Book Review: Diary of a Lost Cause: Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC – 1966-1970 by Jeremy Charnock

It is nearly 50 years since Bradford Park Avenue AFC was voted out of the Football League at the end of the 1969/70 season. Nowadays it seems quaint to think that the city had two senior clubs and that the rivalry between City and Avenue should have been so emotional. With the liquidation of the original Park Avenue club in 1974, a sporting rivalry that stretched back 90 years to an era of rugby (both Rugby Union and Northern Union) was put to rest.

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During the 1960s, if not the 1950s it had become increasingly likely that at least one of the two Bradford clubs would disappear as a consequence of financial failure. Until around 1967 it seemed that Bradford Park Avenue was more likely to survive. Miraculously, it was Bradford City under Stafford Heginbotham that achieved a revival whilst Avenue went into freefall. After finishing second to bottom of the basement division in 1966/67, the following three seasons they finished bottom. The meltdown was spectacular and Bradford Park Avenue – or rather, Bradford – finished far adrift from their nearest rivals in the bottom four places.

The embarrassment was made all the worse by the unwelcome headlines drawing attention to the dysfunctional off-field affairs at Park Avenue. If ever there was a case study of a football club imploding, this is it. Jeremy Charnock’s book Diary of a Lost Cause: Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC – 1966-1970 was published last month and is a detailed chronicle of Bradford’s last four seasons in the Football League, a weekly record of a football club’s sorry and pitiful collapse.

The author was familiar with the period as an Avenue supporter and had compiled a scrapbook of match reports from the Telegraph & Argus. The fact that it has taken him nearly fifty years to write his book probably says a lot about how painful was the experience of following his team. Indeed, you could be forgiven the observation that this publication has been a long overdue cathartic exercise for him.

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Bradford (Park Avenue) crest 1971/72

Not that long ago I wondered if Bradford City might ‘do an Avenue’ and have a similar meltdown. What City supporters experienced during 2018 was not dissimilar to what happened at Park Avenue between 1966-70 as things fell apart both on and off the field. What we saw for ourselves was how easy it can be for the plates to stop spinning and an organisation become trapped in a downward spiral. In such circumstances it becomes increasingly difficulty to effect a turnaround and reverse the cycle of decline. The loss of confidence is debilitating, impacting everyone involved with a football club and a handicap to making a fresh start. So too a club becomes associated with failure and struggles to attract new talent or people who could make a difference to the way it is run.

Supporters become despondent and inevitably the gates decline. Before too long the problems are exacerbated by financial crises and decisions become increasingly short-termist. We saw for ourselves what happens when a club goes off the rails but thankfully the backwards drift at Valley Parade was arrested. Unfortunately, at Park Avenue things became progressively worse and by the end of 1969, if not much sooner it had become a hopeless situation.

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Jeremy Charnock rightly pinpoints the transfer of Avenue’s goal-scoring legend Kevin Hector to Derby County in September, 1966 as a crucial milestone. The failure to replace Hector was the headline failure of those in charge at Park Avenue although to be fair, it was always going to be a difficult task to replace someone of Hector’s class. Subsequent changes of manager had little impact and neither Jack Rowley nor Laurie Brown were capable of rebuilding the Avenue team despite funds (modest amounts but investment nevertheless) being made available by the directors. With boardroom squabbles thrown in, it seems that everything that could have gone wrong at Park Avenue did so. All that kept Bradford Park Avenue in the Football League for so long was the so-called ‘Old Pals Act’ and the re-election process to determine relegation from the competition.

What distinguishes this book is the extent to which team selection and decisions by managers as well as directors are diagnosed in meticulous detail. Those long ago seasons are relived on a weekly basis and it is fascinating to read about how people responded to disappointments and then tried to pick themselves up for the next game. It is a remarkably engrossing book and you sense that the author has long agonised over whether things could have turned out differently at Park Avenue. Indeed, Jeremy Charnock interviews a number of former players and club officials to ask exactly that and the responses are fascinating. Yet whilst the reader is left with the impression that the club did not have luck on its side in terms of how events turned out, the point that is missed is that the club’s existence was already precarious and finely balanced even before Hector was sold. Indeed, the underlying (and enduring) financial frailty of Bradford Park Avenue was the reason why Kevin Hector had had to be sold in the first place.

The micro analysis of Diary of a Lost Cause cannot be faulted but a detached (macro) perspective of Avenue’s circumstances as well as the club’s historical legacy is missing. The fact that Bradford City staged a recovery at the time that it was going pear shaped at Park Avenue undoubtedly added to the financial pressures as floating fans opted for Valley Parade in preference. The rivalry with City dictated football finances in Bradford and long before Avenue’s eventual demise it had been recognised that Bradford could not support two senior football clubs. In other words, with Bradford Park Avenue sitting on such shallow financial foundations it was always questionable how the club could ensure its viability.

The liquidation of Bradford Park Avenue in 1974 should be seen as the culmination of a lingering demise that went back much further than 1966. The acceleration in the decline of the club in its final four years in the Football League was the later stage of a process that had commenced much sooner. After the club’s relegation from the second division in 1950 the club had consistently struggled to stay afloat. Recurring financial difficulties had been a factor at Bradford Park Avenue ever since the death of the club’s original benefactor, Harry Briggs in 1920 and exacerbated following the resignation of the Waddiloves as bank guarantors in 1955. Therein was the cold reality that the club had always existed hand-to-mouth. In the absence of someone with deep pockets to fund its losses, Bradford Park Avenue could not defy financial gravity indefinitely.

In 1969 it seemed that Bradford had discovered a new benefactor and Herbert Metcalfe was the man who supporters hoped would transform the club’s finances. Metcalfe had had no prior football involvement and yet for reasons best known to himself wanted to become a director of a club at the bottom of the fourth division, rooted in 92nd position. Just about the only positive factor in its favour was that Bradford Park Avenue AFC owned its ground and other properties.

Jeremy Charnock is surprisingly charitable in relation to Metcalfe’s agenda whereas a cynic could be forgiven the suggestion that ulterior motives were at play. The most polite description would be to refer to him as a distress investor, the likes of whom have become more commonplace in English lower division football in the past fifty years. For good reason, supporters nowadays would be suspicious of a latterday Herbert Metcalfe but in 1969 it was a different environment and an unchartered phenomenon. It wasn’t that controversy didn’t exist, rather that people spoke in hushed tones and preferred to believe otherwise. However, subsequent disclosures arising from the Poulson scandal – and locally, the revelations of lax governance within Bradford Corporation – played their part in demonstrating to the public that the respectability of men in suits could not always be taken for granted. Inevitably it would encourage a degree of cynicism about people in positions of power in public institutions – football clubs included – that did not exist previously.

Modernity had seemingly fostered a more brazen approach on the part of those identifying investment opportunities in areas that had previously been off-limits, whether civic infrastructure or football clubs. In Bradford, the old cosy approach to doing things was being challenged and it was no coincidence that outsiders played their part in introducing new ways, from the influence of T. Dan Smith on the one hand to Herbert Metcalfe on the other. It was not necessarily without results – take for example the fact that the revival at Valley Parade had been spearheaded by another larger than life outsider, Stafford Heginbotham. So too the Park Avenue faithful had put their trust in a Lancastrian and accepted the need for radical change. (Equally telling is that a Bradford businessman had not come forth to bankroll either City or Avenue.)

By the time of Metcalfe’s appearance at Park Avenue, the affairs of the club were already so desperate that Avenue supporters were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. The apathy of Bradfordians about the city’s football clubs was another factor why the Metcalfe regime was given little scrutiny and so too the fact that it lasted little more than twelve months. However, that his involvement has not been investigated in detail is something of a glaring omission in Diary of a Lost Cause. This is particularly so given that Metcalfe’s behaviour had a big bearing on the perceptions of other clubs about how Bradford Park Avenue was being run – the same clubs whose goodwill and patience was vital to secure (and the ones who eventually voted to expel Avenue from the Football League at the end of 1969/70).

The fascinating question is how affairs might have been different had Herbert Metcalfe not died in October, 1970 although I am in no doubt that the die had been cast for Bradford Park Avenue long before. Whether Metcalfe would still have been acclaimed as a saviour of the club by its dwindling band of supporters seems unlikely. His death may have spared potential controversy and exposure.

Notwithstanding the judgement of Herbert Metcalfe, I recommend this book which provides an insightful record of players and managers struggling from one week to the next to lift their team. Pity Stanley Pearson, the T&A correspondent who must have struggled to write his match reports and balance the expectations of supporters, club officials and readers – as well as his professionalism – in what he wrote. And pity the fans who stood by their club. There but for the grace of God it could have been Bradford City in this situation.

Diary of a Lost Cause is a painful account about a dysfunctional football club and of how things went badly wrong. Whilst it concerns events that took place over fifty years ago, it is difficult to believe that the same basic ingredients of failure were unique to Bradford Park Avenue (even if the circumstances were exceptional) or for that matter, unique to the 1960s. As an antidote to the usual stories of football success and triumph, this is a book deserving a readership beyond former Avenue supporters still wrestling with what might have been. Diary of a Lost Cause is a publication that I heartily recommend.

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Diary of a Lost Cause: Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC – 1966-1970 by Jeremy Charnock (pub by 2QT, Dec-19) is available from the Bradford (PA) club shop, on ebay, Amazon and from the author: j.charnock@btinternet.com / 22 Rylands Avenue, Bingley BD16 3NJ RRP £25

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*** You can read my other book reviews from here.

The following is a link to a feature I wrote published on PLAYING PASTS in February, 2019 on The failure of football clubs.

I am currently working on the history of the City / Avenue rivalry between 1908-74 that will be published in two, possibly three separate volumes. News of the first will be announced in early 2020 and will go on sale later in the year as part of the BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED series.

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Morecambe, 1st January 2020

PROGRAMMES OF OLD

Published in the Bradford City AFC match day programme for the above fixture

This is the seventh season in which we have competed at the same level as Morecambe FC who gained membership of the Football League as recently as 2007. In fact, games with Morecambe have been synonymous with the Bantams playing in the basement division between 2007-13 and again this season. Previously it was Bradford Park Avenue who had competed with Morecambe FC (as members of the Northern Premier League between 1970-74) and in December 1973 the Shrimps had visited Valley Parade to fulfil a fixture with Avenue in that competition.

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Like many other (admittedly older) Bradfordians I spent a number of childhood holidays in Morecambe, a destination once known as ‘Bradford by the Sea’. I was not alone in having relatives who had retired to Morecambe and so cannot deny having a softspot for the town.

Morecambe is also a decent ride from Bradford. Last October I took advantage of the weather and travelled on my motorbike via the likes of Skipton, Helliwell, Clapham and Bentham. Carlisle aside, I can’t think of a better excursion.

Not surprisingly Morecambe has always been an enjoyable away destination, notwithstanding the fact that in the three League fixtures between Morecambe and Bradford City at Christie Park, the Bantams were defeated twice and the best performance was a 0-0 draw on the last visit in September, 2009. In fact, our solitary win at the ground was in November, 2005 when a last minute goal secured a 1-0 victory in an LDV Vans Trophy tie. (In that season a number of non-League clubs were allowed to enter the competition and despite City being two levels higher than Morecambe, the Bantams struggled to get the win.)

Morecambe FC moved to the Globe Arena for the start of the 2010/11 season and the first fixture there with Bradford City was in March, 2011 that resulted in a City victory. Of four League games at the Globe Arena, City have been undefeated with two wins and two draws (the last win being twelve weeks ago). In cup competition, City beat Morecambe at the Globe Arena in a League Cup tie in August, 2014 (featured) but were defeated in a FL Trophy tie in March 2016.

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At Valley Parade, City have won four and lost only once in the previous six games. In aggregate we have won six, drawn four and lost three of the 13 League games between the sides.

Morecambe FC celebrates its centenary in May, 2020 and with luck the anniversary will not be tarnished by relegation back to the Conference. I can’t think of a friendlier club and genuinely hope that the Shrimps can avoid the drop.

 

You can find other features about the history of Bradford City AFC on this blog as well as links to other content that I have published previously. The menu provides links to archive images featuring historic photographs of Valley Parade as well as old programmes.

Details of my books.

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

 

 

Mansfield Town, 29th December 2019

PROGRAMMES OF OLD

Published in the Bradford City AFC match day programme for the above fixture

We have played Mansfield Town on 52 occasions in the Football League. Of those 22 were in Division Three (North) between 1947-58 but subsequent to the creation of a national league structure in 1958 our sides have been in the same division on only 15 occasions of which 7 seasons in the third tier and 8 at this level in the fourth tier.

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In League competition the Stags have had the upper hand with 20 wins compared to 16 for the Bantams. In the basement division Mansfield Town have won 8 compared to just 4 by Bradford City.

Given that the two clubs have spent the vast majority of the post-war period in the lower divisions, fixtures between the two have been relatively infrequent but in the 1981/82 and 1982/83 seasons it seemed that we couldn’t be kept apart with a total of 8 meetings. During 1981/82 for example we met in Division Four and were drawn together over two legs in the League Cup (and despite losing at Field Mill, City triumphed on aggregate). The following season we met over two legs in the League Cup once again (City winning both) as well as in the FA Cup (a victory for the home side at Valley Parade).

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I remember those FA Cup encounters to have been real passionate affairs and after an initial 1-1 draw, we earned a third round meeting with Barnsley and narrowly avoided a giant-killing on a bitterly cold December night thanks to a close-fought 3-2 win. Mansfield wore their traditional yellow shirts and blue shorts whereas at that time the Bantams played in a predominantly white strip with claret and amber trim on the sleeves, collar and cuffs as well as shorts. The Mansfield supporters encouraged their side with shouts of ‘C’mon you Yellows’ and it clearly made an impression on the City faithful.

Proof of the viral spread of football chants was demonstrated less than a fortnight later when City played their next game in a holiday fixture at Deepdale, Preston. On that occasion the Bantams wore the Admiral away strip of amber shirts with claret shorts. And the new chant of the away following that day?  ‘C’mon you Yellows.’ Bizarrely it is a chant that has continued at Bradford City games ever since notwithstanding the fact that the club has never had a yellow strip!

Our League meeting at Mansfield on 15th May, 1982 marked the end of a successful promotion season and City finished runners-up to Sheffield United. Our 2-0 victory that day ensured we finished above Wigan Athletic and AFC Bournemouth who claimed the other promotion spots. Of course we returned to the basement division in 2007/08 and that was the last season that the two sides have met. Despite Mansfield Town failing to avoid relegation to the Conference in 2008 (where they would spend five seasons) they still managed to take 4 points from the Bantams.

 

You can find other features about the history of Bradford City AFC on this blog as well as links to other content that I have published previously. The menu provides links to archive images featuring historic photographs of Valley Parade as well as old programmes.

Details of my books.

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

John Dewhirst

Thanks to Stewart Roberts for allowing me to feature his copy of the Mansfield v City programme from April, 1948 – the first meeting of the sides at Field Mill.

Salford City: 21st December, 2019

PROGRAMMES OF OLD

Published in the Bradford City AFC match day programme for the above fixture

We welcome today another club with whom we play our first ever fixture. By virtue that this column features historic matchday programmes involving games between Bradford City and the opposition of the day, it’s been something of a challenge to find a soccer connection with our visitors. To my knowledge Valley Parade has never previously hosted a club from Salford to play a game of association football although the ground can boast other historic sporting connections with Salford. Nevertheless it is the first time that a club from the city has visited Valley Parade since Good Friday in April, 1897 when Salford FC defeated Manningham FC in a Northern Union rugby friendly. On that occasion poor weather restricted the crowd to only 3,000 and in fact the return game at Salford the following day had to be abandoned due to the elements.

Formed in 1873, Salford FC had established itself as one of the leading rugby clubs in Lancashire by the following decade which mirrored the rise to prominence in Yorkshire of Bradford FC. Those clubs had their first meeting at Park Avenue in 1886 and the fixture came to be regarded as the de facto Roses rivalry. Salford FC seceded to the Northern Union in 1896 – of which Manningham FC had been inaugural champions in 1895/96 – and the only occasion that Salford FC played at Valley Parade was the aforementioned game.

The failure of the Paraders to rebuild their squad left the club on a downward spiral that ultimately culminated in Manningham’s conversion to association football in 1903. By 1901 for example the club had been excluded from the senior level of the Northern Union. In fact the Manningham team was considerably weakened following the death of its star full-back, George Lorimer in February, 1897. Such was the strength of the Salford side at the beginning of the century that there was little prospect of Salford FC converting to soccer at that time. Likewise, with the counter appeal of Manchester United there is little wonder why Salford has not had a Football League side long before now.

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In 1887 however Valley Parade welcomed an altogether different Salford team. The ground had been opened the previous year with the stated intent of hosting other sporting activities and in August, 1887 Valley Parade hosted the Airedale Harriers’ annual athletics festival (previously staged at Lady Royd).

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The event attracted contestants from across the north and at stake was an impressive array of prizes, the most prestigious of which was an attractive trophy for the winners of the three mile inter-club steeplechase. Manufactured by Fattorini’s of Bradford, this had a reported value of £40 which was in excess of the average annual wage for a workman.

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There were three teams of four runners apiece competing for the prize which was won by Salford Harriers. It was said that they had ‘a ridiculously easy journey’ finishing two laps ahead of the fastest runner from the Bradford Trinity club whilst none of the Airedale team finished. The achievement of Salford Harriers was celebrated in the Manchester publication Black & White (pictured).

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You can read more about the athletic festivals of Victorian Bradford on VINCIT, the online journal of Bradford Sport History from this link.

You can find other features about the history of Bradford City AFC on this blog as well as links to other content that I have published previously. The menu provides links to archive images featuring historic photographs of Valley Parade as well as old programmes.

Details of my books.

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

John Dewhirst

Photograph taken by myself at the game with Salford City that finished 1-1 (copyright BCAFC). [Link to photos of Valley Parade taken the same day]

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Newport County, 7th December 2019

PROGRAMMES OF OLD

Published in the Bradford City AFC match day programme for the above fixture

Of all the fixtures this season I confess that the most eagerly anticipated on my part were those with Newport County. Today will be memorable for the opportunity to welcome back the Newport manager, Michael Flyn to Valley Parade but it is also about the renewal of an old rivalry.

There have been 40 games between our sides. City boast 19 wins and Newport, 15 with just 6 games having been drawn. Only once has there been a goalless draw. Most of the scorelines have actually been fairly close, the one exception being our 6-2 victory at Valley Parade in January, 1960.

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Not since our tragic but triumphant Championship season of 1984/85 have we competed in the same division. Our last game was at Somerton Park on 16th April, 1985 which had been rearranged after postponement in February. Our 1-0 victory put the Bantams on track for promotion to the second division but much has changed since that last meeting. Less than four weeks later there was the fire disaster and the Valley Parade of today will be totally unrecognisable to the visitors from Newport.

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Somerton Park was equally decrepit and it surely ranked alongside The Shay, Halifax and the Victoria Ground, Hartlepool as among the worst in the League. For so long Newport County had been perennial strugglers on the verge of financial oblivion to which they eventually succumbed in 1989. In May, 1976 I recall the half-time fund raising at Valley Parade to raise money for County, a gesture that incurred the wrath of former Avenue supporters who claimed that the City faithful had never extended such goodwill to their club.

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For so long City and Newport were rivals at the foot of the basement division and of the twenty seasons that we have been in the same division, all but six have been in the fourth tier. Our first meetings however were in Division Three in 1958/59 and we competed at that level for three seasons until City’s relegation in 1961. In 1979/80 we found ourselves in the unusual situation as promotion rivals and despite achieving a double against the Welshmen, County gained promotion at our expense on the last day of that season after City lost at Peterborough.

We eventually caught up with Newport in 1982/83 until we parted company in 1985. It tends to be forgotten that until 1987 at least, Newport County was the leading professional side in Wales.

Nowadays Newport County play at Rodney Park, a ground more famous as the home of Newport rugby and a venue at which Manningham FC – forerunners of Bradford City AFC – last played in December, 1893. During the course of my research into the origins of football in Bradford I was given access to the Newport sports archive that was uncovered at Rodney Parade. Like Bradford, Newport was something of an industrial frontier town in the nineteenth century and has a proud sporting heritage despite a lack of soccer glories. Welcome back to Bradford, Newport County!

You can find other features about the history of Bradford City AFC on this blog as well as links to other content that I have published previously. The menu provides links to archive images featuring historic photographs of Valley Parade as well as old programmes.

Details of my books.

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

Bradford City AFC programmes, 1945-66

During the 2019/20 season my column in THE PARADER, the BCAFC matchday programme features issues of old and those relating to historic fixtures with the opposition of the day. Additionally I am uploading features to this blog that record changes in the design of the publication in earlier decades.
Featured below are Bradford City AFC programme covers from the period 1945-66. My book A HISTORY OF BCAFC IN OBJECTS (BANTAMSPAST, 2014) includes other examples not to mention a full range of historic City memorabilia and relics…

You will find other Bradford City archive images by following the links in the drop down menu above. Also published on this blog are my features in the BCAFC programme from previous seasons, book reviews and sundry content about the history of Bradford sport.

On this blog you can also find features about the origins of the club identity, crests and nickname.

The drop down menu provides links to other content I have written published elsewhere including on VINCIT, the online journal of Bradford sport history

Updates to this site are tweeted: @jpdewhirst

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