Taking trip down memory lane as Avenue pay tribute to Hector
Sixty-two years in the Football League saw the club grace the First Division, reach three FA Cup quarter-finals and launch the careers of Len Shackleton, Ron Greenwood and Kevin Hector.
On Monday, the only surviving member of that legendary trio will be honoured by Bradford for the scoring deeds that included 44 goals in one season and four consecutive years as top scorer.
Hector, born in Leeds but happily settled in the Midlands since the end of a playing career that also brought two full England caps, will make a rare return visit to the wool city as his old club pays tribute to a quite remarkable 1965-66 campaign that saw 194 goals scored in just 46 games.
That Avenue finished 11th in Division Four that goal-laden season owed much to the 92 times their own backline was breached – proving, perhaps, that Ossie Ardiles and Kevin Keegan were far from the first managers to build teams that saw defending as an optional extra.
FC Halifax Town will be the visitors to Horsfall on Monday night, fitting opposition considering Hector’s strike partner during that incredible year is current Shay director Bobby Ham.
Between them, the Avenue duo plundered 68 of the 102 goals scored by Bradford. Only 11 of those 46 games ended without either forward on the scoresheet, a fine achievement in a successful side never mind one that finished nine points adrift of promotion in the basement division.
“Kevin was phenomenal – a natural finisher ,” recalls Ham when speaking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of a reunion that will also see the likes of Malcolm Lawton, Malcolm Cook, Terry Dolan and Mickey Walker take a bow alongside Hector as the former England striker watches Avenue for the first time since the night the club re-formed in 1988.
“I look at Raheem Sterling being transferred for £49m and wonder what Kevin would have been worth in today’s prices. Sterling can’t lace Kevin’s boots in terms of goalscoring so I’d say he would have to be worth double what Manchester City paid Liverpool. He definitely deserved to play more times for England.
“As for our time at Avenue, Kevin was a very clever player and we just hit it off as a partnership. Our styles complemented each other, even though neither of us might have been the best header of a ball.
“In many ways, I can’t believe it is almost 50 years since that season when we scored all those goals together. It was unbelievable, really. To score more than 100 goals as a team and not win promotion has to be rare but our attacking style probably left us a bit open.
“It was a shame we couldn’t have been more successful, especially as Kevin moved to Derby not long afterwards. With hindsight, it proved to be the beginning of the end for the club.”
Hector moved to the Baseball Ground just four games into the season that followed his club record haul. Three of those matches had been won, Hector had scored four times and the West Yorkshire outfit were sitting third in the table when Derby’s £40,000 bid was accepted.
By the end of the campaign, a Hector-less Bradford was suffering the ignominy of having to apply for re-election after slumping to 23rd. Three bottom-placed finishes followed, the last of which preceded Park Avenue being voted out of the League in 1970 and replaced by Cambridge United.
Four years after that crushing blow, the club folded and Park Avenue – a ground that had given the club its name and had long been considered in the city to be far superior to Valley Parade – crumbled into a depressing relic.
Today, the iconic Dolls’ House and main stand are long gone while a sports centre covers one half of the old pitch. There are, though, still sufficient reminders amid the rubble of the past four decades to lend a ghostly feel to a ground that hosted no less than six 30,000-plus attendances during its heyday.
Happily, Avenue as a club – tenants at Horsfall Stadium in the south of Bradford for the past 24 years after initially setting up ‘home’ at Manningham Mills, Bramley and Batley – are in much ruder health.
The arrival last January of new owner Gareth Roberts, a Bradfordian and boyhood fan who settled in America and made his fortune in oil, has given Avenue much needed off-field stability.
Next up is a desire to turn Bradford into a genuine facility that benefits the community and is run on fully democratic lines. FC United are the pioneers in this area but more than 40 clubs have since gone down the route Avenue plan to head in the next couple of months.
Director Joe Mosley said: “This is a really exciting period for the club. We want to put football back in control of the fans and the local community, just like it used to be years ago.”
For now, though, the immediate priority is honouring Hector and the quite incredible scoring feats of that season from almost 50 years ago.
“I haven’t seen Kevin since he was sold to Derby so it will be great to catch up,” said Ham, who was denied a possible reunion with Hector at the Rams after the Bradford board vetoed the move fearing a similar outcry.
“No doubt we’ll have a few stories to swap and I’ll probably joke with Kevin that half his goals were really mine.”