2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 26 (Game 27) – Saturday 07 March 2020: Bradford (Park Avenue) v Chester
Back up North and a trip to geographically one of my closest ex-league clubs in Bradford (Park Avenue) who had been inconveniently playing at times I was unable to get to games so this was my first opportunity. I’d been warned by Paul that I might be disappointed with the stadium, as it’s in the style of European clubs with a running-track meaning spectators are a bit away from the action.
Bradford (Park Avenue) – the Park Avenue suffix was added to distinguish them from the towns other major team Bradford City – were formed in 1907. The Club was originally founded as a rugby union club in 1863 and in 1895 were founder members of the Northern Rugby Football Union (essentially what today we know as rugby league). A further split came in 1907 when some clubs left the Union and switched codes to association football. Bradford FC were formed with Bradford Northern (now the Bradford Bulls) taking up the rugby code.
Park Avenue were elected to the Football League into the Second Division in 1908 after playing a season in the Southern League (their closest away game being Northampton 130 miles away and included trips to Plymouth, Southampton, Portsmouth, and Brighton), where they finished thirteenth, with Queens Park Rangers claiming the title.
They were promoted to the First Division in 1914, when they achieved their highest ever league position of ninth. Following the First World War their decline began, and they spent the majority of their Football League existence in the third and fourth tiers. Their struggles saw them not be re-elected at the end of the 1969/70 season and they were replaced by Cambridge United. Worse was to follow, with the club now playing in the Northern Premier League (NPL), when in 1973 they were forced to sell their Park Avenue ground. The Club completed the 1973/74 season, playing their games at Bradford City, but in May 1974 went into liquidation.
A Sunday side emerged which did return to the old Park Avenue ground, in the mid to late 1980s, finally leaving at the end of the 1987/88 season. In order to make the switch to Saturday football a new club was formed and started in the West Riding County Amateur Football League and progressed via the Central Midlands League and then the North West Counties League, with home games played in Bramley and Batley at their respective rugby league venues. In 1992 the Sunday team merged with the Saturday side, with a move to their current home, Horsfall Stadium in 1995, which also saw the Club promoted to the NPL. Since that time, Park Avenue have predominantly played at Step 3 (National North) level.
I have always been a lover of football kits, the Chelsea one I first saw in 1969 had their stylish blue shirts, blue shorts, and white socks (stockings for the purist). The Blues were the first team to have this sort of combination as all other teams socks matched their shorts or shirt. Additionally, I have always loved hoops, stripes, and slashes on shirts. Sadly, those types of design features have not regularly graced Chelsea shirts, although I do have a black and blue striped replica shirt from the European Fairs cup in 1966. However, my favourite Chelsea shirts are the away ones from the 1974/75 season, with a red and green vertical stripe on a white shirt, the blue and black version of this in 2003/04 campaign and the light blue slash on a white shirt worn in 2012. I’ve loved Bradford PA’s red, black and amber hoops since being a Subbuteo fanatic in the 1970s.
The Horsfall Stadium is a curious mixture. Along the length of the pitch is the main seated stand, and opposite is a wonderful pavilion which houses the changing rooms and the media area. Also dotted around are some small sheltered coverings. There is I believe a social club, but I didn’t venture inside and missed getting a glimpse of a brilliant model of the old Park Avenue ground.
As befits a Saturday in early March it was a cold and windy day, which in an open arena like the Horsfall impacted the game. Park Avenue seemed to adapt better than Chester who showed little for a team chasing promotion. The breakthrough came just five minutes before half-time, with a goal that can only be described as ‘scruffy’. From a Ryan Toulson cross, Tom Clare’s shot hit the post. There was then an almighty scramble on the goal-line and in the attempt to clear it, the ball ended in the net, with Clare credited as the scorer. Chester protested with the Assistant Referee all to no avail. However, they all count, and Bradford went in 1-0 up at the break.
Chester though were back in the game early in the second-half on fifty-one minutes, with the weather playing its part. Matty Waters scoring directly from a corner after Avenue ‘keeper Tom Nicholson failed to get near the wind-assisted ball. However, the home-side didn’t panic and went ahead again on sixty-six minutes. A long throw from Lewis Knight found Avenue skipper Oli Johnson who headed in to make it 2-1. The visitors responded by making a couple of substitutions and despite plenty of possession and some half-chances, they never looked like getting an equaliser, leaving Bradford to celebrate a first win since the opening week of December.
With the season ended due to COVID-19, Park Avenue finished bottom of the table and would have been relegated in any other circumstance. However, with the Northern Premier League having voided its season, they escaped the drop and will look to 2020/21 in the National North League with renewed optimism.
Saturday 07 March 2020
Vanarama National League North
Bradford Park Avenue 2 (Clare 40’, Johnson 66’) Chester 1 (Waters 51’)
Venue: Horsfall Stadium
BPA: Nicholson, Toulson, Demetriou, Lund, Priestley, Nowakowski, Knight (Hall 77’), Hurst, Clare, Johnson (Clee 74’), Hibbs.
Unused substitutes: Green, Byrne.
Chester: Gray, Waters, K Roberts, Grand, Jones, Stopforth (Burton 14’), G Roberts, Jackson, Johnston, Elliott (Asante 66’), Dudley (Waring 65’).
Unused substitutes: Morgan, Ngwatala.