Bradford City fans had their ultimate dream shattered at Wembley by Swansea’s emphatic League Cup win. But as Nick Westby reports, any feeling of self-pity was quickly put into perspective.
As they stared forlornly over their pint pots in the hostelries of London last night, or headed home immediately on the nation’s motorway networks, there was much for Bradford City fans to ponder.
Why didn’t City get at Swansea from the first whistle?
Why didn’t they get stuck in to them, as they had done against Arsenal and Aston Villa?
Were their brave boys afflicted by stage fright?
Yet among the questioning and the ifs, buts and maybes, was an overwhelming sense of pride.
Those Bantams fans who poured out of Wembley last night did so with their flags still waving and their chests puffed out.
Granted, over 90 minutes their team had not given a true reflection of the majesty of this Cup run, but there was solace to be taken in how they had got there.
Merely being at Wembley was, after all, a marvellous accomplishment, the likes of which we may not see again in this lifetime.
“We got here but unfortunately couldn’t make the last hurdle, but we didn’t do ourselves any shame,” mused Sen Mirza as he left the west end of the national stadium.
“I suppose we could have played a bit better, but the better team won.
“I’m still very proud. To get as far as this may not happen again in our lifetime.
“It’s a day we’ll always remember.
“Had we had the full-strength team we might have put up more of a fight.”
Craig Dignam was equally elated, regardless of the result.
“That was a just a legendary day for Bradford City, even despite the fact we lost,” he said.
“We were beaten and beaten well by a very good team, but at the end of the day we are not going to do this often.
“Of course we’re disappointed, but the boys did us proud and 33,000 Bantams fans, wherever they came from around the world, came and waved their flags and had a good day.”
Trish and Barry Lambert left Wembley a little frustrated by their side’s capitulation.
“We didn’t put any pressure on them at all,” said Trish.
“We’ve been giant-killers all the way through and yet they just left them (yesterday). How many tackles did we make? How many shots did we have on goal?
“It’s frustrating, but still, what an achievement to get here.”
Fiona Bruce added: “They were playing a really, really good team and I’d like to say they did their best, but they didn’t tackle enough, they didn’t get stuck in enough.
“Very disappointed that they didn’t get stuck in right from the start, but we’re still proud.”
That they were overcome by pride was evident at the end as the majority of the Bantams fans stayed behind to applaud their players as they received their runners-up medals.
Even despite the 5-0 scoreline and the fact that Bradford fans had to wait 87 minutes for their team’s first shot on goal, some people still felt the result unjust, and that blame had to be apportioned.
“Kevin Friend is no friend of mine,” laughed Ali Rizzy from Manningham. “He should have just given him (Matt Duke) a yellow card,” referring to the dismissal of the Bantams’ goalkeeper in the 56th minute, when the Leicestershire official applied the letter of the law mercilessly.
“As long as we went and attacked we might have been all right, but we didn’t attack them.
“We conceded at the wrong times as well.
“There’s always time for a comeback...but after the sending-off, it killed us.”
Prior to kick-off, optimism and bewilderment was in abundance among the bedecked masses of Bradford fans.
Those in claret and amber, whether they be shirts, scarves or top hats, outnumbered the black and white of Swansea fans along Olympic Way, or Wembley Way as it is known to the traditionalist.
This was the biggest day in the Swans’ history, too, but as a club on the rise, there was perhaps not the eagerness to grasp this opportunity as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Bantams fans, though, were determined to cherish every minute.
There were young and old, white and Asian faces; a diverse community united in pride at the achievement of their football club.
Andy Stronach was with family and neighbours on Wembley Way.
He said: “Thirty-eight years I’ve been supporting them, never thought I’d see a day like this.
“I was at Wolves when they got promoted (1999) but this means everything, it’s amazing.
“I’ve been like a kid at Christmas. We’re here to enjoy the day.”
His companion, Daniel Strong, had only been a Bantams fan for five years.
“I never really watched football until Bradford got into League One, basically my dad took me, it was against Leyton Orient. We lost 2-0 but I fell in love there and then.
“I thought those glory days for Bantams fans were before my time.”
Andy Smith, a Bradford ex-pat living in the south had met up with more than 20 of his family members, including the two brothers with whom he used to watch the Bantams.
“It’s become a family day out, the stuff dreams are made of,” said Andy.
City fans came from all over the world to share in the dream; from Japan and the United States, and even one fan from Australia who launched a campaign on Facebook to fly over if he got one million likes. He got 1.7 million.
Back on Wembley Way, one man was dressed as the Dalai Lama, replete with a face mask of Bantams captain Gary Jones.
It was one of those occasions to lose all inhibitions and enjoy yourself, regardless of the outcome.
And it wasn’t just the regular husband and father, son, daughter, wife or grandmother who was revelling in the atmosphere and excitement before kick-off.
Former players, managers and heroes of the club strode English football’s famous boulevard.
Peter Jackson, John Hendrie and Paul Jewell made the journey, smiles on their faces, a hearty handshake for everyone who stopped them, equally as astonished as the next person at how a club that had experienced the hardest of times, of tragedy and turmoil, was now the name on everyone’s lips.
And even after such a one-sided final, the smiles were still there.
The optimism may have gone, but the enormous pride will never subside.