StoryCast '21: Bradford City vs Arsenal, 2012 - when the lower league minnows shook up the establishment

Bradford had the kind of "Roy of the Rovers" experience so rarely seen in football when they beat Arsenal as a League Two club in 2012. Former Bantams striker James Hanson and Sky Sports journalist Tim Thornton share the story in the seventh episode of StoryCast '21, a Sky News podcast.

Former Bradford City striker James Hanson, centre, has shared his incredible story in the latest episode of Sky News' StoryCast '21.
Image: Former Bradford City striker James Hanson, centre, has shared his incredible story in the latest episode of Sky News' StoryCast '21.

In 2012, Bradford City FC was a football club in the doldrums. The former Premier League side, much like the city itself, had been in decline - dropping three divisions in 12 seasons. The huge gap between the wealthiest clubs and the lower-tier sides, emphasised recently by the attempted creation of the European Super League, was felt even back then.

But with a team that cost just £10,000 to assemble - Bradford would strike a blow for the lower league minnows and shake up the football establishment. This is "A Football Fairytale".

Former Bradford City striker James Hanson and Sky Sports journalist Tim Thornton have shared their story in the seventh episode of StoryCast '21, a Sky News podcast series telling 21 extraordinary personal stories from news events of the century.

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James Hanson had always dreamed about scoring the winning goal at Wembley.

The striker had been a promising youth player with Huddersfield Town and Bradford City, but in 2009, as the 21-year-old stacked shelves in his local Co-op supermarket - his Wembley dream seemed to be light years away.

As a child, Hanson had lived just a few minutes from the training ground of Bradford City FC - ​a club with a deep connection to its fans and the local community.

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The city had been united in grief in 1985 when 56 supporters were killed in a fire at the club's stadium.

A memorial service took place at the ground after the Bradford fire
Image: A memorial service after the 1985 fire at Bradford's stadium

More than a decade later Bradford City FC would achieve promotion to the Premier League - only to slide down the divisions to the Championship and then League One.

In 2009, the side had slipped all the way down to League Two when they paid £7,500 to sign Hanson from non-league Guiseley.

Bradford City FC was a football club in the doldrums and the coaching staff wanted to bring in Hanson to help turn their fortunes around.

There was much optimism and fighting spirit, but nobody predicted they were three years away from the kind of "Roy of the Rovers" experience so rarely seen in football.

James Hanson, right, plays against Premier League side Wigan Athletic in 2012
Image: James Hanson, right, plays against Premier League side Wigan Athletic for Bradford back in 2012

In 2012, Phil Parkinson was manager and things were looking up for Bradford.

The team were fighting for promotion to League One and were also have a decent run in the League Cup, winning the first three games of the competition.

But when they came up against Premier League side Wigan in the fourth round everyone, maybe even the players themselves, assumed the dream was now over.

Speaking in A Football Fairytale, Hanson now picks up the story: "It was an unbelievable feeling just to be playing against Premier League players.

"We won on penalties, the feeling after that was just unbelievable."

Bradford City's James Hanson attempts to control the ball near Arsenal's goal during the League Cup clash in 2012
Image: Bradford City's James Hanson attempts to control the ball near Arsenal's goal during the League Cup clash in 2012

Sky Sports News reporter Tim Thornton, who covered Bradford matches at the time, continues: "Suddenly the fans were invested in this cup journey."

Premier League giants Arsenal were pulled out of the hat for the next round with the home tie set for December 11.

Tim continues: "Arsenal were one of the biggest clubs in English football at the time, one of the biggest clubs in Europe.

"They had a charismatic manager in Arsene Wenger and lots of superstar players."

Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen takes a penalty during the League Cup tie against Bradford in 2012
Image: Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen takes a penalty during the League Cup tie against Bradford in 2012

Any hopes that Wenger would rest his top players, as he had done in previous tournaments, were quickly crushed before kick-off at Bradford's Valley Parade stadium.

Hanson said: "When the team sheet came in it was just international after international."

The manager told the players to enjoy themselves and that their reward for reaching this stage in the competition was to play in front of a stadium packed with Bradford fans.

But for Hanson this was more than just another football match - if he was ever to achieve his dream of scoring at Wembley he was going to have get past Arsenal first.

Listen to James Hanson's incredible story in A Football Fairytale and what happened next in the latest episode of StoryCast '21.

You can listen to the episode here.

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