The 19th play-off final involving at least one Yorkshire club takes place tomorrow. One of those final heroes talks to Richard Sutcliffe.
DEAN WINDASS is tomorrow looking forward to taking a trip down Memory Lane.
Almost five years to the day since scoring the goal that fired Hull City into the Premier League, the 44-year-old former striker will make his first return to Wembley.
Bradford City, like Hull a club where he enjoyed two spells as a player, are taking on Northampton Town in the League Two play-off final and Windass admits the memories will come flooding back the moment he steps foot in the national stadium.
“I haven’t had chance to go back since the 2008 play-off final,” Windass told the Yorkshire Post. “It was actually the only time I’ve been to the new stadium so I am looking forward to Saturday.
“I’ll be working for (Bradford radio station) Pulse FM but I’ll certainly have a look at the goal where I scored for Hull. I’m sure the hairs will be stood up on the back of my neck, as it is obviously a day I’ll never forget.”
May 24, 2008, is, indeed, a date indelibly written in Hull folklore as the city’s 104-year wait for top-flight football finally came to an end courtesy of Windass’s trusty right foot. The experience of that afternoon and the build-up that preceded the Tigers’ 1-0 win over Bristol City means the one-time Bradford striker is ideally placed to offer some advice to the players hoping to take his former club up tomorrow.
“Playing in a play-off final is a huge honour,” he said. “I know that from not only my time at Hull but also when I was dropped for Sheffield United’s final (against Wolves in 2003) at the Millennium Stadium.
“It is a fantastic day and occasion but the day goes very, very quickly. My advice to anyone playing for Bradford this weekend is, ‘Soak it all up’.
“What I also learned from the day with Hull is the importance of preparing right. Phil Brown spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson during the build-up to the 2008 final and he stressed the importance of making sure the day was all about the business of winning, not getting caught up in the occasion by waving to family and friends.
“As a result, Phil Brown kept us in the dressing room before the game. We didn’t go on a walkabout or anything like that. Instead, we stayed in the dressing room and relaxed before going out to warm up at 2.15pm.
“We just sat around in the changing room, which at Wembley is huge. Some of the lads read the programme, some had a bit of banter and others just listened to the music. We must have been in there three-quarters of an hour before finally heading out.
“We’d been to Wembley the day before. Phil and (chairman) Paul Duffen showed us where our families would be sitting and that was that. The day of the game was business, not about waving to the family or whatever.
“Phil’s approach was spot on, as I realised when we walked out of the tunnel before the match. Wembley was red hot that day, the temperature must have been up around 85 or 90.
“I remember lining up before kick-off and thinking, ‘I feel knackered here’. Then, once the game got going, it was amazing how tired everyone’s legs became. I remember as a kid watching Cup finals and seeing players go down with cramp. I’d be thinking, ‘How can they be tired?’
“But having now played there, I understand. The pitch drains your legs. Don’t ask me how, it just does. That is why it was such a good idea to keep us in the changing room, resting, before kick-off. Otherwise, we’d have been dead on our feet.”
Bradford’s players will know something about how Wembley can drain the legs. Certainly, Parkinson’s men were run ragged during February’s 5-0 defeat to Swansea City.
Suffering the heaviest defeat in League Cup final history was a big letdown following the heroics that had seen the side from the basement division see off Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa in earlier rounds.
Windass, who watched the game from the Al-Jazeera TV studios in central London, shared that sense of disappointment but he does feel that come tomorrow’s final the experience of appearing at Wembley can only help his old club.
“The Bradford players will know what playing at Wembley is all about,” he said. “That means there will be no surprises. It also means they will be used to the big occasion.
“Okay, it didn’t end well. But as the two teams line-up before kick-off, the Bradford lads will know what it is all about while Northampton will be stepping into the unknown.”
For Windass, tomorrow will not only see his old club walk out at Wembley but also a host of familiar faces from his time with the Tigers.
Assistant manager Steve Parkin will be there, as will former team-mates Matt Duke, Nathan Doyle and Will Atkinson. Windass said: “Steve Parkin will have a big role to play.
“Not just in assisting Phil (Parkinson) but also in the changing room. The one thing about Steve is he is a passionate lad and his personality is infectious. He is great to have in the changing room because Parky is a winner. He’ll make sure the Bradford lads are fired up.
“The experienced lads will have a role to play, too. In 2008, I was one of the oldest at Hull so saw it as part of my job to try and relax some of the younger lads. It was the same for Ian Ashbee, Andy Dawson, Wayne Brown and Nick Barmby.
“For Bradford, lads like Matt Duke will have a role to play along with (captain) Gary Jones. Even Nathan Doyle, who might not be the oldest but he was on the bench for Hull in the 2008 play-off final at Wembley.”
Windass was part of the Bantams squad that won promotion to the top flight in 1999 and then stayed there under Paul Jewell a year later. He left midway through the following season but returned to Valley Parade in 2003 for a second spell, taking his total number of league appearances for Bradford to 216.
He added: “Bradford City gave me a fantastic living and I really hope they can beat Northampton. It won’t be easy, though, as everyone knows that Northampton are a hard team to play against.
“Hopefully, though, Bradford can do it. If they do, I’ll be so pleased for Julian Rhodes if Bradford can do it. He has pumped so much money into the club over the years that he deserves some success.
“The thing with a play-off final is your big players have to deliver. When at Middlesbrough, Steve McClaren always said before a big game, ‘I need my money men to go win the game and my defenders to do their jobs’.
“On Saturday, Bradford’s ‘money men’ will be Nahki Wells and James Hanson. They have to go into the final believing, ‘If the defence keep a clean sheet, I can win it for Bradford City’.
“I know that feeling and it really is the best in the world, especially for me because I did it for my home-town club. I felt like Roy of the Rovers and the Bradford lads must want the same.”