Super Neil – Part 2

In Part One, I spoke about the life and times of Neil Harris – from his early days at Cambridge City right through to the present day and the news of his return to The Den, via the periods of his exposure to life at Millwall for the first time, his essential goal haul in the Lions’ charge towards the Second Division championship, his time with testicular cancer and his determination to beat it and return to the football field and his years away from Millwall in the wilderness before returning home.

In Part Two, I’ll take a look back at Bomber’s career in SE16 in more detail – what moments stick in the memory as his greatest?

On May 7th 2011, Neil Harris stepped off the field at Oakwell, Barnsley, having played the final game of his 324 in the blue of Millwall. In those 324 games, Harris scored a record 138 goals.

The first arrived at The Den on September 19th 1998 in a 2-1 victory over Northampton Town. After the Cobblers had taken a first-half lead, Paul Shaw tenaciously won the ball in the midfield and passed it out to the left hand side where Neil had situated himself. Cutting inside on his right foot, something that would become all too familiar down the years, Harris curled a beauty past Town keeper Andy Woodman and equalised for the home side. Coincidentally, that particular game also saw the first league goal of a young Aussie by the name of Tim Cahill.

Eighteen goals in his inaugural season at The Den made a lot of fans realise that Bob Pearson had unearthed something special. The following season, Harris’ potential was on show for all to see as the striker bagged 25 goals, including his first hat-trick at Griffin Park as Millwall defeated Brentford 3-1 in April 2000 on the way to finishing in the end of season Play-Offs. Unfortunately the Lions lost out to Wigan Athletic in the Semi-Finals, but a firm sense of determination was in the air as the 2000/2001 season arrived.

Harris fired Millwall to the Division 2 title in 2001

Harris fired Millwall to the Division 2 title in 2001

Millwall romped to the Second Division title with ease as Harris weighed in with 28 goals. His first of three hat-tricks arrived in a 5-0 thumping of Oxford United at The Den, a game that saw Sam Parkin make his debut on loan from Chelsea. Harris and Parkin formed a formidable partnership in the latter’s two-month loan spell in SE16, a partnership that was then carried on after Parkin’s departure by Richard Sadlier and Paul Moody. The Lions’ striking options at the turn of the century were frightening; Harris was on his way to becoming the best striker outside the Premiership whilst an aging but experienced Paul Moody mixed with the youth and sheer quality of Sadlier struck fear into any Division Two defence.

September 19th 2000 saw Premier League heavyweights Ipswich Town visit The Den in the Second Round of the Coca-Cola Cup (those were the days). Bomber didn’t contribute to the score-sheet on the night, but he was instrumental as Millwall eased to a 2-0 victory over the Tractor Boys. Unfortunately, the giant-killing couldn’t be completed at Portman Road as nine-man Millwall bravely went down by five goals to nil as fatigue set in and Ipswich’s class showed.

Bury arrived in SE16 a month later already scrapping for survival. With the Lions making their way to the top of the table, somewhere they would remain for the rest of the season, they brushed the Shakers aside, hitting four goals in a formidable display. The best goal of the day, though, belonged to the number nine. With Harris inside the box, on his own, an on-rushing Paddy Kenny came out to meet him. Neil was not to be denied, however, as a deft chip sent the ball sailing over Kenny’s head and into his net. If you didn’t know by then, you now knew that Millwall had something special in their ranks. That particular strike is up there when it comes to my favourite goals in my seventeen years watching the Lions, let alone my favourite Neil Harris goals.

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Two hat-tricks in a fortnight kept Millwall fighting at the top of the table

After a second hat-trick of the season coming in a 6-1 Boxing Day demolition of Colchester United at The Den, Mark McGhee took his side to the Madejski Stadium for a top-of-the-table clash with Reading early in 2001. In a big game, you need your big players to perform, and the former Cambridge City man did just that, firing the Lions into a 3-0 lead inside 50 minutes, scoring his third hat-trick of the season and his second in a fortnight in the process.

Nothing could go wrong for Neil Harris now – or could it?

As the business end of the season approached, Bristol City played hosts as Millwall required three points to keep up their pursuit of top spot. As the clock ticked down, the score was tied at 1-1 and the Lions were about to earn a valuable point. However, a bad tempered injury-time period saw City snatch a winner from the penalty spot and three red cards shown by referee Mike Jones. Peter Beadle saw red for the home side, whilst Paul Moody and Neil Harris were both given their marching orders. Had Millwall just blown their promotion hopes by losing both strikers for three games?

Harris and Moody returned for the visit of Swindon, with Rotherham United now hot on the heels of the Lions in the chase for First Division football. With the game goalless after an hour, Paul Ifill was replaced by the number nine. Within five minutes of his return, the striker picked the ball up on the left-hand side, as per usual, cut inside on his right foot, as per usual, and sent a curling strike into the top corner of the opposition’s goal, as per usual. The Den erupted and Millwall secured a priceless three points in the chase for promotion.

Harris & Paul Moody saw red at Ashton Gate, but it wasn't enough to stop the Lions' charge towards promotion

Harris & Paul Moody saw red at Ashton Gate, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Lions’ charge towards promotion

Promotion was indeed secured at Wrexham in the penultimate week of the season and Oldham Athletic arrived at The Den on the 5th May to try and spoil the party. A win for Mark McGhee’s men would see the trophy placed in the cabinet as well as a record points haul of 93. With Millwall 4-0 up going into injury time, Marc Bircham was fouled and a penalty was given. Paul Moody, sitting on a hat-trick, went to claim the ball. But, Harris was not to be denied and wanted to defeat Jamie Cureton in the race for the Golden Boot. Harris duly dispatched the penalty as the Lions wrapped up the trophy in style. This kind of situation shows a strikers’ mentality – score at all costs, and throughout his career Neil Harris showed how he was born to be a striker – his pursuit for goals was ruthless.

Tragedy struck in the Harris household that summer as Neil was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Five months later, he made his comeback to rapturous applause as he replaced Richard Sadlier on the hour in a 3-1 victory over Barnsley. This proved too soon for Bomber, however, as he sat on the side-lines once more until a couple of weeks shy of Christmas, before scoring that incredible strike in the 4-1 victory over Watford at Vicarage Road.

Eleven months later, Harris showed that his hunger for goals was still ever-present as Millwall banished the demons of the 6-0 opening day defeat to Rotherham United by defeating the Millers 3-1, with Bomber grabbing a goal in the process – I should know, I was the mascot!

A year later, the Orsett-born striker showed there was still life in the old dog by poking home the winner in the South London derby at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace. Any goal against the Eagles is a special one, but Harris must hold this one close to his heart as this was the first time he had netted against Palace since his tumultuous time with cancer.

Bomber finished off a beautiful Millwall move at Tranmere to send them on their way to the FA Cup Semi Final

Bomber finished off a beautiful Millwall move at Tranmere to send them on their way to the FA Cup Semi Final

Bomber was now showing signs of the ability that should have taken him to the top before his illness – a beautiful strike in the FA Cup Quarter Final Replay victory over Tranmere showed that the class was still there. In October 2004, Harris realised a dream by equalling Teddy Sheringham’s all-time goal-scoring record in the league for Millwall. Just over two years later, after seeing Neil at the City Ground play for Nottingham Forest against Millwall (which didn’t seem right at all), the number nine returned home and broke the record with a goal in the 4-0 win over Rotherham United.

April 2007 saw Neil claim what could possibly be one of the most satisfying goals of his career. Locked in a goalless draw with his previous employees Nottingham Forest, shortly after half time Harris rose to nod home and score the only goal of the game, stopping Forest’s promotion hopes dead in their tracks. Bomber raced to the other end of the pitch, and celebrated in front of the away fans that had been taunting the striker over his time in Nottingham and his days with cancer earlier in his career. Needless to say, the red side of The Den went very quiet.

Twelve months later saw new manager Kenny Jackett hand Neil a new contract after he single-handedly destructed Carlisle United’s promotion bid in the penultimate weekend of the season at The Den. Notching a strike from the penalty spot himself, he set up the Lions’ other two goals, with Jay Simpson and Tony Craig finding the net. Harris had earned himself another year in SE16, and what a year it turned out to be.

The first milestone came on October 18th as a brace helped Millwall take three points off of Leeds United in front of a bumper crowd at The Den. One of his goals was majestic and saw Harris roll back the years, finishing from the tightest of angles.

December 2008 saw a freezing cold, murky day up the M6 in Walsall become one of the greatest days of the Harris families lives. The strikers’ 16th minute opener sent him equal with Teddy Sheringham in the all-time goal-scoring list in all competitions. A month to the day later and Bomber wrote himself into history, becoming Millwall’s all-time leading goal-scorer with a strike in the FA Cup victory at Crewe Alexandra.

Neil Harris became Millwall's all-time leading goalscorer at Crewe

Neil Harris became Millwall’s all-time leading goalscorer at Crewe

The Neil Harris we all knew and loved in the early days of his career returned one March day in Hartlepool, as a second half hat-trick saw the game turn on its head and sent the Lions back down south with 3-2 victory, all courtesy of the number nine. Harris’ remarkable season continued as he scored the vital opener in the Play-Off Semi Final with Leeds United, a goal that proved crucial as a 1-1 draw at Elland Road in the Second Leg saw the Lions progress to Wembley where they were unfortunately stopped by Scunthorpe United in an epic finale to the League One season.

The Harris of old returned once more at the beginning of the following campaign as a scintillating Millwall performance sent Bournemouth back to the coast with their tails between their legs as the home side ran out comfortable 4-0 winners. An outstanding strike from the edge of the box topped off yet another hat-trick for Neil as Millwall progressed to the next round of the Carling Cup.

The following round saw the Lions travel to bitter rivals West Ham United – the home side eventually ran out 3-1 winners after extra time, but once again Neil Harris proved his worth and legendary status to the Millwall faithful with the opener just before the half-hour mark. I’m sure if you were to ask the man himself; opening the scoring at Upton Park would more than likely rank very high in the highlights of the legend’s career.

Millwall went down by three goals to one at West Ham, but Bomber's opener sent the fans into raptures

Millwall went down by three goals to one at West Ham, but Bomber’s opener sent the fans into raptures

October of the same year saw a different side to Harris as an away game at Swindon Town exploded into life with an altercation between Neil and Town player Kevin Amankwaah. The right-back accused the striker of racial slurs (which were never proven), however the more interesting part of the story from a Millwall fans point of view was that of Amankwaah referring to Harris’ cancer. Let’s just say Kevin didn’t have the best of times in the return fixture at The Den. Harris wasn’t deterred by the allegations and brushed them off the following week, scoring his last hat-trick as a Millwall player in a 4-0 defeat of rock-bottom Stockport County.

Harris' last hat-trick in a Millwall shirt came at Stockport County

Harris’ last hat-trick in a Millwall shirt came at Stockport County

A sending-off just ninety seconds after entering the field of play at Coventry City tried to diminish the character and the legend of Neil Harris but failed to do so. The striker ended his Millwall career with 138 goals in 324 appearances. Not bad, eh?

We may never see Neil Harris on the field in the Millwall blue again, but one thing is for sure, he has given us more than enough memories to last a lifetime.

Follow me on Twitter @IAmTheLitch – comment below or use the hashtag #NeilHarrisMemories to air your views.

Take a look at and donate to the Neil Harris Everyman Camapign here – http://www.everyman-campaign.org/About_Everyman/patrons_and_celebrities/neil_harris/index.shtml

Coming soon – Twenty Years at the Den, Part One…

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Super Neil

‘Nice ball forward, nice lay off, beautiful move, what a special goal by Millwall, its Neil Harris; they lead 2-0 here!’

March 16th, 2004. 8:01pm. After a 0-0 draw at The Den, Championship side Millwall had just taken a 2-0 lead at Prenton Park against Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup Quarter Final replay. Andy Roberts (remember him?) touched the ball to Danny Dichio, a hero of the 2004 FA Cup run, who chested the ball to Neil Harris who sent a dipping strike far over the head of Rovers keeper John Achterberg. Gary Jones replied for Tranmere four minutes from the break, but the Lions held out to reach their first FA Cup Semi Final since 1937.

For everyone, a dream had come true. Little old Millwall were in the last four of the FA Cup, with a trip to Old Trafford to look forward too. A UEFA Cup Play-Off with Sunderland waited, as well as a place in the FA Cup Final at stake. But, for Neil Harris, the satisfaction of achieving his footballing goals was immense.

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Three years previous, ‘Bomber’ was on the brink of the big-time. Scoring goals for fun – twenty-seven to be precise- as the Lions charged towards the Second Division title in 2001, Premiership heavyweights such as Liverpool were sniffing around SE16. However, at the end of that particular season, with everyone associated with Millwall riding the crest of a wave, the Harris household received the crushing news that Neil had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. All of a sudden, football didn’t matter. Promotion, twenty-seven goals, Liverpool, the Premier League and Millwall Football Club were all put into perspective as the Orsett-born strikers’ life was put in danger.

Resting his hand in his shorts during some time off at home, Harris felt a lump on his testicle. The next morning, Bomber rang the club doctor and asked to be seen as soon as possible. The doctor referred him onto hospital where he underwent an ultrasound test. As he got dressed, the devastating news was relayed.

Of course, the first two questions to come out his mouth were ‘will I live?’ and ‘will I ever play football again?’ At the time, no definitive answers could be given, but one thing was for sure, Neil’s fighting spirit and outstanding attitude on the pitch would stand him in good stead to fight against the disease. Luckily, the cancer had been caught early, hadn’t spread and Neil was able to have an operation to remove the testicle. A bout of radiotherapy as well as catching it early made the task of beating the cancer a bit more of an easier one for Harris – however the worry was whether the disease would affect his chances of being a father once again. Thankfully, shortly after his treatment, the news broke that his wife was pregnant again. The frontman could now focus on doing what he loved the most – getting back amongst the goals.

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Obviously eager to get back into the game, Harris began training shortly after his treatment and appeared in a Millwall shirt for the first time in over a year against Barnsley at The Den on September 18th 2002, coming on for Richard Sadlier on the hour. 10,021 fans rose to their feet in unison (Barnsley fans included) to give their hero a standing ovation. Bomber played the last half hour in a 3-1 victory for the Lions, but he soon found out that he wasn’t quite ready for the rigours that football brings to one’s body just yet. A couple of appearances later, Harris drifted back into the wilderness as Millwall continued their first season back in the second tier.

The number nine catapulted back into action at Hillsborough on December 8th during a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday and started to look a bit sharper as match-fitness kicked in and the trials and tribulations of his treatment exited his body. A 3-0 demolition of rivals Crystal Palace on Boxing Day saw Harris’ first ‘Millwall’ performance back at The Den, but the best was yet to come.

New Year’s Day 2002 saw the Lions travel round the M25 to Vicarage Road, Watford. At this time, Mark McGhee’s men were enjoying their honeymoon period, sitting in the top six of the First Division just six months after winning the Second. Three minutes from time, with the Lions leading 3-1, McGhee decided to give Harris a few minutes as the game was safe. Three minutes later, Bomber received the ball in his own half, and ran…. And ran…. And ran…. And ran, until the whites of the goal were in sight. Cutting inside onto his right foot, as we all saw so many times pre-cancer, Harris curled a beautiful strike past the Hornets keeper which nestled into the corner, giving Millwall an unassailable 4-1 lead. However, the fact the Lions had just gone 4-1 up didn’t matter. What mattered was that Neil Harris had scored his first goal since his comeback, a comeback he probably thought he’d never make.

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The 3,289 fans in the away end exploded into raptures – some were in tears, for example me – whilst some busted a gut to enter the playing area to celebrate. What followed was a real example of how highly regarded the man is at Millwall Football Club. Every single member of the side, ‘keeper Tony Warner included, raced to the corner of the pitch, lofted Harris high into the air and paraded him in front of the Lions’ faithful. A real sense of unity had overwhelmed everybody – Neil Harris was back.

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The striker scored his first goal back at The Den from the penalty spot in a 2-2 draw with Walsall before adding two more to his seasons’ total on the final day at Millwall eased into the Play-Offs, beating relegated Grimsby Town by three goals to one.

Harris spent the next couple of seasons attempting to get back to his best. As stated above, season 2003/2004 saw the Lions reach the FA Cup Final, something I’m sure Neil never believed he would be able to play in full stop, let alone after returning from cancer. The Final itself signalled the beginning of the end of his first Millwall stint, with manager Dennis Wise laying the blame squarely at the feet of Bomber for Manchester United’s first goal, scored by Cristiano Ronaldo on the stroke of half-time.

The following season, Harris found his chances limited, yet he was so close to breaking the all-time scoring record, currently held by ex-West Ham forward Teddy Sheringham. October 23rd 2004 saw the forward equal Teddy’s record, getting his head on a sodden-wet ball and firing home past the Cardiff backline in a 2-2 draw. However, Harris wouldn’t see much more football in the blue of Millwall, as he was loaned out to Cardiff before moving to Nottingham Forest in December 2004 for a nominal fee.

January 2007. Willie Donachie’s Millwall side were flirting with relegation to League Two after a disastrous period following the resignation of Dennis Wise, which saw a merry-go-round of managers, chairman and playing staff say hello and goodbye quicker than you can say ‘super Neil Harris’. On the 9th, the number nine returned home on a free transfer from the City Ground and duly broke Teddy Sheringham’s record just eleven days later in a 4-0 win over Rotherham. In April, one of the sweetest goals of Harris’ career arrived as Millwall beat Nottingham Forest 1-0, the striker scoring the goal that stopped the Tricky Trees’ charge towards promotion and shut the fans up that had been ridiculing him about his time in Nottingham and his cancer all throughout the game.

The following season, Kenny Jackett arrived and once again Neil was fighting for his Den career, with his contract up at the end of the campaign. Yet again, the Lions were in danger of the drop towards League Two – but a win against Carlisle, who ironically were on the brink of promotion and would have seen themselves up with a win, saw Harris single-handedly demolish the Cumbrians, lending his weight with a strike in a 3-0 victory that secured Millwall’s League One status and also secured the then 31 year-old a brand spanking new deal.

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The next two campaigns saw the frontman form an integral part of the starting XI, as the Lions reached consecutive Play-Off finals. Bomber scored the all-important opener in the Semi-Final against Leeds United at The Den before forming an explosive partnership with Steve Morison the season after as Millwall stormed towards Wembley, taking the Play-Off crown with a 1-0 win over Swindon Town.

Harris again saw his chances limited as the Lions stepped up a division. In June 2011, Neil’s hometown club Southend United came in with an offer that he couldn’t refuse. As an aging man in footballing terms, the Shrimpers offered him a three-year deal with a view to moving onto the coaching team after his career was over. Bomber accepted the offer – not before a testimonial game against Hearts – and his second stint at Millwall was over.

Friday 21st June 2013 saw Neil Harris retire from playing football. The Orsett-born forward, who was spotted by Bob Pearson playing for Cambridge City and bought for £30,000, enjoyed a sparkling career, becoming Millwall’s all-time leading goal-scorer as well as claiming a number of honours such as golden boots, FA Cup runners-up medals and Play-Off winning medals. But above all that, the most important thing Harris had won in his career was the hearts of all Millwall fans. So much so, that the news of his return to The Den in a coaching role for the 2013/14 season has been greeted with more glee than the appointment of Steve Lomas and any potential signings put together.

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My personal Neil Harris memories obviously include the goals at Watford and Tranmere, but there are more sentimental memories which I hold close to my heart. As a personal friend of some of Neil’s family, his kindness and willingness to attend to anyone’s needs, no matter how great are staggering. Just after his return from cancer, I had an operation myself in 2003. One day, as the postman did his rounds, I received a get well card. It was from the man himself.

On the football pitch, my main memories of Bomber consist of his brilliant dives to win free-kicks, so brilliant that they deceived the referee every single time, his constant cutting inside onto his right-foot on the edge of the area, again so brilliant that the defenders fell for it every single time, and his memorable strikes.

Goals such as his strike at Stoke City, which seemed to travel towards goal for about half an hour, his beautiful curling strike against Swindon Town at The Den, which saw Harris score his first goal since coming back from suspension having been sent off at Bristol City, his deft chip over a bewildered Paddy Kenny at home to Bury, his second half hat-trick away to Hartlepool – I could go on and on and on.

Neil, welcome back, mate. No, Neil, welcome home.

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What are your greatest Neil Harris memories? Let me know by commenting below, or by following me on Twitter @IAmTheLitch and using the hashtag #NeilHarrisMemories.

Take a look and donate to the Neil Harris Everyman Appeal here – http://www.everyman-campaign.org/

P.S. – Look out for Part 2 coming soon…..

The Year Of The Underdog

A competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest. A being that has little status in society.

Ask Google to define the word ‘underdog’, and it’ll give you that.

Everyone loves an underdog in football terms; they turn up on the day with a chance at squashing the hierarchy, the big boys of football, yet rarely do they achieve what they set out to do. However, the 2012/2013 season saw the underdog have their day in the sun tenfold.

The FA Cup is notorious for giant-killing – Ronnie Radford, anyone? – but rarely do we see a non-league side go past the 3rd Round, let alone be just ninety minutes away from the Quarter-Finals. But, Luton Town saw off Cambridge United, Nuneaton Town, Dorchester Town, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Premier League side Norwich City, the first time a non-league club has claimed victory on their larger opponents patch in the FA Cup, to set up a mouth-watering fifth round tie with Championship outfit Millwall. The ESPN cameras were on hand to see whether the Hatters could become the competition’s first team into the last eight (and no doubt to pick up on any possible trouble given the history between the two – nothing happened, shame that) but goals from James Henry, Rob Hulse and Dany N’Guessan scuppered the Hertfordshire clubs dreams as the Lions roared into the Quarters. However, Luton had won the hearts of many an FA Cup romantic – this underdog had definitely had its day.

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Hastings United enjoyed a lengthy run to the FA Cup Third Round in 2012/13

Hastings United, from the seventh tier of the English football pyramid, became one of the lowest ranked sides to ever reach the Third Round proper with wins over Bishop’s Stortford and Harrogate Town in the First and Second rounds respectively. The Isthmian League Division One South teams’ hopes of a trip to Wembley however hit the buffers in the Third Round, going down 4-1 at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. Hastings actually ended the season dropping out of their league, but this underdog had their moment, even if it was only Bradley Goldberg’s consolation strike making the 620-mile round trip worth it.

Other shocks in the FA Cup included Millwall dispatching top-tier outfit Aston Villa out of the competition at The Den in the 4th Round, Blue Square Premier side Macclesfield Town knocking Premiership bound Cardiff City out in the 3rd Round and Blackburn Rovers seeing off Arsenal at the Emirates in the 5th Round.

But, the two biggest underdog stories of the season came from the northern half of this great country – Bradford and Wigan, to be precise.

Lowly Bradford City, once of Premier League fame, staying up on the last day by virtue of an epic win over Liverpool, took to the field of Meadow Lane, Nottingham, in August 2012 to meet Notts County in the First Round of the newly named Capital One Cup. 3,460 saw James Hanson score the winner in extra time to send the Bantams into the Second Round. Little did the City fans know, they were on their way to Wembley.

Their first shock on the way was in the Second Round as goals from Kyel Reid and an injury-time Garry Thompson winner saw Watford’s 1-0 lead overturned and Vicarage Road stunned into silence as Phil Parkinson’s men claimed their third-round spot. A ding dong battle with fellow League 2 comrades Burton Albion saw Bradford claim a 3-2 victory, launching themselves into the last 16, where they would ironically meet their fellow giant-killers, Wigan Athletic.

As the ninety minutes and the extra time period concluded at the DW Stadium, many Bantams fans thought that their run was over – Wigan’s quality would surely show in the penalty shoot-out. But, it was Bradford once again who came away with the spoils, heading back up the M62 with a 4-2 win on penalties and a place in the last eight. However, if Parkinson and his charges thought they had overcome their toughest test, they were wrong. A Quarter-Final showdown with Arsenal at Valley Parade awaited.

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Bradford City proved to be the biggest underdog of the season

On a cold, crisp December evening, with the Gunners coming into the tie off the back of an incredible 7-4 defeat of Reading in the previous round, Garry Thompson gave City the lead early in the first half. The Bantams must have thought victory was theirs as the clock wound down with no sign of an Arsenal equaliser, however painstakingly for all connected with Bradford, Thomas Vermaelen nodded home the leveller with just two minutes left of the ninety. A goalless extra-time period followed and just like their previous tie at the DW, Bradford were once again going into a penalty shoot-out. The Gunners international arsenal (excuse the pun) didn’t turn up as Nathan Doyle, skipper Gary Jones and Alan Connell’s converted spot-kicks saw the fourth-tier club into the Semi-Finals.

Another Premier League showdown awaited for the Bantams in the final four, this time Aston Villa coming to town, looking to put an end to a so far shambolic season of their own. But, City took a 3-1 lead to Villa Park and despite Paul Lambert’s men winning the second leg 2-1, this underdog had seen off all-comers and would contest the Capital One Cup Final. Unfortunately for Bradford, they were taken apart by a professional Swansea City side in the final, but reaching Wembley coupled with promotion in the play-offs will ensure this season lives long in the memory for any fan of the League 2 (now League 1) side.

Wigan Athletic brushed off the disappointment of their defeat to Bradford by winning the FA Cup, qualifying for the Europa League in the process. This ended a bittersweet season for the Latics, with relegation to the Championship finally inevitable after so many years of beating the drop.

Roberto Martinez’s men needed a replay to see off Bournemouth in the 3rd Round and only just narrowly beat non-league Macclesfield in the 4th in what some would have considered a shaky start to their FA Cup campaign. The 5th round however saw Wigan explode into life, demolishing Huddersfield Town on their own patch by four goals to one and securing their place in the last eight.

A tricky tie stood between Wigan and Wembley, with Everton playing hosts in their Quarter-Final tie. But, a four minute blitz from the visitors saw Athletic take their place in the Semi-Finals as they left Everton shell-shocked, as Maynor Figueroa, Calum McManaman and Jordi Gomez sent the Latics 3-0 up just after the half-hour. Roberto Martinez would take his side to their first ever visit to the new Wembley with a real chance of making their inaugural FA Cup Final.

Championship side Millwall, giant-killers themselves after their defeat of Aston Villa in Round 4 presented Wigan with their final obstacle on the road to the Final. A professional performance saw the top-tier outfit run out 2-0 winners, setting up a final tie against reigning English champions Manchester City.

Everyone expected Manchester City to win – their millions compared to Wigan’s grit, determination and hard-working attitude would surely see Mancini and his men ease to victory. After all, the underdog has little chance – that’s what the definition says. Try telling that to the men from the DW Stadium however as Ben Watson headed home an injury-time corner to send the red half of Wembley into raptures and give Wigan Athletic their first ever FA Cup from their first ever attempt. Not bad, eh?

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Wigan Athletic upset the odds to beat Manchester City in the 2012/13 FA Cup Final

Every underdog deserves its day and this season has proved that given the chance, that plucky lot who are just making up the numbers can sometimes upset the big boys.

Let’s hope it continues in season 2013/2014 – I mean, we all enjoy seeing millionaires crying into their wads of cash, proving that money isn’t everything, right?

Long live the underdog!