What’s in a name?

Bradford and Bradford City… Bradford or Bradford City?

Unfortunately the historical distinction between the two Bradford clubs who were rivals in the Football League between 1908-70 tends to be overlooked in media reports and on the internet. It is now common orthodoxy for Bradford City AFC to be known as just ‘Bradford’. The irony is that as long ago as December, 1907 the Valley Parade management committee had unsuccessfully appealed to the Football Association about the Park Avenue club being called Bradford AFC.

More recently the broadsheet press declared how outrageous it was that the owner of Hull City AFC should abandon tradition by not respecting that club’s historic name. How ironic then that the identity of Bradford City is overlooked in the same newspapers which refer to the club (incorrectly) as ‘Bradford’ in match reports and classified results.

As should be expected, the press is able to differentiate between the two Bristol clubs and those in Cambridge and Oxford are always referred to as City and United as applicable. It is therefore difficult to accept that if journalists can get it right for those clubs, they fail to do so in respect of Bradford City. The point being is that when you refer to a football club, ‘Bradford’ is Bradford (Park Avenue) and not Bradford City. A similar gripe has existed in Nottingham where the Forest club is invariably referred to as Notts Forest. Pity poor Workington AFC who were often called Workington Town when in fact that is the name of the nearby rugby league club and they ended up appending Reds to their name to avoid the confusion.

The Bradford / Bradford City distinction irritates myself and many other City supporters although it needs to be highlighted that younger generations are sadly indifferent about the matter.

The followers of the former Park Avenue club share the same frustration about the ‘Bradford’ identity. They highlight the fact that the gables of the old main stand at Park Avenue, constructed in 1907, incorporated the monogram ‘BFC’ and the Bradford arms to demonstrate that Park Avenue remained the home of the senior club in the district with the de facto status of ‘the town club’. Indeed this was a deliberate design feature in homage to tradition at Park Avenue given that gables had been included in the original Victorian grandstand demolished after the decision to convert to soccer. At the time the new grandstand was commissioned, chairman Harry Briggs was desperately wanting to win over the senior membership of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club to support his controversial betrayal of rugby; the design of the stand and its use of the monogram was a sop to this. There is no ambiguity that the Park Avenue club was known as ‘Bradford’ and reported in the media as such.

An issue of brackets

However a particular issue that has been a cause of irritation to ‘the Stans’ (the nickname given to the club’s surviving supporters after the appearance in 1988 of the ‘Boring Stan, Avenue fan‘ cartoon strip in the sister City Gent publication, Bernard of the Bantams) has been the placement of brackets in the name of Bradford Park Avenue / Bradford (Park Avenue). It is a matter that has inflamed passions.

I covered the origins of the name ‘Bradford Park Avenue’ AFC in my book LIFE AT THE TOP. From what I have established, the name ‘Bradford Park Avenue’ was registered with the Southern League in 1907/08. Those in charge at Valley Parade objected to the rival club being known as ‘Bradford’ but the Park Avenue leadership appealed to the Football Association on account that the name ‘Bradford’ had been registered previously (1895-99 and then renewed 1905). For the commencement of the 1908/09 season, following election to the Football League, the club actively promoted the name ‘Bradford’ as distinct to ‘Bradford Park Avenue’.

The brackets – as in ‘Bradford (Park Avenue)’ originated in 1909 at the time of incorporation as a limited company. This was presumably a pragmatic solution to recognise the club’s traditional institutional identity as well as to differentiate from Bradford City. My suspicion is that the Football League had insisted on the retention of ‘Park Avenue’ in the club’s name.  For example in all other towns in England where there are two Football League clubs, each has a distinct suffix. I believe that the use of brackets was a way for the club to save face and achieve some form of compromise position. To my knowledge, no other FL club has had brackets in its name.

The original rugby club had been known as Bradford ‘FC’ but after 1907 the leadership was at pains to stress that the new soccer club was referred to as ‘AFC’ given that ‘football’ remained the colloquial term for rugby until World War One at least. Likewise, at Valley Parade, there was insistence that the club be known as Bradford City AFC rather than simply Bradford City FC.

With the revival of rugby union in Bradford in the first decade of the twentieth century, as early as 1906 the Bradford Wanderers club was being referred to as ‘Bradford’. This was acknowledged to be a cause of confusion and arguably influenced future naming practice. For example, in 1907 the phoenix Northern Union club appended ‘Northern’ to its name to advertise the fact that the game was still played in the city; this followed the ‘Great Betrayal’ when rugby was abandoned at Park Avenue.

So far as the new soccer club was concerned, the adoption of the suffix ‘Park Avenue’ was as much a case of differentiation relative to Bradford City as a reminder that the Bradford club had inherited Park Avenue, considered by tradition to be the civic sports ground in the city. In fact, the motive for Harry Briggs launching soccer at Park Avenue was principally to safeguard the stadium with a game that would be profitable. Hence an argument can be made that the soccer club existed principally for the benefit of the stadium and in turn, Park Avenue was central to its identity.

On the basis that the club had previously bracketed the name of its ground and that Park Avenue is sadly no more – there is a logical case that ‘Bradford (Horsfall) AFC’ is more appropriate than ‘Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC’. It can also be argued that ‘Bradford Park Avenue AFC’ is an identity far more capable of commercial exploitation than one including brackets. Those who lobby for the retention of brackets say that this allows the club to emphasise its ‘Bradford’ identity. Sadly, that has been misappropriated by default to Bradford City and the name ‘Bradford FC’ has been registered by an independent local side with no knowledge of its provenance. Surely the fact that the Horsfall club is now known as ‘Bradford Park Avenue’ and not simply ‘Bradford’ is reason enough that ‘Bradford Park Avenue’ should be its name.

The Avenue internet forums attest to the sensitivity of the brackets issue among a significant proportion of Stans. In case anyone had noticed, the Horsfall club had been renamed the Bradford Park Avenue Community Benefit Football Club – without brackets – as part of a makeover with the new organisational structure. In other words, just as in 1909 when the club had a change of legal structure, so too in 2016. The defence of the brackets by supporters is justified in terms of protecting the tradition and heritage of their club. Notwithstanding, it is notable that the original club which existed between 1907-74 (prior to liquidation) was by no means consistent in its application of brackets as these illustrations from 1961/62 demonstrate.

WP_20170416_22_07_56_Pro_LI (2)           WP_20170416_22_09_49_Pro_LI (2)

Nevertheless, the fact that the club’s name was originally ‘Bradford Park Avenue’ – without brackets – and that there has been inconsistent use of brackets during the club’s history gives weight to the counter-argument that there is tradition with and without them. By the same token, the club’s traditional red, amber and black colours were overlooked in favour of green and white by the revived club in 1988 to the extent that the latter are now considered to be equally traditional.

Scan_20170706.jpg    Scan_20170706 (2).jpg

Changing names

Of course, all of this becomes a matter of semantics but it is an illustration of how club identities can change by stealth. The point is that if an organisation itself does not safeguard its brand it can hardly expect others to do so on its behalf. The internet is also capable of redefining identities simply by rebroadcasting what is written elsewhere: it propagates bad grammar in the same way that it spreads false news. The chances of the surviving Avenue supporters being successful in enforcing the placement of brackets is slim. Likewise, those who support the senior club will find that the ‘Bradford FC’ identity – as opposed to that of ‘Bradford City AFC’ – will be dominant before too long (if not already) despite all the best efforts of the Valley Parade commercial department, particularly if people are not prepared to say otherwise and it does not offend their sensibilities.

BPA v City Jul-17

Has Bradford FC given up calling itself Bradford?

Ultimately change and evolution is inevitable and no football club can be frozen in a single point in time. So far as Bradford Park Avenue / Bradford (Park Avenue) is concerned it is worth recalling the actions of the club’s founder, Harry Briggs. He was most certainly not a slave to history as demonstrated by his championing of soccer after 1905 and eventual conversion from rugby in 1907, as well as his decision to abandon the club’s red, amber and black colours in 1911. These were decisions that were made for commercial reasons rather than for tradition or nostalgia. Whisper it quietly at Horsfall, neither was Briggs precious about the club’s name and in May, 1907 had proposed that a merged club at Park Avenue would be known as  ‘Bradford City‘!

By John Dewhirst

POSTSCRIPT: In June, 2018 it was announced that the brackets are being restored.

Discover more about the history of professional football in Bradford in ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP by John Dewhirst (Bantamspast, 2016).

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The last friendly game at Park Avenue between Bradford / Bradford Park Avenue / Bradford (Park Avenue) and Bradford City in May, 1973.

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