by Gautam Viswanathan Feb 24, 2013 13:59 IST
“Bradford City are going to Wembley,” screamed an exultant Martin Tyler as the final whistle blew at Villa Park in Birmingham on the 22nd of January.
Just to make sure the message sunk in, he repeated it once again, as did pundits and commentators the world over.
The scoreline might have read Aston Villa 2-1 Bradford on the night, but the visitors had come away with a giant-killing 3-1 scoreline at the Valley Parade Stadium in the north of England on January ninth.
But this is the alluring charm of cup football isn't it? To see an unheralded, unfancied underdog make people sit up and take notice of a side nobody would have even bothered giving the once-over previously. And no team epitomises that more than Bradford City AFC.
Far away from the glitz and glamour of the globally-enticing Premier League, football – as it has always been – is more about the city and the community around which it is built. To the people of Bradford, this is surely a momentous occasion.
It's not just that they have gotten to Wembley, it's also the manner in which they have gotten there.
The Bantams began their competition with an upset at League One outfit Notts County before disposing of fellow League Two side Burton Albion at home.
It was against Wigan at the DW Arena that Phil Parkinson's charges began to make waves, though. After holding the Latics for 120 goalless minutes, they held their nerve to progress to the quarter finals 4-2 on penalties.
And if fans thought pulling off a 'cupset' against Wigan would be what Bradford would be remembered for, they were to be seriously mistaken.
Next in line for the side from West Yorkshire were Arsenal.
Despite a vast gulf in class separating the two sides with the Gunners being placed 96 places above their League Two opponents, there seemed to be no difference in ability between the two sets of players in the chill of Northern England as Garry Thompson gave his side the lead after a quarter of an hour and kept the Londoners at bay before Thomas Vermaelen equalised with just two minutes of regulation time remaining.
With Arsene Wenger's men finding no way past the resolute defenders, the Bantams pulled off one of English football's greatest surprises ever by sending Arsenal crashing out of the cup on penalties and setting up a double date with Aston Villa.
With Bradford now a side to be reckoned with, given their exploits in the competition so far, Aston Villa could not afford to take their trip up north lightly. Whether they did is surely up for debate as the woebegone Premier Leaguers were subjected to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Northeners.
Despite winning their home leg 2-1, the Villans were dumped out on aggregate to seal what has been an unforgettable year for Bradford City's fans and players.
With the exception of one, all of Bradford's players were brought on free transfers.
Striker James Hansen was bought for a paltry £7,500 from Non-league side Eccleshill and Guiseley, while working in at the local co-operative supermarket as a shelf stacker for a living.
Several players who were unfortunately rejected by their former clubs have the opportunity of walking out on to the hallowed Wembley turf in a fortnight's time.
West Ham products Kyel Reid and Zavon Hines, Liverpool's Stephen Darby, James Meredith and Nathan Doyle of Derby County, Andy Gray, a Leeds United graduate, Reading's Carl McHugh and William Atkinson of Hull City.
Several veterans who have spent almost all their professional careers in the lower leagues now have an opportunity to look back on their career if they win one of English football's most illustrious pieces of silverware, including 32-year-olds Garry Thompson and Ricky Ravenhill, Andrew Davies, Luke Oliver cboth 28), striker Allan Connell, 30, and the club's 35-year-old captain Gary Jones.
But nobody symbolises Bradford's Cinderella run to the final of the League Cup as much as Matt Duke does.
Irrespective of whether Duke lifts the trophy at Wembley, his greatest victory will be his battle with testicular cancer which he overcame five years ago when he successfully underwent surgery to remove the cancerous tumour. 35-year-old Duke told The Sun:
“When you hear the word cancer it is scary. It really does put everything in perspective. Yeah, I worried I’d never come back and play football again. That’s what you automatically think when someone breaks the news to you that you have cancer.
“But once it sinks in, I’ll be honest, you don’t think of battling back to play in a Wembley final one day. You want to see your kid ride a bike — that’s how simple my thoughts and my ambitions were.
Now I have a different perspective on life.
Bradford's players have already been promised a trip to Las Vegas by their owner once the season is over, but like Cinderella at Prince Charming's gala ball, they will be hoping the clock doesn't strike midnight too soon.
Although they face Swansea City, who are with all due respect to them not one of the leading lights of English football, but are a glowing source of pride for Welsh football fans, this is still a game where Bradford will still be considered rank outsiders in this battle of David versus Goliath.
But if history serves, didn’t David beat Goliath?
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