The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Bradford City and Valley Parade

 John McCormick writes: some 15 years ago, perhaps a few more, I almost went to see Bradford play. It was a Valentine’s weekend and the family had decamped to a hotel in the region, 10 of us altogether, mostly from my wife’s side, for a reunion of some sort. We arrived on the Friday and going to the match was one of the possibilities raised while having  a few drinks on the Friday night. Come the Saturday, no one felt like going. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given that my share of the bar bill alone was in three figures when we checked out on the Sunday.

Pete Sixsmith appears to have had no such problems in getting there:

Bradford (or “Woolopolis” as it was called in the 19th and early 20th Century – and probably still is by Jacob Rees-Mogg) is not a city that has found sporting success easy to come by. Both of its football teams were perpetual lower division clubs post World War One, with Park Avenue dropping out of the league in 1970 and City being spectacularly unsuccessful until the 1980s.

Bradford Northern were up and down in the Northern Union and then the Rugby Football League, going bust in the 1960s – a feat they seem to repeat on a regular basis. After a highly successful spell in the 90s and 00s, the Odsal club find themselves in a promotion play off with Workington Town the day after our caravan rolls out of Woolopolis.

My first visit to Valley Parade was on Saturday 10th March 1984.We were stumbling around the nether regions of Division One (the proper one, not the ersatz version we are in now), had just replaced Alan Durban with Len Ashurst and had no game that day due to our opponents Watford, being involved in the FA Cup.

Valley Parade then

Being a Leeds born man, a visit to Bradford was difficult as we Loiners had always looked down our noses at Bradfordians and mocked their dirty mills, trolley buses and hilly territory. But I bit the bullet and set off for Bradford City v Millwall, a game that did nothing to make me think that lower level football was anything other than excruciating.

It ended 0-0, Valley Parade was a dump (it was 13 months before the fire), the Millwall fans were their usual charming selves and the beer I drank (a miserable pint of Tetley’s in a pub that is now a tanning salon) was awful. Not a great first visit…..

Valley Parade now

My first trip there with Sunderland was six years later on March 1st 1990 and was a much more positive experience. In the company of the late and much missed Stephen Wilson, we took in The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (now The National Media Museum), dined in a basic Indian restaurant on a sublime chicken curry washed down with various cordials and stood behind the goal as Kieron Brady scored a second half winner, a week after his master class at Roker against West Ham United.

The ground was in the process of being rebuilt after the dreadful scenes of May 11th 1985, something which I will not dwell on except to say that you should read Martin Fletcher’s Fifty Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire not only as a football related book but also as an exploration of trauma and humanity.

Odsall as it was

We had played City a couple of times before that in my life span, once at Leeds Road, Huddersfield and once at Odsal Stadium in a Full Members Cup game, the only time that we have played in the stadium that holds the record for the biggest crowd at a sporting event in England.

That was set for a Challenge Cup Final replay between Halifax and Warrington in 1954 when 102,569 crammed in, including my father who said that he was more fearful for his life that day than he had been at Nijmegen ten years previously. The terracing was ash and he said you could feel it moving whenever there was a crowd sway.

The team that won on that day in 1990 was;

Tony Norman; John Kay, Paul Hardyman; Paul Bracewell, Gary Bennett, John McPhail; Gary Owers, Gordon Armstrong, Colin Pascoe, Marco Gabbiadini, Kieron Brady subs; Reuben Agboola (for Bennett 50), Eric Gates.

The Bantams lined up thus;

Paul Tomlinson; Brian Mitchell, Brian Tinnion; Darren Morgan, Lee Sinnott, Peter Jackson; David Evans, Alan Davies, Mark Leonard, Peter Costello, Neil Woods subs; Ian McCall (for Costello 54), Lee Duxbury (for Morgan 70).

Alas, Greg Abbot was injured. Who could fail to have been amused by a line up that could have contained both the perpetrators of the Who’s on First sketch?

Brady, as mercurial a talent as Chris Maguire is proving to be, had destroyed the Hammers the week before and in this game, although relatively quiet, he scored what proved to be the winning goal four minutes after the break. We defended well with Tony Norman imperious in goal and went home in a joyful mood.

                              SAFC 1989-90

Three days later, we won at Bramall Lane in what was Marco’s finest hour in a Sunderland shirt. One down to a Brian Deane header in the first minute and inspired by Bracewell and Owers, we came back with a rare goal from Le Brace and two wonderful ones from Marco. We ended up beating the Mags at The Sports Direct, losing at Wembley and eventually being promoted due to Swindon Town’s cheating.

This is an important game for both clubs. We played well on Tuesday but failed to win and City won with a penalty at AFC Wimbledon. It also pits the two managers who gained promotion to the SPL last season. Jack Ross we know about but The Bantams are now managed by David Hopkin who guided Livingston through three play off ties to the promised land. They will know much about each other and their styles.


We have had some good wins at Valley Parade over the years.

In 1920, in City’s penultimate season in the top flight, we won 2-0 thanks to goals from “The Two Gendarmes”, Bobby Best and Bobby Marshall.

There was the season when Niall Quinn scored and then went into goal, and then a crushing 4-0 win in 1999.

A similar win would go down well on Saturday.

Abott & Costello posted on Youtube by Watch Me, March 2017. If there is any copyright claim, not answered by ‘fair use’ exemptions, on the video and images used to illustrate this report, please make us aware and we will add credits or remove as requested.

1 thought on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Bradford City and Valley Parade”

  1. Magic again. Reading this is like being back at Saturday morning cinema. Never mind the football. Thank you.

Comments are closed.

Next Post