Bradford City fans dream big with top form sparking hope
IF you had told Bradford City fans 10 years ago they would be on the verge of playing in a major English cup final at Wembley they would have looked stupidly at you.
They had been used to mediocrity - the club had spent 77 years outside the top flight until promotion to the Premier League in 1999.
City stayed up in its first season in the EPL - with a then-record low 36 points - but the seemingly-inevitable relegation followed the next season.
Since then a series of financial crises have pushed the club to the brink of closure.
The financial pressures have resulted in two more relegations to its current position in League Two.
The Bantams are the lowest-ranked of all former Premier League clubs.
But all that pales into insignificance if you turn the clock back to May 11, 1995 when a fire engulfed the old wooden stand at Valley Parade, killing 56 football fans and injuring another 265 in British football's worst fire disaster.
Just like this week's Capital One Cup semi-final against Aston Villa, it was supposed to be a day of celebration.
The game was the final match of the 1984-85 season, before which City was presented with the Division Three championship trophy.
But disaster struck and the fire destroyed the main stand in just nine minutes shortly before half-time in the game against Lincoln City.
So to see the smiles on the faces of the Bradford fans this week after beating Villa 3-1 was a joy to be behold.
They are the true fans, ones who are prepared to support their club through thick and thin - you are unlikely to hear the boos ring round the new-look Valley Parade if the team has a bad 45 minutes as is the case at Chelsea.
There certainly won't be any prawn sandwiches being thrown in the bin here.
Of course, manager Phil Parkinson, his players and more importantly the fans, know the job is only half done.
Yes Bradford takes a handy lead to Villa Park into the second leg of their semi-final, but as Parkinson said after the game this week, Aston Villa is still the favourite.
So too is Chelsea, despite losing the first-leg showdown 2-0 at home to another club which has had its battles down the years - Swansea City.
Ten years ago the Welsh club was also struggling at the foot of the old Division Three, having been rock bottom at the start of 2003.
And at the end of that season the Swans only survived the drop to non-league football by the skin of their teeth.
Needing to beat Hull City on the last day of the season at their old ground the Vetch Field to stay up, they did so with a thrilling 4-2 success.
Swansea fans, too, would have laughed back then if you had said they would be just a game away from a major final.
But with a surprise 2-0 win at Chelsea in the first leg of their Cup semi, their fans can start dreaming too, although they, like Bradford supporters, know there is a long way to go before the celebrations can start.
But in a time when the major trophies usually go to the big-money clubs such as Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, it is a delight to see the battlers have their moment in the sun.
It would have been wonderful to have been in the stands when Bradford beat Villa after dowing Arsenal last time round and Swansea overturned the mighty Chelsea.
Those nights are priceless when you are a fan of a battling club ... long may they continue.