by Stephen Whitrick
The first football match I ever saw was , I believe, in the 1957/58 season when my father took me to Valley Parade, and I think the opponents at that game were Bury. I was taken to a few games, but at Christmas 1957, I was taken to Park Avenue, as previously mentioned, because City were playing away, and that is when I became an Avenue fan.
Moving on, now, to the latter days of watching Avenue, I became more involved with playing football, rather than watching. I was playing Sunday league football for the Royal (Girlington) and then the Upper Globe, and on a Saturday I started playing for Grange old boys, through an invitation from a friend, but then moved on to Belle Vue old boys, my old school, where I was captain of the third eleven, but played many times for the first and second teams.
I also had other interests which took me away from watching football, getting married for one, but I was also getting quite well known as a local deejay, having done stints at the Bradford Ice Arena, assisting and old friend Steve Dalton, at the Penny Farthing, and as a mobile DJ. This work took me to a full time job as DJ/Lighting technician at the Blue Angel night club in Leeds, and it was at this venue that I was offered work in Spain. Along with my (first) wife, I went to work in Lloret de Mar for the seasons 1975 and 1976, and at this time all thoughts of Avenue and City were very remote.
On returning from Spain, in December 1976, my brother Chris asked me to join him and some friends to watch City play Workington, on a bitterly cold night just before Christmas. I actually enjoyed, not only the match, but the fact I was in the company of new friends who made me welcome into their company. I was hooked, and so I became a City fan.
I witnessed the joy of promotion of the 76/77 season, when we finished 4th. Stars of that side were the ageless Peter Downsborough in goals,Don Hutchins on the wing, big Bernie Wright with his 20 goals that season, and “ninety miles an hour” Terry Dolan. Then there was the sadness of relegation the following season. Would we ever get promoted again, we thought ?? The best was yet to come.
I continued to watch City, and was fortunate to find a job with a good company, Ducos, who were office equipment and stationery suppliers, and who supplied me with my first ever season ticket for the centre stand. This only lasted for the one season, as I left the company, only to rejoin it a year later, but that’s a different story.
In 1979, I moved out of Bradford and went to live in Eastburn, which is situated between Skipton and Keighley. There I started playing football for the Airedale Hospital Social Club, as my wife got a job as an auxilliary nurse. Some of the lads in the team were also City supporters, and we used to go and watch the games from the Bradford End. And regularly went to away matches at places like Rochdale, Bury, Sheffield Mansfield etc.
We witnessed many a great game at Valley Parade, and those which stick in the memory have to be the 1-0 defeat of Liverpool (watched from the Kop), the 0-0 draw with Manchester United (Also watched from the Kop), and that fantastic game against Brentford when we were 4-1 down, and made a remarkable turn around to win 5-4
Season 81/82 proved to be a big turning point for City when Roy McFarland was appointed manager. The season did’t start off too well, but in September/October City won 9 games on the trot which put them at the top of the league, and they eventually finished runners-up to Sheffield United. The final game of that season, a 2-2 draw at home to Bournemouth, was recorded by Yorkshire television, and a game in which our hero Bobby Campbell, scored two cracking goals. He finished that season on 24 goals.
The following season had it’s ups and downs. Despite consolidation in a mid table finish, the club was shattered by Roy McFarland and his assistant Mick Jones walking out on the club to join Derby County. This led to the appointment of Trevor Cherry, who brought in Terry Yorath, a move that was later to bring great rewards to the club.
Bad luck followed in February ‘83 when severe gales blew down one of the floodlight pylons, and left a second one so unsafe it had to be dismantled.
However, the clubs finances were so severe that they were heading for extinction., but thanks to Stafford Heginbotham and Jack Tordoff, the club were saved. During this period, the emergence of Stuart MaCall was a bright spot.
City started 83/84 without Bobby Campbell, who had gone to Derby, and with poor results were next to the bottom of the league in November. Bobby Campbell returned, and results improved and City won ten on the bounce. They finished 7th that season, and the signs were there that things were only going to get better.
The 84/85 season brought promotion and tragedy .It brings back so many sad memories. I was in the Bradford end on that fateful day with my friends from Airedale, one of whom, Kevin Green, was a male nurse, who tried to revive one of the victims in the goal area. City though, went from strength to strength after that.
I never watched City play again until the Re-opening of Valley Parade, against an England X1, and hardly ever missed a home game until relegation to the (Championship) after 2 great years in the Premiership.
I became a season ticket holder for the “nearly” season of 87/88, and was proud to be watching one of the best City sides in it’s history.So near yet so far.
In the season 90/91, I became the secretary of the Bradford City 100 club, and was able to rub shoulders with the players at that time, and more importantly, I became well known to the then Club Secretary, Terry Newman, Alan Gilliver, the stadium manager, and Stewart Thornton, the P.A. Announcer. I was still a season ticket holder, and because of the club’s policy on season tickets for kids, my two sons, Stephen and Daniel, also had one.
When Stewart Thornton stepped down as P.A. Announcer, I approached Alan Gilliver and offered to do the job myself, as I was a DJ, and not microphone shy. He asked me to come down to the next home reserve match for a trial, and he offered me the position. I gladly took up this role, and didn’t even want paying, as watching the game and meeting the players was a big honour for me. With my sons watching in the stand, and me making the announcements, I was in football heaven. On one occasion, the mascot for the day failed to turn up, and I suggested my eldest son, Stephen, was keen to be a mascot, and he was asked to stand in for the day. Very Proud.
One of my memories as the announcer was during a game against Fulham, where Jimmy Hill was chairman, City were hoping to go top of the league if results went their way. A score came through that Brentford were losing, and with City ahead at that time it meant we would be top if the results stayed the same. I asked Alan Gilliver if I could give out the score, something I hadn’t done before, and he said it was up to me, but be prepared to face the consequences. I did make the announcement, and it lifted the crowd. We went on to win the match, but Jimmy Hill complained to the City chairman Dave Simpson, and I got a “tongue in cheek” rollocking for making the announcement.
During the period 1989/1991 I was a partner in an envelope manufacturing company/Office supplies company, and we sponsored the City by providing free envelopes, and on two occasions we were match ball sponsors.
Personal problems from 1993 and throughout the mid nineties meant I lost my appetite for watching the game, but all that changed when I was at Wembley for the play-off final win over Notts County, and I was back being a season ticket holder again. Seeing the club rise to the premiership was absolutely fantastic for the club, and for the city of Bradford, and I can only hope that these times return.
In 2001, I took up a position as steward of the Wilsden Conservative club, which meant working every Saturday afternoon, so my days of watching the City were over.
In 2002 I re-kindled my love for Avenue by going to a match at Horsfall, however, at the same time I met my future 2nd wife, and in 2003 we moved to Bridlington, which made watching any football in Bradford an expensive affair.
We were able to watch Avenue in their games at Whitby, Goole,North Ferriby and Gainsborough, but, City’s only opponents in this area were York. I still come over to Bradford, as my two sons still live in the area, and usually take in a match at Horsfall.
I have had many great memories watching both clubs, and I can only wish them both well for the future, hoping that Avenue can regain their former place in the football league, and that City can reach at least the Championship.
Onwards and upwards. UTA & CTID.
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.