PHIL PARKINSON believes Bradford City reaching the FA Cup semi-finals would be given added poignancy by this being the 30th anniversary of the tragic Valley Parade fire.
The Bantams host Reading this lunchtime in front of a sell-out crowd knowing that victory will bring a first appearance in the last four since 1911.
A City triumph would also seal a third visit to Wembley in a little over two years and Parkinson is determined to deliver just that for a group of fans whom he believes enjoy a unique bond with their club.
“I think this being the 30th anniversary brings added poignancy to things,” said the 47-year-old, a legendary figure in Reading after making more than 400 appearances for the Berkshire side.
“Ever since I arrived, I have been able to feel the connection between the club and the city. A lot of that is, to me, down to the Bradford fire.
“The 30th year anniversary is special and if we can do our bit on the pitch to make this year unique then great. That is what we are trying to do.”
City’s heroics in the Cup have already brought victories over Premier League duo, Chelsea and Sunderland, plus a Championship scalp in the form of Millwall in the third round.
Today is the first time for 39 years that Bradford, Cup winners in 1911, have reached the quarter-finals and the clamour for tickets has been so huge that a section of old, previously unusable seats in the main stand of a stadium rebuilt in the wake of the 1985 fire disaster that claimed 56 lives have had to be brought back into use.
It will mean Valley Parade hosting its largest crowd since February, 1960, and Parkinson is delighted by the buzz that the Cup run has caused in the city.
He said: “The last couple of years have raised the profile of both the club and the city. If you can do that and lift morale then that has to be a good thing.
“Everyone in the city is talking about football and the FA Cup. It is the same around the country; anywhere you go and mention ‘Bradford’ then people want to talk about the Chelsea game straight away.”
City’s two upsets against Premier League opposition have seen the club’s supporters rightly enjoy huge praise nationally for their backing.
Even at 2-0 down against Chelsea, the 6,000 visiting fans remained firmly behind their side and Parkinson believes this unstinting support has a lot to do with the cut price season ticket offers that joint chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes introduced in 2007.
He said: “The ticket prices have helped strengthen that bond, given people a feeling that we are all in it together.
“The pricing by Julian and Mark has helped enormously. What it did, in my eyes, during the years in League Two when things weren’t going well was give the club a core support.
“So, when the good times started to come back, the club didn’t have to go looking for 5,000-6,000 fans. I do feel, for all the furore over tickets this time, that there is a real sense among the supporters that they are valued by the club.”
Ticket prices being pegged so low – adult season tickets cost £199 this term – also seem to have given the Valley Parade faithful a patience that, to this observer, is often not present at clubs where fans are paying double or even triple the prices at Bradford.
Either way, Bantams’ officials are desperate to see a repeat of the raucuous atmosphere that roared Parkinson’s men to victory against Sunderland in the last round.
As for the man at the helm of the team, beating his old club this lunchtime would mean another trip to Wembley on the weekend of April 18-19.
It is a tantalising prospect for Parkinson, who took City to the rebuilt national stadium twice in the space of three months in 2013 for the League Cup and the League Two play-off finals.
With Bradford one of four Yorkshire clubs firmly in the hunt for the play-offs this term, a possible double return visit is still on the cards.
Combining a Cup run with a league challenge is, of course, a balancing act and Parkinson admits Wembley being so close in the Cup gives today’s match extra resonance.
He said: “It is difficult because when we had the Capital One Cup final, all the way I was saying ‘the league is more important’. But when we got to the semi-final, we were on the point of making history. I want to do both (get to the FA Cup final and the League One final) but at this stage, when you are so close to an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, this has got to take priority at the moment.”
One talking point today is likely to be the poor state of the pitch. In the last few games, the surface has begun to cut up during the warm-up and as recently as Tuesday the home match with Crawley Town was in danger of being postponed just a couple of hours before kick-off.
Parkinson added: “I think more was made of the pitch for the Sunderland game.
“By the time their lads came to the game, it was probably a bigger thing than it actually it was. We’d had a dry week and it wasn’t too bad.
“If you look around, a lot of pitches are not in a great state at the moment and we’ve got some good technical players.
“We have found that rather than saying, ‘God, I just need big strong physical players on the pitch’, you actually need technical players that can handle the bad pitch.
“We have tried to get our best technical team out on the pitch because those players can handle the ball and that’s what we have found.”
Bradford on the Wembley march again: Pages 4-5.