Bradford produced one of the greatest upsets in English football on Wednesday, overcoming the Premier League millionaires of Aston Villa to become the first fourth-tier club to reach an English cup final in more than half a century.
With a team that cost just 7,500 pounds ($12,000) to assemble, Bradford held on for a 4-3 aggregate victory after losing the League Cup semifinal second leg 2-1 at Villa Park.
“It’s dreamland,” Bradford manager Phil Parkinson said. “We said tonight we had a chance to make history and we have done it.”
The cash generated by this remarkable cup run can help to safeguard the northern English team’s future, having twice entered administration — a form of bankruptcy protection — since being relegated from the Premier League in 2001.
“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 galvanize the area.”
After plummeting down the football pyramid, Bradford is now the lowest-ranked former Premier League side, sitting 10th in England’s lowest professional division.
“Our supporters have stuck with the club through some really tough times,” Parkinson said. “Over the last 10 years there hasn’t been a great deal to cheer about.”
While Bradford’s only major success came by winning the 1911 FA Cup, Villa has not only won the League Cup five times, but also both the English championship and FA Cup seven times and the European Cup once.
But reaching the semifinals was no fluke for the Bradford players who have already conquered Premier League sides Wigan and Arsenal in this remarkable season.
Yet, it was a nervy night initially for the history-makers in Birmingham after the hosts looked on course to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit when Christian Benteke scored just before half time.
But James Hanson headed Bradford level 10 minutes after the break and Andreas Weimann’s 89th-minute goal for Villa came too late to spark a comeback.
Not since Rochdale in 1962 has a fourth-division side reached the League Cup final — in fact any major English final — though back then not all the top teams entered the competition.
Now Bradford will play Chelsea or Swansea in the final at Wembley Stadium on Feb. 24, with a Europa League place awaiting the winner. Swansea holds a 2-0 lead over Chelsea heading into Wednesday’s second leg.
“As a kid playing football, you dream of Wembley and we’re going to do it,” said Bradford goalkeeper Matt Duke, who beat testicular cancer in 2008.
“We’re going to take a League Two club to Wembley, we’re going to take a massive following, it’s going to be an amazing day and I’m looking forward to it.”
The humiliating loss is the latest chapter in a wretched season for Villa, which is a point and a place above the Premier League relegation zone. The club is owned by American billionaire Randy Lerner.
“It’s my responsibility ... I am absolutely gutted, disappointed, hurt, everything,” Villa manager Paul Lambert said.
Next up is another cup clash with lower-league opposition as Villa travels to second-tier club Millwall on Friday in the FA Cup fourth round.
“You either lie down and take it, or you come out fighting,” Lambert said. “I am certainly not going to lie down.”