BRADFORD could be a ghost town come Sunday, judging by the number of people who have told me in recent weeks that they are going to Wembley.
It promises to be a great occasion and one everyone connected to the club is eagerly looking forward to.
I am as excited as anyone else. I spent a lot of years at Valley Parade as, first, a player and then as manager. I still go back whenever I can just to watch City play.
But I’ll also admit that I will travel south this weekend with mixed feelings. The supporter in me is saying, ‘This is a day out as the achievement of getting to Wembley is unbelievable and one worth celebrating regardless of the result’.
Equally, though, my professional head is telling me, ‘Bradford don’t just want to turn up and get a heavy beating’.
No-one wants that, which is why Phil Parkinson is faced with such a big conundrum. Namely, do his team sit back and make it a slow, tactical game that can be played in the Bradford half and that any attacks will be done on the break? Or do Bradford take a chance and try to play round Swansea?
It is a difficult one and something I am sure Phil has spent a lot of time thinking about. I know what he’ll be going through as I had similar thoughts ahead of the 2006 League Cup final when my Wigan Athletic team faced Manchester United.
We were in our first season in the Premier League and things had gone well. Not only had we reached the final – memorably, by beating Arsenal in the semi-final over two legs – but we were also doing well in the League. A week before the final at the Millennium Stadium, we drew 2-2 at Tottenham Hotspur to take us on to 40 points – a fantastic achievement before the end of February.
So, we travelled to Cardiff in confident mood. Unfortunately, we never got going and ended up losing 4-0. Worse, we went down without a fight. I wanted out of the Millennium as the fourth goal went in with half an hour to go.
Okay, we’d come up against Manchester United at the top of their game but that didn’t make any difference. I was just so disappointed that we’d not played.
If I am being brutally honest, I got my tactics and team wrong. I won’t name names but I played people who, if I had my time again, I wouldn’t have. Ronaldo caused us untold problems. He was up against Leighton Baines but he had no protection from in front of him.
Afterwards, we had our post-match party – if that’s the right word – in Cardiff and that was, again, the last place I wanted to be. But I couldn’t leave early as it was being held in our hotel.
All I wanted to do was go home. I was so disappointed, in fact, that even though that game was seven years ago, I haven’t watched a second of it. I was given a DVD of the game but, in all honesty, I haven’t got a clue if I still have it in the house. Probably not, to be fair.
The difference between Wigan in 2006 and this season, of course, is Bradford are in the bottom division while we were in the top half of the Premier League. Even so, they don’t want to get beaten heavily and that’s why Phil will want to get everything spot on.
It won’t, though, be easy. Swansea have a very, very strong spine to their team in goalkeeper Michael Vorm, Ashley Williams, Leon Britton and Michu. They also have players who love going forward.
Angel Rangel, for instance, just attacks for fun. And he is able to do that because he knows Britton will be there to clean up.
Swansea don’t change their formation regardless of who is in the team and it is a difficult one to play against. And Britton is the player who makes the entire team tick.
Phil knows better than I do that, man for man, Swansea are better than his team. If Swansea play well, Bradford lose. So, Phil has to find a way of stopping Swansea. City have to make the goalkeeper kick it as often as they can. They have to stop them playing out from the back.
What won’t help Bradford is that Swansea won’t under- estimate them like maybe Arsenal and Aston Villa did in previous rounds. It isn’t so long since Swansea were playing in the bottom division themselves so they will be much better prepared for the demands of playing a team from League Two.
As we illustrated so graphically at Wigan in that 2006 final, the key in a major final is to play the match and not the occasion.
The occasion is for the families and the supporters, not the players. They can enjoy it afterwards.
So, can Bradford win against all the odds? The answer has to be ‘yes’, though it is going to be a really big ask against a Swansea team who look on course for a top-10 finish in the Premier League.
The big plus for my old club is that they have overcome all the odds several times already this season. Winning at Wigan on penalties was a huge achievement, never mind beating Arsenal at Valley Parade. I was there and the atmosphere was unbelievable.
I couldn’t be at the first leg of the semi-final against Aston Villa but I did the return and, again, what an incredible night that was.
The encouraging thing ahead of Sunday is that Bradford played like a team in all those games against Premier League opposition. That bodes well.
Phil looks to have a squad who have all bought into the team ethic and know that any glory is going to come as part of that team.
There is nothing in football that drives me mad more than seeing a player race 30 yards and slide in on his backside, just to allow the other team a chance to pass round him. The crowd might think, ‘He is really busting a gut’. But all he’s doing is leaving his mates in the lurch.
Alan Hansen never left the field with dirty shorts when playing for Liverpool. And that was because he didn’t have to. I don’t go along with the thinking that if a player comes off the pitch dirty then he has played well. Rubbish.
City need to keep their shape, not have a ‘hero’ abandoning that shape to leave his mates exposed. Providing they stick to that then City have a chance.
As for the weekend, it promises to be a special one. Getting to the Capital One Cup final is an incredible achievement. What I have taken exception with, though, is the suggestion that this run has been the biggest thing in the club’s history.
Someone at my golf club was trying to tell me even before Bradford took on Villa that it was the biggest game the club had ever played.
To me, it was not even close to what happened in 1999 when we won promotion to the Premier League and then stayed there a year later. What happened after I’d left (in June, 2000) shouldn’t be allowed to detract from what those games meant. Having said that, I’ll admit reaching Wembley can change everything for the club financially. And that is a wonderful thing, as we all know how bad things got not so long ago.
Interview by Richard Sutcliffe.