From Baldock to Bradford – the FA Cup Third Round is upon us.
A famous day in footballing history, FA Cup Third Round day pits the smallest and most ambitious clubs against the giants of the game. The likes of Blyth Spartans, Gateshead, Dover Athletic and Southport will attempt to topple league opposition, whilst at the other end of the spectrum, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea will all look to avoid the banana skin of lower-league opposition.
For Bradford City, the draw has thrown up one of the least attractive ties available – a trip to struggling Championship side Millwall. But, for the League One club, unbeaten in their last nine games, it will be seen as a chance to progress into Round Four – and a chance to land a big draw.
With the Bantams due to play Leyton Orient in League One on January 3rd, travel plans for their fans will only have to be slightly altered. Bradford fan, Tim Penfold, spoke of his disappointment at the draw: ”The draw could have been worse, but not much – at least it’s not someone we’re playing in the league. We really wanted either a top Premier League team or a game which we were comfortable favourites for and this is neither. On the plus side, I’m going down to London anyway that weekend so I can actually go to the game.”
Kate Eveleigh, a member of the Bradford City Supporters’ Board, also spoke of fans’ disappointment at the draw: ”With all due respect to Millwall, most fans aren’t impressed – except those who booked train tickets to London as we were due to play Leyton Orient in the league that day! It’s no secret locally that we have a budget deficit, so a high profile cup fixture would have helped us to decrease that. However, as Millwall are struggling, some people (not me, I hasten to add!) see the tie as winnable and, if we did, there’s a higher chance of a ‘bigger’ team in Round Four.”
Bradford City were formed in 1903, when Manningham RFC decided to switch sports to football. Competing for fans’ attentions with neighbouring Bradford Park Avenue, the Bantams played their first Football League game on September 1st 1903, losing 2-0 to Grimsby Town. They won their only major honour, the FA Cup, in 1911 – the first time the current trophy was used. Jimmy Spiers, captain and goal-scorer in their Final Replay win over Newcastle United, was one of many players killed in action during World War I, as the successful side was tragically ripped apart.
After winning the Third Division (North) in 1929 and tasting promotion in 1969, 1977 and 1982, Saturday May 11th 1985 is a day that will stay in the memories of Bradford and football fans alike.
Former England international, Trevor Cherry, had led the Bantams to the Third Division title as they welcomed Lincoln City to Valley Parade for the final game of the season. As the game went on, a fire began to blaze on one side of the stadium – later thought to be started by a discarded cigarette – which within four minutes had taken over the entire stand, sadly taking the lives of 56 people.
Following the fire, Bradford City temporarily moved away from Valley Parade whilst it was rebuilt, playing their games at Odsal in the interim.
The Bantams have spent the majority of their existence in the lower leagues, but were promoted to Division One (now the Championship) in 1996, before winning promotion to the Premier League in 1999.
In a game that many football fans will remember, Bradford beat Liverpool on the final day of the season in 2000 to stay up, but were relegated the following season. ‘Six weeks of madness’ in the summer of 2000, signing big name players such as Benito Carbone and Dan Petrescu, whose wages could not be afforded, contributed to two periods in administration in 2002 and 2004. As a result, City dropped down through the leagues and were subsequently relegated to League Two in 2007.
League Two proved to be a hard nut to crack for the Bantams, but history was made during their spell there in 2013, as they became the only side from England’s fourth tier to reach a major cup final, eventually losing 5-0 to Swansea City in the Capital One Cup, after a wonderful run that included victories over Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa. In the same season, the road back to the big time begun as the Bantams were promoted back to League One.
The name most synonymous with Bradford City is that of Stuart McCall. The Scotland international played almost 400 games for the Bantams in two spells and also managed the club in 2007, resigning in 2010.
Bradford are at this stage courtesy of a 4-1 win over Conference National side Dartford – a win that both Tim and Kate were more than pleased with. ”The game had the potential to be a banana skin, which we successfully avoided” said Kate. ”We fielded a strong side and showed attacking intent from the beginning. Morais and Yeates especially scored good goals. I was disappointed not to keep a clean sheet, but this is City – we can’t be too greedy!” Meanwhile, Tim added: ”It was a very one-sided game – we looked like we could score at will and were very comfortable.”
Currently plying their trade in League One, the Bantams sit in 5th place, unbeaten in their last nine games. Whilst talking about the standard of the division, both Tim & Kate believe that a Play-Off push in the next couple of years is a definite possibility: ”The standard is decent at the top end but not as good as last season, where Wolves & Brentford were a class apart. It’s much better than what I’ve been used to in League Two recently! Our aim is to finish in the top half and possibly push for the Play-Offs – we’re in a decent position to do that” said Tim.
Kate, meanwhile, states that Bristol City are the best side in the division: ”Apart from Bristol City, there’s no stand out teams and anyone can beat anyone. I think it is too soon for us this season to push for promotion, but I think the aim is to steadily improve to prepare ourselves for a serious promotion push in the next few years.”
Bradford City are no strangers to cup competitions; Phil Parkinson’s men reached the 2013 Capital One Cup Final, in which they lost 5-0 to Swansea City.
”It was an extraordinary run – I still sometimes can’t believe that it happened” said Tim. ”We very nearly went out in the first three rounds – Notts County missed a 90th minute open goal, Watford were 1-0 up with 10 minutes to go and Burton Albion were beating us 2-0 with 7 minutes to go before we came back.”
”We somehow got past Wigan with four fit senior defenders and Arsenal should have absolutely destroyed us – I can remember hearing the team read out, expecting some reserves and realising that they were playing their strongest XI. That night was a big highlight, but the Villa games were even better – beating them over two legs proved it wasn’t a fluke. The final whistle at Villa Park is still the best moment I’ve had watching City. The final was a fantastic day out but we didn’t show up on the day and Swansea did – eventually, our supply of miracles ran out.”
Kate recalls the Arsenal game as a particular highlight of the run: ”The Arsenal game was certainly a highlight! It could have been so different, though, with Gervinho missing a sitter just before half time! It was freezing that night, but no-one cared. The atmosphere in Valley Parade was the best I’ve ever known it to be.”
”I was surprised how Villa underestimated us in the first leg – the two goal advantage in that game turned out to be very important, as they were on top for the vast majority of the second leg! James Hanson became a hero that night by scoring our equaliser. It was a very nervous last few minutes, especially when Villa scored a winner on the night. We never expected to win the final and we lost to the better team, but we were all so proud to be involved in such a historic moment in football history. The whole run was a roller-coaster, but I wouldn’t change it!”
Bradford also have FA Cup history from the same season, but in a totally different way – they were expelled from the competition in Round Two after it emerged they had not filed all the requisite paperwork to play on-loan defender Curtis Good against Brentford. But, after a successful appeal, the tie was replayed – a game they eventually lost 4-2.
Despite Millwall sitting a division higher than their League One opponents, the Lions should not take Bradford lightly. ”Our main creative threats at the moment are Mark Yeates and Billy Clarke (out injured) – both are tricky, skilful players who operate best between midfield and attack” said Tim, when asked about his teams ‘ones to watch’.
”However, I’d watch out for Billy Knott – he’s inconsistent, but has tremendous technical ability and as a West Ham fan, he’s definitely up for the game!”
The Valley Parade outfit find themselves in Round Three after wins over two non-league sides in FC Halifax Town and Dartford, but is there potential for more in this seasons FA Cup?
”We’ve achieved the realistic aim, which was the Third Round, but I think there’s potential for more. The club knows the benefits of a cup run and could always do with some extra cash, so we’re taking it very seriously” said Tim. Kate shared Tim’s sentiments, by adding: ”We don’t normally do well in the FA Cup (this is only our second appearance in Round Three in 12 years) so I think the aim was to take each round as it comes and hopefully get a ‘big’ team along the way.”
The view from the opposition comes from Millwall fan Stephen Jones. Stephen spoke of his disappointment at the anticlimax of the draw, but hoped the Lions could get on another cup run: ”When Bradford were pulled out of the hat, my first reaction was disappointment. I think we all dream of a the big ‘glamour’ tie and the money it brings in! Now, I’m thinking that perhaps another cup run could be on the cards – providing Holloway gets the players up for it.”
Bradford City travel to Millwall in the FA Cup Third Round on Saturday January 3rd, 2015. Kick-Off at The Den is at 3pm.
Tickets are available before the game and on the day. They are priced at £15 Adults, £10 Over 60’s and £5 Under 16’s.
You can watch highlights of Bradford City 4-1 Dartford HERE.
Kate Eveleigh’s Expected Bradford City line-up: Ben Williams (GK), Stephen Darby (C), Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, James Meredith; Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Jason Kennedy, Mark Yeates; James Hanson, Jon Stead.
Tim Penfold’s Expected Bradford City line-up: Ben Williams (GK), Stephen Darby (C), Rory McArdle, Alan Sheehan, James Meredith; Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott, Andy Halliday; James Hanson, Jon Stead.
Stephen Jones’ Expected Millwall line-up: David Forde, Josh Siafa, Alan Dunne (C), Byron Webster, Matthew Briggs; Shaun Williams, Jack Powell, Richard Chaplow; Mageye Gueye, Aiden O’Brien; Lee Gregory. (Knowing Holloway it will be a huge change from the usual side and full of the 21’s)
Score Predictions: Kate – Millwall 3-1 Bradford City. Tim: Millwall 2-1 Bradford City. Stephen: Millwall 2-0 Bradford City.
Find out how it finished between Millwall and Bradford City HERE.
Check out the rest of the FA Cup journey here: https://marklitchfieldblog.wordpress.com/fa-cup-20142015/