The 10th anniversary of Bradford City’s stunning achievement of reaching a cup final

By Jason McKeown

It will never happen to us. That’s what I darkly used to believe each year, as like all football fans I watched major Wembley finals – like the FA and League Cup – on TV. It always looked so magical. So special. The build-up of fans down Wembley Way, the way the national stadium would be split 50-50 between two sets of fans, the flags proudly waved during the big day for each club’s supporters. I watched with a mixture of admiration and envy.

How amazing it must be to see your team play at a major cup final, with the chance to lift a trophy? How I’d love to one day get to experience it as a Bradford City supporter. Of course, it could happen. One day. But not any time soon. Not as we continue to be a lower league club, playing football in a galaxy far, far away from the glamorous riches of the Premier League, where inevitably all the major cup finalists come from. And what chance did we really stand of getting back there? Cold, hard logic strongly suggested a cup final was not an event we would ever get to be a part of. It will never happen to us.

Yet 10 years ago this week, it did happen to us. We were at Wembley, for a major cup final. We had a chance of winning silverware. We got to enjoy the build up. We got to make travel plans to London. And we got to soak up Wembley Way. We were, that week it seemed, the centre of the football universe. All eyes on Bradford City. And their incredible underdog story.

I’d never been to the new Wembley before. I don’t think many of us would have. The first sight of the famous arch. The first walking out of the concourse and into the vast bowl. The hugeness of the place. The sights and the sounds. A few days before the game, I had been interviewed for a piece on BBC Newsnight, where I muttered how I’d cry at Wembley because I would feel so proud. I didn’t really believe I would, but five minutes before kick off, and as is we all started jumping around to Rudimental’s Feel the Love, I unexpectedly did break down in tears. This was an unbelievable occasion.

You did your best to soak up the moment. To somehow try and bottle this feeling. This was, after all, getting to experience a dream we’d all shared since childhood. A chance to emerge from the perennial shadows. To sing and lift your scarf and wave your flag proudly, feeling like the whole world was watching you.


When Wales recently qualified for its first World Cup finals since 1958, fans began to latch onto an old 80s Welsh song – Yma o Hyd – and adopted it as their anthem. It was performed live by its creator and singer – Dafydd Iwan – before their play off victory over Austria, leading to amazing scenes inside the stadium. The song was written in 1983 as a tribute to the endurance of Welsh culture at a time of political and economic turmoil (such as a Margaret Thatcher-led government closing coal pits). Although sung in Welsh, Yma o Hyd’s translated lyrics are ones that lower league fans, like Bradford City, can easily relate to.

“We are still here, we are still here, in spite of everyone and everything, in spite of everyone and everything, in spite of everyone and everything, we are still here.”

Trudging up to Valley Parade these days, after a difficult few years for the club, this sentiment feels apt. And it was even more the case back in 2012, on the eve of the historic cup final season.

Over the 12 years prior, us supporters had witnessed Bradford City’s painful fall from a seat at the top table to languishing near the bottom of the fourth tier. From competing with – and beating – the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle, to enduring home defeats to Dagenham & Redbridge, Aldershot Town and Barnet. Along the way, there’d been financial implosions and multiple relegations. Every time it felt we’d hit rock bottom, the club would stumble further to a new low.

We are still here. Well, not everyone. The club’s attendances dropped significantly after the Premier League days. And though the affordable season ticket scheme of 2007 boosted attendances, they were once again falling year on year. If you were still turning up at Valley Parade in 2012, the chances are you knew of many people who’d given up. And as the grim struggle continued, with seemingly no end in sight, it was a test of our patience to still be here.

If year after year of league failure wasn’t bad enough, joy from the cup competitions was slim pickings. Early exits were a habitual occurrence. The only semblance of a cup run were two JPT adventures to the quarter finals in 2009/10 and 2011/12, plus an FA Cup third round appearance in January 2012. They ended in less than glamorous surroundings – with December midweek defeats at Carlisle and Oldham bringing those respective JPT runs to an end, and Championship Watford knocking City out of the FA Cup. Back to concentrating on the league then. Sigh.

But for all the reasons to be wary, I remember the eve of the 2012/13 season as one of optimism and excitement. A testament to the endurance of hope that, despite so many let downs, we still had belief that this time it would be different.

“Despite the blackness around us, we are ready for the breaking of the dawn!”


For once, pre-season enthusiasm lasted beyond the opening weeks. And the League Cup run was a big reason for that. As City began to look like League Two promotion contenders, they continued to progress through the early rounds of the League Cup.

James Hanson’s extra time goal sealed a 1-0 win at League One Notts County in the first round, earning them another trip to Watford, where this time they triumphed 2-1 through goals by Kyel Reid and Garry Thompson.

Round three saw the introduction of all the Premier League teams in Europe, but City were disappointingly drawn at home to fellow League Two side Burton. When they went 2-0 down in the first half, it looked like the same old story. But there was magic in the air that night. I remember at half time strongly believing we would come back to win, as we were playing so well. That confidence began to look misplaced when with 84 minutes on the clock it was still 0-2. But Nahki Wells struck two late goals and Stephen Darby netted an extra time winner to keep City marching on.

Again, there was a bit of disappointment that the next round draw sent City to Wigan. Premier League opposition, but not exactly high in the glamour stakes. Still, a bumper 5,000 City away following descended on the DW Stadium and we produced an amazing atmosphere. The players – depleted by injury – hung on commendably for 120 minutes to force penalties. And they won the shootout, taking them into the quarter finals.

It was a night of triumph – unquestionably City’s finest moment since their relegation from the Premier League. Amazingly, it would soon be looked back on as the warm up act.

The quarter finals finally saw an exciting draw. Arsenal, at home. The Sky TV cameras rolled up on a bitterly cold night. Arsene Wenger, under some pressure to win trophies, picked a very strong side. City produced a stunning performance of organised, attack-minded play. They were so brave, so fearless, and so nearly beat their illustrious opponents over 90 minutes. Thompson scored early to send a sell-out Valley Parade into raptures. Thomas Vermaelen equalised late on to break hearts, but the Belgian defender would miss the crucial spot kick in the shootout, meaning City were amazingly into the semi finals.

What. A. Night.

Aston Villa were the semi final opponents. They were going through a dreadful period in the league, and City took advantage of their vulnerabilities to produce a stunning 3-1 first leg win at Valley Parade. From front to back, every City player did an incredible job in one of the best games of football you could ever hope to see. Wells, Rory McArdle and Carl McHugh struck the memorable City goals.

The second leg was played out on a snowy night at Villa Park, with a sell out home support all given flags to wave before kick off to try and create an intimidating atmosphere. And though City wilted in the first half, going 1-0 behind, they hung in there and once again unearthed defensive weaknesses in the Villa side. Hanson headed home an equaliser at the end where 6,500 of us were based, producing some of the wildest celebrations I’ve ever been part of. Limbs, as they say. And though Villa scored late on, City sealed a 4-3 aggregate victory.

We were going to Wembley.

We were going to a major cup final.


There were five weeks in-between that incredible night at Villa Park and the League Cup Final meeting with Swansea. Five weeks of growing excitement. Of fervent build-up.

Supporter conversations were dominated by tickets, and plans for getting to and from London. There was that glorious day where tickets went on sale and your Facebook feed was plastered with fellow City fans posting screen grab images from the ticketing website of what the view from their Wembley seat will look like.

There was the hilarity of the Second West pub landlady complaining she’d laid on a £7,000 trip to Wembley for her regulars, but hadn’t realised there was a queue of loyal fans ahead of her for tickets. (Her customers were some our loyalist fans, she argued, as they’d been following the team since Wigan away!)

There was a debate about whether a Bradford City final win would see them play Europa League football the year after – the club said it would turn down such an opportunity as it would cost them too much money. The club also received a mega, one-off shirt sponsorship offer from The Sun newspaper. Gary Jones and Stephen Derby – with their Liverpool roots – quickly made it clear this was a non-starter.

Interest in the club exploded. As Bradford City held media days in the build up to the final, news outlets from around the world descended on Valley Parade to tell the amazing story of a fourth tier side reaching a major cup final. BBC Radio 5Live held a fans forum at Valley Parade, broadcast live to the nation. Sky Sports News delivered live coverage of the team setting off from Bradford to London. Story after story appeared in newspapers, all about the players, their humble backgrounds. Others focused on just what a sporting achievement like this might do for the city of Bradford itself, and its well-documented economic and social struggles.

Every football fan you spoke to wanted to talk about your club. What it felt like to be a Bradford City supporter. How much they cheered on your victories of Arsenal and Villa. How much they enjoyed the on-the-field drive of Gary Jones. Is it really true your striker used to work in a Co-op?

It was intoxicating. It was thrilling. It was – hard to keep up. For years and years City had operated out of the spotlight, with barely a major mention in the national media. Now there was so much being written and broadcast about Bradford City, you couldn’t stay up to date. What a nice problem to have.

Collect every newspaper piece. Fill up your Sky box with recordings of games and documentaries about City’s story. Savour every piece of this that you can.


Life is sometimes about timing. For me, the 2012/13 season could not have happened at a more opportune moment. I was in my early 30s, married, and the wife and I both had decent jobs. In September 2012, we discovered with great excitement that we were going to have a baby. Due date, the end of May 2013. It was hard to grasp or appreciate just how much becoming parents would change your life, but I knew this was the last time I’d get to be so involved in a Bradford City season. That this was a year to make the most of having so much freedom to attend matches, while I could.

I’d been a regular away game traveller ever since our fall into League Two that coincided with us both getting good jobs and being able to afford it. But 2012/13, with all those games, took that commitment to another level. 64 City matches would be played in total. I went to 52 of them. To quote the brilliant American writer Brian Phillips, “put that on my tombstone.”

It was also a year where I made lots of new friends, as a Skipton Bantams supporters club was re-established. There was a group of us at similar stages in our lives, free to go wherever City went. We organised mini buses to some games, or car-pooled our way to others. Special times, on and off the field.

It was also the first full year of running Width of a Post. We started off low key but were beginning to build an audience, and the league cup adventures added to that, giving us attention beyond the four walls of the Bradford City community and to journalists like David Conn.

There was a lot of media interest in City, and given Mike Harrison at the City Gent and Dom and Tom of Bantams Banter were prominent fans, much of the fans’ spotlight deservedly went to them. But there was so much media interest to go around, I got to pick up a few things.

That’s how I ended up appearing on a news report on Newsnight, telling the world I planned to cry at the weekend.


Unfortunately, a football match also broke out that day. One that produced the biggest winning margin in League Cup final history. And the most emphatic in any major cup final since Derby County defeated Crystal Palace 6-0 in the 1903 FA Cup Final.

Swansea City, the Bantams’ opponents, produced an outstanding display. They completely outplayed City, with some 65% of possession. Martin Samuel wrote in the Daily Mail, “Bradford City were out of their class from the start…There were only seven fouls in the game; Bradford simply could not get near enough to the Premier League team to give them a kicking.” Martin Lipton of the Mirror was equally cutting. “The Bradford fairytale did not have a happy ending. Reality intruded at Wembley, a cold, icy blast of it…Yesterday represented an evisceration of hapless, outgunned, outclassed opponents.”

It’s true. Right from the start, Swansea played with a purpose and starved City of the ball. They took the lead through man of the match Nathan Dyer, and were two to the good just before half time through Michu. Dyer got the third just after the interval, and when on the hour Matt Duke brought down Jonathan de Guzman in the box and was red-carded, the dream was turning into a nightmare. de Guzman scored the resultant penalty and 10-men City had half of an hour left, 4-0 behind.

In the only moment all day where Swansea lacked class, Michu would later tell the press that he and his team mates told their City counterparts they would go easy on them over the rest of the game, out of “respect”. Whilst that was very good of them, they didn’t really need to disclose this to the world after the game. It’s the modern equivalent of giving money to a homeless person and taking a photo of yourself doing so, to post on social media. Is your motive to be kind, or for people to think you’re kind? Still, City were saved from an even greater hammering, with the fifth Swansea goal – scored by de Guzman – only coming right at the end.

By that point, the sense of despair we felt in the City end had given way to a proud show of defiant support for our team. We all rose to our feet, waving our flags, singing songs about our beloved Bradford City. It was an amazing sight. Anyone arriving late in the stadium that day, and not being aware of the score, could only have looked on such scenes and concluded that it was the Bantams who were about to win.

As the Guardian’s Andy Hunter summarised, “The inaugural Capital One Cup final proved the stuff of nightmares for a Bradford team that have illuminated the competition and stirred the emotions but never came close to suggesting they had another upset in them. The heaviest defeat in a League Cup final represented a sad end, though Bradford’s 32,000 travelling support stubbornly refused to wallow and roared themselves hoarse until the last.”

It was City’s misfortune to come up against a side for whom reaching a Wembley final mattered just as much. This was to be Swansea’s first major trophy in their history. They were never going to underestimate us in the way others were arguably guilty of. And the wide, expansive Wembley pitch suited their stylish football perfectly.

Nevertheless, it was hard not to look back on those harrowing 90 minutes and feel disappointment in City. They didn’t come close to laying a glove on Swansea. The occasion clearly overwhelmed them, and the brilliant way they’d taken the game to Arsenal and Aston Villa wasn’t repeated.

They didn’t do themselves justice. And though it probably wouldn’t have made any difference to the outcome, given Swansea’s brilliance, it left a slightly sour taste. I remember vividly waiting for Swansea’s players to go up and lift the trophy and a friend turn to me and say, “We will never come this close again in our lifetimes.” We made our way to the exits and out into the February night. I felt very empty. Defeat was hardly a surprise, but the comprehensive way we went down hurt. It took a bit of the gloss off the pride we felt in getting here.

The biggest occasion in the modern history of Bradford City. One where were the whole world was watching. And, on the pitch, we were humiliated.   


Modern day research recommends that a way to live for longer, and to be happier, is to have regular exposure to one particular emotion. It’s called awe.

More awe in your life can reduce depression and other autoimmune diseases. It can make you kinder to other people, helping to build communities and other things that can make the world a better place. Awe can be experienced in simple, everyday ways – like going for a walk in nature, losing yourself in music or spending time with people who matter to you. And you can get larger boosts by experiencing jaw dropping sights or events.

Bradford City’s 2013 League Cup miracle was a huge shot of awe for all of us. The way we defied all logic, the adventures and the heroics. And its immediate legacy was to give everyone connected with the club a confidence boost that would significantly take the club forwards over the next few years. We saw and were part of things that were wonderfully unexpected. You knew as you did that you were living through history.

For obvious reasons, we look back more fondly on the awe we gained from beating Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa than we do from the Swansea City experience. But the unprecedented excitement and interest that our first cup final appearance since 1911 triggered across the Bradford district and beyond, the anticipation of the big game, the experience of being at Wembley pre-match – and the defiant support of those final 25 minutes – was something special that you’ll never forget.

For perspective, we’ve more recently reached a major cup final than the likes of Everton, West Ham United, Brighton, Fulham, Nottingham Forest, Burnley, Blackburn, Middlesbrough – not forgetting Leeds. Newcastle United will this weekend finally get to play at the new Wembley. They’ve spent over £300 million to get there.

The feelings of disappointment of the Swansea match itself was quickly forgotten when City produced a late, successful push for promotion, and went back to Wembley to win the League Two play off final. It was a story with a happy ending after all, setting City up for years of commendable progress.

Everything seemed possible. That’s what awe gave us.


A few days after the Wembley final loss to Swansea, me and my City-supporting friend Luke were back in London, attending an award ceremony with work. Our hotel was at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea. On the morning after the event, and with a bit of time to kill, we went for a walk around the deserted stadium. Enjoying a glimpse of how the other half live. Of what a top Premier League ground is like from the outside.

The Swansea disappointment of a few days earlier – and the fact City were relegated from front page news and back to anonymity – lingered in the air. Like the end of a wonderful holiday or amazing night out, there was a sense of anti-climax and a resentment of the idea that things would go back to normal. 12 years of disappointment prior to this. When would we get to experience such incredible moments again?

The answer, in more ways than one, was closer than we both knew.


The WOAP cup final match report

Things they’ll never see by Alex Scott

Categories: Opinion


11 replies

  1. Isn’t nostalgia wonderful!
    A lovely piece Jason .
    Nothing to add except that other Welsh anthem from Max Boyce

  2. A wonderful piece of writing which brought me to tears over and over again reliving the memories with pride!
    My grandson Charles, the youngest City fan in our family was born 10 years ago tomorrow, so instead of heading off down the M1 with my best friend and our wives for the Cup Final weekend we ended up welcoming our grandson on the morning of the 22nd. Needless to say my Son Will was unable to go but instead he bought his Mum and Dad corporate seats in the Chelsea end.
    We waved our friends off only for them to get as far as Nottingham before having a crash and returning home, unscathed, but shaken and minus their car!
    Once we’d welcomed our grandson and wet the babies head we all set off again early on the day this time in my car!
    The only words I disagree with are that we were not humiliated at Wembley.
    I’d take that humiliation every time we got to Wembley.
    In truth my cup final was winning at Villa Park.

  3. This makes compelling and rousing reading, so much so that I’ve read it several times to savour its form and content. It’s a chapter in a book, presumably yet to be written, which must see the light of day. How good that we have our own scops and scribes to intone our legends, set down a glorious moment in our oral traditions, invoking the spirit of Dafydd Iwan, apparently a latter-day Celtic bard who stirred his nation. I have not before come across the romantic link between the experience of awe and longevity. Certainly the football world was awestruck by City’s surge to a Wembley cup final, a real cup not one unashamedly bearing a small- time sponsor’s name. Unlike our earlier brush with glory, two years in the Premier League, it owed nothing to a Faustian pact with credit dealers and everything to blood, sweat and, ultimately, tears. But ten years on, those tears are less painful, joyful even at the immensity of the achievement in football terms. This article and the previous one remind us of what can be achieved. Who
    knows if this year will turn out to be awesome or frankly awful.

  4. I remember it well, although living in Spain meant watching the games on TV when shown, and I found many of my Spanish friends became Bradford City fans, still are. My wife and I travelled back a couple of weeks before the Wembley trip, then onto the big day along with my son and friends Your article said everything about how I felt, amazing and proud. My abiding memory is of the fantastic support towards the end of the game, even my good lady sang and waved her City scarf for what seemed an eternity, aching arms from waving my scarf. Yes I will remember this till the day I die. The Spanish City supporters had never seen anything like it. Although living in Spain I still my my season ticket and manage to come over for 6-8 games each year.Absolutely brilliant report Jason, thank you

  5. A dream come true and an opportunity to meet up with family members … there were twelve of us. The Bobby Moore statue was our meeting point and the pregame atmosphere was so awe inspiring. In total, about an 8,500 mile round trip but worth every penny.

  6. In over 70 years of supporting city this was the best ever.
    I expected to lose easily but I can always say that I saw my team play in the cup final at Wembley.
    It was a wonderful day.
    I was not disappointed. I was not humiliated. I was,and remain, proud.
    No one can ever take that great day away from me.

  7. Thanks for those wonderful memories. I will always remember the proud faces of the fellow claret and amber wearing City supporters we met on the Saturday before the match, in places like St Paul’s cathedral.

    Heading back into the centre of London after the final Swansea fans on the tube were impressed by the support we had given our team.

    The only disappointment for me was the sending off , which seemed unnecessary given that the referee had already awarded a penalty.

    The historic final lives on here in Edinburgh. The barber I use in the city centre is a Hearts fan and has some football memorabilia on his walls.. Pride of place over on one is the Capital One Cup final flag I brought back from Wembley .

  8. I’ve kept everything from the cup run and sometimes in life ,as well as on the pitch times are tough, a quick trip down memory lane can brighten your day …’s to many more CTID

  9. Great read.

    I suspect that 5 weeks of build up is what caused us to freeze on the day – too much time for the squad to think about the enormity of it.

    Shame it wasn’t like a week or 2 in between.

    Still, stood us in good stead for Wembley Part Deux that season.

  10. I too had a tear in my eye when I saw City walk out in a cup final. Never thought it would happen.

    However we weren’t humiliated. What happened could have happened in any round. We were a League Two side playing a top Premier League side- it was what should happen. In fact it should have happened against Villa. They should have been 3 up after 15mins of the first leg.

    Of course it was disappointing to not even compete but it cannot take away the joy of the occasion.

    Great piece of writing about the top English club in the 2012 League Cup!

  11. Brilliant read that. Thank you Jason.

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