Arsenal's Capital One Cup conquerors came close to dropping out of league football not so long ago. Now the League Two side are displaying exciting signs of being back on track
Only those with a hard heart, or lack of festive spirit, would grudge the supporters of Bradford City their current euphoric state. Only 11 years ago, Bradford were mixing it with the leading lights of English football. The intervening years have been cruel; two administrations and a rapid slump into the league's bottom tier may have been intrinsically linked to the excesses of Bradford's top-flight days but those blows were still sore for their fans. Towards the end of the last campaign, Bradford came perilously close to dropping out of league football altogether.
Bradford, who on Wednesday were also reinstated in the FA Cup following an appeal against their expulsion for fielding an ineligible player, have been propelled back into the public consciousness on account of Tuesday evening's League Cup exploits over Arsenal. It is understandable that Arsenal's latest failings received the bulk of the coverage in the immediate aftermath of events at Valley Parade but it would be unfair to ignore the significance of Bradford's achievement.
"It was a night to remember," said Phil Parkinson, Bradford's manager, after what represented a remarkable and record ninth penalty shootout win in a row. "We want to put this club and this city back on the map – football clubs can do that."
Football also revels in shock results. Arsenal's annual wage bill is £143m a year with Marouane Chamakh, who played an unwanted part in the Bradford upset, commanding £2.6m of that by himself. Bradford's last reported spend on salaries was £1.2m a year.
Every member of Bradford's giant-killing squad, bar one, arrived on a free transfer. A tribunal decreed Bradford had to pay £7,500, include a sell-on clause and play a friendly match at Guiseley, in return for the forward James Hanson.
Albeit this was a quarter-final tie, the attendance of 23,971 offered an insight into Bradford's potential appeal. Despite tumbling down the divisions, the Yorkshire club have retained regular crowds in the region of 10,000 by virtue of consistently low ticket pricing. Bradford is a city retaining historic football traditions, regardless of its association with rugby league and the focus placed on one of City's near-neighbours, Leeds United. Bradford took 5,500 to Wigan earlier in their League Cup run.
Yet a decade ago, Bradford were in the mire as merely one example of football's capacity to engage with mismanagement. When Paul Jewell masterminded a last-day-of-the-season win over Liverpool in 1999, Bradford remained in the Premier League. Until Tuesday night, that represented almost the last opportunity for epic celebration at Valley Parade.
The collapse of ITV digital played a part in their demise but so, too, did the £40,000 a week paid to Benito Carbone – Stan Collymore had also arrived on loan – and transfer fees paid out for the likes of Dan Petrescu, Ashley Ward and David Hopkin.
Geoffrey Richmond, then Bradford chairman, claimed he personally lost £15m during that free-spending spell. Such generosity was not enough to afford Richmond a warm legacy in that corner of West Yorkshire. Jim Jefferies learned immediately upon appointment as Bradford's manager in 2000 that £8m needed to be shed from the annual wage bill; indelible writing was on the wall.
Since May of that year, the list of Bradford managers serves as a tacit indication of on-field tribulations. Chris Hutchings, Stuart McCall – twice – Jefferies, Steve Smith, Nicky Law, Bryan Robson, Colin Todd, David Wetherall, Wayne Jacobs, Peter Taylor, Peter Jackson and Colin Cooper all preceded Parkinson in that time.
When Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Manchester City discovered that financial largesse did not really offer infallibility, they did not fall as far as Bradford. For that reason alone, the home contingent in the Valley Parade stands had cause to recall the famine of the recent past when celebrating their knockout feast.
The £300,000 generated in revenue for the Arsenal encounter will cover much of Bradford's rent of Valley Parade this year. It is also thought to equate to half of the club's current overspend on wages. A two-legged semi-final will generate an even larger sum; with promotion to League One also a legitimate aim in the coming months, Bradford are displaying signs of finally being back on track.
"It has secured our long-term future," said the Bradford director, Dave Baldwin, of the Arsenal success. "Two televised ties will bring the club in an extra £1m in revenue. Half of our overspend has gone in one game. Of course, it's only an estimate at this stage, but it's a massive boost for the financial position of the club."
Bradford have surely been given sufficient lessons that they will spend their windfall wisely.