LOSING a play-off final at Wembley is bad enough.
But for the crestfallen Bradford City players to then be subjected to cruel taunts and threats amid a pitch invasion by a few hundred morons from Millwall was beyond the pale. It is a wonder no-one in claret and amber snapped.
Stuart McCall came close, the Bantams manager admitting he had to be dragged away from a couple of these idiotic interlopers by goalkeeping coach Steve Banks.
A Brian Clough-style dose of retribution would surely have brought swingeing punishment from the Football Association and, no doubt, added financial injury to the insults dished out by Bermondsey’s finest.
In that respect, McCall being dragged away from his tormentors was the right call. But, equally, a clip round the ear or a right hander would have surely been understandable considering the intense provocation at a time when Bradford were at their lowest ebb.
That it took a full 10 minutes for any stewards to appear on the pitch and belatedly create a line of segregation shamed one of world football’s iconic stadia.
“Banksy had to drag me away because I would happily have put one on him,” said an emotional McCall when speaking to The Yorkshire Post about one of his on-pitch tormentors.
“You see it, to be fair, at the majority of games towards the end of a season. I was at Hibs and Rangers last year (Scottish Cup final) when Hibs came on to halfway and then kicked on to start all the trouble.
“Bradford fans were never going to come on the park and cause trouble. I don’t get it. Just enjoy promotion with your own players. Why do you have to come over to us?
“We are feeling bad enough as it is, trying to clap our fans who had been outstanding. Why do it?
I don’t get it. Just enjoy promotion with your own players. Why do you have to come over to us?Bradford City manager, Stuart McCall.
“The key, though, is it took 10 minutes for the stewards in orange jackets to come on. I said to one of them, ‘Where the hell have you been?’
“Fair enough, they maybe couldn’t stop them coming on. But come and put a line on the halfway line. Wembley has to learn from this.
“They are coming up and celebrating in our face. If Banksy hadn’t come over, I could easily have been embroiled in throwing a couple of punches.
“People coming up to you and gesturing, trying to take pictures of you to take the p***. Trying to shake your hand and pulling away. It is nonsense.”
McCall’s fury was understandable. So, too, was his frustration at seeing Bradford’s promotion dream ended by a late strike from Steve Morison.
The Bantams, on their third visit to the rebuilt national stadium, had dominated possession and created enough chances to win the tie before Millwall struck that decisive blow.
They had also been more composed on the ball and posed a huge threat on the counter attack, particularly in a first half that saw Mark Marshall shine. Despite all this, City came up short.
Tired legs in the final quarter was a factor, almost as if the highly-charged efforts that had gone into an opening 45 minutes that belonged to McCall’s side had finally caught up with them.
As City wilted, the Lions grew stronger and, even allowing for Colin Doyle not having a save to make until Morison’s 85th minute winner, there was a certain inevitability about what proved to be the only goal of the afternoon. The warning signs had been there via Jed Wallace spurning a great opportunity on the hour and a Morison piledriver having to be blocked bravely by Rory McArdle.
The winner was a classic Lions’ strike, Morison benefiting from the work of strike partner, Lee Gregory, after the former FC Halifax Town man had flicked a Shaun Williams cross towards the back post.
Millwall’s talisman, alive to the possibility in a split second, darted in front of a static Nathaniel Knight-Percival and Doyle stood no chance as the ball arrowed into the roof of the net.
For the Lions, Morison’s late winner was the perfect end to a season that, at one point, had seen the club threatened with eviction from The Den amid the creeping gentrification of south London. It also made up for last year’s heartache at the same venue against Barnsley.
Bradford, meanwhile, face a summer of ‘what ifs?’ and ‘if onlys’.
What if Jordan Archer had not pulled off a truly great save to deny Billy Clarke in the 13th minute?
If only Rory McArdle had been able to repeat his goalscoring prowess of the semi-final against Fleetwood when presented with a gilt-edged opportunity by Tony McMahon just before the hour mark.
And, finally, what if Tony McMahon’s thunderous strike deep into stoppage time had, as some among the 24,000 travelling army of fans from West Yorkshire believed for a split-second, crept inside the post and not found the side netting?
With that final spurned chance from an acute angle went Bradford’s hopes of forcing extra-time and a possible return to the second tier.
Instead, the final whistle being blown moments later by referee Simon Hooper was the cue for a few in the Millwall end to head for the pitch. This trickle soon became a flood and, perhaps predictably considering the IQs of those involved, many of those invaders made for the dejected Bradford players rather than celebrate with their own side.
Match-winner Morison, commendably, made his views clear in a post-match interview on the pitch, admitting the actions of the minority had “ruined” the day for him.
He wasn’t alone in that respect and Wembley really must learn some hard lessons from such an unsavoury end to what should have been the highlight of the League One season.