It could quite easily be the start of a fairytale. Once upon a time there was a football club that dared to dream.
After overcoming two battles with administration and falling to the fourth tier of the game, it defied its underdog status and stunned the nation by slaying its third Premier League giant to win its place in footballing history.
Last night Bradford City did just that.
A 2-1 second leg loss against top-flight Aston Villa, away at Villa Park, ended the club’s Capital One Cup semi-final tie 4-3 on aggregate – meaning Bantams are now the first team from the lowest tier to reach the league cup final since Rochdale in 1962.
Phil Parkinson’s men have secured their place at Wembley, where they will face the next chapter of their story: a David and Goliath battle with Chelsea or Swansea.
Fans watching the game at the Bradford’s City Vaults last night compared Bantams’ heroics to something out of a Hollywood movie.
“You couldn’t make it up, you really couldn’t. It’s a dream come true,” said supporter Holly Fishwick, 19, of Baildon.
“It’s just incredible. I love the romance of the cup, the fact that Bradford, the underdogs, have gone all the way to Wembley. It’s like a Hollywood movie.
“Obviously now we’re hoping and praying for a dream ending.”
And life-long fan Paul Bowers, 50, of Idle, said: “It’s a fairy story. It’s absolutely unbelievable.
“What they have done is lift the whole city. It’s great for businesses, for the economy – it has given Bradford a boost.”
Earlier in the day, hundreds of fans, young and old, had filed onto a fleet of coaches outside a snow-tinged Valley Parade for a trip to Villa Park – part of a 6,800 strong contingent of travelling Bantams’ fans, hoping to see their team make history.
But for those unable to make the trip – and with no public big screen showing at the ground or City Park – a different sort of pilgrimage was taking place: a trip to their local pub.
At around 7pm, inside the imposing stone walls of the City Vaults, near the Wool Exchange in the heart of the city, fans didn’t know what to expect of the second leg tie.
A win against Villa would be an unbelievable ending for the League Two club, with a team costing a mere £7,500.
But defeat would be a cruel way to finish a momentous and unexpected cup campaign that had brought so much pride to the club and lifted the city.
Before the game, Mel Daniels, 37, of Holme Wood, took her position in front of one of the pub’s screens as fans filtered in.
She said: “I watched the first leg at home and was shouting and screaming at the television. It was amazing!
“I decided to come to the pub for the atmosphere, to be with other fans.
“I hope they can do it! I think they can!”
Silence fell at kick-off, as fans anxiously focused on the screens, barely taking a moment to sup on their drinks.
A noisy hum of nervous banter then slowly emanated from a clutch of claret and amber-wearing supporters, with cheers as Paul Lambert’s men were thwarted in their early efforts to reduce the two-goal deficit.
But 23 minutes in heads fell in hands as Christian Benteke’s volley closed the gap for Villa. And minutes later, amid growing frustration, there were sighs of relief as Stephen Ireland’s shot was ruled offside.
“That could've been game over,” said Rob Parker, 25, of Greengates.
“It felt like my heart stopped, I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see the linesman flag it!”
Half-time saw a flurry of orders at the bustling bar, with supporters turning to drink to calm their nerves.
Another small group channelled their frustrations into an impromptu snowball fight on the cobbled streets outside.
But Andy Shaw, 34, of Great Horton, spoke of his hope that City could hold on for 45 minutes.
“It’s lucky to only be 1-0 down so far, but City were going forwards in that last five minutes.
“I think we’ll do better coming from behind. We just need to hang on”
Supporters became more raucous as the second half began, with cries of ‘come on City’ from parts of the increasingly tense room.
But elated fans soon had cause for celebration, jumping to their feet and punching the air, as James Hanson levelled in the 55th minute with a bullet header from a corner, leaving Shay Given with no chance in the Villa goal.
Chants of ‘City ‘til I die’ and ‘we’re all going to Wembley’ began to spread through the room, with the atmosphere beginning to turn to one of belief once again.
“I can finally breathe again,” said Ron Pollard, 62, of Bradford Moor.
“We needed that. Hopefully this will boost our confidence!”
With 25 minutes to go, and City pressing forward, shouts and cheers continued, with supporters urging time to speed up.
They were back on their feet again as Garry Thompson hit the bar, becoming increasingly animated at every attack.
Boos filled the room as Andreas Weimann gave Villa late hope of taking the tie to extra time when he rounded City goalkeeper Matt Duke to give Villa a 2-1 lead on the night.
The last few minutes, as the game went into four minutes of added-on time, were agony for the fans hoping and praying that City could hang on to their precious aggregate lead, with many of them hardly daring to look at the TV, but knowing they had to watch as the seconds ticked away to the final whistle.
But City did hold on and as the final whistle signalled an end to a fraught and emotionally-charged encounter, relieved fans leapt from their seats and hugged each other, some with tears in their eyes.
They were united in their cries of ‘we’re going to Wembley’.
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