Just 11 years ago Aston Villa vs. Bradford would have been a normal Premier League fixture, with the Bantams plying their trade against the very best clubs in English football.
But, the period between then and now has been a tough one at Valley Parade, tougher than many would have expected when they dropped out of the top-tier in 2001.
Financial meltdown, multiple administrations and subsequent relegations have left the club battered and bruised. Beaten to the extent that dropping out of the professional league system was a real possibility at the back end of last season.
But, this campaign’s League Cup exploits have seen the Yorkshire side roll back those painful years, and dish out some angry punches, flooring the likes of Wigan and most recently Arsenal to book a spot in the semi-final.
In some ways the club made a rod for their own back, splashing more cash than they actually possessed when they were at the top table. Italian striker Benito Carbone arrived at Bradford on £40,000-per-week wages, whilst the stadium and training facilities were developed, in a period that then chairman Geoffrey Richmond described afterwards as “six weeks of madness”. Maybe they would have coped had relegation not struck in the same year, however their haul of just 26 points saw the prosperous era of Premier League football end for the club.
Manager Jim Jefferies was sacked shortly afterwards, following a training ground bust-up, and to make matters worse debts spiralled to an unmanageable £13m. Although they managed to avoid the drop to the third-tier, administration struck, forcing the release of almost all of the club’s playing staff.
Miraculously they survived once again in 2003, but the following year, under Bryan Robson, Bradford were unable to keep clear of the relegation zone, falling into Division Two.
Colin Todd replaced Robson ahead of the next campaign, and kept the club safe as administration bit once again. Despite this, he was sacked in 2007, as owner Julian Rhodes appointed David Wetherall as player-manager with the team three points clear of the relegation zone. However, he was unable to save City from entering the bottom tier of professional football.
Yet, after managing to remain safe, now manager Phil Parkinson has set his sights on catapulting the club back through the league system, and this season’s Capital One Cup could be play a big part in his lofty plans.
Although lifting the trophy is improbable, it’s not impossible, and the feel good-factor that statement brings has rejuvenated the club’s loyal support – they still average a gate of 10,000-per-game in League 2.
The financial impact will also be significant, with the estimated £300,000 generated from the Arsenal tie alone thought to be enough to cover half of the club’s overspending on wages. With a two-legged affair against Premier League opposition in the semi-final another large sum of income is expected, which will go some way to repairing the remaining damage.
With promotion to League One a legitimate possibility as well, things are finally beginning to look up in Yorkshire. They may only be facing England’s elite in the Capital One Cup for now, but maybe, just maybe, Bradford could be back in the big time in the not too distant future.