Yesterday was a real treat, a cup final at Wembley contested by two proper football clubs and two proper football teams. There’s little needed to say more about Swansea and their wonderful style of play, but Bradford, still stuck in the bottom tier of English professional football, have been a revelation this season. That’s brought pain to us, of course, when we failed to muster enough of what mattered to overcome their well-drilled, energetic game. But what they’ve shown is that there is no need to be condescending, they have disposed of us as well as Wigan, Villa and Watford, and a couple of others – they are no mugs. It hurt, but if we’re honest, Bradford deserved to beat us, even if it was a victory borne of an appalling penalty shoot-out performance.
Living in northwest London, Wembley isn’t far away from my house, and it warmed my heart to see the streets filling up, not with cocky Chavs, Spuds, Reds, Oilers, Scousers or Gooners, but with the fans of two teams that haven’t come to take cup final appearances for granted, fans who really know the value of cup competitions, rather than treat them as consolation for failing to win the title or sideshow baubles. These were fans from less fashionable parts of the country (sorry Sheep!), and fans who love their football. Good on them.
Beyond the satisfaction of seeing two good footballing sides and two good sets of fans go to Wembley, there is a lesson in watching the success of Bradford and Swansea. These two clubs have spent years at the bottom of the football heap, laid low by years of short-sighted and incompetent management by their boards. Bradford had gone nuts when they got into the Premier League, splurging tomorrow’s money on stupid contracts for the likes of Benito Carbone. That stupidity saw them go into administration and go tumbling down the footballing pyramid. The Premier League glory days were long gone, but under Phil Parkinson, with no money to spend, they have found sufficient shape and confidence on the pitch to suggest the club has happier days ahead.
And Swansea’s renaissance is just remarkable. Little more than ten years ago, when being managed by ex-Arsenal player John Hollins, they were midway through a descent to the bottom, the club was sold for £1, players were being sacked, fans were protesting and the Football League was talking about punishing them. In 2002, they only narrowly avoided relegation out of the Football League. And then in 2004, they made the first of a series of managerial appointments that sent them climbing up the divisions. First there was Kenny Jackett, then Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup (with a Paulo Sousa interlude). Without being able to know quite how they organise things, it is obvious that the board there have established a superb way of working: the club’s resources (not a sugar-daddy’s) are used incredibly well, they keep on recruiting high quality managers and undervalued players and they have enough confidence in the coaches and players to allow creativity to flourish. None of your Pulis, O’Neill or Allardyce rubbish for them, they’ve created an environment where skill and talent rule. And now they’ve won a major trophy, with European football attached, and look like they’ll see their side finish in the top half of the division. Anyone who loves football must love Swansea these days. Perhaps not if you’re from Cardiff (they must hate life right now), but everyone else.
I might be gutted that we won’t have a pot again this season, but seeing two clubs like Swansea and Bradford at Wembley just goes to show the value of a well-run club, that doesn’t think it’s all about throwing money about but instead achieves success through hard work, planning and skill. That, in my opinion, is something to respect and savour, and it’s something some in the Arsenal community would do well to bear in mind, there are lessons in there for all football clubs.
Written by 26may