BRADFORD CITY’S spellbinding cup story may have, in the words of joint chairman Julian Rhodes, “outrockyed Rocky”.
But on a day when the great and the good of the film world were feted at the Oscars, there were no victory gongs for the claret-and-amber gathering, with the big fairytale of victory at Wembley emphatically crumbling to dust on a cold grey day in north-west London.
A slickly choreographed hour-and-a-half routine from Swansea ensured the red carpet treatment was ultimately rolled out for the Welshmen and it is they who are dreaming of Inter Milan and European tours, not City.
There were 71 places between the Swans and City before kick-off. Ultimately class, as we feared, showed and told. And how.
Yet if ever a club could claim a moral victory for their efforts in what proved a joyride of a competition – in which they accounted for three Premier League sides, in Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic – it was City, despite what constituted nothing less than a seriously heavy defeat.
And the city of Bradford can also rejoice.
The Bantams’ exploits during an eight-match cup odyssey have done more for the city than countless seminars, flashy PowerPoint presentations, business gatherings and glossy brochures put together.
It may have been voted as the second least romantic city in Britain by some spurious organisation, but Bradford’s sporting heart is beating once again.
A stack of goodwill and backslapping has been pointed in Bradfordians’ direction from people across the country fully appreciative of their club’s part in the most marvellous of journeys.
And that will not stop now despite the final loss.
What a story it has been.
The first team from the bottom tier of English football to make a major Wembley final, and 10,000-1 in the autumn to win the competition, Bradford’s appearance at the final was a footballing marvel.
To get the pulses racing among the expectant Bradford army, a stirring rendition of the Claret and Amber club song belted around Wembley forty minutes before kick-off and after some lamentable times for Bradfordians in recent years, it truly felt like a song of redemption.
This was a city’s moment, joyously heralded by 35,000 envoys who had made the journey to the home of football.
While City’s travelling army were hoping February 24, 2013 would joyously follow May 26, 1996 – when Chris Kamara’s Bantams beat Notts County in the old Division Two play-off final – as a second glorious Wembley episode in their history, neither did they forget May 11, 1985, a day of untold tragedy for the club.
A huge flag unveiled ahead of kick-off read: “Always Remember 56 – You Will Never Walk Alone”, with those who perished on that Spring afternoon uppermost in the thoughts of those who travelled to the capital.
Dressed in his best bib and tucker and foresaking his usual training gear, City manager Phil Parkinson and his players and supporters dared to dream one more time.
Secretly, many may have thought Bradford would be pushing it to expect a victorious conclusion to their fairytale run, and so it proved.
On the day, Swansea’s insatiable appetite for possession bordered on sheer gluttony as they continually carved open City’s harassed rearguard with their domination shown in a 2-0 interval lead through goals from Nathan Dyer and Michu.
A chorus of “Swans Will Tear You Apart” – to the tune of a classic Joy Division hit of the late 70s – resonated from thousands of Welsh tenors at one point in the first period and that pretty much said it all.
It was an exercise in perspective for City yet, despite the most difficult of afternoons, the support of those who travelled south was totally unstinting.
After the twinkled-toed Dyer danced around the City defence and struck a third goal on 47 minutes – to ensure the Capital One Cup would be bedecked in white and black ribbons and not claret and amber – it was an occasion to consider just what Bradford had achieved, regardless of the one-sided fare on show.
The City punters knew it and showed it, with their cries of “City till I die” bellowing out in defiance, while a nice chorus of “Que sera, sera, We’ve been to Wembley” from one corner of the Bradford end said plenty.
But it was Swansea’s day, with the on-pitch disparity further exemplified when they added a fourth.
It was cruel in the extreme on the man who had emerged as one of the true League Cup heroes of 2012-13, Matt Duke.
After stealing headlines following stellar displays against Aston Villa, Arsenal and Wigan Athletic, City’s goalkeeper saw his adventure unceremoniously end in a red card after tripping Jonathan De Guzman.
He was still afforded a round of applause from the City fans as he trudged off the pitch in recognition of what had been an amazing personal cup story.
Duke’s replacement Jon McLaughlin’s first task was picking the ball out of the net after De Guzman fired in the resulting penalty and, with the game well and truly over, it was a time to take pride in what had been achieved, not reflect on what had transpired during 90 torrid on-pitch minutes, which ended with a fifth Swansea goal.
Regardless of the scoreline, the flag-waving continued.
Beaten on the pitch, maybe, but not in the stands.
A party invite to a cup final is not to be sniffed at.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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