Bradford City striker Billy Clarke on the League One play-off final
STRIKER Billy Clarke insists the word ‘revenge’ won’t feature heavily as Bradford City prepare to take on Millwall at Wembley next Saturday.
The Bantams’ dreams of reaching the Championship a year ago were undone by the Lions in the play-off semi-finals. Millwall won 3-1 at Valley Parade and the return down south ended 1-1, ensuring the Lions headed to Wembley.
But Clarke believes the ‘revenge’ label isn’t one that applies to next weekend’s winner-takes-all clash at the home of football.
The 29-year-old said: “That’s how the build-up will be played out, with people talking about revenge on our side, but we are a completely different team to last year. We’ve had a change of manager, style and personnel. There are only three or four left from that team. We feel we have a possibly better team and it’s going to be another tight game with what’s riding on it.
“It always is when we play them, and two 1-1 draws this season between us suggest that.”
The change in manager Clarke refers to was Bradford legend Stuart McCall returning to the club a year ago. He took over the hotseat vacated by Phil Parkinson, who guided Bolton to League One promotion this term behind runaway champions Sheffield United.
Irishman Clarke is full of praise for the job the former Everton and Rangers midfielder has done this season.
“Him and Kenny (Black – assistant manager) have been brilliant from when they first came in,” said Clarke. “There were only eight players left, so there was a big job to do, but their recruitment has worked really well.
“The gaffer is quite a calm sort of guy, he’s relaxed when we’re training, but he’s serious when he needs to be. The way he is has rubbed off on us. We’re relaxed when we play.” McCall’s manner could be a plus for the Bantams as they approach their biggest match of the season. Former Ipswich, Blackpool and Crawley frontman Clarke admitted: “There will be nerves. We will be playing in front of 80,000 fans and there’s so much riding on it. “I was on the bench for Blackpool when we beat Cardiff (3-2 in the Championship play-off final in 2010), but didn’t get on.
a tremendous stadium and there’ll be a great atmosphere. Both teams will bring a huge following and I’m really looking forward to it.
“Form goes out of the window and it’s who turns up on the day.”
What cranks up the pressure even more is that the Championship is such an attractive proposition. With the likes of Sunderland and Middlesbrough dropping down from the Premier League and a bunch of heavyweights already in it – like Aston Villa, Leeds and Norwich – it is a mouth-watering prospect for those clubs pressing their noses against the window.
“It’s a great division,” said Clarke. “I read that it’s the fourth most watched in Europe and it’s where we want to be. A club the size of Bradford has been off that stage for far too long. Now we’re as close as we can be.”
The versatile Clarke will turn 30 in December, but he’s still got the hunger and desire to play as high as he possibly can.
It was cruel luck that he ruptured his cruciate ligament in the pre-season ahead of BlackIt’s pool’s Premier League debut in 2010-11 and missed the whole season.
Yet he’s previously shown he’s good enough for the Championship and wants to prove he can still cut it in the second tier, if Bradford see off Millwall.
“It would be massive for me to get back to the Championship,” he said. “I feel I have been good enough to play in it, but I haven’t had the chance, or things haven’t worked out. I definitely feel I’m good enough.
“Things have happened to me a few times. I’ve been in good form and then seem to have got injured. It’s frustrating, but it’s part and parcel of what we do.”
Perhaps Clarke is due a bit of luck at Wembley next Saturday.
If he does get it, Bradford won’t be complaining.
RELAXED: Manager Stuart McCall
SEALED WITH A KISS: Billy Clarke celebrates scoring for Bradford City Insets: Millwall’s Steve Morison scores against Bradford in last season’s play-off semi-final, top, and Clarke playing for Blackpool, bottom