The BBC’s mistake in choosing not to televise Bradford City at home to Sunderland in the fifth round of the FA Cup was obvious, even in advance. For such is City’s propensity for knocking out Premier League clubs that it would almost have been one of the shocks of the round if Guy Poyet’s men had survived.
Phil Parkinson’s players are doing no more for the FA Cup this season than they did for the League Cup two years ago. Then, they removed Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa before losing the final to Swansea City. Now Chelsea and Sunderland have been confounded and, as I write this with the quarter-final draw only hours away, the headline trumpets: ‘’Bring On United!’’
This is from Parkinson. ‘’If we get our approach right,’’ he says, ‘’we have a chance against anyone – we would love Man United.’’ Presumably the euphoric glow of victory had led him to give the impression that Louis van Gaal’s team had reached the last eight. If United lose at Deepdale tonight, City could instead find themselves up against a Preston North End fired with not just ambition but righteous indignation.
But even that, you can safely bet, will be on the telly. Gary Lineker has explained why the BBC made their decision to go with Aston Villa at home to Leicester City (Lineker’s favourite club). It was because they had to choose before the replays, in which Sunderland were away to Fulham and could have lost, leaving the national broadcaster with a League One side at home to Championship strugglers at Valley Parade.
I still think they were wrong because plenty of people would have had more interest in the progress of Chelsea’s dramatic conquerors (especially in the light of their other heroics of the recent past) than an all-Premier clash.
Clash? It was more like a clunk at Villa Park until Tim Sherwood, shots of whom sitting unimpressed in the stand had contended with Shay Given’s supersave from Matty James for highlight of the first half, had a few choice words with his new charges at the interval. According to caretaker manager Scott Marshall, these involved points of detail, but the effect was motivational enough to produce a win.
But Bradford are the team the nation will want to watch from now on and it will be Parkinson, as well as Jon Stead, a scorer in ever round so far, who takes the limelight. He certainly deserves it, as do the board and supporters of arguably the second biggest club below Championship level; like Portsmouth, City almost invariably attract five-figure crowds, and did so even before Parkinson got them out of League Two through the play-offs in 2013.
Although enlightened ticket-pricing has helped to bring about this happy state of affairs, three and a half years of Parkinson – now the eighth-longest-serving manager of the 92 – seem to have done a world of good to the team, confirming the promise of his first managerial job at Colchester United, whom he guided into the Championship after a long and respectable playing career as a midfielder, mainly with Reading.
He had unhappy spells at Hull, especially, and Charlton Athletic before finding – or making – a bit of stability at Bradford. Long may it last, for at least Championship potential is there. And remember that this club enjoyed Premier status for a couple of years, until 2001. Those with longer memories will need no reminding of 1985, when 56 lives were lost of the day of the Valley Parade fire. The 30th anniversary takes place between the semi-finals and final of this FA Cup. As if City required any further incentive.