Having staged Yorkshire CCC’s first-ever home match in 1863, Bradford’s Great Horton Road ground lasted only 11 more years before the builders moved in. Paul Dyson continues the story of first-class cricket in the west Yorkshire city.
Not only had Bradford lost its premier cricket ground, the demise of Bradford CC was also felt keenly amongst the cricket-loving townsfolk. The immediate consequence was that a group of local dignitaries formed a group to attempt to resolve the situation. Their luck was in when the council suggested an 11-acre plot of land which was up for lease on Horton Park Avenue only about half-a-mile from the old ground.
In 1863 Bradford (rugby union) FC had been formed and initially shared Great Horton Road with cricket but had been asked to leave because of damage to the area designated for the summer sport. Because the new area was a good size the two sports combined again, work started on preparing the venue in 1879 and it was opened in July of the following season. A short match between the new cricket club’s ‘amateurs’ and ‘professionals’ took place on the rugby ground as the designated cricket pitch was waterlogged and the first official game – the day after the opening – was Bradford v Castleton, of Rochdale.
The word ‘Horton’ in the ground’s title was soon dropped and the venue has since always been known as Park Avenue. When the ground was opened, by the mayor no less, the large and unusual pavilion was still being built but a smaller one served the rugby section and so this was used in the interim. An impressive stand divided the two playing areas; it had a balcony which looked out over the cricket but otherwise was primarily for the rugby. The two remaining sides of the cricket ground had uncovered terracing.
The new organisation had the cumbersome title of Bradford Cricket, Athletic and Football Club but the cricket section always felt that its roots lay in the previous Bradford CC (formed 1836) even though it had been wound up. Park Avenue’s first season of 1880 was very successful and concluded in late September with its maiden first-class game between the Players of the North and the Australians who were approaching the end of their first-ever Test tour. The Players put out a strong side which was led by Tom Emmett, one of three Yorkshire players in the team.
In 1881 Yorkshire scheduled two of its eight inter-county matches for Park Avenue and this boded well for the future. Sadly, the square had not bedded down effectively enough and so the honour was not repeated in the following season, although the Australians played twice against Yorkshire on the ground. The new club worked hard to rectify the problem and Yorkshire returned for county cricket in 1883 so starting a sequence of at least one match, and sometimes as many as four, in every season up to and including 1985.
With Headingley opening in 1890, Yorkshire tended to play most of their matches, from then on, in Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield and all three attracted big crowds. The rugby section was also doing well; having, with others, formed the Rugby League, it won the Challenge Cup in 1906 but then switched codes and turned to soccer as rivals to Bradford City, formed three years earlier.