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Football | League Cup

Carl McHugh, Nathan Doyle and Garry Thompson © Action Images

Bradford leave darkness for cup spotlight

When Bradford City take to the field against Swansea City in Sunday's League Cup final at Wembley, they will carry with them the hopes of a city scarred by tragedy and wearied by disappointment.

Once the pumping heart of Britain's textile industry, Bradford was one of the biggest wool manufacturers on the planet in the early part of the nineteenth century and produced roughly two-thirds of the country's wool.

However, the textile sector fell into decline during the 20th century and Bradford as a city sank with it.

A lack of outside investment yielded economic difficulties and the city has also been plagued by inter-racial tensions, with ugly riots sparked by far-right groups creating unwelcome headlines in 2001.

The football club have also known more than their fair share of heartbreak, with a fire at their Valley Parade home in 1985 claiming the lives of 56 supporters.

Bradford's players will wear special tracksuit tops adorned with the number 56 and bearing the legend 'Always With Us' when they face Swansea on Sunday.

"When I first came here, I quickly picked up the unique bond that exists in this city between the club and the supporters because of the fire," says manager Phil Parkinson.

"Because Bradford have been coming down the divisions, there's a feeling outside the city those people might have been forgotten, so we want to do everything we can to set the record straight and make sure this is a day for remembering them."

In the sporting arena, Bradford have struggled to compete with the town's celebrated rugby league team, the Bradford Bulls, who have won the Super League four times in the last 15 seasons.

The football club have also spent years in the shadow of Yorkshire rivals Leeds United, whose Elland Road stadium lies just 10 miles from Valley Parade.

When Bradford last reached the Premier League, in 1999, it was a brief but eventful experience.

Going into the final game of the 1999-2000 campaign, Bradford needed victory at home to Champions League-chasing Liverpool to stand any chance of staying in the division.

It seemed a tall order, but a towering 12th-minute header by former Leeds defender David Wetherall was enough to secure a 1-0 win.

The Premier League adventure did not last long, however, and after succumbing to relegation in 2001, Bradford sank like a stone through the English league system as a spate of financial crises threatened the club's very existence.

The fourth-tier side's giant-killing run in this season's League Cup, which has featured wins over Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa, is therefore all the more remarkable.

Local boy James Hanson, whose goal against Villa took Bradford into the final, says the club's long spell in the sporting wilderness will make Sunday even sweeter.

"It is nice to put Bradford on the map," he said.

"There is no doubt in my mind it has brought the city closer and it makes people from further out realise what Bradford is all about.

"The people have endured a lot of disappointment. Suddenly we are seeing smiles on faces again. Even mates who are Leeds fans are right behind us.

"They are all coming together to hope we win. There are 30 000 people going to Wembley. We just want to give them a day to remember."


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