DESPITE the shock of being kicked out of the FA Cup for fielding an ineligible player yesterday, Bradford City have plenty to crow about right now.
Not only is Valley Parade looking forward to hosting its biggest attendance in more than half-a-century when Arsenal come to Bradford next week, but the Bantams are also handily placed to end a spiral of decline that has twice brought the very future of the club into question.
The feelgood factor is well and truly back and a major reason behind City’s revival has been the form of 22-year-old Bermudan international Nahki Wells.
Signed in the summer of 2011 as one very much for the future, Wells has since become an integral part of Bradford’s current revival with his 14 goals having played a major part in the club’s push for success in both the league and cup.
“Things are going well,” admits the Bantams striker when speaking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s home encounter with Torquay United.
“I don’t just mean for me but the whole team. There is a real belief running through the squad and we all believe it is going to be a great second half of the season.
“My aim when the season started was promotion. I had a good feeling about things. A cup run or two would have been nice but the big thing I wanted was promotion. Hopefully, we can achieve that.”
Wells first came to the attention of City in 2010 thanks to a recommendation from former winger Mark Ellis.
However, a disappointing display in a trial match saw Bradford say ‘no’ to leave Ellis, who had brought the Bermudan across as part of his Richmond International Academic & Soccer Academy (RIASA) coaching project, touting Wells to former Bradford team-mate Greg Abbott at Carlisle United.
A short-term contract followed but his stay in Cumbria proved a disappointing one with just a trio of appearances from the bench. He also failed to win a place on the bench at Wembley as Carlisle beat Brentford to lift the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. His release came a few weeks later.
Ellis then tried again at City through director of operations – and RIASA chief executive – David Baldwin, and this time Wells did enough to earn a one-year deal. Twelve goals followed last season, prompting Phil Parkinson to offer a new three-year contract.
Wells said: “After Carlisle, I was devastated and ended up thinking, ‘I wonder if I’ll get another crack at it?’ I hoped so because making it in England had always been my dream. But I needed that chance, which, thankfully, came at Bradford and things are going well.
“I do set myself targets. I wanted to get to 10 goals within a certain time this season and I reached that target. I have another target for 15. But, in total, I won’t be happy unless I get to 25 this season.
“I believe I am totally capable of getting 25 goals. And if I can do that, I will not only have done well for me but also the team.
“The club has had decline, decline, decline. Things just got worse and worse. But I think the time has come to rebound and get over all that negativity.
“I have a real good feeling about what is going to happen in the next few months.”
Wells, through his scoring exploits with Bradford, has become a folk hero back home with Bermuda’s sports Minister Glenn Blakeney being sufficiently moved to proclaim: “Nahki is someone young players can emulate in every aspect of their game and general deportment on and off the field. He is one of Bermuda’s most promising players, with an exceptionally bright future.”
Natives of the Atlantic Ocean holiday island will get a rare chance to see their hero play live in a Bradford shirt next week during the Capital One Cup quarter-final tie with Arsenal.
With 23,500 tickets already having been sold, the visit of the Gunners will attract the rebuilt Valley Parade’s biggest attendance – the previous best being the 22,057 that watched Liverpool triumph 2-0 in April, 2001.
To discover when City last hosted a bigger crowd than the one expected on Tuesday, a delve deep into the history books reveals that 26,244 watched an FA Cup fifth-round tie with Burnley in February, 1960, which finished 2-2. As an indication of just how much interest there was in that tie between the soon-to-be crowned League champions and Third Division Bradford, the replay at Turf Moor was watched by a phenomenal 52,850 with an estimated 20,000 locked out.
On the glamour tie with Arsene Wenger’s side, Wells said: “I would expect most of Bermuda will be supporting us that night. The country wants its players to do well so I hope I can do them justice.
“It will be a great occasion, though one none of us are thinking about until the game comes round. Torquay is the one we need to win and I don’t think anyone will be thinking about Arsenal until after the match.
“We have shown already how good we have been on concentrating on the league and the other cup ties. The gaffer made it a rule not to mention the Arsenal game and now it is nearly here, we just want to beat Torquay and ensure we go into the match on a high.”