x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Parkinson's grand designs taking shape as Bradford City take on Swansea

The coach has never been able to reap benefits of his meticulous planning but all that could change now.

Phil Parkinson's contract at Bradford City is up this summer. Michael Regan / Getty Images
Phil Parkinson's contract at Bradford City is up this summer. Michael Regan / Getty Images

For half a century, Tony Collins has had a unique distinction. Now he has company.

In 1962 Collins, then in charge of Rochdale, became the only manager of a fourth-division club to reach the final of one of England's two major cup competitions.

But that was until Phil Parkinson and Bradford City wrote their names into history.

On Sunday, Bradford City of League Two will face the Premier League side Swansea City at Wembley. At stake is the Capital One Cup, a place in Europe and a feat that eluded even Collins and Rochdale.

It is the product of the most improbable of cup runs, beginning on August 11, and it means Parkinson, once a manager tipped for the top, has his greatest achievement with the lowliest club he has coached.

The 45 year old has neither played nor managed in the top flight. A jobbing midfielder, he came through Southampton's youth system but never graduated to their first team.

Instead, he moved to lower league side Bury and, after four seasons, to Reading, where he became an integral part of their rise.

Parkinson twice helped them to promotion from the third tier, once as captain, and his leadership qualities and loyalty made him a favourite.

As footballers' pay increased, John Madejski, the chairman, felt that testimonials were outdated and unnecessary but made an exception for Parkinson after a decade of service.

It was a sign of his standing in the game that Reading's opponents were a team made up of former England internationals and an indication of his contribution to the club's cause that he was voted a member of their greatest-ever team.

But in 2003, their long-serving captain left. Parkinson took the first step on the managerial ladder at Colchester United. Then, as now, he came to prominence in the knockout competitions. Colchester twice reached the last 16 of the FA Cup.

In 2005/06, they allied it with a promotion push as the side with the lowest attendance in the division went up to the Championship.

Parkinson became hot property. Charlton Athletic, Derby County and Ipswich Town all showed an interest in him but he left Layer Road for Hull City. And then it started to go wrong.

While Colchester went from strength to strength under his former assistant Geraint Williams, inflicting a 5-1 thrashing on Parkinson, Hull floundered.

He tried to implement a more progressive style of football but, after only five wins in as many months and with Hull in the relegation zone, he was dismissed. Eighteen months later, a Hull team featuring three of his signings, Michael Turner, Sam Ricketts and Dean Marney, were promoted to the Premier League, an indication that some of his ideas were justified.

By then, however, Parkinson was at Charlton, initially as the assistant to his former Reading manager Alan Pardew and then in charge.

He could not halt their slide into the third division for the first time in almost three decades, but almost took them back up at the first time of asking.

But after a play-off defeat in 2010, Charlton's form faltered. Parkinson was dismissed in January 2011.

In seven months out of work, he spent time scouting for Arsenal, before accepting a Bradford job that had come to be regarded as a poisoned chalice in August 2011. He was plunged into a relegation battle that City won.

But in finishing 18th in the division, Bradford were officially the 86th best team in the country. Parkinson had rather greater ambitions and targeted promotion.

His side set about proving they could defeat teams in higher divisions, knocking Notts County and Watford out of the Capital One Cup before claiming a trio of Premier League scalps.

First it was Wigan Athletic, then Arsenal, both on penalties - indeed, Bradford have won their last nine shoot-outs - and finally Aston Villa.

Parkinson's planning paid off, the manager identifying Villa's problems defending set pieces.

Over the two legs, City scored three goals from headers after crosses from their captain Gary Jones as a side compiled for just £7,500 (Dh42,750) - the fee paid to bring in the former supermarket shelf-stacker James Hanson from non-league Guiseley - defeated teams costing over £60 million (Arsenal) and more than £40m (Villa) respectively.

And once again, Parkinson became hot property.

The Championship club Blackpool approached him and, although he is thought to be on a basic wage of just £1,000 per week, plus bonuses, he rebuffed their advances.

Reading's great loyalist is remaining true to Bradford and, with his contract up in the summer, he is expected to be rewarded with another deal.

Beat Swansea on Sunday, however, and the offers may flood in again. Parkinson, the man who went to the foot of League Two in search of work, is on the up again.

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