The sweetest joy in bitter defeat

By Leon Steel

Bleary eyed and with icy breath I eagerly anticipate boarding my early morning coach to London. In 24 hours’ time I’ll be preparing to watch Bradford City in the League Cup final, the biggest game in the club’s recent history. 

The road to Wembley was paved with glory, fearless wins, the delirious cheers grew wilder from one game to the next with James Hanson’s bullet header at Villa Park the ultimate crescendo. 

It wasn’t until Garry Thompson fired City into the lead at the quarter final tie versus Arsenal that I realised something special was happening. The players were dogged in the face of a superior opponent and despite a potentially heart-breaking late equaliser, I knew that City had the heart to win that day. From my seat in the Bantams Bar, I felt the roof lift off the entire stadium, a sound I hadn’t heard since our famous last day Premier League win against Liverpool as City again achieved the impossible. 

Arsenal were the ninth team in a row to lose a penalty shoot-out against Bradford City, itself an incredible achievement. Our next opponent Aston Villa would surely field a strong team, they now had to take City seriously and would be equally determined to treat their fans to a rare trip to Wembley. 

A nervous excitement shrouded Valley Parade as Bradford City lined up against Aston Villa. The sentiment against Arsenal was that whatever happened, the club should be proud to have progressed so far. Now, reaching Wembley was within our grasp and the stakes couldn’t be higher. 

City were on sparkling form, convincing 3-1 winners but this was only half time with a second leg looming at Villa Park. Aston Villa were still seen as favourites and despite City fans descending on Villa Park en masse, they knew it would be a tough night. Ultimately James Hanson would put the game beyond doubt, scoring a crucial goal. Despite losing 2-1 on the night, City had booked their place at Wembley and Swansea would be revealed as our opponents. 

It was my first ever trip to the new Wembley Stadium, a ground that in many ways has an odd atmosphere which I liken more to a huge television studio than a football stadium. Clad from head to toe in claret and amber I proudly walked from my hotel to the nearest tube station. I bumped into a number of Arsenal fans who wished their best, commenting ‘at least we could say we lost to the winners!’.

Making my way through the hustle and bustle of Wembley Way, I looked up in awe of the Bradford City badge sitting proudly on the front of the stadium. It’s real now, I’m not just visiting but I’ll be watching my own team play a major cup final. 

The game itself was in many ways an anticlimax. I don’t know if it was the size of the occasion or the big pitch but City just couldn’t recapture the sparkle of those famous wins at Valley Parade. When Matt Duke was dismissed, the referee may as well have ended the game. 

You could feel the air of disappointment thickening as the game wore on but fifteen minutes before the end of the game, something magical happened. As if by psychic connection, the thousands of City fans agreed the game was over but we should show the world we will not return to Yorkshire quietly.

Flags that had been placed on every seat were hoisted into the air, a carnival of claret and amber blazed over head, the Swansea fans seemed stunned. Who celebrates a devastating loss?

The old faithful song of ‘City till I die’ bellowed across Wembley Stadium. A swell of pride rushed through my body, joining the chorus my voice cracked, a tear rolled down my cheek. Bradford City had been defeated but our bond to the club, greater than ever.

Categories: Opinion


10 replies

  1. Thank you for that Leon ,a reminder of a fantastic season in City’s history .
    That atmosphere in the last twenty was spine tingling and i too shed tears of utmost pride . The respect from the Swansea fans was clear, as it was from fans all over the country .
    From our days in the lower league wilderness to Premier league glory , then our descent to near obscurity , from the revival to Wembley and the glory at Stamford bridge , the one thing that binds us all and give us these life long memories , is BCFC . As with all clubs you have good times and bad ,more bad than good probably ,but the sheer euphoria when the good times roll can completely overwhelm you. This club has driven me to the greatest of heights and the darkest moments of despair .
    As i grow older i realise that although we may not always entertain or have the best players or management etc etc ,this is my club ,it’s woven into the fabric of my body and soul simply because of the good times and bad.
    Now , if we lose or not play very well i moan and groan just as much as the next man , but come the next game , i wait and hope that this day will once more fill me with utter joy ,if not hey ho , we go again .
    City till i die ? Most definitely!

  2. Despite one of our worst ever performances it was a day no city fan will ever forget.
    What a day out, what an atmosphere and what an incredible journey. The achievement of that squad will never be forgotten and never be repeated. Great times.

  3. This sent a shiver down my spine. I remember so well the run up to the match – and the pre match presentation on the pitch more than I remember the game. I think it was the memorial to the 56 in the 56th minute that started us all off, and we didn’t stop for the rest of the game. I couldn’t even see the pitch for flying flags but that did not matter – I somehow managed to miss the sending off as well! Awesome experience. Fantastic day.

  4. Nearly had me with a tear rolling down my cheek just reading that and remembering the day.

    Fab summary of the day.

  5. It were damn cold……but the pride (despite the defeat) was there for all of us!

  6. Thanks for the memory,can’t believe that was 10 years ago. Parky will always be a legend at VP. Whatever the reasons for his departure were ,our decline since those heady days has been truly awful. Hopefully with Sparky in charge we will hopefully get better, I see this as a work in progress towards building a competent squad
    Good luck to Parky and if Wrexham get promoted let’s give him the welcome he richly deservee

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