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

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).

I am the walrus

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things… – Lewis Carroll

Is it me or are we losing sight of some of the real issues affecting our club?

Whilst Pete Moss’s interesting article prompts debate and reasoned comment about the future use of Valley Parade by the Bulls (or “Odsal Sports Village” by the Bantams) and other sites swap as many insults as arguments, am I the only one who thinks we are adding to something that obscures real concerns.

Of course the future of both clubs is important and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later but right now I feel there are more pressing concerns. Call it paranoia or conspiracy theory but has all this hypothetical discussion – generated in no small way by Mark Lawn – obscured the fact that other items on Mr. Lawn’s desk are dragging on without comment?

Whatever happens in the V.P. v. O.S.V. debate, City (barring extreme financial disasters) will still have a ground on which to play next season but will we still have the manager? Why is there still no resolution to the protracted contractual discussions despite all the right noises being made by both parties?

Almost a year ago I contributed my first posting on this site. Much of what I said in “Anger, Management and Rotherham” concerned the future of a certain Stuart McCall and the need for those running the club to make a clear statement on the manager’s future prior to the end of the season. Now I find that the “will he/wont he doubts that were so divisive at the end of last season are with us once again. The confusion over the future of S.M. is now being repeated with confusion over P.T. – and we are debating hypothetical venues!

How can players commit to a future with a club that has uncertainties with their manager for next season? How can undecided supporters commit to next season’s ticket with so much uncertainty regarding manager and players?

If the board are hoping to generate much-needed extra revenue through further season ticket sales to those fans as yet undecided then they seem to be going about it in the wrong way.

If the number of extra season ticket sales is a factor in Peter Taylor’s decision on his future then the problem is even further compounded by a ground sharing debate that, whilst relevant, is not of immediate concern. It creates doubt rather than commitment.

Surely the priority is to get the manager’s contract sorted out first? Then he can begin negotiations to keep valued players. THEN maybe we can sort out something on the ground sharing. It seems simple, it seems logical, so why isn’t it happening?

If there is another agenda for Peter Taylor, and/or another agenda for Mark Lawn then we are conveniently obscuring it by the ground sharing debates… or is it just me?

If it is me then I’ll put it down to another “senior moment” but if others share my concerns it would be interesting to know. Either way the time has come not to talk of many things, but to clarify a few and, in doing so, bring about commitment – on all sides – and, with it, the much needed extra revenue that commitment – on all sides – would surely create.

Odsal vs Valley Parade – The debate rages on

Mark Lawn, ever the shrinking violet, came out with a robust statement regarding the Odsal debacle at the weekend. His points, however valid, are unlikely to improve relations between BCFC, the Bulls, and Bradford Council. His programme notes for the Morecambe game are also interesting. He states that the council’s feasibility study around the Bulls taking residence at VP was done without consultation with BCFC and goes on figures that are nearly 10 years out of date. Yet they are prepared to throw £1million of taxpayers money at yet another Odsal plan.

I took two work colleagues to VP for the Morecambe game last Tuesday night. One was a Middlesborough fan who said he liked the stadium, particularly the ‘house’ in the south-west corner! The other was a one time City trainee/first-teamer and full time Bulls fan. His view of the situation was akin to most Bulls fans. VP is not suited to Rugby League. He’s right.

Our jaunt to VP on Tuesday was part of a sports fan away day thing we do at work. Recently we travelled to the Keepmoat stadium for the Boro vs Donny game. I sadly missed this but the agreement was we would visit both Odsal for a RL game and VP for a bit of hoof ball. The Odsal vs Castleford game was an enjoyable experience for all concerned. It had been a while since I had been to the ground. In the late 80s and early 90s I went to a lot of Stock Car and Speedway events which I feel Odsal is great for. This time I got to see what the grass in the middle was used for! I enjoyed the standing, the beer on the terraces, even the obligatory overpriced Ecoli burger was good. All in all, it was an enjoyable ground, if a little chilly with no shelter to speak of.

Can it support football? Yes, with some serious development work. Due to the track surrounding the pitch, the corner areas are elevated up. It looked like an upside down parachute with the corners being pulled up by imaginary lines. This would need to be flattened out before suitable for football.

The pitch was in much better condition than the VP one. Despite a good game of egg chasing every other week and the same kind of harsh winter that VP has seen, it was green. I can’t foresee any complaints from the 22 footballers who have to earn their brass there.

So Odsal has some good stuff going for it. Transport links and parking is very good, with bus users having the benefit of the improved Manchester road to get them to and from their beer and nightclubs!

So then: Valley Parade. Well, its better isn’t it. A well constructed (I should know, I put a fire retardant wall up in the new Kop approx 10 years ago) and seated stadium. First class facilities (except the loos!) and a great location, only 15 mins stagger from the city centre or Forster Square retail park and train station.

The ground has so much history. Manningham Rugby Club which became BCFC. 11th May 1985, RIP the 56. The finest City goals the Leeds Utd fans have ever seen (thanks to Beags and Collymore!). Its part of Bradfordian life no matter which bit of the city you grew up in. The sentiment is there which maybe Odsal doesn’t possess. Didn’t it used to be a rubbish tip?

But it can’t support Rugby League can it? Yes it can. VP seats 25,000 fans. Whip out a few rows at the northern and southern ends and you have a longer pitch. This will satisfy the men with odd shaped balls. Better for hoof-ball as well! Its has covered seating areas and the possibility of reintroducing terraced areas in the lower Kop and main stands. There is much that can be done to VP to accommodate the RL lot and also please a fair few stalwart footy fans who like to stand as well.

What’s more, it’s a little cheaper. Mark Lawn estimates it would cost £5.5million to buy the ground back from the cash strapped Gordon Gibb. Mr Gibb is likely to want that cash injection as soon as possible before he sells it to someone else who may not want to be as ‘kind’ on the rent side of things. Another £1-2 million in pitch strengthening and other adaptations mean that its a maximum £7.5 million outlay for a true multi-purpose stadium. The remainder of the £15 million airport windfall can then go on redeveloping Richard Dunn and creating excellent training facilities for both codes, and all other sporting endeavours in the city. Sell Odsal for a few magic beans and you have more houses being built on a brownfield site.

Now I’m not a business man. I am a council worker, but for them east of Pudsey. The figures look attractive, sustainable and value for money. Say those 3 words/phrases to anyone in local authority and a green light usually beckons!

So why not? Its all about politics. All concerned are private businesses. The council wont want to hand £5.5 million to someone who runs his business in the North Riding of Yorkshire and until recently, Lincolnshire. They would rather build a pond or a grass verge in their fair city.

BCFC and the Bulls are private companies that serve the Bradford populace. However a major development that doesn’t meet all demographics is difficult to implement. How many Polish descent Bradfordians go to City or the Bulls? How many Asian, Irish, Chinese or other ethnic groups are likely to use these facilities? These are all questions likely to be asked at a high council level. This is not meant to sound inflammatory, racist or bigoted. Please don’t think it is. It’s the fact that all councils in the UK are required to show how investment in the community brings a benefit to all social and ethnic groups. Its called being inclusive and the dreaded ‘sustainable’ word.

I can only hypothesise. I don’t know what is said at the high level of Bradford Met Council. This is my guess, coupled with an almost fanatic rivalry between Bulls and City (two different sports, please get over yourselves!) and a local council without a party majority. Politics are stifling the sporting progress of two fine clubs who deserve better and also a Bradford population who continue to suffer whilst our elected members continue to bicker.

So what is likely to happen? The status quo. Bulls will stay at Odsal and get some covers for the terracing at an unattractive price. City will continue to pay huge amounts of rent and struggle to maintain the VP site.

I echo Mark Lawn’s words. We don’t need a pond, we need leadership.

From stability to here to where?

Mark Lawn, January 2009:

Bradford City have had enough turmoil and non-stability at this club.

Thirteen months ago Mark Lawn had decided that Bradford City have “had enough of turmoil and non-stability” and gave Stuart McCall a new contract to manage Bradford City until June 2012. Now Bradford City go into the latter half a season with a manager who no one is sure will be around in June 2010. How did City go from the one position to the other?

In February 2010 Lawn confirmed that City’s replacement for McCall is not viewed as a long term appointment saying

The three-month spell gives us the chance to look at each other so it’s good for both parties. If Peter proves himself, I’m sure we will be talking about a longer-term contract. But it does mean we can look at others.

The former comment endorses the idea of a manager as the keystone of a stable football club, the second suggests that this view is no longer holding sway at Valley Parade in either that the manager does not offer stability or that stability in itself is worthless. How have the club gone from believing stability is the way forward to abandoning it as a policy altogether?

There is a theme of commentary – or perhaps just dissent, the two merged sometime ago – which has it that City have had stability over the previous few years with Stuart McCall and Colin Todd both enjoying around 135 games in charge of the Bantams – but I would suggest that around two and a half years as a manager is nothing of the sort.

It is the start of stability, the point in which stability begins. Where you make it known to all that you do not believe a manager’s position is mutable with the form of the club. Where players begin to get confidence that the man they sign a contract to play for will be at the club when it comes to an end. When supporters get to feel that the player name their child gets on the back of their shirt for their birthday will not have left the club by Christmas.

Stability is one way of running a club but not the only way, and one could argue – with limited success in my opinion – that it is not the best way. But most importantly it is the way that Bradford City were following a little over a year ago and have now abandoned.

Retaining institutional knowledge – that is the point of stability at a club – is something Peter Taylor seems to value more than his employers. Wayne Jacobs is retained as assistant manager and on his first day in Bradford the new City boss started talking about [para] “building something not over fifteen weeks but three years and fifteen weeks.”

Peter Taylor is a man much more worth listening to when it comes to questions of how to make a successful football club than City’s joint chairmen. He is talking about years, Lawn is talking about weeks.

The short term deal, Taylor’s talk of loan players, the interviewing candidates to replace Taylor in the summer, the idea of judging the new manager over the next fifteen weeks. City have moved a long way in a short space of time away from the one position and, if the Bantams are no longer following a plan of stability bringing success, what plan are we following?

What is the club’s plan to bring success and advancement to Bradford City? How will Peter Taylor be given the scope to achieve more than Stuart McCall and Colin Todd did?

There are many things which could augment the club that Taylor now manages. The club’s training facilities are notoriously poor and in bad weather the players have no full sized pitch to use; the club’s scouting needs attention (if not expansion, if a James Hanson can be plucked from the non-league of West Yorkshire why not see what pickings can be had on the other side of the Pennines?); the academy could be raised in standard to match those at Huddersfield and Leeds.

Then in a wider sense there is the problem with ground ownership – which costs £600k of the clubs budget – and the rental of equipment within Valley Parade which costs the same figure again. The issue of City’s 107-year-old home is oft talked about and Bradford Bulls chairman Peter Hood – a man with whom Lawn should take care in his dealings with for Hood is a canny and will eat he City chairman for breakfast – is holding a suspiciously open door to the idea of City moving to Odsal.

What are our plans for the future location of Bradford City? Stability says stay where you are, the three month appointment says why not say we will move into Odsal but tell Gordon Gibb we might return to Valley Parade should he make a better offer on the rent.

The price of tickets at Valley Parade and the free tickets given out to youngsters are about building a stable and constant tradition of support. Is that plan to follow the way of stability past? A policy of maximising transient support is more in keeping with the idea of short-term thinking. The club is shortly due to announce 2010/11 season ticket prices for those unable to afford to purchase one last December, potentially as soon as next week, so we may know more then.

More than these things – and already I can hear someone tapping the words “BfB blames the fans again” – the atmosphere at Valley Parade on a match day and around the club in general is bad to the point of being poisonous and, as Taylor picks for him number two a man who some have spent the best part of two years saying could not coach, is the new gaffer’s first choice at the club going to come under the same abuse as the last few have?

So many things could be done which would help the attitude around the club and thus help the manager from not being made to look stupid on Sky TV after we lambaste a kid who gets a ball full in the face for being “in the wrong area” to addressing the situation that Lawn believes has emerged around the club’s official message board.

Is there a plan to achieve any of these things which would mean that Peter Taylor had more resources at his disposal than Stuart McCall? That means that, aside from his innate abilities, Taylor has more to do to suggest he can achieve with City what many, many managers have failed to do.

In the space of a year, Lawn and Julian Rhodes have left behind the idea of stability and gone to one of fixed term appointments. Is this the new view of the club? Are we as fans to get no more connected to our managers than we do the people who run our phone companies or banks? Are we Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army, or is Taylor just an acting sergeant in someone else’s platoon?

All of which is not to say that the Bantams chairmen do not have a plan for taking the club forwards, nor is it inherently a criticism of the club for changing its mind on how it operates. Just that, having binned one plan, the appearance to supporters even on the broadest most meta level is that one set of ideas have been ditched in favour of a total opposite set.

The supporters of Bradford City are the people who pick up the pieces when the chairmen fail in the plans they have for our club – the last twenty five years have told us that much – so, as those supporters, is it not reasonable that we ask, after such an obviously and publicly move away from one position, we are told what the club stands for now?

Farewell to Stuart

A decade that began with Stuart McCall captaining Bradford City in the Premier League ended with Stuart McCall managing Bradford City in the bottom division of English football. As I watched Stuart McCall walking around the pitch applauding the supporters at the end of the Bury game, and what turned out to be his last game as manager of his beloved Bantams, I reflected on a traumatic decade which could have barely been more disastrous for the club. I say barely, because the one positive to be taken is that there is still a club to support and that has been a huge achievement by any standards.

The departure of Stuart McCall could be viewed as the moment when we begin to look forward and not back to the wreckage, albeit fleetingly glorious wreckage, of our Premier League adventure and its sad aftermath. As Stuart McCall walked slowly around Valley Parade there was the odd shout of anger, but in the main the fans either returned the applause or watched in sad, but affectionate, silence. This was the man who personified an era at Valley Parade, from the fire to the Premier League and beyond. How could we turn on him? It would have been akin to screaming at ourselves in the mirror.

As we begin to emerge from the long shadow of the Premier League, quite how the club evolves lies largely with two factors. One is the continued support of the fans in large numbers. Given the encouraging take up of the season ticket offer that seems assured, at least in the short term. The second, and arguably the crucial factor, is resolving the issue surrounding the ownership of Valley Parade itself. Heaping abuse on our former chairman Gordon Gibb will achieve nothing – other than further cementing the already strained relationship between the Gibb family and the club. In buying Valley Parade Gibb secured the short term future of the club, his pension fund has already profited from the sale and our best, and probably only hope, is that he realises that the existing agreement is damaging the entire viability of the club. The futures of the Gibb family and Bradford City are joined at the hip. The prosperity of both, albeit one is much more vulnerable than the other, will require both compromise and a dash of humility. If an agreement really is being held back by personalities, and I have my doubts, then the individuals concerned should reconsider their stances, or even positions, for the greater good. The sacrifices that have been made over the last decade have been enormous, but if the club stagnates, or worse, then those sacrifices were made in vain. That’s the brutal truth.

Gordon Gibb has to understand that the current agreement will either result in the long slow strangulation of Bradford City, or an unwanted move to Odsal Stadium via a spell of voluntary administration. The status quo is clearly unsustainable. Until the ownership of the ground is resolved, or the lease payments reduced, there seems to be no way this club can escape its current malaise and the future appears to one of constant struggle resulting in the eventual death of the club.

As we wave a fond farewell to Stuart McCall, we move into a new era and one in which the fight for the very existence of Bradford City AFC is about to begin.

Recent Posts