First published in Rugby League World, Issue 387 (July 2013)
Ground: Provident Stadium, Bradford
Game: Bradford Bulls v Leeds Rhinos
Date: Friday 3 May 2013
As local lad JB Priestley wrote of ‘Bruddersford’, it is “generally held to be an ugly city; and so I suppose it is; but it always seemed to me to have the kind of ugliness that could not only be tolerated but often enjoyed; it was grim but not mean.” Sounds about right. He must have spent plenty of afternoons at Odsal.
With an hour to spare, I stroll through the city centre, admire the name and buildings of Hustlergate and past the neo-gothic town hall into the splendid Centenary Square, feeling like ‘Billy Liar’. Then I see a drunk emptying his bladder by a cash-point as dozens of young Asian locals mill around in their version of the Italian passeggiata. This is the new Bradford.
If you approach Bradford from Halifax, you cross the West Riding’s version of Table Mountain before suddenly seeing the floodlights nestled under the ridge of Odsal summit. Not the pylons, the actual lights. The height is overwhelming: you walk in above the roof of the Coral Stand. It’s well signposted if you know what it’s called this week (answer: Provident Stadium). Don’t bother scouring brown signs for Odsal, and don’t head to Coral Windows Stadium (that’s Valley Parade). It’s a short drive from the end of the M606, off Junction 26 of the M62 or a two-mile hike up hill from the city centre so you need to get the 508 or 614/624 bus or a cab. Bradford is on direct train lines from London, Edinburgh, Blackpool, Manchester and Hull.
Odsal has more official car parking than most. It’s a fiver behind the popular side or at the Richard Dunn sports centre across the dual carriageway. There is some street parking off the Dewsbury road where, nearly an hour before kick-off, I found spot and walked back five minutes or so through Bankfoot, where parking in the field is £4.
The steward on the gate is friendly and it feels like you’re wandering into a music festival. The crowd is rather cosmopolitan, reflecting a major city. There are women, kids, students, well-dressed chaps, among them a few Asian fans but a tiny number relative to the local population. I even spot a Teddy Boy in the bar, complete with duck’s arse haircut, zoot suit, winklepickers and Homer Simpson tie!
I’m glad I’ve wrapped up for my long-awaited debut on Odsal’s open terraces. It’s freezing up here for May. The crowd is like a stream near my house: it appears to be static but if you look closely little elements are always moving, spaces appear and are immediately filled as we inadvertently shuffle forward or sideways.
The main Provident Stand has had an overhaul but Odsal is crying out for a new stand down the popular side.
There are only 12,000 here for this televised derby, yet that is by far their biggest crowd of the season so far. As the Bradford line-up is announced dramatically slowly, the Bulls fans lose interest after Jarrod Sammut. With the tunnel sloping down from the Popular Side terrace, it is as if the teams have been selected from the fans. Bradford play like it in the first half, too.
The noise from the Leeds end still takes me aback when Kallum Watkins makes an 80-metre break to score after a couple of minutes. Two minutes later, Brett Delaney, looking as majestic as a big man dressed in skin-tight shiny cerise shirt and tiny shorts with a knuckle-duster tattooed on the side of his mohawked head possibly can, sets up another Leeds try. The bloke in front despairs: “Come on you lazy lot!”
With the Trevor Foster Collection residing in the Coral Stand, most fans visiting Odsal will see nothing of their glorious nor troubled past. There are a few old photos half-heartedly displayed on the wall of the Touchline Bar. Far more impressive are the sepia murals of Bradford’s Northern Rugby League history in the popular Top House pub over the road.
The programme has a good spread on the great Northern side of the war era but inexplicably fails to list its pre-Super League championships on its honours board. Weird.
Odsal’s heritage is in the walls and on the terraces themselves. But it is more of a ruin, especially the pavilion, from where the players once emerged down the treacherously steep banks into the arena.
The club shop is a shabby portakabin, but they cannot be accused of lacking a brand identity – the Bulls logo and club colours are omniscient. The programme is packed with initiatives, discounts, community involvement and commercial partnerships.
On the pitch before the game, a band cover Kasabian among others, and are followed by an opera singer. She is wearing an orange miniskirt but that’s all I can see as she is at the bottom of a large hill and there is only one video screen, which is far too small for most spectators. She is also drowned out by the bhangra beat coming from the drummers on the Beds R Us terrace.
Half-time sees teams of minis buzz around the floodlit arena, a heartening sight from the windows of the Touchline Bar where I go to thaw out. In a 1991 grounds survey the Odsal tannoy got 5/10. It is even worse now, and the electronic scoreboard is not working either.
PLAYER INTERACTION 7/10
It must be difficult to build a bond with the players when they are further away than at any other Super League ground. The woman behind me must have remarkably tough vocal chords – she screams like a hammer drill every few seconds. It works for a while as the Bulls launch a brief second-half revival but Leeds soon snuff out any threat.
The programme shows that the fans are integral to this club: after all, they gave it mouth-to-mouth last year before Khan and Gerry Sutcliffe placed it in the recovery position.
VALUE FOR MONEY 7/10
You could have a relatively cheap date at Odsal. Standing was £20 for adults, down to under-12s going free, with transfers to the main stand a fiver – a safe haven in a storm. With catering vans ringing the mid-concourse, there was a remarkable array of things to put in your mouth, from ‘Breakfast in a Bap’ and jacket potatoes to candyfloss and ‘flavour tea’. The queues for insipid Boddingtons or Budweiser at £2.50 or £3 were frustratingly long. My dinner was a spicy chicken ‘Real Cornish’ (supposedly) pasty, while I couldn’t resist a bag of mini-donuts (£3.50) for the way home.
As Leeds wrap up a comfortable win, I leave via a visit to our game’s most bizarre toilet block – it’s either a converted Anderson shelter or a pig shed. Things have improved since the RLSA survey 20 years ago found there to be no bar inside Odsal and toilet roll only available on request – yet it was still ranked the fifth best ground in the game! Odsal is certainly unique but England’s fifth largest city should have better.
Based on what it would cost an average fan for a no-frills visit: one ticket, pre-match pint, half-time snack.
(marks out of 10)
Value for Money 7