Best of the Bantams - #1

Summer is great. It’s hot and sunny but it means no football, so our lives are filled with transfer rumours to the point where we get a bit fed up and long for the big kick off. So to cheer us all up, Bantams Banter is going back in time to look at some of the best City performances in recent memory – complete with video clips and the lot. They’re in no particular order, but we hope you agree, they’re absolute belters.

First up, we’re going back to 1996 and a little trip to the seaside…

Blackpool 0 – Bradford City 3: The birth of the famous Bradford City comeback?

“That’s what happens when you knock a Bantam down. They get back up and claw the **** out of you” (Dom vs Leeds & Everyone vs Blackpool) 

 

For football fans the summer of 1996 was one of the best in recent memory. It was scorching hot, and ‘Football’s Coming Home’ rang out as England progressed to the semi-finals of Euro ’96, only to have the door slammed shut in their face by the Germans.

For City fans, the magic had started a couple of months earlier though. On Wednesday 15th May 1996 to be precise. That night a ‘Blue Army’ stormed back to overturn a 2-0 deficit and beat Blackpool 3-0 at Bloomfield Road in the second leg of the Second Division play-off semi final. The game makes you pinch yourself, even today. It set the standard for the other great City comebacks of the future. It was marvellous in every way; as a comeback, as a display of guts and determination, for the emotional high it gave us, and because it sent City to Wembley for the first time in their history.

It was an almost ridiculous result, given the season that both clubs had enjoyed. Blackpool were a very good side under Sam Allardyce but under pressure from a pumped-up City side that at first smelt nerves and then blood, they were simply ripped apart.

It was a result to be very proud of, yet personally it was perhaps my most shameful moment supporting the club. I didn’t go. I was so distraught and upset after the home leg, I chose to play cricket instead for my club. Listening to the second half unfold on the radio as we made our way back home, I celebrated wildly whilst simultaneously wanting to punch myself in the face for my stupidity. Even today, I look at the fans who went in awe, and I mark myself down a little bit.

Looking back at the game, it is possibly the first example of a template that we can file under ‘typical City’. There are a few ‘typical City’ templates: the defeat to the side at the bottom of the league, the last-minute giveaway, and there’s the big game comeback. This is the important or high-profile game in which we’re dead and buried, and all hope is lost. The one where out of somewhere, Bradford City seem to find another gear and gain the sporting prowess of the Harlem Globetrotters combined with the sheer mental will of Joe Simpson in ‘Touching the Void’. The one where impossible becomes nothing. See Burton away in 2013 for an almost identical replica. See Chelsea. But before all of that see Blackpool away, the game that set the standard.

The ‘Blue Army’, as we liked to chant at the time because of our away colours, arrived at the seaside 2-0 down after the first leg a few days earlier at VP. Having finished nine points behind Allardyce’s side in the league, the gap had looked more than that, in a match where City failed to show up as the Seasiders dominated.

So, on that Wednesday evening, most City fans headed over more in hope than expectation. Blackpool fans had already been booking hotels for London. The match day programme had Wembley travel details for the home fans. It was all done and dusted. The fat lady was just warming up to sing, and then it all happened…

… City start the game brightly. Kamara has clearly got them pumped up. He has reportedly showing them the match day programme, complete with details about travel to Wembley. Blackpool look edgy whereas City look hungry, determined and dangerous. Angry even. The big lump in the middle, Andy Morrison (soon to join Huddersfield), is being overrun by the infinitely more mobile Lee Duxbury and Des Hamilton.

A couple of chances go begging, Shutt and Hamilton the guilty parties. You have to take these chances right? Not necessarily. Carl Shutt makes amends and volleys in from close range after half an hour. Game on. 1-0 on the night and 1-2 on aggregate. The City fans in the open terrace go barmy and everything starts to change.

City continue to press and the chorus of ‘Blue Army’ rings around Bloomfield Road. It sounds like a home game. Tony Ellis has a shot deflected onto the bar for Blackpool, a curling effort almost identical to his goal in the first leg. We breathe a sigh of relief.

The second half comes around. City continue to dominate, with Des Hamilton putting in the shift of his life. Our front men and wide men are running Blackpool ragged. Our full backs are pushing on, forcing the hosts to sit back – exactly what Big Sam doesn’t want. As he chews more frantically, the sun starts to go down. So do Blackpool’s hopes.

Kiwomya skins his man down the left flank, centres and there is Hamilton to stroke it home. 2-0 on the night. All level on aggregate. The celebrations in the away end look fantastic. There’s a sense of disbelief as fans simply leap wildly in the air. Contrast that with the heads in hands in the home end and from the home players. They all know who needs those travel plans now.

Football is all about momentum and there’s no doubt who has it by this point, although Blackpool hit the bar again. Football is all about luck too, I guess.

Then it happens. Amazement turns to pandemonium. Jacobs knocks a ball into the box. Hamilton wins it. It’s knocked back and Mark Stallard rushes in and slides the ball home. 3-0 on the night. The turnaround is complete and suddenly, fantastically, it’s City in front and heading to Wembley.

Cue joy. Actually, scrap that, cue tension. That familiar nail-biting and all-enveloping feeling of panic as Blackpool press for the last few minutes. For me, I’m in the car outside the old Spar in Baildon with a throng of regulars from the Malt Shovel pub sticking their heads through the car window to listen to the radio.

0-2 to 3-2. Ridiculous. Unbelievable, to quote Kamara himself. Full time brings unbridled joy. Staff and players running towards the fans. Fans hugging players, players hugging fans, fans hugging fans, players hugging players. Disbelief, amazement, ecstasy. Outside the Malt Shovel in Baildon, people are hugging and dancing. I believe at that point, Chris Cooper was screaming on the radio “Blackpool Tower is only a mile down the road, but the twin towers of Wembley are beckoning now". We couldn’t hear him.

What those players achieved that night has gone down in the club’s history. Under Chris Kamara, the players; Gould, Huxford, Mohan, Brightwell, Jacobs, Hamilton, Duxbury, Mitchell, Kiwomya, Shutt and Stallard produced a performance that not only will we always talk about, but one which gives City fans a spirit and belief on which to focus on when the chips are down. We should always be grateful for that, because on occasion that spirit seems to breathe life into hopeless causes.

Of course, eleven days later, the team carried that momentum from Bloomfield Road with them to Wembley. After such a comeback, it felt like it was never in doubt. The M1 was a highway of claret and amber. City fans outnumbered Notts County fans by three-to-one, and our players dwarved theirs on the day. Thanks to that night at Blackpool, we were back into the second-tier of English football, we had memories we’d never forget, and City’s famous, beautiful ‘Big Game comeback’ was born, ready to pounce when you most wanted it to. Brilliant stuff.

Those Bantams, they really do get back up and claw you. Just ask Sam Allardyce.

@jpieslak