ONLY once before have Bradford City played in front of a smaller crowd than the 902 hardy souls who last night watched George Miller’s stoppage-time equaliser dramatically end a five-game losing run for the Yorkshire club.
Selhurst Park was the venue and Charlton Athletic, then squatting at the home of neighbours Crystal Palace, the opposition in the Full Members Cup.
Half an hour or so before kick-off that night in 1986 the PA announcer, while looking out across dark and empty terraces, was moved to ask, ‘Is there anybody there?’
Such faux fairground medium patter was not needed at Valley Parade for the visit of Everton’s Under-21s, mainly because Bradford’s floodlights are sufficiently dazzling to show the swathes of empty claret and amber seats in bright technicolour.
What was also highlighted by City’s lowest-ever home attendance is how much of a huge turn-off this competition remains for supporters who refuse to countenance the presence of 16 Academy teams from the Premier League and Championship.
Even a flurry of much improved performances by the youngsters this term, including those of Everton coming so close to beating David Hopkin’s League One side last night, is unlikely to win over those who have already voted with their feet.
It does not help that the format, which includes drawn games in the group stage going to penalties to decide who gets an extra point, lends itself to mockery.
City claimed that extra point after 17-year-old Eliot Goldthorp held his nerve to net the sixth and decisive spot-kick.
For those in a crowd that was 29 fewer than the club’s previous lowest on home soil, set last season against Rotherham United, it meant an eventful end to what, during the first half, had been instantly forgettable fare.
Joao Virginia, Everton’s Portuguese youth international goalkeeper, had to rush from his penalty area and avert the danger with his head as George Miller chased a punt forward from Anthony O’Connor.
That apart, though, little happened to leave Jim O’Brien’s expletive-laden admonishment of himself after his free-kick had sailed harmlessly out of play as the highlight of the first half.
‘F***’s sake, Jim’ is a sentiment Dennis Adeniran probably shared nine minutes into the second half when the City midfielder went in hard on the Everton midfielder.
Referee Paul Marsden, however, saw nothing wrong in the challenge and waved play on, allowing O’Brien to pick out Jordan Gibson who tested Virginia’s agility with a fiercely struck shot from 20 yards.
Almost as if the tie had been jolted into life, Sherwin Seedorf went close with a curled drive before Josh Bowler brought a smart save from Richard O’Donell at the other end.
Anthony Evans was then guilty of a quite dreadful miss when he shot so wide from five yards out that the ball was heading for a throw-in before a Bradford boot cleared the ball upfield.
Bassala Sambou showed his team-mate how it was done with a terrific finish 11 minutes from time.
City, however, hit back in the first minute of stoppage-time when Miller swept in a cross from Anthony O’Connor.
David Ball, Gibson, Lewis O’Brien, Jack Payne and Miller then successfully converted from 12 yards to send the shoot-out to sudden-death.
Manesse Mampala hit the crossbar for Everton before Goldthorp settled matters in an impressively cool fashion to leave City a point adrift of early leaders Barnsley in Group F.
Whether this is enough to tempt more fans to Valley Parade for Oldham Athletic’s visit in the Checkatrade next month remains to be seen.
Not least because all manner of tradesmen could be hired from the aforementioned sponsors, but none would be able to fix this competition’s image problem.