A night out in Bradford

Bradford is a city in the north of England that has seen better days. During the Industrial Revolution it was a major centre for woollen textiles and was known as “the wool capital of the world”. The textiles industry spiralled into decline midway through the twentieth century due to competition from cheaper foreign sources. The valley where Bradford is situated has a number of prominent old mills in various states of dereliction. The Manningham area, largely populated by Muslim immigrants, is the most impoverished neighbourhood that I have witnessed in my four weeks in England.

Bradford was the home of Peter Sutcliffe, better known as the Yorkshire Ripper, who murdered 13 women in a reign of terror between 1975 and 1981. He lived in a middle class area of Bradford called Heaton. His old address at 6 Garden Lane no longer exists. The local authorities reversed the numbers in the street and eliminated number six altogether in a bid to keep ghoulish tourists away. His estranged wife still lives in the house that she purchased with him in 1977.

The community’s professional soccer club, Bradford City, is known as the Bantams. Their home is called Coral Windows Stadium because of a sponsorship deal but was traditionally known as Valley Parade. When Bradford played Lincoln City in 1985 there was a terrible disaster. There had been a build-up of litter beneath the steps of an old wooden grandstand at their antiquated stadium. Perhaps it was a discarded cigarette butt that started the fire. Within minutes the entire stand was alight and 56 people lost their lives. This calamity led to an inquiry which ushered in new safety standards for soccer grounds in the UK. Dangerous sections were demolished and clubs were not permitted to build wooden grandstands from that time on.

But their football club has given the community some hope in recent years. Bradford City played a couple of seasons in the Premier League in the late nineties before tumbling down again to the lower divisions. In January 2013 the Bantams became the first club from the fourth tier to reach a Wembley final when they made the Football League Cup decider. To do this they defeated three Premier League sides – Wigan Athletic 4-2 on penalties, Arsenal 3-2 on penalties and Aston Villa 4-3 on aggregate. Having run their race in a series of nail biting finishes they crashed to a 5-0 loss at the hands of Swansea in the final, but recovered in time to overcome Northampton Town 3-0 in the League 2 play-off final, booking themselves a place in League One for the 2013/14 season.

They find themselves in a mid-table position for tonight’s clash with Preston. Their renovated headquarters holds a commanding position on the western slope of the city and can be seen all throughout the valley. It’s an unusual stadium. English soccer grounds typically have a stand on each side of the playing rectangle. From my vantage point in the visiting fans section directly behind the goal in the T. L Dallas Stand there is a curious double-storey brick building with a roller door in the corner to my left, followed by a stand as high as any in the Premier League. The stand behind the opposite goal, known as the Kop, is similar, but the roof is lower. The stand to my right has a roof that is lower still and then we’re back to the old T. L Dallas stand which has the lowest roof of all. It’s like Bradford started building with the goal of creating a first class stadium before running out of money and putting plans on the backburner. The result is a curious combination of parts that don’t match. The seats are painted in the club’s colours of claret and gold.

There is a different perspective to the game when you view it from behind the goal. The keeper shouts instructions to his defenders and directs them as to where he wants them to run when the ball is coming their way. When corner kicks are taken a feverish level of activity takes place in the goalmouth. Defenders face their opponents and thrust arms out to prevent them from moving. Strikers and midfielders twist, turn and attempt to find some space.

It’s rumoured that Australian manager Ange Postecoglou is in the crowd tonight to take a close look at Preston pair Neil Kilkenny and Bailey Wright for possible duties with the Socceroos. If he’s in Yorkshire right now he won’t be impressed by what he witnesses at the 23-minute mark. Kilkenny is fouled by Kyle Bennett and is clearly unhappy about it. He receives a free kick and indulges in a bout of pushing and shoving with his antagonist. Referee Stuart Attwell holds up the red card and the PNE fans roar their approval. As Bennett makes his exit the red card goes up again. Kilkenny is banished for retaliating!

This is a major blow to the visitors as Kilkenny was dominating the midfield. It’s now a game of ten against ten. A red card incurs an automatic three-week suspension. The club has a right of appeal, but suspensions are rarely reversed.

The home team is dangerous when they deliver high into the box for the leaping James Hanson.  Aaron McLean, a new signing from Hull City, cuts loose and almost gets one past Declan Rudd.

Seated as I am right behind the goal I have a burning desire to see Preston put a couple into the back of the net at our end in the second half. Even one might be sufficient to get the three points. And one goes in! Joe Garner again! But no! Offside, the rule which Wills and Harrison would have nothing to do with in 1858 when they devised a game to keep Australian cricketers fit during the winter months. Josh Brownhill’s shot is deflected by Bradford goalie Joe McLaughlin and bounces off the right post. Garner and Paul Gallagher are unable to close the deal with gilt-edged opportunities.

I don’t get to conclude my grand tour with a victory on the road. It’s Preston’s second 0-0 result in five days following their FA Cup tie with Nottingham Forest. Back in October when Bradford travelled to Deepdale it was a 2-2 draw, with all four goals coming from headers.

“Ah well,” says one North Ender as the bus pulls out. “We’re hard to beat.”

This is true. In fact Preston has lost only four times in 27 games this season. But there are ten draws to go with the 13 wins. The news comes through that Brentford, Leyton Orient and Wolves, the three teams above Preston on the table, have all won tonight. This means they’ve opened up a significant gap for the Lilywhites to close if they are to finish first or second and earn automatic promotion to the Championship.

“Here,” says the lady sitting next to me, who knows I’m heading back to Australia on the weekend.  “I want you to have this.”

She hands me a tiny white vinyl envelope. Inside the envelope I find a badge with the City of Preston shield. The design includes the image of a lamb, representing St. Wilfrid, the city’s patron saint. This shield is featured on the shirts of the Preston North End players.

I tell the lady I’ll wear it the next time I’m at Deepdale.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the diary…loved it. Safe trip home.

  2. I will never forget seeing that fire in 1985 – beyond horror and the lowest ebb English Soccer reached in bad times. It is unbelievable what a transformation has since taken place.

  3. Great series; loved the history, the background, the context and the writing.

  4. The lamb lies down with the Tiger. Almost biblical.
    Great read as always John. Was the Wolves game the only loss of the games you saw?
    Am I right that 3 teams get promoted, so if the Lily’s hold their spot they will be in a playoff game? Cheers.

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks john have loved your stories brilliantly written you have taken the Knackery along for the ride appreciated and remember the Bradford fire well it was certainly a low point in UK soccer agree with above the changes have been well done
    Greatly appreciated John !

  6. Peter Fuller says

    Peter,
    Your assumption is correct. Top 2 in the Championship (2nd Division) and League I (3rd Division) are automatically promoted; 3rd-6th placed finishers go to the playoffs (3rd v 6th, 4th v 5th, semi finals knock-out based on two matches at each home ground. Winners then progress to the final at Wembley). League II (4th Division) has three automatic promotion spots, with 4th-7th in the playoffs.
    Preston are currently 4th, 9 points from 2nd with a game in hand. They seem fairly secure in a playoff spot, seven points clear of Peterborough, the team currently lying seventh. There are still 17 or 18 matches of the season remaining.

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