LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Bradford City

Bantams retain fan base despite misguided management

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

The recent history of Bradford City can be neatly divided into two distinct eras, under manager Phil Parkinson and afterwards. Pre-2016, the Bantams reached a major final for the first time in over a century and came close to promotion to the Championship.

True, Parkinson’s replacement Stuart McCall also took Bradford to a play-off final in his first year in charge, but the seasons since have seen little but poor decision-making at the top, relegation from League One and, after an unbroken run of 118 campaigns, near departure from the Football League altogether. 

Saved halfway through 2020-21 – ironically by sacking the returning McCall – Bradford City remain in dire need of a reboot. The club’s significant fan base has still turned out in numbers at Valley Parade, the stadium tragically associated with the terrible fire of 1985 when 56 spectators lost their lives in the most horrific of circumstances.

A monument is built into the main stand, the replacement for the wooden one that was burned down in minutes during the infamous match against Lincoln City. Ironically, that day before kick-off, City had been presented with the Division Three trophy. Though possible new evidence might lead to a new inquiry nearly four decades on, the lessons learned continue to play a big part in stadium safety strategy worldwide.

Formed in 1903 by members of ailing rugby club Manningham FC, Bradford City AFC assumed their forebear’s colours of claret and amber, and ground of Valley Parade. In the space a few seasons, their former centre-half Peter O’Rourke took them from the Second Division to the First then, with eight fellow Scots in his line-up, was City’s winning manager at the replayed FA Cup final of 1911. 

Govan-born Jimmy Speirs scored the solitary goal against Newcastle. That spring, the Bantams also finished fifth in the league, a record they have yet to beat. In fact, after ten seasons either side of World War I, Bradford City remained in the second, third or fourth flights until 1999.

O’Rourke, returning in 1928, steered a high-scoring City side from Third to Second but for most of the 20th century, there was little to celebrate. In fact, manager Terry Yorath had helped coach the club to a first promotion out of the third flight since the 1930s when the fateful game with Lincoln kicked off. By half-time, the former Welsh international was running around trying to evacuate people, injuring himself in the process. He also had family in the stand. Bantams player-manager Trevor Cherry, who then saw the club through 18 homeless months of funerals, memorials, recriminations and inquiry, was sacked soon after the stadium reopened and never worked in football again.

It was former encyclopaedia salesman Geoffrey Richmond who lifted the club out of the gloom when he took over as chairman in 1994. In 1996, in a first appearance at Wembley, Bradford beat Notts County 2-0 in the play-off for the second flight. Debut manager Chris Kamara had only been in charge for six months.

Wise signings – including Chris Waddle on a free – helped Kamara keep City up before his assistant Paul Jewell, another management newbie, brought in Lee Sharpe and Dean Windass to take the club to the top flight for the first time since 1922.

In May 2000, a last-game win over Liverpool, 1-0, meant that Jewell had kept City in the Premier League. Three managers in 2000-01 failed to achieve the same.

It wasn’t until former Reading midfielder Phil Parkinson arrived in 2011 that things started to change. In 2012-13, City enjoyed their most memorable season of modern times. With goals from James Hanson and Bermudan international Nahki Wells, Bradford overcame Wigan and Arsenal on penalties, then Aston Villa in the semi-final, to earn a bumper payday at Wembley for the 2013 League Cup Final.

Though beaten 5-0 by Swansea, the Bantams were back at Wembley soon afterwards to win the League Two play-off with Northampton.

Two years later, with Jon Stead replacing the injured Hanson, Bradford performed further heroics to reverse a 0-2 scoreline at Stamford Bridge and stuff Chelsea 4-2. After beating another Premier League side, Sunderland, in the next round, the Bantams lost in the quarter-final to Reading, after a replay.

In the league, Phil Parkinson took the Bantams to a play-off semi-final with Millwall in 2016 but were well-beaten despite scoring an early penalty in the home leg. With the incoming German ownership of Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic, Parkinson then headed straight to Bolton, taking his coaching team with him.

Initially, all seemed rosy with the arrival of Stuart McCall, the former Rangers legend having started his career at Bradford City, returning both as a player and now as a manager. This time making the play-off final, City again fell to Millwall, by a solitary goal scored agonisingly late, followed by a pitch invasion.

With Edin Rahic now pulling the strings in all the wrong directions, 2017-18 saw three managers come and go, the same as the following season when City finished rock bottom of League One. Rupp duly parted company with Rahic and, despite the play-offs beckoning, with manager Gary Bowyer.

A returning Stuart McCall then put the whole thing in reverse, City sinking down the table to 91st spot in The 92. With relegation from the Football League a clear prospect, salvation came in the unlikely form of two former youth-team coaches at City, untried at senior level. Bradford-born Mark Trueman and his fellow Yorkshireman Conor Sellars were given joint caretaker roles, and duly put together a string of wins to lift the club to mid-table.

Reward for Sellars was the sack, while Trueman was given an assistant’s role to the incoming Derek Adams, a Glaswegian who had worked miracles at Plymouth and Morecambe.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Forever linked with the horrific fire of 1985, Valley Parade, now known as the Utilita Energy Stadium, has since been completely overhauled and made all-seater.

The Valley Parade that staged the last game of the 1984-85 season had changed little since 1908, when Britain’s most accomplished stadium architect, Archibald Leitch, reconfigured the ground completely. In nearly eight decades, his three stands had barely been modified, except for the installation of floodlights.

Before Leitch, Valley Parade was a basic sports ground of 18,000 capacity, opened by then host rugby club Manningham FC in 1886. In 1903, Bradford City, the soccer team formed from Manningham, moved in.

After Leitch, Valley Parade had a capacity of 40,000, in the main stand, Midland Road stand opposite and Spion Kop home end, filled to near capacity for the cup quarter-final game with Burnley in 1911.

The club had use of all four stands from 1966 onwards – but did little to modernise them. Ironically, the wooden roof of the main stand was due to be replaced the day after the stadium fire of 1985.

Over the course of 18 months, a new all-seater main stand was built and the Kop was covered. The stadium reopened in December 1986 and was significantly improved over the following two decades. The Kop is now twin-tiered, as is the main JCT600 Stand, where you’ll find the memorial to 1985. Noisy City fans also gather in the North Corner between the Kop and the JCT600 Stand.

The Queen opened the Midland Road Stand in 1997. Now called the Bradford Lifts Stands, it houses visiting supporters in sectors F and G, through gates E7-E12, nearest the TL Dallas Stand. This south end of the ground is sometimes closed. With a capacity of 25,000, there’s usually plenty of space.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

If you’re coming into Bradford Forster Square station, you’re 10mins walk from Valley Parade. Head onto Manor Row, right up towards the crossroads past the City Gent pub, then in the same direction up Manningham Lane.

From Bradford Interchange/Bridge Street, First Bus services 620, 621, 622 and 626 (Mon-Sat every 10-15mins daytime, every 30mins eve) run to Manningham Lane/Grosvenor Road (12min journey time). They also pass Forster Square station. Not as frequent but running on Sundays when First Bus routes don’t, Keighley buses 662 and 680 head to the same destination from Bradford Interchange.

The Grosvenor Road stop is just after the stadium – the Thurnscoe Road one is just before, near the Bradford Arms pub.

The sat nav code for Valley Parade is BD8 7DY. There’s no parking at the stadium and the club recommends parking up on nearby Midland Road or Queens Road (BD8 7BT). For something more secure, the Broadway mall (BD1 1JR), halfway between Bradford Interchange and Forster Square stations, offers parking for £2 all day at weekends, on bank holidays and after 5pm. It stays open until 1am.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets are distributed through the stadium office (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, non-matchday Sat 9am-noon, match-day Sat 9am-3pm) by the club shop on Thorncliffe Road, over the phone (01274 770 012( and online. Note that there are no sales on the day for visiting supporters, nor ticket collections. Address all enquiries to ticketingsupport@bradfordcityafc.com.

The club sets across-the-board prices around the stadium of £20, £25 on match days. Reductions are £18/£20 for over-65s and under-23s , £10 for under-17s and £5 for under-11s. There are also suite upgrades for £30/£35, £28/£30 or over-65s and under-23s, £15 for under-17s and £10 for under-11s, to watch the game in the comfort of the McCall Suite, Hendrie Suite or Bantams Bar.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

On Valley Parade, the City Shop (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, match-day Sat 9am-3pm & 30mins after final whistle, weekday matchday 9am-kick-off) is filled with claret and amber. Home shirts are currently white with claret-and-amber bands close to the collar, the change strip claret-and-amber halves. There’s usually an element of black on the kit in honour of those who lost their lives in the Bradford Fire of 1985. Third choice is sky blue.

There’s also a whole range of impressive coffee mugs – an artist with no little talent has created a detailed design of Valley Parade, also shown on fridge magnets. 

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Walking from Bradford Forster Square station, a couple of bars are suitable for a pre-match pint. The Sparrow at 32 North Parade is a small, award-winning alehouse with a huge selection of specialist beers, TV football and live music. Great, but big groups might find it a squeeze. On the same stretch, Crafted took over from The Beerhouse at No.24, and remains popular with Bantams fans despite its rather upscale approach.

Less well known but equally part of the regeneration of North Parade, the Record Café is part indie music store, part craft-beer bar and part charcuterie counter (‘vinyl, ale, ham’), opened in 2014. Among the changing selections of ales and lagers is usually a beer from local Saltaire Brewery. CAMRA’s favourite bar in Bradford three times in recent years, up to 2020.

From there, head over the junction to Manningham Lane, then down to Valley Parade 10min away.

The closest and most classic pre-match spot, on Manningham Lane at No.77, is the Bradford Arms, one of the few surviving drinking stops within a corner kick of the ground. Extremely popular with boisterous home fans, this sandstone pub is happy to accommodate sensible away ones. Although yet to emerge from lockdown, it should be back in drinking mode once crowds return in numbers.

Behind The Kop, home fans pay extra to take advantage of the Bantams Bar on match days. After the final whistle, it’s sometimes thrown open to all supporters – perhaps worth checking on if you’re not in a hurry to leave Valley Parade.

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