Beating Aston Villa these days isn’t such a hard thing to do, and yet Bradford reaching the final of the Carling Cup is almost unheard of not just in English football but all around Europe, possibly becoming the first ever fourth-tier club to win a cup competition in any European league.
There has never been a fourth-tier team that won either the League Cup or the FA Cup. Bradford isn’t the first fourth-tier finalists. Rochdale reached the League Cup final in 1962, losing to Norwich City 4-1 after two legs. That is the only the second time in the history of European football that a team from such a low division reached a final of a local cup competition.
In France, the tiny Calais RUFC, now a fifth division team (Championnat de France amateur 2), reached the Coupe de France final in 2000, losing to Nantes 2-1 on a 90th minute penalty by Antoine Sibierski. Calais knocked out Ligue 1 teams like Bordeaux and Strasbourg in the previous rounds.
There have been no more fourth-tier finalists in any European league, but there have been third-tier finalists, and even some winners. Tottenham won the FA Cup in 1901 as a third-tier team; just like QPR in 1967 and their League Cup triumph and Swindon two years later in the same competition.
In the Netherlands, RCH Haarlem won the trophy in 1918. In 1920, CVV Rotterdaam won it as well. In 1921, Schoten became the last third-tier team to win the KNVB Cup. Poland with Lechia Gdansk in 1983 and Sweden with Råå IF in 1948 also have third-tier winners of their own cup competitions.