Bradford Park Avenue: The Beginning of the End

By Peter Barker

The 1960s began with Avenue winning promotion to the 3rd Division, while at the same time neighbours Bradford City were relegated to the 4th division. Meanwhile Leeds Utd finished a lowly 14th in Division 2. My team Avenue were on the up but no one would have dreamt just nine seasons later Avenue would be out of the Football League and Leeds would be a major force in English football. After winning promotion in the 1960-61 season Avenue began the following 1961-62 season with everything on and off the field looking very good. This was to be my first season standing at the “Horton Park End” with a few of my mates. My Dad reckoned at nearly 12 years old it would be ok, he always stood on the halfway line in the little stand on Park Avenue and woe betide anyone who stood in his place. We still met up after the game for the ritual stroll into town where we would head for the back entrance of the Telegraph & Argus offices where the Pink Yorkshire Sports would be just coming off the press as we arrived. Attendances during the promotion season for home games against Aldershot in January (12,718), Crystal Palace in March (17,017), Peterborough in April (20,461), Millwall in April (12,339), showed that given a successful team the Bradford public would support it.

promotion

The 1961-62 season was unique both on and off the field. Avenue won their opening league game v Lincoln 2-0 in front of 10,844, followed 3 days later by another victory v Notts County 3-2, in front of another healthy crowd of 11,476. Things continued to look bright with more impressive home wins in front of five figure crowds, including an impressive 6-2 win over Peterborough. September came to an end and after 11 games
ex-Busby Babe Tommy Spratt had 9 goals to his name, Avenue were well placed in the league and home crowds were averaging over 10,000.

October 3rd saw the grand opening of Avenue’s new floodlights. The Czechoslovakia international world cup side were the team chosen to be Avenue’s first opponents on this historic night. What a great performance Avenue put on in front of a crowd of 17,422, just going down 3 goals to two. To show how good a performance that was, only nine months later seven of the Czech team that played that evening were playing in the World Cup final for Czechoslovakia v Brazil. 18 year old Ian Gibson was Avenue’s star performer that evening and with many big club’s scouts watching that evening Avenue knew it would be only a matter of time before he would be moving on.

a

The previous Saturday to the Czech match, 30th September, Avenue were away at Torquay and made another piece of history by flying to a Football League match. Instead of the usual wearying rail trip Avenue stepped onto a Heron aircraft at Yeadon Airport and flew to Exeter where a coach was waiting to take them to their Torquay hotel. Good trip it was as Avenue arrived back to Yeadon at 7-30 that same evening with a 3-1 win thanks to goals from Atkinson, Spratt and Gibson.

Aeroplane

Bristol City 1961

23rd. September 1961

 

Halifax Town pink
21st. October 1961

Just four days after the Czech game Avenue were brought back down to earth with a 2-1 home defeat to Northampton in front of another healthy crowd of 10,738, however two good home derby wins against Halifax & Barnsley in front of 12,000 crowds took Avenue up to Christmas in a respectable mid table position, which would have been better but for their poor away form.

No one could have prophesied what was about to occur over the coming weeks after Christmas. It really started on the 16th December when the home game with Southend was abandoned after 8 minutes because of fog, quite a rare occurrence. The home game with Brentford on Saturday 30th December was called off because of snow, nothing unusual about that in December. The following Saturday the weather improved and Avenue played Chesterfield in a friendly due to both sides being out of the FA Cup. On the 13th January Avenue played Shrewsbury Town at home and drew 1-1 Tommy Spratt getting the Avenue goal. Little did anyone know this was to be Avenue’s last league outing for several weeks.

Tommy Spratt

Tommy Spratt

Two days before Avenue’s game with Shrewsbury a two year old boy was diagnosed with Smallpox in Bradford Children’s Hospital and on being transferred to Oakwell Hospital in Birstall had died on Friday night 12th January. On the Saturday the first vaccination centre was opened at the Edmund Street Clinic and later a second centre was opened at City Hall. Over that weekend 30,000 people were vaccinated,1,400 suspected contacts were traced and vaccinated and kept under surveillance, putting a severe strain on local resources. In all 285,000 people in Bradford were vaccinated over the next 5 days.

Smallpox Boy

Because of the smallpox outbreak Bradford’s Medical Officer of Health Dr John Douglas requested that both Avenue’s away game at Peterborough and City’s home game with Oldham on Saturday 20th January be called off as a precaution. Rather reluctantly as can be seen from the statements taken from the Telegraph & Argus both clubs along with the football league’s permission agreed to postpone their games. On Monday January 22nd
Dr Douglas requested the postponement of Avenue’s home game on Wednesday 24th January against Southend United and the away game at QPR on Saturday 27th January, along with City’s game at home to Wrexham. Also called off that weekend was Bradford Northern’s home game with Hull KR. It seems that Northern were not too happy, with Chairman Mr J S Barritt quoting in the Telegraph & Argus on the 24th January “The Directors reluctantly decided to ask Hull KR if they were prepared to have the match postponed and they also reluctantly agreed to abide by the medical officer’s advice”.

Small Pox Soccer off

However, Bradford’s soccer starved public did not go without football that weekend. After long negotiations between Avenue and City they agreed to meet each other in their West Riding FA Senior Cup Tie at Park Avenue. Meanwhile the reserves would meet at Valley Parade and the juniors at East Bierley, so for the first time in history Bradford had three derby games on the same day. The Football League sanctioned it, secretary Alan Hardaker saying it was OK providing it got the blessing of the local health authorities, which it did. What a cracking game it was too, watched by a crowd of 10,358, probably three times over what they would have usually got for a West Riding Cup game. After 33 minutes the score was 2-2, Avenue scored through Gibson and Buchanan while City replied back with goals from Webb and Hoyland. Despite an end to end thriller no more goals were scored and the game went to a replay at Valley Parade which Avenue won 3-1, going on to beat Huddersfield in the Semi-Final before losing 1-0 to Halifax in the final.

Ian Gibson

Ian Gibson

On the 31st January it was announced that Sport could return back to normal, but it was not until 13th February that the smallpox outbreak was officially declared over. It could have been much worse but with 14 indigenous cases of whom 6 died it was the general consensus of opinion that everyone concerned had done a remarkable job.

Avenue returned to action on Saturday February 3rd with a home game against Port Vale winning 2-1 in front of a good crowd of 9,294, scorers were Spratt and Buchanan.

Just when it looked everything was getting back to normal the season took yet another fateful turn. It really started on Saturday February 10th with a 6-1 thumping at high-flying Bristol City in front of a crowd of 15,977. On the following night of February 11th what the Telegraph & Argus described as “The Night of the Terror Tornado” hit Bradford. Three of the four 120 ft floodlight pylons at the Avenue ground crashed to the ground as the “Tornado” swept relentlessly on, a thousand council houses were damaged, trees were down, tiles ripped off roofs, greenhouses collapsed and garage roofs blown completely away. It claimed the life of a woman in Queensbury who was hit by a falling chimney pot.

Tornado Headline

 

Tornado Pic1 One of the three floodlight pylons which were wrecked

 

Tornado Pic2

Another of the pylons now a mass of tangled girders, in the background is the last remaining pylon which it is feared may collapse at any moment

 

Tornado Pic3Horton Park end pylon that tumbled into the road

Avenue were due to play a floodlit friendly on the Monday Night against Swiss Side F.C.Lugano. Of course this had to be postponed. Avenue had given the Swiss team a £550 guarantee plus arranging that the takings would be shared equally (don’t forget this was 1962 and £500 was a lot of money then) however thanks to a fantastic gesture from neighbours City the game went ahead at Valley Parade the following night, Avenue recording a 2-0 victory with goals from Bleanch and Ashworth. A 6,044 crowd meant Avenue broke even and they had cause to feel thankful for the co-operation of their City neighbours in holding the match at Valley Parade. Thankfully the Football Club had insured the pylons but the latest disaster would mean a loss of revenue for the remaining rearranged home fixtures which were more than usual what with the smallpox outbreak and the usual matches off for the weather.

Lugano

With all four floodlight pylons having been demolished, the club offices and low stand damaged, it was a gale battered Park Avenue which Avenue returned to play Torquay United just four days later, well done to everyone involved in getting the game on. Goals from Bird 2 and Atkinson gave Avenue a welcome victory in front of a respectable crowd of 7,804.

It was around the middle of February that Ian Gibson put in a transfer request. Ian was a great player – he must have been because my Dad often sang his praises, something not often heard about the majority of Avenue players. To be fair to Dad he started watching Avenue as a 10 year old boy in 1926 and the following season they were 3rd Division North Champions, and for the next six seasons never lower than 8th in the 2nd Division. Avenue were an established 2nd division side and when war broke out in 1939 Avenue had completed eleven unbroken seasons in Division 2 and when football started again in 1946 Avenue would come 14th in Division 2.

During the War Dad was in the Army serving four years in India. He often told me about the famous Victories at Arsenal and Man City just after the War, and how good the likes of Len Shackleton, Billy Elliott and Johnny Downie were. So to be fair to my Dad until the year before I was born (1950) he had never seen Avenue struggle. Meanwhile Avenue turned down Gibson’s request but said they would look at it again before the transfer deadline day of March 16th. As it was, an offer had come in from Middlesborough, Avenue accepted the offer – some reports suggested that a fee of £30,000 was paid but I would rather more believe E. Foster Avenue Supporters Club Secretary who stated in his column in the following match day Programme that it was nearer £20,000. Avenue did not have much option apart from the fact that it was unfair on Gibson, don’t forget the unlimited wage structure had just come into play so he was not only going to get higher Grade football which his talent deserved but also a substantially higher wage than Avenue could ever afford, This new wage structure was going to create many problems for lower league clubs. It was a well known fact that Avenue had a debt of £35,000, along with the loss of revenue due to the floodlight disaster.

Home games against Crystal Palace and Southend had to be played on a Wednesday afternoon with a 2.45pm kick off time. Although Avenue won both games 2-0 and 4-0 respectively, crowds of just 3,606 and 2,818 were recorded. The next Wednesday game against Brentford was slightly better attended (4,812) only because the clocks had altered and the kick off was 6.15 pm. To highlight what effect the smallpox outbreak and floodlight disaster had on revenue is shown by the fact that Avenue had played 13 home games up to February 3rd and crowds were averaging just over 10,000, so by my reckoning Avenue missed out on at least 20,000 paying customers (a lot of money to a club like Avenue) on just those three games alone. The Gibson fee therefore went towards bringing the debt down and offsetting the loss of revenue caused by the loss of the floodlights. In the middle of that spell Avenue played a home game against runaway leaders the Third Division “aristocrats” Portsmouth and put on a superb performance winning 2-1 in front of a crowd of 10,154. This is a game I remember well, not only for the feeling that we are a really good team even without Ian Gibson but the fact that before the game I managed to get a Portsmouth team photo personally autographed apart from one player. This was a great passion of mine and I still have many autographed photos from the sixties.

After the Portsmouth win Avenue stood in very good 10th position with 10 games to go and 2 or 3 games in hand on most of their rivals. As it was, Avenue’s season faded and due to off the field goings on since Christmas, Avenue ended up playing their last 10 games in 29 days! Unsurprisingly Avenue lost their last four games. It was still a respectable 11th position that Avenue finished and we all looked forward to the next season with great enthusiasm and expectation – I still have a cutting from one of the Sunday newspapers from around the time of the floodlights opening night. It has a massive headline THEY’RE AIMING FOR THE STARS! It goes on to say the stage at Park Avenue is set for the Second Division. The producer, the cast and the glittering new floodlights are ready. All that is missing is the date. So the question was asked of Player Manager Jimmy Scoular, WHEN ARE AVENUE GOING UP? Scoular diplomatically answered sooner or later, that Bradford deserved higher class football and that Avenue were an ambitious and go-ahead club geared up for the Second Division and beyond. As a 12-year old boy next season could not come soon enough!

Aiming for the Stars

Grimsby Town Easter Tuesday 24 April 1962

Easter Tuesday 24th. April 1962

Interestingly Leeds United finished that season 19th in Division 2, meaning that Avenue were only 14 places behind them on the football ladder. Who would have believed that just seven seasons later Avenue would be 92 places behind them!

1962-63 SEASON

With much optimism about at Park Avenue it was a slow start to the season with four of the first five games ending in draws. Avenue’s first two away games were on the Wednesday at Bournemouth and the Saturday at Southend. A decision was made to stay down south after the Bournemouth game and travel back after the game at Southend. This was not without mishap, they had a hectic dash to the Southend ground owing to a train cancellation of which Avenue had not been made aware of. In the squad that Avenue took down south was an eighteen year old Kevin Hector yet to play in the Senior side.

He made his debut in the Bournemouth game a 2-2 draw. The Telegraph & Argus report said that he had gone close to scoring and had a promising introduction to League Football. He kept his place for the Southend game a 3-1 defeat. He missed the next two games but, with regular winger Hannigan injured he was chosen for the away game at Shrewsbury and scored what was to be the first of his 268 Football League goals. The Telegraph & Argus report of the match stated that a piece of quick thinking by Hector brought Bradford’s equaliser, Shrewsbury fullback Skeech let the ball slip by him and Hector was round him in a flash to score. Avenue went on to win 2-1 Rodney Green getting the winner.

Kevin Hector

Over the next 16 games Kevin was to appear in 7 of them, Manager Jimmy Scoular looking after him, obviously aware of what a talent was among the ranks. During this time a reserve game of which my dad and I attended really brought to our attention how good he was. Avenue were playing Sunderland and I remember vividly my Dad raving about the boy Hector, although Avenue lost 3-2, Kevin getting both goals it was his all round play that also caught the eye. I still have the team sheet from that game. It was only a matter of time before he would become a regular and sure enough just two weeks later he made the first of his 166 consecutive appearances, the rest is history. My Dad who had seen all the past masters put him up there and even went to watch him play at Derby several times during the season he left, high praise indeed if you knew my Dad.

Maxwell v Colchester 1962

We watched a lot of the reserves over these two seasons. In the 62-63 season Avenue Reserves finished 3rd in the table behind Middlesbrough and Rotherham scoring 88 goals!.The team was usually, depending on injuries, the ideal mix of youth and experience, the likes of Ken Jones and Geoff Gould mixed with the experience of Buchanan and Dick. All teams had a reserve team playing in a league system on a Saturday afternoon. I firmly believe that not having this or a similar reserve team system is the reason why our national team has done so badly since 1966. Going to the reserve matches also was a way of finding out the half time score of the first team where ever they were playing, and after the game if you hung around for a few minutes outside the club offices news would filter through how the Avenue had gone on (don’t forget no mobile phones or the like back then). After that a nice gentle walk into town for the Pink (Yorks Sports) with all the results and reports.

Sunderland Reserves

First team away matches for me were quite rare at this time due to being too young but mainly while Avenue were in the 3rd division the teams were predominantly down south, Bournemouth, Southend, the two Bristol clubs, Torquay, Portsmouth, Newport, Crystal Palace, QPR, Reading, Swindon, Watford, Peterborough, Brentford, Northampton, Millwall, Brighton, Colchester, all of these not exactly just down the road! The previous season we had been to watch Avenue at Hull, Notts County, Barnsley and Halifax. We went in my dad’s mate’s Thames Trader Van, myself and his son who was about the same age sat in the back, from what I can remember it was not the most comfortable of rides to say the
least. This would change for the 1963-64 season when my friend and I joined the Supporters Club who also happened to have a travel section enabling us to be able to go to away games. With Avenue back in the 4th division many of the games were nearer home that season. Over the next four seasons there were very few 4th division grounds I did not visit watching Avenue. I still have the membership card for the Travel Section 1966-67 which lists the fares to various games – Exeter on December 10th was £2.00!, Luton £1/15s/0d (£1.75) , while Barnsley would cost you 6 shillings (30p). Those were the days!

A member of the supporters club committee, a great character called Jim Geraghty organised the travel section, he sometimes had his hands full with a few of us younger element (sneaking alcohol on-board etc.) but Jim was brilliant at handling any situation and was well liked and respected. It was great to meet up with him again 40 years later at Clayton Golf Club where we were both members. We would often reminisce about our trips. Jim used to get to know the players pretty well through his position on the Avenue committee and it was nice to hear he was still getting a Christmas card every year from Jim Fryatt who at the end of his career had emigrated to the USA.

In mid December striker Rodney Green moved to neighbours Bradford City. Hector was brought back into the side and on the 15th December for the away game at Colchester where he scored in a 4-1 win, this was to be the first game of his 166 consecutive games run.

No one was to know that this would be Avenue’s last away game for nine weeks. The Big Freeze of 1963 was about to take hold. Avenue’s match programme notes for the Halifax game on Friday January 4th makes interesting reading. ”The atrocious weather of the last two months has plunged many soccer clubs into financial trouble and Avenue had been worse hit than most, in nine weeks of November & December we have had three home games all of which because of the weather affected attendances, and the money it has brought in leaves hardly the equivalent of two weeks wage bill”. I remember the Boxing Day fixture against Swindon was played in appalling conditions as was the Halifax game. It had been moved to a Friday night because of neighbours City playing an FA Cup 3rd round tie against Newcastle United at Valley Parade the following day, which was unsurprisingly postponed.

If Avenue thought it was bad now it soon became much worse. The next game played at Park Avenue would be almost 9 weeks later on 6 March. In fact, only one game was played in this spell, an away game at Bristol City where Avenue were defeated 4–2. A slight thaw in the south-west of the country had set in for a few days. This did not last long and the weather soon hit hard again. Bradford City’s FA Cup Tie with Newcastle was postponed an amazing 13 times but this was not the record – the Lincoln/Coventry tie was called off 14 times. For the record City lost 6-1 when the match was finally played on
7th March.

With no money coming in to the Clubs, neighbours Halifax came up with a great idea. They opened their ground up as a public ice rink and charged admission. Rumour had it they got bigger crowds for this than for the football. It was during this time that the Pools Panel emerged as the football pools companies were also losing a lot of money. It was not until the beginning of March that the weather relented and Avenue’s first home game for 9 weeks went ahead against Peterborough. The Avenue programme notes for this game stated that Avenue, like the vast majority of clubs, had the headache of paying wage bills and other expenditure without any income from games. It would have been nigh impossible to survive this period without help of the supporters clubs. What it also meant was that it was going to be an enormous effort to get the backlog of fixtures sorted. In Avenue’s case it meant that they would have 12 games in the last 5 1/2 weeks of the season in which 8 would be away and just 4 at home. Such was the disparity for some teams in the rearrangement of fixtures. This was to prove a big blow to Avenue in the final reckoning.

First Saturday game for 9 weeksFirst Saturday game at Park Avenue for 9 weeks – March 9th. 1963

With 9 games remaining Avenue required just 8 points to reach the magic mark of 40 points. This was because no team had ever gone down with 40 points. Even though only 3 of them were at home (note it was only 2 points for a win back then) the Avenue camp were confident. After a thrilling 4-4 draw at Halifax, best remembered by me for the brilliant displays of Kevin Hector and Halifax’s Willie Carlin. They would both later team up together at Derby County and were instrumental in them winning the second division title in 1968-69. After thumping Notts County 5-0 on Easter Tuesday just 5 points from 7 games were needed to reach the magic 40 points.

Next up was Bristol Rovers at Park Avenue in the now infamous Bribery Scandal game. The programme notes for this game make interesting reading: “After the high standard of play in the 5-0 defeat of Notts County all relegation thought can be put behind us”.
Despite Bristol Rovers’ goalkeeper Esmond Million and inside forward Keith Williams both taking bribes to lose the game Avenue could only manage a 2-2 draw (only Avenue could draw a game they were meant to win!).

The Sunday People Newspaper uncovered the bribery scandal and disclosed that footballer Jimmy Gauld had for several years systematically interfered with matches in the football league enticing players into betting on the outcome of fixed matches. In 1965 he received a sentence of 4 years imprisonment while nine others received prison sentences including ex-Bradford City player David Bronco Layne. The highest profile players, both England internationals, Tony Kay and Peter Swan received four month prison sentences. Meanwhile Esmond Million and Keith Williams were fined and banned for life.

Bribery MatchThe Infamous Bribery Game – April 20th. 1963 – Esmond Million taking a clean cross as Kevin Hector watches on

Avenue’s last home game of the season was against fellow strugglers Reading, a 3-2 win got Avenue up to the magic 40 points mark with just 2 away games to play at Port Vale and Millwall. Avenue lost at Port Vale on the Monday so went into their final match on Saturday May 11th at Millwall with the last relegation spot being a battle between Avenue, Reading and Bristol Rovers. As it was, Avenue lost at Millwall, Bristol Rovers drew at home to Wrexham which left them 3 points short of the magic 40. Reading won 2-1 at Halifax to reach the magic 40 points but they had a superior goal average. Rovers got to 1 point behind Avenue with a mid-week victory over Colchester. Therefore, Avenue were counting on Halifax for the second consecutive Saturday. Due to the big freeze by now it was May 18th and the season had been scheduled to finish on Saturday 27tth April.

Quite a few Avenue fans attended the match at the Shay more in hope than expectation, several left before half time. Bristol Rovers were two up in 12 minutes, however just 11 minutes into the second half Halifax equalized through Denis Fidler – game on! Sadly with just fourteen minutes remaining Jones scored for Rovers when Halifax keeper Downsborough missed a cross to give Rovers a 3-2 victory and survival.

So it is to this day, as you can imagine, old Avenue supporters from that day have never had much love for Halifax. They had lost the previous week to Reading (who only stayed up by having a superior goal difference to Avenue). In Halifax’s away game earlier in the season at Reading one of the most memorable feats of the season came from Reading goalkeeper Arthur Wilkie, he was injured in the game and those being the days before substitutes, had to soldier on as an outfield player, with Maurice Evans taking over between the sticks. Remarkably, he scored twice as Reading ran out 4-2 winners. Once again a big thank you to Halifax!

So Avenue were relegated losing out on goal average with the highest points total by any relegated club in football history. One bright spot was Avenue winning the West Riding Cup that season. Avenue’s opponents in the final were, yes you’ve guessed, Halifax. The game played on May 30th. resulting in a 3-0 win for the Avenue.

After just two seasons in Division 3, Avenue were relegated and would never return, in fact just 7 seasons later they would be out of the football league. I know there are a million ifs and buts, more so in this case because of extenuating circumstances i.e. smallpox outbreak, floodlight disaster, big freeze, but in my opinion if Avenue had stayed up I think they would have gone on and been a steady second or third division club.

What with the emergence of a certain Kevin Hector and a couple of shrewd signings the makings of a good side were certainly there. Also don’t forget neighbours Bradford City finished Avenue’s relegation season in 23rd position in the fourth division. Alas, as I said, a million ifs and buts but as I have documented the two seasons in division three were hardly run of the mill and without doubt Avenue took the brunt of circumstances more than most.

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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.

VINCIT readers may be interested in attending a talk by John Dewhirst on 19 May, 2018 in Bradford Local Studies Library on the Sporting Heritage of Bradford, featuring the origins and development of sport in the district in the nineteenth century. 

JD Sporting Heritage of Bradford 19-May-18

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