Along the Midland Road

My programme article from the League One fixture, BCAFC v Peterborough United on 26 December, 2017

Happy Birthday, 21 today. I have no excuse to forget when the current Midland Road stand at Valley Parade was opened because it was the day that my eldest daughter, Sarah was born. A fixture with Sheffield United on Boxing Day, 1996 marked the occasion, for the record a 1-2 defeat and a 7lb 3oz bouncing baby. Her morning arrival allowed me to attend the game and I’ve had a season ticket in the stand ever since.

For the best part of fifty years Valley Parade had lacked a respectable grandstand on the lower side of the ground but you need only walk down Holy Well Ash Lane to appreciate the challenge of constructing a grandstand on such a slope. Little wonder that for so long the club could simply not afford such a project.

When the ground was opened in 1886, the east side of Valley Parade along the Midland Road was nothing more than a narrow, uncovered (and undeveloped) strip alongside the pitch that accommodated spectators, maybe half a dozen deep. Behind them was a steep earth slope with a winding pathway down to Midland Road street level which must have been a safety risk when people left the ground. On Christmas Day, 1888 there was a fatality when a boy sitting pitch side in front of a picket fence was crushed when the touchline fence timbers gave way to the weight of the crowd. (Concerns about public safety could well have been one of the reasons why Manningham FC was not afforded many prestige fixtures by the Northern Union between 1895-1903.)

Following election to the Football League in 1903, a fifteen foot high pitch length advertising hoarding was erected along the Midland Road side and surviving film of the club’s first fixture against Gainsborough Trinity in September, 1903 shows people sat atop to gain optimal vantage of the game. The hoarding at least filled the void and helped disguise the fact that Valley Parade was relatively under-developed. Indeed, it was not uncommon for there to be unfavourable comparisons made with the facilities at Park Avenue. The main stand on South Parade for example was not covered until January, 1904 and not covered for its full length until November, 1907.

Plans for a new stand on the Midland Road side were announced in May, 1908, designed by the pre-eminent football grounds architect Archibald Leitch. Constructed from ferro-concrete, it was not fully ready until Christmas Day, 1908 for the game against Bristol City that was attended by a reported thirty-six thousand. The stand was originally intended to be seated with a capacity of four thousand but instead it was terraced so that double the number could be accommodated.

The elevated position of the grandstand made it vulnerable to gale damage and in January, 1928 a sixty foot section of the roof was blown off landing on Midland Road and the railway embankment. Surprisingly perhaps, in 1907 the club had considered the erection of two cantilever stands on either side of the pitch that would have been even more exposed.

In the wake of the Burden Park disaster in March, 1947 where 33 people had been crushed to death there was the introduction of more stringent safety requirements and scrutiny by local authorities who assumed responsibility for licencing football stadia. Urban legend has it that Avenue sympathisers within Bradford Corporation were responsible for an adverse rating of the Midland Road stand but this is another of the myths that have existed about Bradford football, favoured as superficial soundbites and propagated on the internet. There was no basis to conspiracy theory, you only have to consider the potential safety risks that then existed from the single steep exit to the road below. What conspired against the stand was the cost of repairs that the club could not afford and in the end it became more cost effective to close it.

At first the stand was partially closed and then in 1952 it was finally demolished. For most of two decades, Valley Parade was essentially a three-sided ground. The cost of developing a replacement stand was prohibitive and the absence of suitable foundations made it a challenging proposition. Between 1954-62 and then from 1968-96 there was a shallow covered shelter where people could stand around half a dozen deep. Latterly the roof was used for a TV gantry and cameramen were accommodated in a garden shed structure. It was also the practice for a volunteer to stand on the roof as a look out in cases where a ball was kicked over to assist its retrieval.

When the new stand opened 21 years ago it came to signify the ambition of then chairman Geoffrey Richmond and it was truly a landmark event for the Midland Road to again have a self-respecting structure. Even more astonishing was that within five years, it would be overshadowed by the redevelopment of the Kop and Main Stand.

Read more about the origins of Valley Parade in my books ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP.

  • Thanks for visiting my blog. Scroll down for details about my books in the BANTAMSPAST History Revisited series which tell the history of sport in Bradford – and in particular football. The books seek to explain why things happened as they did instead of simply recording what occurred and readers may be surprised at the extent to which they contradict many of the myths and superficial narratives that have circulated previously. You won’t get fancy art school graphics but you will find substance and historical accuracy in the content. Of course if you prefer an abundance of pictures accompanied by text written for a Year 5 schoolchild you’ll find them ball-achingly boring. Tweets @jpdewhirst

If you are interested in Bradford sport history visit VINCIT: https://www.bradfordsporthistory.com

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