It was essential that the city of Bradford had a First Class cricket ground, and the opening of Park Avenue in 1880 was the springboard for Bradford Cricket Club to thrive. At the celebration dinner for the opening of Park Avenue, the Lord Mayor, Angus Holden declared that the ‘establishment of the club was the beginning of a new era in the reputation of the town for good cricket’.
A tradition was inaugurated at Park Avenue with the hosting of the Australian tourists in 1880, 1882 and 1884 and the final decade of the nineteenth century was possibly the glory era of Yorkshire cricket at Park Avenue.
Despite the pedigree of Bradford CC, its focus shifted from representing the town in competitive fixtures to the staging of high profile fixtures and exhibition games in Bradford. Club fixtures offered much less in terms of profile or indeed profit and this was partly to do with the fact that a competitive league structure for town clubs did not exist.
In the summer of 1893, Bradford CC joined three newly formed competitions to cater for different grades. These were the West Riding, West Yorkshire and West Bradford Cricket Leagues. The West Riding League included the principal cities and towns in West Yorkshire – Bradford, Brighouse, Dewsbury, Halifax, Huddersfield, Keighley and Leeds – in addition to the Barnsley and Sheffield United cricket clubs. By contrast the West Yorkshire League comprised clubs from Airedale in addition to Manningham CC and Bowling Old Lane CC
In August, 1895 it was reported that Bradford CC was struggling to raise a team for important league games which highlights the fact that although the club had the prestige of playing at Park Avenue, many players would have found it more convenient to represent local clubs rather than travel across town to Horton.
It is therefore telling that the club’s golden era in county league cricket came after the amalgamation with Manningham CC in 1896 which clearly strengthened the squad. Prior to the disbanding of the leagues in 1899, Bradford CC won the West Yorkshire three times in succession between 1896 and 1898 and the West Riding championship in 1897.
The club decided to join the rapidly improving Bradford League in 1910. It was obvious that the league was gaining a reputation that the Park Avenue club should aspire to.They were put into the First Division for 1910 but they struggled and finished the season two points off the bottom.
In the year that Bradford City won the FA Cup, Bradford Cricket Club found their feet with a fifth position in 1911, and they found a hero in R H Moulton who finished second in the league batting averages with 39.00. He also made the highest score in the league that year with 145 not out against Saltaire.
An even bigger hero was Frank Luckhurst who hailed from Kent and was largely responsible for the club’s early rise in stature. In 1912, when the club finished seventh he took 79 wickets at 5.40 to win the league bowling averages. Ironically, despite his reputation as a non batsman he scored 141 versus Undercliffe in 1913, before taking 86 wickets for 9.20 in the club’s title winning season in 1914.
The year before the title win, Bradford CC had won their first silverware in the shape of the Priestley Cup. They beat Great Horton decisively in the final by 80 runs, and retained the cup the following year by beating Windhill in the final by 61 runs.
Moulton had scored the cup’s highest individual score in 1913 with an innings of 124 not out against Pudsey Britannia in an earlier round. Bradford CC had performed the league and cup double in their fifth season in the league, and had taken the mantle of Great Horton as the dominant side in the league.
Luckhurst might well have been the main bowler in their 1914 title winning side, but it was left to A Holmes, with an average of 50.8 to provide the volume of runs. Unsurprisingly, Holmes topped the league batting averages that season. Some of Luckhurst’s bowling spells were spectacular- 9-53 v Great Horton, 8-28 v Pudsey Britannia, 8-42 v Windhill and 8-46 v Queensbury.
Unlike most of the other clubs in the league that revelled on recruiting county players to their side during the First World War, the club had their Park Avenue ground requisitioned to the army, and did not take part in the league again until 1922.
Bradford returned to cricket strongly in 1922, and later finished runners-up to Bowling Old Lane in successive season in 1923 and 1924. A Morris took 70-plus wickets in 1922 and 1923, while E M Smeeth scored a colossal 160 not out against Bingley in 1924.
The disappointment of just missing out of the title in 1924 was aggravated somewhat by losing in the Priestley Cup final to Lidget Green. In 1926, the club slipped to sixth, despite Fred Popplewell becoming the first batsman in the league to score three successive centuries.
However, the momentum was swinging more towards Bradford and by 1927 they would enjoy their most famous 10-year period in their history.
1927 First Division title
1928 First Division title
1929 First Division title
1933 First Division title
1934 First Division title
1936 First Division title
1929 Priestley Cup Bowling Old Lane 167 Bradford 169-4
1934- Priestley Cup Bradford 153-7 Bowling Old Lane 84
They were strong in both departments and had players in their ranks that knew how to win cricket matches- Frank Luckhurst, Stanley Douglas, William Alfred Hutton and Jack Crossley were the main match-winners.
Luckhurst was a great achiever before the war and he was still taking wickets in the 1930s. He took a remarkable 8-28 against Low Moor in 1929, and in 1931 took a season’s tally of 62 wickets at 10.45.
Stanley Douglas gave the side balance with his left arm spin, and his two stellar seasons were in 1927 when he took 50 wickets at 10.28, and 1936 which saw him take 55 wickets at 10.14.
In 1929 he had the remarkable bowling figures of 8-18 versus Eccleshill. He was the second bowler in the league’s history to reach 1,000 league wickets. In county cricket, Douglas bowled left arm medium fast for Yorkshire, appearing in 23 matches, with a best bowling performance of 5-48 against Essex.
Jack Crossley was instrumental in the 1928 title win, enjoying a top score of 123 against Eccleshill during the campaign, while W A Hutton had the distinction of winning the league’s batting averages in 1929 with an impressive average of 61.27.
Bradford had two outstanding wicket keepers between the wars, both of whom went on to play county cricket. Arthur Wood pro’d before establishing himself in the Yorkshire’s side, while Syd Buller, left, was the county colts’ keeper during his spell at Bradford before making the grade at Worcestershire.
In 1932, no trophies were won, but Syd Buller had the highest individual score in the league with an innings of 137 not out against Great Horton. Buller had a modest county record as a wicketkeeper/ batsman but became a world-renowned Test umpire. Stanley Raper was another fine player and a shrewd captain at the club.
He played for the Yorkshire Second XI from 1932 to 1948, and appeared in three matches for the First Team. He was a specialist batsman who could also bowl medium pace.
The 1934 cup and league double was the second occasion they had performed the feat in their first 24 years in the league. This 10-year era, added to their unique county standard ground, made them the `Rolls Royce’ of cricket clubs for a time.
However, after 1936 their fortunes fell dramatically and they were relegated in 1940. They did not play in the war years between 1943 and 1945. In 1951 they were promoted with three key players doing the business. David Kitson averaged 65.93 with the bat, Harry Douglas took 78 wickets at 14.64 and Eric Barraclough took 43 wickets.
They were too good for the Second Division, but not good enough to stay up as relegation came knocking in 1952. They did win three league games with Douglas the stand out player, but they were six points adrift of Queensbury who just evaded relegation.
The 1953 season was not a vintage one as they were closer to the bottom of the table than amongst the promotion pack. However, a Priestley Cup final win was ample compensation.
The cup win would be a catalyst for another golden decade:
1954 Second Division title
1955 First Division title
1958 First Division title
1953 Priestley Cup Bradford 227-9 Idle 205-9
1954 Priestley Cup Bradford 196-9 Pudsey St Lawrence 120
1957 Priestley Cup East Bierley 162 Bradford 166-6
1959 Priestley Cup Bradford 198-7 Bowling Old Lane 178-8
The two most influential players of the fifties were Harry Douglas and Eric Barraclough. Douglas took a hat-full of wickets throughout the decade with a diverse range of bowling skills. He had started out as a medium pacer who would open the bowling and send down out-swingers. Later in his career he concentrated on his second bowling skill off breaks.
He was a master at prising batters out when they were intent on playing for a draw, in an era when a 1-2 point deficit could feel like a moral victory. His flight would float higher and higher in his desire to tempt the batter to a rash shot. He was equally adept at slowing the run-rate down in mid-innings.
Douglas, although christened Harry Vincent, was largely known as Jack, but often H V was used to pay reverence to him. He was head groundsman at Park Avenue for 16 years and spent further years in a deputy role. It was very much a family affair with HV following his older brother Stanley into the club, and he also introduced his two sons to cricket, (Alan and David), who both made the grade at Bradford CC in the sixties.
Alan Douglas went on to score 12,956 league runs in his career, mostly at Great Horton, and has been a valiant worker in cricket up to the present day. Barraclough was a genuine all rounder in his younger days and deemed good enough to play two games for Yorkshire.
He made his debut for the senior Yorkshire team against the Minor Counties at Lord’s in June 1949, scoring three and a career best 24 not out batting at number seven. He opened the bowling with a young Freddie Trueman, taking 1 for 18 in his first bowl in first-class cricket.
His only County game came the following year against Northamptonshire when he took three wickets in a drawn game. Despite having performed creditably in the second team in 37 matches over five years, he was not given a further opportunity to impress in first-class cricket.
For Bradford, he scored 500-plus runs in every season of the decade from 1952, and was a dedicated professional. He won the League Batting Averages in 1955 and 1959 with batting averages of 50.46 and 60.07 respectively. His career league record was 10,601 runs at an impressive 35.10. It was a truly impressive average given the untreated, wet wickets that were prevalent in local cricket in this era.
Bradford was fortunate that they could call on county players- some on a regular basis, and others occasionally. In the Second Division title winning season of 1954 Yorkshire’s Mel Ryan took 7-43 against Saltaire and also took 54 wickets for the season.
The title winning season of 1955 was built around three top batsmen that took the top three places in the League Batting Averages- Eric Barraclough 50.46, Tony King 47.80 and Derek Blackburn 45.82. The firepower with the ball that season came from Yorkshire’s Bob Platt who took 69 wickets. Bradford won four Priestley Cups in the fifties, and amazingly in successive years when they were a Second Division club in 1953 and 1954.
The worth of county players came to the fore when winning the 1957 Priestley Cup Final against East Bierley. Bob Platt partnered Mel Ryan- both bowlers having shared the new ball with Freddie Trueman until Tony Nicholson came along.
Claude Helliwell had two a great seasons at the back end of the decade- winning the League Batting Averages with an average of 50.00 in 1958, while Joe Phillips averaged 55.27 in 1959. Other county players- both future and past- who made their mark in this decade were Don Brennan, Brian Bolus, Philip Sharpe, Bill Holdsworth and Jackie Birkenshaw,
There were also some local pros that were often as effective as the county men, the best being Claude Helliwell, Derek Blackburn, and Tony King. In an age of autograph hunters Park Avenue was a magnet for schoolboys who were desperate for the signatures of county and colt cricketers. They would also go for the local league stars with their autograph books, and scrapbooks of Yorkshire Sports cuttings.
New Zealander Joe Phillips was a class batsman and was tipped to play First Class cricket in his homeland, but, his allegiance to rugby league in this country put paid to that. A great character was Harry Mcllvenny who played centre forward for Bradford Park Avenue, and kept wicket for Bradford CC. Slightly bulky for a keeper, he made his name as a late order hitter of the highest standing. He would regularly put the ball out of the ground into Horton Park, and won the Fastest Fifty prize in 1959 with an effort lasting just 26 minutes.
He was invaluable down the order when quick runs were needed to set a target, or hit the bowlers off their length when chasing a difficult score. The sixties began with Jack Douglas taking four wickets in four balls in a match, and Eric Barraclough averaging 51.80 in the league in 1960.
The club finished runners-up in the league to Brighouse, but obtained silverware again with a comprehensive defeat of Saltaire in the Priestley Cup final. The team would slide down the table in 1961 to fourth bottom, but batsman Derek Blackburn would win the League batting averages with 569 runs at 47.42.
For several seasons they would mark time in the league without challenging, but keep picking up the Priestley Cup. The 1962 Priestley Cup Final should have presented them with a real challenge, when East Bierley had put on 148 runs for the first wicket in the final. However, Bierley failed to capitalise and had to be satisfied with the strange score of 186-3 after their 50-overs. Bradford’s captain Blackburn guided his side home with an innings of 89 runs in a seven-wicket win.
Bradford 1962 - Back row: Barry Jenkinson, John Harrison, David Hay, Michael Fearnley, Alan Douglas, Peter Cook. Front: David Smith, David Ash, Tony Burnett, Derek Blackburn, Peter Ibbitson
Bradford 1965: - Back: N Smith, D Roberts, B Leadbeater, D Field , A Stansfield, M Harrison, E Roper (Manager) Front: T Burnett, A Jennings, D Blackburn (Capt), M Fearnley, B Jenkinson.
The 1962 winning side comprised of Derek Blackburn, Captain,, Barry Jenkinson, John Harrison, David Hay, Michael Fearnley, Alan Douglas, Peter Ibbotson, David Smith, David Ash, Tony Burnett, Peter Cook. They also won the cup in 1966 when the finalists Laisterdyke failed to do themselves justice in a 66-run defeat,
The usual flow of county players was present in the sixties with Duncan Fearnley, David Smith, Rodney Cass, David Ash, Frank Lowson, Peter Stringer and Mike Bore all making an impact. Occasional county men such as Barry Wood and Richard Hutton also turned out for the Park Avenue club. The best of the local cricketers were Barry Jenkinson, Jack Roe, Bob Fisher and Tony Burnett.
The left hander David Smith had a reputation for slow scoring, and didn’t manage 500 runs in a season at the club. However, he made his name later at Undercliffe winning the League batting averages, and making the county grade with Derbyshire. Frank Lowson was the ultimate batting stylist, and many neutral spectators would turn up to see him. Although past his best, he was the club’s leading batsman in mid-decade, comfortably averaging in excess of 40.
The left-handed Duncan Fearnley, who would make the grade at Worcestershire, showed his class in the early sixties, scoring a remarkable 158 not out against Pudsey St Lawrence in 1963.
However, it was his brother who stood out amongst all the stars- the bespectacled seamer Michael Fearnley. He was only a touch above medium pace, but could move the ball all over the place and was almost impossible to bat against on wet wickets. The legendary Brian Clough of Bowling Old Lane, who also had a spell at Bradford, once said that few bowlers gave him sleepless Friday nights, but Fearnley did, particularly on a `wet un’.
Fearnley played regularly for Yorkshire Seconds between 1959 and 1966, but did not have enough pace to worry the First Team pacemen. However, he did play three times for the First Team, enjoying an impressive analysis of 3-56 against Essex on his debut.
He was a major influence in Bradford’s only title win in the decade in 1968, taking 69 wickets. His 6-11 analysis against Saltaire clinched the title and with it his top spot in the League bowling averages.
His league record in the sixties for Bradford was-
1962 74 wickets 12.35
1963 63 wickets 9.90
1964 57 wickets 16.21
1966 93 wickets 10.84
1967 54 wickets 10.81
1968 69 wickets 9.71
The 1968 title win was also noteworthy for Barrie Leadbeater averaging 67.30 with the bat, and Bob Fisher an impressive 51.73.
By the seventies the club was highly placed in the league, but it was the Priestley Cup that again gave them major silverware, with final triumphs over Bingley in 1970 and 1973. On route to the 1970 triumph, Allan Stansfield played the highest innings in that year’s competition with an impressive 129 at No.4 against Queensbury. Bradford had reached 19 Priestley Cup Finals and had won 16 of them, but the 1973 occasion proved to be their last.
At the end of the 1973 season they resigned from the Bradford League to follow the other big county clubs into the Yorkshire League. In the latter years in the Bradford League, Jim Leathley was their biggest batting star, and Bob Platt had some astonishing bowling figures. Platt won the League bowling averages in 1971 and 1972, and in the latter season recorded an astonishing bowling analysis of 7-0.
After winning the Yorkshire League in 1982, and having on their books New Zealand international Martin Crowe, they didn’t last much longer, as their ornate pavilion was condemned by a council who would gave them no financial assistance to survive.
Later in 1987 they decided to negotiate a merger with the Bingley club at Wagon Lane, and the new alliance was known as Bradford & Bingley CC.
The ornate Park Avenue pavillion ran in to disrepair
Division One Champions: 1914, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1933, 1934, 1936, 1955, 1958, 1968.
Priestley Cup winners: 1913, 1914, 1929, 1934, 1953, 1954, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1973
Arthur Wood, Don Brennan, Barry Wood, Frank Lowson, Philip Sharpe (left above), Brian Bolus (right above), Richard Hutton, Jackie Birkenshaw,
Fred Trueman was one of the many Yorkshire greats to enjoy playing at Park Avenue
Sir Leonard Hutton once famously said that Park Avenue was his favourite county cricket ground to play on.
The first match, starting on 20 September 1880 pitted the Players of the North against the touring Australians, while the last first class game in June 1996 saw Yorkshire CCC play Leicestershire CC in the County Championship.
Park Avenue was the scene of the famous Test Trial of 1950 when Jim Laker took an incredible eight wickets for two runs in 14 overs as "The Rest", including Peter May were skittled for 27.
Other famous cricketing feats at the ground included Worcestershire CCC being bowled out for 28 by Yorkshire in 1907, when John Newstead took seven wickets for ten runs. Newstead would later inspire the revival of Lidget Green in the Bradford League.
Percy Holmes recorded the highest score on the ground, 275 against Warwickshire CCC in 1928 while C B Fry scored 234 for Sussex in 1903.
Six bowlers took nine wickets in an innings at Park Avenue, with Albert Thomas taking nine for 30 for Northamptonshire CCC in 1920, and Emmott Robinson taking his career best of nine for 36 in a Roses Match in the same year.
Acknowledgements: John Dewhirst (author of Room at the Top), Allan Stansfield and Alan Douglas.
An aerial view of the famous Park Avenue cricket and football grounds