Bradford’s chairman was on the radio just ahead of his team’s League Cup semi against Aston Villa last night saying that he had received only one inquiry about his manager Phil Parkinson since the victory in the first leg. You imagine his phone will be ringing hot today.
Parkinson’s ability to prepare his team for a big match has surely been noted across the game. Much has been made of the cost of his side at Valley Parade: £7,500 was all that he paid to assemble the team that has now knocked out three Premier League clubs.
About the same, it should not be forgotten, as Benito Carbone received for a day’s work when he played for the club in the time when they laboured under the misplaced impression that throwing money at a problem would inevitably fix it.
Parkinson prefers plans and players who stick to them. He spotted before the first leg that Villa have a tendency to melt the moment a fast, accurate corner is fired into their box. Paul Lambert must have been dreading it the moment Bradford won their first corner midway through the second half. And his fears were duly realised when James Hanson powered in to score an identikit goal to those scored in the first leg.
“It wasn’t a scruffy win,” says Peter Beagrie, the former Bradford player who could barely hide his evident excitement as a pundit for Sky. “They’ve played terrific football against terrific football sides.”
And what should bring a smile to every football fan in the country (albeit probably not those of Aston Villa) is that few clubs deserved this like Bradford. In an era when the gap between the haves and have nots has never been larger, Parkinson managed to bridge the chasm in a manner that gives hope to everyone labouring in the game’s less fashionable reaches.
What is especially cheering is that this is a club which has been on an almost permanent downward spiral since it fell from the Premier League in 2001. The former chairman Geoffrey Richmond’s self-confessed “six weeks of madness”, when he saddled the club with contracts that were as absurd as they were unsustainable in the hapless belief that somehow living the high life would in itself deliver success, left a legacy which almost destroyed the club.
Twice in administration, they sank and sank. This time last year they were at rock bottom, escaping demotion from the Football League only on the penultimate day of the season.
Off the pitch they long ago cut their coat according to their cloth. Carbone was paid £40,000 a week, far more than the spend on the entire squad these days. Now they get a team for the money they once paid for a player. After Richmond’s folly, too, the board came to the realisation that it was the fans who were the heartbeat of the club, not the passing mercenaries of the dressing room.
Season tickets working out at £7 a game kept the stands at Valley Parade (or rather, to give it its proper title, the Coral Windows Stadium) full even during the downward spiral. 10,000-plus gates in League Two is testament to sensible pricing.
But it is Parkinson who has transformed the place by delivering a competitive team from so unpromising a financial premise. Coherent, organised, passionate: they were truly excellent across the two legs of the semi-final.
Though, as he would no doubt admit, the funny thing is, such resolve has not been so evident in their league form. Bradford can beat Villa, Wigan and Arsenal, but lose at home to Oxford United. The next stage in their transformation will be when they play league games like they do those in the cup.
The chairman Mark Lawn, who spent a large amount of his own money keeping the club afloat in its darkest times, promised Parkinson’s players that he would take them to Vegas if they won against Villa. When he informed them that is where they were off to, several of them stared at him as if he were joking.
Bradford ceased to be that sort of club the day Geoffrey Richmond took his swagger with him. Nobody – not even the denizens of Villa Park – could deny that they deserve their moment of glitz. If nothing else, they warmed the cockles on a freezing night by demonstrating that – despite all the evidence – money doesn’t always talk loudest in football.