The Sports Weekend Big Interview: Terry Dolan helping to plot Bradford Park Avenue’s return

Terry Dolan is back at Bradford Park Avenue director and targeting Football League return by 2020, 50 years after being part of team relegated from League. (Picture: Tony Johnson)
Terry Dolan is back at Bradford Park Avenue director and targeting Football League return by 2020, 50 years after being part of team relegated from League. (Picture: Tony Johnson)
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TERRY DOLAN, 65 last summer, is not a man to take it easy.

The first weekend of the new year proved as much, last Saturday afternoon being spent watching Bradford Park Avenue in his guise as the club’s director of football before heading to Goodison Park 24 hours later to work as a referee’s assessor for the Premier League.

One proved more successful than the other, Avenue losing 2-1 at FC United while Dolan describes Everton’s 1-1 draw at home to Tottenham Hotspur as “a great game played in the right spirit with the officials playing their part”.

But this particular stalwart of Yorkshire football enjoyed both immensely.

His love of football helped and it is this, plus a desire to help the club where it all began as a teenager in the Sixties, that brought Dolan back to Avenue late last year.

Texas-based oil tycoon Gareth Roberts, a boyhood fan who grew up in Holme Wood, made the offer to the former club captain and Dolan did not take much persuading.

“The owners are very ambitious,” said the 65-year-old when speaking to The Yorkshire Post at his North Ferriby home. “Basically, a return to the Football League is the target.

“In 2020, it will be 50 years since Bradford Park Avenue went out of the League and the target is to be back by then. As a football romantic, it appealed to me - not least because I was part of the team that failed to be re-elected.”

Park Avenue – re-formed in 1988, 14 years after the old club had gone under – reside in National League North. It is the sixth tier of English football and a division that was not even around when the ‘old’ Bradford folded after four years limping along in the Northern Premier League.

Today’s non-League set-up is a world away from those days and if Avenue are to make good on that 50th anniversary target then a lot of hard work lies ahead.

Home for the past 20 or so years has been the Horsfall Stadium, a Council-owned athletics stadium that the club admits needs a major upgrade if it is to be considered on a par with the ambitions of owner Roberts.

Talks are ongoing with the local authority over a lengthy extension to the lease, something that is a prerequisite for the kind of investment that will be needed to bring Horsfall up to the standard of not just grounds in the Conference but League Two as well.

Dolan, as a member of the board, is as keen as anyone for progress to be made. But he added: “We have to build gradually and steadily, putting proper foundations in.

“Everyone knows what happens to anything built on less than sound foundations. Eventually, it crumbles. But the owners are very ambitious and, in that respect, last Saturday’s game at FC United was very interesting.

“FC United (set up by supporters of Manchester United disillusioned with how the Premier League giants were being run), are a great example as to what can be achieved.

“From a standing start, they have created something special – including a fantastic ground. We went there six weeks ago to look at the set-up, it is very impressive.

“They are community based and that is a model that we would love to follow as a club. Building our supporter-base is crucial and I’d like to think we can do that.

“From a historical point of view, there are not many bigger non-League clubs than Bradford Park Avenue. It was interesting reading the FC United programme last weekend, as it had a feature on the big Cup ties between Manchester United and Park Avenue in 1949.

“It went to two replays and a combined 180,000 people attended the three ties. That shows just how big the club was.”

Last weekend’s defeat at Broadhurst Way in front of a bumper 3,379 crowd left Bradford sitting 14th in the table. Considering the club was deep in the relegation mire just a couple of months ago, this represents decent progress under coach Martin Drury.

Still, a tilt at reclaiming the League place lost in 1970 when Cambridge United were elected in Avenue’s place seems a long way off.

So, too, does the time in that summer of 1970 when Dolan turned his back on one of the mightiest teams in the land due to being homesick.

“I had the chance to join Arsenal,” he explains. “Avenue had just gone out of the League but were staying full-time. Arsenal were keen so I went down in the summer, they even sorted me out with a 10-year passport so I could join a tour of Sweden and Denmark.

“The problem was I couldn’t settle in London. Not at all, so I came back to Yorkshire. Just my luck that Arsenal won the double that season!”

Dolan started Avenue’s first 17 games in the Northern Premier before the First Division again came calling, this time in the form of Huddersfield Town.

Invited over to Scarborough by manager Ian Greaves to join the squad for a mid-season break, the then 20-year-old put pen to paper in The Grand hotel.

Almost six seasons followed at Leeds Road, two as captain, but it proved an unhappy time for the Terriers, who by 1975 found themselves in Division Four.

Dolan moved on to Valley Parade, where he helped City to promotion before bringing the curtain down on his League playing career at Rochdale.

A move into coaching followed, at first back with the Bantams as youth team manager and then as Trevor Cherry’s assistant. Cherry’s dismissal in January, 1987, saw Dolan handed the reins and what followed is still referred to today in Bradford as “the nearly season” as City missed out on promotion to the top flight in the most agonising of fashions courtesy of a shock home defeat to Ipswich Town when a point would have been enough.

Further heartache followed in the play-offs, the club having to wait another 11 years to win promotion from the second tier under Paul Jewell. “When City reached the Premier League,” says Dolan today, “I do remember thinking, ‘That should have been us’.”

That ‘nearly’ season proved to be the high point of a managerial career that also took in stints at Rochdale, Hull City, York City and Guiseley. His longest stint proved to be at Boothferry Park but life proved tough after he became the victim of a hate campaign among supporters.

“The Needler family had bankrolled the club for years,” he says. “But, six months after I arrived, they suddenly closed the chequebook. It meant we had to develop our own players and sell them on to survive, which we did as Dean Windass, Andy Payton, Peter Swan, Alan Fettis and Roy Carroll all left.

“The problem is when you lose your best players you struggle. And we did at Hull. I was there six-and-a-half years and that is a long time. The last 18 months were hard, probably more so for my family than me. The supporters only wanted one thing and that was change.

“Me and the chairman, Martin Fish, had a good relationship and the fans wanted both of us out.”

York proved similarly frustrating, in the end, but Dolan never grew disillusioned with the game. “The good times are what drive you on,” he says. “If Park Avenue can be in the League by 2020, things will have gone full circle for me and the club. That would be wonderful.”