Happy Birthday Valley Parade

When Bradford City meet AFC Wimbledon at Valley Parade in a League Two match on Saturday 24 September it will mark the 125th anniversary of the first use of the Bantams’ home ground as a sports stadium. A birthday party will be held in the club’s bantamspast museum at 1.30pm – Admission free.

Bradford City’s midfielder David Syers will cut a specially designed birthday cake at 1.45pm to formally celebrate the famous ground’s anniversary. Images and film of Valley Parade will be shown on the museum’s big screen. David Pendleton, the co-curator of the bantamspast museum, will speak about his forthcoming book Paraders, the 125 year history of Valley Parade, which will be published in November.

Valley Parade opened in September 1886. The ground was developed by Bradford City’s predecessors Manningham Rugby Club when they were forced to vacate their former ground at Carlisle Road to allow for the construction of Drummond Road School. Manningham were the Rugby League’s first ever champions in 1896. However, a downturn in fortunes saw the club switch to football and become Bradford City in 1903. Eight years later they had established themselves as one of the top five clubs in the country and Valley Parade was extensively rebuilt. In 1911 their FA Cup winning team were photographed in front of the elegant Midland Road stand.

The ground that was rebuilt for Bradford City’s promotion to the First Division in 1908 remained largely unaltered until the tragic fire of 1985. In the wake of the Second World War the Bantams were firmly rooted in the lower divisions. Limited funds for ground maintenance, weak regulation and the steep topography of Valley Parade combined to turn a discarded cigarette into one of the worst tragedies in the history of British football. Few need reminding of the events of 11 May 1985 when 56 supporters were killed and hundreds more injured.

It seemed that Valley Parade had hosted its last football match. The Bantams were in exile at Odsal Stadium, which had been rebuilt in order to stage the 1985 World Speedway Final, but a vigorous campaign by City supporters, and a fortunate injection of cash from the disbanded West Yorkshire County Council, saw the club return to a rebuilt stadium in December 1986. Bradford City defeated the England national side in an emotional reopening game. In recent years the ground has been reconstructed on two occasions, the most recent came when Valley Parade hosted Premier League football between 1999-2001.

Valley Parade, situated on its steep hillside and with its connections to triumph and tragedy, the ground is a central part of the club’s identity. Bradford City without Valley Parade is almost as unthinkable as abandoning the club’s famous claret and amber stripes.