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Thursday, 14 February 2013

Bradford and Luton aim to rewrite history


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"I am never going again." Most football fans have uttered those five little words in their lives. Within a week we're back in the old routine. 
 
No doubt thousands of Bradford City and Luton Town fans have considered turning their backs on their club down the years. You could hardly blame the Valley Parade and Kenilworth Road hoards. From the heights of top flight football both clubs endured a swift decent down the football pyramid.
 
The Bradford City story is a tale of genuine triumph and tragedy. In 1985, 52 City fans lost their lives when Valley Parade's main stand caught fire. The Bantams were due to celebrate winning the Third Division Championship. However the home game against Lincoln City was abandoned when an inferno took hold. Football highs and lows were put in their true context on May 11th 1985.
 
BradfordIn 1999 City paid a fitting tribute to the fallen. The West Yorkshire club were promoted to The Premier League. Paul Jewell's history boys included Stuart McCall, Peter Beagrie and Dean Windass. Bradford made a good fist of their brush with the big league. A David Weatherall header maintained their Premier League status on the last day of the season. The reprieve proved temporary though when relegation arrived the following season.

You could not fault the board for trying. High earners Stan Collymore and Benito Carbone failed to deliver salvation. Bradford City's financial gamble backfired and the creditors came calling when the Yorkshiremen tumbled down the Football League.

The Bantams were twice in administration and were eventually relegated to League Two in 2007. Despite the constant struggle the fans never lost faith.

Enterprising ticket prices saw attendances of 10,000 punters enjoying the delights of lower league fare. Bantams faith was not confined to the benefits of financial perks. Bradford City fans were always able to put sporting failure in its true perspective.
 
Set against this background reaching a major cup final would be a major achievement. But Bradford's unlikely crack at silverware was already Roy Of The Rovers material.

The first fourth tier club to contest a high-profile Wembley cup final was always going to extend beyond the back pages. Phil Parkinson's squad has the cliched writers purring. Semi-final hero James Henson worked in a supermarket, while strike partner Nahki Wells was rejected by Carlisle United and former Rochdale stalwart Gary Jones captains The Bantams.

Hard-bitten cynics are used to fairy tales in the Third Round of the FA Cup, but the prospect of giant killers lifting a pot is on another planet. At the end of the month they take on Swansea City in the League Cup final and the majority of neutrals will be cheering on the Bantams.

Luton Town are no strangers to the limelight either. A media fed on Premier League luxuries dismiss The Hatters as non-league upstarts enjoying their place in the sun.

Described as little Luton, the pride of Bedfordshire once earned their crust in the highest echelons of English football. The Hatters won the League Cup in 1988. In those days Luton were a major force. The likes of Paul Walsh, Brian Stein, Ricky Hill and Mick Harford were capped by England.

Their FA Cup pedigree isn't too shabby either. In 1959 they were runners up to Nottingham Forest. More recently they were beaten semi-finalists in 1985, 1988 and 1994. The 1994 cup run saw the emergence of a young John Hartson.
 
Luton townNo potted history could ignore David Pleat's Maine Road jig. In 1983 Luton beat Manchester City on the last day of the season. The victory persevered Town's First Division status and condemned City to relegation. On the final whistle a delighted Luton manager ran to embrace his last ditch heroes.
 
Nearly 30 years, on the picture is very different. While City were being crowned Champions of England, Luton were still marooned in the Blue Square Conference. For the third consecutive season they had been denied in the play-offs.

The decline in playing fortunes was rapid. In 2003 the club entered administration, as problems dogged the Hatters. Five years later they were docked a record 30 points for financial mis-management. There was no coming back, as the the former top flight regulars exited the Football League in 2009. In a cruel twist of fate Luton lifted silverware in the same season. Town beat Nigel Adkins' Scunthorpe in the final of the Johnstones Paint Trophy. Echoes of the glory days remained.

The Wembley winners were managed by Kenilworth Road legend Mick Harford. Soon after Harford was sacked as cost cutting measures began to bite. Television presenter Nick Owen was named chairman in 2010. Owen was the figure head of supporters group which assumed control of the club. No-one can doubt Owen's commitment to the cause. A lifelong Hatter the Midlands Today anchorman has always displayed his love of the club.

On Saturday the Whites entertain Millwall in the FA Cup Fiffth Round. Victory would see them become the first non-league club in living memory to reach the quarter-finals. Their most famous fan will be looking on from the heavens. Comedian Eric Morecambe was a Luton director during the seventies.
 
The exploits of both clubs illustrate there is always light at the end of football's tunnel. Bradford and Luton fans kept the faith and the past few months have brought them plenty of sunshine.

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Antony Melvin

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