City have travelled from new year gloom to Villa sunshine

DESCRIBING Yorkshire football’s 2012 as the ‘Year of the Bantam’ may be pushing things a tad.

For a start, supporters of Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday can point at their own clubs having this year won promotion.

York City, too, will never forget the past 12 months after clinching a return to the Football League a little over a week after lifting the FA Trophy at Wembley.

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Then there is Hull City, who go into the final game of the year at home to Leeds United tomorrow as Yorkshire’s top dog.

However, when it comes to a club where the feel-good factor is back after a spell in the doldrums, surely there is no better place to look than Valley Parade.

As 2012 got under way, City were struggling. Badly. Non-league – and more than likely oblivion with a club of Bradford’s size unable to survive in the Conference – beckoned after a wretched first half of the season.

Fast forward a year, though, and the picture could not be more contrasting with crowds up, a promotion push well and truly on, and, most amazingly of all, the Bantams less than a fortnight away from the first of a League Cup semi-final double header against Aston Villa. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, Phil Parkinson’s men also have a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Area semi-final to look forward to next month as well.

All in all, therefore, a year to remember for the Bantams and as this is the final Sutcliffe on Football of 2012, this column is being turned over to the men who have brought about such an amazing transformation and their own personal favourite memories.

First up is Phil Parkinson, who took charge of a failing team in September, 2011.

Asked by the Yorkshire Post about his highlight of the year, the City manager replied: “Blimey, where do I start? There has been so much going on.

“But if I have to pick one then it would be Northampton away. We’d been through a lot as a club, in particular all that went on that night against Crawley (when six players were sent off after a post-match brawl).

“But by beating Northampton (to move nine points clear of the bottom two with three games to play) we made sure we’d still be in the Football League. Everything had been geared towards that and the fact we were down to a threadbare squad made it feel even sweeter.”

Joint chairman Mark Lawn, meanwhile, has picked out the penalty shoot-out win over Arsenal earlier this month.

He said: “It has got to be (Thomas) Vermaelen missing that penalty. We’d been 2-0 up in the shoot-out but then missed a couple and that seemed to be it. But there was one final twist and it was us going through.

“I’ll never forget the celebrations. We went crazy (in the directors’ box) and my wife ended up falling on the floor. It was manic, though what also sticks in my mind is the tremendous sportsmanship that the Arsenal directors showed us. They were genuinely pleased for us.”

City chief executive David Baldwin agrees with Lawn about the highlight of 2012. He added: “The Arsenal game is the standout moment without doubt. But when looking back on 2012, I’ll also think of the amazing queues we had for tickets ahead of both Arsenal and now Aston Villa.

“We shifted 9,000 tickets on the first day and another 2,500 for the away leg. Obviously, we feel for supporters who have to spend three or four hours queuing in the cold, but two-thirds of the tickets we sold (yesterday) were online so we have done all we can.”

For Julian Rhodes, by some distance the longest-serving member of either the City hierarchy or staff after joining the board in 1997, 2012 has been something to savour.

He said: “I can’t pick one but three. Northampton was so vital as we just had to stay in the League. Then came Wigan away in the Capital One Cup. What a night that was for everyone.

“No one gave us a chance against a very good Premier League team, especially as we’d lost Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver to long-term injuries the previous week.

“And then there was Arsenal. What can be said about that which hasn’t been said already? Unbelievable stuff and the sort of night we hope to be seeing again soon as our supporters have had to wait far too long.”