‘The Magic Of The FA Cup’ - Bradford & Boro Provide A Shot In The Arm

According to around three quarters of those who took part in a Sky poll, Bradford City’s 4-2 win at Chelsea was the greatest FA Cup shock of all time.

Although I received this news with scepticism at first, feeling that it reflected the relative youth of participants rather than fine judgment, there have been worse calls. I just feel that for Bradford City to beat a Premier League team, even the leading one, loses seismic effect with the recollection that the same club beat three from the top flight - Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic - on their way to the League Cup final less than two years ago.

City are also a superior outfit now, Phil Parkinson having lifted them into League One through the play-offs; they could even be in the Championship next season if Parkinson can steer them to Wembley again. So why should a team almost accustomed to Wembley have been frightened of Stamford Bridge?

Okay, I know the answer. I know Chelsea should have swept Parkinson’s men aside after leading 2-0. It was, by any standards, a sensational City victory by City, achieved with no little quality as well as a harder shift than Jose Mourinho’s players put in, even though the Chelsea manager had warned his lot of impending ‘’disgrace’’.

But you don’t have to go back too far to realise that the greatest ever shock remains a matter for debate. Forget Arsenal going down to Walsall in the dim-and-distant 1930s, when Herbert Chapman was in charge.

Forget even the unforgettable – for me – sight of Ronnie Radford’s rocket whizzing across the mud of non-League Hereford United and beyond the Newcastle keeper in the Seventies. Or the next decade, when Coventry fell to Sutton United. Those were real shocks when semi-professionals bridged the divide.

Just consider 1992 and the gulf closed by Wrexham when they beat mighty Arsenal with the help of a sensational free-kick from a 37-year-old Mickey Thomas. Even 23 years ago, times were different from now, when Mourinho uses the Cup as an opportunity to rest key players like John Terry and and Diego Costa.

Thomas’s free-kick had to fly past a defence featuring Tony Adams – and the top goalkeeper in the country, one David Seaman. For Arsenal were the holders and George Graham would not have dreamed of leaving out his captain, even on the ground of a Fourth Division team.

Furthermore, at the time of this rather well received shock – The Guardian captured the mood of the moment with its mischievous headline ‘’Arsenal – a nation mourns’’ – the London club were seventh in the top flight and Wrexham below halfway in the fourth.

The gap was 77 places. Only 51 places separated Chelsea from Bradford City. In other words, the clubs were more than a division closer than when Wrexham enjoyed the sweetest FA Cup experience. On the other hand, the Welsh club had home advantage, which City lacked.

You could argue for ever. All we can be sure of is that Bradford City and Middlesbrough, with their triumph at Manchester City, gave the old competition one of its classic Saturdays. With the Cup’s health always in question, this was just what the doctor ordered.


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