Bradford Park Avenue v Gloucester City
Horsfall Stadium / Conference North / 23rd March 2015
I have to say that I’ve been remarkably lucky with match postponements and abandonments since I got onboard with this whole groundhopping malarkey. However, the closing weeks of 2014 would be relatively cruel to me in regards of this. Firstly, I arrived at Mansfield’s FA Cup clash versus Concord Rangers only for the game to be cancelled an hour and a half before kick-off (fortunately I found a replacement game as I made it to Nottingham Forest v Norwich City literally as the referee blew his whistle for kick-off). Then, less than a month later, one of my putting-club-names-in-a-hat-and-picking-out-a-club-to-visit stunts led to me heading to Bradford Park Avenue’s Horsfall Stadium.
It was a sunny, yet very crisp December morning, but with the sun bearing down on Yorkshire, I didn’t even consider the prospect that the game would be called off. Coincidentally, I happened to get on the bus from the city centre to the ground with Bradford PA’s media man Joe Cockburn and after chatting to him on the journey to the ground, the words ‘called off’ never even entered the conversation. However, when I went in search of a pub and left Joe as he headed to the ground, I received a message from him saying that a referee had turned up saying the game was under threat due to one corner of the pitch being frozen solid. By the time I did find a pub, the game was postponed an hour before its scheduled kick-off time. Bugger. With no alternative, I was left to spend my day visiting the drinking holes of Bradford intermittently between completing some Christmas shopping.
I didn’t hold a grudge against the Bradfordian club – it wasn’t their fault they had a fussy referee after all – so I did promise myself I’d squeeze a visit to the club in before the season was out. Just when was the problem?
I woke up this Monday morning without even knowing Bradford Park Avenue were playing that evening, let alone considering going to Bradford to watch them play. Yet at the end of a busy day in work, I just happened to spot a tweet from the Conference Twitter account stating that Bradford PA were taking on Gloucester City that very evening. ‘Should I go?’ I thought to myself. To be honest, once I’ve thought that thought the answer is usually already determined. I was out of work by 4pm and soon navigating my way across Manchester city centre towards Manchester Victoria to catch the train to Bradford.
The last minute-ness of this all meant I found myself travelling to Bradford without a camera (my Samsung Galaxy S4 phone would be placed on camera duty), in my work clothes and, most annoyingly of all, I was without a flat cap. The horror! In fact, I felt like my ‘flatcaplessness’ (great word I invented) was being taunted by the gentleman sitting opposite me on the train as he wore a particularly beautiful and garish cap. I think I intimidated him though by drinking a beer and reading Craig Bellamy’s book on the train. I looked quite the bad boy. Plus, although I was without flat cap, I did have my bright red Welsh football beanie hat – a fine replacement. Enough of headgear anyway – let’s move on.
I didn’t arrive into Bradford until 7pm and so I only had 45 minutes to make it to the ground, located about 2.5 miles south-west of the city centre. Usually on these blogs I go into a rhetoric here about my pub crawling through the location, but time was obviously against me here. I explored Bradford a bit when I visited Valley Parade over the 2013 Christmas period, which you can read here. For the record, I’m actually a big fan of Bradford as a city – it’s a bit rough around the edges, but it certainly exudes character. And I like that.
Also, I had explored the area around Bradford PA’s Horsfall home when I had day-tripped over there last time for Partly-Frozen-Pitch-gate. In fairness, there’s not a lot around the ground, but it is very scenic with the Yorkshire hills in the distance and a quite quaint park and residential area surrounding the ground.
In regards of nearby pubs, I did visit a place called the Drop Kick on my last trip, but, as the name suggests, it is more of a ‘rugbyphile’ pub; probably, a nod to the city’s rugby league team, Bradford Bulls, who play nearby. It was all a bit weird when I went in there with me being the only customer in the fairly large pub.
One thing I am annoyed at myself about is the fact that I didn’t keep my photos from my last visit, as I had taken some nice pictures of the ground from the top of the small lane which leads down to the ground. There was to be no such chance to replicate those photos tonight with it being dark by the time I got there. The only light in the area came from the floodlights of the stadium halfway down the hill.
I know many people are highly critical of the Horsfall Stadium, but I think it actually looks fairly decent as you approach it, with it being dominated by one fairly large stand. This is the only stand in the ground with the rest of the ground being open, apart from the small cottage-like building which sits on the other side of the ground; this is where the press box and changing rooms are held I later learned.
Which brings us on to the main sore point of Bradford PA’s current home: it has a running track around. Oh dear. This is because the stadium is chiefly an athletics stadium, also hosting a football club. I reasoned to myself though that the Olympic Stadium in Berlin has a running track around it and that is one of the most impressive places I’ve ever watched football in. Could the Horsfall Stadium better that? Admittedly, I was very, very doubtful and it wasn’t.
The Horsfall Stadium is not the true spiritual home of Bradford Park Avenue. That claim has to go to the ground where the club acquired its name from: Park Avenue. Park Avenue hosted cricket as far back as the 1880s. At the same time, Bradford’s rugby team were also playing at the ground and achieving success. Yet, there remained a demand for association football and in 1907 ‘the Great Betrayal’ occurred, with many of the club members opting to completely abandon rugby in favour of football: Bradford Park Avenue were born (the Park Avenue was added on to avoid confusion with city neighbours Bradford City). They were denied entry to the Football League for the 1908 season and instead headed into the Southern League, in spite of their obvious placing ‘up north’.
The club wanted a stadium fit for Football League and so the club brought in football ground architect-extraordinaire Archibald Leitch – the man behind some of the most iconic grounds in British football. Soon, Bradford PA were in the Football League and even made it to the First Division and two FA Cup quarter-finals during the 1910s. The 1910s would be the club’s golden era and over the subsequent decades the club would enter a slow, but steady, decline, until exiting the Football League in 1970. By 1973 the club had to sell Park Avenue and share facilities with Bradford City, before going into liquidation in 1974 and becoming an amateur club. Park Avenue is still used to this day as a cricket ground, although there remains just one perimeter wall from its previous incarnation as a football ground.
1988 saw the rebuilding of Bradford PA as a club and they were soon climbing the non-league pyramid again before getting to the Northern Premier League again and then moving to the Horsfall Stadium in 1995.
After beating FC United in a Northern Premier League play-off final in 2012, Bradford PA were promoted to the Conference North, where I would find the club playing this evening.
Avenue have been recently taken over by billionaire oil tycoon Gareth Roberts. Roberts is a local lad who watched Avenue in his youth before moving to the US to make his billions in the oil market. Now Roberts wants to put money back into the community he was raised in and it’ll be interesting to see how things develop at Avenue in the near future.
As I paid my £11 to enter the ground, the gentleman on the turnstiles began saying how he ‘felt sorry for me’ and how I was ‘brave’. What? Did he know something I didn’t? Then he started telling me about his daughter who lived in Liverpool and I realised that he thought my Welsh football hat was actually a Liverpool FC hat (they had lost to Manchester United the day before, hence why he felt bad for me). I’m not sure how a dragon resembles a Liver bird, but I corrected him and on learning I was a Welshman and a Swansea fan, he was happy as Larry again.
The club have quite a large bar near the entrance to the ground, but I was more impressed with the fact that they had one of my favourite lagers on tap: Tuborg – a drink I’d grown to love on the Lost Boyos Danish adventure. There was also a fairly decent gathering of Gloucester fans in the bar; fairplay to them for making the journey up on a Monday night. One of these fans stated, “You’re that Welsh lad!” Indeed I am and this turned out to be Ed – the Gloucester fan I follow on Twitter. Amongst him and his Gloucester contingent, there appeared to be little optimism for the night’s game, as they began to explain that Gloucester can either be magnificent or truly woeful. They felt that the latter was going to happen tonight, as the team had only played 2 days before.
I had a nose around the great clubhouse with plenty of memorabilia around the place, including shirts and the Yorkshire Rose Challenge trophy, as well as a brilliant model of the club’s old Park Avenue home.
When I headed out pitch side, I bumped into Bradford City fan Josh Chapman and his 9 month old boy Freddie, who was harnessed around his chest. I wasn’t allowed to take my pint (in a plastic cup now) into the stand area, so Josh stood with me behind the goal for the opening exchanges; of course, when I say behind the goal, the goal was a fair distance away as there was the curve of the running track still between us and the pitch.
Sometimes, I just get a feeling within when I’m going to be at a great game. The spontaneity of tonight’s trip had prompted me to think that tonight may well be a belter of a game. Lesson here: sometimes it’s probably wiser to ignore such feelings. The game was a relentlessly scrappy and quite bland affair with both teams looking tired from playing 2 games in 3 days. I’d probably argue that Bradford had the better of the half, but there were virtually no chances of note.
We headed round to the building on the halfway and with the game offering very little entertainment, me and Josh found more entertainment from watching little Freddie, who seemed to be enjoying the game a lot more than us. We even coaxed a double thumbs up out of him, which I believe is the youngest thumbs up on the blog so far. His mother has requested a certificate to acknowledge that record – I’ll look into that.
Although the action was struggling to get going on the pitch, I have to applaud the gathering of Avenue fans in the stand opposite who were making a great deal of noise with their drum and chants (some of these were a bit naff though), as well as waving a whole host of green and white flags. I know some people accuse young fans like these of being sort of ‘wannabe Ultras’, but I’m all for it to be honest. I find any effort like that livens the place up a bit.
As the half continued to plod on, I decided to plod on back to the bar for a pint before the half-time rush. I literally must have stepped foot in the bar with moments left of the half, but almost immediately I heard a cheer from outside. Gloucester had scored. Not only had they scored, but they had apparently scored a 25 yard volley that flew into the top corner. Another lesson here: don’t go to the bar early (unless you can see the game of course).
Half-time: Bradford Park Avenue 0 – 1 Gloucester City.
As everyone flooded back into the bar, all the talk was of Gloucester’s wonder goal to open the scoring; this continued to make me feel like a right dick. Soon we were joined by Joe, who had been commentating on the first half. He promised that he gave Lost Boyos a shout out during the commentary, but I’m not exactly sure what he said or if he was particularly flattering. I really cannot be bothered to listen back through to hear what he said either. On another note, I do love the fact that there is commentary available for the club’s games though – a great addition to the club. The usual thumbs up photos were taken (close to 350 thumbs up photos this season now) and there was speculation on social media about the photo below that me, Joe and Josh with Freddie made a good advertising poster for if there was a British version of The Hangover (although I think this only comes from the fact that Josh has curly hair and a baby in his arms à la Zach Galifianakis).
As the second half got underway, I headed to the tea bar located next to the clubhouse (I figured I’d missed one wonder goal, so who cared if I missed the opening moments of the second half). And here is where I came face-to-face with a heavenly image: chips. Chips are great, but not something to get overly-excited, but these things looked magnificent. Then Josh started mentioning that they were award-winning and I knew I just had to have them. £2.50 sounds steep, but my word do they pile the chips on in one steep pile to make up for it. The very jolly staff behind the counter almost seemed as excited to see me sample the chips as I was to eat them. It was great to see such jovial folk serving the food. As for the chips…best thing I’ve ever eaten at a football ground this season, even surpassing the amazing pasty and chips I indulged in at Bristol Rovers. Josh later informed me that the staff have been known to turn up hours early to peel the potatoes fresh to make the chips; their passion for fine chips is more than appreciated. I’d go back to the Horsfall just to have them again.
With chips in hand, I headed up into the stand for the second half. The Gloucester and Bradford fans had switched standing places in the stand and I did notice that the ‘Ultras’ were a lot quieter in the second half. This may have been a result of Gloucester having the better of the opening moments of the half and missing a couple of good chances.
It would take until the 74th minute for the home fans to have anything to sing about again. Some brilliant control in the box from the brilliantly-named Chib Chilaka saw him turn his defender, before firing his shot into the bottom corner. Game on.
Well, I say ‘Game on’, but still the game really struggled to spark into life, although Avenue did have the ball in the net again only for the goal to be ruled out for offside.
I stayed on one of the two open concrete terracing sections on either side of the stand, as the game died out and I could already tell there was going to be no more scoring. Both clubs looked content with their point.
Full-time: Bradford Park Avenue 1 – 1 Gloucester City. A poor game really. At least there was a game for me to watch on my second visit to the Horsfall Stadium though.
Back in the bar, I said my goodbyes to Josh and Freddie, but I was soon rejoined by Joe who had finished his media duties for the evening. As we were chatting away, he told me I had to have a photo with the guy walking past us. Who was he? I didn’t have clue, but Joe soon told me that that was Gareth Roberts – the aforementioned billionaire backing the club. Fair to say, I think this is the first billionaire to ever feature on these pages.
With a bit of time before my taxi back to the station (buses seemed scarce at this time), I sneaked in a half pint. However, the bar was running short of Tuborg and so the barman gave me the last 3/4 of a half pint (you can do the maths there) for free. Cheers!
It is unfortunate that Bradford PA play at an athletics stadium, but it wasn’t half as bad as I was maybe expecting it to be. I really liked the club itself and what struck me most on my visit was how varied the support were with many old-timers watching on from the stands, as well as younger fans giving the team more vocal and lively support. Plus, I noticed that everyone was wearing the green and white colours of the club, which I think is always a nice thing to see.
The late night did leave me feeling a bit knackered the next day in work, but ultimately I felt this spontaneous trip was a worthwhile one – even if it was just for those chips.
Highlights: friendly club, good clubhouse, quite lively fans in parts, meeting a billionaire, the chips!
Low Points: it is an athletics stadium mainly, poor game.
See all my photos from my trip to Bradford Park Avenue here. (These were taken on my phone so they aren’t great photos really).