Capital One Cup final: Bradford unite for Wembley date

 

In July 2001 Bradford was a city on the edge.

A few weeks earlier, its football club had been relegated from the Premier League, the start of a rapid descent down the divisions and to the brink of extinction.

But the demise of the debt-ridden team was by no means the city's only problem.

Racial tensions in this deprived corner of West Yorkshire were intensifying.

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Stoked by confrontations between the Anti-Nazi League and various far-right groups, things finally boiled over into three days of rioting between the large Asian population and sections of the white working-class majority.

Hundreds were injured, millions of pounds worth of damage was caused, and 200 jail sentences were handed down. Bradford, it appeared, was one of the most divided communities in Britain.

But 12 years on, tensions between segregated neighbourhoods have eased, and a footballing fairytale is helping to heal old wounds.

The tough, terraced streets which surround Valley Parade in the largely Muslim district of Manningham were one of the areas worst affected by the riots.

Now, many of the youngsters who play for Manningham All-Stars,   a predominantly Asian grassroots football club, are regulars at Bradford City matches. Several are lucky enough to be going to the final at Wembley.

"It's brought the city together," says Khalil Hussein, a social inclusion worker who runs the club.

Bradford's road to the final

  • R1: Notts Co 1-0 aet
  • R2: Watford 2-1
  • R3: Burton Alb 3-2 aet
  • R4: Wigan 0-0 (4-2 pens)
  • QF: Arsenal 1-1 (3-2 pens)
  • SF: Aston Villa 4-3 (agg)

"It doesn't matter if you're black, white, Asian, whatever. You either support Bradford City or you don't, and most of us do. More still needs to be done, but football has the power to unite, and that's what's happened here.

"At weekends you'll see 100 kids playing football here, from every community. It's one of the most diverse sets of lads anywhere in Yorkshire."

There's a limit to what Bradford's heroics on the pitch can achieve of course. Parts of the post-industrial city centre are desperately in need of development. A large area has been cleared for a long-awaited new shopping complex, but it has yet to arrive, and unemployment is a major problem in an area hit harder than most by the tough economic times.

But there is a genuine sense that the football club's underdog spirit has helped unite those who live here.

"The whole city's been lifted by it," says Bradford City's co-chairman Mark Lawn.

"Whites, Asians, everyone. And everyone is clamouring for a ticket. It's a miracle. It proves that the underdog can win."

Terry Yorath on his memories of both clubs, the Bradford fire and the loss of his son, Daniel.

Terry Yorath played for and managed Bradford and still lives a few miles away in Leeds.

"When I was there you'd hardly get any Asians watching a game," he says.

"But I remember one Sunday morning when I was manager. I went into the ground to do some office work. I heard a noise, looked out of my office window, and there were 100 Asians kids having a game on the pitch. They'd jumped over a wall to get in. It's a myth they don't like the game.

"Bradford is a unique place. Local politicians have been promising the city a bright new future, new buildings, and yet nothing had happened. It's taken the football team to do that. The city deserved this."

Three years ago British Pakistani Zesh Rehman  captained Bradford and gave a generation of local Muslim youngsters the sporting role model they needed.

But today, Bradford residents of every race are united in support of the unlikely underdogs that galvanised a city and charmed the sport at large.

The only colour on their minds? Claret and amber.