Phil Parkinson was dazed and still bearing the stains of a Champagne soaking as the realisation started to sink in that he will be the man to lead Bradford City – League 2 Bradford City – out at Wembley for the Capital One Cup final.
Parkinson, stock rising as Premier League victims pile up around him in this remarkable campaign, was more than alright. He was ecstatic – as was his football club, its supporters and a city that will revel in the publicity and goodwill this victory will bring.
Villa Park had just witnessed compelling evidence that dreams can come true in the unforgiving, ruthless modern game. Bradford City’s 6,500 travelling supporters had witnessed it with their own eyes as they danced from their places high in the North Stand and out into the snow.
Some may even regard the Bantams’ achievement as restoring their faith in the old game, a victory to demonstrate that not all the glory inevitably lands in the laps of the richest and most powerful.
It is worth stating the plain facts. Bradford City have become the first team from English football’s fourth tier to reach the Final of this competition since Rochdale in 1962 and have taken out three Premier League teams – Wigan, Arsenal and now Aston Villa – in the process. Bradford’s achievement in this cup campaign can stand comparison with any of the great giant-killing tales dotted throughout English football’s history.
Everyone will have their own view of which is the greatest. Sunderland beat the great Leeds United side to win the FA Cup at Wembley in 1973, Third Division sides Queens Park Rangers and Swindon Town beat West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal of the First Division to win the League Cup in 1967 and 1969 respectively.
Hereford United’s win as a non-league side against Newcastle United in 1972 and Sutton United’s victory against Coventry City in 1989 – both in the FA Cup – will also always have special places.
Bradford fans will place their feat in the context of beating three teams from the top flight in succession, one 62 places above them in the league ladder over two legs, to reach Wembley, where their greatest moment may yet await them. It is, without doubt, one of the great cup achievements. This season’s Capital One Cup has had its surprises outside of Bradford’s campaign too, with Leeds claiming the scalps of Premier League sides Everton and Southampton, and Swindon Town beating Championship sides Brighton and Burnley as well as travelling to the Britannia Stadium to record a historic win over Premiership side Stoke. However, this season’s most remarkable cup story has one more chapter to be written – and it could be the most dramatic of all.