Wednesday, 23 January 2013
A marvellous historic evening
When James Hanson - who until three years ago was stacking shelves at the Coop - side-stepped his Dutch international marker and headed a corner decisively into the roof of the net in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final at Villa Park this evening, it was difficult to take in the historical significance of the moment. I have supported Bradford City ever since I was six; my father would take me and my two brothers to home games. We bonded over programmes, Bovril, meat pies and occasional instinctive leaping upwards together in delight in a line, scarcely believing that something as beautiful (and often, frankly as unlikely) as a Bradford goal could have been brought into existence before our very eyes. I remember in 1976 watching Southampton knock us out of the FA cup semi-final with a Jim McCalliog free-kick which Jimmy Hill informed the nation on Match of the Day that evening had been illegal. Our emotional bond to the club deepened as a result of the Bradford fire in 1985 when many supporters were killed, a match which my father and my elder brother attended. After a hard two years in the Premiership more than a decade ago, Bradford has plummeted, finishing at a lower position than the previous season almost every year. Twice the club has gone into liquidation; once the players had to play for no wages. Now I go three or four times a year. I last went at the end of last month when Rochdale beat Bradford four two; the Bradford team was sluggish and unimaginative on that occasion. "Oh, I'm glad that's over," said a season ticket holder sitting beside me with feeling.
When the team, which is in the fourth tier of the league, played so poorly in the first half of this evening's League Cup tie against Premiership team Aston Villa and conceded a goal, I was not surprised therefore. Apparently, one Villa player earns more than the entire Bradford team put together. I was watching the match in a pub in Horsforth. Then in the second half the Bradford players tentatively acquired a new self-belief. It looked to me that a good number of them had simply been overawed in the first 45 minutes. Now their play was fluid, they moved into postion rapidly to offer passing chances and their forwards surged towards the Villa defenders self-confidently. It didn't matter that they were not as consistently skillful as their opponents. They had put fear aside and suddenly they were a force to reckoned with, at least during some periods of play. In the event they lost two one but now go through to the final on aggregate. What makes football, and indeed any team sport, so enduringly good to behold, I think, is because it has both an aesthetic dimension, for example, precise coordination of movement, and a moral dimension, most particularly, through the opportunities which it affords for players to grow in the virtue of fortitude. Blessed John Paul understood this well. Bradford last won a final in 1911: they beat Newcastle in the FA Cup. They will now play Chelsea or Swansea in the League Cup final at Wembley. I hope to be there.