Top Of The League
King’s Lynn Town 2-1 Bradford Park Avenue (National League North)
I’m doing my pre-match research on the morning of the game and it’s not until I notice on Twitter that @BPAFCOfficial only yesterday placed a ‘this day then’ post with an 8-2 FA Cup (second leg) thumping of Manchester City back in 1946, which had me think, just how bloody good Bradford Park Avenue once were.
I’m on the fabulous but basic looking fchd.info website as I scroll through the seasons of BPA, a top flight football league club either side of world war one, for many years a second tier team and one only ‘voted out’ of the Football League in 1970 after three successive bottom placed division four finishes.
They have reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup three times and took 8,000 to Maine Road that January in 1946 for their fourth round success, eventually being knocked out by Birmingham City in the last eight, it was also news to me that for one season only, up until the semi-finals, the FA Cup was a two leg affair.
More news, just in, (although this one's a hundred-year-old story), Bradford (Park Avenue) is the correct spelling of the football club, who’s use of closed brackets was originally derived by the media to avoid confusion with Bradford City Football Club, who are more popularly known today as the city’s ‘elite’ soccer establishment.
Bradford AFC were often referred to as (Park Avenue) due to their home ground at the time, the name sticking for so long that the use of (brackets) these days, are very rarely added.
As for King’s Lynn Town, they established recently in 2010 after King’s Lynn FC wound up the year previous. The Linnets originally formed in 1881 playing at the fabulous Walks Stadium since day dot.
It’s a 2-hour commute from Nottingham, I’m leaving just after 4pm with plenty of time as I stop off to get some petrol from the Shell services at Saxondale on the A52.
A similar route that I take to Boston matches, I’m through Grantham heading East before joining the straight single carriageway A17, passing Holbeach and Benny’s Diner before coming to the Cross Keys Bridge over the perfectly channelled River Nene flowing into the Wash.
It’s dark out, the roads are dull, straight and long, the fields either side flat, as I cross over the River Ouse and into King’s Lynn down the Wisbech Road, navigated onto the brilliantly named Vancouver Avenue I eventually come to the stadium all lit up, as route guidance states “You have reached your destination”.
I’ve been here a couple of times previously, one story I never fail to tell folk when I mention King’s Lynn Town is the day, we took bottom of the table Hucknall Town to the Walks to beat then league leaders 4-2 in the Northern Premier League South Division back in December 2012.
I had only been coaching at Hucknall for a couple of weeks and we’d just started to turn things around before they pulled the budget, that win ending the briefest of stays at the yellows before going onto Grantham Town where we had an equally decent record against the Linnets, it’s a stadium I’ve enjoyed, and wanted to re-visit for a while now, a good ten years since last coming to King's Lynn.
Walking up towards the ground I’m heading for the ticket office at the base of the grandstand, a huge apex roofed traditional facility built in 1955 which is probably one of my favourites in football.
I’m at the main door talking to an old boy about the effect the stand has on covering over half the pitch, which means in winter months the ground is often frozen due to two thirds of it being in the shade, last week’s league game against Fylde which I was supposed to attend, called off.
They’re looking for my name on the guestlist but my names not down so I buy a standing only ticket, telling me I can still sit high up in the press area, the price is £17, quite steep for the level I think, Royal prices for a Royal town? We are after all, the closest football club to the Sandringham Estate.
I’m in through the turnstile, ticket ripped off as I walk around the corner of the pitch, behind the goal for a Cornish pasty and cup of tea, £4 the damage although the girls maths isn’t great, she originally charges me £6 before she’s told by her peer that £2.50 plus £1.50 makes four.
The ends behind the goal both open, to the right of the Tennyson Avenue terrace which I’m stood, a low roofed standing area, to the left of that, the huge grandstand which wouldn’t look out of place at a Greyhound Stadium.
Off there next, I finish my pasty and with tea in hand take a walk up the steps to the top of the grandstand, the steel work under the roof is impressive, blue and yellow seats, it’s toasty up here, well lit, great view but for a couple of pillars in the way.
After ten years since my last visit the Walks feels exactly the same as when I left it, the only noticeable difference a large bright scoreboard in the far corner of the ground, which I’m told has only been installed a few months.
King’s Lynn have the chance to go top of the table tonight with leaders AFC Fylde not playing, Bradford have been on a decent run since I last watched them at Banbury, they’ve lost just once in nine and have climbed out of the relegation zone, I think the winter months certainly suit their style of play, which is basic, analysed in-depth.
There’s a problem on the side of the pitch as we await kick off, the Linnets Manager Tommy Widdrington is moaning to the Referee, the Geordie native not happy about something, it soon becomes apparent that he’s not happy about anything, very animated on the side-line, dressed in black trousers and long black coat, he screams for every decision with his assistant and ‘can’t believe’ it when it doesn’t go his way.
It's a ding dong is the first 45, Bradford have no intention of playing any football, they just kick it as far away from their goal as possible, King’s Lynn neat on occasion especially when operating through their skipper Michael Clunan in midfield, don’t look like they want it as much as the away side who’ve probably been told by gaffer Mark Bower ‘they need to compete’ for everything, David verses Goliath, the Linnets think they can turn up and roll over the northerners with flicks and tricks, they’ve got another thing coming, Bradford with their ugly 3-5-2 are making it a frustrating evening for the home side, and their fans, who start to grumble from the stands.
Paul Jones rushes out of his goal as a Bradford player tries to cheekily play it over him by shooting from the half way line, it goes out for a goal-kick but this calls for Linnets defender Josh Coulson to shout “this is shit, every one of us needs to step it up”.
That might have sparked a little reaction, Jordan Portecilli has been threatening down the right, Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain teasing down the left, but too often the final pass lets Lynn down, Bradford pick up the pieces and whack it as far away as possible, I’ve never seen a ball hit so far and hard as when number three Reece Staunton gets it, every time it comes near him you hear a thudder, a whack, it’s gone. Nil nil at half time.
I’m chatting to a guy who works for Genius Sports at the break, he’s from Holbeach and usually covers matches for Peterborough United or Lincoln City which are his closest league clubs from this neck of the woods. I tell him “It’s a 4 hour round trip for me tonight” as he replies “everywhere is four hours” for him.
As the second half starts it’s the away side that continue to look more game, there’s a shout for an offside but they’re through down the left, the ball is cut back by Brad Dokerty to Will Longbottom who smashes home from inside the area unmarked, it’s deserved and is a test of King’s Lynn’s credentials from here.
But table topping teams aren’t such without reason, they immediately respond, Cosgrave from close range, the fans roar, the home team level, they’ve not played well, but they’re not yet beaten either.
That goal takes a little stuffing out of Bradford although they immediately respond as Longbottom heads over, but the home side have rekindled their swagger, neat in midfield, tricky out wide, it’s Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain who cuts in from the left, shooting low a hard hit shot that slips under the Avenue keeper and into the far corner, more cheers erupt as the fans start to sing “we are top of the league”.
It’s not a night in which I believe the home side have played well, but isn’t that the mark of a good team, when they win in such ugly and unconvincing manor, credit to Bradford who simply don’t allow the opposition to ‘perform’ by getting in their faces and making it a scrap.
That said, some stand out performances particularly in the Linnets midfield, captain Michael Clunan is a neat number seven who see’s a pass before he gets the ball, ticking everything along at a fast pace, always showing for his team-mates, invariably not needing more than a touch, if it’s two it usually comes with a drop of the shoulder.
17 Aaron Jones likewise has swagger, Porticelli and Oxlade-Chamberlain more direct with pace, the Linnets neat and technical in the forward department, sometimes too over complicated, too tricky for their own good? They remind me of the side I saw ten years ago, which we often beat in fact, which had tricky wingers in Steve Spriggs, Jamie Thurlbourne and George Thomson, who went on to huge success and league football with Harrogate Town. They always seem to play the right way, the Walks pitch allows this, the supporters probably demand it, but it’s very pleasing on the eye, if sometimes annoying when it doesn’t always pay off.
In opposition, Bradford can credit their guts and determination, if not totally be upbeat about their skillset. Shane Maroodza down the right at least attempts to take on a player, but other than that, the side lack interest in being ‘creative’. It’s hard to judge the ability of a player who shows no intention of playing football.
I might seem harsh on Bradford, but what identity they lack in individuality, they certainly make up for as a collective, off the ball well drilled, on it, their intentions are to get it forward quickly, that causes concern for opposition, who won’t like playing such a high intensity, basic, but well-drilled organised and ugly team.
They’ll be ok, because they know how to scrap, whilst King’s Lynn shown qualities that they can fight too, whilst doing so, they did it with that bit more quality, which I suppose is the difference, seen in the league standings?
Let's face it, King's Lynn is a trek for anyone but the ground itself, I think is well worthy a visit, if at least just once in your life. It might take a while to get here, but when arrived and perched up at this leafy quaint home of the Linnets, you'll reminisce near 150 years of memories, and that in itself, a worthy reason for any groundhopper to want to tick off such prestige football home.
King's Lynn Town: Paul Jones, Aaron Jones, Tyler Denton, Adam Crowther, Josh Coulson, Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain (Theo Widdrington 72), Michael Clunan, Tai Fleming, Tom Hughes, Jordan Portecilli (Josh Barrett 61), Adam Cosgrave (Zain Walker 83).
Bradford Park Avenue: George Sykes-Kenworthy, Lucas Odunston, Reece Staunton, Will Lancaster, Luca Havern, Sam Fielding, Shane Maroodza (Oli Johnson 75), Simon Richman, Brad Dokerty (Eddie Church 72), Jordan Preston (Jacob Blyth 15), Will Longbottom.
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 31st January 2023, The Walks Stadium (att 957).