In West Yorkshire, a name from the past is stirring, and it isn’t doing it in a terribly dignified manner. Bradford Park Avenue, the subjects of a fond article on here before, have starting flexing their financial muscles and have already managed get themselves instated as the favourites for this season’s Unibond League Premier Division championship, and now their millionaire chairman has announced plans to build a 20,000 seater stadium for them. Never mind the fact that Bradford’s average crowds haven’t yet risen above 500 people for home matches. Never mind the fact that their considerably bigger rivals, Bradford City, only required a capacity of a shade over 20,000 when they were in the Premier League. Never mind that the original Bradford Park Avenue collapsed in the early 1970s thanks to a lack of local interest with crowds in their final season in the Northern Premier League in 1973/74 seldom reaching more than 600. Their millionaire chairman, Bob Blackburn, has decided that they deserve a 20,000 capacity stadium, so they will have it – and he’s a millionaire, so he must be right, mustn’t he? Well, Bradford supporters are getting very excited about the possibility of their team challenging for the place in the Football League that the original club lost in 1970, but a cautionary tale from just the other side of the Pennines might just persuade their supporters to approach the future with a somewhat less devil may care attitude than they are currently exhibiting. That example is Colne Dynamoes – probably the most famous boom and bust club of all.
Colne’s story probably couldn’t be more cautionary, and it is a story that mirrors what could yet go wrong for the green and white half of Bradford. Dynamoes were founded in 1963 in the small Lancashire town near Burnley, and for more than twenty of their twenty-seven year long existence, they led a fairly meagre existence, making steady progress through the amateur leagues of Lancashire and into the Lancashire Combination in 1975. Expansion of the North West Counties League in 1982 allowed them to progress in a more senior level of the game, and by the middle of the 1980s they were starting to spend money. The money belonged to manager/chairman Graham White, who had made a fortune from timber and property, and it all went on the team. In 1988 they won the FA Vase, beating Yorkshire club Emley 1-0 at Wembley, and it was at this point that the spending went out of control. Promoted into the First Division of the Northern Premier League, they started spending more than many lower division Football League clubs could afford on players (former Liverpool and England international Alan Kennedy was the most stellar member of a new, full-time team) and won promotion to the Premier Division at the first attempt, suffering just one league defeat all season.
The following season, in spite of more outstanding appearances on the pitch (they reached the semi-final of the FA Trophy and won the NPL Premier Division championship and a place in the Conference, losing just four league matches all season and finishing twenty-six points clear of second placed Gateshead), the cracks were beginning to show. Unbeknownst to anyone at Holt House, White had recently unsuccessfully attempted to buy Burnley but, whilst crowds had swollen to an average of over 1,000, all of the money was going into spending wages (effectively money down the drain) and none of it was going into the infrastructure of the club itself. Colne’s promotion into the Conference was a classic case of too much too soon, but White seemed practically paralysed by the sudden jump up. Holt House, with only a couple of hundred seats and a capacity of just 2,500, was never going to be up to Conference standard, and the club was barred from promotion.
What happened next is open to speculation. We know that White offered Burnley £500,000 to ground-share at Turf Moor, a ridiculous amount of money, and that he then unveiled plan to build a new stadium for the club in the nearby town of Nelson (ironically, the club’s commercial manager during this period, the former Burnley player Paul Fletcher, went on to become one of this country’s leading stadium project managers, overseeing the construction of Huddersfield Town’s Galpharm Stadium and Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena). After this, though, it’s something of a mystery. What we know for sure is that the money seems to have very suddenly run out. The team played a pre-season friendly against Newcastle Blue Star, and after this White called the players in and told them that there was, simply, no more money and that the club was folding – they didn’t even start the competitive 1990/91 season. Holt House survived. It was used by Colne Royal British Legion FC until they in turn folded and a new club, Colne FC, was founded. Colne FC have risen to the First Division of the North West Counties League and made the semi-final of the FA Vase in 2004.
So, Bradford Park Avenue’s supporters will be looking forward to this coming season with extraordinary optimism. However, the question of why Bradford Park Avenue of the Unibond League Premier Division need a 20,000 capacity stadium has not, to my eyes, been satisfactorily answered (short of some vague marketing guff about containing the word “ambition” repeated several times over), and the twin pressures of trying to fund this and spending a lot of money on players (which they have also been doing – you don’t find yourselves installed as favourites to win a league that you have only just been promoted into for no reason, you know) could well, no matter how good or bad the intentions of Bob Blackburn are, turn out to be a castle built on sand.