Nobody likes him anyway!
14th April 2020
I parked up my Honda S2000 in the allotted staff car park. Some players still got the bus from their apartments, especially players like Tony Cooke who hadn't even passed their driving tests yet. Some arrived together in cars, like Matthew Fletcher and Ben Blackmore who turned up in Ben Foster's Audi R8.
'Hiya boss,' shouted over Matty James, who clicked the button which locked his car up after dragging out his Adidas bag full of football gear like boots, shinpads, kit and deodorant.
'Hi Matty!' I called over in response, 'Feeling good today? Massive game,' it really was a huge game today. We just needed a win from this game against Rotherham and that would send us into the Premier League for next season via automatic promotion.
James walked over to join me as we walked in through the players' entrance which had been constructed with the most recent stadium expansion at Horsfall Stadium. 'Absolutely boss, went to bed when my kid went to sleep last night at six - couldn't have had a better kip if I tried!'
'Mine was completely the opposite,' I said. 'I couldn't get a wink of sleep last night whether it be the excitement or how I would set you lot out to play today - I don't know,'
'Well we're looking up to you today, boss.' Matty James winked at me before jogging off to join his teammates in the changing rooms.
I waited outside the changing rooms, doing a head count as everyone scuttled into the Lynx-scented room. As my Assistant Manager Wayne Benn turned up he got up close to me, saying in a very low voice: 'Have you not heard?'
'No, what?' I asked in a confused manner.
'Jamie Carragher's watching us today, I don't know who he's looking at.' he looked concerned. Carragher had become Queens Park Rangers manager over December 2019 and was looking at one of our men today.
'Ah, it's nothing to worry about Wayne,' I said propping my arm up on his shoulder. 'We get gaffers down here all the time, but the fact is if we win today then we can become one of those teams who just poach players all the time,' I walked off without waiting for a response from Benn.
'Right then boys! Listen in, I believe we've got everyone in,' I said as I clapped my hands to get everyone's attention. 'Right, same formation as usual - Foster, you're in net surprisingly. Mason, Gary, Ty and Miguel at the back,' I looked towards Holgate, Cahill, Browning and Layún while saying that. 'Marcos and Ben Blackmore in the middle, Hallahan on the right, Shigeru on the left. Up top we'll have Carabina and Matthew Fletcher.' I looked across the changing rooms. 'The rest will be on the bench so keep warm, it's 12 degrees out there today.'
The players responded well to my selection and began to get changed into their kits, or into their tracksuits if they were substitutes.
'Listen boys, this is the biggest game in this clubs' history. People will be looking back on this game saying "that was the game that got us into the Premier League". As footballers some of you will not have a bigger match than this in your entire careers,' I paused for effect before raising my voice tenfold. 'NOW LET'S FUCKING DO THIS!'
The players ran out onto the pitch after they had shook hands with today's opponents and officials. Me, Wayne Benn and several coaches, physios and substitutes took our places on the bench for today's match. I felt Wayne Benn's arms wrap around me, whispering 'Fucking come on...'
The referee blew the first whistle of the match as Rotherham's strikers kickstarted the biggest day in Bradford Park Avenue history.
Our first chance came very early into the first half. Layún picked up the ball for a throw-in on the far side of the pitch. A throw to Ben Blackmore was quickly returned as Layún dribbled inside with the ball. Gondo and Layún played a one-two down the left flank before the left-back gave it back to Blackmore. Blackmore found his central midfield partner Llorente on the edge of the box, with his back to goal. Llorente found Fletcher with a great pass and the Australian hit the post before it was cleared.
'Bollocks!' I shouted, rather embarrassingly loud. As much as I was disappointed we didn't get an early goal, it was magnificent football and I hoped it set the tone for the entire game.
Then, in the thirteenth minute of the match another chance arose for us. Adam Davies had kicked the ball out from a goal kick. Tyias Browning's headed clearance could only reach Madine in our half. Madine played it to Loza who was excellently dispossessed by Gary Cahill, as the former England defender marched out with the ball unchallenged by red shirts. Cahill hit a fast, low ball along the ground for Fletcher to stop and control. I stepped up off my seat as the striker played a wonderful through ball for Carabina. Carabina rounded the keeper and scored...
'YEEEESSSSS!!!!' I jumped out of my seat. The crowd went wild, with some fans even spilling onto the pitch which the jobsworth stewards hated. 'Have it!!!' In celebration, Carabina - the goalscorer - ran over to the right hand corner flag, doing some very jazzy samba dancing before being taken down to the turf by his overjoyed teammates. GET IN I thought to myself.
Then came a chance for our opponents, Rotherham United. Crowley swung in a corner, Holgate came off his position on the post to head it far away. Rotherham skipper Richard Keogh went to gather the ball in between the penalty area and the centre spot. Loza picked out a beautiful pass to the initial corner taker Crowley. Crowley passed a ball inside to Gary Madine who thundered an equaliser into the top corner.
Our stadium fell silent, with all that could be heard was my expletives from the dugout as I punched the brick structure in front of me out of anger, which severely hurt my knuckles. I watched as the opposition manager raced to the touchline in celebration along with other members of his staff. I wanted to hit him at that point, nobody can take away my big day.
Near half-time, we had a corner which was taken by our Japanese winger Shigeru Gondo. Philliskirk headed it away at the near post but Matthew Fletcher retrieved it on the left wing. The Aussie found the oncoming Miguel Layún from left-back and the Mexican passed it to his Latin buddy Marcos Llorente in the centre. Llorente gave it to Hallahan's feet inside the area and turned his marker inside out. Hallahan unleashed a powerful shot which hit the bar before falling gratefully into the hands of Adam Davies.
I was wondering, is it our day today? We had hit the post once, the crossbar once, they have had two shots and one of them equalises the score and we're pretty much at half-time. I'm getting a bad feeling.
The team came into the changing rooms at half-time deflated after conceding that goal in the 22nd minute. 'It's all okay boys. There's nothing to worry about out there today.' I said to the team calmly. 'We've been given a rough deal so far with that goal, but this is a brilliant performance by all of you. These fans have loved you this season and all they need is one goal and you will be known as the team who sent this club into the top-flight,'
After letting them talk amongst each other for the rest of the break, it was Matthew Fletcher who kicked us off for the second half.
Andy Kellett took the throw in for Rotherham in their own territory. It arrived straight at Mason Holgate's feet who launched a pass up to Fletcher, who was bullied in the air by Keogh, but his clearance only ended back at Llorente's feet. This time Llorente actually found Fletcher's feet with the pass and he controlled it well. He linked up with Carabina who held up the ball for Fletcher's run, to which he backheeled the ball through Prestia's legs as Fletcher powered the ball low at Davies' near post.
Horsfall Stadium erupted into a sea of noise as the goal net rippled to contain the sheer power that Matthew Fletcher had injected into his shot. I cheered in unison with the fans as Wayne Benn ran onto the pitch in the moment of absolute joy. We could well be going up today, all thanks to the hero that is Matthew Fletcher.
I decided that making a double substitution was the best decision for now, with some players beginning to run out of steam. 'Luke, Matty, get warmed up,' I smiled at both Luke Lloyd, Matty James who rushed out of the dugout to start doing exercises down the touchline. Marcos Llorente and Tyias Browning were coming off.
Kellett took the corner as we were trying to see out the rest of the game. He rifled it out to Cain who passed it to Gladwin. Gladwin sent it back out to Kellett who powered it into the box this time, which was met by Atdhe Nuhiu. There was a moment where my body stopped working as I waited for the goalline scramble to end. Ben Foster eventually held onto the ball, much to the delight of my body which then began to function once more.
It was about the 80th minute when I heard the public announcer on the Tannoy speakers telling fans to keep off the pitch at the end of the game today. That was when it begun to sink in that we were really doing this today.
92 minutes. We are winning 2-1 and the fans are whistling to the referee to make him realise that time is up. Ben Blackmore kicks it to Miguel Layún, who gives it to Gondo and runs down the line, possibly to get into the corner so Rotherham can't equalise any time soon. As he made his way down to the corner flag on the near side, that was when I heard the screech of the whistle.
Absolute pandemonium. The fans ignored the public announcer from ten minutes earlier and raced onto the Horsfall Stadium pitch in jubilation. I didn't blame them one bit. If I was still just a fan of this club, I would be doing the exact same thing. We had just completed our journey, from the depths of Vanarama National League North, to the Premier League in the space of five years is something no other fan will experience.
I was picked up by three fans, two had both my legs and one was propping up my waist as I was carried aloft everybody in the celebrations. This was my life as manager of Bradford Park Avenue, and nobody was going to take that away from me. The images that would come out today in the press will be the ones plastered around Horsfall Stadium and every Bradford surroundings nearby.
We are Premier League.