armchair cultural observation since 1995

Bradford City Underdog Darlings of British Football

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As boringly predictable as the English Premier League table is every year with the teams in Manchester taking turns leading the league and only three or four other big-spending teams with even an outside chance of winning the league when it kicks off every year (almost like college football without the computer polls and annual collective teeth gnashing), one thing British football still has going for it is the two domestic league competitions where underdogs have at least a fighting chance of capturing momentary glory.

Like the March Madness of college basketball, both the FA Cup and the League Cup (sponsored by Capital One, but much different than the Capital One Cup you see advertised on American broadcasts) give teams from all over the country a chance to go up against the big boys in a do or die tournament. American soccer has its own version of this that’s been going on for a century known as the U.S. Open Cup.

Upsets happen regularly in the annual tournament games played midweek through the season, but the upsets the lowly Bradford City have pulled off in the League Cup this year might just be the equivalent of a Division III team making the Final Four. That’s because Bradford City plays in England’s League Two, which is the fourth level of professional soccer in England. In baseball terms that would be single A ball (imagine the Wilmington Blue Rocks beating the Baltimore Orioles, even in a bad year).

En route to its dream final at the famed Wembley Stadium in London, The Bantams (a bantam is a chicken) upset three Premier League clubs in Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa, which they finished off on Tuesday by winning 4-3 on aggregate in the second game of a two-leg semifinal.

The feat marks the first time a club from the fourth tier has made it to a cup final since Rochdale in 1962. Bradford City has a chance to do one better than Rochdale by winning the Wembley final, but it will have to knock off another Premier League club to do so in the winner of Swansea and Chelsea in the other semifinal.

Even though the League Cup is considered the lesser of the two domestic cups and upsets are regular in the early rounds, the winner is still almost always from the top tier, which would make a Wembley win by Bradford City one of the greatest triumphs for underdogs possibly in any sport anywhere in the world ever. The last club from a lower division to win the League Cup was Sheffield Wednesday, which won the trophy as a second division club in the pre-Premier League days of 1991 (the Premier League began in the 1992-1993 season, making the First Division a second tier league).

Below is the video of the team, their fans and the BBC commentator going bonkers at the whistle.

“The boys in the colors of Harry Potter and Hogwarts have come up with a magic conjuring trick to end them all,” the announcer says as the Bradford City players celebrate on the field and the Aston Villa players hold their hands to their heads in utter disbelief.

UPDATE: Bradford City were blown out in the final 5-0 by Swansea, which captured the Welsh club’s first trophy, but their supporters still appeared to be having the time of their lives.

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