Swindon Town: 5th October, 2019


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

Bradford City and Swindon Town first met in the Football League during the 1958/59 season as members of the newly formed Division Three having been in the regionalised northern and southern third divisions respectively. The first fixture was on 24th September, 1958 at Swindon and ended in a 2-2 draw and the return was a week later in Bradford on 1st October, 1958 which ended as a 1-2 defeat for the hosts. Notable is that the crowd 61 years ago at Valley Parade was 8,279.

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This is now the 19th season that the two clubs have been in the same division, most of which have been since 1987/88 which was our ‘nearly season’ in the second tier when we narrowly missed promotion. In fact, prior to then our League meetings were few and far between, limited to three seasons in Division Three between 1958-61 and then a solitary season, 1977/78. In 1968/69 the clubs met in the Second Round of the League Cup with Swindon progressing in a replay after a 2-2 draw at Valley Parade and the Robins subsequently defeated Arsenal in the final. The Swindon goalkeeper that season was Peter Downsborough who later became a big hero for City. Sadly Peter died only last week and will be fondly remembered by supporters of both City and Swindon Town- a brief tribute to him on this blog through this link.

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I travelled to Swindon for our game in January, 1988 which was abandoned midway as a result of fog. The game was replayed ten weeks later at the end of March, 1988 which was yet another 2-2 draw between the sides. It came at a time when the team was struggling to get results, not helped by injuries and it was the loss of form that proved costly for our promotion ambitions.

Of our meetings, only once before have we competed together in the fourth tier, that being in 2011/12 when both meetings were goalless. In aggregate, of our 38 games in the Football League there have been 11 draws and 11 victories for the Bantams. The last time Swindon Town came to Valley Parade was in March, 2017 when our 2-1 win put us on track to finish in the League One play-offs which now seems a long time ago.


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.

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

John Dewhirst

Peter Downsborough RIP

1977 Downsborough

I was saddened to hear of the death of former Bradford City goalkeeper Peter Downsborough last week who was a stalwart of the team in the mid/late 1970s. He represented his home town club, Halifax Town before joining Swindon Town where he earned fame as a member of that club’s Football League Cup winning side in 1969.

DSC04564.jpgHe made his debut for City in December, 1973 having signed on a free transfer from Swindon, returning home to his Halifax roots. (Photo below shows him in the City team in the second half of the 1973/74 season.) Aged 30 it was arguable that he was in the twilight of his career yet during the next six seasons he was virtually ever present, making 225 appearances for the Paraders before eventually retiring through injury. The scarf is from his first full season at the club in 1974/75.

He was a popular team member with supporters and considered both reliable and consistent. At a time when the club had a relatively low turnover of players he was a mainstay of the team along with the likes of Ian Cooper, Joe Cooke and Ces Podd. An abiding memory of Peter Downsborough was that he was always cheerful and relaxed, clearly enjoying the opportunity to be a professional player.

His experience proved invaluable at Valley Parade and he deserves considerable credit for the team’s FA Cup run in 1975/76, not least for his role helping the club achieve a giant-killing at Norwich and preventing the Canaries from scoring an equaliser in a memorable 2-1 victory. In 1976/77 he was a member of the promotion winning side and was considered something of a talisman with his ability to save penalties. Downsborough’s technique was to step to one side of the goal inviting the penalty taker to aim towards the wider gap.


Arguably he compensated for shortcomings in the side but could not prevent relegation from the third tier in 1977/78. One of the highlights of that season was an away win a Swindon where Downsborough defied the home strikeforce to secure the points in an emotional return to the County Ground.

Eventually he lost his place to Steve Smith and retired at the end of the 1978/79 season although remained as cover during the 1979/80 season when the club narrowly missed out on promotion. His testimonial in May, 1980 was against Huddersfield Town who were (successful) promotion rivals that year. Sadly he could not participate in the game because of injury.

I met Peter Downsborough in Halifax in around 1987 where he was working as a handiman. Having been a childhood hero I was completely in awe of him. I disovered him to be an incredibly modest and warm individual, keen to talk about his time at Valley Parade and share what were obviously fond memories. I shook his hand and was taken aback at the size, maybe another reason for his prowess as a keeper.

John Dewhirst

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

Tribute in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus published 30th September, 2019

Peter Downsborough.jpg

Tribute pre kick off, Bradford City v Swindon Town on 5th October, 2019

The early development of Valley Parade, 1886-1908

A number of people have asked for details about the historic development of Valley Parade and this feature provides some background as well as links to other online references. You can find historic photographs of Valley Parade from this link and others will be uploaded in the future. The following is intended principally to provide some context to the footprint of the ground and its evolution.

The origins of Valley Parade is told in my book Room at the Top (volume #3 in the BANTAMSPAST History Revisited series) which includes previously unpublished material and details of the ground in its early existence discovered during the course of my research.

The Valley Parade that existed in 1985 was generally recognisable from the stadium that had been developed in 1908. Between 1903 (when Bradford City AFC was elected to the Football League) and 1908 Valley Parade was transformed through a series of projects that were relatively ingenious in terms of developing a ground capable of hosting Division One football within the physical constraints that existed. The story of that development is best told through comparison of historic maps which also demonstrate the extent to which the housing in the immediate surroundings of Valley Parade has disappeared.

Architect's plan for the development of Valley Parade.

We start with the plan (above) for the original development of Valley Parade in 1886 by Manningham FC. The story of the origins of the ground is told here.

The early history of Valley Parade continued to be closely linked to that of Bradford’s railways. The background to the latter and the story of the saga for a cross-town rail link in Bradford can be found from this link.

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The oldest surviving photograph of Valley Parade from c1892.

VP 1900

This map shows Valley Parade in 1900 with its uncovered grandstand (better described as a viewing platform).

The original grandstand dated from 1885 and was transferred from Manningham FC’s Carlisle Road ground to Valley Parade in 1886 – an open viewing platform that was reassembled at the new ground. By 1897 the timbers had rotted and it was condemned as unsafe by Bradford Corporation who bought the timbers which were used for the civic bonfire to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (60 years as monarch, 1837-97).

During the 1897 close season new terracing was developed on the South Parade side of the ground comprising 25 steps which it was claimed could accommodate 10,000 people. In the centre section a new uncovered ‘grandstand’ was erected as shown in this map and which can be seen in the archive footage of Bradford City AFC’s first ever game in September, 1903: refer BFI Mitchell & Kenyon archive.

Manningham FC had originally intended to develop a ‘pavilion’ on the site – by which was meant a covered stand, the term ‘grandstand’ being used by Victorians to describe a basic viewing platform. Other plans for dressing rooms were also deferred until funds would allow and in the meantime the club resorted to use of the Belle Vue Hotel. (The story of the Belle Vue is told on VINCIT)

Until 1908 there was little depth to the Bradford end whilst at the opposite end of the ground the terracing was limited to probably no more than 20 steps. At the top of those was a flat area which can also be seen in the 1886 plans. The Midland Road side was similarly cramped with a pathway to the road.

The northern part of South Parade is now covered by the main stand at Valley Parade, extended in 2000. The reason why the stand does not extend the length of the field is that otherwise it would block the thoroughfare between Valley Parade (ie the road up the hillside) and Holywell Ash Lane at the back of the Bradford end.

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This map published in 1906 shows the dressing rooms constructed in 1903 in the south west corner of the ground on the Bradford end adjoining the pitch. The illustration below is also from 1906.

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The grandstand was by this stage covered (completed January, 1904). In the north west corner a retaining wall from Burlington Terrace bounded the ground. At the corner of the playing field this would have been at least 20 feet high.

VP 1908

The above shows Valley Parade in 1908 by which stage the Bradford end had been extended and the pitch moved towards the Manningham end by re-developing the north-west corner of the ground. This was achieved through the demolition of the Burlington Terrace retaining wall and the creation of (curved) terraces. A tunnel connected the pitch with the cellar of the bottom property in Burlington Terrace that was used for offices and dressing rooms.

The extension of the Manningham end terraces was commenced in the close season of 1906 and finally completed the following February. This was banked to create the kop, originally known as Nunn’s Kop (link here to background about John Nunn who masterminded the development of the ground) and latterly as the Spion Kop.

The main stand was extended the full length of South Parade in 1907 and was covered. (You can find background here about the construction of the old main stand.) This structure was the one that burned down in 1985. (Photos below taken by myself in August, 1983.)


The irony is that even when completed in 1907, the structure was always considered to be of a temporary nature and its design was deliberately basic to allow for the possibility of it being transported to another ground given that the club had concerns over security of its tenure at Valley Parade. (The concept of a portable structure was consistent with the practice in 1886 when Manningham FC’s wooden grandstand had been transported from Carlisle Road to Valley Parade.)

Throughout its existence Valley Parade had always drawn unfavourable comparison with Park Avenue, considered the more prestigious of the two grounds. In contrast Valley Parade was considered far more basic, utilitarian and undeveloped. The early reputation of the ground was also damaged by the tragic death in 1888 of a spectator on the Midland Road side when a boy had been crushed with the collapse of a boundary fence. The boy had been sat pitch side and the fence had collapsed on top of him with the weight of the crowd.

The Bradford Observer of 26 December, 1888 reported that ‘an accident of a shocking and unprecedented nature in this district happened on the ground of the Manningham Football Club, Valley Parade yesterday. Painful to a degree in itself, the occurrence was rendered all the more distressing by reason of the presence of, it is calculated, about 10,000 people.’ The matter of fact editorial referred to his instantaneous death. (Further detail provided in my book Room at the Top).

The ‘low-side’ – the Midland Road side – remained undeveloped but in 1906 a single bench was constructed that ran along its full length to provide seating. Football architect Archibald Leitch was commissioned to build a new stand in the close season of 1908 and the photo below shows the part completed stand at the time of Bradford City’s first home fixture in Division One against Manchester City in September, 1908.

City v Man City Sep-08

Leitch’s Midland Road stand was constructed with ferro-concrete (at the time an innovative approach) and opened on Christmas Day, 1908. In 1907 Leitch had designed the new stand at Park Avenue that faced both the football and cricket pitches, another innovative structure that provided a solution to constraints of space.

1908 Mid rd stand

The stand featured an impressive central gable, originally adorned with the coat of arms. The image below is from 1949 which illustrates the gable and the ornate steel work that provided a distinct character. Because of its elevated position it was vulnerable to gale damage and to an extent this was remedied by later including ventilation gaps in the rear structure, evident in the photo.

Originally it was intended that the Midland Road stand should be all-seater but it was decided to make this standing in order to optimise capacity. It held roughly 8,000 and addressed the need for covered accommodation, a critical investment to ensure that gates were not adversely impacted by bad weather.

In 1907 there had been discussion about constructing cantilever stands on each side of the ground. Presumably Archibald Leitch did not entertain this concept on the Midland Road side on the basis that it would have been an expensive proposition. However the idea of a cantilever stand on the South Parade side was revived just before the outbreak of World War One. Whilst this was considered as a means to further increase seating capacity, lack of finance meant that it was never progressed and by 1922 the project was finally dismissed as unaffordable. Hence the temporary Main Stand that had been extended in 1907 became permanent by default and remained in place until the fire of 1985.

After the Bolton tragedy in 1946, the stand was condemned on account of safety concerns relating to steep exit stairways to the road below. In 1948 the club was ordered to reduce its capacity and to restrict access to the rear which was sectioned off. (Refer to this link for further detail / images of the circumstances in 1948/49.)

VP 1957

The 1908 footprint of the ground remained unchanged until redevelopment in 1986. In the meantime the principal alterations were: (i) the demolition of the Midland Road stand (begun in 1949 and completed in 1952) and its replacement with a series of modest covers – photograph above shows the cover erected in 1954; (ii) the construction of the current office block and dressing rooms in the south west corner in 1961 (that involved demolition of part of the stand to accommodate); (iii) the subsequent demolition of the Burlington Terrace properties that had served as club offices and changing rooms; and (iv) the covering of the Bradford end in 1961.

Compare the photo below of the Kop from August, 1983 with that 75 years before (as above). The principal changes in that period had been the addition of segregation fences and a scoreboard.

1983 VP v Sheff Utd G

The photograph below was taken on 11th May, 1985 in the aftermath of the fire (rotated to provide comparison with the maps).

VP 11-may-85 X

The stand that caught fire was the same structure as that erected in 1907 which was always intended to be of a temporary and portable nature, a subtle but crucial point previously overlooked in earlier accounts of the history of Valley Parade. Even at the time of its construction it had always been intended that the stand would be replaced.

The then Midland Road cover (at the time of the disaster) was relatively narrow and until 1985 the remains of the ferro-concrete foundations of the former Archibald Leitch designed stand from 1908 could still be seen at the rear. (Refer to photos from this link.)


The story of the origins of Valley Parade and its early development as a Football League ground is told in my books ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP published as part of the BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED series. These include previously overlooked yet crucial details about the development of the ground that were not included in earlier publications about its history. If anyone has any specific questions about the historic development of Valley Parade, by all means contact me by email as below. I am also keen to be put in touch with people with archive images of the ground for future publication in a book.

The above menu provides links to other features that I have written about the history of Bradford sport as well as articles published in the BCAFC programme and book reviews.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Updates are tweeted @jpdewhirst and I can be contacted by email at johnpdewhirst at geeeeeeeeemail dotttt commmmmm.

Carlisle United: 21st September, 2019


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

The first game between Bradford City and Carlisle United at a senior level was in August, 1928 on the opening game of the season. Carlisle had been elected to the Football League only months before, replacing Durham City and thus the game with Bradford City was the club’s first in the competition.

carlisle-28-29.jpgCity had been relegated to Division Three (North) in 1927 and newspaper reports attest to the fact that club officials had been generally unimpressed with the standard of facilities at other clubs in comparison to what they had been used to. On the other hand the visitors from Bradford had nothing but praise for Brunton Park and were said to have been most impressed with the hospitality and the state of the pitch. The return game was at Valley Parade (pictured) the following month which the Paraders won, 4-2 in what was to be an historic championship winning season.

Bradford City were relegated back to Division Three (North) in 1937 and played Carlisle United in each of the subsequent 14 peacetime seasons before the structure was replaced by the national third and fourth divisions in 1958. The programme featured is that from September, 1957 which was won by the hosts, 3-2 and the cover featured the yoke style shirt worn in the FA Cup final of 1911 which had been revived in 1949 (and in the opinion of the writer is long overdue another revival).1957 0902 Carlisle H prog.jpg

Scan_20190702 (20).jpgIn August, 1985 Brunton Park staged another opening game involving Bradford City, a game memorable for the fact that it was the first after the Valley Parade fire disaster the previous May. Our 2-1 victory felt like a cathartic moment after the experience of the preceding months and I will never forget the atmosphere on the away terrace in the sun that afternoon. The fixture has remained a favourite away destination, not least by train from Shipley and via Settle.

We have played Carlisle United in the Football League at every level other than the first tier although this is only the third season in which we have met in the fourth division (and to date, Carlisle United have never beaten Bradford City at this level). Older supporters will remember Carlisle United’s brief stay in Division One in 1974/75, all the more memorable for the club winning its first three fixtures to briefly top the Football League. Among the players in the Carlisle team that season was Les O’Neill who had been signed from Bradford City in 1972 and let’s just say that it was pretty rare for former City players to play at that level in those times!

The programme from 1963/64 (below) is a reminder of the times when finances were so stretched that as an economy, Bradford City AFC resorted to printing its own programme internally and dispensing with staples. The standard of the paper was poor and inevitably few survive in decent condition.

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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

Having been involved in the production and publication of ten books about Bradford football I am keen to help anyone who seeks to self-publish their own efforts and particularly a story that deserves to be told and by someone who knows his subject. The book worth looking out for is that by Jeremy Charnock who narrates the story of the sad demise of Bradford Park Avenue at the end of the 1960s. Details of how to order as below.

BPA Book

New book about Bradford Park Avenue

This season marks the 50th anniversary of when Bradford lost its second Football League club. After an ignominious decline, Avenue unceremoniously lost their place to Cambridge United in 1970. The collapse of the club was unprecedented although the demise of Bradford City in 2018 demonstrated just how a club can be overcome by crisis and decline.

A new book by a former supporter of the old club is being published at the end of this month. The book is being self-published and given the effort invested by the author it deserves success. It is  story that needs to be told and has been long overdue. Full details of how to order as below:

BPA Book

Something completely different…

During the summer of 2019 I travelled to North Korea having previously visited in 2005. Photographs of my trip have been uploaded to a separate blog DPRK IN THE VIEWFINDER and photos are also being tweeted from @EscapetoNorthK1

Back in 2005 I distributed Bradford City shirts to a youth team in Pyongyang having presented them initially to surviving members of the North Korean 1966 World Cup team (as below).


North Korea is a fascinating place although I won’t make excuses for its regime. Many of the stereotypes in the western press are wide of the mark and as a destination it is certainly thought provoking, not to mention a photographer’s paradise.

I hope you visit the blog!


Northampton Town: 7th September, 2019


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

Like Cambridge United, our first games with Northampton Town were during the 1972/73 season which followed our relegation from Division Three in 1972. The home programme with the City Gent in the team’s all claret strip is featured.
Northampton 72-73.jpg

We have played Northampton on 30 occasions in the Football League and of the 15 seasons that we have played in the same division all but three have been in the fourth tier. Of course the most high profile game between the sides was the Play-Off final in 2013.

Before relocation to their current ground at Sixfields in 1994 the club had played at the County Ground since 1897, home of Northamptonshire Cricket Club. The fate of the venue had been determined by the implications arising from the Valley Parade disaster. The cost of health and safety repairs to bring the ground up to date was not economically feasible and hence the attraction of a new stadium to relaunch the club.
The County Ground was three-sided by virtue of staging cricket, a characteristic that it shared with the original layout of Bramall Lane in Sheffield prior to 1973. Such design was favoured by the Victorians: Park Avenue in Bradford similarly staged cricket and football and had it not been for lack of finance in 1892, plans existed to redevelop the football ground from being contained as a conventional four-sided enclosure to become three-sided (ostensibly to increase its capacity by building a much larger stand on the low, Horton Park Avenue side).
Northampton’s programmes in the 1970s and 1980s were typical of many struggling lower division sides. In 1979/80 for example many clubs resorted to printing its programme in a newspaper format and then, like others, in 1980/81 the Cobblers adopted a format produced by a Devon firm that provided the semblance of a magazine publication. However it had just 12 pages of club news and the remainder was general football content that appeared in maybe a dozen other club programmes.
Northampton Aug-79
Those featured are for the fixtures in August, 1979 and September, 1980. Both games were City victories, 2-1 and 1-0 respectfully in front of crowds of only 2,555 and 2,293.
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The first fixture with Bradford City at Sixfields was in October, 2006, in League One. It has since proved to be a lucky venue for the Bantams with only one defeat in seven visits.
That game between our sides at Wembley in 2013 seems a long time ago. From the perspective of Northampton Town however, the new ground undoubtedly revitalised the club’s fortunes.

John Dewhirst

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 find features about the origins of the club identity, crests and nickname.

Details of my books.

Tweets: @jpdewhirst