Up-and-down era for city sports fans

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Yorkshire’s Brian Close, whose sacking as England’s captain caused controversy Yorkshire’s Brian Close, whose sacking as England’s captain caused controversy

Fabio Capello’s resignation as England manager this week appears to have put a question mark against the future of the national football team.

But 35 years ago an exclamation mark, several of them, were in order because, as everyone knows or should know, England beat West Germany 4-2 after extra time at the old Wembley Stadium, the one with the twin towers, to win the World Cup.

Geoff Hurst scored a hat-trick that humid Saturday afternoon on July 30, 1966, still the only player in the 82 years of the competition to do so.

The national side reached the pinnacle of achievement, but for Bradford City, Bradford Park Avenue and the rugby league side Bradford Northern, the Sixties was a decade of mixed fortunes.

But for the intervention of Lancashire businessman Stafford Heginbotham in 1965-66, City might well have gone out of business. With his ebullient backing the club recovered, culminating in 1968-69 with promotion to the old Division Three (now League One).

The following season, City thrashed Bournemouth 8-1, giving fans more reasons to hope for another climb up the ladder. But it was not to be, City winning only three out of the next 20 matches.

In February 1968, Bradford Park Avenue beat City at Valley Parade. It was to be their last away win as members of the Football League. For three consecutive seasons the club finished bottom of Division Four. The fourth time was to be one too many, and in May 1970, Park Avenue were voted out of the Football League by the other clubs.

Northern did go out of business briefly. In December 1963, during the coldest winter since 1947, Northern’s bank stopped loaning the club money.

The club was reformed following a public meeting at St George’s Hall in April 1964, former players Trevor Foster and Joe Phillips forming a new consortium with the backing of supporters, Bradford Corporation and local business.

Within 12 months Northern won the Yorkshire Cup and went on to consolidate its position during the remainder of the decade.

By 1967, Baildon all-rounder Brian Close had captained Yorkshire to two consecutive county championships and was given the captaincy of England. After winning five out of six Test Matches, Close was sacked as skipper following controversy over alleged gamesmanship during a county match at Warwickshire.

The decision by the MCC resulted in weeks of argument and debate in the letters columns of the T&A. Sacking a man as indomitable as Close was no small matter in those days.

Close had the tough physique of a wrestler, but in the Sixties Bradford abounded with grapplers – Geoff Portz, Les Kellett, Jim Breaks, Alan Dennison, and Dennis Mitchell, to name a few.

On cold Saturday afternoons, ITV’s World Of Sport programme often included wrestling from St George’s Hall, compered by Kent Walton.

Sadly, that went out of fashion. But the grunt-and-groan game survived greyhound racing, which had had a presence in Bradford since 1927.

The sport literally went to the dogs in 1969 with the closure of the Greenfield Stadium at Cutler Heights. The last meeting on March 5 was attended by 4,790.

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