BRADFORD (Park Avenue) have experienced unprecedented success over recent years, but now embark on yet another new journey.

Under the stewardship of Bradfordian Mark Bower, Avenue defied the odds again to make it into the Vanarama National League North Play-Offs for the second successive season.

Since losing in the eliminator, a new era has begun at Horsfall Stadium following Bower’s departure in May.

Bradford City 'History Maker' Garry Thompson has taken over as player-manager, his first role in the dugout. His tenure begins at Curzon Ashton on August 3.

Here we explore what the future may hold for Avenue, while giving a behind-the-scenes look at the club and pre-season.

Bower and challenges at Avenue

The doomsayers once again anticipated Avenue would struggle last season, but Bower made a mockery of those claims to take his side into another seventh-placed finish.

The most impressive facet of their season was the team’s 'stickability' at the top, as shown in the interactive graphic below.

Chorley aside, Avenue were the most consistent team of thoseto finish in the play-off spots, not once leaving the top seven, and spending six rounds of play at the very top.

Eventual winners Stockport County only made it into the top seven after 20 rounds of play, hitting the head of the table for the first time after 33 games.

Avenue were punished for a major slump at the turn of the year and poor form late on, while others were coming good.

The former marked the worst winless streak of Bower’s tenure (seven games), while the latter was longest stretch of straight losses (four).

It highlights the unpredictable and competitive nature of the league, something successor Thompson has already experienced.

The new man declared himself as being ‘very aware’ of the high standard, having played non-league football until he was 26, even spending time in the Evo-Stik Premier last season.

He added: “I went training with Chorley a couple of times at Christmas time last year.

“Then they obviously ended up getting promoted, so I know the quality, I know what it takes and that’s why I’m trying to build a squad that’s prepared for that.”

Avenue can also take heart from the fact they earned a play-off spot despite only using 29 different players – the lowest total since 2000-01 when 28 were used.

Bower left Horsfall having made modest improvements year-on-year, ending with an enviable win ratio of 41.53 per cent across 118 league games.

It leaves a hole for Thompson to fill, particularly considering how Bower struck a chord with Avenue’s loyal fanbase.


In an interview with Bradford (Park Avenue) CEO Damian Irvine, where supporters were able to send in their questions (below), the implication was that Thompson will bring something totally different to the club.

Change after a period of stability tends to give fans, directors and club staff alike the chance to reflect on the club’s standing.

In this sense, Irvine is crystal clear with the main focus for the club moving forward in this new chapter and over the next five years.

He said: “The only target shouldn’t be about where in the leagues we’re going to be and all that, it’s ‘Are we here? Do we have a club?’”

Irvine believes fans of Bolton, Bury and Notts County will be asking similar questions and warns that too many clubs are finding out they’re no longer around – such as the recent loss of North Ferriby.

He added: “The number one target is to have a club and there’s a whole deeper story about what that looks like and why it can be a solid club.

“The fact is, as long as it’s not beholden and reliant on one person, or one company, or one individual to pump up the money, then you’ve got some security as a club.

“Every bit of work we’re doing, everything we’re focused on is that. In the worst case scenario, if the funding stopped tomorrow, and there’s a million things that could cause that – personal, business, global financial crisis, who knows – the number one goal is there would be a club.”

Irvine also made a frank admission about the club’s finances, despite the success of the last two seasons. He said: “The club’s gone backwards during that period. It’s costing a lot of money and is losing hundreds of thousands a year.”

But Avenue have grown in a number of other ways – such as commercially, with community groups and with the juniors and in schools.

A return to the club’s original red, amber and black home strip, also shows the directors have the fans at heart.

But perhaps more important was the move to placate Avenue’s 'Green and White' army by releasing an updated take on last season’s home jersey as the away kit for this season.

Two traditional colours, one community club pulling in the same direction.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

A new era

With Thompson relatively unknown in the managerial game prior to his arrival, the T&A got to interview him and gave supporters the chance to pitch their questions to the new boss.

Thompson walked into a situation where only three players were signed on from the previous season. That became two early on.

The sale of fans’ favourite Conor Branson caused much malign among supporters and it’s clear to see why when you assess his figures across the season.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Only Jake Beesley played more minutes in the league.

Branson became a symbol of consistency and went from impressive trialist to game-changing goalscorer throughout the campaign.

But, as Irvine indicated, the wellbeing of the club is the ultimate priority and in non-league football players must ultimately be treated as assets.

Branson’s contract was extended just before February when the club became aware of interest in the midfielder, says Irvine.

The CEO added: “The smart thing to do is tie up those players for another season – no player at this level will sign a three-year deal, two-year deal, is very rare.

“Interest came in during the summertime, we said no quite a few times.

“But at some stage, you’re there to sell on your asset.”

Lewis Knight and Alex Hurst – the other two players to stay on this year – were also trialists alongside Branson and Irvine says it’s the club’s job to unearth more gems.

He added: “That’s what we’re here for, we’re not going to be able to hold onto our best players for four or five years and at this level that’s not really a model that’s going to be successful.”

A small squad and high turnover throughout the season are part-and-parcel of life at Avenue and Thompson was tasked with pulling together a squad of around 18 to 19 by Irvine.

The roster now sits at 16 – the minimum registered number needed for the league – with a couple more rumoured to be joining the pack soon.

Thompson used his wealth of contacts and knowledge of the professional game to bring in players with Football League experience.

He feels the signings have been attracted to the management’s positive playing philosophy and the chance to excel.

Answering supporters' questions, Thompson said: “I know fans will have their reservations about the age of some of the signings, but I can guarantee that it won’t be through lack of effort, or anything like that, why we’re not successful this year.

“I’m confident in the boys I’ve signed, I’ve vetted them myself in terms of what they’re like character-wise.

“That’s the biggest thing – are they going to wilt under pressure?

“I wouldn’t have brought boys in that I thought were going to do that.”

During pre-season, Thompson and Gardner have brought in changes – in terms of gym sessions and training intensity – to create a professional atmosphere in a part-time world.

The camaraderie between the squad was clear from the off.

During a shooting drill, players had to pay a fine every time the ball was lofted out of the training pitch (see below).

But the rewards are now being reaped even more with the side gelling more game-by-game, culminating in Avenue playing some scintillating football in their latest friendly against Bradford City.

The question remains though, how much of a part will the duo play on the pitch this season?

Both have indicated the main priority will be the team, but that they’d always be ready if needed.

Thompson said: “I still feel like I’ve got games in me, I feel good, I feel strong.

“One thing that the boys have bought into is that fact that I’ve been out there training with them, done the running, I’ve been out there every step of the way.

“Not just standing at the side and putting them through their orders.

“I’m out there doing it with them, so they know how fit I am, they know how driven I am.

“But, I’ll make my decision based on pre-season – if I go and score a few goals between now and the start of the season then obviously I’d be stupid to look at not playing.

All-in-all, what Thompson lacks in managerial experience, he makes up for in professionalism and a determination to make Avenue exciting again.

The manager’s first proper test will come next Saturday, when he takes his side to Curzon Ashton for the opening game of the season.

Fans' View on Avenue

BRADFORD (Park Avenue)'s loyal fanbase are the lifeblood of the club.

Supporters of the historic side have experienced a spectrum of emotions across Avenue's timeline - from the darkest of days to the recent heady heights of two successive play-off bids.

As the club now embarks into a new era, the T&A asked a number of fans questions about the summer overhaul, Garry Thompson, and their expectations for the coming season.

The overwhelming feeling is one of tempered optimism, despite stepping into the unknown.

John Pierre has witnessed much success in his two years as a season ticket holder and feels that can continue despite the change.

He said: “We had a good run under Mark Bower last year in getting to the play-offs, and the season before that as well.

“So I’m quite hopeful that we can do something this season.

Father and son duo Philip and Daniel Doynes expect a slight dip, but don't fear the worst.

Philip said: "I think we might be able to do something actually – it’s a big change, a massive change, but I think we’ll be okay.

"I’m not downhearted or anything. A lot of people have been despondent, but I’m not, I don’t think so, I think we can go quite well."

Carl Marsden, a fan of 12 years, said: "We’ll have to see how it goes this season really – we’ve lost a lot of the old squad which is obviously a promotion-winning side – well they had the opportunity to win a promotion.

"Especially under a manager like Bower who’s been tried, tested and proven that he can do it.

"So it is a big shock to lose someone like that, but if we all get behind Garry we should hopefully be able to do something similar this season."

Steve Stanworth, who has been a regular since six-years-old, feels last season was Avenue’s best opportunity and that this year will be about stability.

He said: “I’m a bit anxious really, we’ve got a whole new squad – I think we’ve only got two players from last year.

“I’ve watched three or four of the pre-season games and we’re just starting to gel a little bit, but I do think we lack that old head in midfield, at the moment.

“But as the season goes, I think we might just about stay mid-table this year and it’ll be a good season for us.”

This marks Thompson's first managerial position and the former Bantams man also comes in as part of the playing staff.

It's a new direction for Avenue after the experience of Mark Bower, but many can't see it holding Thompson back.

Daniel Doynes said: "We’ve had people like that in the past and they’ve managed to do okay for the club.

"He’s got the knowledge and brought some decent players, so he might not have managed, but he’s got the knowledge of what to actually do, so I think he’ll do okay."

Tony and Angela Allsopp with grandson Tom Bailey were all in agreement that Thompson being new to the game was an exciting prospect, while Tony added it’s good to get new blood in.

Tom said: “Only time will tell, won’t it? You see how it goes so far, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.

“Tons of ex-players have ended up going on and it’s the knowledge and understanding which will make them a decent manager.”

Tony added: “Being a footballer as well, he’ll have connections where he’ll be able to bring people in because he’s Thompson.”

That is exactly what the new manager has done, and supporters have been able to feast their eyes on their new heroes thanks to a busy pre-season schedule.

Daniel Doynes is pinning his hopes on two of Avenue’s earliest pre-season signings.

He said: “Matty Clarke’s looked quite good on the wing for us this pre-season so far – he’s looked really promising.

“Ben Hedley scored a cracking free-kick against Sheffield Wednesday, so they were two that stood out to me, apart from the couple who returned from last season as well – they were two good players we kept.”

Meanwhile, Marsden feels new goalkeeper Jack Bennett has a lot of potential but has also been impressed with the continued form of one of the old boys.

He said: “We’ve retained players like Lewis Knight – absolute key to the team, with him running up and down the wing, he’s dangerous.

“It looks like Cresswell could be quite a good signing – a big, stocky centre-back, something that we probably have lacked a bit in recent years.

“It’s still early days, we need to watch them and see what we can get from them.”

Meanwhile, Tony and Angela Allsopp with grandson Tom Bailey are happy with movements off the pitch.

Bailey said: "I’m feeling really positive. There’s tons of redesign going about, we’ve gone back to the original Bradford colours, being black, red, yellow.

"It’s great to see money actually being pumped into the club – improvements to the stadium, the ground – so it should be a good season coming up."

Tony concurs and has dreams of a return to former glories for the side, after seeing another sponsorship deal struck, as Devils River Resources will appear on the sleeve of kits.

He said: “Over the last few years, I think Avenue have just plodded along for too long. There hasn’t been no major investment.

“So, hopefully with a bit more money coming in we can get up that league table and get up into the next league and hopefully get back in the football league.”


John Pierre: Play-offs and promotion

Steve Stanworth: Mid-table

Daniel Doynes: 8th-12th

Philip Doynes: 10th

Steve Stanworth: Mid-table

Tom Bailey: Play-offs

Angel Allsopp: “You only play to win.”

Tony Allsopp: 1st

Carl Marsden: Mid-table