LAST weekend confirmed what has frankly looked inevitable for months, a second successive relegation for Bradford (Park Avenue).

They will play in their Northern Premier League East Division next season, as they ply their trade in the eighth tier of English football for the first time since 2008.

It is a sad state of affairs for a club that had established themselves in National League North, where they spent 11 successive seasons from 2012-13.

They reached the play-offs twice too, in 2017-18 and 2018-19, though former captain Luca Havern made the stark admission to the T&A earlier this season that there was a feeling at the club that they were not ready for fifth-tier football in the National League.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Luca Havern played for Bradford (Park Avenue) on the opening day against Macclesfield, but had left before the year was out.Luca Havern played for Bradford (Park Avenue) on the opening day against Macclesfield, but had left before the year was out. (Image: John Rhodes.)

It has been downhill ever since that latter season, with the Covid pandemic nulling and voiding the 2019-20 campaign and stopping certain relegation for Avenue.

A couple of difficult seasons followed, only for boss Mark Bower to instigate late revivals to keep the club up.

But it was third time unlucky, as they went down on the final day of the 2022-23 campaign.

And this season has been a complete disaster, from near season-long injuries to key players like Jamie Spencer, Will Longbottom and Mitch Lund, the sacking of Bower and long-time assistant Danny Boshell after over seven years, almost unbroken, in charge, and disputes and confusion.

The T&A has already reported on a fallout at Horsfall between landlords Avenue and tenants West Bowling, which by all accounts, is still rumbling on.

On top of that, the T&A’s interview with affable, but possibly naïve, owner Gareth Roberts brought up some alarming revelations.

Notably, the fact that Avenue were one of the league’s biggest spenders on contracted players, something American-based Roberts did not even know about initially.

There is no doubt there are positives going on down at Horsfall, not least the stadium being in constant use from other sports clubs, as well as an ever-growing academy.

And with top coaches Tom McStravick and Danny Whitaker leading the operation, Avenue have comfortably one of the best youth set-ups at this level of football.

But as I put to Roberts in January, are people going to send their kids down to BD6 to get a footballing education, or are sponsors and investors going to put their money into the club project, if they see a failing first-team whose only way is down?

And this is the balance Avenue have to strike, and one they are miserably failing to do so.

Their efforts to increase stadium revenue and their academy status have been admirable, but it feels as if the first team has been neglected as a result.

The squad is chronically youthful and lacking experience, while bringing in veteran striker and City legend James Hanson last month, who was retired and not match-fit, did not solve that issue, and ended up making Avenue look a bit silly, as he has not even started a game for them.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: James Hanson (14) has yet to score or start for Avenue.James Hanson (14) has yet to score or start for Avenue. (Image: John Rhodes.)

Roberts has banged the drum about being able to promoted more of the club’s academy players into the first team as one small upside to Avenue being relegated, but as this season has shown, that is just throwing them into the cauldron of men’s football that many of them are not ready for, whether that be the sixth, seventh or eighth tier.

Avenue could do a lot worse than bringing in proven Northern Premier League talent next season, and balancing that with a handful of the club’s young players, not relying on a load of lads in their teens and early twenties to get Avenue back on track.

Bradford are far too reliant on loans as well, whether it be Football League teens joining on work experience and/or players who might only be around for a few games and then leaving again.

Whitaker is a full-time employee at the club, but it is still a lot to ask of him to take on the role he has done, which is to play a key part in coaching the first team and the academy.

Surely, Avenue would be better off getting a specialist youth coach to undertake the latter role (former scholarship lead coach Pat McGuire is on the market having been sacked by Frickey Athletic for example), thus allowing Whitaker to focus fully on the first team and getting them promoted next season?

Crowds will only continue to decrease with Avenue tumbling down the divisions, which would be costly in terms of decreasing matchday revenue, but why bother turning up when the on-field product is not there, and hasn’t been there for a long time?

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: James Pradic celebrates a 3-0 win for he and his Bamber Bridge team-mates in front of a few hardy Avenue fans at Horsfall in December.James Pradic celebrates a 3-0 win for he and his Bamber Bridge team-mates in front of a few hardy Avenue fans at Horsfall in December. (Image: Martin Taylor.)

There are plenty of positives to what Avenue are trying to do as a club, but they are currently coming at the expense of the first team, not complementing it.

And if a second successive relegation does not wake up the club hierarchy to that, then nothing will.