By Jason McKeown
This is a weekend of two very special anniversaries for Bradford City supporters. It is three years today since the Bantams stunned the football world by reaching the League Cup Final, as a League Two club, after completing a semi final victory over Aston Villa. And on Sunday, it will be the first anniversary of another astonishing cup triumph – the sensational, come-from-behind victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup.
It is a nice debate to have – which of the two triumphs was the biggest? Going to Villa Park three years ago on this day, with a 3-1 first leg advantage to defend, the stakes were certainly huge. Prior to the first match at Valley Parade, no one had expected City to triumph over their illustrious Premier League opponents. The fact that we were even in the semi finals was a remarkable achievement in itself.
Yet goals from Nahki Wells, Rory McArdle and Carl McHugh gave City real hope of reaching a first major cup final in over 100 years, and 6,500 supporters made the trip to Villa Park, for the second leg, desperate to see the job completed.
It was an unbelievable night. The horror of the first half, where City looked set to be blown away, some how getting to half time only a Christian Benteke goal behind. And then, early in the second half, there was that hedonistic moment when James Hanson headed home Gary Jones’ corner to equalise, at the end where City fans were housed, sparking unbridled scenes of celebration.
City could have won the game, with Hanson and Garry Thompson going close. Andreas Weimann prompted late nerves by netting for Villa in the 89th minute, but after four agonising minutes of stoppage time referee Phil Dowd blew up for full time to confirm City’s aggregate win, and the party began. “Bradford City go to Wembley, Bradford City go to Wembley” yelled Sky Sports’ commentator Martin Tyler. It was some night of celebration.
Nothing can ever take away that achievement – although Villa were a struggling Premier League side going through a torrid time. They certainly weren’t in the fine fettle that Premier League leaders and future champions Chelsea were one year ago, as they welcomed League One City to Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup fourth round.
Another massive City following made their presence felt right from the start, but it initially appeared that such positive support would be in vain. Chelsea were 2-0 up in no time, and the fear grew that they could seriously embarrass their lowly guests. But then Jon Stead struck a superb long range effort just before half time for 2-1, and the complexion of the game changed.
Heavy City pressure followed in the second half, and it was finally rewarded when Billy Knott’s shot was palmed away by Petr Cech, and Filipe Morais smashed home the equaliser. From 2-0 down to 2-2, at Chelsea. The prospect of a lucrative Valley Parade replay loomed large.
But City weren’t finished. With less than 10 minutes on the clock, Jon Stead laid the ball off for Andy Halliday to fire it into the roof of the net, at the Shed of the ground where City fans were housed. Cue riotous celebrations, only bettered deep in stoppage time when Mark Yeates made it 4-2 to City.
The most amazing of comebacks, the most amazing of cup ties. Once again, City were making worldwide headlines. A Chelsea team worth some £200 million, with the managerial great Jose Mourinho, humiliated in their own backyard. Match of the Day was an amazing watch that night.
Both Villa Park in 2013 and Stamford Bridge in 2015 were unforgettable occasions in the history of Bradford City, and they and 10 other memorable matches are the focus of a new book that is being published in March.
Reinventing Bradford City tells the story of the modern history of the club and the amazing ups and downs of the past 30 years, retold with the help of managers, players, board members, journalists and fans interviewed along the way.
The chapters dedicated to Aston Villa and Northampton at Wembley in 2013, and Chelsea in 2015, include interviews with Phil Parkinson, James Hanson, Andrew Davies, Julian Rhodes, David Baldwin and James Mason. The Telegraph & Argus’ Simon Parker shares his insight and memories, plus the Bantams Banter duo. It’s a great and lasting opportunity to relive the memories of these two epic matches.
Beyond these most recent games, Reinventing Bradford City looks at how the club emerged from the tragic events of May 11, 1985, and the short-lived tenure at Odsal. There are chapters on the nearly season, the John Docherty era, Blackpool in 1996 and the promotion to the Premier League at Wolves in 1999. The book also features interviews with people like Stuart McCall, Jamie Lawrence and Terry Dolan.
If you would like the opportunity to secure a subscriber edition of the book (and/or John Dewhirst’s upcoming book, Room at the Top, which is being published in May), please click here to download your order form (it will need posting).
Both books will go on sale through retail outlets in softback only. The format of each book will be similar to that of the first book in the series, A HISTORY OF BCAFC IN OBJECTS by John Dewhirst (published October, 2014).