AFTER finishing his own 15-year playing career with the big regret of never having played at Wembley, Phil Parkinson has urged his Bradford City side not to waste their own opportunity tonight.
The Bantams head to Reading for a quarter-final replay that has the huge prize of a last four showdown with holders Arsenal at stake.
City, of course, played at the national stadium twice in 2013 but the vast majority of the squad that made history by reaching the League Cup final and winning promotion via the play-offs have since moved on.
It means most of the current crop are chasing a first visit to Wembley and Parkinson believes the League One club can do just that in front of a sell-out crowd at the Madejski Stadium.
“Some players go through their whole careers and don’t get chance to play at Wembley,” said the Bradford manager, whose side will be roared on tonight by a 4,000 strong travelling army of fans.
“I didn’t and that is a frustration to me. I played in a play-off final (for Reading) but it was at the Millennium Stadium.
“I also missed a Wembley final for Reading through injury. It was the Championship play-off final (in 2005) against Bolton that finished 4-3 after Reading had been 2-0 up.
“Reading had only ever been to Wembley once, and that was in the Simod Cup final. The atmosphere was incredible against Bolton but, obviously, I wanted to be out there.
“I missed the last three months of that season with a knee injury. I did try to come back too early and the knee flared up.
“I was devastated to miss out and I always wanted to play at Wembley. I was on the bench, sitting at the back.
“Playing at Wembley is such a massive goal and not many get a chance to do so. We are one game off potentially doing it and that is why the lads are so determined to give it everything at Reading.
“I never got to play there but, hopefully, our lads can get that opportunity.”
City, after being held at Valley Parade nine days ago by the Royals, are very much the underdogs tonight in a tie that will be shown live on BBC1.
On playing budget alone, Bradford’s annual bill of £1.5m is dwarfed by the £23m that Reading will spend this season.
Such a tag is not one that is likely to intimidate a team that has already won at Chelsea this season and seen off Sunderland.
“The pressure is right on Reading,” said Parkinson, who joins four of the 18 on duty in the 2013 League Cup final in still being at Valley Parade.
“They were able to come to us and spoil the game and disrupt the flow. But you don’t get away with playing like that at home. The expectancy, all of a sudden, is on them.
“Reading will have to have a go and try to win the game. That should open things up.”
For Parkinson, tonight’s game is all about booking a trip to Wembley. It is, though, also likely to be an emotional occasion due to the 11 years and 425 appearances he has to his name as a Reading player.
So revered is the 47-year-old in the Berkshire town, in fact, that he was once voted into the Royals’ all-time XI.
“I have been back to Reading before,” he said. “It was with Charlton but it was a bit of a low-key midweek game towards the end of a season. This is going to be a lot bigger.
“We are up against a team from a higher division and their budget will be six or seven times ours. Minimum.
“A massive gulf in resources, so for all those people to say at full-time, ‘Bradford should have won’ was a big testament to ourselves.
“We set out to win the first game but got a draw and I believe this will be a real, great night of Cup football. I am sure of that. It means so much to both clubs.
“Reading came to draw at our place by sitting back and spoiling the game. I had no qualms about that. But now things have to change and it will be more open.”
As for the prospect of taking on a club he served with such distinction, Parkinson added: “For the players, the first game was the biggest of their careers. I could sense it in the dressing room before the match. This will be no different but it is exciting. For me personally, I go back and am looking forward to it. But I want to go back and get through.”
Last six games: Reading LLDDWL, Bradford City LLWDDD.
Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).
Last time: Reading 2 Bradford City 2; October 4, 2003; Division One.