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Big match preview: Gunners goners if Gooner Connell has his way
Vic Connell came a cropper when he was caught skiving off at Wembley to watch his beloved Arsenal.
Instead of his usual shift at Islington fire station, he had taken his sons Alan and David to see the Gunners beat Sheffield Wednesday to lift the FA Cup in 1993.
Unfortunately he got rumbled when the TV cameras panned on the Arsenal end – and one row in particular.
“It was just before Andy Linighan got the winner in extra-time,” recalled Alan. “Unbeknown to us at the time, for whatever reason the camera just zoomed in on us three!
“My dad had pulled a sickie to go and all his work-mates saw it! He had a lot of explaining to do the next day but it was worth it because we won.”
Connell senior won’t have to sneak undercover to Valley Parade tomorrow night, although he will be sitting among the home fans.
It is a dream tie for the Arsenal-mad family when Alan Connell lines up in the City side to face them. And for one night only, family ties will prove stronger than traditional loyalty.
The striker said: “They both want Bradford to win for my sake, that’s for sure. But Arsenal will always be my family’s team.
“My mum (Sue, who passed away three years ago) and dad were born and bred in Islington, which is Arsenal territory, and he was a fireman there for 30 years.
“I grew up in Enfield, which is 25 minutes away and more of a Spurs area. A lot of my schoolmates are Tottenham fans, which causes problems sometimes.
“But I’ve always supported Arsenal and we used to go regularly to Highbury. I remember my first game back in 1989, Alan Smith scored although we lost at home to Forest. We still won the league that season when Michael Thomas scored the late winner at Liverpool. I was six or seven at the time and we all watched it on TV – it was incredible.
“We’d often go to Wembley to see them and I’ve been to the Emirates quite a lot when I can. But obviously playing professionally it’s difficult to find the time.
“Since moving up here, I’ve still been to Anfield and the Etihad this season. I love watching Arsenal play.”
So you can imagine Connell’s excitement when the quarter-final draw paired his current team with his boyhood heroes. Even if he didn’t have anyone to share it with.
“I was sitting on my own watching it and once the fifth and sixth teams came out, I knew it was only us and Arsenal left. I just started talking to myself ‘I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it’.
“To see the names drawn out together was quite overwhelming. I rang my dad and brother straight away and then the phone just went crazy.
“Even now, I still can’t get my head round it. It was like going to Wembley last season with Swindon in the final of the JPT, I found it difficult to picture what it would be like until the actual day
“Given the choice I would probably rather be going to the Emirates. But then you haven’t seen a packed Valley Parade for a very long time and that makes it more of a cup tie.
“Arsenal will travel in large numbers and the away fans are very good – I know because I’ve sat in with them. It’s going to be an amazing cup tie and one I’m desperate to be involved in.”
A shock City victory would turn up the heat on Arsene Wenger as Arsenal’s seven-year wait for silverware goes on. But Connell the fan will become Connell the professional opponent for 90 minutes at least.
He said: “I’ve tried not to think about it. I’m an Arsenal fan and they are always the first result I look for.
“But for this game, I’ve just got to think we’re playing against another team. My team’s Bradford and we want to win.
“Whatever happens after that will happen. I want us to be in the semi-finals, which would be beyond belief.
“But if Arsenal got to the final, I’d still like to be at Wembley again watching it.”
Connell has had his share of special matches in a career that has taken him up and down the country. This will rank right up there.
“All the hard games and years you’ve put in are for days like this. When your career’s
finished, you will look back on certain games with fond memories.
“Playing at Wembley was very special. Wigan this year of course was special and last season with Swindon when we knocked them out the FA Cup and I scored in front of a packed house.
“I remember with Bournemouth years ago playing Blackburn when they were in the top six of the Premier League and beating them on penalties. Those are great memories.
“I hope this can be another occasion like that, not just for myself but for the club. They’ve played against a lot of League Two teams all these years then all of a sudden you’ve got Arsenal
“You see the interest it has created around the place ever since the draw was made.
“As players, we want to enjoy the moment as well but we’ve also got to stay focused. We want to do
Arsenal may be red-hot favourites but, given their indifferent form this season, can City dare to dream?
Connell smiled: “It’s a possibility. We managed to beat Wigan after all and they are an excellent side.
“There’s always a chance, however small it may seem. We’ll go into it confident but obviously with a lot of respect for the opposition.
“Arsenal are probably pleased to be playing the lowest-ranked side left in the cup. But I’m sure they would rather it be at the Emirates than coming up here.
“All the pressure is on them and we’ve just got to concentrate on ourselves and playing our own game.
“As players and supporters we’ve got to make it as difficult as we can for them and go all out to produce an unbelievable result.
“I want to win this game for Bradford City like everyone else. What a result it would be.”
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