Saturday, 12 September 2015

The nappy pin that’s part of football history

Before the Thackley match today I checked out the remains of the former home of Bradford Park Avenue. The club dropped out of the Football League in 1970 and the structures were demolished 10 years later. Unlike the sites of most other former grounds it hasn’t been built over since there’s a covenant that specifies that it should always be use for sporting purposes.  Today one half the old pitch is currently occupied by a gym and the other, open half is used by the University of Bradford Archery Club. There are clearly no limits to construction on the opposite side of the road where today a giant mosque stands.

The old ground is being excavated by archaeologists from the University of Bradford prior to its acquisition and likely alteration by the neighbouring cricket club and will subsequently be interpreted by artists for an exhibition next year at the National Football Museum in an initiative also part-funded by the Arts Council. It was open to the public this weekend as part of the annual Heritage Open Days programme.

Man with his arm down a goalpost hole.
Along with three other curious visitors I sheltered from a downpour under a gazebo on what would’ve been the edge of the old penalty area while our guide explained what the archaeologists had found. I love this sort of thing but, in truth, there wasn’t a vast amount to see. (I felt like a mother struggling to be impressed when her eager son shows her an unusual bug he’s found in the garden). There were the goalpost holes (one of which has had a plastercast made of it), some net pegs, red cinders indicative of the running track that once surrounded the pitch and coins. Apparently, fans would toss coins into sheets behind carried around behind the goal to raise funds for the club. The first coin archaeologists found was a 1966 penny.

The dig took place in front of the covered stand in the lower middle of this pic.
One visiting fan this week told of how during a match the elastic snapped in the shorts of the Bradford goalie and, to the amusement, of the crowd, he had to use a nappy pin to affect a repair. The following match the fans threw nappy pins at him in jest. To the archaeologists’ delight within hours of being told the story they found one of the pins. No doubt it will be the centrepiece of the exhibition.

Excavation of the dug-out areas hadn’t revealed anything. The terraces, now largely overgrown with trees but partly cleared as part of the current project, were clear to see and walk up, though. I passed a bent over crush barrier on my way to photograph the urinals (not normally something I’m in the habit of doing, I assure you). I also checked out the old turnstile entrances with a five shillings sign still painted above one of them. I’m sad I missed the old turnstile itself but you can see pics of it and read more about this initiative on this recommended blog.

What about the art? Well, a “mad Italian” called Giorgio has been visiting the site at 3.30am to make recordings as part of the art initiative. “What? Of birds and other animals?”, our guide had asked him. Oh, no. The fella had put his microphone down the old goalpost hole! He intends to create a montage starting with this sound, then leading into the sound of a coin being tossed and finally into the recollections of supporters. Simply barking – or have I had some sort of weird dream?!

Another artist has collected leaves from the nine species of tree that grow around the pitch (in daylight, I assume). Other creative endeavours included photographing a group of Park Avenue supporters chanting on the terrace (above) and a recreation of the final goal at the League ground, a match in which a youthful Kevin Keegan played for Scunthorpe. Watch this space – and goalpost hole. For more information on the dig see this recommended blog.

Salts FC, Saltaire (see below).
Another ripping yarn: Also on my way to Thackley I checked out the ground of Salts FC which forms part of the sports complex originally built for the workers at the Victorian Salts Mill in Saltaire. It’s claim to fame is that it was a location for one of Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns TV comedy dramas in the 80s. The ramshackle old stands that were presumably the reason for its selection are still there but have been considerably shored up. Earlier this month the club opened new changing facilities in a formidable, windowless concrete building on the opposite side of the pitch. Never mind being vandal proof; it looks like it could survive a sustained nuclear attack.

Michael Palin at Salts for filming in 1979.

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