The story of Bradford City’s journey to the League Cup final has been one likened to a fairy tale and, in a way, it ended that way too as the Bantams were beaten 5-0 by Swansea City.
In this particular fable, Jack climbs the Beanstalk to find his bride who has been taken by a giant, only to discover that – after his admittedly impressive adventures – that the ogre is not an evil, gnarled beast but rather someone who is a reflection of himself, standing to his full height.
In the final reckoning, the problem with losing to Swansea is not that they seem to be a long way away from where Bradford City are; more that they leave a trail behind them that could be followed.
Ten years ago, Swansea City were struggling to stay in the Football League. Then, somewhere along the line, a man called Jenkins got his hands on them and started building a club the way it is now. A team that survives the exit of managers like Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez and players like Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair, continues to represent a style of football and player development that makes the most of both. Michu, £2 million, is as good as you have heard he is and so are Swansea.
It was hard to hate the team from Wales as they coasted to a victory in a match that should have been played out in a Fourth Round some Tuesday night in September. Instead – and thanks to the superb performances of the likes of James Hanson and Rory McArdle – the Bantams were exposed for all to see by a team which dedicated itself to a brand of passing football weaved into the DNA of the club. Forming a guard of honour for the Bradford City players as they climbed down the steps with runners up medals; Swansea, it was apparent, also had class.
And from that should be a lesson learnt for Bradford City. A cup run which should have netted over £2 million and engendered a once in a generation level of goodwill around the city should act as a spur to push on what’s going right at the club. The problem though is that no one at Valley Parade knows what that is.
Parkinson’s arrival in 2010 is one of a series of moves that City have ham fistedly carried out. The ex-Hull boss replaced Peter Jackson, who replaced Peter Taylor, who replaced Stuart McCall and so on. In gaudy contrast to Swansea and their slow, purposeful building, there stand Bradford City and their allergy to setting a plan and sticking to it.
You have heard the one about the striker who used to work at the Co-op and shared the thrill about how much of a bargain he was, but do you know about the Chilean who – when signed for £35,000 – was stuck on a sink estate in Bradford and ended up being hidden in South America in order to avoid the long arm of – well – let’s just say the long arm?
The Chilean – Willy Topp – was the result of a link up deal with a Belgian that was to deliver the finest talent for the club. Topp was the first – and one night in a 4-2 win over Shrewsbury Town he showed he could play a bit – but that was all we heard of that plan. Likewise when the Bantams asked a man called Archie Christie to give them a plan to run the club, and then to come to the club and put that plan into practice, there was reason for optimism. Like the Belgian situation the result was a striker – one Nakhi Wells, a product of Christie’s Development Squad, but the results were the same. Before any long term improvement could be observed, the whole plan was dismantled and considered a misadventure.
In the last five years since Mark Lawn joined Julian Rhodes in joint ownership of Bradford City, the club have – as a result of a fluctuating wage budget set in ad hoc fashion by the board – carried out five summers of squad overhauls. A group of players assembled to play in the Peter Taylor style are not for Peter Jackson and are culled; Jackson’s side is not for Parkinson and the same occurs. Parkinson himself is on a deal at the club which expires in the summer. He wants to stay but has many suitors who will pay him the salary he believes (with some justification) he is worth.
The club appointed Parkinson on a ‘paid by the point’ basis two years ago and one can almost hear the defence being formed ‘Well, we did not know he was going to be good!’ Hence, the manager came to the club on a deal which made it easier for City to sack him. Think about that for a moment – there is a madness to it.
It is short term thinking and, far more than the abilities of Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle, this was exposed on the wide open spaces of Wembley. Swansea’s management philosophy outlasts managers, their passing football goes beyond their ‘best’ players who are sold to Liverpool and Manchester City without the Swans skipping a beat.
When the competition kicks off with the first game of next season, the Bradford City fans who made a glorious din during the final game of this year’s League Cup will not know what style the team will adopt if Parkinson has made an exit.
So as Wembley recedes to memory, one is left to consider what the legacy will be of the afternoon when our club stood in the public spotlight. Listen to the media coverage and they talk about how this could be a springboard for change at the club and in the City. Of the second one would not like to speak, of the first I find it near impossible to be convinced.
Bradford City have shown the potential to be a club equal in size, stature and status as Swansea City: they filled half of Wembley, we filled half of Wembley; but while Swansea seem to be the host of a beating heart of good sense and solid planning City are at best random and at worst the subject to a set of egos in the boardroom which would set their own regard above the success of the club.
Everything is get rich quick, everything is hero punts, everything is trying to shortcut the hard work which the Swans have obviously put in to get to where they richly deserve to be today. Bradford City might have been the romantic fairy tale story of football but Swansea are something more impressive. After the final, Leon Britton, who apart from a short spell at Sheffield United, has played for the Swans for ten years (Bradford City’s longest serving player has been at the club for three years), said ‘I know we keep harping on about it but 10 years ago we were fighting to stay in the Football League and look where we are today – in the Premier League and winning our first major honour. We’ve got to give credit to everyone at the football club. They are an example of how football clubs should be run. Great days like today is what happens if you run the club well.’
I was as proud at the end of the game to applaud a man who has that sentiment as he no doubt was to applaud the City team down the stairs of Wembley with richly deserved runners-up medals. Britton is right to share the credit as widely as he can around the South Wales club. I’ve no envy of the 5-0 win or the cup that Swansea City paraded but I’d give anything for my club to be run like that and – and do not let the optical illusion of Wembley fool you – it is not. Nowhere near. Not even close.
Even now Mark Lawn talks about trying to pay Phil Parkinson ‘a reasonable wage’ for a League Two manager as if to underline how little the club understand what they have and how little they respect the idea that the club cannot be run haphazardly. How little they understand what – as Britton would say – ‘happens if you run the club well.’
So Swansea City go to Europe and the best of luck to them. They are proud representatives of the Football League in the Premier League and the Europa League. For Bradford City a League Two game with Dagenham & Redbridge followed on Wednesday night and the discussion on how to best capitalise on the post-Wembley halo effect.
Swansea City offer proof if it were needed about the effectiveness of long term planning, of setting aims and planning how to reach them, of running a football club well. If that lesson has been learnt at Valley Parade then a 5-0 defeat at Wembley really could be a turning point for the club.