Days before Bradford City’s Capital One Cup semi-final against Aston Villa, the atmosphere outside Valley Parade is a stark contrast to the elation and ecstasy of Bantams’ recent glory nights. In fact, it is eerily quiet.
But while a handful of fans, wrapped up from the bitter cold, walk slowly down snow-covered steps to pick up their tickets for the second leg of the tie that could secure Phil Parkinson’s men a place in a historic Wembley final, inside the stadium a warm anticipation is building among a small team of staff as they reflect on what has been two months of chaos.
What many people forget is that Bantams’ phenomenal cup run has seen workers in all departments of the club running a Premier League operation on a shoe-string budget – and it is a mountain they have conquered, despite limited resources.
For example, rivals Aston Villa’s ticket office boasts 18 windows, with rooms filled with workers dedicated to fielding inquiries and taking bookings.
The League Two side has a three-man team who worked tirelessly over Christmas and the New Year to make sure more than 40,000 fans got their seats for coveted clashes against top-flight Aston Villa and Arsenal.
“It’s been exciting, manic – just unbelievable,” ticket office manager Mick Lamb said.
“It’s been extremely busy, which is how we want things to be as we progress up the leagues. It’s definitely given us an insight into what it would be like if we go up.
“Clubs like Aston Villa and Arsenal have dedicated away-ticket officers – we do everything ourselves here.
“We have to run things on a shoe-string. Any spare money has to go straight to the team, so we have got to run things frugally.
“We only had two days off, Christmas and New Year, which is very unusual. But it’s been great to see so many fans want to get tickets.”
The former police officer, who started working for the club in October 2007, tells how members of staff who usually only work on match days had also been drafted in to deal with the influx of fans vying for tickets – with queues circling around Valley Parade from the early hours of the morning.
“It’s great, it’s brought a buzz around the ground and everyone in all departments have been pulling together,” the 57-year-old adds. “Whatever happens, the team are record-breakers. All I want them to do is enjoy their occasion and do their very best.”
For Sandra Oram, arriving for her first day of working in the ticket office after spending three years in the club’s youth department was especially daunting – it was the day Arsenal tickets went on sale.
“It was scary. When I drove in and saw all the fans queuing up Midland Road I thought ‘what on earth am I doing?’” she said.
“We sold more than 8,000 tickets that day, and it was the same for the Villa game with people queuing around the building.
“For the Aston Villa game, we had one man come up from Oxford to get tickets, he wanted them so badly.
“It’s been fantastic, I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Colleague David Carroll, who has worked in the office for four years, agreed: “It was great to see, though, because we all want to see City do well. We wish it was like that every day!”
It has been a similar story on the club’s reception, where Glen Baldwin, who has been working on the desk for six months, says phones had been ringing non-stop since the club drew Arsenal in the quarter finals, with up to 300 calls a day about cup games.
“And since we beat Villa 3-1, I’ve had around 100 calls from West Brom fans saying they’ll give them the run-around in the league game at the weekend, as well as offering advice!
“We’ve also had phone calls from Australia, the USA, the far east and from members of the Armed Forces, all wanting to give messages of support.
“But the busiest day was when it was rumoured Phil Parkinson would be joining Blackpool – not only did I take lots of calls telling me we couldn’t let him go, but people were coming in as well!
“We’re a League Two club and staffed for a League Two club, so it’s been hard work, but I’ve loved it. It’s been well worth it!”
Over in the club’s 1911 bar, manager Micah Archer told how he was forced to draft in agency staff to cope with an increase in customers – boosting his usual workforce of eight to around 20 for the games against Arsenal and Villa.
“One of the perks of my job is that I can watch the games, and when I walked out into the stadium for Villa, the atmosphere – it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The noise was immense!
“You feel like part of the family working on the bars. It’s been amazing.”
It has also been a busy time for the club’s chef Chris Doherty, who works in a two-man team to cook meals for the players as well as guests in its restaurant and executive boxes.
“We usually get 40-50 people in the restaurant and 200 in the boxes. For the big cup games we’ve had 80 people in there, and between 300 and 500 in the boxes.
“For the Arsenal game, I started work at 7am and finished at 3.30am the next day!”
“When I come to work, it’s like coming to the theatre of dreams,” he adds. “This cup run has not only been great for the club, but it’s given the whole city a lift.”
Paul Stevens, who has been the shop manager for the last year and a half, says cup fever meant it had doubled its sales target in December and had already hit target for January – partly thanks to the success of its now infamous ‘Keep Calm and Take it to Penalties’ T-shirts.
“We didn’t know how successful they would be. We sold around 150 before the Arsenal game, but after City beat Arsenal on penalties we sold another 450 in two weeks!
“At the moment there’s nothing that’s not selling. Anything with a crest on it is flying off the shelves.”
But he’ll be watching the game while on holiday.
“If we get through, I’ll probably be the only fan celebrating in 25 degree heat,” he added.
However, kit man John Duckworth says his preparation was like it would be “for any other game”.
“There’s been no difference – if I started doing things differently, it would have an impact on the players.
“As a member of staff it’s business as usual, but as a fan who’s been coming here 50 years I’m excited!”