Phil Parkinson has saluted his Bradford City players and said they "will be remembered for years to come" after they eliminated Aston Villa on a memorable night in the Midlands to become the first fourth-tier team ever to reach a major Wembley final. Bradford, who are 10th in League Two, lost 2-1 on the night but won 4-3 on aggregate to inflict further embarrassment on Aston Villa, and secure a place in the Capital One Cup final next month, against either Swansea City or Chelsea.
James Hanson, who was stacking shelves at a Co-op supermarket in Bradford a few years ago, scored the crucial goal in the second half to level the scores on the night after Christian Benteke had put Villa ahead. Although Andreas Weimann scored 90 seconds from time it was not enough to spare Villa from the humiliation of elimination at the hands of a team that had only one player who cost a transfer fee. Bradford paid Guiseley, in the Conference North, £7,500 for Hanson. Now Bradford's players have been promised a trip to Las Vegas by the club's owners.
Defeating a Premier League club over two legs represents an extraordinary achievement for a League Two club that has suffered some dark days, including twice being placed in administration, since relegation from the top flight 11 years ago. Parkinson believes that his players will go down in history alongside those that led the club to the FA Cup final in 1911, when Jimmy Speirs scored the winner in a replay against Newcastle United at Old Trafford.
"We said to the lads before that there was a chance to make history but we knew that we had to focus on the key elements in the game to get us there. I felt we certainly did that in the second half," said Parkinson, who described victory as the highlight of his career. "These lads will be remembered in the history of Bradford City for years to come. There's a 1911 lounge at the club to celebrate the Cup victory of that year, well, in years to come there will be a lounge named after this cup run and these players because of what they've achieved."
Bradford had already knocked out Wigan and Arsenal before Villa became their third Premier League scalp in what will go down as one of the biggest upsets in football history. "Financially, the money we have earned up until this point has been fantastic but to go to Wembley is going to keep the club going for quite a while, I imagine," Parkinson said.
"For the city of Bradford, it's massive and I really feel that this can galvanise the area. Our supporters have stuck with the club through some really tough times. Over the last 10 years there hasn't been a great deal to cheer about being a Bradford City supporter. I'm so pleased tonight that we've given them something to go into work tomorrow and hold their heads up high and be proud of the club."
Bradford's players, celebrating on the pitch at the end in front of the 6,500 travelling supporters, struggled to comprehend what had happened. "I'm lost for words," said Gary Jones, the Bradford captain. "Just listen to the fans behind us. That says everything. To beat three Premier League teams and come here on a night like this is amazing. For a fourth-division team to get to Wembley is an absolutely incredible dream."
Matt Duke, the Bradford goalkeeper who was superb in both legs, said: "I'm speechless, I can't believe it. We were 3-1 up, and we knew they would attack us but we fancied our chances. We thought we could score from set-pieces. It's a dream. When you're a kid getting into football, you dream of playing at Wembley. We're going to take a massive following there and we're just looking forward to it."
For Paul Lambert, the Villa manager, this was a new low in a season that has turned into a disaster. "I am absolutely gutted, disappointed, hurt, everything," Lambert said. "You couldn't repeat what was said in the dressing room. Everyone is hurt."
Asked whether he still believed he was right the man to lead Villa in the rest of the season, Lambert replied: "Yes absolutely. I do. When you ask managers that, they will tell you they just get on with it until they hear anything different. There are two ways – you either lie down and take it or you come out fighting. I am certainly not going to lie down."