STEADY ON CITY
Bradford striker Jon Stead looks back on a dream day in the Cup at Chelsea
ONE goal, two assists, a man of the match performance and lauded by Phil Parkinson after the FA Cup shock of the century – Jon Stead has had worse days at work.
Now, after inspiring Bradford to that incredible 4-2 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the 31-year-old is hoping for one last perk – a bit of enthusiasm from four-year-old daughter Isabelle.
“She’s been to games before but never shown much interest,” says the striker, whose goal sparked a remarkable comeback from 2-0 down against the Premier League leaders. “But I think Chelsea took it to a new level.
“She was sat right in the middle of our fans, right behind the goal. She was a bit concerned by the noise and she had to deal with a bit of choice language but she absolutely loved it.
“I took her on the pitch at the end of the game and she got a little appearance on Match of the
Day. She was the talk of the school when she went in on Monday so she was very happy. Hopefully she’ll be a bit keener to come and watch me from now on!”
One group who need no persuading are Bradford City’s supporters. Since his arrival on loan from Huddersfield in March, Stead has scored ten goals, becoming the pivot and de facto leader of League One’s surprise play-off contenders.
His spectacular first-half strike against Chelsea was followed by two deft lay-offs and a performance that oozed maturity and self-assurance. In one sense, that is no surprise. Stead, after all, played 86 times in the Premier League for Blackburn, Sunderland and Sheffield United.
Yet for all that experience, he is largely remembered as a man who never possessed the tools to forge a career at the highest level following a shock £1m move from Huddersfield to Blackburn at the age of 20. Though too old and too wise to be bitter, it is an assessment Stead refutes.
“I definitely feel I was good enough,” says the striker, who has since played for Bristol City and Ipswich. “If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have scored the goals I did at Blackburn and Sheffield United.
“Partly, it was that I never played in a really good team. Right across the board, not many strikers can score regularly if the side is struggling for results.
“And while I didn’t get carried away, I maybe took my foot off the pedal a little bit when I got to the top level. If you do that, you find yourself standing still.
“After the good spell I had at Blackburn, then the move to Sunderland, everything went quiet. The goals dried up. Subconsciously, I’d maybe thought to myself ‘Right, you’re here now, you’re a Premier League footballer and this is how it’s always going to be’. And before I knew it, I was back out of the frame again.
“That probably cost me a couple more years in the Premier League. But I got myself back or track with Sheffield United and was going great until the Carlos Tevez affair That’s what really killed me.”
The ‘Tevez affair’ remains one of the game’s great injustices.
Having broken Premier League regulations by signing the Argentine from a third party in August 2006, the Hammers were fined £5.5m by an independent commission.
Yet no points were docked and – most controversially – Tevez was permitted to play for the final ten games of the season despite being on a contract that was in breach of Premier League rules.
Tevez subsequently scored seven times, including a final-day winner against Manchester United that kept West Ham up at the expense of Stead’s United.
United sued, and a hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport found in their favour, ordering the Hammers to pay £30m to the Blades in lost earnings.
“The whole thing was an absolute disgrace,” says Stead. “Yes they paid compensation to the club, but that didn’t help the players – like me – who’d had their Premier League status stripped away.We didn’t get compensated.
“That was a massive moment in my career. I’d scored five goals in 12 games towards the end of the season. I’d have been starting the next one as the first-choice striker. I was playing for Neil Warnock who was really getting the best out of me.
“But because of what happened, Neil walked away from the club. I was out of the Premier League. Then the new manager (Bryan Robson) came in and suddenly I was fourth choice.
“I do look back and think ‘What if?’ But on the whole I’m still very proud of the career I’ve had.
“And it’s why now I tell the young lads to seize every moment. When I was 21-22, I remember people saying to me ‘It’ll be gone before you know it’. “They were right of course – it goes very quickly.”
That’s why last weekend was so special.
“I thought all the highlights of my career were behind me,” he admits. “But then you get a magical day like that and it shoots straight to the front. It has to. Something like that won’t happen again for a long, long time. It could possibly be the biggest shock in the history of the FA Cup and when you sit down and think about what that means… it’s mind-blowing.
“To be in that team and play a big part in the result is massive. Because I know it’ll be talked about for years to come and probably remembered long after I’m dead and gone.”
Not least by Isabelle. “I hope so,” laughs Stead. “But she’s probably in for a shock when she realises every match doesn’t end with a triumphant walk round the pitch and getting cheered by your supporters!”
BELLE OF THE BALL: Jon Stead with his daughter Isabelle and, right, Bradford
TAKE THAT: Jon Stead thumps home Bradford’s first in their astonishing 4-2 win at Chelsea and then celebrates with Gary Liddle PRAISE: Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho congratulated the Bradford players on their shock win and told them they had ‘big balls’