How Bradford City beat the odds – and negative stereotypes | Lanre Bakare
In their Capital One Cup heroics, Phil Parkinson and his team have united Bradfordians and given them something to hope for
This was not supposed to happen. Bradford City from lowly League Two going up against the Premier League's Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup semi-final and beating them, convincingly, over two legs. A team that cost a grand total of £7,500 – all of which was spent on a centre forward who used to work at the local Co-op – managed to defy the odds, beat the millionaires and provide a fairytale. It was an amazing night to be a Bradfordian and a football fan.
It brought romance to a cup competition that is usually an arena for Premier League teams to blood young players before one of the top five predictably picks up some early silverware before Easter. People were wondering where the magic of the FA Cup had gone this season, with hardly any upsets or shocks – the answer seems to be West Yorkshire and the Capital One Cup. Last night was just the latest giant-killing feat from a team that had knocked out Arsenal, Wigan and Notts County, breaking records and capturing the imagination of a city along the way.
Local politicians (including Bradford's other giant killer, George Galloway, who shocked Westminster with his byelection victory in Bradford West last March) were trying to clamber on to the positive bandwagon after Phil Parkinson and his team managed to give the whole city something to shout about for the first time since they were relegated from the Premier League in 2001. In the intervening 12 years the club has been in freefall, while Bradford itself has dealt with race riots, negative headlines and a city centre in decline – with a large hole where a Westfield shopping centre was supposed to be and the criminally neglected art deco Odeon cinema. There have also been repeated letdowns, like when a free school, which was supposed to open in Bradford City's former club shop, was shelved nine days before it was due to open. But recently the tide has started to turn.
On Tuesday night Twitter and Facebook were awash with messages of support and disbelief from City fans at the game and watching around the world. A lot of those are people who constantly keep the message about Bradford upbeat, despite a national press which, more often than not, focuses on negative stereotypes of the city, such as those promoted by the crude Channel 4 TV show Make Bradford British, as the "most segregated city in the UK". It certainly didn't feel that way at Valley Parade in the first leg, when a picture of a young woman in a hijab berating Aston Villa's Barry Bannan as he prepared to take a corner started to do the rounds on social media. The Daily Mail marvelled at how another photograph of an Asian female supporter was "an image that summed up football's ability to unite", while the Daily Telegraph was over the moon at seeing a young Muslim woman "engaging with the game's traditional possibilities". But it's simplistic to only acknowledge the cup run as a factor when it comes to attracting a diverse crowd to Valley Parade.
One of last night's highlights was hearing the joint chairman Mark Lawn become emotional about the achievement and the immense support Bradford have had, not just in this cup run but week in week out, attracting an average of just under 10,000 fans despite the average in League Two being about 4,000. He and the club have strived to bridge the gap between the club and the local Asian community in Manningham and surrounding areas; the picture was a manifestation of years of hard work and a credit to a team that Bradfordians could be proud of and rally around.
After the final whistle, Parkinson said: "I think this is massive for the city of Bradford. It can really galvanise the area." His side's cup heroics have already done that, and now the city needs to build on the positive momentum. For once, it looks as though the city is going to be making headlines for the right reasons.
Filed under: Euro 2012
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