MEMOIRS OF AN OLD YARD DOG
THE 21st ANNUAL REPORT OF THE BRADFORD SUPPORTERS CLUB (ELLESMERE PORT BRANCH)
My new season started in Shropshire in early July watching TNS representing
Wales in the Europa league against Fram of Iceland. Sun-drenched Oswestry and
its plastic pitch was as far away as you could imagine from rainy Reykjavik,
where I once got drenched watching the Fram – Valur derby. The Icelanders
spawned a 2-1 win to go through on aggregate and celebrated as if they had won
the trophy itself.
My first visit to Horsfall ended in depression as we went down 2-0 to Manningham
in our first PSF. We held their first team to 0-0 in the first 45 minutes then
succumbed to their reserves in the second half. More poor PSF results ensued in
games which, thankfully, I missed.
As a member of the "92 club", there were, as ever, new grounds to do. Thus I
found myself sunbathing on the crowded beaches of Barry Island awaiting the
opening of the new Cardiff City Stadium. The Barry Railway Centre, sadly, was
boarded up but thankfully this has reopened this year. Sadly fear of swine flu
would keep me away from further big games for quite a time until I got my jab.
I was delighted to find that Avenue's season proper was to start at Buxton as
this coincided with the town's Gilbert and Sullivan festival. The home club
looked to have won the game with an 87th minute Gavin Knight goal, but Avenue
gained an unlikely point when they equalised with an Andy Campbell goal. There
was still time for Buxton to have a goal disallowed and then miss another
sitter, and also for Avenue's star centre half Amjad Iqbal to dislocate his
shoulder. This was to keep him out of the side until early October and give a
chance to young Simon Ainge, signed from Manningham, to establish himself in the
team. After the game it was down to the Opera House to see a rare performance of
Having just missed out on the play-offs in 2008/09, Avenue fans were looking for
better things this season under the leadership of Lee Sinnott and John Deacey. I
was not as optimistic as most, having lost players such as Tom Baker, Rory
Patterson, Steve Connors and Jon Worsnop over the course of the last few months.
However supporters were in raptures at Horsfall two days later as Avenue stormed
to a 3-0 half time lead against FC United. The Rebels somehow managed to pull
two goals back late in the game, but the scoreline flattered them.
After a very comfortable 2-0 home win against newly relegated Hucknall, Avenue
made a Monday night trip to Westmorland to face the highly fancied Kendal Town.
The match was broadcast live on Radio Cumbria in stark contrast to the lousy
press and radio coverage that Avenue enjoy in West Yorkshire. Avenue played
superbly in the first half in a fast and open game but could only manage a
scrambled goal from Chris Hall. The home team changed tactics at half time and
became much more dangerous, eventually scoring a deserved equalizer. Stephen
Downes then squandered a golden chance to win the game for Avenue from the
penalty spot when his shot was saved. Penalties would come to haunt Avenue as
the season progressed.
The Premier Division started with just 21 clubs following the late demise of
Newcastle Blue Star who were based at the Kingston Park rugby union ground. The
Football Foundation had demanded the return of the £60,000 it had provided for
improvements at the club's former Wheatsheaf Ground, which the club was unable
to meet. Thus an organisation purporting to help football clubs actually killed
one off (allegedly).
Avenue thus found themselves with a free date in late August and were honoured
when the FA asked us to play a Friday night friendly against the visiting
Trinidad & Tobago Under 20 side. The young Soca Warriors were preparing for the
junior World Cup in Egypt. Avenue put on Caribbean dancers and a steel band for
this prestige event but only 200 spectators bothered to turn up. Avenue won 2-1
thanks to a spectacular Luke Gibson overhead kick. But the dancers didn't bother
as it was raining. A barely recognizable Avenue side in dayglow yellow was
reduced to 10 men after Luke Gibson limped off and Lee Sinnott had used all his
eight subs. The game ended with the surreal sight of the three man steel band,
huddled in the rain and cold under Bob's balcony, playing Leonard Cohen's
Halleluiah to an empty stadium. A couple of months later, our visitors were
beaten 4-1 by Egypt U20s in Alexandria in front of 80,000 spectators.
Our good start to the season ended on Bank Holiday Monday when the side lost 2-1
at home to North Ferriby. This was a bad tempered game in which James Knowles
was sent off for fouling our nemesis Gary Bradshaw. Bradshaw scored the winner
from the spot. Avenue had been appalling. Another dreadful Horsfall display five
days later saw us lose 1-0 to Ashton United.
I set off for nearby Nantwich in the pouring rain and was relieved to see that
the pitch looked in excellent condition when I got in. However with the players
warming up and Avenue looking up for it, the floodlights suddenly failed.
Apparently the new Weaver Stadium is not on the mains. Half an hour later the
game was called off as they couldn't find an engineer to fix the generator. The
crowd then queued up to leave the ground and pick up their refunds. This was
managed very well.
After strolling to a routine 4-1 FA Cup win against fallen giants Bishop
Auckland, Avenue faced a tough test against Boston United who were a league club
until 2007. United brought a large and noisy contingent of fans for a Monday
night but they were rivalled by an enthusiastic bunch of local youngsters not
often seen at Horsfall. Sadly they showed their lack of knowledge of Avenue
history by chanting "Football League and you ****** it up", much to the
amusement of our visitors. Boston dominated for long periods, but Luke Gibson
earned Avenue a valuable point with a 94th minute equalizer.
The Conference is developing a habit of dumping strong clubs into the NPL for
transgressions of its many regulations, instead of relegating its failures. Thus
Kings Lynn followed Boston and, ridiculously, were placed in the NPL instead of
the Isthmian or Southern Leagues. They have a superb ground, well up to 4th
division standards, but apparently the floodlights were too weak and the
dressing rooms too small.
I spent many hours on the internet trying to find a way of reducing the £80+
return fare from Ellesmere Port. I got this down to just over £40 by buying a
series of four day returns, rebooking at Chester, Birmingham and (bizarrely)
Stamford. Not the shortest or fastest route, but I made a minus two minute
connection at Ely which gave me an hour's extra drinking time. This was spent
watching the locals stepping out on to the mud to catch the little ferry across
the river to West Lynn.
On a scorching September day, Kings Lynn took Avenue apart scoring three goals
in nine minutes. The rout was only halted when home striker Anthony Robinson was
sent off. Aiden Savory scored a late consolation goal. I missed the five o'clock
train home, so jumped on an express bus to Peterborough. The driver refused to
accept my return train ticket even though the service is shown in the national
rail timetable. When I alighted the Peterborough - Birmingham train at New
Street, I was surprised to see Anthony Robinson getting off as well. Maybe he
caught the 1700.
2009/10 was not a great year for foreign matches but I did get to see BK Häcken,
the smallest of Gothenburg's four premier league clubs, draw 0-0 with Kalmar FF.
I had to pick up my ticket from the ice rink some miles away and then found that
my seat did not exist. Fortunately there were only 2,000 there and we were all
given a free CD on entry.
Conference North strugglers Harrogate Town were next up at Horsfall in the FA
Cup. Avenue restored a little bit of pride by dispatching our local neighbours
4-0, thus gaining revenge for our 6-0 West Riding Cup Final defeat in 2007. A
week later Avenue went nap against Matlock.
Avenue returned to Buxton in the FA Cup, giving me the chance to do the
miniature railway in the local park. Buxton probably has England's most
expensive chip shop, charging over £5 for steak pudding, chips, peas and gravy.
Avenue let a two goal lead slip and so the teams had to come back to Horsfall
for a replay. Avenue played poorly in the return and lost 1-0 to a late penalty
when keeper Steve Dickinson brought down a visiting forward instead of clearing
the ball. With a winnable home draw against Hucknall or Stourbridge awaiting in
the fourth qualifying round, it was an expensive mistake to make.
Manager Lee Sinnott left the club after the game, the official line being that
he resigned. Fans sadly had lost confidence in the ex-Manningham stalwart, with
the quality and the style of football getting worse from week to week. The club
lost no time in promoting assistant manager John Deacey back to the top job, a
position he had occupied while Sinnott was trying to sort out his contractual
wrangle with Port Vale. I thought this was a good move. The club needed
continuity and John had done well prior to Sinnott's arrival.
The FA Trophy is heavily weighted toward Conference clubs. NPL Premier clubs
join at the last 256 stage meaning they have no realistic chance of reaching
Wembley. Nevertheless it was a big disappointment to lose at home to NPL-1N side
Clitheroe for the second successive season.
Unfortunately former club captain Gary Kershaw passed away in October. This was
very sad as he was still a young man in his 40's.
John Deacey's first signing brought former Avenue favourite Rory Prendergast
back to the club, but the well regarded Mark Bett had to go back to Guiseley to
balance the books. This did not turn out well and Rory soon left with only the
odd substitute appearance to his name. Meanwhile struggling striker Andy
Campbell was loaned out to Whitby never to return. Our Alan Shearer look alike
had just one goal to his name, A few weeks later, Simon Ainge was deemed surplus
to requirements and followed Mark to Nethermoor. This was a decision the club
would come to regret.
The introduction of a connecting bus between Middlewood tram terminus and the
Bracken Moor Lane ground has made Stocksbridge one of the best drinking trips of
the season. A 3-2 win, which was much easier than the score suggests, was
preceded and then celebrated at the various excellent real ale pubs in Kelham
Island and Hillsborough. The £3.50 DayRider ticket is a great bargain.
Newly promoted and highly fancied Durham City lost their main sponsor at the
start of the season when the Conference said they would be ineligible for
Conference North as they had a plastic pitch. Rather than throw in the towel,
they decided to soldier on with a team of juniors who were totally out of their
depth. This was quite difficult to understand as many Northern league sides
manage to put out competitive sides on very small budgets. Avenue put seven past
them but City did score a very good goal in reply.
Retford United, the other promoted side, posed a far greater threat a week
later. Avenue started well but missed a couple of early chances, including a
penalty, and were slowly stifled out of the game. Retford won 1-0. This was
Avenue 6th home defeat of the season, nine if you include PSFs, and yet the joy
and light brigade were still talking of promotion. Me and the other "doom and
gloom club" merchants, on the other hand, were beginning to think about
I ended up taking my summer holiday in November after my planned trip to
Kyrgyzstan was called off in October due to lack of numbers. I am pig sick about
this as Kyrgyzstan has since gone loopy and is now off the radar for most tour
operators. As per usual, Avenue put together an excellent spell while I was away
beating Worskop, Frickley and Nantwich, not to mention a crazy 6-5 win at
Silsden in the West Riding Cup. Apparently some people left that game early
because they were bored.
Avenue received a less welcome boost in November when high flying Kings Lynn
were wound up in the High Court thanks to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs who
pursued them for an unpaid £77,000 tax bill. I despise the way HMRC go after
small clubs like King's Lynn and Halifax and Scarborough, and of course the old
Avenue, while letting the likes of Leeds and Manningham get away with debts
running into tens of millions. Avenue's 3-1 defeat at The Walks was thus
expunged leaving our club unbeaten away in league matches.
I returned in time to see Avenue complete a double against Nantwich. I then made
the long train trip to Boston which is harder than it used to be since they
split the former Crewe – Skegness service into three separate portions. Boston
and FCUM still employ crowd segregation, so all the Avenue fans were huddled
into the old stand behind the goal. Interestingly the match was sponsored by
Regal Fish of Grimsby who deliver to my house in Ellesmere Port. Small world.
Avenue played well and won the game 1-0 with a Stephen Downes penalty thanks to
a rare and excellent clean sheet. Suddenly Avenue were second in the league. How
had that happened?
The side was without Amjad Iqbal for these two games as he was away on
international duty! Ammers was selected to play for Pakistan in the South Asian
Football Championship in place of Zesh Rehman, who opted to stay at home and
play for Manningham. He thus became the first Avenue player to gain a full
international cap since Mick McGrath in 1967. Mick won two caps while with
Avenue and ended up working for Thwaites wonderful brewery in Blackburn.
The games were played at Dhaka's Bangabandhu National Stadium in Bangladesh. The
green shirts lost their first game 1-0 to Sri Lanka after missing an 88th minute
penalty. Half the match reports said Amjad missed the kick, the other half said
it was Adnan Farooq Ahmed of Ferencváros. This miss was to prove fatal as
Pakistan finished third in their group despite drawing 0-0 with Bangladesh and
thumping minnows Bhutan 7-0. The three games were played in the space of five
Avenue's season then suddenly stopped. King's Lynn's demise led to a blank
Saturday and then winter set in. Fortunately the NHS had finally got round to
allowing me a swine flu jab four months or so after I first enquired so I could
at last go to some first division matches (or whatever they are called now)
without the risk of picking up the plague.
Guiseley were the season's dark horses in the league but were many games behind
the pack due to their excellent cup form. Supporters were therefore looking
forward to the Boxing Day derby at Horsfall. Unfortunately Bing Crosby's dreams
finally came true and the north of England was covered in snow by Christmas Eve.
I was thus marooned in Ellesmere Port on Christmas Day and so paid my first
visit to the local parish church since I moved across town over 20 years ago.
In a desperate attempt to get the game on, the club hired a snowplough as the
ground was not believed to be frozen. Sadly the pitch was much softer than
expected and the wheels sank below the surface forming deep ruts. The referee
had no option but to call the game off at 1.45 pm. This was an embarrassment to
the club as it had just announced on Radio Leeds and the various websites that
it was definitely on. Sensitivities were very high for a few days afterwards.
The club lost a stalwart in the winter when club secretary Steve Burnett had to
step down due to work pressures. I would personally like to thank Steve for
saving me many a wasted journey by sending me text messages whenever matches
were called off. Not many secretaries put so much effort into looking after
The cold winter continued and I didn't see Avenue again until the end of
January, missing a 3-1 win at Matlock. Avenue easily dispatched Marine, who were
in free fall, before making the journey to Burscough, a lucky ground where we
have never been beaten. I went the long way round via Kirkby and Wigan Wallgate,
and returned via Southport, in order to do track I hadn't done for decades.
This was not to be Avenue's lucky day, even though we won 2-0, the game ending
minutes before dense fog enveloped the ground. James Knowles, one of the best
defenders in the league, picked up a serious injury in a clash of heads which
was to leave him with double vision. We were not to know it at the time but
James missed the rest of the season and this had a huge impact on our
championship chances. Left back Martin Drury was also injured that day and
missed several matches. And Burscough had a man sent off without me noticing. Am
I going senile?
North Ferriby was a little too far for me to travel on a Tuesday night. Avenue
made a great start going 2-0 up in the first 10-15 minutes, only to be pegged
back to 2-2 in the blink of an eye. Ferriby went on to win 4-2 and were
apparently a class above us.
One of the highlights of the season was the trip to Durham, spoilt only by the
obscenely high rail fares charged by TransPennine. Durham play on a plastic
pitch on a newish ground in an out of town industrial estate. No trace remains
of the two grounds they used in the Football League, Kepier Haughs and Holiday
Park, nor of their later Ferens Park. Avenue were expected to win easily and
duly obliged with a 7-0 victory. However our CEO Bob Blackburn was so impressed
with the never-say-die spirit at the club that he agreed to sponsor them next
Lee Sinnott made a lot of mistakes in his short time at Hosrfall, the worst of
which was allowing star striker Rory Patterson to go to Droylsden. Rory moved on
to Coleraine in the summer where his 41 goals won him the Northern Ireland
Golden Boot award. Rory would also have won the European version if Irish League
goals had counted as Barcelona's Lionel Messi only scored 34. Rory was named the
Football Writers Player of the Year and also won a full international cap. He
came on as a substitute in the Albania vs Northern Ireland friendly in Tirana's
Qemal Stafa Stadium which I picked up on NI regional TV. I have a soft spot for
Albania as it was there in 1981 that I first developed my penchant for
Stocksbridge might easily have beaten Avenue at Horsfall had they not missed an
early penalty. The 2-0 scoreline flattered us. After that, the green and whites
faced a March and April fixture list full of six pointers. The first saw us
visit Retford United, a club who had come from nowhere to the NPL Premier.
Cannon Park is little more than an open field miles out of town and the last bus
leaves just after 1.30pm. With no decent beer on sale, it was a very long wait
for kick-off. Avenue started badly and conceded an early goal. Popular
midfielder Rob O'Brien equalised with a long shot which took a wicked
deflection. Despite being second best for most of the game, we could easily have
won the game in the last few minutes. With no buses back to town, I then made
the two mile walk back to the station using the towpath of the little known
Chesterfield canal. Fortunately there was a Bateman's pub en route.
The local football scene was shocked in early March when near neighbours Farsley
Celtic were formally disbanded. A consortium had been close to pulling the club
out of administration but the stumbling block, allegedly, was the very high fees
demanded by their administrators. Maybe they should have chosen the firms that
Manningham and Leeds used. The T&A website reported that Kelvic had also put in
a bid for Throstle Nest. The new stadium at Phoenix Park had been quietly put to
rest a few weeks earlier.
Most of Celtic's players went to Harrogate Town, but Avenue picked up Ryan
Serrant, son of former Avenue and Farsley player Carl Serrant, and we also
re-signed Dominic Krief. However neither was given much of a chance by John
Deacey. Kevin Sanasy had also come and gone as newcomers struggled to force
their way into the squad.
The whole non-league world was saddened by the death of Avenue's most famous fan
Ronnie Bottomley, just a few weeks after his cameo appearance on BBC's Muslim
Driving School where we was spotted in his Avenue coat on a number 576 bus.
Sadly the shrieks of "Mark `em tighter", which once adorned the team minibus,
and "Keep `em out" will no longer resound around Horsfall. A minute's applause
(I must admit I prefer silence) resounded around the ground before the Worksop
game. It took a wonder goal from Rob O'Brien to see off our homeless visitors an
hour or so later. A few weeks later Avenue also lost former Supporters Club
secretary George Hudson, who did so much to keep the club alive in the 1960's
The club's much maligned website and programme showed slight improvements in
2009/10 but there were still concerns about accuracy and match statistics. I
hope Tim Clapham is keeping proper records for his next book. I also disliked
the unconventional and confusing way that away results were tabulated with the
home team's score first instead of Avenue's.
The harsh winter led to a backlog of fixtures despite the league being two clubs
short. The league seemed loathe to rearrange games in midweek in the winter
preferring April dates instead. As a consequence, Avenue only played two midweek
league games between the end of October and the beginning of April. This left
the April fixture list vulnerable to congestion due to Mickey Mouse cup
competitions and spring postponements. Avenue thus faced a crowded April after a
waterlogged pitch caused the postponement of the Buxton game in late March.
Midweek football resumed with a visit to Gigg Lane to visit Manchester United's
tribute team. Avenue continued their excellent unbeaten run against the Rebels
with a superb 5-1 victory. Avenue's new stand-in centre half Mark Hume was the
hero casing chaos in the box with his height and scoring an excellent hat trick.
But Amjad Iqbal exacerbated his ongoing injury and would play little further
part in the run in. Avenue's defensive woes were beginning to look serious.
I had to take an unwanted holiday to Luxembourg and north-east France in late
March to stop my Eurostar points expiring. I thus ended up watching games at
Metz and Nancy-Lorraine, Europe's girliest club, instead of going to Ashton. The
ticketing arrangements were quite varied even though both games were sold
online. While Metz let you print off your tickets at home, Nancy made you buy a
magnetic ground entry card similar to those used at Eastlands.
Ashton was the turning point of Avenue's season. The home side were gifted a 3-0
lead with our normally reliable veteran keeper Steve Dickenson following his
howler at Gigg Lane with another poor performance. Despite pulling back a
controversial goal, the Ashton keeper being sent off, and the stand-in gifting
Chris Hall a second, the side couldn't find an equaliser. Guiseley had caught
Avenue at the top of the league which we now only led on goal difference.
Lack of options forced the manager to start with Mark Hume at centre half
against play-off contenders Kendal Town, even though he wasn't fully fit. Mark
was replaced after 12 nightmarish minutes. Town soon took advantage racing into
a two goal lead. However two goals either side of half time from TV actor Chris
Hall unexpectedly brought Bradford level. Spurred on by impressive new winger
Lee Elam, Avenue grabbed all three points when another new signing, Craig
Bellamy look-alike Damien Reeves, cracked home an excellent winner from the edge
of the box.
The scene was thus set for High Noon. Avenue had to play closest rivals Guiseley
twice in three days in matches which would almost certainly decide the
destination of the NPL title and with it, the one automatic promotion spot.
Avenue fans boosted the light loadings on the Easter Monday trains from Forster
Square to Nethermoor, swelling the gate to almost 1,300. A pre-match visit to
Harry Ramsdens was de rigeur, but to be honest I much preferred the fish and
chips at the chippy at Odsal Top, which I go to before midweek home games. You
can't beat haddock and chips fried in beef dripping.
Avenue made the best possible start taking an early lead with a Brice Tiani
header. The defence had a makeshift look with all its recognized centre halves
injured. But with striker Aiden Savory and little midfielder Jamie Price filling
the gap, the side looked well in control until the referee awarded Guiseley a
very dubious penalty for an incident was clearly ball-to-hand rather than
hand-to-ball. Jamie Walshaw, who once signed for Avenue and then changed his
mind, made no mistake from the spot. Walshaw's many penalties would eventually
decide the title and it was his close range goal that decided the first match.
Guiseley fans don't travel in the same numbers as we do, so the crowd was only
909 for the return fixture. Mark Hume came back into the side, only to gift our
near neighbours a 12th minute lead. It looked like curtains a few minutes before
the interval when the touch judge raised his flag and persuaded the referee to
award Guiseley another very controversial penalty. Nobody else saw the incident
and there had been no appeal. Lee Elam pulled one back but Walshaw restored
Guiseley's two goal advantage before half time. Lee gave Avenue a lifeline five
minutes from the end but hopes were soon extinguished by a breakaway goal. The
title was Guiseley's in all but name and Avenue faced the lottery of the play
offs, even though five very winnable matches remained.
Three days later, a couple of rushed pints at the Ossett Tap were not enough to
prepare me for one the craziest days in Avenue history. I had to get in early as
Ossett never print enough programmes and surreptitiously eat my smuggled in
contraband food out of sight of the local thought police. On a scorching day,
Avenue fans looked on in stunned disbelief as the hapless home side helped
themselves to a 4-1 lead, seemingly scoring soft gaols every time they entered
our half. Words cannot describe Avenue's comic book defending with keeper Steve
Dickenson the worst culprit. After the game, CEO Bob Blackburn announced on the
web forum that Dickenson would not be playing against Buxton.
In the event, a Rob O'Brien penalty on the stroke of half time gave Avenue a
glimmer of hope. But with Guiseley 1-0 up at Boston, a Walshaw penalty what
else, a nine point gap looked likely to open up. But the Bradford forwards used
the Ingfield slope to their advantage in the second half and had enough class to
run out 6-4 winners. After the game many excellent beers were consumed on the
TransPennine rail trail at the West Riding Refreshment Rooms at Dewsbury
station, the King's Head at Huddersfield station and I think the White Star in
With Guiseley losing to a late equalizer and an injury time winner at Boston,
Avenue amazingly could retake top spot, temporarily at least, if they could beat
Buxton at home. However we were foiled by good goalkeeping in the first half and
then faded badly in the second. With a weakened defence and untried goalkeeper
John Lamb, some caution had been needed and the game ended goalless. The point
meant that Avenue had qualified for the play offs, but I was the only one who
noticed. I had to announce our mini success on the internet. How strange.
Avenue would come to regret the two points dropped. Guiseley had needed 7 points
from their last 4 games for the title, but this changed to 9 from 3 after they
lost at Matlock as you can't get 8.
Frickley's ground is equidistant from Moorthorpe and South Elmsall stations so I
thought I would go one way and come back the other. How sad is that? But I was
delighted to find a Thornbridge Brewery pub on platform 1 on Sheffield station
which also specialised in world beers. The mean streets of miners houses around
Westfield Lane have now all been demolished leaving the football ground isolated
in a wasteland. They have tried to landscape the slagheaps and even put in what
looked like concrete sheep, but the restoration has some way to go.
Incidentally, I did spot sheep in the distance from Horsfall this season for the
very first time.
With Guiseley and Avenue stuttering and Boston United coming up on the rails and
in superb form, the title was now a three-horse race. Victory at Frickley was
essential. However on yet another scorching day, Avenue looked lost on the giant
pitch and fell behind to another soft penalty. Our top scorer Aiden Savory, who
had been struggling for goals, equalised just before half time. Aiden took a lot
of unfair stick from fans over the season as he did miss chances. But his hold
up play was excellent and he had a physical presence in the box. Centre forward
Chris Hall often looked lost when he didn't have our own Emile Heskey beside
Frickley were awarded a second soft penalty after the break which John Lamb
thankfully saved. The number of penalties awarded against Avenue and for
Guiseley was becoming barmy. However our joy was short lived as Frickley soon
regained the lead. A referee finally looked kindly on Bradford and Rob O'Brien
equalised with an injury time spot kick. But it was too little too late.
Avenue stumbled to a 1-0 victory against Whitby with a late, late goal from Lee
Elam leaving four teams in with a chance of the title on the final day. Where
had North Ferriby crept up from? Avenue were now third favourites at 9/1 with
the bookies, having been 10/11 on earlier in the season. We had to win and hope
Guiseley and Boston slipped up.
There are lots of exciting ways for trainspotters to get to Hucknall these days.
I elected to use the Nottingham tram, stopping off for drinks first near the old
Shipstones brewery and then at the Alcazar brewery tap in Old Basford. An
excellent shuttle service now connects the tram terminus and the ground. Against
poor opposition, Avenue strolled to a 5-0 victory in the sun. But the news from
elsewhere was not good, in fact Avenue seldom come out on top in last day
showdowns. Guiseley had beaten Ashton to steal the title from Boston who had
only drawn at Marine. Avenue thus finished in second place guaranteeing two home
matches in the play-offs.
The play-off themselves are single leg ties played in indecent haste after the
final league game. Avenue thus faced Kendal just over 48 hours after the trip to
Hucknall and the programme had to be printed the week before with a blank space
for the yet-to-be-decided opposition. Only 608 turned up, although Kendal
claimed it was more. Avenue received the NPL runners-up trophy before kick off
in as low key a ceremony as you could possibly imagine. It turned out to be a
great game, one of the best ever played at Horsfall. Aiden Savory gave Avenue an
early lead with a looping header before the visitors equalised with an equally
good headed goal. Bradford regained the lead on the stroke of half time when Rob
O'Brien scored from the spot. But needless to say, there had to be a penalty at
the other end. This came 10 minutes into the second half but John Lamb made
another excellent stop. Avenue should have sewn up the game ten minutes from
time, but Rob O'Brien saw his second spot kick saved.
Boston United beat North Ferriby in the other semi to set up a final showdown
between the league's two biggest clubs. A thousand or so Boston fans made the
journey, arriving early enabling them to completely take over the stand. The
match thus seemed like a home fixture for them even though there were as many,
if not more, people from Bradford scattered around the open parts of the ground.
The crowd was a record 2,208.
However the eyes of the nation were on the other side of Bradford that day as
our neighbours commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Valley Parade fire in
1985. 56 people lost their lives. There was a minute's silence at Horsfall which
was impeccably observed.
The game was very nervy with Savory missing a golden opportunity early on.
Damien Reeves eventually gave Avenue the lead in the 35th minute scoring a
well-taken goal after beating the offside trip. Damien rattled the underside of
the bar in the 50th minute and shortly afterwards another Savory chance went
begging. Avenue were made to suffer when Newsham equalised with a good shot on
the turn. We had been just 29 minutes from promotion.
The game went into extra time and Boston took the lead with a scrappy goal after
93 minutes. Avenue struggled to apply any pressure after that with Chris Hall
spurning our best chance. Thus yet another season ended with weeping and
gnashing of teeth with so many chances spurned in the last few weeks. It is
particularly galling to finish second and be denied promotion, especially when
the bottom two sides in Conference North, perpetual strugglers Harrogate Town
and Vauxhall Motors, were reprieved from relegation.
Once the NPL is finished, I normally go in for a bit of big-occasion seeking.
But this year I had neither the will nor the luck with tickets. I thus ended the
season making the long trip to Colchester to watch a meaningless fixture against
Leyton Orient, who I used to support. This was to re-establish my membership of
the 92 club.
John Deacey resigned as club manager after the Boston game. He was subsequently
appointed as Harrogate Town's number two with Simon Collins taking over the
reins at Park Avenue. With the club wisely keeping schtumm about next season's
squad and rumours of budget cuts, I see little reason as yet for optimism about
next season. Just maybe the dream is over.