Bradford prepare to rival world's most unlikely cup winners

Shock success earns club £1m and chance to match Sri Lanka Navy as victors from fourth tier

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The Independent Football

The front page of The Bradford Telegraph and Argus said everything about the city's sentiments for the players who had secured City's historic and unprecedented place in a Wembley League Cup final. "You Heroes," the banner headline stated, though the most relieved man in the city was the trader who had 450 "Bradford City Wembley 2013" scarves made in advance.

The club's achievement, which will reap them an estimated £1m, was still being understated as dawn broke on the place and the players tucked into their slap-up breakfast, laid on at a Bradford casino after a long night of celebrations.

BBC Radio Five Live's Nicky Campbell congratulated the club's joint chairman Mark Lawn on being the first fourth-tier chairman since Rochdale, in 1962, to reach Wembley. "No, no, no, no," Lawn shot back. "We are the first club in the fourth tier to get to Wembley. Rochdale only managed it on a two-leg basis."

Lawn could state with utter conviction that all 31,000 of the club's allocated tickets would be sold, contributing to what chairmen and chief executives in the lower leagues call "football fortune" – the unbudgeted financial windfall which comes from a cup run or a big player sale.

Each finalist will receive 45 per cent of the gate receipts from Wembley Stadium on 24 February, with £250,000 of that £1m bonanza going to the players in bonuses and the rest contributing to what has become Bradford's obsessive desire to get out of the bottom tier.

But as the Sporting Intelligence website established, a win in the final would also make Bradford the first fourth-tier team in world football history to win any national cup in any significant football nation (one ranked inside Fifa's top 100).

To date, the only fourth-tier team to have won a cup was the Sri Lanka Navy in 2010, although they arguably do not count since they were actually a side of top-division calibre, only playing in Sri Lanka's fourth tier that season having withdrawn from the top division "due to fighting commitments".

The act of reaching the final is almost unprecedented. Only Rochdale, in 1962, and Calais, who lost to Nantes in the 2000 French Cup final, have accomplished the feat. Only three times in English football history has any team even as low as the third tier (or equivalent) won any cup.

It was scarcely possible to know how James Hanson, a Co-operative supermarket shelf-stacker and Guiseley FC amateur three and a half years ago but tie-winner at Villa Park, was feeling. Having overcome a broken toe to start the game, he was deliberating about whether to pick up the newspapers from his old workplace to read about his success.

"I still go in and show my face because it's my local one. I try to go to Morrisons [though] because it's quite expensive there," he joked. "I think I was just enjoying playing non-league and scoring goals. You get paid quite good money and I was working as well, it was quite a good lifestyle.

"But you always want to play as high as you can and thankfully Stuart McCall gave me a chance when he was manager and I've not looked back since. It just shows if you keep working hard, anything can happen."