PHIL PARKINSON last night challenged his Bradford City side to claim a “deserved” place in history by turning a tremendous season into a memorable one.
The Bantams return to Wembley for the second time in less than three months today to take on Northampton Town in the League Two play-off final.
Around 24,000 fans are expected to head south from West Yorkshire in the hope that an unforgettable campaign can end on the ultimate high of promotion.
Bradford have already written their name in the record books by reaching a major Wembley final from the basement division. But victory over the Cobblers would mean Parkinson’s City succeeding where the only two previous teams from the fourth tier in the history of European football to reach the final of a major domestic Cup competition failed.
“It is a great chance to earn a place in history,” said Parkinson to the Yorkshire Post when asked about how Rochdale in 1961-62 and French club, Calais Racing Union FC, 13 years ago missed out on promotion from the bottom division after battling through to a major Cup final.
“For me, it is something the players deserve. This has been a tremendous season but we can turn it into a truly memorable one by getting over the finishing line.
“We are going into the final with a focus and a determination to finish the season off in style.”
Promotion would, according to joint chairman Julian Rhodes, lead to Bradford’s revenue leaping by £1m-£1.5m next season in League One.
The club has already banked a seven-figure sum from the run to the Capital One Cup final this term but captain Gary Jones insists the final with Northampton is about so much more than money.
He said: “It is all about rounding off what has been a memorable year for the club in style.
“We have played 64 games and yet the season now hangs on one game. People say the play-offs are a lottery and I believe they are absolutely right.
“But, equally, we will go to Wembley feeling confident we can finish the job.”
City hold the upper hand in meetings between the finalists this season courtesy of two 1-0 wins in the league and a penalty shoot-out triumph in an FA Cup replay.
Whether that quartet of games will act as a pointer in today’s final, which kicks off at 1.30pm, remains to be seen.
But 35-year-old Jones, who joined Bradford last summer on a free transfer from Rochdale, believes one thing that can be guaranteed at Wembley is drama on a par with what the final few weeks of the Football League season have already thrown up.
Doncaster Rovers’ incredible title clinching win at Brentford on the final day of the League One campaign set the ball rolling. A week later, Hull City’s promotion to the Premier League came in equally-dramatic fashion, while anyone watching last week’s Championship play-off semi-final between Watford and Leicester City is unlikely to forget how the Hornets booked their own trip to Wembley with the final kick of the game.
Jones said: “The last few weeks have been mental. I was watching the Championship play-offs the other day and I honestly didn’t think the season could get any crazier. But it did.
“For the television guys, it has been incredible. What viewing it has been for everyone. It started with Doncaster and Brentford. Then, there was the final day of the Championship season, while our (play-off) win at Burton the following afternoon added even more drama.
“To come back from a goal down to win 3-1 at the team with the best home record in the entire League, to me that helped set the pattern that was continued in the Championship a few days later.
“I’d love our final against Northampton to be straight forward and for us to win comfortably. But it’s not going to be like that, is it? I’ve only been here a year but I’ve seen already that Bradford City don’t do things straight forward.
“Just look at this season. We’ve done it the hard way, all the way through. But, if we perform like we know we can, then we can hopefully do it and get our hands on some silverware.”
Jones, in the Rochdale side that lost the 2009 League Two play-off final to Gillingham, is hoping today will be a case of ‘third time lucky’ at Wembley after he captained Bradford in this year’s League Cup final.
He added: “I am really positive about the day and what we can achieve. It is going to be fantastic. To be fair, the entire season has been like that.
“I fell out of love with football a bit last season at Rochdale but I’ve got that back and more since coming to Bradford. It has proved to be the best decision I could have made. I certainly couldn’t have predicted things going as well as this.
“Now, though, we have to finish the job. The lads have trained really well this week and feel confident.
“We have made a point of treating the final like a normal league game. It is vital we do that. With the benefit of hindsight, I think the hype of the Capital One Cup final probably affected us.
“I think Swansea would have beaten any League Two team that day. It wasn’t a case of us being in our shell or anything like that. More that we just came up against an unbelievable team.
“This one will be very different to what happened in February. We are both in the same division, for a start. Northampton are a really physical team so it is going to be a real good battle.
“But if we can do our jobs and give it all we have got, I think we’ll be fine.
“The incentive is rewarding our incredible supporters. They have been a real credit to the club all season and we want to repay them.”