The most unlikely cup final is nearly upon us with Premiership club Swansea City preparing to take on Bradford City of League Two on Sunday.
The paths that both clubs have taken to set up the 'fairy tale' final in the words of Swansea manager Michael Laudrup, have been well documented and their achievements are all the more remarkable for some of the links between them.
First major Wembley Cup final
Both clubs have been to Wembley before with Swansea firmly ahead with three visits – two play-off finals and a Football League Trophy final – to Bradford’s one, the 1996 Division two play-off final. The Welsh side is the only one to play at the new Wembley though whether or not that will be an advantage remains to be seen.
Bradford City's captain Eddie Youds lifts the Divison Two play-off trophy in 1996
However, for Swansea the Capital One Cup final represents their first major final in their 100-year history. The club was not even playing professional football when Bradford City won their one major honour, the 1911 FA Cup, 12 years before Wembley was built. Sunday’s match really will be new territory for both clubs.
When Gary Jones leads his team out on to the Wembley pitch on Sunday, he may well offer up some thanks to opponents Swansea for giving him the footballing break which has culminated in a major cup final after 16 years in the professional game.
James Hanson scores from Gary Jones' corner to put Bradford into the Capital One Cup final
Jones was playing for Caernarfon Town in the League of Wales when he was spotted by Swansea. Although he only turned out eight times for the then-Division Three club, his time in non-League was done and he went on to play for Rochdale and Barnsley before joining the Bantams in the summer of 2012 for a season that will lead to the proudest moment of his career.
Terry Yorath holds a special place amongst both sets of fans as he helped lead each to promotions in the 1980s. For Bradford and Yorath though, the joy of winning the Division Three title was ripped away by the Valley Parade fire of 11 May 1985 which killed 56 fans from Bradford and Lincoln, the visitors on that final day of the season. Yorath, player-coach at the time, was forced to smash a window and climb out of a clubhouse bar to escape the fire, injuring himself in the process. He took charge of Swansea in 1988 and led the club out of Division Four after three years in the League basement.
But as sure as night follows day, so bad times followed good at both clubs. Yorath was in charge at Bradford when they dropped from the old Second Division in 1990, while a move back to South Wales in 1991 was shortlived. Nine successive defeats persuaded him to leave the club which narrowly avoided relegation from Division Three while Bradford just missed going the other way via the playoffs.
Staring oblivion in the face – and surviving
Swansea hold onto League status on the final day of the 2002-03 season
Going into administration could hardly be described as a badge of honour but it certainly means a club and its fans been put through the mill. Bradford City can point to two periods of insolvency in the past decade, with the causes pinned on former chairman Geoffrey Richmond’s ‘six weeks of madness’ after Premiership survival in 2000 and the collapse of ITV digital a couple of years later. Avoiding the drop into non-League the past two seasons by a handful of points has been stressful but the club didn’t come as close as Swansea when it came to the drop. Hitting the bottom of the Football League for the first time in their history in early 2003, the Swans needed a win on the final day of the season. A couple of years earlier during a period boardroom turmoil, the Swansea City Supporters Trust was formed to help save the club and place a representative on the board. Since then, Swansea’s league and financial fortunes have risen together.
Football in a rugby city?
Bradford City’s birth from the remains of the ailing Manningham rugby league club tells us much about the two sporting codes in the city. Both have competed for the city's affections with the Bradford Bulls sometimes regarded as the one that finds most favour at City Hall. This has led to a fractious and sometimes difficult relationship with ground-sharing an especially prickly subject. This is more of an entente cordiale than any full-blown love-in.
Another popular ball game in south Wales
Swansea FC have faced similar problems, being based in a country where, to coin a cliché, rugby union is a religion. However, there has long been a hard core of 4,000 to 5,000 fans, even in the dark days of Division Four, including the last day escapades in 2003. The formation of the Premier League generated a greater interest in football and later, the takeover by the supporters trust and the move to the Liberty Stadium helped seal the club as a major force in the area.