Soccer officials in the gray textile-producing center of Bradford, England (pop. 288,000) had a problem. Bradford City, the local entry in the English football league's lowly fourth division, was playing home games before depressingly small crowds, consisting mostly, or so it seemed, of young rowdies. Then last summer Bradford City officials paid a visit to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, a North American Soccer League team that attracts a respectable family crowd by throwing parties for fans, giving flowers to the ladies, and the like. Impressed, the English visitors invited Ken Small, at the time the Strikers' marketing director, to introduce U.S.-style promotions that might draw bigger—and more wholesome—crowds in Bradford.
That proved easier said than done, as Small conceded last week following a three-week stay in Bradford. Small, who recently became marketing director for the NASL's new Atlanta Chiefs, said, "You just can't get away with American promotions over there. The Bradford fans care only about winning, and it's when they lose that the fighting is worst. They don't care about frills."
Everything considered, it was probably lucky that Small was not run out of Bradford. Even before he arrived, club officials tried introducing cheerleaders, an adornment they had seen in Fort Lauderdale. Although the girls selected were mostly 12- and 13-year-olds, the crowd greeted them with obscene chants, and the cheerleading corps was promptly disbanded. And when Small suggested setting off aerial fireworks after each Bradford City goal, a stunt that had been a success in Fort Lauderdale, club officials balked. "They knew the fans would be angry that the club had spent money on fireworks instead of on new players," Small said.
One idea Small did implement was an organization that rabid young fans could join at no charge. Members of this ironically named "City Gents Club" were given their own section in the stands and lulled while there with pregame and post-game giveaways; for example, a drawing was held 30 minutes before kickoff, with winners receiving such prizes as a dinner with a favorite player. This was one frill the Bradford fans went for, and while the scheme didn't immediately increase attendance, it did curtail some of the behavior that had scared away upstanding citizens. Bradford toughs used to spend their time before and after games beating up fans of the visiting team. Now, thanks to what might be called "Operation Quarantine," many of them shun the rough stuff and wait in the stands for the raffle results.
Also concerned about unruly fans was fight promoter Don King, who staged a seven-bout program Friday night at Madison Square Garden, which had been the scene of recent fan violence at boxing events. To soothe the beast in the 16,136 fans, King trotted out 14 leotard-clad artistes of the dance who performed in the ring to the accompaniment of a 10-piece band, and who also took turns holding up signs indicating the round. King, who was promoting his first boxing card for the Garden, theorized that the fans would chivalrously refrain from raining chairs and bottles on or about the ring—a common practice in the past—if they knew that young women were in the vicinity. And, indeed, few if any missiles were hurled.
Unfortunately, the presence of King's Queens, as the dancing girls were billed, did nothing to protect fans from one another. Late in the evening an argument broke out in the Garden's far reaches. Before things calmed down, two men had been knifed, the alleged knife-wielder was shot in the chest (he was hospitalized in fair condition) and a woman was cut in the face by a bottle as she and other fans, frightened by the gunshot, surged for the exits. While all this was going on, a 10-rounder between junior welterweights Adolfo Viruet and Bruce Curry droned on somewhere far below. For the benefit of those who left early, Viruet won on points.
BUT WILL THEY HAVE CHEERLEADERS?
Here we go again and where we're going this time is Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Teheran and Mexico City. Those, anyway, are some of the cities that Los Angeles real-estate man Jack Heller insists will be in a new international football league that he means to launch in 1980. And to get things off to a nice start, Heller has made Bert Jones a $5 million, five-year offer to quarterback the league's Los Angeles franchise.