Special bond lies behind Bradford City’s return to Wembley

So solid: Bradford central defenders Nathaniel Knight-Percival, left, and Rory McArdle celebrate after keeping Fleetwood at bay at Highbury Stadium. (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA)
So solid: Bradford central defenders Nathaniel Knight-Percival, left, and Rory McArdle celebrate after keeping Fleetwood at bay at Highbury Stadium. (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA)
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AS the city of Bradford prepares to remember those who died in the fire disaster 32 years ago today, Rory McArdle believes the unique bond that exists between fans and players has helped push the club to Wembley.

The Bantams will face Millwall in the League One play-off final on May 20 with the prize of promotion at stake.

I always felt they would beat Scunny. A bit like we did a few years ago, Millwall snuck in the back door and that brings belief and momentum.

Rory McArdle

Stuart McCall and his players will take a break from preparations for the final to attend this morning’s annual remembrance service in Centenary Square to pay tribute to the 56 victims of the 1985 fire.

For Sheffield-born McArdle, this will be his fifth service since returning to Yorkshire from Aberdeen and he admits it is always an emotional time for everyone at Valley Parade.

“Bradford is a massive club and a special club,” said the scorer of the goal that sent City to the national stadium with a 1-0 aggregate victory over Fleetwood Town in the semi-finals.

“We have the memorial this week and, for a few of the lads, this will be their first time. They were asking about it recently.

“We went through it, making sure they understood. It brings everyone at the club together. The memorial is not an enjoyable time, it is a time to remember those not with us any more.

“But I am hoping there will be smiles on people’s faces at the same time because the club is at Wembley.”

The game with Millwall will be McArdle’s third trip to Wembley with City. He was in the 2013 sides that lost against Swansea City in the League Cup final and then beat Northampton Town to win promotion from League Two via the play-offs.

As one of three players still at the club who joined in the summer of 2012, the 30-year-old is well placed to assess City’s progress since the upheaval of last summer that brought a change of ownership and then Phil Parkinson’s exit for Bolton Wanderers along with all his coaching staff.

He said: “It is a huge achievement and probably even bigger than reaching the play-offs last year, especially when you consider where we were last summer.

“The change of ownership and the new gaffer coming in was a big thing. We only had eight or so players, too, so there was a lot to do recruitment-wise.

“That went well and the lads who were already here have knitted together really well. That has been massive.

“At clubs, you can find players who have all the ability in the world who then, off the pitch, don’t always get on with others. When you spend as much time together as we do on away trips and so on, that bond is important.

“You can see from the togetherness we all showed on the pitch after Fleetwood that there is something special here.

“Unfortunately, there weren’t as many Bradford fans here as we had hoped (City’s allocation was just 727 for that second leg). Ideally, we would have had the second leg at home so everyone could share in it. Bradford fans always travel in numbers and I saw a few jump up at the final whistle in the home end. We knew they were there.

“Getting to Wembley is a massive achievement. It is something we spoke about at the start of the season, the need to improve on last year and we have now done that. But it won’t count for anything unless we progress and win the final. We need that right result.”

McArdle played in both semi-final legs against Millwall last season as the Londoners progressed to London with a 4-2 aggregate win. “Playing Millwall is probably fate, especially as you look how they finished the season,” added the defender.

“They got in the play-offs by scoring late on (against Bristol Rovers on the final day) so I am sure they will be thinking the momentum is with them.

“After that, I always felt they would beat Scunny. A bit like we did a few years ago, Millwall snuck in the back door and that brings belief and momentum.

“We were nowhere near (the top seven) in 2013 with ten or 11 games to go but the momentum we built up made all the difference.

“The games against Millwall were tough last year but this is one we are all looking forward to.”

City’s passage to the final this year was surprisingly smooth, Fleetwood rarely threatening last Sunday to overcome the first leg lead given to the Yorkshire club by McArdle.

It was Bradford’s sixth clean sheet in eight outings and one that will make Millwall wary come the final at Wembley.

“The big thing is we wanted a clean sheet,” said McArdle.

“If we got that, we were through. We had been on a good recent run defensively so felt confident.

“We were solid and they only really had one header in the first half and a couple of half-chances here and there but nothing clear-cut. So, from a defensive point of view, we were happy.

“It probably looked comfortable but, at 0-0, there is always the chance of the tie completely changing in a second.

“We had a couple of chances and Charlie (Wyke) hit the post. We also had a few counter-attacks where, if the final ball had been better, we could have tested their keeper a bit more.

“But, we knew the longer the game went on, they would have to start pushing bodies forward. That would leave space in behind for us to, hopefully, exploit.”