Athletics at Valley Parade

The following is my column that was published in the Bradford City programme (v Bristol Rovers) on 2nd September, 2017

Valley Parade has been the home of Bradford City ever since the club was formed in 1903. Prior to that it had been used for rugby by Manningham FC, staging Rugby Union between 1886 and 1895 and then Northern Union (RL) between 1895 and 1903. Additionally, it has been adopted by Bradford Northern and then Bradford Bulls for Rugby League fixtures. Accordingly, what is unique about the ground is that it has staged all three of the principal codes of football. During the last century Valley Parade hosted gymnastics and boxing on various occasions but what has been overlooked is that when Valley Parade was constructed it was designated as both a football ground and an athletics arena.

Manningham FC had been forced to relocate from Carlisle Road on account of the construction of a school and Valley Parade was selected by virtue of the absence of other options. The site required considerable work to create a suitable venue on a hillside but its central location was considered an advantage. The venture represented a major undertaking for the club and the use of the ground for athletics was therefore seen as a means to make the investment pay its way. As a result, a three yards wide cinder track was thus included around the pitch perimeter for running competition.

When plans for the new ground had been announced in May, 1886 local cyclists had lobbied for a cycling track to be incorporated at Valley Parade. The lack of a cycling track was keenly felt in Bradford and enthusiasts were forced to resort to cycling in public parks which was regarded as an anti-social nuisance. Poor road surfaces and adverse gradients left few other options. The cyclists had wanted a wooden track to be laid down. Other than the prohibitive cost the other factor dictating against it was that it would have been unsuitable for running whereas a cinder track could at least be used by cyclists and runners. Although the cyclists were disappointed and forced to look elsewhere, cycling events were nonetheless staged at Valley Parade during athletics festivals.

Athletic festivals took place at Valley Parade on an annual basis between 1887 and 1896. The illustration dates from August, 1887 when Airedale Harriers organised the first such festival at Valley Parade with events including a two mile bicycle handicap. On this occasion however the crowd was said to have been disappointing despite decent weather. A marquee was erected on the platform which then existed above the Manningham end terrace before the Kop was extended in 1906. Manningham FC and later Bradford City AFC maintained close relations with Airedale Harriers of whom Tony Fattorini was a joint member and those links encouraged the adoption of athletic training for football purposes. Prior to 1903 the Harriers also provided pre-match entertainment with races at Valley Parade.

The end of athletic festivals came with the launch of the Northern Union in 1895 and the reluctance of amateur athletes to be associated with events staged by professional clubs for fear of being banned from amateur competition. Changing fashions and the evolution of athletics towards codified events demanding dedicated venues were other factors. Furthermore, the final event at Valley Parade in 1896 had been loss-making.

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