It once held crowds of up to 30,000 fans and was visited by the likes of Leeds United, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in its time. Park Avenue football ground in Bradford was built in 1880 and became a significant point on the British footballing map. In 1973 it was abandoned when the original club went into liquidation. While the adjoining cricket pitch remains to this day, the football ground became overgrown and derelict as nature took over. Parts of the ground were removed by the council since, but a surprising amount of the original structure was left to rot, providing a fantastic footballing time capsule to explore. Two archaeologists, Jason Wood and Rob Nicholls, plus artist Neville Gabie set about on a mission to unearth Bradford Park Avenue’s lost football ground.
The process of unearthing one of Britain’s lost football stadiums started back in 2013 when Wood and Gabie began excavation on one of the goal mouths and goalposts. The interest in which this first scratch of the surface generated from the local community, some of which were fans who used to stand on the now overgrown terraces, encouraged them to return for a further archaeological dig.
A week-long excavation of the site, funded by The Arts Council, National Football museum, Bradford Council and the city’s university was set up in September 2015. Members of the community were encouraged to attend and bring with them any memorabilia they may have had from the time when the football ground was in use. Artists were also encouraged to attend the site to bring together the memorabilia and stories in their works and pictures too. The results of the dig and the response from the people of Bradford were amazing.
The start of the excavation work on the first couple of days began with a clearance of vegetation on the old terracing at the “Horton Park Avenue” end of the ground, behind one of the goals. Original crash barriers, which would have been on the steps were uncovered. Excavation around the goal mouth uncovered two post holes, where the goalposts would have been; square ones in fact. At the back were lines of hooks buried in the ground which would have held the net in place. Some old pre-decimal coins were found here too, dropped by the crowds which would have once flocked to the ground to watch their team. A concrete pedestal with a metal projection on top was found in the second trench. It is thought this was part of the old two-storey grandstand which was used by both the football and cricket clubs and designed by Archibald Leach.
A geophysical survey of the map showed up where all the pitch markings used to be. Despite no visible chalk markings on view they left a chemical imprint on the soil which still remain all these years later. The dugouts, turnstile and an old toilet block, which still remain, were excavated too.
The project was a real community event, with several primary schools attending to learn about the history of sport in Bradford, along with current Park Avenue fans. Several supporters turned up with old memorabilia. One was a shirt which was worn in the last ever match played by Park Avenue in 1973 and another was a medal won by the club’s first black player, Eddie Parris, back in 1928. A fascinating old aerial photograph of the two grounds, taken in 1950 was brought in by the Bradford Industrial Museum.
The resident artists played an important part in telling Park Avenue’s story. Botanical creative, Louise O’Reilly created a piece of art containing leaves from the nine different tree species which had grown over the terracing in the past 42 years. A recreation of one of the goals scored in the last ever home match held here, a 5-0 defeat to Scunthorpe United and featured a young Kevin Keegan took place. As a climax to the week-long dig, locals were invited to the old ground to form the biggest crowd that had been to the old ground since 1973. Around 150 fans stood on the terrace (in the rain), clapped, cheered and sung songs. Some of them used to stand on the terraces during the club’s heyday.
The findings from this historical archaeological dig will be put on display at the Football Museum in Manchester and then at the Bradford Industrial Museum. The site of the old Park Avenue ground will house extended training facilities for the adjoining cricket club, which are set to open in 2019. Meanwhile, the reformed Bradford Park Avenue continue to play at the Horsfall Stadium and compete in the Conference North.
With thanks to Carl Marsden, Rob Nicholls & the team.
Information and images taken from the online blog http://www.bpadmc.co.uk/category/bpafc-history/breaking-ground-bpa/.
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BPABreakGround/