“It really is pinch yourself time for every City fan,” wrote Bradford’s joint-chairman Mark Lawn in the matchday programme.
They were his emotions in the lead up to this monumental occasion for the Bantams.
Disbelief that this proud club, one that had fallen on the hardest of times, was back on the big stage and in the national spotlight once again.
Quite what he must have been thinking 19 minutes into this League Cup semi-final first leg when Nakhi Wells calmly sidefooted the ball beyond Shay Given and into the back of the net to send Valley Parade into raptures is anyone’s guess.
Or when Rory McArdle and Carl McHugh twice headed them into a two-goal lead late in the second half.
Total delirium probably does not come close.
Such has been the theme of this remarkable Cup run for Bradford City, one that has taken them from the bread and butter of League Two to dreaming of a major Wembley Cup final, that Lawn and the rest of us should know by now that nothing is beyond this courageous band of brothers.
That payrolls and public perceptions do not matter.
That gulfs in class and stature are irrelevant.
That time and again Bradford City have ridden roughshod on reputations in this competition.
Ask Wigan, who were vanquished on penalties in front of 5,000 travelling City ‘Gents’ in the last-16 tie.
Ask Arsenal, mighty Arsenal, who were humbled on spot-kicks in the quarter-final, the artisans of the Premier League having no answer to the heart of League Two’s best-supported club.
And now Aston Villa, a side with more League Cup honours than any other club – they have more wins in the competition than even Liverpool or Manchester United.
Yet no Premier League team would have fancied being in their shoes last night, no matter that they escaped with a chance of redemption to come at Villa Park in 13 days.
A chance? It should have been Villa fans booking London hotels for the final weekend in February, not the bouncing Bantams.
Every Bradford fans’ chest will be swelled with pride this morning.
The men in claret and amber did the city justice with an uplifting performance full of gusto and guts.
Andreas Weimann’s consolation goal may have given Villa a chance, but Bradford have the advantage.
Perhaps as significantly, last night’s fearless performance and the run overall, have helped the club regain a national profile.
The Yorkshire city has a football club that has folk sitting up and taking notice again.
“I remember them in the Premier League... plucky so-and-sos.”
That brief dalliance among the big boys of the Premier League has felt like an eternity ago, not the decade or so it is in reality.
But that is what a freefall into near oblivion does to a club and a city, it stops the rest of the country looking in their direction.
What the rest of the football-mad nation do not appreciate is just how hard that fall was, how close Bradford came last season to dropping through the trap door into non-League football.
At Easter they were in a relegation dogfight, and were saved only in mid-April when Wells – that man again – scored a hat-trick at Northampton to finally alleviate the pressure.
The sigh of relief could be heard from Bingley to East Bierley.
Relegation would have been catastrophic, a death knell to follow the liquidation they have twice been threatened with since dropping out of the Premier League in 2001.
All the despair and heartache of the past dozen years makes this memorable League Cup run all the more remarkable.
From the threat of playing Alfreton to the jubilation of beating Arsenal in just six months.
Not only that, but manager Phil Parkinson has guided his troops into a promotion battle, and also to the Northern Area semi-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
A triple shot at glory. Unthinkable at the start of the season.
And how the fans of Bradford City have earned this glimmer of hope and expectation.
Game after game, year after year they have stayed loyal to the club, through the thinnest of thin times. All the home defeats against opponents they could have condescendingly felt were beneath them, still did not deter them from coming to support their team in their thousands.
Crowds nearing 10,000 are unheard of in the fourth tier, except at Valley Parade.
Parkinson’s message in the build-up was to “make the most of it”.
It was a rallying call to his players, the club’s staff, their fans and the city.
And no one let Parkinson down last night.
There was a poignant snapshot amid the traffic and footfall on Manningham Lane last night as kick-off drew ever closer.
A young boy sat quietly with his father and his grandfather, all bedecked in their claret and amber hats and scarves, allowing this rarest of occasions to wash over them.
This family of Bantams had never witnessed their team in a major semi-final before, not the granddad, not his son, and certainly not his grandson.
This was rarified air for Bradford fans, the likes of which they may never breathe again.
So drink it in, pinch yourselves and savour every moment. Lawn, Parkinson, Wells and company, certainly deserve it.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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