A Forgotten Team: Bradford City Vs Arsenal

Posted on December 11, 2012

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It has been over a decade since the fans of Bradford City Football Club have had anything to shout about, but that was all to change on the bitterly cold night of 11th December 2012.  Arsenal made the long trip up to Yorkshire for the League Cup quarter-final tie which was broadcast live on Sky Sports to the homes of football fans around the country.  Arguably, one of the greatest Cup upsets of all time, the League Two side held Premier League Arsenal at bay for 120 minutes before maintaining their cool from the penalty spot to send one of England’s biggest clubs crashing out of the competition.

Bradford have endured a meteoric fall from grace as they plummeted down the football league ladder, from the Premier League in 2001 to the basement division for the 2007-2008 season. Bradford beat Wolves in their final fixture of the 1998-1999 season to finish second in the old first division (now The Championship) and win promotion to the Premier League. With Paul Jewell as Manager, City had a memorable first season in the top flight which culminated as David Wetherall scored a header to beat Liverpool 1-0 on the final day of the season to ensure The Bantams survival in the top flight for another year.  It was a great end to the season for Bradford as the benefits of Premier League football for another season would be one and many.

David Wetherall scored the goal that kept city in the Premier League in their final game of the 1999-2000 season.

David Wetherall scored the goal that kept city in the Premier League in their final game of the 1999-2000 season.

However, the club was the victim of some horrendous mismanagement under former chairman Geoffrey Richmond, who in his self proclaimed “6 weeks of madness” effectively put the club into administration during City’s second season in the top flight.  Richmond spent excessive money on the expansion of Valley Parade, which is now a 25,000 all-seater stadium and the signing of several overly expensive, high profile players with forecasted TV revenue money  (these inlcuded former Scotland international David Hopkin, who cost the club a record £2.5m and Benito Carbone, who commanded wages of £40,000 a week.)  The club were subsequently relegated from the Premier League in 2001 after a poor season both on and off the pitch.

They were twice put into administration during their fall from grace and were sitting on the brink of liquidation before being rescued in August 2002 by Gordon Gibb & Julian Rhodes.  After initially steering the club clear of the first financial crisis, Gibb resigned in January 2004 and the club fell back into the darkness of the administrators.  It was not until June 2007, when Bradford business man Mark Lawn provided the money to pay off the clubs bank debts (taking on the debt himself) before Bradford’s off-field problems began to dissipate.

Since then Bradford continued their descent to the bottom of League Two as they tried to recover from the crippling financial crisis. The club spent several seasons languishing close to the bottom of the basement division but narrowly maintained their Professional league status. Current manager, Phil Parkinson has been in charge since August 2011 and was appointed after a string of high profile managers failed to improve City’s fortunes. These included former Bradford legend Stuart McCall, former Hull City, Crystal Palace, Wycombe Wanders and England Under 21 manager, Peter Taylor as well as seasoned football league manager Peter Jackson. Parkinson has begun to build a Bradford side that looks capable of living up to the bookmakers and the fans expectations this season as they find themselves in fourth place amongst the League Two play-off positions.

Although the glory days of the Premier League are now long gone for Bradford, some terrific performances in the league and cup competitions this season has seen the Yorkshire side rekindle some of their former prestige amongst the football community.  City beat a host of clubs including Notts County, Watford, Burton Albion, Wigan Athletic and now Premier League giants Arsenal to set up a semi-final clash with Aston Villa.  The game against Arsenal will be the one that lives longest in the memory of the Bradford fans.  Tickets sold out fast and the final attendance figure of 23,971 was the biggest that Valley Parade has seen since the 1960’s. The noise level was deafening as the home supporters created a hostile atmosphere in the face of their Premier League opponents.

My view of the pitch before the game

My view of the pitch before the game

Wenger put out a very strong side as The Gunners starting eleven was strewn with high profile, international stars such as Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Thomas Vermaelen. The Arsenal manager clearly saw the League Cup as a competition that Arsenal could win to cure the trophy drought that has hung over Arsenal since 2005.  However, the Bradford players were not over-awed and rose to the occasion as Garry Thompson volleyed home on 16 minutes to take a shock 1-0 lead for Bradford.  “You’re getting sacked in the morning!” rang out around Valley Parade as a dejected Arsene Wenger patrolled his technical area.

The tireless work ethic from the City players all over the pitch was an inspiration to see, especially as Arsenal dominated possession for long periods of the game. The defending from Bradford was top class as Stephen Darby, James Meredith, Carl McHugh and Rory McArdle were solid throughout the game.  Matt Duke also came to the fore with several smart saves in the first and second half as well as in the penalty shoot out.  It took Arsenal until the 88th minute to equalize, as captain Thomas Vermaelen headed home at the back post.  The fact that the League Two side managed to hold out for so long against sustained pressure from The Gunners, was a true testament to Bradford’s defensive strength and desire to win.

Bradford manager, Phil Parkinson set up his team to frustrate Arsenal from the start but also provide a threat on the counter attack with the pace of Nahki Wells, as well as the threat of James Hanson from set plays. Parkinson’s tactics were a complete success on the night as City managed the early goal and Arsenal couldn’t break The Bantams down successfully until the 88th minute.  The City midfield battled nonstop against the technical wizardry of Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla as they continuously snuffed out the final pass.

Man of the match, Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle stayed touch-tight with the Arsenal midfield as they caused endless frustration amongst Wenger’s side. Both wide midfielders, Will Atkinson and Garry Thompson worked up and down the touchline to help their full backs as well as get forward when possible.  The defensive work ethic from City was very much needed as Arsenals second half substitutes, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thomas Rosicky made a telling impact when they were introduced, pushing Bradford onto the back foot and deeper into their own half.

City lead Arsenal for the majority of the game

City lead Arsenal for the majority of the game

As referee, Mike Dean blew the full time whistle; there was a sense of apprehension amongst the fans inside Valley Parade.  Arsenals late equaliser was a blow for Bradford, who were only two minutes from a victory in normal time and the League Two side could have been forgiven for capitulating during the thirty minutes extra time period.  However, Bradford remained strong under increased pressure from Arsenal.  It was not to be for North London side as extra time passed without a goal and penalties ensued.  Optimism replaced apprehension as the game would be decided from 12 yards.

Bradford’s confidence from the spot was plain to see as Nathan Doyle slotted in the first spot kick and Matt Duke then pulled off a good stop to deny Santi Cazorla.  Chamakh, Darby and Ritchie Jones all missed their spot kicks as Jack Wilshere and Alan Connell both scored to make it 3-2 to Bradford.  Thomas Vermaelen needed to score Arsenals final penalty to take the game to sudden death, but the Belgium international and Arsenal captain struck the post to send Bradford through to their first, cup semi-final with ninth successive shoot-out victory.

It was a night to remember for Bradford City and one that their supporters have long deserved since the clubs downfall.  The game will not be forgotten by the entire football community in England for a long time.  The entire Bradford side wore their heart on their sleeve in a courageous and determined, team performance against a very strong side and thoroughly deserved their victory.

Although it is a long road back to the Premier League, the game against Arsenal has helped tremendously to put Bradford City back on the map.  Phil Parkinson, his backroom staff and the whole Bradford squad will be looking to maintain this sort of form and win promotion to League One come the end of the season and thus, begin to cement Bradford’s place amongst the top clubs in the higher echelons of the Football League once again.

Bradford players begin their celebrations after victory in the penalty shoot out

Bradford players begin their celebrations after victory in the penalty shoot out

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Posted in: Football