Bradford City's James Hanson (L) jumps above Aston Villa's
Ciaran Clark during their English League Cup semi-final
second leg match at Villa Park in Birmingham.
Bradford City struck a blow for the paupers and restored
the faith of those who say Premier League riches have killed
the romance of English football by holding off Aston Villa to
reach the League Cup final.
Protecting a 3-1 lead from the first leg at Valley Parade,
scene of a devastating fire that killed 56 fans in 1985, the
League Two side lost 2-1 on the night but won 4-3 on
aggregate to become the first fourth tier side to reach a
major English domestic cup final for 51 years.
Nine years after falling out of the top flight and into a
financial meltdown that brought them to their knees, the
Yorkshire club can look forward to a money-spinning Wembley
final against European champions Chelsea or Swansea City.
Rochdale were the last club from the fourth rung of the
English football ladder to reach a major domestic showpiece
when they lost to Norwich City in the 1962 League Cup final.
But that was when the competition was in its infancy and many
top clubs did not even bother entering, whereas Bradford's
fairytale run accounted for top flight Wigan Athletic in the
fourth round and Arsenal in the last eight - both on
Bradford's 6,000 travelling fans dared to dream of a triumph
to rival the club's 1911 FA Cup triumph - the pinnacle of a
topsy turvy past - but Christian Benteke's 24th-minute opener
for Villa seemed to swing the odds back toward the home side.
However, Bradford weathered a wave of attacks from five-times
League Cup winners Villa and struck back through James
Hanson's 55th minute header to make it 1-1 on the night and
send the visiting supporters into ecstasy.
Andreas Weimann's 88th minute goal put the hosts in front
again at Villa Park and set up a frantic finale but Bradford
survived four nerve-jangling minutes of stoppage time to etch
their name into the pantheon of great British sporting
"This is dreamland, hopefully we will have a great following
at Wembley and do the club proud," goalkeeper Matt Duke, hero
of their shootout wins over Wigan and Arsenal, told Sky
"I am not convinced it will ever sink in. You dream of this
as a kid, playing at Wembley, and like I say I just want to
do the club proud."
Shell-shocked Villa manager Paul Lambert congratulated
Bradford but had harsh words for his side whose defending
from set-plays cost them dear over the two legs.
"We've lost four goals from set-pieces over two games which
is not good enough," he said. "I am embarrassed. We will
never have a better chance to reach the final."
Apart from a torrid first half when they barely got over the
halfway line, Bradford's display over the two legs was
staggering for a side languishing 10th in League Two and who
almost fell out of the Football League two seasons ago.
Once Hanson's bullet header flew past Villa keeper Shay Given
10 minutes into the second half they were the better side and
might have even gone ahead on the night when Garry Thompson
rattled Given's crossbar with a shot from the edge of the
Weimann's late reply, when he rounded Duke to tap in, was not
enough to save Premier League strugglers Villa, whose callow
side now face a battle to avoid relegation.
"I thought we had a great chance with the two goals from the
first leg," Bradford manager Phil Parkinson said.
"First half Aston Villa were excellent but in the second half
we played really well. It is dreamland.
"The lads were absolutely fantastic and what it means for the
club and the city is absolutely tremendous.
"I think we could fill Wembley on our own," he added looking
forward to the Feb. 24 final against Swansea or Chelsea who
meet in their second leg in Wales on Wednesday with City
leading 2-0 after the first leg at Stamford Bridge.
Premier League salaries now regularly top 100,000 pounds
($158,700) per week and transfer fees have run into millions
for years in stark contrast to Bradford's intrepid team of
giant killers who were assembled for the meagre sum of 7,500
While hard cash can buy Premier League glory, Bradford have
proved this season that there is still room for the dreamers
and that the heart of domestic cup football, often derided as
an inconvenience by the big clubs, is still beating strongly.