Is it time to leave Valley Parade?

Anyone reading in the T&A recently that the latest incarnation of the ‘Odsal Sports Village’ had received the backing of the government and Sport England can’t have failed to notice that there was no mention of Bradford City in the scheme. After the financial traumas of the last few years, and with crowds struggling to create an atmosphere in a ground that is now bigger than one we couldn’t fill against Arsenal in the Premiership, the question is:

Should City join forces with the Bulls and Avenue, and create a new home for Bradford sport which the whole city can be proud of?

First thing’s first. the news that the Odsal scheme is a step nearer to fruition is surely good news for the city in terms of sports participation. A recent spell spent working at South Leeds Stadium in Beeston brought home to me how far behind Bradford has fallen compared to our bigger neighbour. In Bradford we have decent local sports centres, but no real focal point for sports participation which measures up to the facilities in deepest, darkest Beeston. The Odsal scheme would provide exactly what we are lacking as a city in that respect.

Clearly, by choosing to incorporate their plans for stadium development into a community facility of this kind the Bulls will benefit greatly by receiving grants and investment which they would otherwise not have been able to get had they simply developed Odsal as a Rugby League ground. It would also appear that Bradford (Park Avenue) will gain a new home into the bargain, possibly in a smaller stadium next door, although this would seem to depend on whether the plans for housing on Horsfall playing fields get the green light.

Where, then, does all this leave Bradford City? What would City gain from being involved in the Odsal scheme? For one thing, the short-sighted development of the Sunwin Stand has left VP misshapen and over sized. It’s widely accepted that it was a bad idea to increase capacity when we weren’t filling the seats we had in the Premiership. I can’t see a way that VP can be ‘fixed’, and I can’t see a day when we regularly get 25,000 punters through the turnstiles. A move to a more realistic sized ground would be ‘a good thing’ in this respect.

Also, a football club does not just need a stadium ? Benito Carbone was reported to have been appalled by City’s training facilities when joining the club, and attempts to improve these over the last few years have come to nothing. The ‘Odsal Village’ will have first class facilities of every kind.

Thirdly, by leaving VP we would be rid of Gordon Gibb forever.

However, we are not talking here, about leaving any old ground. This is Valley Parade. I was an 11 year old in the Bradford End on the day of the fire, and every City fan of my generation and older feels a deep affinity with the ground which the majority of football fans do not share. This attachment has been passed down to new generations of fans, but how long will this continue? Perhaps the importance of Valley Parade will fade over the years, and the emotional ties will weaken as generations of fans who weren’t born in 1985 become the majority.

For the present though, those bonds remain, and even though there seem to be plenty of reasons to go, when I think about leaving Valley Parade the thought of City not playing there fills me with dread and emptiness, like trying to imagine going on without the love of your life. A bit dramatic perhaps, but there you go.

Perhaps, then, the answer is not to join forces with the Bulls, but to take a leaf out of their book. I will admit to not particularly liking the egg chasers, especially after their fans whinged about having to travel so far whilst sharing VP, and how Manningham was ‘dangerous’. Whilst I tire of seeing another corny photo opportunity in the T&A, and seeing the bloody car stickers on 4×4’s, there is no denying that the club presents a more community friendly image than City. A more aggressive marketing stance may also plant City deeper in the consciousness of the community at large ? how about a bus with ‘Bantams’ plastered all over it for a change!

This attitude might then be extended to enable City to develop a training complex for use by the club and the community on a brown field site somewhere in the north of the city. Such an approach is far more likely to receive public and government support than trying to build an academy in leafy Apperley Bridge, with its conservation areas and armies of NIMBY’s.

As for Valley Parade, whilst I wish the Sunwin stand wasn’t so big and empty, and that it ran the length of the pitch, I can forgive these things simply because of how much the place means to me. As one of my City supporting mates put it, the cold ‘scientific’ view is that leaving Valley Parade may one day be inevitable, but I for one hope he’s wrong.