Bradford City’s remarkable 4-2 victory over Chelsea in January 2015 embodies more than just a stunning FA Cup upset. Not only is it one of the most remarkable results in the competition’s long history, but for a selected few involved in the match first hand, it represents a critical episode in their careers, for better or for worse.
For Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, the defeat was an utter humiliation, a ‘disgrace’ in his own words as his team succumbed to the Bantams at Stamford Bridge. For Mohamed Salah, the match was his last start as a Chelsea player, shipped off to Fiorentina on loan within a week of the defeat.
For Filipe Morais, the man who scored Bradford’s equaliser, the match was his redemption as he returned to the club where he was a trainee for three years, never to make an appearance. Finally, for Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson, the result became the greatest in his own accumulation of cup ‘giant killings’, carrying on from his masterminding of the Bantams’ unforgettable run to the League Cup final in 2012/13.
Jose Mourinho deployed a talented and experienced starting XI more than capable of defeating their League One opponents. Oscar, Gary Cahill, and Didier Drogba featured, as well as veteran goalkeeper Petr Cech. Cahill struck the first Chelsea goal with an acrobatic volley from Oscar’s corner and Ramires sent the Blues two up, sliding the ball past Bantams keeper Ben Williams from ten yards out after a gift of a pass from Salah.
Chelsea had the game firmly under control and had further chances to kill the match. However, City’s journeyman striker Jon Stead reduced the deficit just before half-time, controlling a loose ball on the edge of the box and unleashing an unstoppable left-footed strike past the powerless Cech. Mourinho warned his players at half-time that if they were not careful, they would be punished by the Bradford forwards, fiercely urging them to be more clinical in attack.
Mourinho said after the game that he was aware of the ‘special mentality’ of the small teams in the FA Cup, a unique element of the competition’s appeal. His players were nevertheless totally helpless to the onslaught of Parkinson’s side in the second half. Bradford struck Chelsea in the second half with verve, aggression, and undeniable spirit, benefitting immensely from the support of their 6,000 travelling fans in the Shed End which they were attacking. Parkinson said after the game that the Bantams faithful gave the match the ‘feel of a home game’, citing the fan-factor as decisive in their comeback.
Morais scored Bradford’s equaliser, finishing into an empty net after Cech pounced to save Billy Knott’s attempt on goal, the Chelsea defence caught out by James Meredith’s long throw-in. Morais continued his excellent performance, finding space on the right wing to pick out Stead in the box, who strongly held on to the ball, patiently waiting for the forward run of Andy Halliday who whipped the striker’s lay-off away from Cech into the top left corner, sending the travelling fans into delirium.
Bradford capped their sensational victory with a aplomb when Mark Yeates scored their most stylish goal, surging inside from the left and exchanging a perfectly weighted drag-back pass from Stead to curl his shot around Cech into the bottom right. That made the score 4-2 and put the game beyond doubt, triggering further pandemonium in the Shed End.
After the final whistle, Mourinho made his way to the Bradford City dressing room, shaking the hand of each member of playing and coaching staff. During his post-match interview with the BBC, the Portuguese manager pondered the significance of the defeat and the unique eminence of the FA Cup. He concluded that, despite his palpable irritation with the defeat, it is ‘the beauty of football’ that a team like Bradford City can overcome a team of Chelsea’s quality.
The humiliation of Chelsea’s FA Cup exit undoubtedly affected Salah’s career at the club the most. Not only does Salah feel that he was not given enough of a chance to prove himself at the club, but he never received an explanation from Mourinho as to why this was. In an interview with FourFourTwo in February 2018, the now scintillating Liverpool winger was asked if he ever spoke to Mourinho to ask him about his limited playing time at Chelsea. The Egyptian sombrely admitted, ‘We didn’t talk about that’.
Thus in the context of Salah’s exceptional form under Jurgen Klopp, it is evident that he has overcome the demons of his career at Chelsea. The defeat to Bradford represented the final straw in his short and unfulfilling spell in West London and during the match, Salah cut a shadow of the player he has now become, appearing dejected, nervous, and risk-averse.
Nonetheless, this FA Cup upset, despite much of the game’s narrative becoming orientated towards the Mourinho and Salah storylines, should belong to Bradford City’s fans, players, and of course Parkinson, the man who embodied the club’s spirit for so many years.
Arsenal were once the greatest scalp of their 21st- century history, but Mourinho’s men? They were eliminated agonizingly by the plucky Bantams on their own turf. This was the best of Parkinson’s career. Furthermore, it is the combination of critical factors which elucidate this victory’s value and explain why in particular it is remembered as Bradford’s greatest. The class of the opponent, the rip-roaring style of the comeback, and the inexorable support of the travelling fans.
Bradford City were ultimately eliminated in the sixth round after a 3-0 defeat in their replay against Reading, but in typical Bantams fashion, they could not help themselves before this defeat, beating another Premier League side, this time Sunderland, 2-0 at Valley Parade.
The specialist of the unlikely cup run will be eternally adored at Bradford City for his role in producing some of the club’s most famous victories in their history. He is now the manager at Bolton Wanderers where he joined in June 2016, admitting that the offer was ‘too good to turn down’. Since then, Parkinson has led the club to the Championship, achieving promotion in his first season.
There is no doubt that Bradford City’s comeback from two goals down to defeat Chelsea is one of the most enthralling football matches ever played in the FA Cup, for many reasons, the match holds a prized legacy. It was the match which humbled Jose Mourinho the most in his managerial career, it was the match which ended Mohamed Salah’s Chelsea career but set him forth on the path towards redemption, it was the match which Filipe Morais realised his dream of playing elite football at Stamford Bridge, and it was the match which confirmed what many of us already knew but startled us nonetheless: Phil Parkinson is genuinely excellent when it comes to cup upsets.
Part of our Magic of the Cup series