Forgotten Grounds: The Imps and Bradford Park Avenue

In their long history, Lincoln City have played on the grounds of over 200 other clubs in league matches alone, but a large proportion of them no longer exist due to clubs either having gone out of existence or else moved to new grounds, writes Malcolm Johnson.

One that fits both of these categories is Park Avenue, the home of what was properly called Bradford FC but which was usually given the suffix Park Avenue to distinguish it from Bradford City.

The Park Avenue ground shared with Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane and the County Ground at Northampton the distinction of being a venue used for both county cricket and league football matches, although in this case the two pitches were separated quite early on by a double-sided stand being built between them. Cricket was first on the scene, first being played at the ground on Horton Park Avenue in 1880, with football starting two years later on a pitch next to the cricket field.

The original Bradford club was formed in 1863, first playing rugby before switching to rugby league and alternating it with football, playing at Park Avenue. The rugby league side then split off to become Bradford Northern and Bradford FC were formed in 1907.

With the intention of joining the Football League a large-scale redevelopment of the ground then took place at a cost of what in today’s money would be over £1m. The leading football ground architect of the day, Archibald Leitch designed a double-sided stand which was built between the football and cricket pitches. This provided 4,000 seats on the football side with a full-length balcony and a small number of seats on the cricket side. The roof was covered in Welsh slate and had three gables on each side, the two at the ends featuring the shield from the Bradford coat of arms and the one in the centre having a clock on the cricket side and huge golden BFC letters on the football side.

Large uncovered concrete terraces were built behind the two goals, the Horton Park end eventually getting a roof after the Second World War. The least impressive part of the ground was the small covered terrace opposite the main stand which was rather appropriately named the Low Stand. A notable feature was the small building at the corner between the main stand and the open terrace which was on similar lines to the ‘cottage’ at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. Nicknamed the ‘Doll’s house’, it housed dressing rooms, baths, a referee’s room, refreshment facilities and a committee room.

The total capacity of the ground was 37,000, while the cricket ground, which also had plenty of terracing, could hold 25,000 and became a regular venue for Yorkshire matches.

Bradford, however, were initially unsuccessful in applying for Football League membership and for one season became probably the most northerly team ever to take part in the Southern League. They were then accepted into Division Two of the Football League, then the lowest division, for the 1908/09 season and in the February hosted a Home International match between England and Ireland.

As that was one of the seasons Lincoln City were spending out of the league the Imps – or the Citizens as they were known at that time – paid their first visit to Park Avenue in September 1909 following their return to Division Two. A pattern was set with a 4-0 victory for Bradford, and things were even worse the following season with a 6-0 scoreline and City on their way to a bottom place finish and a season in the Central League. Although bouncing straight back again, the Citizens’ fortunes were little better at Park Avenue with 3-0 defeats in each of the next two seasons, 1913/14 seeing Bradford finish second and gain promotion to Division One.

Bradford remained in the top flight until successive relegations saw them host City again in Third Division (North) in October 1922 when inside-right Archie Kean became the first City player to score at the ground in a 4-1 defeat. Lincoln’s losing run continued over the next three seasons with never less than three goals being conceded and never more than one scored, although after another 4-1 defeat in October 1925 the only ever FA Cup match between the two clubs at Park Avenue a couple of months later saw City avoid defeat for the first time with a 2-2 draw. By scoring in both these games centre forward Harry Havelock earned the distinction of being the only City player to score in two separate matches on the ground.

After another typical score of 3-1 to the home side in 1926/27 the following season saw a top of the table clash in December 1927 as Bradford scored their usual minimum of three goals without replay to maintain 2nd place in the table as City slipped to 4th. The season ended with Bradford securing the championship and the sole promotion spot with City runners-up 8 points behind.

Spectators at Park Avenue then enjoyed Second Division football for many years, and the ground’s record attendance of 34,429 turned out on Christmas Day in 1931 to see a local derby between Bradford in 4th place and Leeds United in first. Lincoln City’s two seasons in that division in the 1930s saw them equal their worst ever defeat at Park Avenue, going down 6-0 in the 1932/33 season and more narrowly than usual, by 2-1 as they finished bottom of the division the following year.