Issue Happy Birthday Valley Parade! Bradford City’s home ground celebrates its 125th year

As told by Dave Pendleton

On 24th September when Bradford City play AFC Wimbledon Valley Parade will be exactly 125 years old. Supporters will celebrate the landmark with a birthday party in the cafe and museum. There will be a birthday cake, birthday cards and balloons (claret and amber of course).

During the summer there were fears that Bradford City would leave their historic ground due to on going issues regarding the rental payments made to the ground owner, former chairman Gordon Gibb. Thankfully, Bradford City’s joint chairmen, Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn, purchased the office block alongside the ground which reduced the club’s overheads and allowed Bradford City to remain at Valley Parade.

Valley Parade was built by Bradford City’s predecessors Manningham Rugby Club over the summer of 1886. Manningham’s former ground at Carlisle Road had been compulsory purchased to allow for the construction of Drummond Road School. The rugby club faced the significant challenge of finding a suitable parcel of land and then constructing a ground all in the space of a single summer. Their options were further limited by having to remain in Manningham – where the majority of their support resided – and find a piece of land large enough for a ground in a city that was an economic boom town. When we understand those factors we can begin to realise why Manningham Rugby Club built Valley Parade on a steeply sloping site.

Hemmed in by terraced housing, overlooking railway lines and a heavily industrialised landscape, Valley Parade was quite different from the quintessentially English Park Avenue grounds of their main rivals Bradford Rugby Club (later Bradford Park Avenue AFC). Park Avenue was the civic enclosure, beautifully adorned with a gabled stand and the ‘dolls house’ changing rooms, not to mention the adjacent cricket ground, it was a world away from the smokey, workaday Valley Parade.

However, success came to Valley Parade when Manningham became the first ever champions of the Rugby League in 1896. Even greater prizes awaited when Manningham switched from the then declining Rugby League game and became Bradford City AFC in 1903. With eight years City won the FA Cup in 1911 and established themselves as one of the top five clubs in the country.

Sadly, the glory faded after the Great War and by 1922 City had been relegated from the top division. Valley Parade, which had been completely rebuilt in 1908 following promotion to the first division, began a long decay and by the 1980s its Edwardian splendour was falling apart at the seams. No one needs reminding of the terrible events of 11 May 1985 when 56 fans died and hundreds were injured in the fire that ripped through the ageing main stand in a matter of minutes.

That is where the story of Valley Parade could have ended – one year short of the ground’s centenary. Bradford City were playing at a number of home grounds while the future of Valley Parade was debated. Bradford Council made no secret of its desire to see the club playing at a rebuilt Odsal Stadium, but the City fans themselves mounted a passionate campaign to return to the club’s spiritual home. A rebuilt Valley Parade as a tribute to those who lost their lives became an irresistible cause. In 1986 Jack Tordoff oversaw the rebuilding of Valley Parade and in December of that year City defeated the England national team 2-1 in an emotional home coming.

Since that day Valley Parade has been once again extensively reconstructed into a 25,000 capacity all seater ground. The club has risen to the very heights of the English game and has crashed down to the bottom division in a dramatic decade. Despite that the supporters still flock up Manningham Lane in large numbers, just as they have for 125 years. For thousands Valley Parade is their second home, as important to the club’s identity as its unique claret and amber stripes.

Valley Parade’s birthday party will be held in the cafe and museum above the club shop on 24 September prior to City’s home match against AFC Wimbledon. Festivities commence at 1pm and as usual with all bantamspast museum events admission is free.

A history of the ground, entitled Paraders, the 125 year history of Valley Parade, written by David Pendleton will be on sale in November. The format will be similar to the much acclaimed book Glorious 1911 which was published last year and told the story of our FA Cup victory in 1911 and City’s Golden Era at the top of Division One before the Great War.

Subscribers to the new book Paraders can have their name entered at the back of the book and purchase for a discounted price of £12.50. Order forms are available from the club shop, ticket office or the bantamspast museum at Valley Parade.

Last November we organised a film night at Pictureville featuring film of the first ever Football League game at VP in 1903 and footage from the FA Cup Final. We are planning a repeat film night this November to include more recent footage.

For further information check out www.bantamspast.co.uk and/or email glorious1911@paraders.co.uk to join our mailing list.

Profits from these projects will be donated to Friends of BCFC. Last season we raised £5,000 for the Burns Unit from the sale of Paraders enamel badges (www.paraders.co.uk).