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A toast... happy Wigan day Bantams fans
I'm going to start the campaign to get Wednesday declared a public holiday for Bradford.
It will be the anniversary of the penalty triumph at Wigan – the first Premier League giant-slaying of the Capital One Cup that almost gets glossed over.
Of course we’ve got Arsenal day to come in December and then Villa days parts one and two in the new year. And maybe we should petition for a Wembley week to mark the magnitude of reaching the final itself.
But for now, we should just savour that night at the DW Stadium that kicked it all off.
It may have been usurped by City’s antics in the later rounds but the image of Matt Duke being chased by his team-mates as he started on a celebration sprint from the empty end of the ground to the full one remains etched in the memory.
So does the reaction of Carl McHugh when he stopped for an interview in the car park afterwards.
The expression on the teenager’s face was one of joyous disbelief – like a child experiencing his first Christmas morning.
With slightly glazed eyes and a fixed beaming smile stretching from one ear to the other, McHugh felt like he was living in a dream. “It doesn’t get better than this,” were his words.
How wrong can you be, of course. It did get better – much, much, much better.
But his reaction that night was mirrored by 5,000 Bradfordians who had travelled over the Pennines more in blind hope than with any genuine expectation.
Remember that three days before – this very Saturday – City had lost both central defenders to serious injury and had Ricky Ravenhill sent off.
They joined Kyel Reid on the sidelines; skipper Gary Jones was also far from okay as he nursed a troubled back. Harry Redknapp’s “bare bones” did not even come close when describing Phil Parkinson’s options to tackle a team three divisions above.
But the football form book was gloriously ripped up and tossed away. It became a night of unlikely heroes – the young McHugh thrust into the heart of the back four; Zavon Hines running his legs like pistons up and down the field; Duke, after all the criticism of his first season, defying the Wigan spot-kicks.
And, like McHugh, the wide-eyed away fans lapped up every second of it, never imagining that City could possibly do it again – and again – against more glamorous opponents over the following months.
Mention the Capital One Cup and there will accusations of dredging up the past. Yes, it was an amazing achievement but that was then; let’s move on to the here and now.
But a year on from Wigan, has the enormity of a team from the bottom tier of the game going all the way to Wembley really sunk in yet?
Glance round the new 2013 suite at Valley Parade at the shirts and the images and it seems like yesterday. What City did against such overwhelming odds will only be appreciated many years down the line.
That’s because it will surely never happen again in our lifetime.
Look at the fourth round coming up. Just three of the last 16 are teams outside the Premier League, and they are all Championship.
Burnley are the leaders and Leicester third – so that’s only Birmingham below the current top 23 teams in the country. Forget anyone from League One; let alone League Two.
That should give a bit of context to City’s achievement.
At least it’s still being talked about in English football’s corridors of power.
Arsene Wenger name-checked the Bantams during a speech this week about his highs and lows as the country’s longest-serving manager to mark the FA’s 150th anniversary.
Arsenal losing to lower-league opposition had never happened in Wenger’s watch before last season; no wonder he described that Valley Parade defeat as “one of his most memorable moments against”.
“I was very proud of that record,” Wenger said. “The unexpected defeats are the most difficult to take.
“Every year we take competitions in a very serious way. The League Cup was always an opportunity for young players and a big part of the club.
“But on the night at Bradford we played many players of the first team.”
Wenger, renowned for his myopic approach, did not see it coming. But then this time last year, none of us did.
So raise a glass during the week to once-in-a-lifetime memories. Happy Wigan day, one and all.
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