Behind Enemy Lines: The Width of a Post Interview
Unique to the English football league, Bradford City’s colours of claret and amber, where according to legend chosen because they were the colours of ‘blood and mustard’ – a metaphor for fighting qualities, fire and strength.
Such qualities are at the root of how the Bantams currently in the bottom tier of the English leagues have arrived in the semi-finals of the League Cup. On route, they’ve won two games in extra-time and in the last two rounds, have beaten both Wigan and Arsenal on penalties.
For many Villa supporters Bradford’s presence in the tournament was probably only noticed when they shocked Arsenal at Valley Parade in the quarter-finals.
Suddenly though, they were the team that Villa wanted in the semi-final draw; the club certainly seemed to think it guaranteed a trip to Wembley. To help us get to know our semi-final opponents better, MOMS speaks to Jason McKeown of the very accomplished Bantams site The Width of a Post.
MOMS: I’ll be honest, I had to skip through a few league tables to find out that Bradford City were in the division 2 (old fourth div). I’ve always considered you as being Championship side. In a nutshell, what happened since you reached the Premiership just over 10-years ago? Bring us up to speed!
TWOTP: The last decade of despair for Bradford City can almost entirely be attributed to ludicrously over-stretching ourselves financially during the second of our two-year stay in the Premiership, at the turn of the millennium. Infamously we prised Benito Carbone out of your hands by agreeing to pay what at the time was a higher wage than David Beckham was earning at Manchester United. There were several other over-paid players recruited, who spoiled the workmanlike team ethos that had served us well up to that point.The new-look team failed to gel and we were relegated feebly (I see comparisons with QPR this season, to be honest), while off the field we committed to a considerable mortgage to fund the adding of a second tier to one stand. A second tier which – up until Arsenal last month – had only been properly used once since it was built.
Cue a dismal slide down the divisions – with the crippling debts leading to two spells in administration,that on both occasions almost resulting in the club folding – and you get some idea of what a dismal decade it has been!
Hopefully we’ve finally turned the corner and are on our way back upwards. But even now, those catastrophic decisions made during those Premiership days continue to weigh on us financially. For example, we no longer own Valley Parade – hastily sold to the then-chairman, who just weeks later fell out with his co-owner and quit – and so have to pay an exorbitant amount of rent to use our own home.
Some of the younger generation of Villa fans won’t know about the Valley Parade Fire back in 1985. I’m from Lincoln and also follow the Imps, who Bradford City played on that fateful day when 56 supporters lost their lives, so it’s an early football memory of mine. How does the club remember and honour it?
There has always been a quiet dignity about the way the club remembers that fateful day. The final home game of the season (closest to the May 11th anniversary of the Fire) always sees a minute’s silence, and there’s a superb monument to the people who lost their lives displayed outside the Main Stand, which always seems to have flowers surrounding it.
A few years ago we played Lincoln at Valley Parade for the first time since the tragedy. It was a hugely emotional occasion for both clubs. At Bradford City we will never forget those people who lost their lives or who were injured that day, and you’ll probably hear us chanting “We’ll always remember the 56” during both legs.
Benito Carbone and Stan Collymore are two players, that lets say, came to both of our clubs for a swift mercenary pay-day. Villa saw a few flashes of brilliance from Carbone, while Collymore essentially let himself down. What were your experiences of those two?
As mentioned above, Carbone will always be intrinsically linked with the financial madness that engulfed the club during the Premier League days. Without doubt, he is the most skilful player I have ever seen in claret and amber. Carbone provided us with some wonderful moments you will never forget and – for a player who had a reputation as being a shirker – he worked incredibly hard. Yet still…you can’t judge his signing as anything but a dreadful mistake. In many ways the worst signing the club has ever made. We paid Beni £2 million a year, on top of buying him a seven-bedroom, five-bathroom house. Utter, utter madness.
Stan the Man was only with us three months. He was the last throw of the dice when it was obvious we were heading for relegation from the Prem. Collymore was overpaid, missed easy chances, went badly missing in matches and did not work nearly hard enough. But…on his debut he scored a stunning overhead kick against our biggest rivals, Leeds United, and then proceeded to mock the Leeds fans behind the goal. Stanley Victor Collymore will never have to buy a drink in Bradford for as long as he lives.
While most Villa fans were hoping we’d be drawn against Bradford City, I made a comment that Aston Villa was the draw that Bradford also wanted – in terms of having a chance of going through to the final. Over Christmas, watching the Villa nightmare unfold, you must have started to dream a little about the possibility of Wembley?
It’s funny because when the draw was made you had just defeated Liverpool and seemed to be in great form. Then the last Sunday before Christmas, I sat back on my sofa to watch your televised game against Chelsea…oh dear!
Your subsequent results have only offered us greater encouragement. And so I do think there is a quiet confidence that we can, at the very least, give you a tough couple of games. But, ultimately, you’re four divisions above us and one round away from Wembley. You’re red, red-hot favourites to win. Unlike Wigan and Arsenal, your players will be really up for it. We have only the slimmest of chances.
Although if your defence keeps shipping goals like it has…
What do you put your cup run down to this season? And can you also remind us of Bradford City’s usefulness when it comes to penalty-shootouts…
In the bread and butter of League Two, we are a big club that towers above the majority of its rivals. But that carries a huge level of pressure, and for the last five years we have made a feeble fist of getting out of a division where some clubs prosper on gates four or five times lower than ours.
The cup is a welcome distraction. That burden of expectation is removed from the players, management and supporters, and we’ve thrived on that release. Everyone knows we have beaten Wigan and Arsenal en route to the semis, but we’ve also knocked out Notts County (League One) and Watford (Championship) along the way. We raise our game, and you sometimes wonder why we’re not 10 points clear at the top of the division when we can do what we have done to higher league clubs.
The manner in which we support the team in these games seems different. No groaning, no booing; instead non-stop chanting. The best example came in round three, when we were at home to League Two Burton. We were 2-0 down with 10 minutes to go, but never stopped believing and continued chanting (inspiring the team to come back to 2-2 and win in extra time). That night also saw the birth of our chant of the season, “It’s only a cup, who gives a f**k? We’re Bradford City and we’re going up”, which completely sums up our cup ethos. Win or lose, we are going to support our team and have fun doing so.
As for the penalties, well I reckon one day I’ll be boring my grandchildren by talking about this run we’re currently on – nine penalty shootout wins in a row! Apparently it’s a world record. I’ve managed to be present for every single one of them, but I’ve no idea what our secret is. Over those nine spot kick successes we’ve had different managers and players.There’s just three survivors from the very first victory of those nine –two of which don’t get in the team, and the other one never takes penalties!
Should we somehow get through two legs and extra time at Villa Park needing penalties to settle it, be afraid. Be very, very afraid.
Which one Bradford City player should Villa be watching out for?
Keep your eyes on our number 21, a Bermudian striker named Nahki Wells. He burst onto the scene last season with a series of stunning goals, and has become our star man as part of a little and large partnership with James Hanson (Wells the little man, with two excellent feet and clever off-the-ball running). There are strong rumours of higher league interest in Nahki, and I think we will struggle to keep hold of him beyond the end of this season.
As much as I hope Wells has a fantastic pair of games against you, part of me worries that the subsequent media attention he would receive would make it difficult for us to keep hold of him during the January transfer window.
How do you see the 1st leg at Valley Parade playing out?
I think our objective has to be to go to Villa Park with the tie still alive. We need to attack your fragile-looking defence in the 1st leg, but only in a sensible and controlled manner that doesn’t leave us exposed to your counter attack.
We can be a fairly physical side when we need to be, and that might offer us our best chance. With a full Valley Parade making an almighty racket, we have to make it an uncomfortable evening for what looks to be an inexperienced Aston Villa side.
A draw wouldn’t be a bad result, but hopefully we can earn some sort of advantage that we can look to defend in the second leg.
Two words: Ian Ormondroyd. Discuss…
One word: unforgettable! Ian certainly cut a striking figure on the football pitch (younger readers, think of Peter Crouch with bad hair!), and provided some special moments across his two spells at Valley Parade.
Ormondroyd is still a familiar figure at Valley Parade. He is a summariser for one of the local radio stations which covers the Bantams, and is employed as the club’s Community Foundation Officer. With his City-Villa ties, no doubt he will be making several media appearances in the build-up to Tuesday’s game!
A big thanks to Jason McKeown @ The Width of a Post. Jason is also the author of Paying on the Gate, his look at supporting the Bantams through rise and fall.
MOMS interview in the 1st leg of this interview exchange can be found on The Width of a Post – here
Follow MOMS on twitter – @oldmansaid
Follow The Width of a Post on twitter – @TheWidthofaPost