FanZoner Lee Norton reflects on one of the most famous nights in Bradford's history.
The Penalty Kings march into the semi-finals
Erm.... Well... There's no other way to start this blog than to say.... WOW!!
League Two Bradford City beat Premier League Arsenal in the Capital One Cup quarter-final, it feels wrong just typing that. We're talking a starting XI that cost just £7,500 compared to that of Arsenal's costing close to £70m. A team with an average of wage total of about £1000 a week compared to that of the Gunners of around £60,000 a week. Amazing.
I fully expected to see a reserve side lining up against us on Tuesday night, a blend of fringe and youth players, who would easily have had the class to beat us comfortably. As I walked to the ground I heard an Arsenal fan reading out their starting line-up to his mate. With every name he read I shook my head, the likes of Szczesny, Vermaelen, Wilshere, Cazorla and Podolski. Wenger had only gone and picked a near full-strength team.
The League Two minnows of Bradford City were about to face a team full of Internationals. We stood no chance. Any misguided hope I had before that point evaporated and I decided I'd just enjoy the game and the amazing atmosphere that 24,000 fans would generate. What followed was probably the greatest night I've had supporting Bradford City.
The passion, the discipline and the determination from every one of those players in claret and amber were a joy to behold. We weren't scared of Arsenal, we didn't sit back, we actually played football and took the game to them. I thought we were outstanding in the first half and fully deserved to take the lead. You have to put this into perspective, a team that is 54 places below Arsenal in the football leagues were pretty much matching them. We were always going to be at our most dangerous from set pieces so it was no surprise that a Gary Jones free-kick was flicked on by Atkinson and volleyed home by Gary Thompson.
The roof came off Valley Parade, I smashed my mate in the face 3 or 4 times as I jumped around ecstatically, screaming and waving my arms around like a madman - we had taken the lead against Arsenal. It was an incredible feeling and the longer the game went on the more and more I let myself believe that we could possibly win the game.
Then when we were just 3 minutes away from a famous victory, Cozorla crossed and Vermaelen was there to nod home and break the hearts of every Bradford City fan in the stadium. I felt like I'd been punched in the gut, we were so close to making history and now surely the momentum was with the Gunners as the game went into extra time. The next half an hour flew by with Matt Duke making a few very good saves to keep the scores level, and with nobody able to find that goal the game was to be decided by penalties... again.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the win against Wigan on pens was the EIGHTH we'd won in a row. We'd been dubbed 'The Penalty Kings' in the media recently and a ninth spot kick win would be an English record. When you've won that many penalty shoot-outs there must be an air of confidence about you, I mean look at the Germans. I wasn't that nervous to be honest, and as we scored our opening two penalties with Arsenal missing theirs, the upset was back on the cards. Two penalties each later and it was Ritchie Jones who stepped up try win it for Bradford.
My hands covered my face. I peeked through my fingers as he ran up to take the kick. It had to be one of the worst penalties I've seen, no direction and no power and an easy save for Szczesny. I thought at that point that it had gone, the momentum would swing Arsenal's way and we'd be out of the cup. Up stepped Vermaelen (who'd of course broken City's hearts with that late equaliser) and euphoria swept around Valley Parade as he scuffed his shot and hit the post. I couldn't believe it, we had done it, we had beaten the mighty Arsenal.
It was an amazing night, and pumped with adrenaline, I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep, so as soon as I got home I watched the whole game again on Sky+. Incredible.
The fans were amazing and I really hope they all turn out again for the semi-final, which is of course played over two legs and means another massive financial boost for the club. I'm particularly happy for those City fans in their teens and early 20's. They would have been too young to remember the rise to the Premier League, all they've seen at this football club is misery, administration and relegation. It was their night, a win to remember, one that they'll tell their grandkids about in 50 years' time.
All in all it was a marvellous display and I've never been so proud to be a Bradford City supporter.