AN indication of the huge gulf that exists between Bradford City and a league they last called home almost 14 years ago came a couple of hours before kick-off.
As happens before every home game, the woman in charge of the Stamford Bridge press room sought out the visitors’ kit-man and invited him and his staff to enjoy a pre-match bite to eat after completing their duties.
“Staff? There’s only me,” was the reply that rather took the kindly member of the Blues staff by surprise, especially as most weeks she is used to welcoming up to 15 visitors whose job is to oversee the transport of the kit, footballs and consignment of energy drinks without which no Premier League football team leaves home.
Such a huge disparity meant the Bantams should not have had a hope of earning even a replay at the home of a club whose starting XI cost north of £200m – and their bench a further £99m.
This, though, is the FA Cup and the competition’s much-fabled magic put in an appearance as City proved to be the truly special ones on an afternoon when Jose Mourinho was left feeling blue and 6,000 Bradfordians enjoyed a day out like no other.
League One teams just do not win at Stamford Bridge – certainly not after falling two goals behind in the first half.
But that is exactly what Parkinson and his band of heroes did to make a mockery of the two divisions – and the odd billion or two in the bank – that separate these two clubs.
Andy Halliday, whose signing from Middlesbrough last week went through just two minutes before the deadline for him to face Chelsea, said: “I can’t put it into words, I really can’t. We went to Stamford Bridge and were 2-0 down to arguably the best team in Europe.
“The spirit to come back from that is incredible. No one wins here and yet no one could have put on a performance like that in the second half. I have never seen anything like it. We dominated from the 46th minute to the 97th. To go and score another at 3-2 is testament to how we approached the game because we went for it.”
A tougher Cup draw than Chelsea away is hard to imagine. Five points clear at the top of the Premier League, Mourinho’s men had been so dominant on home soil ahead of welcoming Bradford to SW6 that only Swansea City of this season’s visitors to the Bridge had taken the lead.
Even then, the hosts hit back to beat the Swans 4-2 and claim the second of 14 victories at the Bridge this season.
But if City were intimidated by such a fearsome record, they did not show it. Instead, Parkinson made clear his intentions by adopting a formation that, at times, saw Billy Knott playing almost as a third striker in between Jon Stead and James Hanson, who occupied a wider role than usual. Most top-flight teams are not that bold even when hosting Chelsea so Parkinson deserves huge credit for such an ambitious approach. So, too, do his players for how they put the plan into action. Stead led the way with a quite brilliant exhibition of forward play that brought him not only a deserved goal but also two assists.
Hanson also deserves high praise, the disciplined manner in which he patrolled the left flank whenever Chelsea had possession giving the League One side the solid shape they needed to repel their illustrious opponents.
In midfield, Gary Liddle and Halliday snapped and snarled at the heels of the Blues in a manner that rocked their illustrious hosts, while Andrew Davies again led by example at the back to keep Didier Drogba and company largely in check.
The only blot on City’s team display, in fact, was the sloppy play that led to the Blues being able to build a two-goal lead.
Gary Cahill’s flick of the right boot to divert a 22nd-minute corner from Oscar into the Bantams’ net may have been a great piece of improvisation on the part of the England defender.
But, with four Bradford players in close proximity, the danger should have been cleared before the ball reached Cahill.
Chelsea’s second goal also owed much to City generosity, as Ramires was able to dispossess Filipe Morais too easily on halfway.
He was then afforded the freedom of the Bridge to roam forward and exchange passes with Mohamed Salah before beating Ben Williams. It was a fine finish but, as with Cahill’s opener, entirely preventable.
At that stage, Parkinson feared the worst. He need not have, as rather than slipping meekly out of the Cup, the Yorkshire club began one of the most dramatic fightbacks of all time.
Stead was the catalyst, the Huddersfield-born striker producing a truly stunning shot just before half-time that was so powerful Petr Cech had no chance despite getting a hand to the ball.
The Czech international had already shown his quality by somehow denying Davies the game’s opening goal with a fine one-handed effort, underlining just how ferocious Stead’s 42nd-minute shot had been.
Lifeline duly grabbed, Bradford then steamrollered Chelsea into submission during the second half. Morais netted the equaliser with 15 minutes to play, the Portuguese-born wideman rolling the ball into an empty net after Cech had saved from Knott.
The 6,000-strong travelling army of fans celebrated as if they had won the Cup, never mind just equalised. More joy, though, lay ahead as, incredibly, Halliday latched onto a fine lay-off from Stead to thrash an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.
An apparent sting in the tail came when the fourth official revealed seven minutes of stoppage time would be played.
However, as every man, woman and child in The Shed held their breath ahead of what was sure to be a Blue onslaught, Bradford’s heroes merely shrugged their shoulders and carried on taking the game to their hosts.
The reward came when Mark Yeates, found by a delightful pass from Stead, steadied himself before finishing past Cech.
David really had slain Goliath.