League Cup: Why We Want Bradford-Swansea
Enjoy the above photo — it's the only photo of an Aston Villa player in this article.
When Bradford City and Swansea City won their opening legs of the League Cup semifinals, the decisions sent shockwaves through European soccer. Swansea had clearly outplayed Chelsea inside Stamford Bridge for a 2-0 win, and while Aston Villa has been an established Premier League side, Bradford — from the fourth-division League Two — was clinical in taking a 3-1 victory.
Bradford will look to secure its place in the final on Tuesday when it travels to Villa Park. Swansea will have the home Liberty Stadium crowd behind them when the Swans host Chelsea on Wednesday. As the days count down, we can't help but hope Swansea and Bradford make their way to Wembley Stadium for the Feb. 24 final — which carries a place in next season's Europa League.
There are many reasons we want this to happen. As with Birmingham, when it won the League Cup in 2011, it would provide a different name than the usual top clubs. Swansea has never been in European competition; in fact, almost fell out of the Football League in 2003 before a miraculous recovery saw it reach the EPL in 2011. Bradford had one European appearance in 2000 before it started a disastrous slide, fueled by financial problems, that saw it drop from the EPL to League Two in seven years.
One might want Bradford to win it all for the financial boost Europe brings. While Swansea got the benefits of the EPL's television contracts to secure £45.9 million ($73.4 million) last season, Bradford share of the Football League's rights amounted to an estimated £214,500 ($343,200).
Finally, everyone likes underdogs. Swansea was given little chance before it faced Chelsea; some pundits believe the Blues still could overcome the deficit. Bradford has been the giant killers while living on the edge: the Bantams won two of its first three matches in extra time before it dispatched Wigan and stunned Arsenal in penalties. Swansea just snapped three goals on what was a defensive Stoke City side; Bradford is a team of destiny.
Admit it, you want these guys to win.
We have some more reasons on the ensuing pages.
Follow J.J. Zucal's take on sports and politics on Twitter at @BriereBear (as in Daniel Briere of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers).
Even if it was Aston Villa, even if it had taken out Arsenal, very few soccer fans would have given Bradford City much of a chance to win its two-leg tie. Nahki Wells, however, brought many fans into the Bantams' fold when he put the first goal through the arms of Shay Given.
Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner was worth an estimated £800 million ($1.3 billion) before he sold the NFL's Cleveland Browns in August 2012. Lerner, however, is poor when compared to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who's worth an estimated £8.4 billion ($13.4 billion) and owns a billion-dollar yacht.
Swansea and Bradford City never will be confused with the two foreign moneybags. Bradford has two co-owners who don't have eight-figure sums to throw at will, while Swansea is owned, almost equally, by a group of five people. Wouldn't you rather see these folks win rather than the bigwigs?
Happy and Cheap
After Michu scored 15 goals in 37 matches for La Liga side Rayo Vallecano last season, Swansea figured it had found a goal scorer to replace Scott Sinclair, who had been sold to Manchester City. Little did anyone know he would become the steal of the year, with 13 goals in 21 Premier League matches, three more in FA and League Cup matches — for just £2 million ($3.2 million). Clearly he was worth more, and what better way to prove that than to be, potentially, on the European stage?
Whenever the history of Bradford City is told, there's "The Fire." Fifty-six people died and at least 265 more were injured on May 11, 1985 when a wind-blown fire swept through the wooden main stand of the Valley Parade stadium during a match against Lincoln City to decide the Third Division championship. Some fans had to break through locked gates to escape the blaze.
The tragedy led to new safety standards for soccer grounds in England, including a prohibition on the construction of wooden seating areas.
The Swansea City Supporters Trust, formed in 2001, was part of a group that purchased and was able to save the debt-saddled Third Division (now League Two) club. It holds a 20-percent share of club ownership, and with four other major owners holding between 13 and 23 percent of the club's shares, fans can provide input into the club's operations.
Bradford City endured two financial collapses during the last decade that almost ended the club. After it was relegated to League One in 2004, just four years since Bradford had been in the Premier League, fans raised £250,000 ($400,000) to save the club.
Head May Explode
Think what may go through the mind of UEFA president Michel Platini should Swansea and Bradford City reach the final: the Europa League with a Welsh club, little known in Europe, representing England, or a fourth-division club? It would be fun to watch his puzzled look.