Our reporter and Bradford City fan Richard Beecham was at Villa Park yesterday evening to witness one of the most impressive nights in English football history. Here is his account of the evening.
Bradford City, with their hotchpotch squad of journeymen, youngsters released from higher division clubs and a certain former shelf-stacker, are going to Wembley.
For so long as a City fan, I have refused to even acknowledge that such an event could happen, choosing instead to focus on the club’s ailing league fortunes, but my visit to Villa Park yesterday evening changed how I felt about football forever.
And to think, it all started so ominously – after being camped in our half for the entire first half, Villa found their opening on 26 minutes, when the impressive, yet profligate, Christian Benteke got on the end of Joe Bennett’s cross to volley past a hapless Matt Duke. We knew our faith would be tested, yet never stopped singing – even though we had managed to roar our team to half time still 3-2 up on aggregate, there was still a sense that it would be a case of “how many” in the second half.
But something changed – City, for want of a less colloquial phrase, “manned up” after half time. Nahki Wells and James Hanson moved further up the pitch, leaving more space for midfield warriors Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle to get the ball down and play. City grew in confidence, as did the fans.
There was always the threat that a side as good going forward as Villa would break away, but when Hanson powered an equaliser past one of the greatest goalkeepers the Premier League has ever seen, we knew that it was our night. I and 6,500 other travelling fans lost our minds. The man who worked in Idle Co-op three and a half years ago had put one past Given!
That ten seconds following the goal was a surreal experience. The explosion of joy was such that nobody could control themselves – I even hugged a steward. My brother, stood next to me and suffering from a back-strain, celebrated with an athletic dynamism that will surely have done him a considerable amount of further damage. What do we care though? We’re off to Wembley!
Villa wilted – their inexperience seemed to be their undoing, as they did not seem to be up for the challenge of scoring three more goals. One player who summed up Villa’s night was Stephen Ireland – so impressive for the Villains in the first half – he was reduced to frustratedly flying into challenges during the second period, and was lucky not to have been in trouble.
Despite an Andreas Weimann goal late-on, and five minutes of half-hearted pressure from the brummies, this was City’s night. We came, we saw, we conquered. We celebrated into the night on what was probably the shortest two-and-a-half hour coach journey I have ever been on, and I reflected on what this means, not just for football, but for everyone in many walks of life. What else is possible? Perhaps this is a watershed moment in the lives of many who attended last nights match – a new found optimism now coarses through the veins of our great city.
This was a night for true football fans – In an era where transfer windows increasingly resemble the trading floor of the London Stock Exchange, and fans are treated as cash-cow customers, this feels like a victory for honesty, passion and hard work. You can have your plastic flags and £20 million transfer kitties – we’ve got a former shelf-stacker and a chairman who holds barbecues for the fans!