Swansea City, going for the first major trophy of their 101-year history, in just their second season as a Premier League outfit after nearly 30 years out of the top division, and hoping to win only Welsh football's second major trophy, find themselves cast as an unlikely giant to be killed. Just 13 years ago, the roles would have been reversed: Bradford City were the Premier League club and the Swans were in League Two.
In a game dominated by big clubs who resemble multi-national corporations, two teams have the opportunity to lift the spirits of a pair of British cities that have suffered much in the last few decades. Wembley is at its loudest when clubs less used to visiting make an appearance. The recent big noises have been made by Stoke City and Birmingham City. South Wales and West Yorkshire should combine to raise the roof.
The Swans’ story is phoenix-like. The club led the English top flight at various points in the 1981-82 season but found themselves in Division Four by 1986 and facing a winding-up order. The Valleys were wracked by unemployment as coal mines closed weekly.
The demise of the club was averted but 17 years later, the picture was much the same, until a group of fans bound together to save Swansea and develop it into the most progressive in the British game, with an eye for managerial talent. Michael Laudrup is the latest trustee, but his succession is planned already. He has been linked with Chelsea and Real Madrid this week and the Swansea board are preparing for such a departure without panic. There must be several managers happy to be considered.
Until this season, Bradford City were slumped at the bottom of the cycle from which Swansea have propelled themselves. The pair were in the same division as recently as 2004-05. Bradford were relegated from the Premier League in 2000-01, the same season that Swansea were relegated back to League Two once more.
Bradford, from a city where the textile industry fell on hard times long ago, are a classic case of English football's boom-and-bust cycles. In the mid-'90s, they were a resolutely third-tier club, until the arrival of Geoffrey Richmond, a businessman from neighbouring Leeds. Richmond epitomised the English football adage that businessmen lose their sense once they step inside a football boardroom. City climbed through the divisions, only to stumble back through them at a bewildering and potentially fatal pace.
Despite a loyal fanbase, a series of managers have failed to revive Valley Parade, including Bryan Robson and Stuart McCall, the local boy who returned home after a fine playing career with Rangers and Scotland. Phil Parkinson had looked to be on his last chance when taking the job in the summer of 2011 after disappointments at Hull City and Charlton Athletic.
Bantams fans still believe in promotion, but this season will always be recalled for the club's most glorious run to a final since winning the FA Cup in 1911, a year before Swansea were even formed. Parkinson's team got to Wembley the hard way, beating first Wigan then, amazingly, Arsenal on penalties in the quarter-final, before overcoming Aston Villa in a two-legged semi-final.
Bradford warmed up for Wembley in underwhelming style in losing to AFC Wimbledon, the lowest team in the entire league, but Swansea's weekend was not much more use to them. Laudrup rested seven players, and suffered a punishing 5-0 loss at Liverpool that the Dane admitted could have ended up as a ten-goal deficit. Swansea also claimed the dubious honour of becoming the first top-ten Premier League team to have lost to Liverpool, though the same team were one of their victims on the way to Wembley.
Swansea's possession game - as developed by Roberto Martinez, patented by Brendan Rodgers and amended by Laudrup to be more direct - is expected to dominate the flow of the match. Parkinson has admitted his team need to be patient, and defend with the doggedness that held off the previous trio of Premier League scalps. Bradford must also rediscover the ability to seize opportunities granted to them at set pieces, and revive the indomitable spirit that got them this far.
Chico Flores, outstanding in both of Swans' excellent semi-final performances against Chelsea, is absent after damaging ankle ligaments against QPR a fortnight ago, which might strengthen Bradford's hand. Should they get the ball to Michu enough times, Swansea are expected to win and end the dream of Bradford City, but a victory for either team will provide a heartening narrative.
Bradford City player to watch: Gary Jones. Bantams captain Jones is a former Swansea player. When he joined Swansea in 1997 from Caernarfon Town, it was his big break in league football, but the 20-year-old Jones never quite made it and was loaned and then sold to Rochdale, where he became a stalwart, after a gap at Barnsley, for nine out of 12 years. Jones embodied Bradford's spirit against both Arsenal and Aston Villa, and will lead the charge once more at Wembley, where he can become the first ever fourth-level skipper to lift the League Cup.
Swansea City player to watch: Michu. In a totting up of the best players of the Premier League season so far, Michu must be mentioned. He may not have the star status of Mata, Van Persie or Suarez, but he has maintained the consistency of all three. From scoring the goals that blasted away QPR on the opening day of the season to spearing Chelsea, Michu has announced himself as the find of the season. With Danny Graham departed to Sunderland, his striking burden may be greater, but the Spaniard is expected to secure Swansea's most glorious day.
Key battle: James Hanson v Ashley Williams. The wonderfully named West Yorkshire village of Idle is where Hanson used to ply his trade, stacking shelves in a supermarket while playing non-league football for Eccleshill United and Guiseley. It was at the latter that the Bantams, who once divested of him as a youth player, spotted his talent. Hometown hero status was secured when he played with a broken toe in the semi-final and scored the goal that took his team to Wembley. His most regular opponent on Sunday will be Williams, another late developer who played non-league for Hednesford, and then signed for Stockport County to eventually move through the divisions with Swansea. Leading by example, and now captain of Wales, Williams has been courted by Liverpool after his part in the Swans’ flight to Premier League acceptance and potential Wembley glory.
Trivia: The clubs' last meeting came in 2007, in a League One game that finished in a 2-2 draw after Bradford legend Dean Windass scored a late penalty. Veteran David Weatherall, who once scored the goal that kept the Bantams in the Premier League, was still playing for them. The only remnant from either team is Swansea's Leon Britton, though Joe Allen, as sold to Liverpool last summer, was a teenager on the Welsh side’s bench.
Stats: Michael Laudrup's side have not scored a goal away from the Liberty Stadium since their 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge in the Capital One Cup semi-final back in early January. (Opta)
Prediction: Bradford's battlers to take it to extra-time, and then penalties, where nobody gets the better of them.