By David Pendleton
It is with huge regret that we have to announce the closure of the bantamspast museum in its current guise. After City play Swindon Town on 5 May the museum will close its doors for the final time. We are making way for the new free school being developed by Wayne Jacobs’ charity One in a Million, which is scheduled to open in September.
It has been quite a journey for bantamspast. The museum was first mooted in the wake of the highly successful 100 Years of Claret and Amber exhibition hosted by Bradford Industrial Museum in 2003. The football club was still recovering from a spell in administration in 2002 and were in no position to be able to organise a celebration of its centenary. Mark Neale proposed the idea that the supporters should organise something and from that acorn I contacted Mick Callaghan at Bradford Industrial Museum, who was also happily a season ticket holder in the Midland Road, and following an appeal in the Telegraph & Argus John Ashton joined our merry band. It is perhaps remarkable that the same people have remained a constant in the museum’s story to the very end.
The generosity of the City fans who loaned hundreds of items for 100 Years of Claret and Amber was matched by a desire to keep the exhibition together once it had completed its allocated run at the Industrial Museum. I approached Julian Rhodes about relocating the exhibition and he readily agreed; as space was the one thing that Bradford City had more than enough of. A second spell in administration in 2004 slowed the pace of development, but during the summer of 2005 a band of volunteers began converting the rear of the club shop into bantamspast.
Those first couple of years were the best the museum ever had. Our small band was packed with enthusiasm and we were fortunate enough to attract some fabulous pre-match speakers: the football ground historian Simon Inglis; The Guardian’s David Conn; and a highly amusing Dean Windass are just a few who spring to mind. Perhaps our most spectacular temporary exhibition was To the Palace for the Cup which told the stories of the FA Cup Finals staged at the Crystal Palace prior to the Great War. I also enjoyed putting together The Sports Grounds of Bradford, an exhibition that lives on as we have loaned the storyboards to Bradford Park Avenue AFC.
Eventually, we were forced to move into our current position above the shop when the club found a tenant for our original space. A summer of clearing and heaving saw the museum relocated just in time for the new season. There was amusement along the way, including the time I got stuck in the lift and had to be rescued by Allan Gilliver who said on opening the doors ‘if I had known it was you I wouldn’t have bothered’. All said with a smile and a few additional words I dare not repeat in a family publication such as Width of a Post.
We were also very fortunate to meet David Ward, currently the MP for Bradford East, who was at the time a local councillor working at Leeds Metropolitan University. He managed to talk the university into renting the entire floor and developing it as a community hub. The cafe reopened and slowly we began to enjoy a new lease of life. It was also fortunate for me, as in time I enrolled on a master’s degree course in social history at Leeds Met; something I had definitely not envisaged when plans were first mooted for the museum.
It’s fair to say that for a couple of seasons the energy levels naturally dropped among our small band of volunteers as life and new opportunities ate up our time. However, in 2011, with the addition of the long time friend of bantamspast, John Dewhirst, we marked the centenary of Bradford City’s famous FA Cup triumph. The exhibition had to be held at Bradford Industrial Museum, not only to harness their superior expertise, but also due to the fact that we could not afford the insurance on the FA Cup winners’ medals! The exhibition was an absolute triumph, as was the celebration dinner, so fabulously organised by John Dewhirst, at the Midland Hotel, held in the same room the players returned to exactly one hundred years to the day.
We ventured into publishing with the release of my own Glorious 1911 book that charted the story of the FA Cup triumph. We even branched out into tourism when I led a party of City fans on a pilgrimage to the final resting places of the nine City players and two Avenue players killed in the Great War. It was a fitting end to the FA Cup centenary celebrations.
This season we were fortunate to attract top class speakers in the guise of professors Tony Collins and Matt Taylor from the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at De Montfort University, Leicester, for our inaugural Black History Month event. Joe Cooke was our guest of honour and he was the gentleman we all knew he was. My personal highlight of this season, and indeed the entire bantamspast project, was the release of the book Paraders, the 125 year history of Valley Parade. A labour of love if there ever was one, I was delighted when it became both the best selling, and most stolen, book in Waterstone’s over Christmas.
So what now for bantamspast? We will begin to return loaned objects over the course of the summer. We are also investigating ways of reusing some of the storyboards and exhibits in other parts of Valley Parade. One in a Million have pledged to do their level best to retain the popular cafe area for supporters pre-match, so there may well be an opportunity to have a small display in that area as well. The museum will continue in its oline guise and around September we are delighted to be helping Paul Firth to publish his long awaited book on the career of City’s all time goal scoring legend Bobby Campbell.
Over the years I have made some fabulous friends from my involvement in bantamspast. Indeed, I even gained a new love interest via the museum, sadly short-lived, but fun while it lasted! There are far too many people to thank in the eleven years the project has been running. I hesitate to begin naming names as I may forget someone in error. However, Mick Callaghan, John Dewhirst, Mark Neale, David Ward and Leeds Metropolitan University and One in a Million deserve special mention. Although I am often titled curator of the museum, mainly for clarity and point of contact, I cannot finish without saluting the immense contribution of John Ashton. Without John bantamspast would have barely got off the ground. Over the last decade John has also become a close friend and that is something that will outlast bantamspast.
Finally, and most importantly, it is people like you, dear reader, who ultimately made the museum the huge success it became. Whether you loaned an object, hammered a nail into a wall or simply enjoyed the nonsense we have put on for you, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Together we gave Bradford City something that was utterly unique. Not even the museums of Manchester United, Barcelona or Real Madrid could compete with the love and soul that made bantamspast such a stand out museum. It’s a hackneyed phrase, but for the people by the people is surely an apt way of describing bantamspast.
Additional note from John Ashton:
I’d like to take the opportunity of backing up all of David’s comments above, especially those which refer to the formation of life-long friendships through our involvement in the bantamspast project. For my part, I often reflect on the personal significance of that first contact with Dave following his appeal in the T&A back in 2003. Over the ensuing years it led me into a new mini career in design and work with digital images.
In addition to my City related work, I have also had the privilege of being involved in exhibitions about the Bulls, the Bradford Cricket League, the Bradford Magic Circle, Steampunk and many more. And it all emanated from that first phone call! Perhaps the proudest moments for me were the 1911 Centenary celebrations: the Pictureville event, Dave’s book, the exhibition and the dinner at the Midland Hotel. I was particularly pleased with the life-sized cut-out of the 1911 FA Cup winning team which I digitally repaired and coloured. To know that it now has a permanent home in the reception area of the 1911 Club is a real honour.
bantamspast is a unique project in that it has never been just about football. Perhaps more than other clubs, the story of Bradford City is inextricably linked with that of the community in which it dwells and bantamspast has always reflected this. Hopefully, it’s not the end – more a pause for breath and continuation in a different guise.