Bradford City have done more than just create history by reaching the League Cup final, they have written the manager’s team talk for everyone outside of the Premier League in cup competitions for years to come.
This is especially true for Barnsley chief David Flitcroft, who has watched on with pride at the Valley Parade club’s amazing run to the Capital One Cup final in which they will face Swansea City next weekend at Wembley.
For Flitcroft was coach at Rochdale to players like Gary Jones, Rory McArdle and Will Atkinson – Nathan Doyle was at Oakwell last season, too – and the quartet have been part of the Bantams’ Cup exploits which have seen the League Two side knock out Premier League Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa.
Now manager at Championship strugglers Barnsley, Flitcroft stands just 180 minutes away from a semi-final match at Wembley – the same stage the Tykes reached five years ago when they lost to Cardiff City – and has no hesitation when asked if he believes a Championship club is capable of winning the world’s oldest cup competition.
“I, more than any other person in football, have been inspired by what Bradford City have done,” he said.
“I watched them at Wigan and they inspired me that day. I told the players and said I had been tracking this team. I know a lot of the players, I have been a coach for a lot of them – Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle, Rory McArdle, Will Atkinson.
“I knew what they could achieve and what they are about. For every single man to have done what they have done, putting the detail into winning them football matches, has really inspired me as a person massively.
“I will be telling the players that again come (today), that inspiration is out there everywhere. It proves it can be done, a club from the Championship or any club, can get reach Wembley. Can they win it? Without a shadow of a doubt,” he stressed.
“I love the FA Cup. I come from a strong footballing background, I have two brothers who played the game and my dad helped play a part in that. Watching my two sons now emulate their heroes, one crosses to the other and it’s a goal, but it’s always the FA Cup they play in and that’s brilliant. It just captures the imagination of a proud Englishman.
“I love the tournament – a brilliant trophy and I can’t wait for Saturday’s game.
“I suppose being a League One or League Two player for most of my career, games against top teams in the FA Cup are ones I have really looked forward to – pitting my wits against some of the best players there is.
“It’s strange, for one game in your life you can get to a different level. I do find it strange sometimes that players cannot do that over 46 times, it’s just a human thing.
“Maybe Premier League players can do it week-in, week-out. Players like Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie probably play 60 games a season and for some reason they can get to those levels. Maybe League One or Two players can only get to that level six times a year.”
Flitcroft has made an incredible start to his managerial career since replacing Keith Hill at Oakwell, a seven-game unbeaten run giving the Reds a fighting chance of avoiding relegation from the Championship.
But today the former Chester City, Bury and Rochdale midfield player will urge his team to create a chunk of personal history.
“What I have told the players about the FA Cup is something I really believe in,” he said.
“Money doesn’t make you happy. When you look back, memories are the only thing you are left with. So build up those memories.
“That’s what I am telling the players, don’t be left with memories that are dead, void, don’t mean anything. You will remember them for the rest of your life.
“I remember every single player of the Rochdale promotion team – relegation is a time I want to forget. It was a horrendous time, grown men crying in the dressing room. It’s not a time I remember fondly, and I want great memories for these footballers.
“I was at Rochdale, and got to the fifth round. We played Blackburn, Preston, Coventry and went to Wolves where we got beat late on. But it was a fantastic time for the club, a massive financial gain for the club – it was buzzing.
“The semi-finals being at Wembley is a great plus. I have told the players, ‘this is about your families, about us, about going home and your families being proud of you’. The FA Cup seems to do that more than ever, it just captures the imagination.
“It gives them a welcome relief from the league, which has been quite relentless since I took over. A lot of things have changed, we have moved a long way in such a short space of time, which sometimes takes its toll.”
While loan signings Jason Scotland, Chris O’Grady and Rory Delap have grabbed the headlines, Flitcroft reserved special praise for Kelvin Etuhu, the 24-year-old former Manchester City striker who has been pushed into a new midfield role.
“The form of Kelvin Etuhu has been sensational, he’s getting better,” he said. “We have got to appreciate that he will make mistakes in that midfield, he has only played 10 games in there and he will make mistakes.
“But it’s like I have always said, your kids make mistakes and some parents may use negative tactics. I am very positive. I have an astro-turf in my back garden that I train my kids on, my two boys, and we call it the mistake stadium. I let them make mistakes because it’s a way of learning. If you are not prepared to make mistakes you won’t learn anything.
“Kelvin’s going to make mistakes, but when my kids make mistakes I support them through it. I don’t berate them, run after them or chase them. I let them make mistakes, it helps them be who they want to be. That’s why I am trying to help Kelvin, develop him into a central midfield player. He can be a force to be reckoned with in time.”
Flitcroft and the Barnsley squad will stay in a local hotel after t oday’s game as they prepare for the Championship game with Wolves on Tuesday night, forcing players to spend time away from their families.
Flitcroft rallied: “We are right in the middle of something. For me it’s just like war, and we have to use every single facet we have got, every single resource, to overcome battles we have got to win. It’s an adventure.”