On the morning of New Year’s Day 2019, Bradford (Park Avenue) were top of National League North.

Fast forward exactly five years, and they were mired in the Northern Premier League Premier Division relegation zone, staring relegation to the eighth tier of English football in the face.

In the last 18 days, it has somehow managed to get worse for Avenue, who have not only lost four games out of four in 2024 already, but also had three points taken off them, after a win over Marske in October was expunged from the records after the North-East side withdrew from the league over financial difficulties.

The upshot of it all means that, as it stands, Avenue sit eight points from safety, having lost all six of their games so far under new boss Danny Whitaker.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Avenue concede to FC United of Manchester in a 4-2 home defeat last Saturday.Avenue concede to FC United of Manchester in a 4-2 home defeat last Saturday. (Image: Martin Taylor.)

Few would bet against a James Bond (007) being notched up tomorrow afternoon, given Avenue travel to fourth-placed Hyde United as massive underdogs.

Avenue were knocked off the summit of National League North on the afternoon of New Year’s Day 2019, with their 10-men losing 2-1 at home to Guiseley.

An indifferent run of form in January followed and their season fell away somewhat but they clung on to finish seventh and reach the play-offs, only to be knocked out in the quarter-finals by Spennymoor Town.

Sadly it has been downhill ever since, and after a couple of relegation near-misses, Avenue eventually dropped out of the sixth tier on the final day of last season following a 2-0 home defeat to AFC Fylde.

Then-manager Mark Bower warned Avenue would be naïve to think they could just storm straight back in an NPL Premier Division containing big-hitters like Radcliffe, Macclesfield and Guiseley.

But surely even the most pessimistic Avenue fans could not have foreseen just how embarrassing this season would turn out to be.

Fans are rightly becoming increasingly frustrated, as the days of Bower’s blue-chip brigade, containing the likes of Nicky Clee, Mark Ross, Luca Havern and Oli Johnson, are now long gone, and officially over altogether after the latter left the club last week.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Luca Havern started this season as player-coach at Avenue, but the experienced defender is no longer at the club.Luca Havern started this season as player-coach at Avenue, but the experienced defender is no longer at the club. (Image: John Rhodes.)

Instead, a collection of young loanees and youthful first-teamers, who Bower even admitted earlier this season are maybe being forced into a leadership role too early in their careers, are desperately fighting against fitter, stronger and more experienced sides in the division.

They are, understandably, simply not coping, and with the Marske result no longer counting, they have officially only won three league games all season, and only once since the end of August.

There is a degree of bad luck to it all, with star defender, but injury-prone, Mitch Lund currently sat out with a shoulder problem, experienced midfield lynchpin Simon Richman leaving for personal reasons in November, and captain George Sykes-Kenworthy understandably taking up an October offer to play in goal for York City, two divisions above Avenue.

But just putting it down to bad luck would be to glaze over some serious issues at Avenue, while also disrespecting those fans who have seen their team plunge from the precipice of the fifth tier to likely eighth tier also-rans in the space of just half a decade.

I’ve spoken to Avenue owner Gareth Roberts a couple of times while he’s been over in England from his Texas base, and we’ll be having a chat again next week, a few days after him attending a couple of meetings with fans, individuals and companies over plans to further cement the BD6 outfit’s plans of making the club a pillar of the Bradford community.

That is objectively an admirable notion, and one I am fully behind.

Welcoming new tenants to use the ground, running youth programmes to educate young footballers and give them a path in the game and hosting workshops and community events are all, for me, what a non-league club should be striving to achieve.

It maximises revenue streams when finances are often tight at this level, it makes them at the centre of the community by getting other individuals and teams involved, and it could set footballing prodigies on the path to greatness.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: There have been very few on-field positives for Avenue over the last five years, but their academy product Myles La Bastide becoming a key first-team figure is one of them.There have been very few on-field positives for Avenue over the last five years, but their academy product Myles La Bastide becoming a key first-team figure is one of them. (Image: Martin Taylor.)

However, many people, including myself, have long feared that all of this might mean a neglected first team.

Roberts has long championed Avenue being a top community club, but he spoke in depth about the first team to me last February, just after a fine 3-1 win over Leamington.

Among other things, he told me Avenue “want to be a very competitive team and want to start winning more”, as well as saying that “if we did get other people in at board level, and increase the budget because of that, I think Mark (Bower) would be able to challenge for promotion.”

The latter hope has spectacularly crashed and burned, but that is understandable given that outside cash injection has not been forthcoming, but Avenue have not even come close to the first, more realistic goal over the past year either.

Roberts also said after relegation last May that the first team were the priority at the club, but given the results over the last five months, and Whitaker’s fury that his side are still forced to play Monday home games to appease their paying tenants, fans could be forgiven for understandably thinking that is not the case.

It is not too late to save Avenue’s season, given they are *only* eight points off safety with a game in hand.

But the board and coaches need to scout long and hard for Richman, Havern and Clee-like players to lead a young side and help them to grind out every single point they can get between now and the end of the season on April 27.

Ultimately, one of the main attractions of a football club in the community is its success on the field.

Avenue can come up with all the initiatives they want, but what could have been a fifth tier club five years ago looks likely to now become an eighth tier one in 2024/25.

And a failing football club, on the pitch, surely immediately makes them a less attractive prospect for outside investors and anyone, be it young players or businesses, wanting to associate themselves with them.