The day Avenue met end of road

April 20: 35th anniversary of Football League demise of Bradford Park Avenue

ACCRINGTON Stanley may, thanks to an Eighties television advert promoting milk, justifiably claim to be the most famous of all the former Football League clubs.

But when it comes to deciding who, among the League's alumni, has the most evocative name it would be hard to argue against Bradford (Park Avenue). Formed in 1907, Avenue enjoyed a proud history – spending three seasons in the top flight, being the opponents when Manchester United recorded a record 'home' crowd of 82,771 (in 1949 when United played at Maine Road), chalking up notable FA Cup wins against the likes of Arsenal and also giving future England manager Ron Greenwood his first taste of League football.

Thirty-five years ago today, however, Bradford played what would turn out to be the final game of their 62-year stint in the Football League. Just a few weeks later, Avenue became the first and only Yorkshire club to be voted out of the League and Terry Dolan, then a 19-year-old Avenue player, says it is a time he will never forget.

The former Hull, York and Bradford City manager recalls: "That last game at Aldershot was horrendous. Avenue were having to apply for re-election for the fourth consecutive season and the feeling was it could turn out to be our last game in the League. The credibility of the club had suffered during the season for a variety of reasons and, as players, we were fearing the worst."

That loss of credibility was largely down to the antics of eccentric Glasgow businessman Herbert Metcalfe. Taking over as chairman in October, 1969, Metcalfe soon fired manager Laurie Brown and appointed Frank Tomlinson, a personal friend of his from Manchester with no experience of managing in the Football League.

There were rumours Metcalfe, who was subsidising the ailing club to the tune of 500 per week, picked the team but Dolan says: "I don't know about that because, as players, we weren't that close to the chairman. But Metcalfe did think he could come in and run Park Avenue like he ran his business in Manchester.

"It didn't work out because he had no experience in football.

"It didn't do the credibility of the club any good at all and I am sure that was why the other clubs voted us out of the League."

Despite their poor playing record, it was felt Bradford could earn another reprieve in 1970 and that if any club was to be axed it would be Newport County, the Welsh club having polled 11 less votes than Bradford's 38 the previous year when both were re-elected.

However, Newport polled 31 votes, the same number as non-League Cambridge United, with Avenue claiming just 17.

Cambridge, who ironically look set to be relegated to the Conference this season, were in and Bradford's number of League clubs was slashed in half.

Dolan recalls: "Graham Carr (Avenue's then captain) and I decided to get away at the end of the season so we went on a two-week holiday to Newquay. The re-election meeting took place on the Saturday in the middle of our holiday and the club contacted us at our hotel to say we had been voted out.

"We cut our holiday short and headed back to Bradford straight away – it was a very long trip home as neither of us knew what would happen next."

The Avenue board met the following Monday and successfully applied for a place in the Northern Premier League but within four years the club had folded. The club were re-formed in 1987 and have this season competed in Conference North.

Park Avenue gradually fell into disrepair with the Main Stand and the adjoining Doll's House, which resembled Fulham's Craven Cottage, being demolished in 1980.

The pitch, meanwhile, disappeared under a forest of trees and rubble and, in 1988, hopes of a return to their spiritual home were finally ended when an indoor cricket centre was built on part of the pitch. All that remains now of the old ground is a badly overgrown Horton Park End terrace, complete with turnstile block and concrete floodlight pylon base.

Dolan said: "I managed to play one more time at the ground in the Eighties when the council decided to turn Park Avenue back into a football pitch and cleared all the rubbish away.

"I was coach of a Sunday League team called East Bowling United Club and we played once at Park Avenue. It was an amazing feeling to play there again but also quite sad to see how it had declined.

"When I was a player, there had been talk of both Bradford clubs playing at Park Avenue – the council were certainly in favour. But due to the rivalry, the fans would have nothing to do with it. It was a lost opportunity because Park Avenue was always a better ground with better access."

richard.sutcliffe@ypn.co.uk