Stamford Bridge is supposed to be the Death Star of modern football, a dark, forbidding place where dreams go to die. Yet the force was with Bradford City as they transformed it into an enchanted garden. FA Cup shocks do not come more romantic or dramatic than this.
The disgrace of which Jose Mourinho had warned, in what proved to be a dangerously prophetic throwaway line before a fourth-round tie which will live on in legend, was delivered on the sort of afternoon which defines the much-maligned democracy of the battered old competition. The Premier League leaders took a two goal lead in 39 minutes, and everyone prepared to patronise the League One team for the honesty of their effort. But man-of-the-match Jon Stead reduced the deficit before the second half was shaped by a sequence of miracles and wonders.
Chelsea could not even take advantage of seven minutes added time, which put the Chelsea manager’s refereeing conspiracy theories into perspective. He applauded when substitute Mark Yeates converted Bradford’s final goal three minutes before the final whistle, and made a point of visiting their dressing room to reinforce his respect.
The fact he referred to them as Barnsley in a lacerating inquest gave a more convincing insight into his mindset, and he was in no mood to deflect blame. “I feel happy for them, but I feel ashamed” he said. “My players should feel exactly the same.”
Bradford’s 6,000 fans were gleefully disrespectful, chanting “you’re getting sacked in the morning.” They were forgiven their cheek, since it had seemed the nearest they would come to being showered in stardust was a pre-match good luck message from one of their few celebrity supporters, the magician Dynamo. Even his mastery of illusion has never been able to pull off a trick like this.
Phil Parkinson, manager of a team separated by 49 places from their exalted opponents, had the distant air of someone whose grasp of reality was wonderfully tenuous. His side had exuded honesty, and relied on other-worldly self-discipline. It was a result guaranteed to run through his CV like a golden thread, and offered further evidence of the potential of too many unheralded British managers.
Bradford belong to a starkly different world to Chelsea. Tickets for the latter’s potential title decider against City next weekend are already being hawked on the secondary market for more than £3,000. Judging by the glossy leaflets handed out at local Tube stations, practically begged for any spares, the touts are moving remorselessly upmarket.
The foot soldiers, who mumbled their availability for business on the approach to the ground, knew they had a tough sell. Mourinho made nine changes from the team for the first leg of their League Cup semi-final at Anfield for what felt like a chore. Predictably diffident, it took time for them to grow into the least enticing of three games in eight days. Their initial lethargy was such that Bradford would have taken a 13th-minute lead, but for Petr Cech’s athletic left-handed save from an Andrew Davies header.
Didier Drogba, captain for the day, was soon broadcasting his discomfort by flexing his left knee. Rory McArdle required no invitation to indulge in a late lunge which resulted in an inevitable booking.
Chelsea’s opening goal, in the 21st minute, came from the sort of mundane set-piece that is practised by rote on the training ground. Oscar supplied a near-post corner and Cahill delivered a back-heeled flick which flew into the roof of the net.
When Ramires added a second seven minutes from half-time it seemed game over. Winning the ball on halfway, he surged forward and slot the ball in off the base of the far post following an exchange of passes with Mohamed Salah. But Stead replied almost immediately with a right-footed rising drive from the edge of the area for his fourth goal in five FA Cup ties.
Then, as so often happens, the Cup began to write its own script. Felipe Morais, a former Chelsea youth-team player whose career had stuttered after he rejected Mourinho’s offer of a contract extension, was left unmarked, following a well-worked long throw, to equalise in the 75th minute.
Eight minutes remained when Andy Halliday curled in a sumptuous right-footed shot after Stead had held the ball up brilliantly.
“Surreal,” said Parkinson afterwards, as Mourinho mourned “one of my worst results as manager”. No one was offering him an argument.
Chelsea: (4-2-3-1) Cech; Christensen, Cahill, Zouma, Azpilicueta; Mikel (Fabregas, 68), Ramires; Rémy (Hazard, 75), Oscar, Salah (Willian, 69); Drogba.
Bradford: (4-3-1-2 ) Williams; Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith; Liddle, Morais (Clarke, 89), Halliday (Routis, 86); Knott (Yeates, 79); Hanson, Stead.
Referee: Andre Marriner.
Man of the Match: Jon Stead (Bradford)
Match Rating: 9/10
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies