With starting odds of 1,000-1 as a minimum, Bradford’s achievement of reaching the Capital One Cup Final really can be considered a once in a millennium opportunity. In an era in which the selected elite dominate both domestic league and cups, a Bradford vs Swansea City final is a refreshing change to the usual mundane hierarchy.
After overseeing his side defeat Aston Villa following the conclusion of two thrilling legs of football on Tuesday night, Phil Parkinson stated that never again would a side from the fourth tier of English football reach a cup final. And in all likeliness, he is spot on. Not since 1962 and Rochdale has a club so far down the football pyramid reached a cup final, and the possibility of it happening again are slim.
With the sheer finance that dictates today’s game, the gap between the top of the Premier League and the bottom of the Football League has never been greater, and it is a gap that is widening with each passing season. Gone are the days when clubs could build up a squad from the lower depths of the Second Division and transform them into First Division winners in a matter of years. It just doesn’t happen like that any more, and certainly not without ludicrous levels of investment.
That is why Bradford’s achievement is truly astonishing and should be cherished by all concerned with English football (Aston Villa being the obvious exception.) Regardless of what happens in the final next month, they have defied all sane logic to overcome a trio of Premier League sides, a cup run that will perhaps go into the historical archives as the greatest of all time. Even before the Premier League scalps, Bradford progressed past Watford and Notts County, both in higher divisions.
It really has been the most remarkable of cup runs, and each progression has been more unthinkable than the last. A penalty shoot out success at Wigan paved the way for a home tie against Arsenal. So desperate was Arsene Wenger to end his sides painful wait for a trophy that he fielded a stronger side as possible at Valley Parade to avoid the possibility of a cup embarrassment.
But Bradford have specialised in handing out humiliations this season and, after being pegged back in normal time by Thomas Vermaalen’s late header, they still had the audacity to recover and win the subsequent shoot out.
When Bradford were drawn against Aston Villa in the two legged semi finals, the general consensus was that, as well as they had done to get this far, defeating Premier League opposition over two games would just be a step too far. But how wrong we all were, as the Bantams gained a considerable advantage in the home leg and then held firm at Villa Park.
Bradford’s solitary cup final appearance, a victory in the 1911 FA Cup, is still remembered with a suite located within Valley Parade named after the success (“the 1911 club”). No doubt there are plans for a similar idea to mark this historical cup run. The likes of Nahki Wells and Gary Jones will be etched forever into Bradford folklore.
So too will manager Phil Parkinson, who has already gained the respect of Bradford fans, as well as those further afield, by turning down approaches from higher ranked clubs, a sign of loyalty that is sadly lacking in today’s game.
All this has set up surely the unlikeliest cup final in at least a generation. With all the attention quite rightly focused on Bradford, it is easy to forget or overlook the achievement of Swansea City, who will be partaking in their first ever cup final appearance. They too defied the odds to defeat Chelsea over two legs, without conceding a goal in the process of over 180 minutes. Yet even that victory was overshadowed by the stupidity of Edin Hazard and a theatrical ball boy.
But Swansea will, of course, attend the match as clear favourites and will never have a better opportunity to lift a cup trophy. Regardless of the outcome, this final is already a victory for English football. It is also a victory for the underdog, albeit a temporary one.