During the summer Bradford City AFC announced its plans to begin a new lottery fund-raising scheme at Valley Parade, following in the footsteps of a successful initiative launched just over 40 years ago…
Nowadays we take it for granted that off-field revenue is an integral part of financing the affairs of Bradford City and it is quite sobering just how unsophisticated were the forms of fund raising not that long ago. Historically the only commercial activity beyond basic advertising was based around selling lottery or bingo tickets to spectators – the equivalent of today’s ‘Shirt off your back’ promotion.
In 1957 came a radical innovation at Valley Parade with the introduction of a weekly pool draw that existed in various manifestations for the next twenty years but it was the arrival of Stafford Heginbotham at Valley Parade in 1966 who introduced radical changes. Whereas previously the supporters’ club (the Bradford City Shareholders’ and Supporters’ Association) had organised such ad hoc raffle ticket draws, it was Heginbotham who first introduced a new pools lottery scheme.
In 1966/67 the Golden Goal pools competition was introduced at Valley Parade. After 1974 this was promoted by the Avenue Auxiliary Fund and managed by the late George Sutcliffe. The AAF was originally a branch of the BPA Supporters’ Club which assisted BCAFC (or as it was put, ‘for association football in Bradford’) until the launch of the new lottery in 1978. The support of the AAF was not insignificant and in 1975/76 it contributed £8,027 (which compared to advertising receipts in the same year of only £5,977 and programme sales of £3,122). From 1968/69 to 1975/76 golden goal times were printed in the programme to encourage sales. In 1974/75 the Bradford City Development Society was established as another vehicle to promote sales of pools tickets.
The Lotteries & Amusements Act of 1976 introduced new legislation to regulate the operation of lotteries which raised maximum prizes and encouraged the development of lottery schemes. A consequence of this was that football clubs launched their own lotteries as a means of fund-raising. Bradford City launched its lottery in January, 1978 with tickets sold from retail outlets across the district. By March, 1978 it was reported that forty thousand tickets were being sold weekly at 25p each. This was no mean feat and it was achieved by recruiting a dedicated team initially under the leadership of Roger Fielding and then Tony Thornton who joined as Lottery & Promotions Manager in 1977. Mike Ryan later joined the team as Commercial Manager from Millwall in August, 1978 and alongside Tony Thornton masterminded the development of the new lottery.
This became a major income stream for the club which benefited from a lack of effective local or national competition in the first few years. Crucially it was successful in that people would buy the tickets irrespective of whether they were supporters and the Bradford City lottery benefited from the catchment of the Bradford district. The original City Lottery was so successful that a second, the Bradford Lottery was launched in March, 1978. At the time it was suggested that Bradford City displayed more competence at running a lottery business than its core activity.
Almost overnight the club’s finances were transformed and the success of the lottery funded an unprecedented spree of player transfers during the second half of the ill-fated 1977/78 season and the 1978 close season. It also funded the repurchase of the Valley Parade freehold from Bradford Council in May, 1979 (it had been sold to the former Bradford Corporation in 1970 in part to generate funds for new players). By 1979/80 lottery income amounted to £206,237 and exceeded gate revenues. Lottery funds were necessary to plug losses during the disappointing 1980/81 campaign when a promotion challenge never materialised and attendances plummeted. There was further spending to secure the services of Roy McFarland as manager in 1981 and then Trevor Cherry and Terry Yorath the following year.
Older supporters will recall the lottery scratch cards promoted in 1982 that encouraged the collection of player portraits featuring the first team squad. Bobby Campbell was the hard-to-find card.
Eventually the lottery advantage was lost as competition emerged. By 1981/82 lottery income was less than half that in 1979/80 whilst player wages were nearly 20% higher (and three times higher what they had been in 1976/77) which eventually led to the 1983 insolvency. Despite new monies being made available through lottery proceeds, little was invested in the renewal of Valley Parade. This was the immediate background to the 1985 fire disaster and in that context the verdict on Bob Martin’s reign is all the more damning. The irony is that the club behaved in the manner of a lucky lottery ticket winner going on a profligate spree to spend, spend, spend until there was nothing left.
Match-day lucky draw tickets such as the ‘Shirt off your Back’ draw and previously the 50:50 matchday raffle have continued at Valley Parade, albeit are far less significant from a fund-raising point of view than the former lottery tickets. Furthermore, many of these have been organised by volunteers such as former club stalwarts Alan and Gladys Hannah from the 1960s through to the 1990s, or supporter groups including the Shipley Bantams and the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust.
Taken from my book A HISTORY OF BCAFC IN OBJECTS, Volume One of the BANTAMSPAST History Revisited series published in 2014 – further details of the HISTORY REVISITED series of books
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