Billy Clarke’s epic FA Cup run has almost sent his sister into early labour and could hamper his wedding plans but the Corkman has Wembley in mind as Bradford’s crusade continues today.
Reading become the latest favourite to face the Bantams and, just like against Premier League Chelsea and Sunderland before them, a determination exists within the League One outfit to cause another upset. Clarke’s contribution in the march to the quarter-finals has been vital. In November, Phil Parkinson’s side were staring first-round humiliation at Halifax until the 27-year-old engineered their second-half comeback with a pair of assists in a 2-1 win. His role at Stamford Bridge was less glamorous, getting sent into the fray late on with Chelsea peppering the visitors’ goal in search of an equaliser. Clarke fulfilled his role of shackling Eden Hazard, before fellow Irishman Mark Yeates scored to seal a shock 4-2 triumph.
Last time out against the Black Cats, Clarke’s miscued volley across the six-yard box forced compatriot John O’Shea to horribly deflect the ball into the net for the only goal of the fifth-round tie.
Another home fixture awaits today, yet an altogether different proposition. The expectation upon Bradford absent from the previous two rounds returns but the Leesider knows the latest challenge can be overcome.
“Reading are a Championship team, with a stronger squad than us that are capable of pushing towards the Premier League,” said the former Ireland U21 attacker.
“All we’ve wanted, though, since beating Chelsea, was home draws and this is our second in a row. Bradford’s fans are brilliant, making it a great atmosphere for the Sunderland tie, and Reading will get the same reception.
“But if people think we will find this easy after beating Chelsea and Sunderland, then they’re wrong. It’s the opposite case because there’s so much on the line. One more victory and there’s a Wembley semi-final for us. That’s the frame of mind we’re in.”
A sizeable crew from Cork will once again be present to support Clarke’s Cup odyssey, this time relieved that Jennifer Clarke is now the mother of seven-week old daughter, Madeleine.
“Jennifer was due her baby on the day of the last tie but came to the game with her partner, who is a Chelsea fan,” explained the striker, who has bagged eight goals this term.
“They were in amongst the 6,000 Bradford fans and events got so dramatic towards the end, with us coming from behind to beat Chelsea, that I thought she might go into labour. It all worked out fine, however.”
Another family member is following Bradford’s progress closely through a combination of excitement and anxiety. Clarke’s wedding is booked for the day following the cup final in May.
“I’m trying not to think that far ahead but I’ve been joking with the missus about being not able to make the wedding,” said the former Ipswich Town front man.
Currently eighth in League One, Bradford have twin-track ambitions of reaching English football’s most famous stadium come the business end of the campaign. Clarke was part of Blackpool’s successful promotion through the play-off route in 2010 and realises that’s their best chance of his latest club featuring the Championship. “Two Wembley appearances would be a nice way to finish the season,” he quipped.