Attendances 80 years ago

The following is my feature in the Bradford City programme v Northampton Town on 13 January, 2018:

On Saturday, 8 January, 1938 all three of the senior Bradford clubs played at home and their games were watched by a total of just under 38,000 people. At Valley Parade there were 13,088 spectators to witness City’s FA Cup Third Round tie against Chesterfield; at Park Avenue, 12,700 to see the Third Round tie against Newport County; and at Odsal, 12,000 watched Bradford Northern. Whilst there would have been away supporters in attendance, it is unlikely to have been a significant number such that it could reasonably be said at least 35,000 Bradfordians were seeing their teams in action.

Yet it was not the highest gathering of football followers in Bradford. That was on 15 February, 1936 when a total of 57,980 attended the Fifth Round FA Cup games in the city – 33,927 at Valley Parade to see the tie with Derby County and 24,053 at Park Avenue to see that with Spurs.

The statistics are notable by way of illustrating the extent to which the three clubs competed for spectators and diluted the available catchment. It was a factor that undermined the finances of each organisation and goes a long way to explain the fate of Bradford soccer in the twentieth century.

For much of the 1920’s, it had been Bradford RFC – the amateur side at Lidget Green – who commanded the interest of rugby enthusiasts and it was not until Bradford Northern relocated from Birch Lane to Odsal in 1934 that attendances were boosted, arguably at the expense of soccer.

City had traditionally been the better supported of the two soccer clubs but there tended to be a good number of people who floated between them according to the fixtures. Many had been disgruntled with the policy of the Bradford City directors to sell a number of the club’s leading players, considered a contributory factor to relegation to Division Three (North) in 1937. Of course City remained in exile from the higher divisions until 1985.

Not surprisingly given the status of Bradford (PA) as members of Division Two, gates at Park Avenue had been higher during 1937/38. Yet whilst it may have been unexpected that the attendance for the cup game at Valley Parade should exceed the crowd at Park Avenue, it came down to the draw – a potential giant-killing against second division Chesterfield was probably more appealing than Avenue’s tie with lower division opposition. Nevertheless, those attending Park Avenue would have considered the home side’s 7-4 victory more entertaining than City’s 1-1 draw and Bradford went on to reach the Fifth Round whilst the Paraders were eventually defeated by Chesterfield.

The gates at Valley Parade and Park Avenue that day were above the average for those attending league games in 1937/38 and for City in particular, it provided welcome respite to the club’s finances. The economics of two Bradford clubs was based on a decent cup run and bumper derby gates. With 19,005 having watched the clash at Park Avenue in August, 1936 and 28,236 the return game at Valley Parade in December, 1936 the revenues were significant. The loss of the derby fixture further compounded the problems at Valley Parade where average crowds dropped from 10,046 in 1936/37 to 6,011 in 1937/38 although it is notable that despite the loss of the derby game, average attendances at Park Avenue increased from 10,424 to 11,111 with the benefit of ‘floaters’.

NB Contrary to what has been quoted in the press, it is a myth and an idle claim that there were regular crowds of 35,000 at Park Avenue. Had there been, the ground would not now be derelict nor attracting archaeologists and botanists. Indeed, the record attendance at the ground was 32,810 and on only five other occasions did crowds ever exceed 30,000.

  • Read more about the early history of Bradford soccer in my books ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP If you are interested in Bradford sport history visit VINCIT: https://www.bradfordsporthistory.com

Thanks for visiting my blog. Apart from publishing my BCAFC programme articles I also upload occasional articles of historical interest. 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

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