Monday, 4 March 2013

Wembley Woes

A week on from the Capital One Cup final: The Bantams may have left London without a trophy, but the Wembley weekend has given us memories that will last longer than cup euphoria

The team reflect on their cup defeat

   I’m not going to lie: when Swansea lifted the cup at Wembley, I was an emotional wreck.
   “I wanted Gary Jones to lift the cup,” I sobbed, clutching my Carl McHugh mask and staring dismally into my flag. “Everyone wanted us to win the cup and complete the fairytale, but we didn’t, and Duke got sent off, and I wanted us to draw and win on penalties, but…”
   Initially, I was fine. We’d had a good innings, I thought, and we’d all done better than anyone could ever have expected us to. The tears came when Wembley’s stadium announcer explained how well the Bantams had done to get to this final; it was the moment when I realised that City would never complete such an awe-inspiring feat again.
   “But they’ve done so well to get this far,” my mum consoled. “We’re winners anyway. And, at least McLaughlin got a game. I bet that he wasn’t expecting that.”
   By the time that I was back on the coach, I was OK. I rang up other relatives to discuss the game, and sorted through the bounty of headphones, wristbands, touch-screen gloves and phone socks that the Capital One team had given us. I viewed all of the pictures that I’d taken over the weekend, admiring the sea of claret and amber, smiling at the photo of Paul Jewell and me, and immersing myself in videos of the build-up.
   And that was why the weekend was so special. Not because of the pictures (I don’t have a natural eye for photography, believe me), but because of the build-up to the game, and the memories that this amazing, brilliant, odd-defying cup run has therein created.
   Take travelling down to London, for example. On the Saturday, our coach was decked out in City colours and turned many heads on the motorway, with fellow supporters beeping their horns and neutral travellers giving us fist-pumps. At the services, the congregation of claret and amber shirts outside WH Smith’s spellbound the other customers.
   I began browsing the morning’s newspapers, and it was incredible to see how the nation’s press had got behind our humble club. Mark Lawn and his wife were at the centre of The Sun, and Nahki Wells occupied two pages of another tabloid. Jake Turton and Gary Jones were in The Daily Mail, alongside an article about the Wembley suits.
   In London itself, the well-wishers were in abundance. Employees in Harrods noticed my scarf and expressed their support.
   Sunday morning was no less memorable. In the hotel’s restaurant, a Slovakian Liverpool fan wished me luck at the fruit counter, and some Swansea fans joked about how they wanted the game to pan out. A group of Americans explained how the story had made waves in the states and said that they would be cheering on the underdogs.
   Walking down Wembley Way took my breath away, especially as the whole path had just merged into one huge ocean of claret and amber. I’d been to the national stadium before, to see England play Slovenia, but gearing up to watch my beloved Bradford City in a League cup final had a whole new air about it.
   I’ll never forget the journey down to my seat at Wembley; hearing “Claret and Amber” blasting out over the speakers; the big screens showing the Bantams’ journey to the final; seeing Bradford City run onto the pitch for the warm-up.

Through the unwavering support of the fans, Bradford City continued to surprise the nation, even when it was clear that the Swans would be lifting the trophy.
   I can remember very little about the game itself, though. I can recall Swansea’s first goal: that gut-wrenching feeling when Duke scrambled to clear the ball, and knowing that we’d conceded but nonetheless praying that McCardle would just reach for goal and poke the danger clear. I can recall screaming when the back of the net rattled and subsequently attempting to rally the troops.
   It’s alright, I told myself. I said 1-1.
   I can remember burying my head in despair when Duke left the pitch, but the most prominent memory, as it will be for many people, is of waving my flag after the result was all but confirmed. I didn’t actually watch any of the game for those final thirty minutes, and any recollection of action on the pitch during that period is very hazy, but chanting, “If you love City, stand up,” with 30,000 others is something that I certainly haven’t forgotten.
   Gary Jones’ corner was met with rejoice from the City faithful, and the captain’s tame shot was celebrated like it was a goal itself. Through the unwavering support of the fans, Bradford City continued to surprise the nation, even when it was clear that the Swans would be lifting the trophy.
   As we lick our Wembley wounds, it’s important not to lose sight of the magnitude of what the Bantams have achieved. Time and time again, our valiant City heroes have proved unbeatable in the face of so many Premier League opponents, countering all of the odds and capturing the imaginations of the nation throughout this enchanting journey.
   If the odds had ever been anything to go by, City would have been eliminated in the first round, when they took on League One’s Notts County. If the odds had been right, the cup run would have ended against Burton, when the Bantams were trailing 0-2 before Stephen Derby clinched a dramatic winner. If the odds had been reliable, Bradford City wouldn’t have touched the hallowed Wembley turf to compete in the cup final on February 24th, and that’s what we’ve got to bear in mind.
   I’m well over the defeat now, and I’m firmly focused on our promotion ambitions. We are being described as the “outside hopefuls”, but, with the games that we’ve got left, and with many of them seeing us take on squads that are leading the pack with us, it’s certainly doable.
   Especially for a team that have subverted the odds before.