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Chris Kamara: Bradford City cup run just unbelievable
By 10pm on Tuesday, Phil Parkinson could be ready to join Bradford City’s most exclusive club.
There is currently only one member. Chris Kamara maintains a unique place in City’s 110-year history as the only manager to lead them out at Wembley.
That never-to-be-forgotten afternoon in late May 1996 also marks the pinnacle of Kamara’s management career before he made the smooth transition to highly-successful TV pundit with Sky Sports.
The man who coined the phrase “it’s unbelievable Jeff” admits that the prospect of Parkinson taking the Bantams back to Wembley for the Capital One Cup final is literally out of this world.
Kammy said: “I spoke to Parky after they had won the first leg against Aston Villa. I told him the biggest tribute you could pay is that if you were an alien who had just landed on this earth and watched it, you would have thought Bradford were the Premier League team.
“It’s been magnificent for the city. There has been doom and gloom for so many years and you wondered when something good was going to happen again. But this really has been more than anyone could have hoped for.”
Kamara has to tread a fine line as a national presenter, with no hint of bias. But he was hugely impressed at the way Villa were dismantled at Valley Parade as City earned their 3-1 lead to take into that defining return date in the midlands.
He said: “We were talking about it on Goals on Sunday and reading (Villa boss) Paul Lambert’s quotes about having to be wary on set-plays. But it was more than that.
“It was the football that Bradford played that night and they well deserved the victory. There was no luck involved.
“Getting the third goal was so important because it was never a 2-1 game. With Villa getting the away goal as well, at that stage it would have been very difficult for Bradford.
“But scoring again – and what a header it was from young (Carl) McHugh – really does give them a chance.
“I don’t know how Parky approaches it at Villa Park. That’s the big dilemma for me.
“But he knows his players better than anyone. If he can set his stall out and make them hard to break down, then they will fancy themselves going forward.
“The fact is that every team they’ve come up against, Bradford have matched them, so there’s no fears about that.
“The only doubt in his mind could be those first 15 minutes at Valley Parade when (Christian) Benteke had all those opportunities. But for the next 75, Bradford were the better team.”
City’s Wembley triumph 17 years ago is a classic case study for anyone daft enough to think the job has already been done.
Nobody should need reminding about the two-goal turnaround at Blackpool in the play-off semi-final second leg when Kamara’s Bantams won 3-0; nor the infamous match-day programme at Bloomfield Road containing the directions for Wembley.
Kamara recalled: “It was the best thing that could have happened. I’d got to the stadium early in the day to let the players have a kip and picked up a programme to flick through.
“There was a map of how to get to Wembley and details about booking coaches. It was full of it. I went straight out and bought as many as I could and stuck them all over the dressing room wall.
“It might have only helped a tiny bit but it was something to give the players that extra determination.
“We knew us and Blackpool were the best two teams. We knew we could beat them but I’d just made a mistake tactically in the first game playing big Stix (Ian Ormondroyd) down the middle.
“Seeing all that about Wembley in the programme just got the lads going even more. Mind you, I never got the money back from the club!”
Around 32,000 supporters headed down the M1 to see City clinch promotion against Notts County – a result that Kamara felt was never in doubt.
He said: “It was one of the rare occasions that I just knew we couldn’t lose. I’d never experienced that feeling before.
“But everything was right, we were the better team and were better prepared – and we had far more supporters. Anybody who called themselves fans were there and wanted to be there.”
Kamara used that supremacy in the stands to City’s advantage. He cleared it with the police to hold the team bus back ten minutes just to make sure that the opposition arrived at Wembley first.
He said: “I wanted Notts County to be on the pitch already so they could hear the roar when we walked out. It was such a loud noise.
“We were also all suited and booted – all they had on was a yellow carnation. Every little thing was in our favour.”
Now Parkinson’s City stand on the brink of an even greater achievement. And while the outcome remains balanced on a knife edge, Kamara feels the underdogs should take heart from Aston Villa’s current wobbles.
He said: “This is the biggest game of their lives for the Bradford lads, every one of them. For many this will be as good as it gets.
“They can play for another 20 years and some will never again be involved in a cup run like this.
“It’s hard to predict. It’s not over and I’m sure they don’t believe it is. But the more that Aston Villa’s confidence keeps getting dented, the more of a chance Bradford will feel they have.
“Confidence is such a massive factor in football and to lose again to another team at the bottom last week (Southampton) was another massive blow for Villa.
“I know it was never a penalty but that still won’t have done them any favours. They are still in the relegation zone.
“You know what it’s like. You read the papers, where people like Alan Shearer are writing articles saying that they aren’t good enough, you see the league table on TV all the time, you hear the supporters grumbling.
“It all adds up and gets into the heads of the players and you start to doubt yourself. And Villa are a very young team. They haven’t got the older heads to calm everyone down.
“It can be absolutely brilliant with a side full of youngsters when you’re on a roll. Everybody enjoys it and there’s a real buzz. But on the other side of it, with what they’re going through at the moment, there’s nobody experienced in the dressing room to help lift them.
“It’s all there for Bradford. They have another cup final at Villa to get to the final.”
And that would be truly unbelievable ...