AS the new football season gets underway, DAVE WELBOURNE looks at the origin of the Kop:

Nowadays, because of sponsorship, football grounds change their name along with the stands surrounding the pitch. Valley Parade is now the University of Bradford ground,but to die-hard fans it will always be Valley Parade, and the main stand behind the goal will always be the Kop. My season ticket states that it’s the Kop North Stand.

Most football grounds have a Kop, usually behind the goal and accommodating most home fans. The most famous is probably the Kop at Anfield. But where does the term ‘Kop’ originate?

In 1900, Britain was in the Boer War against the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. On the evening of January 23, during the Second Boer War campaign, the British advanced on Spioen Kop, 38km west of Ladysmith, which was held by the Boers. It became known as Spion Kop from the Dutch for ‘Spy Hill’.

The British army of 1,700 men, regarded as one of the finest in the world, was up against around 8,000 ragged farmers descended from the Dutch. Commanded by Major General Woodgate, they marched in temperatures of 100 degrees, passing four hills: Goenkop, Conical Hill, Spion Kop, Twin Peaks. The Boers were encamped on Goenkop, part of the Spion Kop. The British plan was to sneak up one of the faces of the Spion Kop in silence. The ascent was slow, scrambling on hands and knees.

Once at the top, the British had a commanding view of the Boers’ position. But as dawn rose the following day, the crest of the hill was shrouded in mist from low-lying cloud. The British could see nothing. When the mist began to lift, tragedy followed. The Boers were in a commanding position, and began to open fire with three guns. British soldiers had insufficient protection. Bunched together, they were easy targets. The result was a shambles, resulting in 340 killed, 1,000 wounded, and 163 taken prisoner. It was one of a series of blunders by the British High Command under Sir Redvers Bullers. The slaughter took place in a field no larger than a football pitch. The survivors who battled through relentless shelling and sniper attack, in searing heat with little water, retreated down the hill at the end of the day.

At the time, professional football was becoming a popular spectator sport for the working-classes. The Boer War had seen many working men join up to escape poverty and unemployment, and numbers from the North never returned. Survivors began to name stands at football grounds the Kop, because of the banks of earth on which silhouettes of fans stood, reminiscent of soldiers standing along the hill at the Battle of Spion Kop. So the Kop became a kind of shrine to the men of the Boer War.

The first ground to have a Kop was Woolwich Arsenal’s Manor Ground (1904). In 1906, the editor of the Liverpool Echo, referred to the wall of earth at Anfield as the Spion Kop. Soon other football and rugby clubs followed. The Liverpool Kop held 25,000 spectators. Aston Villa’s Holte End and the South Bank at Molineux would house up to 30,000. As a result of the Hillsborough and Valley Parade tragedies, football grounds in the higher divisions had to be all seater (Taylor Report) so traditional Kops disappeared. The old Anfield Kop was demolished in 1994, replaced by the present stand which seats 12,390 fans.

* Next Saturday Dave looks at the Boer War link to Bradford City, and how the ground developed over the years.