Parkinson’s desire helped drive City down Wembley Way – twice

Starting the countdown towards revealing Yorkshire’s Sports Hero of 2013. Phil Parkinson placed fifth as Nick Westby reports.

Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson

IN truth, it could have been anyone from Bradford City garnering an impressive share of the public vote in the Yorkshire Post’s hunt for the county’s sporting hero of 2013.

Nahki Wells, the nimble, unpredictable striker.

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Gary Jones, the fearless captain, who would run through a brick wall if he thought it would further the Bantams’ cause.

Or James Hanson, whose goals proved invaluable.

There were so many monumental contributions there is no question that they are Yorkshire’s team of the year. But we don’t have an award for that...yet.

So one man had to rise above the rest to claim the fifth-largest share of our readers’ votes in our search for the White Rose county’s Sports Hero of 2013, one that will reward the winning entry chosen at random with two tickets to a day of hospitality to the third Test between England and Sri Lanka at Headingley in June, 2014, a prize awarded in association with Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

That man is the club’s figurehead, the mastermind behind a year in which they repeatedly defied the odds – Phil Parkinson, the manager.

If he coaches for another two decades, the 46-year-old is unlikely to repeat the feats of the last 12 months.

Two Wembley finals, one of which took the footballing nation by surprise, the other which ended a proud club’s six-year exile in the basement division.

In January and February, Bradford completed their run to the Capital One Cup final at Wembley, so becoming the first team from the fourth tier to reach a major Wembley final in the history of English football.

That they took the scalps of Wigan Athletic – the eventual FA Cup winners – Arsenal and, over two legs, Aston Villa to reach the showpiece occasion added lustre to a storyline that captivated a nation.

Backed by more than 35,000 fans at Wembley, their run came to a cruel end as Swansea City, themselves chasing their first piece of silverware, showed little mercy in dismantling City 5-0.

But the outcome was only ever going to be half the story.

As Richard Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Post’s chief football correspondent, wrote in the days leading up to the final: “Parkinson has transformed not only the playing staff but also the mindset of a city.

“No longer do fans respond to a setback with a resigned shrug of the shoulders. Instead, an air of excited optimism has descended on Bradford as the club chase a notable double of League Cup success and promotion from the basement division.”

Of that memorable night at Valley Parade when they defeated Villa 3-1, when that famous old stadium rocked to the beat of one of the most improbable chorus lines of the footballing season, Sutcliffe wrote: “Bradford City, the club whose slide from Premier League to the basement meant they long ago became a byword for the price that can be paid for financial failure, became only the fourth Yorkshire club to reach the League Cup final.

“City booking their first appearance in a major Cup final for more than a century was one of those true fairytale moments when any fan, player, manager or even journalist is proud to say ‘I was there’.

“Just what booking a first trip to the rebuilt Wembley meant to City’s long-suffering fans was obvious.

“The tremendous roars that greeted, first, Hanson’s second-half goal and then the final whistle had to be heard to be believed, almost as if the pent-up frustration of the past decade or so had finally found its release for the 6,000 Bradfordians who had made the trip to Villa Park.

“Three relegations were forgotten. As were the two stints in administration when Bradford looked like losing its second Football League club in less than 35 years.”

Parkinson had brought the smile back to the face of Bradford football. People across the country were talking about the club in glowing terms once more.

After such an emotional run they would have been forgiven for requiring a bit of downtime to catch their breath.

Yet Parkinson’s desire to win promotion prevented them resting on their laurels.

And therein lies one of his greatest attributes as a coach, his man-management, his ability to ask players who had already run to the ends of the earth for him, to do so again.

Bradford lost just two of their last 15 League Two games to race into the play-offs.

They squeaked into the top seven, and looked perilously close to coming up short when Burton escaped Valley Parade with a 3-2 win.

But summoning enormous will power once again, Bradford turned the tables in the second leg, and then completed the job back at Wembley when they thrashed Northampton Town.

Bradford have since used that season as a platform, and currently sit firmly in the play-off picture in League One as they chase a second successive promotion.

Parkinson has become one of the brightest young managers in the English game.

He has transformed Bermudan striker Wells into one of the most sought-after strikers in the lower leagues.

He is a worthy recipient of the fifth-largest portion of your vote in our search for the Yorkshire Post Sports Hero of 2013.

Our champion, and recipient of the award sponsored by Jackson Trophies – plus our competition winner – will be revealed on Saturday. Tomorrow, find out who finished fourth.