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Highs and lows of city sport
Dave Pendleton, one of the organisers of the exhibition, with a life-size cut-out of FA Cup final goalscorer Jimmy Spiers
If you want to be reminded of the sporting choices that were available to Bradford people, and of how the city used to look from above in the days when mills galore spewed out smoke and hardly anyone drove a private car, take a trip to Valley Parade where a special exhibition is recalling the various stadiums, many of them long gone, that used to attract the crowds.
In a series of blown-up photographs taken by C H Wood you can relive the day when Yorkshire cricketers played the West Indies at Park Avenue in 1950, alongside the football ground, which was just across the road from the park's bowling greens and adjacent to Horton Park station on the Queensbury line (all now vanished).
Or you can go even further back, to 1938, when City Stadium - which flattered itself with the title of "The Ascot of the North" - drew the punters to its greyhound racing and also had a cycling track, as did Greenfield Stadium, which is pictured in 1960 towards the end of its life.
There's a photograph of Birch Lane, which used to be home to Bowling Old Lane Rugby Club, and a 1953 one of Scholemoor Stadium at Lidget Green, home of Bradford RUFC, which was later turned into a sports centre, opened in 1983 by Ron Atkinson and Bobby Robson.
Although all the photographs are fascinating, two of them stand out for the historical context in which they're placed. A photograph of Odsal in 1938 reveals the massive earth-moving task involved in building up the embankment on which Rooley Avenue ran between the newly-created stadium and the low-lying open land on which the Richard Dunn Centre was later built.
So fine is the detail on this photograph that you can see a workman painting the rugby posts.
But the finest gem of all is a large image of Canal Road and Bolton Road from 1937 including the Midland Road side of Valley Parade with its half-timbered stand sections. The valley bottom is filled with industry, with smoke from the chimneys mingling with steam from a passing train and the cooling towers of the power station. Houses in those days lined both sides of Bolton Road and the line of the old Bradford Canal can be clearly seen.
There's plenty of memorabilia in the exhibition too: the programme from the 1907 match in which Bradford Northern beat New Zealand at Greenfield, the 1960 programme from the last Bradford derby between Park Avenue and City, the first programme from Odsal, assorted items from the worlds of speedway and stock-car racing, and much more.
The demanding task of putting together this exhibition has been a labour of love for a small group of Bradford City stalwarts for whom "fan" almost seems too mild a word. Dave Pendleton, John Ashton and Mark Neale are steeped in the lore of Valley Parade. With the support of Mike Harrison and the supporters' magazine City Gent they've assembled a splendid record of Bradford's sporting past.
You can see it free of charge in the light and airy space behind the shop, alongside the permanent exhibition chronicling the history of Bradford City from the days at the turn of the 20th century when it moved on from its beginning as Manningham Rugby Club.
Many of the exhibits in this collection, including the excellent information boards written by Dave, were first seen at the Industrial Museum to mark City's centenary in 2003. It was visited by 11,000 people.
"The comments were very favourable. Lots of people said it shouldn't be broken up," said Mark, who describes himself and his colleagues as "football nuts and supporters of Bradford itself."
So Bradford City made a fine, modern space available and the exhibition moved in lock, stock and barrel plus a few additions. Display boards and cases trace the highs and lows of Bradford City. There's the football with which they won the FA Cup in 1911, plus three cupwinners' medals (including that of goalscorer Jimmy Spiers) and a selection of the merchandise that was spawned by the win, including an enamel matchbox sponsored for some reason by Colman's Mustard. And there are photographs of Charlie Harper, trainer of the FA Cup squad, who was also ex-champion sprinter of the world.
Exhibits from the very early years include the club cap of George Lorrimer ("He was the Stuart McCall of his day," says Dave Pendleton) who died of TB in 1897, aged 25. A crowd of 8,000 lined the funeral route.
There's a 1958 contract for James Mellor committing the club to pay him £10 a week. And there's a letter to George Mullholland (1953-60) turning down a request for a free transfer.
The tragedy of the Bradford City fire is treated in a respectful, straightforward way. The glory days of promotion to the Premier League are celebrated. The whole exhibition is a fine account of the ups and down of Bradford City set in the social context of this city of ours.
- The Bradford sports stadia exhibition is at Valley Parade until the end of the year. The Bradford City exhibition is permanent. Both are free of charge and open when the shop is open (Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, Saturday all day during home games, mornings on away-match days, closed Sundays).