Bradford and Swansea give hope to disillusioned fans
League Cup final, 4pm
22 February ~ When Swansea manager Michael Laudrup declared that Sunday's League Cup final was the small fairytale v the big fairytale, it was a compliment towards his unlikely opponents, Bradford City. Yet "big fairytale" is a more apt description of Swansea City. Ten years ago they were bottom of the Football League, playing at the ramshackle Vetch Field in front of 5,000 crowds. From surviving relegation on the last day of that season they have earned three promotions and moved to the Liberty Stadium. Now they are favourites to win a major cup.
Swansea are a fantastic example for every lower-league club to aspire to, and the only thing stopping me from supporting them on Sunday is the fact they are playing my team, Bradford City. That we are about to participate in our first major cup final for 102 years continues to feel like a pinch-me-I'm-dreaming moment. The run was remarkable and I was fortunate to attend every game bar a victory at Watford in the second round. Every tie was on a knife edge up to the final kick. A more composed opposition finish here, or a defensive switch-off there, and it would have been curtains for Bradford. We rode our luck but the interminable drama has demonstrated everything wonderful about cup football.
Yet in an era where managers at all levels field weakened cup teams, and attendances for cup matches can prove woeful, the league-is-everything mantra can still be heard around Valley Parade. Our target this season was to earn promotion from League Two. When Arsenal came to town for the quarter-finals in December, the Bantams were fourth. We have since won just two out of ten league matches to slump to midtable. With manager Phil Parkinson's contract due to expire in May, some supporters have started to question the wisdom of offering him a new one. Yet this incredible cup run surely means Parkinson deserves another deal (providing he wants to stay – other clubs have been linked with him).
That last major Bradford final a century ago – an FA Cup win over Newcastle in 1911 – occurred during an era where football's greater equality produced all manner of unlikely cup victors. Most of us lower-league fans have long since accepted that childhood dreams of our team playing in a major cup final will never happen. On Sunday Bradford and Swansea are not only flying the flag for their respective cities, but for every fan disillusioned by the financial imbalance of modern-day football – one seemingly constructed to keep us away from moments like this. Jason McKeown