Bradford City v Millwall: Romain Vincelot driven by the pain of play-off finals past

Romain Vincelot and Edin Rahic celebrate the semi-final win at Fleetwood
Romain Vincelot and Edin Rahic celebrate the semi-final win at Fleetwood
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A WEEK after losing the 2014 League One play-off final in the cruellest of fashions, Romain Vincelot married fiancée Lena.

Sitting disconsolately on the Wembley turf watching Rotherham United celebrate their penalty shoot-out triumph after fighting back from a 2-0 half-time deficit, Leyton Orient’s French midfielder feared his impending nuptials would be a washout.

Romain Vincelot in action for Bradford (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Romain Vincelot in action for Bradford (Picture: Tony Johnson)

“We better win or I will look really miserable on my wedding picture,” had been Vincelot’s pre-match motivation for making sure the O’s were victorious under the Arch.

He need not, though, have worried.

His wedding day in London proved to be a wonderful occasion, the happy couple relishing every second in the company of family and friends. And, yes, Vincelot did manage to smile for the photographs.

“I did worry I would look really bad (in those photos),” recalls the 31-year-old with a smile to The Yorkshire Post. “Losing the final hurt, it hurt a lot. I was raging because the chance (of promotion) had gone. I wanted to hit something because it was so unfair.

You just have to make sure you prepare for every different scenario, not get too down or too excited. Don’t lose heart if you go behind. Look at Rotherham three years ago, at 2-0 down they could have thought it was over. Nothing is decided until 90 minutes are over.

Romain Vincelot

“But, an hour after the end of the final, I was in the dressing room and did think, ‘I am lucky – I have been to Wembley and we lost, but in one week I get married. My life is still good’.

“I said to Lena afterwards, ‘We get married together and I will have the strength to get to another final one day’. And here it is. I now have another opportunity.”

Vincelot’s philosophical attitude towards that Wembley shoot-out defeat would not have come as a surprise to anyone who knows him.

Bradford City’s captain is not your average footballer. For a start, he has many loves outside the game, with mountain-biking and walking in the Dales and Malham Tarn having become particular favourites of his since moving north from Coventry City last summer.

Vincelot is also an expert on cheese and wine, the pinot noir grape a big favourite of someone who stresses any imbibing is restricted to the odd glass so he can savour the taste.

As happy as he is to enjoy life away from football, however, Vincelot truly comes alive on the pitch – which is why City manager Stuart McCall, no stranger to the armband as a player, turned immediately to the Frenchman when looking for his own captain at Valley Parade.

That decision could mean the 31-year-old will be leading the way up the 107 steps to the Royal Box and the League One play-off trophy at tea-time today. Not that the man himself is prone to daydreaming along those lines.

“I try not to think about these kind of things,” he said. “Then, it gives you a bit of adrenalin too early and can make you anxious. It would be nice, obviously, but I want to keep all the excitement and adrenalin for the game. Be nice and relaxed.”

Such a level-headed approach is understandable, not least because Vincelot has tasted the huge contrast in emotions that can accompany play-off finals.

The heartache came via that 2014 defeat for Orient at Wembley, while the flipside was Dagenham & Redbridge triumphing four years earlier in the League Two promotion decider. Rotherham, by a strange coincidence, were also the opposition that 2010 afternoon as a topsy-turvy final saw the Millers twice equalise before the Daggers prevailed courtesy of a 70th-minute winner from Jon Nurse.

“My first final at Wembley was a game where things changed a lot,” recalls Vincelot.

“We won, in the end. But it showed anything can happen on the day.

“You just have to make sure you prepare for every different scenario, not get too down or too excited.

“Don’t lose heart if you go behind. Look at Rotherham three years ago; at 2-0 down they could have thought it was over. Nothing is decided until 90 minutes are over.”

Wise words ahead of a final that many believe is too close to call. The two combatants could not be separated in the regular season, both meetings finishing 1-1, while last season brought two other stalemates and a win apiece.

“This is a great opportunity for us,” added the Bantams’ captain. “It is something we have worked for and we just have to enjoy it. Playing for promotion at Wembley is the best thing.

“But it is no place to be a loser. You have to win; I have experience of both and the Orient game still hurts – especially when you see where the club (recently relegated out of the Football League) is now.

“The last one was very cruel. Orient were 2-0 up. Even though they equalised, we were still the best team on the day, but just couldn’t get that goal to win it.

“That is how play-off finals can be. No one remembered at the end that we had dominated the game, just that Rotherham had won. They remember them lifting the trophy.

“Even in the penalties, we were ahead (2-1 after two spot-kicks apiece). But we missed two and that was it. Horrible. If you lose 2-0 after being battered, that is life, you accept it. But after we lost (in 2014), I thought, ‘How did this happen?’

“My wife will be at Wembley again this year, as the chance has come round again for me. You cannot just give up. You have to believe it will happen again, that the opportunity will arrive.

“Never give up, that is the message. That is how I felt an hour after the Orient game. I was angry and unhappy, but I knew I wanted another chance. That chance is now here.”