Let's All Rejoice In The Prospect Of An Ego-Free Final - And Not A Ball-Boy-Kicking In Site


Hallelujah. We have the people’s final, the no-lose final, the we-don’t-mind-who-wins-because-they’re-both-lovely final, the neither-team-would-kick-a-ball-boy-final.

Ok that’s enough, but you get my drift. What a refreshingly enjoyable afternoon, Sunday 24th February promises to be.

Most neutrals will be backing underdogs Bradford City of course, but should their remarkable miracle-working powers finally dry up on the hallowed turf, you won’t find many football followers outside of Cardiff city centre crying themselves to sleep at the sight of Ashley Williams lifting the Capital One Cup either.

Wembley finalists just don’t come any more humble than Bradford City and Swansea City. Sky Sports should trail their coverage by nicknaming it Ego-Free Sunday. (They can have that one for free)

Michael Laudrup and his players aren’t short of a bob or two granted - and win, lose or draw they should definitely be first to the bar at Wembley – but the showbiz cockiness and spoilt child tempestuousness that blights so many other Premier League teams is comfortingly absent.

From the great man Laudrup’s H&M dug-out attire and cool-headed approach, to star man Michu’s cry that despite having suitors he’s ‘living the dream’ at Swansea, to Angel Rangel’s midnight sandwich dash to feed the city’s homeless, you just know from looking at them and from listening to them, that the Welsh side have their feet firmly planted on the ground.

And that, as well as their brand of football is why they’re so popular.

Bradford City’s players reside in an altogether different place. Yes, Yorkshire (smart arse) but also in a place where like you and me they have to check their bank balance every month to see if they’re not overdrawn, where they share lifts to work in a bid to cut costs, where if they want to treat themselves to a new motor they’ll have to save up for it.

They live in a place where they have to book their own doctor’s or dentist’s appointments, where they have to buy their own boots, where they might have to look after the kids in the afternoon so that their missus can go out to work.

Bradford’s players live in the real world. And now as their manager so deliriously described at Villa Park, they’re suddenly in ‘dreamland’.

Can the Bantams achieve the impossible by winning the League Cup? I genuinely think they can.

Talent-wise and technically there’s a gulf in class between the two sides but the pressure is all on Swansea, and that can have a strange, strangling effect on players who thrive on the freedom of expressing themself.

In the build-up, the Swans will fiercely protest that Bradford won’t be taken lightly, and they won’t, but humans will be humans and that nasty little devil on their shoulder will relentlessly remind them; We’re gonna win it! They’re League 2! League 2 for goodness sake! We have to win it!

Swansea’s preparations will be meticulous, but the unspoken pressure of knowing you’re expected to win, and win well, means nerves will be shredded inside.

Never underestimate the hunger of a lower league footballer either.

Having slipped down the ladder from the lofty heights of Arsenal it was an eye opener for me to see just how much being a professional footballer meant to some of my team-mates at Southend United, Rotherham United, Carlisle United and Stevenage.

With the ruthless end of season trap door and possible exit from the game altogether, never too far away from players’ thoughts, complacency rarely sets in. If I’m being honest the desire to better themselves as footballers was arguably – visibly at least - stronger the lower I went.

In an interview I conducted with Bradford keeper Matt Duke last week he gave a nice insight into their mind set…

“I’ve seen each match as a way of challenging myself. I look forward to facing these big teams and top players, knowing that it is a chance to show what I am capable of. You can’t be intimidated. The Arsenal players are just normal blokes like the rest of us. If anything they might have been more anxious facing us than we were of them because they’re not used to rough and tumble football like we are. We’ve all relished it.”

And there you have it in a nutshell. Bradford may not be as scared as Swansea on the big day.

If Bradford City can avoid nerves getting the better of them, if they can use their fierce hunger to impress and channel it properly, if they run until they can run no more, and if they can use the special tight knit lower league camaraderie that has bonded them together in adversity, they can definitely unsettle Swansea City.

I’m not saying it will happen, but now that Bradford are in ‘dreamland’ their return to the real world might have to be put on hold a little longer.

That’s a story that will really make this the people’s final.

Click here to read more from former Arsenal midfielder Adrian Clarke.

Click here to check out our Capital One Cup final odds.