They were urged to “keep calm and take it to penalties” – and it was Bradford City’s unrivalled record from the penalty spot that secured a historic 3-2 victory against Premier League giants Arsenal in the club’s biggest game for 12 years.
Jubilant fans last night revelled in Bantams’ return to glory days after witnessing Phil Parkinson’s men win their ninth successive penalty shoot-out to book a place in the Capital One Cup’s semi finals after a pulsating thriller against the Gunners.
An electric atmosphere emanated from Valley Parade as stunned fans, chanting, cheering and beating drums, spilled out of Valley Parade at the end of the game in a sea of claret and amber, full of talk about which top-flight big-hitter City would slay in the next round.
Season-ticket holder Janette Raistrick, 58, of Queensbury, told how she had been praying as Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen – whose 87th minute equaliser had taken the quarter-final tie into extra-time – sent his penalty against the post after earlier misses by Santi Cazorla and Maroune Chamakh.
“I don’t care who we get so long as we beat them,” she said.
Stephen Taylor, 43, of Idle, said he now hoped Bantams’ would draw Chelsea in the next round.
“I think we can go all the way.
“After a night like this, it feels like our name is written on the cup.”
Nervous anticipation had been building in the hours leading up to the game – the club’s biggest since beating Liverpool to stay in the top-flight of English football in May, 2000 – when a high-spirited sea of supporters, many wrapped in striped City scarves, flooded to a bitterly cold Valley Parade from all directions.
Police in fluorescent jackets and officers on mounted patrol could be seen dotted around the ground awaiting the arrival of 23,971 football fans – the club’s largest crowd since February 1960, when 26,227 watched Bantams’ 2-2 draw against Burnley in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
There was no sign of any trouble as increasingly-excited supporters sang, cheered and sounded klaxons as they filtered through the turnstiles.
But the good-spirited, and not unexpected, rivalry was palpable as the Arsenal team coach pulled up outside the ground, when buoyant Bantams' fans chanted ‘who are ya’ and ‘love you City, we do’ as the Premier League big hitters filed into the League Two club’s stadium.
Despite being separated by 65 league places, many supporters were feeling confident their side could claim yet another top-flight scalp after Bantams’ sensational victory on penalties against Wigan in the fourth round of the competition.
And some statistics were in their favour. Gunners’ manager Wenger had never won at Valley Parade – with one defeat and one draw in City’s two years in the Premier League – and Arsenal had only won one of their last nine visits to Bradford.
Before the game, seven-year-old City regular Alfie Johnson, of Eccleshill, visiting Valley Parade with his dad Matt, 35, predicted a 5-0 thrashing, with Nahki Wells to score.
Others hoped Bradford could “keep calm and take it to penalties” – the mantra emblazoned across many a T-shirt hailing the club’s record of eight penalty wins on the bounce.
Face-painted fan Bethany Dimmock, 18, who has the middle name Amber as a Bantams’ tribute, was one of them.
She was a mascot at the club’s Premier League clash against the Gunners on September 9, 2000.
“I don’t really remember last time, but I was one of the mascots who led the team out.
“We’re hoping they keep calm and take it to penalties!”
Friends Dom Newton-Collinge, 26, of Otley, and Daniel Crann, 25, of Harrogate, said that whatever the result, the atmosphere was a throw back to the club’s glory days.
“It feels like 12 years ago, it used to be like this every week at Valley Parade.
“It feels like the result doesn’t matter,” said Dom.
Season-ticket holder Daniel, who cheered on the team during previous rounds of the competition, added: “It feels like the glory days.
“Based on their performance this far in the cup, it’s looking good for the lads.”
As Arsenal kicked off the first half, the scene was different in nearby pub The Bradford Arms.
Bursting at the doors before the game started, an unlucky handful who were unable to get into the ground watched the match on a big screen.
Before the game, season-ticket holder Mark Pearson, 39, of Knaresborough, said: “It’s great to see a big crowd like this back at Valley Parade. I wish we could see crowds like this every week.”
With a club on such pulsating form, he might get his wish.