Bradford Park Avenue: Northern Premier League season 1970/71 (Part 2)

by Ian Brown

Part One of the story can be found from this link

1971’s New Year football news was of former players. Terry Dolan was named as substitute for Huddersfield Town for their FA Cup 3rd round tie against Birmingham City. He made his Town debut from the bench late on in the following Tuesday’s replay, when keeper Terry Poole was stretchered off with a broken leg. Steve Smith replaced Poole in goal, fracturing his thumb in the process; Town won 0-2. David Lawson replaced Poole as Town’s first choice before moving to Everton for £80,000 (then a record fee for a goalkeeper) in June 1972. Among other former Avenue players in 3rd round action was John Clancy, whose Yeovil Town side lost 0-3 at home to eventual winners Arsenal.

It was confirmed that York City were to sign Tommy Henderson permanently at the end of his 2-month trial. Henderson too was involved in 3rd round action, York beating 2nd division Bolton 2-0. They went on to draw 3-3 at home with 1st division Southampton in the 4th round, losing the replay at the Dell 3-2.

Leighton signed 33-year-old former Shrewsbury, Wrexham, York & Southport inside forward Roy Ambler as an amateur to add some experience to the reserve side. Ambler had recently been playing for Selby Town & Stalybridge Celtic.

On the field, Avenue began the year at home to Goole Town & won 2-1 thanks to an own goal & a first for Steve Thornton, on a pitch “more suited to ice skating than to soccer”. They could & should have scored more, against a Goole side which included former player Brian Conley. Leighton missed the game, as X-rays at the Royal Infirmary showed that he’d fractured his breastbone in the Boxing Day game against Bangor City. 2 more players departed – young part-timers Nigel Lester (2 appearances) & Phil McCaffery (1 appearance) had their contracts cancelled by mutual consent.

On 9th January, Avenue hosted Selby Town in the 2nd round of the West Riding County Cup. There was a debut for amateur full-back Geoff Kay, 22, who was facing his previous club; Leighton was still unfit, but skipper Trevor Atkinson returned after a 2-match absence.

Danny Campbell headed home from John Brodie’s free kick after half an hour, then netted another from a corner, but that was ruled out for pushing. That was how it stayed until the 73rd minute when Atkinson scored from the spot after Brodie had been fouled.  A 3rd goal came from Tony Beanland, his first of the season, with a fine 30-yard free kick. A close-range effort from substitute Peter Brannan rounded off a 4-0 win. Despite the good result, Callaway was critical of the tactics – “Perhaps Avenue should employ forwards who play according to some sort of positional plan, instead of all being free to roam at will”. He predicted that the forthcoming FA Trophy tie at Telford would prove a much sterner test.

For the final North-West Floodlit League game on Monday 11th January, Leighton fielded a side comprising mainly reserves, which succumbed to a 0-3 home defeat. The following night, at the club’s AGM, Chairman George Sutcliffe revealed that Herbert Metcalfe had been putting around £700 per week into the club just prior to his death. Sutcliffe admitted that it been a struggle to meet the wage bill ever since. However, costs had been cut significantly with the rapid exodus of players in October, plus the subsequent departures of some of those on the fringes of the first team. The directors paid tribute to the hard work of the Supporters Club, who handed over a cheque for £250 at the meeting.

Tony Leighton was still unfit for the Telford game, for which Barry Wood & Mick Walker were recalled; it would be Walker’s last senior appearance. Avenue faced a side which included Graham Carr & was captained by its player/manager, England 1966 World Cup squad member Ron Flowers. After a promising start, Avenue were always second best; Callaway’s prediction of a difficult task proving correct. They were eventually seen off 6-1; the pick of Telford’s goals was a 30-yard free kick from Flowers; Wood netted Avenue’s consolation.

There was more bad news, first when Peter Brannan received a 14-day ban & a £10 fine after amassing 3 bookings while under a previous “suspended sentence”. Following that, Wolves told Avenue that they wouldn’t pay the anticipated £2,000 instalment on Kenny Hibbitt’s transfer fee, which Avenue believed they were due now that Hibbitt had made 20 senior appearances. Wolves contended that the Texaco Cup, in which Hibbitt had appeared 4 times, wasn’t classed as a first team competition.

George Sutcliffe didn’t mince his words: “The whole thing stinks…It puts us in a very grave position…” he said, announcing that an emergency board meeting had been called to address the shortfall in funds. Andrew Callaway phoned Wolves for comment, but their secretary refused to respond. Instead, he threatened to report the paper to the Football League, claiming that transfer fees should be confidential between clubs. To the credit of the T&A, the editorial in the next day’s edition was headed “Pay up now” & ended “We are quite happy for Wolves to report us to anyone they like”.

The emergency board meeting lasted for some 5 hours; the next day the club’s 11 remaining full-time players were faced with a sobering ultimatum – switch to part-time terms, or the club goes under. Metcalfe’s bonus scheme of £8 for a win & £4 for a draw would be reduced to £2 & £1 respectively. Any player not finding the terms acceptable would be granted a free transfer. All but one of the players agreed to go part-time; John Brodie returned to the Football League, signing for 3rd division Port Vale, where he stayed until his enforced retirement in 1978, having been unlucky enough to break the same leg 3 times.

Andrew Callaway thought that the switch to part-time should have been made sooner. In his Yorkshire Sports column of 23rd January, he wrote: “some of the players on the register are just not good enough…the exorbitant wage bill has been hanging round the club’s neck like a giant millstone”

The departed Brodie was replaced by Geoff Kay for the return match at Goole Town on Saturday 23rd January. Leighton & Roberts were back after injury & suspension respectively & Rod Smith was preferred to Aubrey in goal.  Smith played brilliantly & Steve Thornton netted the only goal of the game to end an eventful week on a high.

Off the field, there was good news on the 29th. Wolves had accepted that the Texaco Cup was a first-class fixture & paid the £2,000 instalment due for Hibbitt. With no senior fixture, the following day Avenue hosted a friendly against Goole Town – & beat them for the 3rd time in a month. It finished 5-0 this time, with goals from Ham, Campbell, Fitzsimons, Thornton & Rackstraw; according to Callaway, it could have been 8 or 9.  There were 2 newcomers in the team, Scottish full-back Jim Mackay, once of Scarborough, signed from Leeds Ashley Road as a permit player & young amateur Alan Beckwith from Winterton Rangers at centre-half.

There was another departure in the first week of February; midfielder Tony Beanland, who’d performed consistently well & missed only one game all season, moved back across the Pennines to join NPL rivals Kirkby Town as a part-timer. Without him, Avenue managed a goalless draw at Boston United on the Monday night, with Atkinson & Roberts playing well. Ironically though, the match report noted that both teams “badly needed a skilful player in midfield”.

Tony Leighton left himself out of the side which travelled to Stafford Rangers the following Saturday to give his younger players a chance. Also missing was skipper Atkinson, with a calf strain; there was an NPL debut for Alan Beckwith. The team fell to a 4-0 defeat, they were “pushed about too easily” in Callaway’s opinion. Afterwards Leighton quickly reversed his decision, saying he now felt he needed to play as much as possible – “It seems that when I’m not on the field silly mistakes start creeping in affecting everyone”.

Leighton did return to the starting line-up for the return match with Boston on 13th February. Also back was Atkinson, & Jim Mackay slotted in at left-back for his NPL debut. Out went Rackstraw, Wood & Brannan, the latter with another knee injury that needed stitches. The match ended in a 1-2 home defeat; Campbell scored for Avenue, but a disputed penalty converted by player-manager Jim Smith, later to achieve fame as a manager at a much higher level, proved to be Boston’s winner.

With Brannan still unfit, Leighton named an unchanged team for the following Tuesday night’s trip to Gainsborough Trinity. 2-0 down at half-time, Avenue fought back to draw, thanks to a brace from Eric Fitzsimons.

Off the field, confusion reigned over a quiz night at St George’s Hall which didn’t happen. This had potentially involved 1st division managers Don Revie, Joe Mercer & Sir Matt Busby & players Bobby Charlton & Billy Bremner. Revie had been contacted earlier by former Avenue director Stanley Yeadon & had apparently involved Mercer & Busby – but the hall had never been booked. Yeadon blamed the confusion on a postal dispute & claimed that the whole idea had only been a provisional arrangement.

There was one change to Avenue’s team for the trip to Kirkby Town, with Wood replacing Ham. Brannan & Aubrey, both recovering from injury, were named in the reserves. Avenue completed a hat-trick of wins over poorly supported Kirkby (the crowd was recorded as 173), who included Tony Beanland in midfield. The final score was 1-3 with goals from Thornton, Fitzsimons with a fine header & Atkinson direct from a free kick. The only downside was Leighton’s departure early in the second half with a head injury.

Herbert Metcalfe’s will was published, with some supporters speculating that a bequest might be made to the club. This proved not to be the case, though this came as no surprise to club officials.

There was another new face in the line-up for a friendly against Yorkshire League side Frecheville. This was 18-year-old midfielder John Wilkinson, a Huddersfield lad who had been with Sunderland as a junior. He scored one of the goals in a 6-1 win. Tony Leighton was impressed enough to sign him on part-time terms for the rest of the season. Beckwith, Kay, Thornton & Mackay had also been added to the part-time roster, bringing the number up to 17, though the T&A calculated that 4 part-timers earned roughly what 1 full-timer had been paid earlier in the season.

On 6th March, Lancaster City were the visitors & they took revenge for Avenue’s win at their ground in October. Former Avenue men Andy Haddock & Tommy Singleton got a goal apiece in a 1-4 away win, with Haddock the chief tormentor of the home defence. Leighton netted late on for Avenue.

The following Tuesday John Wilkinson made his senior debut away at Macclesfield, replacing Atkinson. Kay was side-lined with a knee injury & Ham, his replacement as substitute against Lancaster, returned to the starting line-up. The hosts won 4-0; it could have been 5 but a penalty went wide. The next Saturday brought a trip to Farsley Celtic for a West Riding County Cup semi-final, a scrappy game which finished goalless.

Then came another away day, this time to the East coast to face Scarborough for the first time this season. Atkinson was recalled & Mackay moved into midfield. In glorious sunshine, in front of a 2,300 crowd that included several travelling supporters, Avenue played well in a goalless first half, with Atkinson & Leighton dominant in central defence. The second half was a different story – for the 3rd NPL game in succession 4 goals were conceded – this time without reply. Leighton (“a most frustrating afternoon”) was moved to remind his players that they were all playing for a place on the retained list come the season’s end.

The home replay against Farsley was drawn 1-1, the recalled Charlie Rackstraw netting his only goal in Avenue colours. Both fans & Leighton were angered at the decision not to play extra time. That left Avenue facing 11 games in 3 weeks during April. The club was then told that the second replay would be at Valley Parade on Monday 5th April – the same day as they were due to host Fleetwood at Park Avenue.

Leighton said he intended to field a Yorkshire League side against Farsley, noting ominously “it could be that some of the present first-teamers will be in it judging by recent performances”. In the event, the Farsley match was re-scheduled for 6th April.

On Saturday 27th March Stafford Rangers were the visitors, with Alan Aubrey recalled to Avenue’s goal. He was soon in action with a couple of early saves, then had to have his hand strapped after diving to collect a cross. He was beaten on 29 minutes though & then the injured Atkinson had to be replaced by Leighton. Steve Thornton grabbed an equaliser, but Stafford went on to win 1-2. Callaway described the game as “scrappy… kick & hope…”.

Meanwhile, the final game in March saw a quick re-match with Scarborough. Avenue, missing the unfit Atkinson, would select from 14, including Jimmy Williams for the first time since December (though he wasn’t selected to play) & Batley based utility player David Peel (18) who made his debut from the bench. Danny Campbell was dropped in favour of Alan Beckwith. A crowd of 1,443 saw ‘Boro run out 0-1 winners; it could have been more but Aubrey “stopped several almost certain goals”, according to the Scarborough Evening News.

Peter Doman & Mick Moriarty, 2 students from Trinity & All Saints College, Horsforth, where Leighton had a coaching role, were named in the inside-forward positions in the starting line-up for the NPL home game against Great Harwood on Saturday 3rd April. Contrast that with more than 1,000 senior appearances for Blackburn Rovers & England for Ronnie Clayton & Bryan Douglas in the visiting team.

It was a day to remember for 21-year-old student teacher Doman, whose 4th minute header from a Brannan free kick gave Avenue the lead. The visitors equalised after 11 minutes, but on 75 minutes, Doman controlled a long through ball & beat a Harwood defender, before lashing a 20-yard shot into the net for the winning goal. The only downside was the attendance of 857, the lowest at home in the NPL so far & the first to fall below 1,000.

The win saw Avenue move into 10th place in the league. A Monday night home game against Fleetwood quickly followed. Leighton’s experiment with 2 students in the side had been a success, so he brought in a 3rd. 20-year-old winger Frank Foster, younger brother of long-distance runner Brendan came into the team in place of Peter Brannan. Another amateur, Eric Fitzsimons, was recalled, to replace the experienced Rackstraw.

It was a lacklustre performance in the first half, which saw Fleetwood go 2 goals up. The team was unbalanced when Fitzsimons had to leave the field for 10 minutes with an eye injury. Then Peter Doman was injured after 37 minutes & had to be replaced by the player-manager. Doman’s ankle was later put in plaster & he never appeared for Avenue again. But with Leighton “goading & bullying them forward”, Avenue were much improved after the break. 2 headers from Alan Beckwith, the first from Foster’s corner, the second from a Fitzsimons free kick, rescued a point. Foster made a promising debut & Callaway singled out Geoff Kay for praise – “remarkably consistent…a tireless worker”.

On the following day, a virtually unchanged team (with Wilkinson replacing the injured Doman) travelled to Farsley for that second replay of the West Riding County Cup semi-final. The game was goal-less for some 80 minutes, thanks in no small part to Alan Aubrey, who made some fine saves. Then Farsley scored 2 in quick succession & though Leighton, on as substitute for Moriarty, headed home a Fitzsimons corner 2 minutes before the end, Farsley held on to win – deservedly thought Callaway. Avenue’s cause wasn’t helped by a knee injury to Alan Roberts, which forced him to hobble on the wing for most of the second half & kept him out of the next 5 games.

Roberts was replaced by Danny Campbell for the Good Friday trip to South Shields, with Leighton returning to the starting line-up along with Atkinson & Brannan. Shields went ahead in the first minute, but a minute later Avenue levelled through a first goal from Frank Foster. But after only half an hour, the home side were 5-1 ahead. On 42 minutes Avenue were awarded a penalty for handball, but the normally reliable Trevor Atkinson saw his spot kick well saved by home keeper Bert Garrow. It would have been worse if Alan Aubrey hadn’t made 2 “first class” saves in the second half. Other than that, & a last minute Brannan header that grazed the bar, Andrew Callaway was ruthless in his criticism: “Avenue bore little or no resemblance to a team of semi-professional footballers…virtually non-existent in defence…the attack woefully weak”.

Unsurprisingly, Leighton rang the changes for the following day’s clash at Runcorn. Amateur David Peel made his debut in the number 5 shirt in place of Campbell, with Peter Balmforth in for his second game at right-back. Atkinson moved to left-back in place of Jim Mackay, and there was a first start since

November for Bernard Rafferty, which proved to be his final appearance in an Avenue shirt. Though the team gave an improved performance, with Moriarty equalising Runcorn’s opener with his first goal, the home side finished 2-1 winners.

Easter Monday brought Gainsborough Trinity to Bradford for Avenue’s 6th match in 12 days. It also brought Avenue’s first win since Great Harwood at the start of April. Jim Mackay had substituted for the injured Steve Thornton at Runcorn & he started on the left wing against Gainsborough. In the 75th minute Mackay saw his header from an Allan Ham corner hit the bar & reacted quickly to slam the rebound home for the only goal of the game. There were 2 downsides – Tony Leighton sustained a facial injury, causing temporary blindness in his left eye & the crowd of 727 was the lowest of the season.

The next night though, 2.929 turned out to see a home friendly against Leeds United. United fielded a mainly reserve side, with the notable exceptions of Billy Bremner (returning from injury) & Terry Hibbitt. Avenue fielded 9 amateurs, including 4 local players with no previous experience in the first team – Phil Hardman (21) & Barry Stuart (22) both played for T.S. Harrisons in the West Riding County Amateur League, Gerry Stebbings (22) played for Crabtree-Mann & Harry Rose (20) for Silsden. Stebbings had originally had a trial at Avenue at the same time as Peter Brannan but had been released.

Rose put Avenue 1-0 up in the first half. After Leeds had equalised, Fitzsimons put Avenue ahead again, only for another Leeds goal. It finished 2-2, though Frank Foster missed a late chance to win it for Avenue. Callaway was impressed by the performance, singling out goalkeeper Rod Smith for praise. Leighton too was pleased: “I decided to throw them in at the deep end & they certainly played very well”.

Leighton was unfit for the trip to Altrincham on Saturday 17th April, so Danny Campbell was recalled. Alan Aubrey was in dominant form in goal but was beaten by a late header from a corner, which gave the hosts the points.

There was another quick turnaround, with Chorley the visitors on Monday 19th. Fitzsimons & Thornton came back into the side & there was a debut for winger Gerry Stebbings. Callaway thought it seemed like a game with an end of season feel. Avenue’s only shot on target was a 25-yard free kick from Atkinson, but it was Chorley who secured the win with a goal on 70 minutes.

Although there were still 3 games to be played before the season’s actual end, Avenue’s retained list was announced on Tuesday 20th April. 7 players were being released – Peter Brannan, Alan Brown, Danny Campbell, Charlie Rackstraw, Bernard Rafferty, Mick Walker & Jimmy Williams. Also leaving was the club’s sole remaining apprentice Harry Preece, who had never progressed to the first team. Barry Wood’s contract had ended earlier so that he could resume his cricketing career. Gary Hudson didn’t feature on either list, so presumably he had already had to retire from the professional game due to persistent knee injuries.

Perhaps the only surprising name among those released was Peter Brannan, though he was later re-signed & remained with Avenue until the club folded 3 years later. Alan Brown had failed to live up to his early promise & had made only 5 senior appearances without scoring, the last in December. Danny Campbell had been left out early on & was only recalled after Terry Dolan’s departure. Charlie Rackstraw had been something of a disappointment, only managing 1 goal in 11 appearances, though he had suffered some niggling injuries. Bernard Rafferty’s only goals in senior games were his hat-trick against Matlock back in August, though his first team opportunities had been few, & he had scored a further 3 goals in NW Floodlit League games. He too hadn’t fulfilled his early promise; the same could be said of Mick Walker & Jimmy Williams.

Retained for 1971/72 were Trevor Atkinson, Alan Aubrey, Alan Beckwith, Allan Ham, Geoff Kay, Tony Leighton, Jim Mackay, Alan Roberts, Rod Smith, Steve Thornton & John Wilkinson. This, thought Leighton, left room for 3 new signings, a midfielder & 2 forwards. He was already trying to sign Rotherham United’s ex-Huddersfield & Barnsley midfielder John Bettany, who was available on a free transfer, though Bettany eventually opted to join Goole Town.

The final Saturday game of the season was at home to South Liverpool on 24th April, in front of another disappointing attendance – 777. After missing 5 games with knee ligament trouble, Alan Roberts was fit to return. Avenue went 1-0 up through Allan Ham in the first half but were 1-2 behind on 70 minutes. On 77 minutes though, a free kick from Trevor Atkinson came back off the bar and went in off an attempted clearance by a defender; it finished 2-2. Tony Leighton missed the game to watch a Southern League match between Romford & Chelmsford – denying his interest in former Avenue player of the year Glen Andrews, now playing for Chelmsford.

The final home match was on the following Monday against Northwich Victoria, who ran out 0-2 winners. Avenue’s team was unchanged, apart from in goal where Smith stepped in for the injured Aubrey. In a report headed “Avenue shocker” Andrew Callaway was scathing: “What a terrible way to end the home season! I can’t find a good thing to say…one was left wondering whether or not manager Tony Leighton has retained too many players”. Perhaps the only positive was a small increase in the crowd to 809.

The season finally came to an end on Friday 30th April at Chorley, the side’s 11th game in a hectic month. Aubrey & Leighton returned from injury & amateurs Hardman & Stuart, who had impressed Leighton in the friendly against Leeds, made their debuts. So too did Roy Ambler from the bench, in place of the injured Geoff Kay. Only Brannan, Leighton & Roberts had featured in the team that had kicked off the season the previous August. It was a comfortable 3-0 win for Chorley & a disappointing end to a turbulent season, that more than once had seemed full of promise.  

The club finished a lowly 14th (out of 22) in the league, having won 15, drawn 8 & lost 19 of its 42 games. The points total was 38, with 54 goals scored & 73 conceded. A total of 39 players had appeared in the first team, many of them initially at least, as amateurs. There were a further 3 players on the books who hadn’t made an appearance at all.

Tony Leighton was voted the Supporters Club’s player of the season, with keeper Alan Aubrey a close second, just 1 vote behind his manager.

Of the players retained by the club, 3 would be gone before the start of the following season. Reserve keeper Rod Smith’s contract was cancelled in early May, as he wanted to concentrate on his cricketing career. This meant a reprieve for Peter Brannan who had been freed but was now re-signed. Leighton suggested that Brannan might fill in as back-up goalkeeper to Aubrey if required. Alan Roberts re-joined his former club Mossley during the summer. Lastly in July, club captain Trevor Atkinson asked for his contract to be cancelled as he intended running a pub near Huddersfield Town’s ground. Including the player/manager that left a staff of 9 part-time professionals on the books for the 1971/72 season.

The question of which league those players would be competing in was answered emphatically at the Football League’s AGM on 5th June 1971. Avenue were among 13 non-league sides applying for election, but the 4 current members (Lincoln City, Newport County, Hartlepool & Barrow) were safely re-elected. Of the non-league teams, only Hereford United (22 votes) & NPL champions Wigan Athletic (14) polled more than 2 votes. Avenue received just 1 solitary vote.

The failure to be re-elected in 1970 had been a crushing blow, but joining the Northern Premier League was seen as an opportunity to bounce back at the first time of asking. Initially, Avenue seemed well set up to be contenders in the NPL title race, with a large full-time squad including several players with substantial Football League experience.

After a slow start, they appeared to be on course to make a success of the season. But even before Herbert Metcalfe’s untimely death, there were indications of financial strife. The full picture of his financial involvement with the club remains unclear, with rumours of asset stripping conflicting with his public image as a benevolent, if eccentric benefactor. After his demise, the financial burden proved so great that drastic cuts had to be made to both playing & non-playing staff.

The deterioration in performances & results which followed the player exodus eventually resulted in lower numbers through the turnstiles & a consequent reduction in income. That in turn led to the enforced switch to part-time status & the departure of more experienced players. There was an increasing reliance on bolstering the already weakened team with amateurs – with varying degrees of success. The team was unable to produce consistent enough performances to challenge the success of the top 5 – Wigan Athletic, Stafford Rangers, Scarborough, Boston United & Macclesfield Town.

Attendances had dwindled to less than 1,000 for 5 of the last 9 home games of the season. The 14th place finish was a deeply disappointing outcome. With the squad at the season’s end comprising 9 part-timers on contract, only 2 of whom (Brannan & Leighton) had any Football League experience, the prospect of returning to the League now seemed remoter than ever.

(Thanks to Kevin Haley for providing the Telford U match picture)

Appendix 1: final league table

Appendix 2: appearances & goalscorers:-

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