For those old enough to remember, Saturday March 11 1985 will be recalled as a truly tragic day. A record crowd at Valley Parade, home of Bradford City was in celebratory mood for the league game against Lincoln City. The home fans had just watched the Bantams receive the Football League Third Division trophy prior to kick off. Shortly before half time however, a small fire broke out amongst litter that had accumulated under seating in the wooden-roofed main stand. Fanned by a blustery wind the flames rapidly spread and had totally engulfed the stand within minutes, causing trapped fans to flee onto the field or break locked exits to escape. Despite many acts of heroism, 56 people lost their lives and more than 250 received injuries in the tragedy.
Fast forward then to the summer of 2001, with Bradford City freshly relegated from the Premier League and at the top of a slippery slope of repeated relegations that would end with them teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. The Yorkshire city had other problems to deal with however. Along with a number of cities and towns across the country, Bradford experienced the simmering heat of racial tension flaring into race riots, fanned by the promptings of far right extremism. Hundreds were injured, with millions of pounds of damage caused.
Now, twelve years later, the club stand on the brink of a cup fairy tale to rank alongside any of recent times. They last lifted a major cup in 1911, when Jimmy Spiers netted the winner in the FA Cup final of that year. This was a dozen years or so before the advent of Wembley however so, aside from a Play-off final, this will be the club’s Wembley cup final debut. Their run through the competition has been no ‘gimme’ having disposed of two Premier League on the way; they’ve earned their day in the spotlight. Although they had a brief European sojourn in the 2000 version of the unlamented, now defunct, Intertoto Cup before being eliminated by the now much more exalted Zenit St Petersburg, winning the Capital One Cup with have better credit for their fans – in more ways than one!
Now I know Swansea City have also experienced the rougher end of football’s caprices, but the Welsh club is definitely on an upward swing at the moment. Well-established in the Premier League, financially secure with an expanding profile and a record of bright young managers, they have a financially astute board. Their pattern of play echoes the Barcelona-inspired trend of keeping the ball – even if this occasionally extends to the odd ball boy. Swansea can look forward to a few more such occasions perhaps. Saying the same for Bradford is probably a fair bit more speculative however.
So, I for one will be hoping for a cracking game, and a Bradford City win. The club and city with a recent history forged in flames probably deserve to take the cup to one particular ‘valley’ rather than a few of them, and ‘parade’ their silverware in front of a crowd were now the only colours that matter will be claret and amber.