By Mark Neale
“Did you realise we have had a Queen, a King and two Prime Ministers since Bradford City last won a game?”
I received the above quip from a non-City supporting relative shortly after the Queen’s death and it immediately made me recall the visit to Valley Parade by Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip on Thursday March 27 1997.
The visit marked the Centenary of Bradford’s royal charter as a city and it was her third visit to Bradford but her first to Valley Parade.
She arrived at Bradford Forster Square station on the Royal train and first visited the Cathedral to distribute Maundy Money before walking to the newly named Centenary Square, unveiling a plaque and paying respect at the Bradford City Fire Memorial.
I believe that she enjoyed lunch in City Hall before travelling by car up to Valley Parade where she was scheduled to formally open the new £1.5m Allied Colloids stand on the Midland Road side of the stadium.
The official party entered Valley Parade by the front entrance where she met club officials including Geoffrey Richmond and his wife Elizabeth.
We wondered if a conversation had taken place about cars as Geoffrey at the time had a Bentley GR1 and Elizabeth had ER1 on her vehicle. Surely the Queen should have trumped Elizabeth on that one.
It was largely thought that Geoffrey had been the prime mover behind the Queen coming to Valley Parade but in fact Associate Director Mike Smith was the instigator of this coup. Mike, through his work as a toastmaster, had the right contacts, including the Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding (West Yorkshire).
And that is how it came about.
The previous day, in anticipation of the visit, a security sweep of the stadium had taken place with many toilets sealed which required City staff to use the loo at the petrol station at the top of Valley Parade. One toilet remained in use – just in case!
On the day security was stepped up with (allegedly) snipers on the main stand roof.
A section of the new seating in the Midland Road stand was removed leaving special raised seating for the Queen and Prince Philip.
The stand’s construction was completed the previous year and used for the first time on Boxing Day when a crowd of 17,475 attended a game against Sheffield United.
The Queen and Prince Philip walked from the banqueting suite and walked through the stand to pitch level.
She had previously met club officials and staff, which included Christine Gilliver, and both Alan and Gladys Hannah. Gladys probably outshone the Queen that day as she was a very regal lady in her own right.
At pitch level the party crossed the pitch along the halfway line where she was introduced to Stuart McCall, Bobby Campbell and World Cup winner Bobby Charlton.
On the day City sat fourth from bottom of the second tier with just two points separating them from the relegation places.
Chris Kamara had cobbled together a team on the cheap.
If I remember correctly, it was transfer deadline day, and several players had not even played a game for the club but were now being introduced to the Queen.
There is a picture which includes Edinho, Nicky Mohan, Craig Midgley and Chris Wilder and Robbie Blake who were amongst the players introduced to the Queen by Chris Kamara.
The Queen then took her place in the new stand but not before unveiling a plaque, which I remember was mounted on a frame held up by two serious faced club officials.
And then a pageant took place in front of her on the pitch tracing the history of Bradford and this included the Nachda Punjab Dancers, and Stage 84.
Gerry Marsden appeared on the pitch and attempted to sing `You will never walk alone`. But guess what? In the best traditions of Bradford City, the microphone failed.
My son Kevin, who then worked in the control room had to run onto the pitch with a replacement!
When it was time to leave, Alan Gilliver was stood with his fingers firmly crossed. The Royal Party took the unreliable lift from the concourse to Midland Road street level where cars sped them to LBA. The lift was famous at the time for trapping people in it.
And then they were gone.
On the plane back to London Robin Janvrin, the Queen’s personal Secretary wrote to Geoffrey Richmond saying how much the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had “enjoyed a programme of events despite the rain”.
The Queen had followed Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama in having an association with Bradford City FC and Valley Parade.