After their FA Cup Third Round replay win over Millwall, Saturday, January 24th saw Bradford City travel to Stamford Bridge – the home of the Premier League champions-elect, Chelsea – for a Fourth Round tie.
For everyone concerned, a walkover was expected. There was no way that the Bantams, sitting in the Play-Off places in League One and forty-nine places below Chelsea, could trouble the might of the Blues on their own patch. It was to be a stepping stone towards an unprecedented quadruple (Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and Capital One Cup) for the West London club. Jose Mourinho’s men had not tasted defeat to lower league opposition at the Bridge for seven years – Barnsley were the last team to have that honour bestowed upon them in 2008.
As the clock ticked over to the 41st minute, it looked as though the Tykes’ record would be preserved. Gary Cahill guiding the ball home from a corner in the 21st minute, coupled with Ramires’ strike seventeen minutes later, had eased the home side into a 2-0 lead. The first-half was about to come to a close – and seemingly, so was Bradford’s hopes of progression.
But then, Jon Stead scored. And the Bantams turned the footballing world upside down.
The former Bristol City front-man fired home from the edge of the box, giving the visitors a small ray of hope going into the second-half. Tim Penfold, life-long Bradford fan, takes up the story from the away end: ”Once Chelsea started scoring, it looked like they’d cruise it, which was a bit deflating. Stead’s goal was both vital and brilliant – it got us back into it. At that stage I was happy, because we’d got a goal and had something to celebrate.”
Kate Eveleigh, member of the Bradford City Supporters’ Board, was also one of the 6,000 in claret and amber: ”At 1-0, I felt we were unlucky to be behind – we’d kept Chelsea at bay (save for a silly mistake) and had some good chances of our own. At 2-0, I was fearing the worst and anticipating a Swansea-esque scoreline (0-5 in the Capital One Cup Final), which is the last thing we wanted.’
‘We didn’t expect to win, but we didn’t want to lose heavily. We wanted to give a good account of ourselves and at 2-1 I thought we had done that. We’d seen a City goal, so at the time I would’ve been happy for full time at half time! My friend, who missed her grandson’s birthday party for the game, promised him that if we drew, she’d take him to the replay for his first City game and at half time, she said ‘all we’ve got to do is score one and hold on…’ – I did give her a pessimistic look!”
The Bantams begun the second-half believing that anything was possible. The final 15 minutes of football would ensure that the name of Bradford City AFC will forever be in the FA Cup history books.
In the 75th minute, with Jose’s charges searching for the killer blow, it was to be Phil Parkinson’s heroes that would land their own right-hook. A wonderful passing move saw the ball fall at the feet of ex-Chelsea man, Filipe Morais, who slotted home, levelling the scores, sending the masses behind the goal into raptures.
However, they weren’t done. Just seven minutes later – and shortly after Eden Hazard had replaced Loic Remy – Andy Halliday’s shot found its way past Petr Cech, giving the League One side the lead. Not only had Bradford taken the lead at the home of the best team in the land, but they had completed a remarkable comeback from 2-0 down.
At 3-2 up against Chelsea, most clubs would defend for their lives. Not Bradford. The Bantams smelt blood and in injury time, with the home side looking for a goal that would clinch a replay, Stead found Mark Yeates in the penalty area, who shot past Cech, adding a fourth to their final total.
The final whistle blew shortly after – Bradford City had completed the comeback to end all comebacks. The victory to end all victories. The shock to end all shocks. They were to take their place in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup with a result that had travelled around the world within minutes of the conclusion of the game.
Middlesbrough had just won 2-0 at Manchester City; Manchester United had been held to a goalless draw at League Two side, Cambridge United, the previous evening, but those results seemed to pale into insignificance, as the Bantams’ heroics took centre stage – and rightly so.
”The second half was amazing; easily the best I’ve ever seen us play” said Tim. ”We were all over them, forcing corners and half-chances and deserved the equaliser. At 2-2, I actually thought we could get another – we were that good. I haven’t got many clear recollections after the equaliser – I can remember nerves, celebrating the third as wildly as I’ve ever celebrated a goal (my friend pulled a muscle in his arm through celebrating!) and actually being too drained to celebrate number four properly. An incredible day, topped off by getting home just in time to watch Match of the Day (my wonderful house-mate, Jen, who I promised a name-check, got me a couple of ciders in so I could enjoy it properly!)”
Kate added: ”At 2-2 and 2-3, I was obviously ecstatic, but I felt there was always a chance that Chelsea would come back – a replay would in no way be a disaster. Then, seven minutes of injury time were announced and we couldn’t understand why. I can honestly tell you that the first four minutes were the longest four minutes of my entire life. (Ed: FA Cup Semi Final, 04/04/04 – I know the feeling!) When goal number four went in, we started to believe we had done it and I burst into tears. I was completely speechless – trust me, there’s not much that can do that to me!”
The 6,000 travelling fans partied all the way back to Yorkshire – but what of those that couldn’t make this momentous day?
”It was a tortuous experience!’ said Katie. ‘I like the reassurances I can give myself when I watch a game, literally seeing whether City are dominating a game or not, but THAT was intense! Every feeling was magnified. Every nerve on was a knife edge, pushed to its limit.’
‘At 2-2, I didn’t even want to think about the replay, scared contemplating a visit from Chelsea would somehow break the spell. At 3-2, I didn’t dare celebrate Halliday’s goal – with our luck, I expected it to be flagged as offside. With eight minutes of extra time to get through, I didn’t even contemplate the idea of winning; I don’t consider myself superstitious, but I was paralysed by the fear of jinxing the result, too terrified to breathe, to blink, to tear my eyes from Final Score in case something went wrong.’
‘But when Yeates tucked away that final goal, I couldn’t stop myself. I let out a roar, fired a Gary Jones fist-pump and let my mind, momentarily, flick to what was really going on: we had just knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup!”
As many football fans will know, the Bantams have previous when it comes to cup shocks: the win over the Blues was just the latest in a line of upsets that include the names of Arsenal and Aston Villa. But, for our trio of Bradford fans, where does the Fourth Round win rank?
”I think the best’ said Katie. ‘Arsenal was the apex for me, but this has totally eclipsed that night. Without demeaning the triumph over the Gunners, Wenger could make reasonably plausible excuses, rightly or wrongly. But this? There were none. It was the Chelsea. The best team in the country. One of the best teams in Europe. On a ridiculously long unbeaten run. At Stamford Bridge. With a team of World Cup winners, Champions League finalists, Drogbas, Fabregases, Hazzards. And they were outclassed in every single area of the park. Phil Parkinson went face-to-face with the best tactician in the world, probably second only to Guardiola, and won. City became only the fifth team in the world to slot four past a Mourinho side on his own turf. I wasn’t even there, yet this is probably the best moment I’ve ever experienced as a City fan. The greatest FA Cup shock of all time, and it was our City. Wow.”
Kate’s answer supports Katie’s argument: ”The Play-Offs meant the most to us in terms of our overall progression as a club/team, but the Chelsea game was by far the best of the cup scalps. Arsenal and Villa obviously deserve respect as Premiership teams, but Chelsea are a whole different animal and are likely to win the league by some distance. They have a quality we’d not come up against before, but we were a match for them – and more. To come from 2-0 behind, when we were seemingly dead and buried, shows the fight we have in our team – that’s very important to us. As fans, we know that our players aren’t technically the best, but if they work hard and fight for each other, we will always get behind them and be proud of them, so that fightback was special.”
Tim, however, opted for that famous night at Villa Park: ”It’s up there with all of them, but I’d still rank Villa away as the top – the realisation that we were off to Wembley tops anything I’ve experienced as a fan.”
Regular readers may remember from the previous round that Tim was up against his Chelsea-supporting boss in Round Four. Years worth of bragging rights were on offer and the Bantams’ comeback, coupled with a premature text, left Tim’s manager smarting: ”He sent me a text at 1-0 saying ‘Game Over.’ He’s been regretting that ever since – my entire department has been joining in with the mockery (even the Leeds fan!)”
The Fifth Round draw handed the giant-killers a home tie against Fulham or Sunderland. The two clubs had to settle for a replay after a 0-0 draw at the Stadium of Light, but it was to be the Premier League outfit that would triumph at Craven Cottage, winning 3-1.
With the prospect of Wembley Stadium just two games away, are the Bantams happy with a home tie against top division opposition?
”I wanted Sunderland’ said Tim. ‘Its a bigger game, they’ll bring more fans, there’ll be a huge crowd and they’re beatable. We’ve got used to hosting Premier League opposition after the League Cup run, so that’s nothing new, but I’m really looking forward to the game. The atmosphere should be great.”
”I was rooting for Sunderland’ added Kate. ‘I think the outcome has attracted more fans, which will hopefully create a better atmosphere. Perhaps against the grain, I also think we stand a better chance against Sunderland, as we tend to raise our game and do well against higher opposition. Poyet has already commented on the vegetable patch on which we play, so it’s clear that is a concern to him – hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”
The Coral Windows Stadium surface has been in the news in the build-up to the tie; Sunderland manager, Gus Poyet, has labelled it as ‘one of the worst in the country’, while Bradford boss, Phil Parkinson, put the onus on his board of directors to sort the pitch out. Kevin Johnson, referee of the Bantams’ recent 1-1 draw with Colchester United, was close to postponing the game over fears for the players safety, whilst their 2-1 televised win over MK Dons on Monday night exposed the surface to the viewing public.
Will the condition of the pitch prove a big factor in which way the tie goes this coming Sunday?
With regards to the bread and butter of the League One season, the Yorkshire sides’ hopes of promotion have faltered in recent weeks, in conjunction with their FA Cup run. Monday night’s win over MK Dons was Bradford’s first in 2015 – consecutive defeats at home to Rochdale and away at Yeovil were followed by draws against Colchester United and Port Vale – but what would Kate, Katie and Tim rather? An attempt at promotion, or the financial (and memorable) benefits of an FA Cup run?
Kate kicks-off the argument with: ”I’m going with the cup. For me, this was never our promotion season – with the budget slashed and Parkinson still with a year left on his contract, I anticipated a further year of consolidation – in my eyes, the side have already massively overachieved. Financially, the potential rewards in the cup are huge – at this stage, there are no easy games, but after despatching Chelsea, City could conceivably beat Sunderland and obtain another favourable draw.’
‘My only worry would be that next season could easily become a make-or-break promotion season and see us push the boat out financially – I’m concerned this year could be our best and safest chance to get promoted, but there is that much longevity in the squad that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they didn’t reach the play-offs this year.”
Tim agrees. ”We’ve been a bit unlucky in recent league games – we could’ve won all four of them quite easily. However, the results haven’t come and it is affecting our play-off push. I’d take the cup run, though – I don’t think missing out on promotion would be a disaster, especially looking at the relegation favourites from the Championship – we’d be able to push for promotion easily next season. A cup run like this would set us up financially and stay in the memory for longer, so I’d take that.”
Kate, meanwhile, would like to see her side ‘take one game at a time and take what we can get.’
”To be honest, I think we’re overachieving slightly. I never expected to be doing so well in either competition. We don’t generally do well against lower teams anyway, so I fully expected the disappointments at Yeovil and against Colchester (when the pitch was a mud-bath). I’d quote Ronan Keating’s famous song about the similarities between human existence and fairground rides at this point but I don’t want to bring your blog into disrepute!”
Sunderland are the team charged with stopping the Bantams and their view comes from Keith Chapman. Keith writes for the match-day programme and told me how Gus Poyet will not take Bradford lightly on Sunday: ”Poyet will not take the Bantams lightly and he will know that Sunderland will have to play very well to be in the hat for the next round.’
‘During Gus’ time at Sunderland, he has operated a 4-5-1 formation, with three central midfielders and two attacking midfielders supporting the main striker, which next weekend will almost certainly be Jermain Defoe. When Gus signed Defoe, he used a 3-5-2 formation so he could partner the former Spurs front-man with another striker. However, against Burnley, we reverted back to 4-5-1, with Defoe supported by Connor Wickham and Adam Johnson – and it worked very well.’
‘Against Fulham (in Round Four), Gus played a 4-4-2 formation, but he will be wary of the threat Bradford will pose on the day – the team he picks have got to stand up and be counted, because it will be a battle. Over the past couple of seasons we have done well in the cups, so I’m confident the players will have the experience and know-how what to expect.”
Bradford City host Sunderland in the FA Cup Fifth Round on Sunday, February 15th. Kick-Off at the Coral Windows Stadium is at 2:30pm.
You can view highlights of Chelsea 2-4 Bradford City HERE.
Predicted Bradford City line-up: Ben Williams; Stephen Darby (C), Andrew Davies, Rory McArdle, James Meredith; Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Andy Halliday, Billy Knott; James Hanson, Jon Stead.
Keith Chapman’s Predicted Sunderland line-up: Costel Pantilimon; Anthony Reveillere, Santiago Vergini, John O’Shea (C), Patrick Van Aanholt; Sebastian Larsson, Jordi Gomez, Jack Rodwell; Adam Johnson, Connor Wickham; Jermain Defoe.
Score Predictions: Tim: Bradford City 1-2 Sunderland. Kate: Bradford City 1-3 Sunderland (head), Bradford City 2-0 Sunderland (heart!). Katie: Bradford City 2-1 Sunderland. Keith: Bradford City 1-2 Sunderland.
Find out how Bradford City got on in the Sixth Round Proper HERE.
Check out the rest of the FA Cup journey here: https://marklitchfieldblog.wordpress.com/fa-cup-20142015/
Katie Whyatt tells me all about her blog: ”I started blogging in November 2012 and set up my own site – http://www.bantamsblogger.blogspot.co.uk – on a whim, really, with no real plan of what I wanted out of it. In March the following year, I began writing for http://www.widthofapost.com, a site that I’m now heavily involved with as both a writer and the deputy editor. I’ve worked hard to branch out and improve as a journalist and blogging has given me some really special memories – I’ve been lucky enough to interview former captain Gary Jones, as well as our current skipper, Stephen Darby, and I was approached to front a segment about the Bradford City Women’s team for BBC Radio Leeds after completing work experience with their sports team. I was nominated for Best Female Blogger at the Football Blogging Awards in late 2014 – though I didn’t win, it was amazing that my readers had taken the time to vote for me to represent our beloved football club. That they helped place me alongside bloggers covering Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Manchester United is tantamount to the power and dedication of the City fan base.’
‘Undoubtedly, the best thing about blogging is being able to experience and document history. It can be daunting, attempting to put giant-killings into words, and reading my old articles just makes me cringe, but the challenge of conveying that all-consuming jubilance and ecstasy when the ball hits the back of the net is one I relish every single time. I’m very lucky I’ve been able to comment on games that will go down as some of the greatest nights in Bradford City’s history and that I’ve had a chance to play my part in covering some of the steps of this second cup run.”
(Kate wanted me to add a few words about Katie and her blogging: ”I’m not Katie, but I have a feeling she’ll be too modest, so if she is, it’s bloody fantastic. Always well written and generally a voice of sense among the madness. She always makes me cry if she writes about a victory because it’s always so emotional, even if it’s a scrappy 1-0!”)