CHRIS KAMARA is a member of a very exclusive club. Namely, the only manager to lead Bradford City out at Wembley in their 110-year history.
So, as he prepares to see membership doubled this Sunday when Phil Parkinson takes the Bantams to the Capital One Cup final, Kamara could perhaps be expected to have a tinge of regret about losing his exclusive status.
Not a chance of it, with the 55-year-old’s affection for a club he served as both a player and manager being such that he is as excited as any Bantams fan at the prospect of seeing his old team try to upset the odds one last time by claiming a fourth Premier League scalp of the season.
“I was absolutely delighted when Bradford got past Aston Villa,” says Kamara to the Yorkshire Post amid his preparations for filming Sky’s ‘Goals on Sunday’ programme from Wembley ahead of the Football League’s showpiece occasion.
“Bradford City have, as we all know, not had the best of times lately. So, to me, getting to Wembley is for every single fan, every single player and every single person who has worked so hard to keep Bradford City going through the difficult times.
“I am also delighted for Phil. Of course, I am proud to be the manager who took Bradford to Wembley but I had such fantastic times as both a player and manager that I’ve loved seeing the club and Phil achieve something as big as getting to a major final.
“I am really looking forward to being there. We filmed ‘Goals on Sunday’ from Wembley ahead of last year’s final (when Liverpool beat Cardiff City on penalties) and are doing the same again. It is going to be brilliant to finish work and then know I can share in Bradford’s big day.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Bradford City. And I love my job (with Sky) so I have a lot to thank Bradford City for.”
For Kamara (pictured below), the memories of May 26, 1996, will, no doubt, come flooding back on Sunday.
He had been appointed manager at Valley Parade just six months earlier, initially until the end of the season, following the sacking of Lennie Lawrence. At the time, City were 11th in Division Two and seemingly heading nowhere fast.
Before long, however, the West Yorkshire club had built up some momentum and a final day victory at Hull City was enough to pip Chesterfield to the final play-off place.
A two-goal first-leg defeat to Sam Allardyce’s Blackpool at Valley Parade seemed to end any hopes of a first visit to Wembley. Kamara, though, had other ideas and after opening up the matchday programme ahead of the return leg to discover details of how fans of the Seasiders could buy tickets for the final, he proceeded to buy 20 or so copies and stick them on the wall of the away dressing room at Bloomfield Road.
Suitably fired up, City tore into their hosts to claim a 3-0 victory and book a Wembley date with Notts County.
Come the big day and as 32,000 Bradford fans headed to north London, Kamara had another trick up his sleeve to give the Bantams a psychological edge.
“We were meant to arrive first,” recalls the highly-respected Sky Sports presenter and expert summariser. “I knew that but was determined it wouldn’t be the case.
“We had sold 32,000 tickets compared to the 8,000 fans Notts County were taking to Wembley and I didn’t want to waste that psychological edge.
“I wanted their players to be out on the pitch when we walked out of the tunnel as I knew the roar from all our fans would be massive.
“Luckily for us, the police officer in charge of getting us along our route to Wembley was very understanding. I don’t know how he did it, but he delayed our arrival long enough to ensure Notts County were already out on the pitch when our coach pulled up.
“So, as we walked out, they couldn’t do anything but turn round and see what was causing this big roar. The volume was incredible. I maintain to this day that played a part in Notts County not really turning up once the game began.
“As for the game itself, I can honestly say in all my games in management that I never, ever felt as confident as I did before that final.
“Both ourselves and Blackpool knew ahead of our semi-final that we were the best two teams in the play-offs. By some distance as well.
“So, once we’d come back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Bloomfield Road, I just knew we were better than Notts County and would win on that big pitch of Wembley.
“I stressed before kick-off to the players that we needed to use the full width as with Des Hamilton and Andy Kiwomya out wide, we could do some real damage.
“The players did just that. We scored early on (through Hamilton) and even though it was 1-0 for a while, I always felt comfortable. I just kept thinking, ‘Any second now, we’ll score again’.
“Stix (Ian Ormondroyd) then came on and within seconds we had the second (through Mark Stallard). After that, the game was over and we were going up.”
Whether Phil Parkinson’s City can emulate the class of 1996 and triumph at Wembley remains to be seen.
Certainly, the bookmakers don’t give the League Two outfit much of a chance as they look to make up the biggest gulf in League positions at a major Cup final.
Whatever happens at Wembley, Kamara is adamant that Bradford are already winners after becoming only the fifth Yorkshire team to reach a League Cup final.
Kamara said: “In any one season, a team from the lower divisions may beat one Premier League team. Or, at a push, two. But not three and not when one of those is over two legs.
“Teams from League Two just don’t go to a Premier League ground and hold on to a two-goal first-leg lead. It is a fantastic achievement.
“At half-time in that second leg against Villa, Bradford were dead and buried. I thought it was merely a case of how many goals Villa would get as they had been so dominant.
“That is why you have to give the manager huge credit. Whatever he said in there at half-time did the trick as those same players came back out believing in themselves.
“Bradford were a totally different team in the second half and, even before the goal by James Hanson, on top in the tie.
“It is the season of the underdog and Bradford are top of the pile. What Bradford have achieved is as big as anything in the game, it really is.
“They are in the record books as the first team from the bottom division to reach the League Cup final and I can’t see that changing any time soon.
“I know Rochdale made it (in 1962) but the game was very different then. For a start, the League Cup was a new competition and the final played over two legs. Plus, there was none of the money in the game today or the foreign talent.
“Since the semi-finals finished, I’ve heard a few people say that it would be better if the final was Manchester United v Chelsea. Or Arsenal v Manchester City. But I just say, ‘Get a grip of yourselves for a second’. It is special to both teams.
“From a Bradford City point of view, it is amazing to think they are in a final despite being in the bottom division. While for Swansea, it is 10 years since they almost went out of the Football League. What a story for them both.
“To see both Bradford and Swansea in a major final gives hope to every single fan of a club who might be struggling right now. It shows things can change, even in this age when money is supposed to be everything.
“People thought a final like this would be impossible and that is why I can see the atmosphere on the day being as good as any that a final has seen.
“To get to Wembley is huge for everyone. Whatever happens now, Bradford are guaranteed a fantastic day. In 1996, we had to win at Wembley to enjoy the day.
“If we’d lost against Notts County then the day would have been a nightmare.
“Phil and the players will say it isn’t just enough to get to Wembley. That is to be expected of professionals.
“But, to me, they just can’t lose, regardless of the result. If Bradford win, the miracle continues. If it goes to penalties, fantastic. And if they get a thumping, it is still a fantastic day out one no-one will forget.”