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No fairytale ending, but an inspirational display
Oh how cruelly the fairytale ended.
But losing 5-0 to Premier League Swansea in the Capital One Cup final was far from a horror story for Bradford City's fans.
In fact, for the last 20 minutes of a match where City’s Welsh rivals had dominated, anyone tuning in on television and watching the 82,597 Wembley crowd could have easily thought the scoreline was reversed.
For while Swansea’s supporters remained on their seats as their team cruised to an emphatic victory, Bradford’s fans stood up, waved claret and amber flags, and sang for Phil Parkinson’s men like they were champions.
Far from the expected scenes of dejection on Wembley Way as the dream died, emotionally-drained supporters spoke of their pride for the nation’s favourite underdogs and thanked Phil Parkinson’s men for sharing their brave crusade with the city.
“I am gutted, but no one ever expected us to get here,” said David Baker, 24, of Bingley.
“The Bradford supporters were absolutely amazing.
“The last 20 minutes we showed our spirit and sang ourselves hoarse.
“The sight left me quite emotional. I was nearly in tears.”
Sonny Sharma, 41, of King’s Park, said he felt Bradford City’s giant killers – who had left Premier League big-hitters Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan in their wake to reach its first major cup final in 102 years – had not played their best.
But he added: “The fans are grateful to them for getting us to the final and giving us a great day out.
“We will be at Valley Parade for the Dagenham league game on Wednesday and will thank them again.”
His Bantams-mad nephew, 13-year-old Arjun Sharma, of Shipley, admitted he was quite depressed, but said: “We were the underdogs.”
And Julie Potter, 68, of Low Moor, who has supported the side for more than 50 years, hailed the day as her ‘proudest moment in a Bradford shirt’.
“I’m obviously disappointed, but our fans were incredible. The atmosphere was something I’d never experienced before. It was quite emotional “I honestly thought we could do it, but it just wasn’t to be. But we can hold our heads high –we showed the country what we’re all about in Bradford and may have changed a few perceptions.”
Even those who had travelled thousands of miles from around the world, spending thousands of pounds for the chance to see their League Two idols play at Wembley, said they did not feel it was a wasted journey.
Gary Young, 24, who spent £1,500 to fly in to London on a five-day trip from Sydney, Australia, told how he was proud of the side’s cup exploits.
“Yes, it was not the result that anyone wanted, but we were winners just by being here,” he said.
“I did think our name was on the cup after we beat Arsenal and Villa, and everyone likes to believe in fairytales and happy endings, but we showed our underdog spirit.
“I know it was a lot of money to spend for a football match, but it meant so much more than that. I’m so glad I was here to experience it.”
Bantams’ heavy defeat, which saw the side reduced to ten men after goalkeeper Matt Duke’s trailing leg felled Jonathan De Guzman, came at the end of a cup campaign that had already tested the soul.
Even the most hardened of fans had endured the most agonising spectrum of emotions.
The stomach-wrenching moments where the mountainous task of beating big-money sides seemed all but impossible. The heart-stopping agony of make-or-break penalties. The electric scenes of elation and ecstasy that left an intense glow around Valley Parade on the coldest of winter nights.
But for those supporters, Wembley promised to be something else. And that morning, they had hope.
In the tense hours before kick-off Wembley Way was awash with claret and amber, bringing new hues to its grey stone pavements – a change from the usual reds, blues and whites on cup final days.
And with the colour came optimism.
One Bantam, Christian Ingham, 27, of Shipley, was in buoyant mood despite being put through all the highs and lows that come with being a City fan before the game even began.
He missed his coach from Bradford and decided to sell his ticket, only to secure a lift to Wembley and was forced to buy another.
Waiting by the Bobby Moore statue, where rival supporters united to pay their respects to the legend on the 20th anniversary of his death in gentle snowfall, he said: “It’s been agony.
“I thought I couldn’t come but now I’m here, just waiting for my ticket.
“It feels surreal being here, especially after the morning I’ve had. But I think we’ll win 2-1. If we go on to win the cup it will be absolutely bananas!”
Paul Castleton, 46, of Wibsey, wearing a Bantams’ scarf and hat, said he felt like he was ‘dreaming’.
“When I woke up I couldn’t believe this day was here.
“I’ve been to Wembley before and when you step out of the concrete tunnels the stadium just takes your breath away. To see it filled with thousands of Bantams fans singing their hearts out will be amazing.”
His son 11-year-old son Tom is a player for Wyke Wanderers, which had cancelled fixtures so its staff and players could travel to the capital.
He said he had been inspired by Bantams’ cup campaign and it was his dream to play for Bradford City – maybe one day at Wembley.
But for another youngster, the biggest game in Bradford’s history for more than a century was his first experience of the beautiful game.
And his words gave a glimpse of the legacy Bantams’ phenomenal cup run will leave.
“I’ve never really been that much into football,” said Owen Wray, 11, of Shipley.
“I’ve always thought it was a game of overpaid players kicking a piece of leather into a net.
“Bradford City has changed that.”