Arrividerci Bowling – Bradford’s last match at Birch Lane
After a poor 1897/98 season in the new Yorkshire League, the original association section of Bradford FC opened the 1898/99 campaign in new surroundings. The side was relocated to the Bowling Old Lane ground on Birch Lane in “a vigorous attempt to infuse new life into the Association team”. A different interpretation was put on this by the local press. They suggested that the footballers had been banished from Park Avenue to make way for the Northern Union (rugby league) second string who could attract similar gates.
Birch Lane was first laid out for rugby in 1886 when the cricket club leased an extra four acres adjoining the cricket field. The playing surface was said to be excellent. However Bradford’s move to Bowling was not a success and by the new year we were back at Park Avenue. However this long-forgotten ground was still occasionally used when headquarters was not available. Bradford’s last game at Birch Lane took place on Saturday 8th April 1899 when Hunslet were the visitors. A month later and the first Bradford FC was no more.
Birch Lane became the home of Bradford Northern in 1908 after Bradford FC had switched from rugby league to association in the so-called Great Betrayal of 1907. Northern remained at this modest ground until moving to Odsal Stadium in 1934.
The following report of the Hunslet game appeared in the Bradford Observer the Monday after the game:
Bradford v. Hunslet. - There were about 150 spectators to witness this match at the Birch Lane enclosure. The weather was bright and fine, but a biting wind pierced to the very marrow, and made it rather unpleasant to watch the game. Several alterations were made in the Bradford team as advertised, and the visitors only played ten men at first, but had a full complement after the interval.
From the kick-off by Devine the ball was sent wide of the upright by Denby. A strong attack was instituted by the home team, but Tennet brought relief. A breakaway by Hunslet resulted in Weightman getting past the defence and sending in a shot which the home custodian cleverly negotiated. The attack was kept up with vigour, and twice the Bradford goal was in danger. Then a turn of even play ensued, the only incident worthy of note being the scoring of a disallowed goal by Denby, who was off-side when he netted the ball.
After twenty minutes’ monotony, Weightman put Hunslet ahead with a short ground shot. Five more minutes had elapsed when Moore equalised from a mêlée in front of goal. There was no further scoring before the interval.
In the second half the home team showed their superiority, the forwards playing an excellent game. The only fault they displayed was a lack of judgement in shooting, not a few good opportunities of increasing the score being thrown away by their parting with the ball at the wrong time. Before the finish Moore placed Bradford at the top, and Hunslet were thus beaten by two goals to one.