectly, and it left the Black Cats with absolutely nowhere to hide – and boy, did it show. Bradford City were the real Premier League team out there today, make no mistake; Sunderland were quaking in their boots.
That was the best I have ever seen City play at home. To a man, they were faultless. To a man, they were fearless. From the first whistle, they were all over this game, harrying Sunderland from the off. Teeth bared and agate eyes inflamed, they were a terrifying tempest that left Poyet’s men cowering in the corner.
The noise. So much noise. For a moment, they’re all I can hear, all I can see. 7,500 claret and amber placards thrust into the air, and 20,000 voices booming in unison – booming the truth. “It’s the Bradford Boys, making all the noise, everywhere we go.” The theme tune of the season electrifies the skies, and a gear ceaselessly clicks into motion in the collective consciousness. Unity.
You sense the change, feel the hunger, the starburst of energy, the flash of anger in their eyes. We want this. This is ours to lose, and you’re not having any of it. From then on, there was only one outcome.
Sunderland were bettered in every single area of the park. Realistically, City could have done what the vast majority of giant-killers end up resorting to – that is, sitting back and breaking on the counter – and still won the game, but they didn’t. They stuck with what had got them there: fearlessness and determination.
I can’t even begin to say how good City were today. Billy Clarke was the master puppeteer, pulling all the strings from the hole as the ball glued itself to his feet; Billy Knott and Gary Liddle controlled the middle; Rory McArdle was absolutely immense. Sunderland couldn’t settle at all – and they weren’t allowed to. It was all over before they’d even found a foothold.
As Jon Stead races away on the right flank, Wes Brown unleashes a clumsy challenge on the City target man. Filipe Morais lines up for the set piece, runs, and the ball bends from his foot. In the penalty area, a rising Billy Clarke dips and weaves through the gaps, as the ball trails through the air. Planting a sweet volley, Clarke’s close range effort ricochets of John O’Shea and pass the static Mannone.
The noise. So much noise. For a moment, they’re all I can hear, all I can see. And I’m with them, this time, leaping into the air. This hasn’t just happened. This can’t have just happened. This isn’t real. What? Where are we? This is manic. That was superb. We are going to be okay. It’s all uphill. Hold on tight. We couldn’t have started more positively. Sunderland! What? Billy Clarke. I don’t understand.
A thousand separate thoughts flash through my mind. One sticks – we have got this. And I do the only thing that I can think to do in response to that sentiment, and cry. I cry, because the ecstasy when that goal went in was incomparable to anything I’ve experienced in months and months and months. I forgot it was possible for football to make you feel that good. And we’ve only been playing for five minutes. Anything, anything, is possible.
Sunderland were absolutely petrified. Adam Johnson was having a torridly anonymous afternoon on the left wing, oppressed and stifled by Stephen Darby and Morais; even on the right, swapping with Alvarez periodically, he looked redundant. McArdle was impenetrable – possibly the best player on the field today, he twice denied Johnson from inside the box, later striking with a last-ditch challenge to rob Steven Fletcher on the fifteen minute mark and maintain the 1-0 lead.
City would not be bullied, and stood firmly against the visitors’ grizzly rough and tumble approach. The bravery of the whole squad today was typified in the performances of McArdle, James Hanson, Ben Williams and Stead.
Sunderland never looked like scoring, a statement testament to the solidity of the Bantams’ back five and the control of City’s midfield. Williams offered his most assured display of the campaign, and Knott and Liddle ran the show in the centre. After being despatched by Morais, Knott instigated a mazy solo run and sliced four Sunderland players out of the game, but lashed the shot over; Liddle was a constant thorn in Fletcher’s side. It was far too easy for them. City were so unbelievably accomplished.
Wickham on for Graham, the cavalry out. But bar a handful of jerking runs in the opening stages of the second half, nothing changed. If anything, the Bantams grew in stature. They played like they had nothing to lose. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a set of players that looked to be enjoying a game more than they did today.
At one point, one, two, three, four, five Sunderland players surrounded Clarke and Knott. Five of them. And they couldn’t get within an inch of the ball. Five Premier League players couldn’t tackle Billy Clarke. What? How? Is that even possible?
I’m still incredulous now, six hours on. The television rights for that division were sold for £5 billion earlier this week – the money from one game would be enough to pay Accrington Stanley’s annual wage bill for twenty years, the club claim – and yet not one of them could wean the ball from Billy Clarke. It was like some rashly one-sided game of playground football, the year tens against the year sevens.
Sunderland were dismantled in the most brutal way I’ve ever seen a team mortalised. Behind the façade of the Club Wembley cocktails and glitter, the Premier League is soulless. Poyet’s light-hearted suggestion to relocate this tie to the Stadium of Light now stands as an embarrassing sign of complacency, as a harrowing reminder of the respect they should have afforded us. I loved Sunderland for what they achieved last year, but today? Their fans were absolutely fantastic, staying after the final whistle to applaud Parkinson’s side and the City fans – but on the pitch? I’m really not so sure.
It’s Stead. It’s two. It’s so easy. It’s Hanson with a superb header to pick out his unmarked strike partner following some fantastic work from Meredith on the left, and Stead fires home from inside the penalty area.
In the two hours before kick-off, we visited my uncle and watched the – rather dull – first twenty minutes of the Aston Villa game in his front room. He was hospitalised over Christmas and is currently house-bound for the next few weeks, while he regains his strength.
“I’d give a thousand pounds to be there today,” he called, as he stood on the doorstep and waved us off. “I’d love to be in the ground for this.”
As the denouement loomed into view, and the clocked ticked down, and the ball skirted across the Bantams midfield, and Everywhere We Go boomed from the Kop, and City stood on the brink of history once more, I paused, and thought of what this would have meant to him, my uncle. To be here with us. To be singing those songs. To experience history being made, again. To be reaching the quarter finals of the FA Cup. To be minutes away from despatching Sunderland. To inflict defeat on a fifth Premier League side in three years. To be able to look back in ten years and christen the memories with those immortal words: I was there.
Today was for every single one of us. For those lucky enough to be at the game, and those not fortunate enough to join us. For those that missed out on Chelsea tickets, and those that made the life-changing trip to Stamford Bridge. For those that have never set foot in Valley Parade before, and those battle-hardened fans that thought they’d seen it all before. Today was for everyone connected with Bradford City. And it blew us all out the water.
I fell into Bradford City during that prickly period known as the ‘lost decade’. I went purely because, at ten years old, I was eligible for a free season ticket. My first game was a 1-1 draw with Macclesfield Town, yet I came home, tore down my Steven Gerrard and England posters from Shoot! Magazine, and replaced them with the team poster from the centrefold of the previous day’s Telegraph and Argus. And for two seasons, it genuinely felt like anything was possible. I was hooked.
In the three years that followed, I dragged my family along to a show they didn’t particularly want to see – a show that probably wasn’t worth seeing, to be brutally honest – just because I couldn’t give up on them. I believed – in what, I’m not sure, with hindsight – but I knew it couldn’t get any worse. I’d love them regardless. I’d follow them everywhere.
And then I realised. Cynicism kicked in. Scepticism followed. I grew up. Or so I should have done.
But I never did. Because he came. Phil Parkinson. He brought with him a dream we never dared to conceive. And we all became children once more
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Liddle, Knott (Halliday 79), Morais, Clarke (Yeates 86), Hanson, Stead (Zoko 89)
Not used: Urwin, Sheehan, MacKenzie, Routis
With special thanks to the amazingly talented Thomas Gadd for allowing us to use his brilliant photos. Please visit Thomas Gadd’s website for more details.
Categories: Match Reviews