WHEN he strides out onto the Stamford Bridge pitch at former club Chelsea tomorrow afternoon, Billy Knott can justifiably hold his head high.
The Bradford City midfielder will be entitled to a sense of redemption when he arrives back in SW6 for the glamour FA Cup clash with the Blues, whom he left with plenty to prove in 2010.
The lad from Canvey Island was seen as a bright young thing at the Bridge in his formative years, captaining the young Blues’ Under-16 side after arriving from West Ham at 14.
But, as happens to countless teenage talents tipped to make the breakthrough onto the big stage, Knott fell by the wayside.
He is the first to admit that he had plenty to learn in his days at Chelsea, where his academy manager was Dermot Drummy and the first-team boss was Carlo Ancelotti.
The 22-year-old, handed a two-week suspension for a breach of discipline in 2009, was forced to do some growing up post-Chelsea, starting at the other end of the country in Sunderland before continuing on a path which eventually led to Valley Parade.
Now, a few years older and certainly wiser, Knott can fully appreciate the grounding he received at Chelsea, where his contemporaries included Josh McEachran (currently at Vitesse Arnhem), Jeffrey Bruma (PSV), Milan Lalkovic – now at Barnsley –and George Saville (on loan at Bristol City from Wolverhanpton Wanderers).
It goes without saying he is eager to showcase his advancement tomorrow.
Knott said: “It was disappointing as it was such a big chance at Chelsea. You only realise when you look back.
“I trained with the first-team six times. But I didn’t mature and take enough in when I was there.
“Looking back on it, the way they trained and enjoyed their football, day-in, day-out, was scary for men that age.
“You didn’t think they would enjoy it as much, but the way they had a smile on their faces and enjoyed it and worked hard was something to look up to.
“I didn’t mature quick enough when I was there and I probably only realised later when I went to Sunderland that you need to mature quickly in this game.
“I probably realised when I was at Woking (on loan), playing on dodgy pitches and it was hard being there.
“I was enjoying my football, but didn’t want to be that low.
“It took me a long time to mature and hopefully I have done that now and the gaffer can see that he can trust me.
“I think defensively, in the past, managers might not have trusted me when I should have had a better chance.”
More mature he may be, but Knott could not contain a show of child-like enthusiasm when Bradford were handed a dream tie against the London club provided they could see off Millwall in their third-round replay at home.
That was negotiated in style by a City side including boyhood West Ham fan Knott, who netted the final goal in the 4-0 win.
Claiming the scalp of another capital side the Hammers traditionally detest in Chelsea would be another thing entirely.
And Knott, who will be well backed by a coachload of supporters who will travel over from the Thames Estuary, says the mindset is on causing a massive upset – which would surpass the achievements of the Capital One Cup class of 2012-13 if they record a draw or, savour the thought, a win.
Knott, who saw his name in lights after firing a stunning leveller for Bradford in their 2-1 Capital One Cup win over Leeds United in August, added: “I think everyone is ruling us out.
“They are top dogs at the moment (Chelsea lead the Premier League table by five points), but we will stick together as a team and squad and hopefully whoever the gaffer (City manager Phil Parkinson) picks for the team will stick to the game plan and we can cause a big upset at Stamford Bridge.
“Hopefully, they will have an off-day and we are on our game.
“Let’s hope it will be a good day and not just an experience.
“My dad is going up with a crowd full of my supporters and I think there is a bus going down from Canvey.
“When I scored against Leeds, my dad and his friends were all in his local and I think him and my mum were having a little cry and they said it was a great atmosphere and everyone on the island supports me.”
Bradford have been handed a boost ahead of the tie with Andy Halliday and Francois Zoko both available for the game after signing deals for the rest of the season.
Young forward Ollie McBurnie has joined Chester FC on loan.