Bradford Park Avenue: a team that returned to life in Cemetery Road

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The Independent Football

John Lennon, President Kennedy, Princess Diana and Bradford Park Avenue. A peculiar combination, it may seem, but just as people recall how they heard the first three had died, so the moment that a small band of football devotees learned of their club's demise as members of the Football League is carved into the memory like a deep cut.

Tim Clapham, an Inland Revenue manager who supported Avenue in their League days and has been a club stalwart since the resurrection 15 years ago, can pinpoint it precisely.

It was June 1970 and he was holidaying in the Lake District, taking afternoon tea by Waswater, when he discovered Cambridge United had been elected in their place.

"It came as a very big shock," recalls Clapham, now Avenue's official historian and public-relations officer, as tomorrow's FA Cup first-round tie at home to Second Division Bristol City draws nearer. "Looking back, though, I don't know how we survived as long as we did.

"The beginning of the end was when Kevin Hector was sold to Derby in 1966. He had scored loads of goals and went on to play for England, but the £34,000 fee was not spent wisely. We finished second-last in the Fourth Division that season and bottom in each of the next three.

"Towards the end it all got a bit silly. The chairman, Herbert Metcalfe, had his heart in the right place but started picking the team himself. When the local paper criticised him, he rang the reporter and suggested he pick it. We lost credibility, which cost us in the vote."

Clapham stayed loyal as Avenue fell into the Northern Premier League. In 1973, however, debts of £55,000 led them to abandon Park Avenue's stylish architecture to share at Bradford City.

"That cost us half the 1,000 fans we had left because many Avenue people wouldn't set foot in Valley Parade. Our better players left. Results went pear-shaped. After one season, the directors decided it wasn't worth carrying on."

A decade and a half passed before healthy sales for The Avenue, a hardback homage co-authored by Clapham, demonstrated a dormant interest in the club.

After meetings organised by the current vice-chairman, Bob Robinson, Avenue re-formed in 1988. Starting in the West Riding County Amateur League, they gradually battled their way back to the Northern Premier (now UniBond).

Horsfall Stadium - in Cemetery Road, conveniently for those who crave a giant-killing - holds 3,000 people and is barely a mile away from where Park Avenue's terraces stand crumbling and engulfed by weeds.

"Our crowds are only 350 and are mainly aged 45-plus, fans from the 1960s," Clapham admits. "We're hoping the Bristol game will raise our profile."

The younger generation may be surprised by Avenue's FA Cup exploits. Since the Second World War they have won 8-2 at Manchester City, 1-0 at Arsenal (then champions-elect) and taken Manchester United to three games, watched by 182,300.

Unlike Accrington Stanley, a legendary name but a club who never climbed above the Third Division, Avenue competed at what is now Premiership level 80 years ago.

Today's side are managed by Trevor Storton, a Bill Shankly buy for Liverpool, and captained by Wayne Benn, who has made 394 appearances for Avenue. They inhabit the lower end of the UniBond Premier, yet won through three qualifying rounds, all away, and prepared for Danny Wilson's team by trouncing Vauxhall Motors 6-2.

Clapham, with a taxman's eye for fiscal stability, would settle for a draw and the revenue a replay at Ashton Gate would bring. "Sheffield Wednesday away would be nice then," he adds, daring to dream again.

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