Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson joyously hailed his team of battling heroes after the npower League 2 team deservedly completed a 4-3 aggregate semi-final victory over Premier League side Aston Villa to reach the Capital One Cup Final and put themselves into the football history books.
The Bantams became the first team from The Football League’s basement division since the only other side, Rochdale, achieved the feat in 1962, and took the club into a major final for the first time since winning the FA Cup in 1911.
As proud boss Parkinson celebrated what he called the best night of his managerial career, he said: “These lads will be remembered in the history of Bradford City for years to come.
“There’s a 1911 lounge to celebrate the FA Cup victory from that year. One day there’ll be another one named after these players for this cup run and what they’ve achieved – and to be a part of it is something I’ll never forget.
“The lads were absolutely fantastic, and what it means for the club and the city is absolutely tremendous – we’re in dreamland!”
Parkinson’s team had gone into the Villa Park second leg with a 3-1 advantage, and they put themselves within touching distance of Wembley when striker James Hanson levelled after Christian Benteke’s opener for Villa.
Substitute Andreas Weimann hit a late goal to restore Villa’s lead on the night, but the Bantams held out to famously secure their place in the Wembley final.
Man of the match Hanson, who stacked shelves in a Co-op supermarket while playing non-league football with Guiseley before moving to Bradford in July 2009, could hardly believe what he had played a key role in achieving.
“I’ve never even been to Wembley!” said the 25-year-old striker. “It's been an amazing three years for me. Now I've just got to keep working hard and hopefully get a trophy.”
Hanson and his colleagues had overcome a tremendous gulf between the two teams, Parkinson’s side having been put together in total for under £10,000 – far less than the weekly wage of every player in the Villa line-up.
But their great victory was no fluke, having in the previous two rounds knocked out Premier League sides Wigan Athletic and Arsenal while earlier they had disposed of League 1 promotion hopefuls Notts County, Championship high-flyers Watford and promotion-chasing Burton Albion from their own division.
“We’ve had a really tough run,” added Parkinson, who hopes to be facing Swansea City at Wembley in the final on Sunday, 24th February.
The Swans face Premier League rivals Chelsea in Wednesday’s second leg of the other semi-final and, like the Bantams before them, will head into the big match with a 3-1 lead from the first leg.
Parkinson said: “I think a Swansea City against Bradford City final would be great for football. These competitions are normally won by the big teams, so it would be great for us to meet them. Whichever team it is we’ll go to Wembley as underdogs, but we will definitely enjoy it.”
The Bantams are, as Parkinson said, in dreamland just by getting to Wembley. But can they possibly go to the national stadium and, against what will be massive odds, lift the trophy? Captain Gary Jones thinks so.
The 35-year-old midfielder, whose corners were key to beating Villa – three of his flag-kicks led directly to Bradford goals over the two legs – said: “We can dream about winning it. We’ve come this far – so why not?”