By Maurice Tillotson
Our luxury coach threaded its way along Manningham Lane towards Bradford City’s home ground at Valley Parade. The crowd was starting to build up and early comers, wearing their claret and amber scarves, shook their fists or gave us the ‘fingers’ sign as they caught sight of the ‘Stockport County FC’ insignia displayed across the front of the coach. As the coach turned off Manningham Lane and took the steep incline down towards Valley Parade, I caught a glimpse of my father, standing adjacent to grandstand entrance, waiting to greet me and collect his ticket for the game.
At the sight of my father an instant memory struck me; my mind flashed back to my childhood and the first time that I had been to watch a Football League game, at this very ground…
Due to our father’s ill health (as a result of the second world war), treats and luxuries were scarce in our family, so it came as a surprise when early one autumn morning, whilst crowding around the breakfast table in our tiny kitchen, father broke the dramatic news that he was planning to take my brother Tom and me on a mystery trip. He promptly put an end to the mystery, by disclosing that the trip was to see a professional football match.
Somehow, he had procured three grandstand tickets to watch Bradford City play a Third Division North fixture against their Lancashire opponents from across the Pennines; Rochdale. Up until that time I had only witnessed the thrills of professional football, either on the radio, or on Pathe News at the Cinema. I was absolutely elated and glowed with anticipation and excitement at the prospect of the game. For the first time in my short life I would have the opportunity to witness, at first hand, the exhilarating atmosphere of an English Football League match.
Anticipation was at a fever pitch; Saturday could not come soon enough for me.
When the great day finally arrived, I felt as tense as a ‘coiled spring,’ as the hours ticked agonizingly slowly by, until the time came to board the bus to take us to Bradford for the 3pm kick off…
I feverishly hung onto my father and brother, as I squeezed my skinny frame past the hordes of fans, noisily debating the upcoming game, as they made their way past Manningham Lane’s old Victorian buildings, and headed towards the Valley Parade stadium.
I remember clambering up the steep steps of the old grandstand (which was tragically burned down with loss of many lives in the mid nineteen eighties) and in wide eyed wonder beholding the colorful, boisterous panorama unfolding before me. A vast crowd of people (to my young eyes) massed around the playing pitch; the glistening white line markings and goal posts, in vivid contrast to the greenery of the perfectly manicured grass.
Adding to the ambiance the ‘Hammond Sauce’ brass band were marching in unison, blaring out the tune of ‘Colonel Boogie’; all this intensified the commotion, colour and atmosphere of the occasion. To a thunderous roar from the crowd the teams entered the arena through a narrow tunnel set in one corner of the stadium; Bradford City clad in their claret and amber followed by Rochdale in blue and white.
With the formalities all completed, the game commenced with a vigour and gusto, which, to my unsophisticated and naïve eyes, possessed all the skillfulness and dexterity of world class performers. In reality, however, these were journeymen footballers from the lowest division of the Football League.
Time and again the ball disappeared from my view as it was launched high in the air, from one end of the pitch to the other, the ceiling of the grandstand obscuring it from my sight, until it reappeared, only to be propelled back to the other end again. In hindsight, I now realise that the match had scant regard to the silky skills and elegance now associated with the modern game, but none of this detracted from the pleasure and delight of my young eyes.
The outcome of the game was a 3-0 victory for Bradford City, each goal, in turn, being rapturously acclaimed by the partisan supporters.
As the referee blew the final whistle on the boisterous; but by now, darkening setting, bringing an end to the excitement, we departed the stadium and merged with the throngs of elated home bound Bradford City supporters.
Sat upstairs on the double decker bus, as it crawled its way through the homeward bound traffic on its way to Keighley, my mind relived the drama of the past few hours. I fabricated pipedreams of gloriously featuring in important games and scoring goals in front of thousands of fans. A determined resolve overwhelmed me, as my juvenile mind fantasied and imagined a future career of glory and fame.
I was completely sold; professional football was where my destiny lay…
The return to my childhood haunt, at Valley Parade, in the colours of Stockport County, was a rewarding experience, as we trounced a beleaguered Bradford City team by a 7-1 scoreline, thus propelling us into promotion contention, and condemning City to a battle against relegation from the Fourth Division of the Football League.
Born in Silsden in 1944, central defender Maurice Tillotson signed professional forms at Huddersfield Town and played for Stockport County and Belgian side Royal Antwerp. He was also capped 15 times for New Zealand. You can find out more about Maurice’s playing career by visiting his excellent website: http://tillotson.co.nz/