by Stephen Whitrick
It all started when I was just 6 years old. I lived in Sowden Rd, Heaton. My father had a friend who lived in Haworth Rd, and he used to take me and my dad to Valley Parade to watch the City. I remember back in those days City playing in their claret shirts with the amber V Neck. Tom Flockett, George Mulholland, and the Jackson twins.
Then, in the October of 1957, my parents became Steward/Stewardess of the Girlington Liberal Club, and Dad found a new friend to take him to the matches. At Christmas, 1957, I was invited to join them to watch a game, but when we got down to Valley Parade, much to their dismay, they were playing away. However, Ronnie England, my dad’s friend said if City were away, then Avenue would beat home, so we ended up watching Avenue play Southport. I can remember it well, sitting high up in the main stand, and being able to see the game from a perfect viewing point. That was it, it was Avenue for me, but being 7 years old, I could hardly go to the matches on my own, and Dad wouldn’t want to go regularly, as he was a City fan. I was able to recently get hold of a copy of the match programme on Ebay.
My next involvement at Park Avenue came a couple of years later whilst attending St.Philips junior school in Girlington. The head teacher came round one day and asked who supported Avenue. Immediately my hand went up, and to my surprise I was handed a complimentary ticket for a game that Saturday. I went to the match with great expectations, but on arriving, I discovered it was a reserve game vs Sunderland. However, I remember vividly Sunderland’s red and white stripes, and Avenue in green and white stripes, collar and long sleeved shirts, white shorts and hooped socks. Don’t ask me who won, but in the end I was happy to be at Avenue, and that started my love affair with the club.
Back at St. Philips, I had a classmate, Colin Blackett, who went regularly with his dad to Avenue, and I was able to join them on a regular basis. We would get in the back of his Austin A35 van, and head up to Avenue nearly every home game. We used to stand on the Horton Park End, and because Colin and I were small, his dad made us a “swing”, a piece of wood attached to some strong rope, which we hung over the railings, and stood on the wooden seat, so that we could see over the heads of the people in front of us.
This is now a time when I got into scarves,rattles,programmes, and even started a scrapbook. My favourite players at this time were Tommy Spratt, Ian Gibson and Jimmy Scoular, and we were fortunate to see an Avenue side win promotion to the third division.
I passed my 11 plus exam in 1961, and I moved on from St.Philips to Belle Vue Grammar school.Colin, my friend from St.Philips went to Drummond Road, but we still kept in touch and went to Avenue together. Belle Vue school was on Manningham Lane, just opposite Valley Parade, and most of the football supporters there were either L**ds United, or Bradford City. I remember going down to the ground in my dinner time, to get a few autographs, and cadge some old programmes, but I could never be a City fan at that time.
Over the next three seasons I was a regular at the Avenue, hardly missing a home match, and it was during this period that my scrapbook and programme collection started to expand. I would stand outside the Doll’s house waiting to collect autographs, and would even go up to the ground during school holidays to watch the players training. There were plenty of memorable games played at Avenue during that time, none more so than the inauguration of the floodlights, when Avenue lost to a strong Czechoslavakian side 3-2.
I was also there when Jimmy Fryatt scored his 4 second wonder goal in the game against Tranmere Rovers, which we won 4-2. This was also the period that Kevin Hector blossomed in the side, and, as we all now, he eventually became a cult hero at Avenue, and went on to greater things, including representing his country. More on Kevin later on.
When Jimmy Scoular left after the 63/64 season, he left behind an entertaining side who could score goals, unfortunately, despite having a great keeper in John Hardie, also let in quite a few goals, and this was the main reason promotion was never again achieved.
The highlight of the 63/64 season must have been the walloping of City, 7-3, in the league cup. What a fantastic game that was, it lives long in the memory.
***Also in 63/64, Avenue introduced a unique away kit, which comprised of red, amber and black striped shirts, black shorts and black socks with a red and amber top.
Glossy photographs were given out to supporters prior to the 1st round of the F.A.Cup, when Avenue were drawn at home to Heanor Town..After this match, I was approached by a Heanor supporter, who turned out to be the secretary of their supporters club. We kept in touch by letter for a couple of years, sending each other programmes and autograph sheets.
Avenue wore this kit in the 2nd round of the cup that season, when we lost away to Oldham. I was at that game, and remember Jimmy Scoular scoring an own goal. They also wore this kit when they lost to Leeds United 4-0 in the final of the West Riding Senior Cup at Elland Road.
The 64/65 season was a very special one for me, because I enquired at the club if they needed any ballboys for the coming season, and I was totally gobsmacked when I was told I could join the team of ballboys (actually, there were only 2 at the time, David Stabb, the son on George Stabb, a former player who also the current trainer, and another, whose name I cannot remember) Wow !! I was watching my favourite team for free, got paid half a crown and a free cup of coffee, and got to meet my heroes at the same time. I have to say this, the players were fantastic with the ballboys, and I was able to chat with them. Ronnie Bird and Kevin Hector were brilliant. They would get me programmes from away games, take my scrapbook into the visitors changing rooms and get me their autographs.
Speaking of Ronnie Bird, Avenue were away to York on a Saturday night, 24th October 1964, and the reserves were home that afternoon. After the game I managed to get a place on the coach to York, where we won 1-0, and Ronnie Bird scored with a penalty, struck with such awesome power that the York goalie had no chance. He was a great winger, and a really nice bloke, and it was sad to hear of his death a few years ago.
**One Saturday, March the 20th 1965, Avenue were at home to Brighton, who at the time were one of the top sides in the division. What a day that was, the snow came down in buckets, but the game was played. At half-time, we were asked to sweep the lines of snow, so we went out into the near blizzard conditions and swept the snow off the touchlines, the halfway line and the edge of the penalty area. We deserved our free coffee that day. Avenue went on to win the game 2-0, and I remember on the back page of Sunday’s People newspaper, a photo of John Hardie making a mid air flying save, with the snow falling.
I remember that season as being the “nearly” season, as we were never far away from top spot, but faded in the run in,losing 2 and drawing 3 of our last 5 games. Who knows what would have become of Avenue, had we gained promotion that year. I was at the Tranmere game at Easter, when we could only draw 0-0, and I think we knew then that we had blown it.
Watching the reserves every other week also had it’s great moments. One Saturday,Avenue reserves were at home to Oldham reserves,and in their side was the great Albert Quixhall, who had recently left Old Trafford. He was one of the players signed by United in the wake of the tragic Munich Air Disaster. Manchester United was my other favourite club at that time, and, to be honest, they still are.
The following season, 65/66, I was kept on as a ballboy, whilst David Stabb and the other lad didn’t return, so the club asked me if I knew any lads who could join me as a ballboy. I contacted 3 of my closest mates at the time,
Michael Thomas, Jimmy Crooke, and Brian Stead, and we became the new team. Brian still watches the Avenue to this day, and I met up with him at the recent pre-season friendly against FC Halifax, when Kevin Hector was introduced to the fans.
The highlights of that season have to be the trouncing of Barnsley, when Kevin scored 5, and for me personally,was that at Christmas, Kevin Hector gave me a complimentary ticket for the centre stand for the away game at Chesterfield, on December 27th, a game which we won 3-0, Kevin scoring twice. Once again, I was able to obtain a copy of the programme on Ebay, one which Kevin signed for me at the FC Halifax game.
** Being a ballboy had its advantages, because the players knew me, they let me join in their practise sessions when I went up in the school holidays. I have played in practice matches on the Canterbury end gravel car park, and, on one occasion,joined in a training session on the playing pitch. At the end of the session,( My favourite position at that time was a goalkeeper) Colin Kaye put me in goals at the Horton Park End, and told the players they had to score a penalty past me before they could go in for a shower. Well, they all scored apart from one player. I hope you don’t read this Geoff, but I saved a penalty from Geoff Thomas, much to the amazement and laughter of the other players. He re-took it, scored, and then went in for a shower with the rest of the squad.
** On other occasions, after a match, if the pitch wasn’t churned up with mud, we ballboys would have a kick around in the nets, either until we were called off, or the floodlights were switched off. I would have loved to have been good enough to have become a professional player, but that was never to be. I did, however, train with the juniors on a Tuesday and Thursday nights. This was when John Dine was at the club, and I used to play in goals for Thornton Scouts, a team that John used to run. Sometimes training was tough, especially when we had to run up and down the Horton Park end terracing. On one occasion, we were running round the track, doing leap frog. I was just about to leap over Peter Brannan’s back when he crouched down, and I went flying over the top of him and into the cinder track. Happy days.
The following season, after the first home game, when we beat Notts County 4-1, my services as a ballboy were no longer required, so it was back to the Horton Park end to watch the games. This was also at a time when I started to play football for Campion (Edmund Campion youth club as they were then known), and I got to see less and less of the matches. But I was there when we played Fulham in the FA Cup. That was a great game, with a fabulous atmosphere at the ground, and Fulham with their array of International players (present and future).
Eventually, I got to see very few games Occasionally, when I wasn’t playing I would go and watch a game, but it was all so different for me. The players had changed, and the clubs fortunes dipped to an all time low. It was sad to see what was happening to this once great club. I did get to a few games when Avenue were in the Northern Premier League, and I went to Barnsley when they got to the 1st round of the FA Cup, but I think that was probably the last game I saw them in action until the pre-season friendly at Bramley, when Kevin Hector made an appearance.
My interest was re-kindled many years later when I went to watch them play at Horsfall in October 2002 against Accrington Stanley. However, I moved away to live in Bridlington in March 2003, but I try and get over to Bradford to watch a game as often as I can. It’s much nearer now for me to see them play at Gainsborough and North Ferriby and I have also seen them play at Whitby and Goole.
I sincerely hope that this current set-up at Horsfall can take Avenue back up the ladder, and eventually to the Holy Grail of league football. We can only hope. But I have some wonderful memories of watching and supporting Bradford Park Avenue, and will do so for as long as I am able.
You will find articles about a broad range of sports on VINCIT with new features published every two to three weeks. We welcome contributions about the sporting history of Bradford and are happy to feature any sport or club provided it has a Bradford heritage.
Planned articles in the next few months include features on the impact of the railways on Bradford sport; the continued story of Keighley AFC; Bradford soccer clubs in the 1880s and 1890s; the origins of cricket in Bradford; the story of Shipley FC; the meltdown of Bradford PA in the 1960s; the impact of social networks on the early development of Bradford sport; and the early politics of Bradford CC.