On the banks of the River Usk – a day in Newport

Newport is one of those places in the British Isles that if it wasn’t for sport you’d probably never give a moment’s thought to visiting. And yet Newport is a fascinating place with a rich history and some fabulous Victorian architecture in its centre. The people are also very friendly and there is a genuine pride about the place.

Notwithstanding that it is roughly half the size of Bradford and granted city status only as recently as 2002, there are numerous similarities between the two. Newport for instance was similarly an industrial frontier town in the nineteenth century and like Bradford was transformed by industrialisation. It has likewise been forced to cope with deindustrialisation in the last fifty years and the corresponding challenge of regeneration.

So too Newport was a place that established for itself a reputation as a sporting centre. By the end of the 1880s, Newport Athletic RFC (established 1874) and Bradford FC (whose origins dated to 1863) were considered by many to be among the leading rugby clubs in Great Britain. Such was the mutual respect that high profile fixtures between the clubs were organised in the 1893/94 season when the Bradford and Newport clubs played each other at Park Avenue as well as Rodney Parade. The first game in Bradford in October, 1893 was drawn but in February, 1894 Bradford FC suffered a resounding  0-34 defeat in Newport. That same season, Manningham FC, forerunner of Bradford City AFC played at Rodney Parade in November, 1893 but the Bradfordians were also beaten albeit by a narrower margin, 3-6.

After the split in English rugby in 1895 and the formation of the Northern Union, sporting contests between representatives of the two centres were put on hold and not renewed until 1938 when Newport County (founded in 1912) first played against Bradford Park Avenue in the FA Cup and then in 1946/47 as second division rivals. In the post-war era, fixtures between the Bradford clubs and Newport County became more commonplace in the basement of the Football League. Bradford City did not meet Newport County until the 1958/59 season in the new national third division.

 

Newport County has always been the unfashionable cousin of Newport Athletic RFC and for most of its history has struggled to stay afloat. The club endured a series of financial crises that led to the loss of Football League status in 1988 and liquidation in 1989. It was not until 2013 that a reformed club had reclaimed a place in the 92 hierarchy of English and Welsh senior football after climbing from the base of the football pyramid. The manner in which the Newport supporters sustained a phoenix club is an inspiration to others who have faced similar circumstances (ie Bury FC) and they were held up as an example in 2004 when it seemed that Bradford City might follow into oblivion.

 

Soulmates

 

 

I had looked forward to the opportunity to visit Newport when the fixtures were announced last summer. Having attended the last game between the sides at County’s former ground, Somerton Park in April, 1985 I was keen to visit Rodney Parade which the club now shares with Newport Rugby and the Newport Gwent Dragons rugby union franchise (now known simply as ‘Dragons’).

Rodney Parade dates back to 1877 and is reputedly the second oldest sporting venue in the Football League after Deepdale, Preston. Although nowadays it stages only rugby union and association football, for the majority of its existence Rodney Parade was a quintessential multisport arena. There are indeed similarities to Park Avenue in that Rodney Parade had an adjacent cricket pitch (home of Monmouth County Cricket Club) which has been the site of a school since 1993 and behind the north terrace there are the former grass terrace courts and bowling greens (abandoned in 2013). Additionally it was a centre for athletics as well as staging other spectator events as the town’s premier arena.

Newport County AFC is a tenant of the Welsh Rugby Union who purchased Rodney Parade from the Newport Athletic Club in 2017. This was part of the grand WRU project to establish regional Welsh rugby clubs and at a swoop, the proud history and tradition of Newport Athletic RFC was swept aside by the new corporate entity. Nevertheless although the Newport Gwent Dragons initiative appears to have had limited success – it has failed to emulate the achievements of Newport RFC and its gates are no higher than those of Newport County – the Dragons are the lead tenant at Rodney Parade. From conversation with supporters of Newport Rugby and Newport County, the general consensus is that the relationship with the Dragons leaves quite a bit to be desired and the two are considered junior partners at Rodney Parade.

It is quite remarkable that a ground should be shared by three ‘football’ clubs and if anyone had any reason to ask why the playing surface of Rodney Parade is in such poor condition, that is the answer. Economics has forced cohabitation which is a matter of convenience. Newport County for example has no other option and the Dragons need the sub-tenancy revenue. Poor Newport Rugby has been assigned feeder status to the Dragons and there is little chance to secure a new stadium or independence.

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Photo of the main stand left and unused northern terrace.

The arrangement provides a case study in the practicalities and emotions of ground-sharing and confirms that it is seldom as easy as theory might imply. City supporters have had their own experience of co-habitation at Odsal in 1985-86 and of the Bulls at Valley Parade in 2001 and 2002. I am not convinced that the Rodney Parade example gives encouragement to the Bulls ground-sharing at Valley Parade in the future on a permanent basis, particularly given that our pitch is already among the worst in the country even without the impact of the steampigs.

JD305328

Photo shows southern end of the ground with (non-permanent) seating. The football pitch does not use the full length of the field. In the corner is a modern building that is used for offices and dressing rooms. From the outside the stadium has the appearance of a modern office block on a trading estate and the absence of floodlights makes the ground relatively inconspicuous in its surroundings.

 

Rodney Parade seems adequate for current purposes although it would benefit enormously from development. At the moment it feels something of a hotch-potch of facilities that do little justice to the heritage of the venue. Realignment of the pitch has also left the main grandstand off-centre to the pitch. Schemes have been investigated but inevitably finance is the constraint. The current talk is of a hotel being built on the former bowling greens, the development of which would fund new stands.

The ground is bounded by residential properties and the school on its southern side. On the northern perimeter of the grounds is the former pavilion of the Newport Athletic Club (used by Newport Rugby) which awaits demolition having been condemned. A few years ago its attic yielded an amazing find when an archive of sporting records of the Newport rugby and athletic sections was discovered. This included cuttings, teamsheets and ledgers dating back to the 1880s. Having had sight of the rugby artefacts I can attest to the content that brings the history to life. The discovery has been recognised as a significant finding and for sports historians it is the equivalent of Tutankhamun’s tomb for Egyptologists. If only the equivalent existed in Bradford contrary to reports that historic records at Valley Parade and Park Avenue have long since been disposed of.

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Whilst the treasure trove has value for those interested in individual sports it also confirms the extent to which sporting activity – across all codes and pastimes – was co-ordinated and mutually interdependent in the Victorian age. In that sense Newport was not unique and the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club similarly operated as an umbrella organisation like the Newport Athletic Club with distinct sporting sections.

There is talk of the artefacts being displayed in the Welsh National Museum in Cardiff and being lost to Newport. By contrast it seems more fitting that there should be a local display.

When I was in Australia earlier this month I visited a number of sports grounds and had tours of stadia including the WACA in Perth, the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Adelaide Oval. The aforementioned are impressive structures with a real character and architectural appeal but what struck me was the manner in which the Aussies celebrate sporting heritage. The way in which sports history is interwoven into the fabric of the stadium experience is inescapable and something at which the Australians excel. It seems that no stadium is complete without statues, historic story boards, graphics or plaques – all of which tends to be lacking at British football grounds despite the boast of our own sporting history and tradition.

At Rodney Parade the truth is that the visitor gets little sense of the history of the ground quite simply because it is not celebrated which seems bizarre given the stories that could be told. Newport, like Bradford has lost its profile as an industrial and sporting centre but the tragedy is that it is allowed to be forgotten and for places such as these to become known for all the wrong reasons.

I have long argued that sporting identity has its role to play in urban regeneration. The celebration of sporting achievements and civic patriotism is surely no bad thing, a means of emphasising common purpose and identity, whether that between different clubs in the same city or the people who live there. Ironically the Victorians recognised the value of sport in this way as a means to overcome differences of politics or religion.

Of Park Avenue, little remains and the memory of how Bradford was a pioneering centre of organised sport has been forgotten. It seems incredible for example that Bradford FC was considered one of the richest sports clubs in England at the beginning of the 1890s!

As with Newport, Bradford has a proud sporting heritage even if it has not translated into modern success. Despite the fact that Newport County has had an even more modest record than either of Bradford City or Bradford Park Avenue, it was still sufficient to motivate people to rescue the club from being dissolved altogether and to be preserved as a community focused institution. My impression of the Dragons is  of a corporate creation, arguably in keeping with the fact that from the outside Rodney Parade now looks like a trading estate. Having shed its Newport Gwent affiliation the Dragons project seems more about branding than harnessing local loyalties but I am probably not the person to judge.

And so a Bradford side has yet to record a victory at Rodney Parade. The game between Newport County and Bradford City on 22nd February, 2020 was not exactly a memorable exhibition of football – the match will be remembered for the inept display of the visitors and a piercing wind that made Odsal Stadium seem hospitable. It was however a good excursion rounded off with the unique company of Ricky Holden on the train back to Manchester. Newport’s first goal in the 1-2 defeat is pictured below.

JD305353 Newport first goal
Thanks for visiting my blog. Use the drop down menu to access other features including content on the history of Bradford football, book reviews and BCAFC programme features.
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Bradford City’s monogram crests

Possibly the most well-known monogram crest used by a British football club is that of Glasgow Rangers. This is said to date from the club’s formation in 1872 although notably the oldest surviving artefact featuring the scroll dates from the 1881/82 season. (It is questionable whether the club adopted a crest on formation and my bet is that the RFC monogram dates from later.) Rangers have two separate crests and in 1959 the club adopted its ‘lion rampant crest’ incorporating the club’s motto ‘Ready’, shortened from Aye Ready (meaning Always Ready in Scots). The monogram crest is currently used as a shirt emblem whereas the lion rampant design is used as a formal crest, an example of the fact that football club branding does not necessarily have to be confined to a single badge.

The Dundee FC crest is another example of a classic monogram as below.

The monogram style was commonplace among football (rugby and association) in the late nineteenth century, typically applied to blazers and/or caps and used on letterheads or formal correspondence. These applications were distinct from merchandising which was virtually non-existent. Similar well-known monogram designs were later used by Arsenal and Everton. The use of monograms in sport has not been unique to Britain and the classical form is common among Australian cricket organisations (featured below are those of the Melbourne Cricket Club and the West Australian Cricket Association). American sports clubs have similarly applied monogram logos.

In Bradford, a monogram style was adopted by Bradford FC in the 1880s (at that time a Rugby Union club) based at Park Avenue as the following season tickets illustrate.

BfdFC

The Manningham (rugby) football club at Valley Parade likewise adopted a monogram motif for club caps as the following from 1891/92 (which belonged to celebrated full-back George Lorimer) demonstrates.

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The following motifs were used in the design of a scroll presented to the outgoing Bradford City AFC chairman Alfred Ayrton in January, 1907. Having been involved at Valley Parade in a leadership capacity from 1899 the scroll incorporated a crest to represent his association with the former Manningham FC as well as one for Bradford City.


Shortly after, the club adopted the new Bradford coat of arms (granted to the city on 31st December, 1907) and I have seen no other instance of the above monogram motif being used by Bradford City AFC. Accordingly there was probably a degree of artistic licence in its design to complement a Manningham FC monogram.

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In April, 1908 the above motif was applied to a menu of a dinner to celebrate the promotion of Bradford City AFC as champions of Division Two. Again there seems likely to have been artistic licence rather than compliance with branding guidelines as would be the case nowadays. The simplicity of the design is striking and so too the similarity with the shield that features in the current club crest (below).

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In September, 1908 the following pin badges were advertised in the Bradford Daily Telegraph by Messrs Fattorini. The timing coincided with the introduction of the new Bantam identity (refer link below for further information) and came when the club was actively trying to raise morale among supporters. There is no evidence that they were sold to raise funds for the club as opposed to being a marketing initiative to lift the club’s profile and self-esteem.

BCAFC monogram badge

The design was never adopted as a formal crest by Bradford City AFC (who adopted the civic crest) but it was embraced by the Bradford City Shareholders and Supporters’ Association that was established in March, 1921 to provide active support to the parent football club. The scroll motif was used in enamel badges as shown below.

bcssa 1921.jpg

The BCAFC monogram or scroll badge was thereafter set aside. In 1949 when the BCSSA was reformed to help raise funds for the parent club its emphasis was on the Bantam identity. Nevertheless a monogram design of sorts was reintroduced in 1968 with the new boar’s head crest.

boars head 1968

In 1969 Bradford City toyed with adopting the new marketing logo of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce. Whilst there is a surviving photograph of this being adopted as a shirt badge, to my knowledge it was never worn in a first team game (which may have been due to licensing issue or the absence of approval by the Football League). The same style also featured in a Bradford Park Avenue pennant c1971.

Monograms of sorts were revived by Bradford City in the form of the embroidered motif on shirts and shorts between 1972-75 and from 1974 with the so-called ‘BC logo’. The former style had been fashionable among British clubs during the preceding five years and that illustrated below was on the City shirt of 1973/74. (NB the club had always referred to itself as BCAFC with emphasis on it being an association / soccer club but presumably the embroidery template did not allow five letters.)

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If the above was inspired by classic design, the BC logo (below) of 1974 was distinctly more modern and coincided with the introduction of the new Bradford metropolitan district crest that replaced the traditional civic coat of arms in the same year. (Further detail from the link below.)

bc logo 1974

You can find further detail about the evolution of Bradford City crests and club identity on this blog from the links below:

Bradford City AFC & the Boar’s Head identity

Application of the Bradford civic crest

How Bradford City became known as the Bantams

The BSA Bantam character

The ‘bc’ logo of 1974-81

Bantam identity of the 1980s

The City Gent

Stevenage, 11th February 2020

PROGRAMMES OF OLD

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

Stevenage FC was previously known as Stevenage Borough FC but the club’s identity was changed when it secured membership of the EFL in 2010. This is the club’s tenth in the competition and the seventh in the basement division, having been members of the third tier between 2011-14. Thus far there have been five meetings between the sides of which three at this level and honours are even with two wins each and aggregate scores of 6-6.

Our first fixture was at Valley Parade in August, 2010 which resulted in a 1-0 home victory. Our first visit to Stevenage followed in April, 2011 but we did not achieve a win at Broadhall Way until last August. The programmes from the respective fixtures in 2010/11 are featured.

The rise of Stevenage FC has been a fairly recent phenomenon given that the club had only been formed in 1976 and first promoted to the Conference in 1994. To that extent its record is no mean achievement.

I can’t help but think that the emergence of traditionally lower profile sides from the south of England – such as Stevenage and Crawley – has reflected the changing regional balance in the UK economy. For sure, Salford City and even the likes of Morecambe or Macclesfield might suggest otherwise, but it does feel to be the case that southern clubs have become established at the expense of northern rivals. That said, maybe the fact that League football is now played in Stevenage, Crawley and Milton Keynes is the ultimate measure of the success of post war new towns?

Given that our meetings have been fairly recent there are no historic programmes to feature. Whereas much earlier publications tend to reflect the character and personality of individual clubs, the phenomenon of modern match day magazines is such that there is far less variability in the quality and content of what is produced than could be said of programmes from earlier eras.

Going back to the 1980s for example there was considerable difference in programmes between clubs. Unfortunately, it has to be acknowledged that the Bradford City issues were often poor compared to many of those produced by our rivals. Much depended on the enthusiasm of individual club officials to invest the time in compiling a programme. Inevitably, new technology has transformed the process which has become far more professionalised and specialist firms are now involved in their production. The irony of course is that despite standards being at an unprecedented level, readership of match magazines has been undermined by online media and changing habits.

Thanks for visiting my blog. The drop down menu above provides links to archive images of Valley Parade and content on the history of Bradford City as well as book reviews and prior programme features.

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

Grimsby Town 8th February, 2020

PROGRAMMES OF OLD

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

Grimsby Town FC was the first opponent of the newly formed Bradford City AFC as members of the Football League, in September 1903. That game ended in a 0-2 defeat but the visit to Cleethorpes for that opening fixture evidently had a profound impact on the visiting Bradfordians, previously unfamiliar with the mores of soccer as opposed to those of rugby.

1903 Sep Gainsboro teamsheet (3)

Writing in the Bradford Daily Telegraph after the game, ‘Sportsman’ – a confessed rugbyite – remarked on a man with a cornet who led the ‘Pontoon Chorus’ at Blundell Park which was the Grimsby Town anthem. He declared ‘We should like to see such enthusiasm in connection with football in Bradford.’ The Grimsby supporters impressed the visitors with their singing and again in April, 1904 the Yorkshire Sports reported that the Valley Parade regulars were amused by the ‘Hello‘ chorus sung by the Grimsby ‘Pontoon Choir‘ during the return game. It explained that the origin of this had been the visit in 1901/02 for an FA Cup tie reply of Portsmouth supporters who sang the Cambridge chimes using the words ‘Hello, Hello‘. The chorus was henceforth adopted in Cleethorpes but also at the Boulevard (rugby) ground in Hull. The ‘Hello, Hello‘ chorus was subsequently embraced at Valley Parade and became such a favourite that in 1946 it was even recorded on a 78rpm vinyl.

To my knowledge there is no surviving programme or souvenir from that opening game on Tuesday 1st September, 1903 but the following Saturday the Yorkshire Sports published the featured teamsheet for the first League fixture at Valley Parade against Gainsborough Trinity.

This is the sixth season that Bradford City has played Grimsby Town in the fourth tier, the previous occasions being the three seasons, 2007/08 to 2009/10 inclusive when we won four and drew two of the six games. Prior to that you have to go back to 1978/79 and 1968/69. What is remarkable is that the fixtures at Blundell Park in each of those seasons resulted in the record scores between the two sides – a 5-1 victory for Bradford City in 1969 and a win by the same margin for Grimsby Town in 1979. By contrast, the game in August last year was relatively uneventful!

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

Cheltenham Town, 28th January 2020

PROGRAMMES OF OLD

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

Today is the 13th meeting between Cheltenham Town and Bradford City since the 2006/07 season (at the end of which we were relegated from League One). Cheltenham secured promotion to the EFL in 1999 and since then have had two spells in the third tier (a total of four seasons), four spells in the basement division (16 seasons) in addition to a single season back in the Conference.

Thus far we’ve played each other 11 times in the league and honours are even with four wins apiece. Of the six seasons we have been in the same division, five have been in the fourth tier.

The Robins have won only once at Valley Parade (in November, 2011) whereas City have secured two away wins which were in our first two visits to Whaddon Road (in September, 2006 and then August, 2009). In cup competition we won 1-0 at Cheltenham in the Football League Trophy in January, 2017.

The programmes from 2006/07 are featured and it will be noted that the City programme at the time of our first home game with Cheltenham was called Bantams World. During the last twenty years there have been four different titles adopted for the matchday magazine.

Between 1996-2002 it was titled Claret & Amber and then Bantams World between 2002-11. For the 2011/12 season The Bantams was adopted before resorting to the current title, The Parader from the start of 2012/13.

The title of The Parader is not new having originally been used between 1932-40, in 1978/79 and then for part of the 1981/82 season. It was also applied as the title of supporter yearbooks in 1951 and 1952. The title of The Parader has thus been the most used at Valley Parade whereas The Bantams has been the least, for the second half of 1981/82, 1982/83 and in 2011/12 only.

To date these are the only titles that have been adopted for the match day publication from its origins at Valley Parade in 1909 (prior to that there had been issues of single teamsheets). As far supporters are concerned however it has always been known simply as ‘the programme’.

Thanks for visiting my blog. The drop down menu above provides links to archive images of Valley Parade and content on the history of Bradford City as well as book reviews and prior programme features.

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

Bradford City AFC programmes from the Noughties

During the 2019/20 season my column in THE PARADER, the BCAFC matchday magazine has featured programmes of old and those relating to historic fixtures with the opposition of the day. Additionally I have been 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 2000s.

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

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

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…

Updates to this site are tweeted: @jpdewhirst

Scunthorpe United, 18th January 2020

PROGRAMMES OF OLD

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

Scunthorpe United FC was elected to the Football League in 1950/51 and this is the club’s 70th in the competition. Of those, Scunthorpe have spent 36 seasons in the fourth division and 25 in the third division (of which 8 in the regionalised third division and 17 in the national third division) with a further 9 seasons spent in the second division.

Since 1950 Bradford City has likewise competed mainly in the lower divisions. However, in comparison, the Bantams have had a better record with 2 seasons in the top tier, 11 in the second division, 8 in the regionalised third division, 25 in the national third division and 24 in the fourth.

Surprisingly perhaps the two clubs have competed at the same level in only 26 seasons and in the last 35 years this is only the 8th season that we have been in the same division. During the same period both clubs have had an unprecedented degree of change in terms of league status and until we renewed rivalry in the third tier between 2005-07 and then 2013-19 our paths had not crossed since the 1983/84 season.

This is the 10th season that we have been rivals in the basement with 8 seasons together in the national third division and 8 in the regionalised third division. Of 51 league fixtures to date, City have won 17 games and Scunthorpe have won 19. Games with Scunthorpe have always tended to be close affairs and most have been settled by a fine margin. Our record victory was 4-0 in May, 1977.

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The programme from our first visit to the Old Show Ground in April, 1951 is shown below. In 1958 it had become the first football stadium in England to have a cantilever stand but the ground was vacated in 1988 and is now the site of a supermarket.

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The two sides have been drawn together on three occasions in the FA Cup but City have yet to beat Scunthorpe United. Featured is the programme from our first round meeting in 1994/95 which finished 1-1.

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Ten years before that City beat Scunthorpe home and away in the Freight Rover Trophy (programmes featured).

Thanks for visiting my blog. The drop down menu above provides links to archive images of Valley Parade and content on the history of Bradford City as well as book reviews and prior programme features.

Tweets: @jpdewhirst