Everyone knows all Yorkshire loves a bargain, and at the moment all of England loves a team put together for the princely sum of £7,500 that has removed no fewer than three Premier League opponents en route to the million pound Wembley jackpot of the Capital One Cup final.
Without wishing in the slightest to rain on Valley Parade, that figure of £7,500 is intriguing. Several Conference teams have spent vastly more than that in an effort to break into League Two, and it just does not sit right that such a trifling amount can not only buy you a professional football team, but one good enough to put the skids under Wigan, Arsenal, and Aston Villa.
Hang on a minute. It turns out that James Hanson, the former supermarket shelf stacker turned Villa Park goalscorer who helped the Bantams realise their Wembley dream, cost £7,500 when he signed from Guiseley four years ago. So are we to believe that Bradford have not spent a penny on their other 10 Villa Park heroes, and the last time any money was invested in strengthening the side was 2009?
In a word, possibly. Transfer fees are more or less optional extras in League Two, where most players change clubs as free agents and sign up on short contracts. Bradford's record signing might still be David Hopkin, £2.5m from Leeds United in July 2000, though a certain amount of water has passed under the bridge since then. A quick search of all 11 starters in the Capital One semi-final revealed few up-front sums changing hands between clubs. Almost every one of the Bradford players signed a one- or two-year contract with the club on the expiry of their previous deal.
The only reason Hanson stands out as an exception is that his fee was decided by a transfer tribunal. The centre-forward did his shelf-stacking to help support himself as a semi-pro footballer with Eccleshill United and then Guiseley, and when he signed his first professional contract with Bradford the fee was not only set by tribunal but made public. The Bantams had to pay £7,500, accept a sell-on clause, and agree to a friendly between the two sides. So those who tell you that the giantkilling act of the century so far cost a mere £7,500 are selling Bradford short. It cost £7,500 plus the proceeds of a friendly against Guiseley.
There are other costs, obviously, such as wages, but Bradford appear to have learned the hard way how to live within their means. No one would begrudge them their success for a moment, though back in the 90s, after Geoffrey Richmond arrived from Scarborough to take over as chairman, Bradford went through the boom and bust scenario and paid the price for living the dream several years before Leeds United followed the same script with more spectacular results. Under Paul Jewell, the Bantams reached the top flight for the first time in 77 years and stayed for two seasons. The first saw them survive by the skin of their teeth, with Jewell coaxing typically feisty performances from useful but unheralded players.
Once Jewell left, the club ill-advisedly began to throw money at a failing situation, and the expensive acquisition of Hopkin, Benito Carbone and Dan Petrescu not only resulted in relegation, but a year later Bradford were in administration with debts of around £13m. Leeds followed the same course a few years later, and though they did reach a Champions League semi-final in 2001 at the height of their giddy success, ultimately flying so high meant they crashed with more force, even if they did turn around a £12m profit on Rio Ferdinand by selling him to Manchester United for £30m.
It all seems so long ago. Yorkshire sides in the Premier League, that is. The last one was Hull City, who went down in 2010 after two entertaining seasons. Before that we lost Middlesbrough in 2009, though not everyone counts Teesside as Yorkshire. The cricket club does, and that ought to mean something, though most people outside the region regard Middlesbrough as part of the north-east. In terms of heartland Yorkshire, one could almost say Heartbeat Yorkshire, Barnsley departed the Premier League in 1998, Sheffield Wednesday in 2000, Leeds in 2004, Sheffield United in 2007.
A sorry list, particularly as so many of the clubs have collapsed financially as well, making returns for the likes of Wednesday and Bradford seem further away than ever. Yet these are huge cities, populous areas, places with great footballing traditions. Look at the Championship table: only Hull and Middlesbrough, on the east coast, are looking in any shape to get back. Leeds are mid-table. Huddersfield bottom half and Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley are in a relegation battle.
Just about the only downside to Bradford City's cup joy is that since the world began to sit up and take notice of the Bantams' giantkilling capabilities – the week they beat Arsenal just before Christmas – Phil Parkinson's side has slipped from fourth to 10th in League Two. City are in touch with the play-off places, but a month ago they were poised to break into the top three and Parkinson was more concerned with league form than cup glory.
A £1m payday at Wembley may have subtly altered those priorities – Bradford and Parkinson have had terrific seasons whatever happens from here on in – and good luck to them. The game is all about glory, as Mr Blanchflower famously said. Never mind the financial details and the promotion hunt for the moment. The team that will be marching out at Wembley next month, to face either the European champions or their semi-final conquerors, is currently level on points with Fleetwood Town and Southend. Incredible what cups can still do.