Chelsea face League One Bradford City in the FA Cup on Saturday and one man looking forward to facing the likes of Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic is City's left midfielder Billy Knott.
Knott, 22, was a star of Chelsea's youth side between from 2007 until 2011 alongside starlet Josh McEachran before moving onto Sunderland. A succession of loans followed until the young Canvey Island powerhouse signed for Bradford City in July last year.
Canvey Island is on the south Essex coast and thus a West Ham stronghold. Knott is still a Hammer's fan.
“Yeah, I'm a West Ham fan,” he said. “I was at the club from the age of six until 11. Then my family went out to live out in Spain, near Alicante. We were out there for about seven months. Obviously we were planning to stay out there longer, but me and my little brother didn’t like it so we came back. I went on a few trials and I really enjoyed it at Chelsea so I signed there.”
I first came across Knott when I went to watch Chelsea's youth side face Fulham in 2011 – ostensibly to check out McEachran. I came away from the Cobham training ground thinking I had seen a Chelsea star of the future in Knott. He scored two great goals, trademark thunderbolts in a 3-2 win for the Blues.
“I do remember that game,” he said. “We had some great players Like Josh McEachran, Billy Clifford, George Saville. They are still very good friends with me now. They are pleased that I'm going back to Chelsea on Saturday. I still speak to them everyday. They are all doing well at the moment too. Josh is a great player and I hope he gets the rub of the green soon.”
“I'm really enjoying myself here. We had a good start to the season, we put a little run together , I think we went 12 games unbeaten. We pushed ourselves up in the league. We lost 1-0 at Yeovil on Saturday, but we had very good chances to win the game, but they dug in a defended well.
Was the Chelsea game on your mind, I asked..
“I think it's hard to put it out of your mind,” he admitted “I think the boys were flying into tackles, but I think the fans are playing on it more than us. Obviously had we won comfortably it would have been different story. We should have won, but it was a hard old game, it did not swing our way.
While Knott's side were losing 1-0 to the bottom place side Yeovil, Chelsea were thrashing Swansea 5-0. Billy said of the result.
“To be honest we did not look for the result straight away, only when we got on the bus and we all had a little chuckle. Obviously you never know what is going to happen on the day and the FA Cup does bring up different stories. But Mourinho will want to win everything he can - he's renowned for that. But even their so-called reserve squad can boast a World-Cup winner in Andre Schurrle.
I don't think it will be much different, it will still be world-class players against us. We have just got to see who we are up against on the day.
“Obviously we want to play against the best, but any of the players who will be in the midfield will be world-class. It will be nice to play against the likes of Matic and Mikel who will be sitting there in midfield. If I'm in the team, I will be playing in a more advanced role and so will most likely be up against them. It will be good to get that experience.”
Knott is not counting his chickens that he will even play. “We have been playing in a diamond shape in midfield. The gaffer (Phil
Parkinson) might change the formation if necessary, so we will see what happens. Hopefully, I'll be on the team sheet, but whoever the gaffer puts out, I hope we run and be patient and put on a good performance for our fans.
“I have played a couple of times at Stamford Bridge as a youth, mostly at the end of the season, but I think it will be a bit different with a packed crowd.”
Does Knott, who has played at England level up to Under-20 level, have anything to prove to Chelsea?
“No,” he said. “I think I was only young when I left there - about 17. I was playing left back at the time. I think that season I scored a few bangers – it was probably the most I've scored in a season other than this season (he's scored seven so far, three in total in the two games against Millwall in the last round). It was a great time there and it makes you realise what you can have when you get to the top in the academy.
The facilities there are brilliant. Obviously the boys are doing great with the likes of Lewis Baker out on loan. It's a well-run club, but I don't think I have anything to prove. There are not too many players left from my time there. But I think some staff are like Gerry Harvey, Jim Fraser and Joe Edwards. It will be good to see Joe, he was only starting out with the under-9s when I was there. They all thought I was a good player. But it will be a great day out for all at Bradford against one of the best teams in the world.
“It was difficult to leave such a massive club like Chelsea, but maybe leaving made me prove myself to other people.”
Knott will have the support of loads of family at Stamford Bridge: “I’m going to need about 50 tickets to accommodate all my family and friends who want to come to the Bridge. I don’t know if I'm going to get my hands on them, but I'll try.
“The fans at Bradford are great, when we played Leeds it was unbelievable. They travel all over, I think about 500 travelled down to Yeovil to watch us on Saturday - a six-hour trip. I hope they all enjoy the build-up and the day itself. The players, fans and the whole town is buzzing at the thought of the Chelsea game.
What went through your mind when Bradford was drawn out of the hat to face the Blues?
“I was watching the draw at home with my fiancée and Chelsea came up, I had a little cheer to myself. I would have taken Chelsea or West Ham. It's a massive draw for the club, When we have beaten Chelsea we will take West Ham,” he laughed.
“This is a great opportunity for the club and my family. I hope my granddad who is ill at the moment can come down for the game. My mum and dad will be there and lots of family from down south too, so it will be great for me personally.
Knott is realistic about their chances at Stamford Bridge but knows what it will take to cause an upset: “Striker Jon Stead has played at the highest level, so I think we can get at them,” he said.
“Stead is a great player. If we can turn Chelsea, get the ball in the air, and try and make it into a bit of a battle, we might have a chance. If you give them too much respect, you can suffer in the way they beat Swansea. They can go into gear seven. But if we will give it 100 per cent, go in for every challenge and run ourselves into the ground, I think our fans will appreciate that and whatever the score is they will clap us off the pitch. We will do what we can and hope it's a cup upset.
Whatever the score on Saturday, Knott believes that Bradford can challenge for promotion out of League One.
“I have another year at Bradford after this season on my contract. Hopefully we can slip into the play-offs this season. I thought at the beginning of the season we could get to the top 10, but with the players we have bought in like Stead, who has helped us put on a nice little run and we are now right up there. We all want to get promoted. But we are going to enjoy this week, it will be a massive day out for all involved.”
One man Knott was expecting to face, but who is now expected to be rested is Chelsea skipper John Terry.
Terry has tasted success in the competition and has lifted the FA Cup on four occasions, but is still in awe of the competition and wants to win it more times.
“You know, I'm English,” he said. “I've grown up with watching The FA Cup on TV, it means the world to me. I know it means the world to the supporters. If you don't get there, people kind of rule it out – 'Ah it's not as big any more'. But when you get there, there's nothing bigger than to play at Wembley – one of the best stadiums in the world, in front of your supporters and on a great pitch as well. So, for me, it'd be great to go back there.”