The story of Skipton RFC

By Ian Lockwood

Whilst not strictly part of the Bradford district – postcode aside – we are delighted to publish this history of Skipton RFC by a new contributor to VINCIT. Skipton’s history is fascinating as one of the many smaller rugby clubs in the area, formed in the final quarter of the nineteenth century but uniquely one that remained members of the Rugby Union after the split in 1895. Skipton’s history contrasts with the likes of the Keighley, Bingley and Shipley clubs further down the Aire valley and one time regular opponents…

SKIPTON’S rugby club was formed in 1874 when 11 men turned out for a fixture against Ilkley on November 7 under the captaincy of A Sidgwick, a member of the family which owned both Skipton High Mill and Skipton Low Mill. Before this date, sides drawn from Skipton were often cobbled together for one-off fixtures but from 1874 fixtures became something more permanent. In the same season, Skipton played Leeds Grammar School, Burnley Rovers, Otley and Bradford.

Reports of those early Skipton games were not carried regularly in the press – unlike cricket, the more gentlemanly game. The match against Otley shows how ideas of Victorian sportsmanship, fair play and discipline might be some way off the mark. The Craven Pioneer reported that “the cursing, the pugilistic attitude and the unfairness of the Otley players” prompted a pitch invasion after a Skipton player called Kelsall was the victim of a nasty kick. In the uproar, the Otley captain was “punched insensible, one of his men had his tooth knocked out and there were some other little pleasantries of a similar kind”. Nor did it end there, as the Otley team was chased back to the Ship Hotel, the club’s base. There was no referee – an umpire from each side decided on the rules in consultation with each captain.

These games were played on a field on the Carleton side of the railway line, somewhere near their home today, and Skipton’s fixture list was very localised in those early years, comprised mainly of teams from Bradford district. For example, in the autumn of 1886 Skipton played Keighley Free Wanderers, Windhill, Saltaire, Bowling Old Lane, Guiseley and Wibsey.

The Skipton club was not the only one playing rugby at the time. Again in 1886 there are infrequent references to matches played by teams such as Skipton Wanderers and Skipton Hornets who took on a team also from Skipton called Middletown and later Skipton Printers. In January 1889 the Craven Herald noted the merger of two of these clubs – the Hornets and Rangers, who would in future play under the name of Skipton Rangers. How long they continued is not known as no reports were submitted. Another club to appear in 1893 was Skipton Rovers, made up of shop assistants who could not play on Saturdays. At least two matches were played, the first a loss by a penalty goal to nil against “the Pioneer Office” (presumably a team drawn up by the Herald’s journalistic rivals at the Craven Pioneer) followed by a victory against “a scratch team”. The Rovers held a ball in January 1894, attended by its president and vice-president, Innocent Fattorini and Baldisaro Porri suggesting a St Stephens base. Other teams sprang up playing occasional matches, such as Raikes Road v Gargrave and a match between the workers at the Alexandra Shed and the Union Shed, and then vanishing into the mists of time.

It was the Skipton club which attracted the main support and key members were the Dewhurst family, owner of Belle Vue Mills, the world’s biggest producer of sewing cotton thread under the brand name Sylko. One of JB Dewhurst’s sons, John H Dewhurst, played for England while playing club rugby for first Cambridge University and then Richmond. His brother Edgar was Skipton captain (and also secretary of Skipton Cricket Club). But in 1889 the Athletic News reported that “It is rumoured that the Bradford Club is about to receive a valuable addition to its strength in the person of (Edgar) Dewhurst of Skipton, a brother of the well-known South and international player. Dewhurst’s position in life, that of a wealthy industrialist’s son, precludes any suggestion of tactics in the transfer deal which will need or would not bear, investigation.” In other words, no money had exchanged hands which would have broken the fundamentalist amateur ethos of the rugby authorities. The move was greeted with dismay by the Herald, who described it as “bare-faced kidnapping”. Dewhurst continued to play for Skipton for the remainder of the season but the writing was on the wall when he resigned as captain and refused all pleas to reconsider. On October 11 1889 in a two line report the Herald tersely noted “Mr EH Dewhurst, of Skipton, played three-quarter back for Bradford in their match against Liverpool on Saturday”.

Edgar Dewhurst, Bradford FC 1895 (Typo likely attributed to the fact that ‘Dewhirst’ was an historic Bradford name)
John Dewhirst collection

Skipton were one of the clubs at a meeting at the Commercial Hotel in Bradford in 1877 when the Yorkshire RFU was formed and the Yorkshire Cup inaugurated. This knockout competition pulled in big crowds. In 1889, when Heaton were the visitors to Sandylands, the crowd was put at 1,500 but this was seen as disappointing. Such attendances were rare, however, and Skipton was very much in the lower tier of fixtures before the 1895 great split in the game over professionalism. For example, its fixture list in 1894-95, the last before northern clubs broke away to form what would become the rugby league code, Skipton’s fixture list comprised of home and away fixtures against Yeadon, Farsley, Stanningley, Idle, Bingley, Saltaire, and Silsden plus single fixtures (although a prolonged freeze caused the postponement of some unnamed fixtures) against Kendal Hornets, Tadcaster, Horsforth, Windhill, Harrogate, Guiseley, Hunslet and Bury.  Most of these clubs were junior sides from around the Bradford area and only Harrogate and Hunslet (as a rugby league club) survive today. The club’s annual meeting was held, interestingly enough, in the Temperance Society’s “coffee tavern” on Sheep Street. Gate receipts provided half the club’s income which in 1889-90 was £110 but the outgoings were £121, of which £39 was in rail fares to take players to matches.

There was a tragedy for the club in November 1892 when T Lister complained of neck pains as he came off the field after a match. He fell ill the next day and died three weeks later. A meeting of the Yorkshire RFU in March 1893 heard an application from the club for a £5 grant from club funds to be paid to Lister’s widow and her two children who were living in great poverty. Club secretary Mr Milner wrote to say that Lister was “very averse to complaining about an accident, his family being opposed to his playing football”. However, the union noted that the death certificate had made no mention of death being due to a rugby injury and decided to take no action unless they could question the doctor who attended to him. They were fearful of bad publicity about the vigour of the game and a number of rugby-related deaths elsewhere.

The club did come back, through the Craven area representative on the Yorkshire RFU, a Mr Hartley, who was a member of the Bingley Club. He said he had not spoken to the doctor but had received a note from him stating that the death was due to “either a chill or a blow received through playing”. This was deemed too vague by the county RFU, which left the matter in the hands of a sub-committee which allocated any surplus the county had at the end of the year to charities, mainly hospitals. That year the county had £480 to distribute and gave £5 to Lister’s widow. Interestingly, Lister’s name was mentioned at neither the club’s annual dinner nor its annual meeting. There is no record of any club donation to the bereaved family. It as is if he was whitewashed out of the club’s memory – although there are notes that the number of players was down considerably that year may signify that Lister’s death had some deterrent effect upon players and their families. Incidentally this was not to be the only rugby-related death in Skipton. In 1930 Clifford Briggs, a 25 year old centre who lived in Silsden suffered a head wound in a match against Manchester University (accidentally by all accounts). He was taken off and stitches were inserted but the wound became infected and he died of septicaemia a week later.

At the same county meeting which ducked the issue of Lister’s compensation, the Skipton club also proposed that players who attended Yorkshire practice matches should be allowed “small presents” to compensate them for the expense. It was robustly turned down by the county committee on the basis that it was the thin end of the wedge of professionalism, a forerunner of the professionalism issue which was to create a schism in the game three years later.

On August 29 1895 northern rugby clubs held a meeting at Huddersfield’s George Hotel over the Rugby Football Union’s refusal to allow “broken time payments” – compensation to workers who lost wages when turning out for their club. It was seen as breaking the sport’s strict amateur rules and 22 clubs split to form The Northern Rugby Union, later to become the Rugby Football League. Less than two years after the split, on April 29 1897, there was a second meeting of Yorkshire clubs which included Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Elland, Pudsey, Normanton and Birstall to decide whether or not to join the breakaway Northern Union. The decision of clubs such as Hull Kingston Rovers, York and Featherstone to join the NRU moved Skipton up into the higher echelons of the YRFU rankings as members of what was known as the Number One competition which also included Otley, Bingley and Keighley. However the best players flocked to the NRU and the Skipton club was rocked when its captain, Alec Ross, defected to the Northern Union in 1903, an action which was described as “unsportsmanlike”. He officially became a ‘non-person’.

In 1901 the club’s elevated status was shown when it hosted the Yorkshire v Lancashire match (Yorkshire won 21-11). Although the crowd was a healthy 1,400, before the split this had been a major sporting fixture hosted at one of the north’s biggest grounds attracting many thousands of spectators. The Craven Herald commented on how rugby union was struggling: “Rugby outside the northern Union is treated with indifference while association football is simply worshipped”.

On April 18 1903 360 Skipton supporters boarded a train bound for Harrogate to see their club in its most important match to date, the Yorkshire Cup final against Castleford. However, the final was to prove a hugely contentious affair. The match was drawn 6-6, a feature being (according to the match report in the Craven Herald) the somewhat vigorous play of the Castleford team, particularly against Skipton’s star player, John Knox, and their “unbecoming exhibitions of temper” resulting in a general caution to the team. The match was replayed the following week, starting rumours that Castleford would play an England international centre, John Taylor. The only problem was that Taylor, who would win 11 caps for England, had not played for Castleford that season. Indeed, on the day of the first final he had played in the Durham Cup final for his club, West Hartlepool.

On the day of the replay, the rumours proved true as Taylor was named in the Castleford team. Before the game Skipton captain, Alec Ross, and secretary, T Milner, submitted a formal protest. It was their second of the week, the first objecting to the venue, Wakefield, because of its proximity to their opponents. The Skipton team were beaten 6-0 but the bitterness overflowed. Ross, presented with the runners-up trophy, remarked that “we do not consider ourselves beaten by a representative Castleford team”.  The beaten Skipton side were welcomed back to Skipton by a brass band at the station and Milner addressed a large crowd from the first floor window of the club’s headquarters, the Ship Hotel. Two days later at a special meeting to decide upon the Skipton objection, the Yorkshire committee ruled that Taylor was not a bona fide member of the Castleford club and ordered the replay to be replayed. By Thursday word had got back to Skipton that Castleford did not accept the ruling and would not be turning up for a third match.

The dispute grew even more bitter when a disciplinary meeting stripped Castleford of the cup and ordered it to be handed to Skipton, only to find that Castleford had already had their name inscribed on the trophy as winners. The hurried inscription was heavily criticised, Castleford secretary Cooper being asked why he had carried out an ungentlemanly act only to receive a truculent reply including the question: “was it gentlemanly for Skipton to object?”. The Yorkshire president H Brown had harsh words: “the conduct of the Castleford club was a gross illegal fraud”. The committee ordered the Castleford name to be erased and replaced with Skipton’s, the bill to be sent to the Castleford club, the subscriptions records of the Castleford club to be submitted to the county committee for scrutiny to check Taylor’s involvement with them and for secretary Cooper to resign his post. It was not quite the end of the affair. Castleford’s response was to demand an apology for the comments made by the Yorkshire president. He refused and at yet another disciplinary hearing added that the affair was the “most disgraceful he had ever heard of in the world of sport”. Castleford were suspended from the Yorkshire Union – and their website still proudly bears the honour ‘Yorkshire Cup winners 1903’.

The Yorkshire Cup was retained in 1904 with a 3-0 win over Mytholmroyd in the final, the club’s website describes this pre-war period as “the golden years”. One of its players, John Green, was an England international regular, winning eight England caps between 1905 and 1907 and another, John Knox, represented Scotland. However off the field things were not quite so healthy. Indeed the rugby club came close to folding. True, it might have a current England international, John Green, on its books and it may have been considered one of the strongest sides in Yorkshire, but the club’s association football team was proving more popular. The rugby club was having trouble attracting players, attendances were well down and the decision of most of the North’s top rugby clubs to join the Northern Union meant more travelling with the additional expense. A special meeting was held in June 1906 to decide whether or not to cease playing rugby and turn the club into a “soccer” stronghold. Doubtless the example of Manningham was in the committee’s mind.

“The old code has lost much of its lustre and each year has seen a diminution of interest a decrease in gate money and consequently a keener struggle for existence,”  said the Craven Herald.  Skipton’s association team had been accepted into the West Riding Football League First Division, despite a less than convincing display in the inaugural Craven Football League. One of the oldest members of the club, W Boothman, said football was “undoubtedly the coming game” but thought the club should decide between the two. “Play either rugby or association but play one properly,” he urged. Another old member called Smith said rugby union was in a bad way, most clubs had gone over to the Northern Union and he felt Skipton could field a strong soccer team. What may have swayed the meeting was the revelation that the West Riding Football League would insist on preference for their fixtures on the ground or the Skipton club could be fined. This was too much for many and it was decided to continue as they were. Another attempt to scrap rugby in favour of soccer was made in 1908 but was robustly seen off. Apart from the proposer and seconder of the motion, only two others voted to abandon rugby. The views of member R Harragan seem to sum up the mood: “everyone knew that during the last few years the association team has simply fed on the profits of the rugby section and now they desire to confiscate the whole of the rugby section property”. The football team folded soon after.

Ellwood Rowley collection

In 1909 another threat came to the rugby club’s existence in an affair which plunged the club into crisis and earned them intense criticism. The fiasco resulted in all but two players banned sine die and the club shamed. When the Skipton team set out for Ilkley to meet Headingley in the final of the Yorkshire Cup in April 1909, no doubt spirits were high. But just before half time, with no score on the board, referee Mr Bell awarded Headingley a try which the Skipton captain, Bob Duckett, disputed, claiming the ball had been grounded over the dead ball line rather than in the try zone. After consulting his touch judge, Bell stuck by his ruling stating “I shall give a try here” adding somewhat tactlessly that if the captain did not like his decision he could leave the field. Which is just what Duckett did, with his team in tow. Any chance of a prompt return was ended when the Skipton fans invaded the pitch, booing and jeering. Fights broke out and the officials needed a police escort from the pitch. Of course, Headingley were declared the winners and the Skipton team were roundly condemned from all sides. Even the local paper could not offer any support: “An unbiased and unprejudiced onlooker might admit that no matter what the Skipton team’s grievances – and apparently they were not few – to show the white feather by leaving the field of play was unworthy of the traditions of the rugby game in Skipton and an action that reflects upon the town itself”.

The Skipton defence began to take shape: Headingley had been favoured from the start, right from the choice of hotels where the teams were based and changed – Headingley in the spacious Crescent close to the ground, Skipton in the cramped and distant Ship; before kick off the referee had delivered a general warning about foul play to the Skipton team in front of the main stand while nothing was said to the other side; that a Skipton player [Horner] had been sent off without any warning, which was customary; that the Headingley player had tried to touch down nearer the goalposts and clearly been tackled into touch; that the referee should have been from outside the county; that the referee should not have invited the Skipton captain to walk off; that Duckett had been caught up in the excitement and regretted his actions. It was all rejected by the Yorkshire committee, one of whom, Miller, moved to expel them from the RFU saying “I prefer that Yorkshire should have only one club rather than a dozen clubs capable of playing such unsportsmanlike football as the Skipton team have done.”  Sentence was postponed until the Skipton case was heard.

Meanwhile Duckett gave an interview to the Craven Herald: “Our men were all of one mind and we did not need asking twice, we came off. Most of our committee were in the stand and when we reached them they too thought we had acted right….We did not come off because we were losing because we had a grand chance of winning if we stayed. We considered that Headingley had been favoured all through the cup tie and, well, we hadn’t to win the cup – they had”.

The disciplinary hearing into what to do about Skipton received a report from referee Bell, who also accused Skipton players of foul language. The decision was to suspend sine die 13 of the 15 Skipton players – two who were deemed not to have left the pitch being the exception. The verdict was considered extremely harsh, robbing Skipton of its first team. The club president, Every-Clayton appealed for a rethink on the grounds that it placed the Skipton club in jeopardy. Indeed there was talk of giving up rugby altogether and sticking with football, or even forming a breakaway rugby competition with other Yorkshire clubs who had gripes against the Yorkshire committee. What seems not to have been an option was switching to rugby league. Every-Clayton’s submission to an appeal hearing that the players had made a “tactical error” and there were “aggravated circumstances” did not change the decision, although a hint was dropped that if the players made individual personal appearances, they might be treated more leniently. And so the 13 banned players made a personal appeal, at which they were forced to admit their stupidity. Eight were reinstated but the lifelong ban on five, including Duckett and Horner, was upheld.  The Skipton club dropped any thoughts of leaving and turned its thoughts to filling the five gaps in its team for the new season.

Ellwood Rowley collection

By 1912 the club’s quarrels with the Yorkshire committee were behind them and the club won the Yorkshire Cup for the third time when they beat Otley at Ilkley by 7-0 in front of a 4,000 crowd. To show there were no hard feelings, the Yorkshire president was guest at the club’s dinner where he gave fulsome praise of the Skipton players and supporters. The extent to which rugby was struggling in the county can be shown by the fact that there were so few entries that Skipton won just three games to lift the cup. As the first side to win the trophy three times they were allowed to keep it – although in 1948 they returned it to the Yorkshire RFU with the proviso that it should be presented to the runners-up in the county cup. How ironic then that the first club to receive this runners-up trophy was Skipton! So the trophy, which had been lying around the club for 36 years before being returned, was to spend another year in Skipton.

The club was considering suspending operations for the duration of the First World War in 1914 when the RFU took the matter out of its hands and suspended all fixtures. A total of 57 Skipton members, many of them players, volunteered and 18 of them were never to return. The club was not to resurface until 1919 when a meeting was held to try to resurrect the club. It had a small debt at the bank but its stand appears to have been cannibalised for parts (the stand was “getting less week by week” said the Herald). Moreover the club had no kit, having given it all to the Duke of Wellington’s regiment. Around £300 was needed to get the club back on its feet and the fund raising got into full swing. By September 1919 the club was back in action, taking on Otley.

Ellwood Rowley collection

Its supporters were vocal. In October 1922 two policemen had to be summonsed to escort the referee back to his changing facilities at the Midland Hotel after he sent off a Skipton player. The police were assaulted by two fans, both called Doyle and so presumably related, which ended up with a court appearance for them and a hefty fine.  In 1923 the club decided to build the new wooden grandstand which survives to this day, with changing rooms underneath to avoid the long walk after a muddy game to baths and rooms at the Midland Hotel. A coke stove provided heating in the rooms and players emerged from a central tunnel, now removed but its existence is still traceable. The original cost of £750 had risen to £1,000 and the club had to rely heavily on members’ contributions. Two former players, T Chapman and R Duckett built the stand which was officially opened by the club’s president Sir Donald Horsfall at the first home match of the 1923 season, against Bradford.

There was to be one flourish for the club soon after World War Two when the team reached the Yorkshire Cup final where they played Harrogate at Otley in 1949. Fourteen coaches took 450 supporters and a special train took a similar number. With many more travelling by car, around 1,500 Skiptonians made the journey eastwards only to be disappointed by a lacklustre performance resulting in a 20-6 defeat. “Skipton were at fault for adopting too negative a policy in the first half” (when they had the strong wind at their backs). Even so, their skipper, Donald Cooban, had the honour of being presented with the Yorkshire Shield prize which they had donated to the Yorkshire RFU at the start of the season.

The post war years have been undistinguished on the pitch, but off it the Skipton club has prospered and grown. By 1952 the club finally had its own clubhouse with a bar, something which most leading clubs had long before Skipton. This has been enlarged and improved in the intervening years so that its facilities are ranked highly. In 1955 the club was offered the purchase of its ground, which had been leased from the LMS railway. The £1,000 asking price was beyond the club’s means but the land was bought by the Coulthurst Trust, set up by the late John William Coulthurst and his widow in 1947. The site is administered “for the purposes of rugby, cricket and other kindred sports” with four rugby club officials on the eight man board of trustees.

Today Skipton plays in the lower reaches of the Yorkshire but financially it is buoyant, with several lucrative revenue streams. Its ground is superior to many of the clubs it competes against with a stand on both sides of the touchline and is used for representative matches and county finals.


Related features on VINCIT:

The story of Shipley FC and other smaller rugby clubs in the Bradford district by John Dewhirst

The formation of the Northern Union in 1895 examined from a Bradford perspective by John Dewhirst

Bradford’s rugby heritage by John Dewhirst

Contributions to VINCIT are welcome. We are code agnostic and feature any sport or club with a Bradford connection or heritage. Links from the drop down menu above. Thanks for visiting!

Social networks and the early development of Bradford sport

Historians often look for complex explanations to explain events and overlook more mundane yet obvious factors that influence change. A recent book by Niall Ferguson (pub 2018) – The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Power – makes a compelling case that social networks have historically been the drivers of political change. In other words, it is all about ‘who people know’ and ‘who knows who’ that counts for much.

Something similar could be said about the rapid spread of football fever in the nineteenth century. The example of what happened in Bradford is a good case study to demonstrate how social networks were highly significant in the origins of football and growth in its popularity among players and spectators.

What is remarkable about the spread of ‘football’ in Bradford in the late 1870s is the extent to which it embraced a relatively broad cross-section of people from different social groups, albeit in particular from the skilled labour and middle classes of society. The enthusiasm for the game even in its formative years appears to have been infectious but the popularity of football could never have occurred without people becoming aware of it as a recreational option. How do we explain like-minded people having been brought together to play?

The example of how the craze for cycling spread in Bradford from the spring of 1869 demonstrates the latent demand that had existed for new recreational options and the degree to which a section of the population was receptive to new activities. What is notable is how rapidly ‘velocipede mania’ became established in the town having only originated the year before in New York and Paris. Admittedly such mania was a national phenomenon, but it was the viral spread that is impressive, testament to the efficacy of communications long before the internet.

According to local newspapers in the summer of 1869, cycling had become relatively commonplace on Manningham Lane, the ‘boulevard’ that led into the centre of the town from the eponymous township to the north. For people to embrace cycling they needed an awareness of it that would have come from two critical factors – firstly, the visibility of the activity and secondly, the spread of information about it. With regards the former, the fact that Manningham Lane was the only flat road out of the town centre somewhat concentrated cycling activity. As regards information about cycling, whilst there were reports in the Bradford Observer newspaper about the new activity it is my contention that social networking and word of mouth had an equally significant role to play as with any other fashionable activity. The same factor must have been relevant with regards to participation in football in the following decade. [1]

footballer 1870s

In the first instance it was a network of public school alumni that was behind the origins of Bradford FC in 1863 as a means of recreational activity. Links with Bradford Cricket Club then encouraged the recruitment of others seeking winter athleticism and I believe that merchants were attracted by the commercial networking opportunities that the club afforded. Family networks were equally important with countless examples of siblings being co-opted to make up the numbers. Thus, the game began to derive momentum. The next stage in its development came with football gaining visibility and a key milestone was in 1871 when Bradford FC began playing games at Peel Park, a popular public recreational venue. I believe it was this that provided the sort of exposure that the game had previously lacked as a relatively private indulgence at the ground of Bradford Cricket Club. It seems more than a coincidence that the emergence of a second football club in the town – Bradford Juniors FC – came in the same year that games were first played in Peel Park.

Of course newspapers were important conduits of information and made people aware of sporting events at a national level, in particular the FA Cup Final in 1872, Varsity football fixtures or the inaugural Scotland v England international in 1873. This served to encourage curiosity but that was distinct from providing detail of how to participate. Furthermore, in Bradford where rugby had taken hold the public was unlikely to have comprehended the subtleties of association as opposed to rugby. Newspapers alone could not have made people knowledgeable about ‘football’ although without doubt they helped make ‘football’ mainstream and respectable. Football games were reported in the newspapers in the 1870s in a matter of fact way. The accounts of matches were written by club secretaries who provided them to the press and as such newspaper coverage was entirely factual – albeit partisan – with an absence of comment about the merits or otherwise of the pastime. If anything, the occasional reports of broken limbs or injuries served to dissuade readers from participation; this meant that it was for people themselves to judge the virtues of the game and my argument is that they derived awareness and a qualitative assessment from social networks. In other words, the spread of information about ‘football’ must have been through word of mouth on a viral basis.

1876 Football Annual Bfd clubs

By 1875 there were at least eleven clubs in existence in Bradford and it is possible to talk of a discernible ‘football scene’ in the town that essentially comprised a network of networks. One place in particular can be credited with being the hub – facilitating connections between the various networks – and that was Leuchters’ Restaurant in Bradford, a central venue frequently used for annual meetings and dinners. The restaurant stood adjacent to what was reputedly the world’s largest indoor market and known for its fresh fish and oysters. The venue is better known for having been where the Barbarians rugby club was conceived in April, 1890.

All of the leading Bradford clubs had meetings in Leuchters’ at some stage including Bradford FC and Manningham FC. However, it was not confined to sports clubs and the restaurant was utilised by various other societies for their meetings. The billiards room at the restaurant was reported to have been the haunt of the Bradford FC committee and it operated much like a gentlemens’ club. However, Leuchters’ had a significance beyond a social hub in that it served as a court house, hosted auctions and provided a venue for merchants and professionals to discuss business. Leuchters’ thereby assumed importance in the daily life of Bradford and should be credited with accelerating the development of football by bringing together enthusiasts of the game, particularly among the emergent middle class. Law students and clerks were prominent in the early football clubs and needless to say it was Leuchters’ that hosted meetings of the Bradford Law Students’ Society. [2]

If Leuchters’ was a preserve of merchants, professionals and the middle class, the workplace would have provided the physical connection between young merchants and warehouse managers who became equally prevalent in football teams. Similarly, the workplace likely brought together a community to encourage new players and later, spectators.

1876 Football Annual Bfd Zingari

Two organisations in particular helped to encourage interest in football and athleticism in Bradford. By far the most significant was the Volunteer movement which actively promoted physical activity and in 1875 established its own football club with roughly equal representation of officers, NCOs and privates. [3]

The other was the Bradford Saturday Half-day Closing Association which existed to lobby for greater leisure time as well as to organise ‘purposeful’ recreational pursuits. People known to be active in the latter were also known to be involved with football, the best example of which was Arthur McWeeney who acted as secretary of the Bradford Saturday Half-day Closing Association, Bradford Caledonians FC and later Manningham FC.

The Caledonians club (established in 1873) became the largest in Bradford, as active at football as the Bradford Caledonian Curling Club had been at its sport and as the name suggests, it is no coincidence that it comprised many people with Scottish origins. For good measure, a large proportion of those who played for the Caledonians were also members of the local Rifle Volunteers.

Social networks became significant in a number of ways. By connecting football clubs it was possible to organise fixtures and with it came the emergence of local rivalries. By connecting with existing networks related to athletics, gymnastics or cricket, new groups of sportsmen were also brought together that underpinned mutual support for, and encouragement of, athleticism.

Organised sport gradually became a lifestyle component and by the mid 1880s the popularity of ‘football’ as a spectator activity had a lot to do with it becoming fashionable. Growing interest in the affairs of local sides established its own momentum. Before long, new social routines were formed that were based around attending games, invariably linked to nearby public houses.

In particular at Park Avenue, football fixtures became prominent events in the social calendar. The phenomenon was even embraced as an appendage of so-called ‘masher’ culture in the town – mashers being the sharp dressing youth whose ostentatious behaviour signalled the gains in disposable income of their generation.

Interest in football was also encouraged through gambling. The outcome of football fixtures soon began to attain the same attention as that of horse racing among those partial to taking a punt. Inevitably this cast a shadow over the early development of (rugby) football in Bradford as elsewhere in West Yorkshire, with suspicion over the influence that it brought to bear.

Similarly, political networks connected into sport. The best illustration of this were the efforts made in 1879 by civic dignitaries to revive the then moribund Bradford Cricket Club and develop a new, dedicated sporting enclosure at Park Avenue. Through until the 1930s, Conservative politicians remained anxious to be associated with the city’s senior sports clubs, considered a strong political endorsement. Yet the one social network that I have not found to have been significant in the emergence of football in Bradford was that of religion.

Tom Tetley Bradford FC 1876 England international

Social networks formed within football also impacted on circles beyond sport. An obvious example of this was commerce and the opportunity that football provided for young merchants to not only generate new connections, but to get to know them and derive comfort about their credit worthiness. A former Bradford FC player in the mid-1870s, Tom Tetley (pictured) later recounted that ‘One of the charms of football was the friendship, the freemasonry, that it created’. Many of his generation later became prominent as leading businessmen and councillors in Bradford. Football created new bonds and the loyalty of former Manningham and Bradford playing members to their old clubs as institutions is striking, notwithstanding the switch of codes in 1895 and at Valley Parade (to soccer) in 1903. (Admittedly less so at Park Avenue when Bradford FC abandoned rugby in 1907.)

Networks were equally relevant within football clubs and integral to their operation. As member organisations, the two leading sides in the town – Bradford FC and Manningham FC – were extremely political organisations with different factions within each, typically linked to player personalities, campaigning for representation on the respective management committees. As I argue in Life at the Top, the lobbying in 1895 of supporter groups based around the public houses managed by current or former players of Bradford FC was an important element of the intrigue that surrounded the debate and subsequent commitment of the club to the creation of the Northern Union and the split in English rugby.

Likewise, by the end of the 1890s the leadership of Manningham FC at Valley Parade had become dominated by prominent members of the Primrose League and there was similarly a strong representation of freemasons, a theme that continued within the Bradford City club before World War One and that was significant for fund-raising. Notable is that the Bradford City committee of this era became further connected by marital ties between family members.

Thus various groups and networks of like-minded individuals contributed to the the rapid expansion of football in late Victorian Bradford. Arguably the momentum was all the greater by virtue of the fact that the district established a reputation as a sporting hotbed. By 1893 for instance, Bradford FC had become known as the richest football club in England.

The study of early football history has typically been at a national level that has overlooked local differences. The significance of social networks surely demonstrates why the origins and development of football needs to be examined at a local level. An awareness of the lives of early participants helps provide better understanding of those seminal social networks and their impact. Unfortunately, as Ferguson admitted in his own study, social networks invariably ‘do not leave an orderly paper trail.’

By John Dewhirst

Tweets: @jpdewhirst


[1]. For background about the origins of cycling in Bradford refer to the feature on VINCIT from this link.

[2]. Just as Leuchters Restaurant served as a central meeting place, so do did other pubs and hotels in Bradford. The subject of another feature on VINCIT is the Historic Bradford pubs and their part in the early development of Bradford football.

[3]. For more detail about the Bradford Rifles and the influence of the volunteer movement on early Bradford sport refer this feature on VINCIT.
John is the author of two books on the origins of sport and development of professional football in Bradford, ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP published by Bantamspast (2016). His blog WOOL CITY RIVALS includes content on the history of Bradford City, his features in the BCAFC programme and book reviews.

Future planned articles on VINCIT will feature the history of sports journalism in Bradford; the politics of Odsal Stadium; the history of Bradford sports grounds and the history of crowd violence in Bradford.
Contributions to VINCIT are welcome. We are code agnostic and feature any sport or club with a Bradford heritage. Links from the drop down menu above. Thanks for visiting!

City and Avenue club nicknames

by John Dewhirst

There has been a number of nicknames associated with the two Bradford clubs, Bradford City and its former rival, Bradford Park Avenue. The background to them can be categorised according to the sources. Historically, what is particularly notable is the extent to which journalists encouraged different identities and it was the press rather than a ‘marketing department’ that carried the influence. It was also the case that nicknames were subject to fashion or indeed the whim of writers.

[Links are provided to other features published on my blog Wool City Rivals about the Bradford City AFC identity and the history of the club crest.]

Nicknames with origins in the original rugby rivalry of the predecessor Manningham and Bradford clubs

In the early 1980s, the talk was of yuppies as a cultural phenomenon. These were upwardly mobile professionals attune with what was considered fashionable or novel. A hundred years prior to that the talk had been of ‘mashers‘. However, if yuppies bypassed Bradford in the twentieth century, mashers were commonplace in Manningham in the nineteenth. A masher was a swell, a bon viveur albeit the term came to be applied contemptuously to those with more money and vanity than sense. Mashers were considered to be people whose appearance was vulgar and lacking good taste.

After 1884 Bradford FC had become known for what was considered to be an arrogant, ‘high and mighty’ attitude and its masher nickname would have been linked to this. The players were also genuine celebrities of their time and certain of them were known as playboy dandies. That reputation appears to have been enduring as confirmed by a letter to the Yorkshire Evening Post of 12 April, 1902 from a Batley supporter: ‘As always was the case, Bradford were very boastful before the match, and that alone would tend to lessen sympathy with them on their defeat. That spirit of ‘cocksuredness’ which has always been a considerable part of Bradford ‘stock-in-trade’…

The fact that The Sunday Post of 4 April, 1915 stated the nickname of Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC to be The Mashers suggests that the playboy reputation of Bradford FC became established and enduring. On 2 January, 1907 The Hull Daily Mail referred to Bradford FC as Mashers in the context of the controversy about abandoning rugby at Park Avenue – the reference was in relation to a perceived repeat of the high and mighty attitude on the part of the club some twenty years before. That the nickname endured in this way had nothing to do with Bradford FC or its supporters encouraging the identity as opposed to the prejudice of the journalist concerned.

The term was applied by the same newspaper on 3 March, 1922 in relation to the game between Hull FC and Bradford Northern RLFC. It didn’t stop with the rugby unfortunately and on 3 March, 1908 the Hull Daily Mail contemptuously referred to The Mashers from Bradford, albeit on this occasion with reference to Bradford City. It is quite likely that this was an error but again probably spoke of the prejudice of the journalist himself (as well as his readers!).

The first nickname given to Manningham FC in a newspaper report had been The Wasps on account of their colourful claret and amber hooped shirts introduced in 1884. After 1886 when it relocated to Valley Parade the club became known as The Valley Paraders or simply, The Paraders.

In the Bradford press, rivals Bradford FC were similarly referred to as Avenue and the Avenueites, nicknames that continued after the abandonment of rugby in 1907. Nevertheless this did not become commonplace until the late 1890s, the origin of which had more to do with popular journalism and writers ascribing identities equivalent to those of Manningham FC. (Previously Bradford FC enjoyed a deference as the senior town club that tended to limit reference to more formal names such as ‘Bradford’ or the ‘Park Avenue side’.)

I have also come across mention of another nickname for Manningham FC, the Peacocks although this was cited long after the club had abandoned rugby. My suspicion is that application of the identity was a case of journalistic licence to provide balance when writing about the history of the Bradford-Manningham rivalry. In that way it ensured neutrality with the use of Peacocks for Manningham being no more pejorative as Mashers to describe Bradford FC. In its context, Peacocks alluded to the pride and confidence of the Manningham team in its prime when it became an equal of the Park Avenue side in the 1890s.

Journalists were wont to ascribe animal or indeed avian characteristics to football teams. Although the term was not applied to Manningham FC, the bantam identity had a cultural resonance in relation to sport in the nineteenth century. For example the Leeds Times of 27 March, 1886 had described victory by Bradford FC over Bradford Trinity in the second round of the Yorkshire Cup as ‘the bantam pitted against the Cochin china cock.’ The comment served to emphasise the gulf in wealth between Bradford FC and Bradford Trinity (who Manningham FC defeated in the final of the Bradford Charity Cup the following month). It reflected the sense of Bradford FC being a goliath surrounded by much smaller challengers.

In the same way Manningham members recognised their club as a bantam in comparison to Bradford FC. This outlook became ingrained in the personality of Manningham FC to the extent that it persisted after 1903 among Bradford City supporters. It surely explains how, or indeed why, the Valley Paraders were receptive to adopting the bantam identity after its introduction at the end of November, 1908.

Nicknames ascribed by local journalists

The Paraders nickname was inherited by Bradford City who also became known as The Citizens. Whilst the professional club dated from 1903, another Bradford City side had emerged in 1901 and which played at Greenfield Stadium, Dudley Hill for the sole season of its existence. The nickname afforded to the original Bradford City was The Cits although this does not appear to have been transferred.

Notable is that Bradford Park Avenue AFC continued to be referred to simply as Bradford. In fact after 1907 this remained more common than the less formal identities of Avenue or Avenueites. Whilst this might imply a degree of deference it was also the case that the (association football) club was known very much as the creation of chairman Harry Briggs following the abandonment of rugby. Furthermore, after the so-called Great Betrayal, the loss of Park Avenue to rugby was emotive and hence why nicknames such as Avenue or Avenueites may have been initially avoided by local journalists.

Although the club was never described as such in reports, it was not insignificant that the Yorkshire Sports adopted a badly disguised cartoon of Briggs to accompany its coverage of Bradford Park Avenue. Introduced for Bradford City reports in 1904, Avenue and Bradford Northern later had cartoons associated with them. Their facial expression – of joy, sadness or indifference – provided an immediate indication to the reader of whether the respective team had won that day. The cartoons fell out of use after 1922 which was the year in which both City and Avenue were relegated (from the first and second divisions respectively) – but were revived again in 1930 and once more in 1952. Interestingly the Bradford version retained the moustached gent style and the image was surely a powerful visual metaphor / nickname in its own right as the contrasting styles demonstrate. Briggs himself had died in 1920 but the cartoon arguably maintained his memory and his part in shaping Bradford sporting history. 

Featured in the Yorkshire Sports in February, 1912, prior to the FA Cup Third Round tie at Park Avenue this cartoon refers to the two Bradford clubs as a bantam and a starling. The home side was probably given the nickname to maintain an avian theme and provided the same sort of balance when describing Manningham FC as Peacocks in relation to the Mashers of Bradford FC. I am not aware that Bradford Park Avenue ever promoted a sparrow nickname, notwithstanding that it became associated with an Avenue supporters song in the late 1960s. I doubt very much that the Park Avenue leadership of the time would have been enthusiastic about their club being described as sparrows which was definitely not befitting of its traditions and heritage. The example thus demonstrates how club nicknames were at the mercy of journalists.

cartoon YS Feb-12 BPA v BCAFC.jpg

The cartoon above alludes to the first ever meeting between the two Bradford clubs in the third round of the Yorkshire Challenge Cup in March, 1884 – a game won by Bradford FC en route to eventually winning the trophy. The game attracted considerable interest and there was a crowd of fifteen thousand at Park Avenue.


Nicknames ascribed by other writers

The Tottenham Hotspur programme for the game against City on 16th January, 1915 referred to the club as both The Citizens and The Woolwinders. The example shows journalistic licence, in this case woven into what was a rather patronising narrative. (Fifteen months before, the White Hart Lane programme of 11th October, 1913 had referred to Bradford City solely as The Citizens.)

Whilst The Woolwinders provided a unique identity it is notable that there was no mention of bantams. This may have been peculiar to the fact that Spurs promoted its own cockerel identity or ignorance about the bantams mascot. However the condescending tone towards City is revealing (most likely prompted by recent success, including the 1911 victory) and hence my conclusion that the various nicknames owed more to the preference, prejudice and agenda of journalists than the club’s own designs. It could be said that this continues today with many newspapers choosing to refer to Bradford City as plain ‘Bradford’. (NB I have not seen evidence of The Woolwinders nickname being used by other writers.)


Nicknames encouraged by the clubs themselves

Prior to football clubs recognising the commercial potential of merchandise or branding inititiatives in the late 1960s, club nicknames tended to be restricted to either club programmes or supporters’ clubs. The best example of this in Bradford was City adopting the Paraders identity as the title of the club programme in the 1920s/1930s.

In November, 1908 the introduction of the Bantam character at Valley Parade was more as a mascot than a nickname per se [Refer: How Bradford City became known as the Bantams] and the club continued to be known principally as The Paraders. In 1949, with the revival of the Bradford City Supporters’ and Shareholders’ Association to provide fund-raising support to the parent club, the bantam character was also revived but again more as a mascot. Nevertheless it was used in a number of applications such that it became firmly associated with the club. For example ‘Bantam‘ was a pen name in the club programme and the character was used in the production of enamel badges by the BCSSA [Refer: The BCSSA ‘BSA bantam graphic’]. A bantam flag was also flown from the club offices in the early 1950s and a bantam in a shield briefly was briefly used as a shirt badge. In 1963/64 a bantam sketch also featured on the front of the club programme.

1963 aug.jpg

Despite the bantam identity, the club crest of Bradford City remained the civic coat of arms [More from this link about the application of the Bradford civic crest]. When Stafford Heginbotham took control of the club in 1966 he considered that the bantam was outdated and actively discouraged its use, instead introducing the City Gent character as a modern alternative (a caricature of himself – the origins of The City Gent told here) and replacing the formal civic crest with a simplified boar’s head crest [Refer: Bradford City AFC & the Boar’s Head identity].

In 1966, the Park Avenue club introduced its own cartoon mascot in response to the City Gent of Bradford City at Valley Parade. Avenue ‘Arry is a cartoon of a supporter with hat and scarf waving a rattle. (NB at the time the Bradford Park Avenue colours were green and white but I have never seen an example of the character depicted in colour in the 1960s).

Bradford Park Avenue did not use the character to the same extent as the City Gent but it has been revived by the reformed club since 1988. However, although both characters were associated with the respective clubs neither was ever referred to by them which is to say that City did not become known as the City Gents or Avenue as the Arries. As far as Bradford City was concerned, much the same as with the original use of the bantam, it would be more apt to say that the City Gent was a mascot.

At Park Avenue, the Avenue ‘Arry became closely associated with supporter fund raising efforts and the character was used in the club programme in connection with such initiatives. Other than that, its application was negligible but that spoke equally of the club’s failings at commercial activity in the latter years of its existence. Whilst the main design featured a supporter celebrating a goal, the character was also depicted in different moods which was pertinent given the state of the club in the late 1960s.

It was not until December, 1981 that Bradford City formally adopted The Bantams as a club nickname for commercial application [Refer: Bantam identity of the 1980s] and it was the first time that the club can be said to have attempted any form of brand promotion. The timing was occasioned by a relaunch the club and the revival of the identity was no doubt prompted by a degree of embarrassment about the state of the Valley Parade ground that discouraged use of The Paraders. As evidenced by the programme covers, the change in identity was literally overnight and the Telegraph & Argus dutifully went from reporting about The Paraders to The Bantams.

Nicknames given by rival supporters

The traditional relationship between Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue was shaped by the nineteenth century rivalry of Manningham FC and Bradford FC at Valley Parade and Park Avenue respectively. Supporters of the latter had always considered theirs to be the senior club with the premier ground and negative comments about Valley Parade tended to dictate the banter. The ultimate put-down by Avenue supporters was to refer to Bradford City as ‘Manningham‘ and to proudly boast that theirs was the Bradford club.

On their part, City supporters reminded those of Park Avenue that it was Bradford City that had won the FA Cup in 1911 and achieved greater prominence. Sadly by the 1950s the rivalry of the two was akin to two bald men fighting over a comb and the reality was that both had fallen upon hard times. Even if City had marginally the more successful history it was somewhat irrelevant in the basement division.

In the late 1980s, a Bradford City supporters’ publication Bernard of the Bantams, published as an offshoot of The City Gent fanzine, featured an old Bradford Park Avenue supporter suffering a mid-life crisis. City supporters have contemptuously referred to followers of the reformed Avenue club as Stans but the nickname has never been adopted by Bradford Park Avenue itself.

BOTB Sep-89.jpg

Bradford Northern nicknames

Finally, to provide some comparison, mention should be given of the nicknames associated with Bradford Northern from the club’s formation in 1907 until the rebranding as Bulls in 1996.

It appears to have been entirely coincidental that the ‘Steam Pigs‘ nickname complemented the boar’s head crest adopted by Bradford Northern and which given greater prominence in the 1980s for merchandising. Ultimately, the choice of ‘Bulls‘ reflected the difficulty of ascribing a suitable nickname to the boar’s head civic identity. The concern was that the ‘Steam Pigs‘ nickname – which had enjoyed a revival in the 1980s and early 1990s – was not suitable to convey the brand values of the club for a new global TV audience. Hence the club promptly abandoned its civic themed badge and distanced itself from the nickname which nonetheless had been popular with older supporters.

The dilemma over a nickname relating to the boar’s head – is one that would also be faced by Bradford City. (More from the following link about the use of the Bradford boar’s head civic identity.) In practice, ‘Bantams‘ seems likely to remain the club’s identity, all the more so for the fact that it is unique in English senior football and has been used extensively for most of the past forty years.

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The menu above provides links to other features about Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue as well as the origins and history of Bradford sport.


This was Bradford City’s original bantam graphic from 1909 which I believe was based on a Staffordshire bantam descended from a fighting bird that was popular among bird fanciers and exhibitionists at the time. Contrast with the bantam that features in the current club crest that looks more like a harmless pullet and is not even depicted in claret and amber!

Bradford Park Avenue: Northern Premier League season 1970/71 (Part 2)

by Ian Brown

Part One of the story can be found from this link

1971’s New Year football news was of former players. Terry Dolan was named as substitute for Huddersfield Town for their FA Cup 3rd round tie against Birmingham City. He made his Town debut from the bench late on in the following Tuesday’s replay, when keeper Terry Poole was stretchered off with a broken leg. Steve Smith replaced Poole in goal, fracturing his thumb in the process; Town won 0-2. David Lawson replaced Poole as Town’s first choice before moving to Everton for £80,000 (then a record fee for a goalkeeper) in June 1972. Among other former Avenue players in 3rd round action was John Clancy, whose Yeovil Town side lost 0-3 at home to eventual winners Arsenal.

It was confirmed that York City were to sign Tommy Henderson permanently at the end of his 2-month trial. Henderson too was involved in 3rd round action, York beating 2nd division Bolton 2-0. They went on to draw 3-3 at home with 1st division Southampton in the 4th round, losing the replay at the Dell 3-2.

Leighton signed 33-year-old former Shrewsbury, Wrexham, York & Southport inside forward Roy Ambler as an amateur to add some experience to the reserve side. Ambler had recently been playing for Selby Town & Stalybridge Celtic.

On the field, Avenue began the year at home to Goole Town & won 2-1 thanks to an own goal & a first for Steve Thornton, on a pitch “more suited to ice skating than to soccer”. They could & should have scored more, against a Goole side which included former player Brian Conley. Leighton missed the game, as X-rays at the Royal Infirmary showed that he’d fractured his breastbone in the Boxing Day game against Bangor City. 2 more players departed – young part-timers Nigel Lester (2 appearances) & Phil McCaffery (1 appearance) had their contracts cancelled by mutual consent.

On 9th January, Avenue hosted Selby Town in the 2nd round of the West Riding County Cup. There was a debut for amateur full-back Geoff Kay, 22, who was facing his previous club; Leighton was still unfit, but skipper Trevor Atkinson returned after a 2-match absence.

Danny Campbell headed home from John Brodie’s free kick after half an hour, then netted another from a corner, but that was ruled out for pushing. That was how it stayed until the 73rd minute when Atkinson scored from the spot after Brodie had been fouled.  A 3rd goal came from Tony Beanland, his first of the season, with a fine 30-yard free kick. A close-range effort from substitute Peter Brannan rounded off a 4-0 win. Despite the good result, Callaway was critical of the tactics – “Perhaps Avenue should employ forwards who play according to some sort of positional plan, instead of all being free to roam at will”. He predicted that the forthcoming FA Trophy tie at Telford would prove a much sterner test.

For the final North-West Floodlit League game on Monday 11th January, Leighton fielded a side comprising mainly reserves, which succumbed to a 0-3 home defeat. The following night, at the club’s AGM, Chairman George Sutcliffe revealed that Herbert Metcalfe had been putting around £700 per week into the club just prior to his death. Sutcliffe admitted that it been a struggle to meet the wage bill ever since. However, costs had been cut significantly with the rapid exodus of players in October, plus the subsequent departures of some of those on the fringes of the first team. The directors paid tribute to the hard work of the Supporters Club, who handed over a cheque for £250 at the meeting.

Tony Leighton was still unfit for the Telford game, for which Barry Wood & Mick Walker were recalled; it would be Walker’s last senior appearance. Avenue faced a side which included Graham Carr & was captained by its player/manager, England 1966 World Cup squad member Ron Flowers. After a promising start, Avenue were always second best; Callaway’s prediction of a difficult task proving correct. They were eventually seen off 6-1; the pick of Telford’s goals was a 30-yard free kick from Flowers; Wood netted Avenue’s consolation.

There was more bad news, first when Peter Brannan received a 14-day ban & a £10 fine after amassing 3 bookings while under a previous “suspended sentence”. Following that, Wolves told Avenue that they wouldn’t pay the anticipated £2,000 instalment on Kenny Hibbitt’s transfer fee, which Avenue believed they were due now that Hibbitt had made 20 senior appearances. Wolves contended that the Texaco Cup, in which Hibbitt had appeared 4 times, wasn’t classed as a first team competition.

George Sutcliffe didn’t mince his words: “The whole thing stinks…It puts us in a very grave position…” he said, announcing that an emergency board meeting had been called to address the shortfall in funds. Andrew Callaway phoned Wolves for comment, but their secretary refused to respond. Instead, he threatened to report the paper to the Football League, claiming that transfer fees should be confidential between clubs. To the credit of the T&A, the editorial in the next day’s edition was headed “Pay up now” & ended “We are quite happy for Wolves to report us to anyone they like”.

The emergency board meeting lasted for some 5 hours; the next day the club’s 11 remaining full-time players were faced with a sobering ultimatum – switch to part-time terms, or the club goes under. Metcalfe’s bonus scheme of £8 for a win & £4 for a draw would be reduced to £2 & £1 respectively. Any player not finding the terms acceptable would be granted a free transfer. All but one of the players agreed to go part-time; John Brodie returned to the Football League, signing for 3rd division Port Vale, where he stayed until his enforced retirement in 1978, having been unlucky enough to break the same leg 3 times.

Andrew Callaway thought that the switch to part-time should have been made sooner. In his Yorkshire Sports column of 23rd January, he wrote: “some of the players on the register are just not good enough…the exorbitant wage bill has been hanging round the club’s neck like a giant millstone”

The departed Brodie was replaced by Geoff Kay for the return match at Goole Town on Saturday 23rd January. Leighton & Roberts were back after injury & suspension respectively & Rod Smith was preferred to Aubrey in goal.  Smith played brilliantly & Steve Thornton netted the only goal of the game to end an eventful week on a high.

Off the field, there was good news on the 29th. Wolves had accepted that the Texaco Cup was a first-class fixture & paid the £2,000 instalment due for Hibbitt. With no senior fixture, the following day Avenue hosted a friendly against Goole Town – & beat them for the 3rd time in a month. It finished 5-0 this time, with goals from Ham, Campbell, Fitzsimons, Thornton & Rackstraw; according to Callaway, it could have been 8 or 9.  There were 2 newcomers in the team, Scottish full-back Jim Mackay, once of Scarborough, signed from Leeds Ashley Road as a permit player & young amateur Alan Beckwith from Winterton Rangers at centre-half.

There was another departure in the first week of February; midfielder Tony Beanland, who’d performed consistently well & missed only one game all season, moved back across the Pennines to join NPL rivals Kirkby Town as a part-timer. Without him, Avenue managed a goalless draw at Boston United on the Monday night, with Atkinson & Roberts playing well. Ironically though, the match report noted that both teams “badly needed a skilful player in midfield”.

Tony Leighton left himself out of the side which travelled to Stafford Rangers the following Saturday to give his younger players a chance. Also missing was skipper Atkinson, with a calf strain; there was an NPL debut for Alan Beckwith. The team fell to a 4-0 defeat, they were “pushed about too easily” in Callaway’s opinion. Afterwards Leighton quickly reversed his decision, saying he now felt he needed to play as much as possible – “It seems that when I’m not on the field silly mistakes start creeping in affecting everyone”.

Leighton did return to the starting line-up for the return match with Boston on 13th February. Also back was Atkinson, & Jim Mackay slotted in at left-back for his NPL debut. Out went Rackstraw, Wood & Brannan, the latter with another knee injury that needed stitches. The match ended in a 1-2 home defeat; Campbell scored for Avenue, but a disputed penalty converted by player-manager Jim Smith, later to achieve fame as a manager at a much higher level, proved to be Boston’s winner.

With Brannan still unfit, Leighton named an unchanged team for the following Tuesday night’s trip to Gainsborough Trinity. 2-0 down at half-time, Avenue fought back to draw, thanks to a brace from Eric Fitzsimons.

Off the field, confusion reigned over a quiz night at St George’s Hall which didn’t happen. This had potentially involved 1st division managers Don Revie, Joe Mercer & Sir Matt Busby & players Bobby Charlton & Billy Bremner. Revie had been contacted earlier by former Avenue director Stanley Yeadon & had apparently involved Mercer & Busby – but the hall had never been booked. Yeadon blamed the confusion on a postal dispute & claimed that the whole idea had only been a provisional arrangement.

There was one change to Avenue’s team for the trip to Kirkby Town, with Wood replacing Ham. Brannan & Aubrey, both recovering from injury, were named in the reserves. Avenue completed a hat-trick of wins over poorly supported Kirkby (the crowd was recorded as 173), who included Tony Beanland in midfield. The final score was 1-3 with goals from Thornton, Fitzsimons with a fine header & Atkinson direct from a free kick. The only downside was Leighton’s departure early in the second half with a head injury.

Herbert Metcalfe’s will was published, with some supporters speculating that a bequest might be made to the club. This proved not to be the case, though this came as no surprise to club officials.

There was another new face in the line-up for a friendly against Yorkshire League side Frecheville. This was 18-year-old midfielder John Wilkinson, a Huddersfield lad who had been with Sunderland as a junior. He scored one of the goals in a 6-1 win. Tony Leighton was impressed enough to sign him on part-time terms for the rest of the season. Beckwith, Kay, Thornton & Mackay had also been added to the part-time roster, bringing the number up to 17, though the T&A calculated that 4 part-timers earned roughly what 1 full-timer had been paid earlier in the season.

On 6th March, Lancaster City were the visitors & they took revenge for Avenue’s win at their ground in October. Former Avenue men Andy Haddock & Tommy Singleton got a goal apiece in a 1-4 away win, with Haddock the chief tormentor of the home defence. Leighton netted late on for Avenue.

The following Tuesday John Wilkinson made his senior debut away at Macclesfield, replacing Atkinson. Kay was side-lined with a knee injury & Ham, his replacement as substitute against Lancaster, returned to the starting line-up. The hosts won 4-0; it could have been 5 but a penalty went wide. The next Saturday brought a trip to Farsley Celtic for a West Riding County Cup semi-final, a scrappy game which finished goalless.

Then came another away day, this time to the East coast to face Scarborough for the first time this season. Atkinson was recalled & Mackay moved into midfield. In glorious sunshine, in front of a 2,300 crowd that included several travelling supporters, Avenue played well in a goalless first half, with Atkinson & Leighton dominant in central defence. The second half was a different story – for the 3rd NPL game in succession 4 goals were conceded – this time without reply. Leighton (“a most frustrating afternoon”) was moved to remind his players that they were all playing for a place on the retained list come the season’s end.

The home replay against Farsley was drawn 1-1, the recalled Charlie Rackstraw netting his only goal in Avenue colours. Both fans & Leighton were angered at the decision not to play extra time. That left Avenue facing 11 games in 3 weeks during April. The club was then told that the second replay would be at Valley Parade on Monday 5th April – the same day as they were due to host Fleetwood at Park Avenue.

Leighton said he intended to field a Yorkshire League side against Farsley, noting ominously “it could be that some of the present first-teamers will be in it judging by recent performances”. In the event, the Farsley match was re-scheduled for 6th April.

On Saturday 27th March Stafford Rangers were the visitors, with Alan Aubrey recalled to Avenue’s goal. He was soon in action with a couple of early saves, then had to have his hand strapped after diving to collect a cross. He was beaten on 29 minutes though & then the injured Atkinson had to be replaced by Leighton. Steve Thornton grabbed an equaliser, but Stafford went on to win 1-2. Callaway described the game as “scrappy… kick & hope…”.

Meanwhile, the final game in March saw a quick re-match with Scarborough. Avenue, missing the unfit Atkinson, would select from 14, including Jimmy Williams for the first time since December (though he wasn’t selected to play) & Batley based utility player David Peel (18) who made his debut from the bench. Danny Campbell was dropped in favour of Alan Beckwith. A crowd of 1,443 saw ‘Boro run out 0-1 winners; it could have been more but Aubrey “stopped several almost certain goals”, according to the Scarborough Evening News.

Peter Doman & Mick Moriarty, 2 students from Trinity & All Saints College, Horsforth, where Leighton had a coaching role, were named in the inside-forward positions in the starting line-up for the NPL home game against Great Harwood on Saturday 3rd April. Contrast that with more than 1,000 senior appearances for Blackburn Rovers & England for Ronnie Clayton & Bryan Douglas in the visiting team.

It was a day to remember for 21-year-old student teacher Doman, whose 4th minute header from a Brannan free kick gave Avenue the lead. The visitors equalised after 11 minutes, but on 75 minutes, Doman controlled a long through ball & beat a Harwood defender, before lashing a 20-yard shot into the net for the winning goal. The only downside was the attendance of 857, the lowest at home in the NPL so far & the first to fall below 1,000.

The win saw Avenue move into 10th place in the league. A Monday night home game against Fleetwood quickly followed. Leighton’s experiment with 2 students in the side had been a success, so he brought in a 3rd. 20-year-old winger Frank Foster, younger brother of long-distance runner Brendan came into the team in place of Peter Brannan. Another amateur, Eric Fitzsimons, was recalled, to replace the experienced Rackstraw.

It was a lacklustre performance in the first half, which saw Fleetwood go 2 goals up. The team was unbalanced when Fitzsimons had to leave the field for 10 minutes with an eye injury. Then Peter Doman was injured after 37 minutes & had to be replaced by the player-manager. Doman’s ankle was later put in plaster & he never appeared for Avenue again. But with Leighton “goading & bullying them forward”, Avenue were much improved after the break. 2 headers from Alan Beckwith, the first from Foster’s corner, the second from a Fitzsimons free kick, rescued a point. Foster made a promising debut & Callaway singled out Geoff Kay for praise – “remarkably consistent…a tireless worker”.

On the following day, a virtually unchanged team (with Wilkinson replacing the injured Doman) travelled to Farsley for that second replay of the West Riding County Cup semi-final. The game was goal-less for some 80 minutes, thanks in no small part to Alan Aubrey, who made some fine saves. Then Farsley scored 2 in quick succession & though Leighton, on as substitute for Moriarty, headed home a Fitzsimons corner 2 minutes before the end, Farsley held on to win – deservedly thought Callaway. Avenue’s cause wasn’t helped by a knee injury to Alan Roberts, which forced him to hobble on the wing for most of the second half & kept him out of the next 5 games.

Roberts was replaced by Danny Campbell for the Good Friday trip to South Shields, with Leighton returning to the starting line-up along with Atkinson & Brannan. Shields went ahead in the first minute, but a minute later Avenue levelled through a first goal from Frank Foster. But after only half an hour, the home side were 5-1 ahead. On 42 minutes Avenue were awarded a penalty for handball, but the normally reliable Trevor Atkinson saw his spot kick well saved by home keeper Bert Garrow. It would have been worse if Alan Aubrey hadn’t made 2 “first class” saves in the second half. Other than that, & a last minute Brannan header that grazed the bar, Andrew Callaway was ruthless in his criticism: “Avenue bore little or no resemblance to a team of semi-professional footballers…virtually non-existent in defence…the attack woefully weak”.

Unsurprisingly, Leighton rang the changes for the following day’s clash at Runcorn. Amateur David Peel made his debut in the number 5 shirt in place of Campbell, with Peter Balmforth in for his second game at right-back. Atkinson moved to left-back in place of Jim Mackay, and there was a first start since

November for Bernard Rafferty, which proved to be his final appearance in an Avenue shirt. Though the team gave an improved performance, with Moriarty equalising Runcorn’s opener with his first goal, the home side finished 2-1 winners.

Easter Monday brought Gainsborough Trinity to Bradford for Avenue’s 6th match in 12 days. It also brought Avenue’s first win since Great Harwood at the start of April. Jim Mackay had substituted for the injured Steve Thornton at Runcorn & he started on the left wing against Gainsborough. In the 75th minute Mackay saw his header from an Allan Ham corner hit the bar & reacted quickly to slam the rebound home for the only goal of the game. There were 2 downsides – Tony Leighton sustained a facial injury, causing temporary blindness in his left eye & the crowd of 727 was the lowest of the season.

The next night though, 2.929 turned out to see a home friendly against Leeds United. United fielded a mainly reserve side, with the notable exceptions of Billy Bremner (returning from injury) & Terry Hibbitt. Avenue fielded 9 amateurs, including 4 local players with no previous experience in the first team – Phil Hardman (21) & Barry Stuart (22) both played for T.S. Harrisons in the West Riding County Amateur League, Gerry Stebbings (22) played for Crabtree-Mann & Harry Rose (20) for Silsden. Stebbings had originally had a trial at Avenue at the same time as Peter Brannan but had been released.

Rose put Avenue 1-0 up in the first half. After Leeds had equalised, Fitzsimons put Avenue ahead again, only for another Leeds goal. It finished 2-2, though Frank Foster missed a late chance to win it for Avenue. Callaway was impressed by the performance, singling out goalkeeper Rod Smith for praise. Leighton too was pleased: “I decided to throw them in at the deep end & they certainly played very well”.

Leighton was unfit for the trip to Altrincham on Saturday 17th April, so Danny Campbell was recalled. Alan Aubrey was in dominant form in goal but was beaten by a late header from a corner, which gave the hosts the points.

There was another quick turnaround, with Chorley the visitors on Monday 19th. Fitzsimons & Thornton came back into the side & there was a debut for winger Gerry Stebbings. Callaway thought it seemed like a game with an end of season feel. Avenue’s only shot on target was a 25-yard free kick from Atkinson, but it was Chorley who secured the win with a goal on 70 minutes.

Although there were still 3 games to be played before the season’s actual end, Avenue’s retained list was announced on Tuesday 20th April. 7 players were being released – Peter Brannan, Alan Brown, Danny Campbell, Charlie Rackstraw, Bernard Rafferty, Mick Walker & Jimmy Williams. Also leaving was the club’s sole remaining apprentice Harry Preece, who had never progressed to the first team. Barry Wood’s contract had ended earlier so that he could resume his cricketing career. Gary Hudson didn’t feature on either list, so presumably he had already had to retire from the professional game due to persistent knee injuries.

Perhaps the only surprising name among those released was Peter Brannan, though he was later re-signed & remained with Avenue until the club folded 3 years later. Alan Brown had failed to live up to his early promise & had made only 5 senior appearances without scoring, the last in December. Danny Campbell had been left out early on & was only recalled after Terry Dolan’s departure. Charlie Rackstraw had been something of a disappointment, only managing 1 goal in 11 appearances, though he had suffered some niggling injuries. Bernard Rafferty’s only goals in senior games were his hat-trick against Matlock back in August, though his first team opportunities had been few, & he had scored a further 3 goals in NW Floodlit League games. He too hadn’t fulfilled his early promise; the same could be said of Mick Walker & Jimmy Williams.

Retained for 1971/72 were Trevor Atkinson, Alan Aubrey, Alan Beckwith, Allan Ham, Geoff Kay, Tony Leighton, Jim Mackay, Alan Roberts, Rod Smith, Steve Thornton & John Wilkinson. This, thought Leighton, left room for 3 new signings, a midfielder & 2 forwards. He was already trying to sign Rotherham United’s ex-Huddersfield & Barnsley midfielder John Bettany, who was available on a free transfer, though Bettany eventually opted to join Goole Town.

The final Saturday game of the season was at home to South Liverpool on 24th April, in front of another disappointing attendance – 777. After missing 5 games with knee ligament trouble, Alan Roberts was fit to return. Avenue went 1-0 up through Allan Ham in the first half but were 1-2 behind on 70 minutes. On 77 minutes though, a free kick from Trevor Atkinson came back off the bar and went in off an attempted clearance by a defender; it finished 2-2. Tony Leighton missed the game to watch a Southern League match between Romford & Chelmsford – denying his interest in former Avenue player of the year Glen Andrews, now playing for Chelmsford.

The final home match was on the following Monday against Northwich Victoria, who ran out 0-2 winners. Avenue’s team was unchanged, apart from in goal where Smith stepped in for the injured Aubrey. In a report headed “Avenue shocker” Andrew Callaway was scathing: “What a terrible way to end the home season! I can’t find a good thing to say…one was left wondering whether or not manager Tony Leighton has retained too many players”. Perhaps the only positive was a small increase in the crowd to 809.

The season finally came to an end on Friday 30th April at Chorley, the side’s 11th game in a hectic month. Aubrey & Leighton returned from injury & amateurs Hardman & Stuart, who had impressed Leighton in the friendly against Leeds, made their debuts. So too did Roy Ambler from the bench, in place of the injured Geoff Kay. Only Brannan, Leighton & Roberts had featured in the team that had kicked off the season the previous August. It was a comfortable 3-0 win for Chorley & a disappointing end to a turbulent season, that more than once had seemed full of promise.  

The club finished a lowly 14th (out of 22) in the league, having won 15, drawn 8 & lost 19 of its 42 games. The points total was 38, with 54 goals scored & 73 conceded. A total of 39 players had appeared in the first team, many of them initially at least, as amateurs. There were a further 3 players on the books who hadn’t made an appearance at all.

Tony Leighton was voted the Supporters Club’s player of the season, with keeper Alan Aubrey a close second, just 1 vote behind his manager.

Of the players retained by the club, 3 would be gone before the start of the following season. Reserve keeper Rod Smith’s contract was cancelled in early May, as he wanted to concentrate on his cricketing career. This meant a reprieve for Peter Brannan who had been freed but was now re-signed. Leighton suggested that Brannan might fill in as back-up goalkeeper to Aubrey if required. Alan Roberts re-joined his former club Mossley during the summer. Lastly in July, club captain Trevor Atkinson asked for his contract to be cancelled as he intended running a pub near Huddersfield Town’s ground. Including the player/manager that left a staff of 9 part-time professionals on the books for the 1971/72 season.

The question of which league those players would be competing in was answered emphatically at the Football League’s AGM on 5th June 1971. Avenue were among 13 non-league sides applying for election, but the 4 current members (Lincoln City, Newport County, Hartlepool & Barrow) were safely re-elected. Of the non-league teams, only Hereford United (22 votes) & NPL champions Wigan Athletic (14) polled more than 2 votes. Avenue received just 1 solitary vote.

The failure to be re-elected in 1970 had been a crushing blow, but joining the Northern Premier League was seen as an opportunity to bounce back at the first time of asking. Initially, Avenue seemed well set up to be contenders in the NPL title race, with a large full-time squad including several players with substantial Football League experience.

After a slow start, they appeared to be on course to make a success of the season. But even before Herbert Metcalfe’s untimely death, there were indications of financial strife. The full picture of his financial involvement with the club remains unclear, with rumours of asset stripping conflicting with his public image as a benevolent, if eccentric benefactor. After his demise, the financial burden proved so great that drastic cuts had to be made to both playing & non-playing staff.

The deterioration in performances & results which followed the player exodus eventually resulted in lower numbers through the turnstiles & a consequent reduction in income. That in turn led to the enforced switch to part-time status & the departure of more experienced players. There was an increasing reliance on bolstering the already weakened team with amateurs – with varying degrees of success. The team was unable to produce consistent enough performances to challenge the success of the top 5 – Wigan Athletic, Stafford Rangers, Scarborough, Boston United & Macclesfield Town.

Attendances had dwindled to less than 1,000 for 5 of the last 9 home games of the season. The 14th place finish was a deeply disappointing outcome. With the squad at the season’s end comprising 9 part-timers on contract, only 2 of whom (Brannan & Leighton) had any Football League experience, the prospect of returning to the League now seemed remoter than ever.

(Thanks to Kevin Haley for providing the Telford U match picture)

Appendix 1: final league table

Appendix 2: appearances & goalscorers:-

Thanks for visiting VINCIT which features the history of all Bradford sports clubs, irrespective of code. You can find more about Bradford Park Avenue from this

Fall from Grace – Bradford Park Avenue’s double relegations by Ian Hemmens

Aside from Bradford City’s glorious triumph in the 1911 FA Cup Final, I would give a personal view that the two seasons immediately prior & after the carnage of the Great War would be the ‘high water mark’ of Bradford football. Of course, Bradford City’s return to top flight football after a long period of over 70 years deserves mention & merit but it was a fleeting relationship of only two years.

BPA 1914/15

The 1914-15 saw Bradford with two clubs in the countries top Division. Bradford City had established themselves as one of the countries leading clubs with the FA Cup victory a huge plus on their CV. They were known as a side difficult to beat, strong in defence but with players of flair able to play on the counter attack. Add to this, Bradford Park Avenue had achieved promotion in 1913-14 and more than established themselves in the higher division with a superb 9th place finish.

The oncoming conflict consumed everyone and despite playing the 1914-15 season to a conclusion, the Football League finally bowed to unyielding pressure and suspended its competition. Hundreds of players lost their best years to the War and even more tragically, hundreds lost their lives.

Tommy Little

Football carried on the best it could with Regional Wartime Leagues providing a boost in morale for the war-weary population who had realised that the conflict wasn’t going to be over by Christmas but had developed into an attritional stalemate without a forseeable end. Some clubs tried to carry on but then decided to ‘shut down’ for the duration. The rest carried on with any available players they could get along with ‘guests’ from other clubs who were maybe stationed nearby supplemented by promising local players & youngsters.

At the end of the conflict, the League decreed that it would resume for the 1919-20 season. Despite the euphoria of final victory, four years of carnage had taken its toll on the whole population. Everyone carried a dark shadow around with memories of Family, friends or colleagues who were no longer with us. Football wise, both the Bradford clubs lost players to the War, fan favourites whose talents would never be seen again on the pitch. Park Avenue had lost their popular Centre Forward Jimmy Smith who fell late in 1918 shortly before he was due back in Bradford to be married and Donald Bell whose courage in the field of battle saw him awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour.

Football – 1919 / 1920 season – Bradford Park Avenue Team Group Back (left to right): T. Longham, F. Chadwick, (trainer), G. Scattergood, L. Barnwell. Middle: Blackham, J. Crosier, W. Dickinson, D. Howie, J. Scott, Mr. T. Maley (secreatary). Sitting: Turnbull, ——, McLean, Bauchop, McCandless. They reached the quarter-final of the FA Cup that season.

For the new season, Avenue showed admirable loyalty to the players who had reached their high point pre-WW1. The squad was mostly the same with the sadly missing Smith replaced by Scottish goalgetter David McLean signed from Sheffield Wednesday for a huge fee at the time of £2000.

Ernie Scattergood

The core of these players, the likes of Scattergood, Blackham, Howie, Little, Bauchop, Scott, Dickinson,Crozier & McCandless were added to by exciting wartime find Bob Turnbull who would win an England Cap whilst at Avenue. As reflected, a good solid season was had boosted by a mid-season ten game unbeaten run. A portent of what was to come saw a run at the end of five losses in the last eight games. Were the players running out of steam? Had they finally been found out at the highest class?

David Howie

A far bigger mortal blow was the premature death of Avenue Chairman & major benefactor Harry Briggs in March 1920. Briggs had been the driving force behind the development of the Park Avenue ground and the rise to prominence of the Bradford Rugby Club to be one of the finest in the land. He had also noticed the progress of crosstown rivals Manningham FC after their change to Association football under the name of Bradford City. He saw the attendances at Valley Parade start to outstrip those at Park Avenue and decided he wanted his club to have a piece of the pie. He was behind the change to Soccer at Park Avenue and a couple of years later a significant figure in amalgamation talks between the two clubs to create one club to represent Bradford which was ultimately unsuccessful. Looking back from today & putting aside our partisan & parochial feelings of whether we are ‘City’ or ‘Avenue’ the amalgamation would possibly have created a much stronger club able to survive at the top level & generations of Bradfordians might have been spared decades of mediocrity & despair. As an aside, he was one of the first owners of a Rolls-Royce and it was said he was the person that introduced Mr Rolls to Mr Royce & was one of the early investors in their fledgling company.

Harry Briggs

The death of Harry Briggs must have ripped the heart out of the club. Not only was he the undisputed leader of the club but their major benefactor. Until the appearance of the Waddilove family on the Board, the club appeared rudderless for several years culminating in the double relegation of the early 20s.

Tom Maley

Secretary-Manager Tom Maley had to try & maintain the clubs progress but the team was getting old, any replacements weren’t ready or indeed up to the standard required. The 1920-21 season would be Avenues last in the top flight of English football. A run of just 2 wins & 14 losses between September & January set them adrift at the foot of the table. Despite a fine return of 22 goals by David McLean, the team never managed an unbeaten run of more than three games all season and that was in the first month. No other player hit double figures and again due to events off the field, Maley relied on the old guard with none of the new signings making much of an impression. The season also saw the end of one of the original stalwarts as forward Tommy Little left the club after over 200 appearances & over 100 goals, the first Avenue player to achieve such a feat. He wasn’t replaced as Avenue floundered and finally succumbed to the inevitable relegation to Division 2.

Ernie Scattergood

That Bradford City remained in the top division & the rise to the very top of Huddersfield Town had begun left Avenue feeling knocked down the pecking order in Yorkshire football. With relegation brought the inevitable fall in attendances, coupled with the lack of financial clout from about left Avenue once again relying on the old guard, a year older, most of them now in their mid 30s. The new season began ominously with three defeats which soon brought back to Earth any hopes of an immediate return. Although the team never suffered any long winless runs, nevertheless, consistency was hard to achieve. An early season injury to main goal threat McLean meant he didn’t appear in the team until November his place taken on several occasions by his younger Brother George who would in the future become an Avenue legend in his own right but this season was before his time. The main goalscoring duties being shouldered by Jimmy Bauchop and even Goalkeeper Ernie Scattergood weighed in with 3 of his own from the penalty spot. Of the newcomers, only Bradford born Harold Peel made any lasting impression and Centre Half Gerald Fell was solid although he arrived too late in the season to stop the inevitable. One interesting debutant was a young man named Harold Taylor just starting a long career, his claim to fame was being a member of the victorious Bradford Boys team in 1916.

Jimmy Bauchop

The team ended the season in the penultimate position to give the club an unwanted record of being the first club in League history to suffer consecutive relegations. Descent into the 3rd level finally meant the end for a few of the reliable older players who had served the club so well for many years. Only Scattergood & Howie remained for the new season although McCandless started the new campaign he didn’t last long. New blood like the younger McLean & Tom Brandon added new & much needed energy alongside the ever reliable Bob Turnbull & the emerging Harold Peel saw Avenue at last challenging at the top of the table although with only the Champions promoted it was an unforgiving league and Avenue were pipped to the title by Lancashire neighbours Nelson managed by former City defender & Oldham stalwart David Wilson. It was to the team from Seedhill’s finest hour as they came straight back down the year after.

Sam Blackham

As the Waddilove family took control of the club , finances improved and Avenue became a sold side as the changing of the guard continued both on & off the pitch although it wasn’t until 1927-28 that they finally returned to the 2nd level.

As with all clubs, the fall out of the Great War stopped the club in its tracks. What could the club have achieved but for the conflict & the untimely death of their main benefactor? A noble & loyal over reliance on the old players was in retrospect a backward step as was the failure to replace them with the quality needed. Avenue would never again reach the heights of their pre-war team and indeed with City’s relegation in 1921-22, it would be a long 77 years before Bradford would enjoy top class football again although in the 1930s, Avenue did have a couple of close shaves with a promotion race but an all too familiar trend of selling off the best talent had the effect of not quite getting the club over the line. 1919-22 was a sad & sobering end to the clubs Golden Age as a top team & it was a credit to those involved that the club could overcome such a calamity to become a very solid club much loved in the late 20s & 1930s respected throughout the league.

By Ian Hemmens Tweets: @IHemmens

Thanks to Bradford PA historian Tim Clapham for his input

Bobby Turnbull

Thanks for visiting VINCIT which features the history of all Bradford sports clubs, irrespective of code. You can find more about Bradford Park Avenue from this link. Contributions are always welcome.

The England Rugby Union internationals of Bradford FC

Given the dearth of serving players from either Bradford City AFC or Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC to represent England at association football it seems remarkable that in the nineteenth century, players of Bradford FC (based at Park Avenue) were virtually ever-present in the England Rugby Union team between 1885 and 1895. In that period, thirteen different players won a total of 48 international caps. In this period caps were awarded for 27 different games and on only two occasions was a Bradford player not represented. In other words, of the total caps awarded Bradford FC players won 12%.

1887 BFC internationas 1

It was the practice that northern players from Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire represented half of the England side, of which most came from the white rose county. But of all the Yorkshire clubs, it was Bradford FC players who won the most caps and with this record alone the club could claim to have a team of celebrities.

1884-11-15-Toby-Farfamed Ftbllrs- L Hickson (3)On two occasions, no fewer than four out of the fifteen representing England were Bradford FC players– the combination of Fred Bonsor, Laurie Hickson (portrait featured), Rawson Robertshaw and Edgar Wilkinson in January and March, 1887 against Wales and Scotland respectively (pictured above). Not surprisingly there was no reluctance on the part of Bradford FC to reimburse players for the expense of international call-ups. The Yorkshireman of 23 January, 1886 reported that the club paid the expense of international caps which cost 18s 6d each.

Thomas Tetley had been the first Bradford FC player to be selected for England in 1876 followed by Harry Garnett in 1877 [1]. In total therefore Bradford FC had 15 England internationals prior to 1895 who won 50 caps between them. In the same period the total number of caps won by players from all other Yorkshire clubs amounted to 86 of which Halifax players, 15; Heckmondwike, 15; Bramley, 7; Huddersfield, 6 and Hull, 6; Bingley FC, 5 and Leeds FC, 5. (The Bingley FC international, Tom Broadley won a sixth cap in 1896 before joining Bradford FC and it may surprise readers that a couple more Bingley players won a total of four caps between 1896-99 inclusive. [2])

Holmes Mar-90 1Edgar Holmes (pictured) was Manningham FC ’s sole international albeit with only two caps which were both gained in 1890. In the same year, Holmes was a member of the Yorkshire side that defeated England on 1 March at Park Avenue. In 1891 he became the only Manningham player to have ever captained Yorkshire.

The England game at Park Avenue was celebrated in particular by Bradford members given its contribution to the prestige of their club. However, there was also a scare resulting from injury to Hickson and the fear that he might need a leg amputating due to infection – an outcome almost inconceivable today with the benefit of modern medicine. When an England side played Ireland at Park Avenue in February, 1909, the ground became one of a select number to have hosted an England representative team in both rugby and association football.

j toothill bfc

Bradford’s most capped player was Jack Toothill (above) who played twelve games followed by Fred Bonsor – who captained England in 1888/89 – with six and Laurie Hickson, also six. Toothill, like Joe Hawcridge (the ‘Artful Dodger’ – pictured at the bottom of this feature) was a former Manningham FC player. Hawcridge ran a sports outfitters shop with his brother on Manningham Lane but emigrated to the USA in 1893, becoming an attorney in Chicago. He caught typhoid in San Francisco where he died in 1905.

1886-10-02 Fred Bonsor (1) 1Both Bonsor and Hickson captained England in February, 1889 (against the Maoris) and March, 1890 (against Scotland) respectively. Alongside Dickie Lockwood (who captained England twice in 1894) they were the only Yorkshiremen to captain England in the 54 internationals preceding the schism of 1895.

In 1889 Bonsor (pictured) achieved a hat-trick as captain of Bradford FC, Yorkshire and England in victories against the Maoris.

Percy Robertshaw was one of fifteen payers including Fred Bonsor and Laurie Hickson awarded England caps in 1888 despite never playing a game for their country, a peculiarity arising from the fall out between the four British rugby unions in that year.

Robertshaws 1Of the three Robertshaw brothers only Rawson actually played for England and both Herbert and Percy were unsuccessful triallists. By this achievement alone the Robertshaws were probably Bradford’s most famous sporting family before the Brownlees in 2012. However the Ducketts should also be mentioned in this regard. Horace, formerly of Heaton FC represented Bradford FC at Park Avenue between 1888-94 and was capped twice for England in 1893 whilst his son, Donald played for both Bradford clubs in the Football League and was a member of the Bradford (PA) AFC side that won the Division Three (North) championship in 1927/28.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screenshot-2020-09-29-171245.jpg

Above: Joe Hawcridge

Bradford FC Internationals (all England except annoted)      
John ‘Jack’ Toothill 12 1890-94 ***
Rawson Robertshaw 5 1886-87  
Edgar Wilkinson 5 1886-87  
Fred Bonsor 6 1886-89  
Lawrence Hickson 6 1887-90  
Joseph Richards 3 1891  
Arthur Briggs 3 1892  
Horace Duckett 2 1893  
Joseph Hawcridge 2 1885 ***
Thomas Tetley 1 1876  
Harry Garnett 1 1877  
James Wright 1 1890  
Charles Emmott 1 1892  
Thomas Dobson 1 1895  
Herbert Ward 1 1895  
Fred Schutt  (Ireland) 2 1878-79 *
Manningham FC      
Edgar Holmes 2 1890  

* Fred Schutt made his name with Bradford FC before joining Dublin Wanderers FC in 1877 which gave him the qualification to represent Ireland

*** Formerly Manningham FC players

In addition to the above, the following Bradford FC players were unsuccessful England triallists: J W Marshall, 1882; Thomas Steriker, 1882; Herbert Robertshaw, 1886; Percy Robertshaw, 1886; Frank Ritchie, 1888; and Fred Cooper, 1895.

Not included are the nominal (non-playing) caps awarded to Fred Bonsor, Laurie Hickson and Percy Robertshaw in 1888.

By John Dewhirst

(from his book ROOM AT THE TOP (Bantamspast, 2016) )

Tweets: @jpdewhirst


[1] Some background here about Harry Garnett from the author’s blog

[2] Brief history of Bingley FC included in this feature about Shipley FC

[3] Other features about the history and origins of Bradford rugby on VINCIT

Bradford Park Avenue: the first season in the Northern Premier League, 1970/71 (Part 1)

By Ian Brown.

Saturday 30th May 1970 at the Café Royal in London. The annual general meeting of the Football League, with Avenue having to apply for re-election for a 4th consecutive season. Since the resumption of football after World War 2, only 2 sides had failed to be re-elected to the league, New Brighton in 1951 & Gateshead in 1960.

At 1967’s AGM, Avenue had received 42 votes & in 1968 that figure increased to 44. The vote fell to 38 in 1969, but that was 11 more than Newport County & 22 more than Cambridge United, the most successful of the non-league applicants. Newport also had to apply again in 1970, along with Hartlepool & Darlington. Chairman Herbert Metcalfe, vice-chairman George Sutcliffe, manager Frank Tomlinson & trainer/coach Ron Lewin arrived at the AGM with a degree of cautious optimism.

But when the votes were counted, there were only 17 in favour of Avenue. Southern League Cambridge United polled 31 votes & were elected along with existing members Darlington (47 votes), Hartlepool (42) & Newport County (31). Even Northern Premier League runners-up Wigan Athletic received more votes than Avenue, with 18 – Avenue’s 52-year membership of the Football League was over

Metcalfe was “dreadfully disappointed”. He admitted that what he referred to as “the rumpus last October” (when he’d insisted on picking the team, despite not having seen them play, provoking manager Laurie Brown to resign & virtually the entire playing staff to ask for transfers) “played a big part”, but he maintained that hestill thought that he’d been right. The future of the club would be decided at a board meeting on Monday.

Monday 1st June: The Telegraph & Argus led with the headline “Avenue face ‘go on or quit’ dilemma” – was the club going to go out of business, or would it apply to continue in the Northern Premier League? George Sutcliffe clearly favoured the latter option & Peter Swales of Altrincham, spokesman for the NPL, made it known that Avenue would be welcome to join.

Sutcliffe indicated that changes would need to be made to the club’s existing set-up to cope with the potential loss of revenue. Stanley Pearson speculated that the club would be unable to afford to run 3 sides as it had done previously & that the current playing staff of 16 full-timers, 1 part-timer & 2 apprentices might have to be significantly reduced.

Perhaps ground down by having covered Avenue’s failing fortunes since 1966, Pearson said “my own view is that the sensible way would be to pack up now”. In an editorial in the same issue headlined “Club that died of shame”, he penned what proved to be a rather premature obituary.

In Tuesday’s paper, Pearson reported that the Monday night board meeting had started promptly at 6pm. At 6.40, Ron Lewin emerged & invited Supporters Club secretary George Hudson to join the meeting. After another 30 minutes, Lewin re-emerged & before driving to his home in the north-east explained that he’d been fired, as the club could no longer afford him.

When the meeting ended, Metcalfe announced that due in great part to George Hudson’s assurances that the Supporters Club would continue to back them, Avenue proposed to carry on & apply to join the NPL. “We are all pulling together, trying to make this not our Waterloo, but our Dunkirk” he said, before advising that the players would be spoken to later in the week. Any not wishing to remain would be allowed to leave, he said.

On 5th June, Pearson reported “another shock” as development manager Denis Marshall resigned, saying that he & his assistant Stuart Thorp (a former Avenue junior) were to join another club “not far from here” from 1st July.  Most of the players met with the manager & chairman on the same day, with a statement on the outcome expected later. Pearson speculated that the club would aim to employ only about 6 full-time professionals, with the rest of the playing staff being made up of part-timers. On the following day, Avenue applied to join the NPL & were accepted at its AGM in Leeds.

On 15th June it was announced that Avenue’s reserve team would play in the Yorkshire League in 1970/71. Arsenal were rumoured to be interested in signing Terry Dolan, but 3 days later, the T&A reported that he had committed to stay with Avenue. Also staying were Trevor Atkinson & Tommy Henderson, all 3 players remaining on full-time terms.

Fred Eyre had re-signed as a part-timer but wouldn’t be taking charge of the youth team as had previously been the case. 2 youngsters, forward Alan Brown, who’d made a goalscoring debut in the West Riding Senior Cup match against Huddersfield Town the previous April, & defender Phil McCaffery were signed as part-time professionals. Hartlepool had been given permission to talk to Ralph Wright, who would be allowed to leave on a free transfer.

There was more bad news for English football fans that week – Sunday 14th saw West Germany beat England 3-2 after extra time in the World Cup quarter-final in Mexico. Then on Friday 19th we opened our copy of Soccer Star to find that it was the last ever issue – a brief statement said it was being merged with its sister publication World Soccer – the end of another era.

22nd June saw the publication of the NPL fixture list; the season would begin on 15th August, at home to Netherfield. On 24th June, Ralph Wright, whose time at Avenue had been plagued by injury, signed for Hartlepool.

At the well-attended Supporters Club AGM, Mr Metcalfe received an enthusiastic reception & the club was presented with a cheque for £500. He in turn expressed his thanks to the supporters & reiterated his intention to guide the club back into the Football League. He said that unsettled players would only be allowed to leave if it was in the club’s best interests. Arthur Birdsall was appointed as the new development fund organiser. No mention was made of the presentation of the Player of the Year award – Graham Carr, the recipient of that slightly dubious honour, had refused to re-sign, so wasn’t there.

On 26th June the T&A reported that 30-year-old Tony Leighton, surprisingly freed by Bradford City at the end of 1969/70 had been interviewed for the post of Avenue player/coach, with a decision expected soon.

On 29th June, a new bonus scheme for the first 30 games of the new season was unveiled. Players would get £8 for a win & £4 for a draw; £100 for winning the league & £100 for winning the non-league cup. The list of full-time players who had re-signed for Avenue was now Atkinson, Beanland, Brannan, Campbell, Dolan, Henderson, Rafferty, Roberts, Walker & Woolmer. Yet to sign were Brodie, Carr, Hardie, Hudson & Tewley. Though Terry Dolan had been given permission to attend pre-season training / trials at Arsenal.

In his Yorkshire Sports column on 1st July, Andrew Callaway, who had taken over Avenue reporting duties from Stanley Pearson, had good news of 2 players – Dolan had returned early from his spell at Arsenal citing homesickness & the club’s longest serving player, John Hardie was to re-sign as a part-time professional.

On 6th July, Avenue were elected to the North-West Floodlit League & the following day, Tony Leighton’s appointment as player/coach was confirmed, effective from Monday 13th, when pre-season training began. With more than 400 senior appearances for City, Huddersfield Town, Barnsley & Doncaster Rovers, the signing of Leighton was a clear statement of Avenue’s intent to meet the challenge of returning to the Football League at the first time of asking head on. Meanwhile, recently freed Avenue centre forward Ray Charnley had signed for Morecambe, from where he’d joined Blackpool back in 1957.

Unusually, there appears to be no pre-season team photograph for 1970/71. On 13th July, the T&A included a picture of Leighton addressing 14 of his full-time playing staff. Back row: Tony Woolmer, Terry Dolan, Tommy Henderson, Alan Roberts, Tony Beanland, John Brodie, Danny Campbell, Trevor Atkinson & Gary Hudson; Front row: Gary Crampton, Bernard Rafferty, Mick Walker, Peter Brannan, Alan Tewley.

Missing from the picture were Graham Carr & John Hardie, as neither had yet re-signed & apprentice Harry Preece. Unlike most first days of pre-season, there was only one newcomer to the group, Leighton himself.

In the following Saturday’s edition of Yorkshire Sports, Andrew Callaway sounded a note of caution. With smaller crowds & lower income expected, could Avenue sustain a full-time staff of 12, the largest of any in the NPL? That figure of 12 was made up of the players pictured above, excluding Crampton (apprentice) & Gary Hudson, who didn’t re-sign until 27th July, on which day Hardie also signed his new part-time terms.

On 20th July, it was reported that Avenue would enter the 1970/71 FA Cup campaign in the 4th qualifying round. On 22nd July, the club suspended Graham Carr for 14 days for refusing to sign the forms that would allow him to play in the NPL. Carr had repeatedly written to the club asking to be released from his contract & was transfer listed at £1,200. He was training alone to prepare for the coming season. In Yorkshire Sports on the 25th, Callaway urged the club & Carr to settle their differences. Carr was said to be content with the terms offered but was hoping to stay in the Football League. Just a few days later, on the 29th, Avenue released Carr & the following week he signed for Altrincham, re-joining his former boss, Laurie Brown.

A report on the 29th that Dolan was wanted by Huddersfield Town was quickly followed on the 31st by one which said they were no longer interested in him.

Saturday 1st August saw Avenue open their campaign with a home friendly against Cheshire League side Buxton. Terry Dolan scored in the first half & 2 goals each from Henderson & Tewley rounded off a 5-0 win. On 11th August, the T&A introduced the reporters who’d be covering local sides. Stanley Pearson would report on Huddersfield Town, who were back in the First Division after 11 years. His replacement as Avenue correspondent, Andrew Callaway, was the only one of the reporters not to merit a photo. This proved an early indicator of the reduced press coverage the club itself could expect to receive with the loss of Football League status.

On Saturday 15th August there were 2 new faces on Avenue’s team sheet for the NPL opener – Leighton in the number 9 shirt & Alan Brown on the right wing. Other than Brown, the team comprised a full complement of players with Football League experience. Kendal based Netherfield had finished the previous season in 10th place & Avenue might have been expected to win quite comfortably, but a respectable crowd of 2,216 saw the visitors take home the points, the final score 0-2. “The same old Avenue story” said the T&A headline.

There was a shock in store on Monday 17th, with the news that First Division Crystal Palace wanted John Hardie as back-up to their first-choice keeper John Jackson. Hardie had recently started a joinery business with Don McCalman, but the offer from Palace was too good to refuse & he signed on the dotted line. A fee of £2,000 was quoted in the T&A, though the Rothmans Football Yearbook later recorded it as £5,000. The T&A speculated that Hardie’s weekly wage could be as much as £80 if he appeared in Palace’s first team. However, Jackson was a consistent performer, who was rarely injured – he was ever-present in Palace’s league team for 5 seasons between 1967 & 1972, so Hardie’s appearances were restricted to reserve games.

Manager Frank Tomlinson turned to neighbours City, hoping to re-sign Pat Liney to replace Hardie, as the only other keeper on Avenue’s books was junior Alan Dean. City refused, as a player/exchange deal with Preston involving Bobby Ham & Preston keeper Gerry Stewart had fallen through. Dean was expected to make his debut in the Wednesday night game at Wigan Athletic. Another debutant would be Allan Ham, brother of Bobby, who had just been signed as a part-timer from Guiseley.

On the day of the Wigan game a new goalkeeper emerged – Alan Aubrey, a 22-year-old printer from Leeds had impressed for the reserves the previous night & had been signed on part-time terms. His previous experience included spending the 1969/70 season with Cork Hibernians in the League of Ireland. Tomlinson invited another keeper, Weymouth’s 21-year-old Terry Hawke for a month’s trial. Hawke played a few reserve games before being released.

Wigan won the Wednesday night encounter 3-0, all the goals scored by Geoff Davies, 1 of a remarkable 7 hat-tricks he notched up that season. Wigan had spent £4,000 on former Everton & England winger Derek Temple from Preston, & he tormented the Avenue defence, which was missing skipper Atkinson with a thigh strain. There was praise for Alan Aubrey’s display, though he took a blow to the head which affected his second-half performance.

Atkinson was still unfit for the Saturday trip to South Liverpool, but Peter Brannan had recovered from a similar injury & returned in place of Alan Brown. Danny Campbell, who had worn the number 9 shirt at Wigan switched places with centre-half Dolan. Avenue went a goal down after 5 minutes, but the game was one which they dominated, with Tony Beanland outstanding in midfield. But despite creating several good chances, they only had Tony Leighton’s equaliser to show for it. They very nearly lost, with the home side hitting the post & Dolan clearing off the line in the late stages. 1-1, a goal & a point on the board at last.

Frank Tomlinson rang the changes for the following Wednesday’s trip to Gainsborough Trinity for the NPL Cup qualifying round game. Out went Roberts, Ham & Henderson, replaced by Gary Hudson, Tony Woolmer (his first appearance of the season) & Manchester youngster Nigel Lester, recently signed as a part-timer. Woolmer was rumoured to be the subject of interest from a 3rd Division side.

The performance proved to be one of Avenue’s best of the season & resulted in their first away win since February 1968 at Bradford City. A performance of “fire & determination” said Callaway. Goals from Brannan, Woolmer & Tewley put Avenue 3 up & although Trinity pulled 2 back after Leighton went off injured, Avenue were resilient & a 2nd from Woolmer secured a 2-4 victory & a home tie with Kirkby Town. Everyone played well, but Woolmer (“outstanding”), Beanland, Leighton & Tewley were singled out for praise by Callaway. Scouts from Crewe, Rochdale, York & Everton (!) were said to have been at the game.

The T&A reported that Avenue could receive a payment of £1,000 if Kenny Hibbitt made his full debut for Wolves at Nottingham Forest on the coming Saturday. In the event, Kenny wasn’t picked, but he did make a goalscoring start against Chelsea a fortnight later.

Optimism was high after the win at Gainsborough as Avenue headed west to Fleetwood on 29th August. They were missing the injured Alan Tewley, but Trevor Atkinson was fit again & replaced him. Avenue were a penalty goal down at half-time & then collapsed to a 5-0 defeat – a debacle, said Callaway, noting that there was a large contingent of disappointed away supporters in the crowd of 1,135 – “had they played till midnight the ball wouldn’t have gone in the net”.

A home game against Matlock Town the following Monday saw Hudson & Lester omitted, with Roberts & Bernard Rafferty (his first appearance of the season) replacing them. It was a memorable night for Rafferty who scored a hat-trick in a 4-1win. Peter Brannan netted the fourth & Callaway described it as “a display of fine football”.

There was another trip to the west coast the following Saturday, this time with Morecambe the destination.  In an unchanged side, Peter Brannan stood out, he was brought down for a penalty, which Atkinson converted & scored with a 25-yard effort near the end. It finished 0-2 – a much happier journey home than the previous weekend.

The games were coming thick & fast. Next up leaders Wigan at home on Tuesday 8th September, with Avenue unchanged again.  Brannan hit the bar & Alan Roberts went close, but Wigan went ahead when Aubrey fumbled a corner & their main marksman Davies headed in. With many of the crowd of 3,387 making their way out, Tommy Henderson went on a cross-field run before blasting home from 30 yards to save a point. Callaway’s verdict – a result that was well deserved for the team’s sustained effort.

Huddersfield Town were reported to have renewed their interest in Terry Dolan & Tony Woolmer was said to be on the radar of both York City & Rochdale. The chairman announced that “no player considered good enough for the first team will be transferred unless the financial situation becomes so grim that it demands it” – how prophetic those words would prove to be.

Allan Ham was restored to the team in place of Rafferty for the 1st round proper NPL Cup match at home to Kirkby Town. The performance was disappointing, though Brannan (twice) & Henderson had shots cleared off the line before Henderson scored from an acute angle to give Avenue a 1-0 win. With better finishing, Callaway thought they could have netted 6 or 7.

In correspondence, the chairman revealed that the club had been looking at centre-forwards, including former Manchester United striker Alex Dawson. The £7,000 fee quoted by Brighton was too high though. In other correspondence, he admitted that reports suggested that 2 of the youngsters signed at the start of the season, Brown & Lester, had not progressed as well as had been hoped.

On 15th September, Avenue announced that estate agent Stanley Yeadon had been co-opted onto the board & goalkeeper Alan Aubrey had been upgraded from part-time to full-time terms. Alan Tewley was expected to start training again soon after 2 weeks out with a septic ankle. Defender Alan Roberts had been filling in for him in midfield competently enough, but Callaway thought Roberts never really seemed comfortable there.

Tommy Henderson was again on the scoresheet in a Thursday night game at Matlock, this time netting after only 2 minutes. Opposing centre-forward McArthur equalised almost straight away, & those were the only goals, though Woolmer came close to grabbing a late winner.

Callaway was full of praise for the next performance, a 2-1 win against South Shields at home on 19th September. Henderson, who scored the 1st goal was man of the match, with Brannan a close second. Brodie & Dolan were outstanding in defence. Trevor Atkinson netted the winner from the spot after Brannan had been fouled.

The chairman appealed to local businessmen for financial assistance – he asked for loans totalling £10,000 to tide the club over a “temporary shortage”, otherwise players would have to be sold.  Lancashire cricketer Barry Wood was training with the club to keep fit during the winter. He was later signed on part-time terms on a short-term contract.

At 2-0 down with 10 minutes to go, it looked as though Avenue had made a fruitless trip to Great Harwood on 26th September. Then came, in Andrew Callaway’s words a “dramatic transformation”. Leighton pulled a goal back on 81 minutes, Henderson netted from close range 2 minutes later & Woolmer got the winner with 2 minutes left.

The following Monday, Avenue faced table-topping Macclesfield Town at home, with the T&A predicting a crowd of 4,000. In fact, 3,713 turned out to see Avenue’s unbeaten run of 7 games come to an end, the visitors winning 0-1. Callaway thought Avenue the better side, more skilful & imaginative, but they couldn’t take their chances.

Across the Pennines, former Avenue player/manager Laurie Brown resigned from his role at Altrincham after some poor results. News of injured players – Alan Tewley would return as substitute against Runcorn on 3rd October, but Gary Hudson was to see a specialist about the knee from which a cartilage had been removed last season.

Tommy Henderson continued his goalscoring run with a hat-trick against Runcorn, a home game which Avenue won 3-1.  Also impressing was the fit again Tewley, on as substitute. He returned to the starting eleven for the first North West Floodlit League game of the season at home to Chorley on the following Monday, when Callaway rated him the best player on view. Avenue won that by a single goal, with Woolmer scoring from the rebound after a header from Danny Campbell had hit the bar.

Saturday 10th October saw a 3rd consecutive home game, with Altrincham the visitors. There were some familiar names on the visitors’ team-sheet – Graham Carr, Charlie Rackstraw (ex-City) & David Shawcross (ex-Halifax Town). It was a real game of 2 halves; Callaway described Avenue as “playing as badly as at any time last season” in the first half. Altrincham were 1 up through a deflected shot at half-time, but 10 minutes into the second half, Tewley replaced Ham & Leighton moved up front. Goals from Dolan, Leighton, Henderson & Tewley saw Avenue to a 4-1 win; Tewley was the catalyst for the turnaround.

The 2nd NW Floodlit League game was away at Macclesfield on Wednesday 14th. The home side was dominant & ran out 3-0 winners, including 1 scored by future Avenue player Frank Beaumont. There was worse news when an x-ray revealed a hairline fracture across the bridge of Trevor Atkinson’s right foot; he was expected to be in plaster for 6 weeks.

For the trip to Netherfield, Gary Hudson replaced Atkinson & Tewley started in place of Ham, with Barry Wood on the bench. Netherfield went ahead through an own goal by Dolan, but Avenue hit back through Henderson just before the interval & took the lead through Woolmer just after. Netherfield were awarded a penalty when Hudson handled on the line, but it was blasted high & wide. Tewley made the game safe in the dying minutes with a beautifully taken goal. 1-3 to Avenue, revenge for the opening day defeat; they were 6th in the table with 17 points, just 5 behind leaders Macclesfield.

Neither Leighton (groin strain) nor Hudson (knee ligaments) was fit to play at Hyde United in the Floodlit League game on Monday 19th. Peter Brannan was switched to left back, with Danny Campbell & Barry Wood, who had made his debut as substitute at Netherfield, coming in. Avenue lost 3-2, with Tony Woolmer, the scorer of an early goal, sent off 5 minutes before the interval for abusive language towards the referee. Hyde were 3-1 up by then, but Terry Dolan pulled a goal back & Tewley twice hit the woodwork near the end.

20th October – the chairman was appealing for funds again, this time to pay a £1,000 rates bill. He claimed that if the money wasn’t raised within 3 weeks, the club might fold. Admission prices were being increased for the next home match with adults having to pay 5 shillings. In the T&A, Callaway noted that Metcalfe had not only invested money in the club, but also considerable time & effort, which had affected his health & led to his doctor warning him to take a complete rest – advice which, it seems, went unheeded.

George Hudson said that the supporters’ club could do no more – it was already handing over £50 a week towards players’ wages & funding the production of the programme. He felt that the club’s wage bill was far too high – the reserve team had contained 8 paid players in its most recent game, which had been lost 0-2.  Metcalfe, on his way to Scotland on a scouting trip, seemingly forgetting his recent appeals for support, countered “if you have a successful side, no wage bill is too high in my view”.

Hudson & Leighton hadn’t recovered from injury, so Campbell & Wood were retained for the trip to Lancaster City on 24th October, with Allan Ham on the bench. On the morning of the match, there was shocking news – Herbert Metcalfe, who had stopped off in Glasgow on his way to see a game in Aberdeen, had died overnight in his hotel room; he was 63. Almost a year to the day since his interference in team selection had provoked “the rumpus”, the chairman was in the headlines again. This time, though, could the club recover from the loss of his financial support?

On the field, Avenue came away from Lancaster with both points in a 0-1 win, which moved them up to 4th in the table. Barry Wood got the goal with a fine header from Tewley’s pin-point delivery. It could have been more: Beanland hit the post & had a 30-yard free kick well saved, a header from Campbell was cleared off the line & Henderson twice hit the side netting.

Despite this on-field success, the club was in a state of shock – & financial instability. Ironically, on Monday 26th October, the T&A included an advertisement prepared by Herbert Metcalfe, appealing for support & for another director (or 2), optimistically headed “Do you want First Division Football in Bradford?”

The following day, director Stanley Yeadon proposed a fund-raising scheme whereby supporters would be able to buy a square-foot portion of the Park Avenue pitch for a charge of £1, estimating that this could raise as much as £160,000. A local conveyancing expert suggested that this might raise legal issues, with the possible costs involved being £9 per transaction. Later that week, Yeadon said he had received 140 provisional orders.

Meanwhile, a player exodus began with Terry Dolan joining Huddersfield Town for £2,000 & leading scorer Tommy Henderson starting a 2-month trial with York City. 4 other first-teamers, Alan Tewley, John Brodie, Peter Brannan & Danny Campbell were to travel to Crewe for talks with a view to transferring there. Only Tewley did sign, a few days later, for an undisclosed (though small) fee. Crewe agreed to pay Avenue 50% of any future transfer fee received for Tewley, but that came to nothing, as he was freed after 2 seasons.

The board announced more staff redundancies, with the services of trainer George Stabb, groundsman Maurice Garside, chief scout Wilf Gledhill, assistant trainer Bob Wood & laundress Sheila Keating all being dispensed with. For former player Stabb it brought a sad end to his 34-year association with the club. 

Director Mark Brown described the next Saturday’s home match against Morecambe as going a long way towards deciding “which way the club goes”. A good attendance was hoped for. With Atkinson & Hudson both sidelined, young amateur Peter Balmforth made his debut at right-back, with Allan Ham returning for the departed Tewley, Campbell replacing Dolan & Alan Brown, out of the first team picture since the second game of the season, on the bench. 

A crowd of 2,416 saw Avenue make a dream start, a pinpoint pass from Tony Beanland setting up Tony Woolmer for the opening goal. An enthusiastic performance should have brought more; a thunderbolt from Beanland was deflected onto the roof of the stand, Ham nearly netted direct from a corner & Woolmer hooked a shot just wide. In the second half, they were rewarded for their efforts, with Ham pressuring Tomlinson into an own goal & goals from Woolmer again & Leighton. Callaway rated Roberts & Wood the outstanding performers in the 4-0 win, but the whole team was deserving of the ovation it received at the end.  A collection organised by the supporters’ club raised £57.

On Monday 2nd November, Avenue held a board meeting chaired by George Sutcliffe. Manager Frank Tomlinson would put forward his plan for a revised playing staff with a reduced number of full-timers (perhaps only about 6, speculated Callaway). Tomlinson had previously suggested this in the close season but had been overruled by Metcalfe. Delighted with the performance against Morecambe, Tomlinson singled out the part-timers for praise, saying “it is these players to whom we will have to give more responsibility in future”

On the Tuesday, the remaining players met with the management & pledged their support to the club. The board expressed its intention to retain a strong playing staff to progress in both league & cup competitions. A further public meeting would be held to update supporters on the state of the club following Herbert Metcalfe’s demise. Part of the outstanding rates bill had been paid & development fund manager Arthur Birdsall had agreed to go part-time, with assistant secretary Len Padgett taking over his role. Elsewhere former Avenue keeper David Lawson had made a “brilliant” debut for Huddersfield Town in their West Riding Senior Cup semi-final against Bradford City.

On 4th November Tony Woolmer became the 4th player to leave the club in the past week, when he was transferred to Scunthorpe United for a small fee. Part-timer Fred Eyre, who had made his sole league appearance against Swansea in March 1970 had his contract cancelled by mutual consent.

3 days later, Avenue travelled to Wearside League club Washington for an FA Cup 4th qualifying round game. Skipper Trevor Atkinson had recovered from the broken bone in his foot more quickly than expected & replaced Balmforth at right-back. Alan Brown returned to the starting line-up for the first time since August in place of Woolmer.

To the relief of all concerned, Avenue ran out 0-3 winners, with Allan Ham scoring a hat-trick.  Callaway’s praise was mainly for the defence though, in which Atkinson, Campbell & Roberts stood out. Inevitably, he said, the forward line was missing the experience of the departed Henderson, Tewley & Woolmer. The reward for the win was a trip to Third Division Barnsley in the 1st round proper.

The following Tuesday, Avenue travelled to Chorley for a NW Floodlit League match in a “mudbath” coming away 0-3 winners, Brannan with 2 & Rafferty on the scoresheet.

A public meeting was held in St George’s Hall on Friday 13th November & around 800 people attended. The T&A reported that through various donations & fund-raising initiatives, the club was now £427 better off. George Sutcliffe, who became chairman, said he believed that Avenue could progress & prosper; he announced the club’s intention to apply for re-election to the Football League at the end of the current season.

The next day Avenue played a home friendly against Matlock Town. Callaway reported that “it turned into a battle in the mud, as players on both sides found it easier to kick each other rather than a ball that bobbled on the heavy surface”. Beanland & Leighton were missing through injury & junior Ogden tried hard to cover Beanland’s role. Allan Ham & Danny Campbell got Avenue’s goals in a 2-3 defeat. Barry Wood was sent off for “handing off Brandon in true rugby fashion”. Aubrey had a day to forget & Campbell was the only Avenue player to emerge with any credit.

There was an improvement in the Monday night Floodlit League match at home to Macclesfield, which Avenue won 1-0 with a Rafferty goal. Beanland was back from injury, Aubrey back on form & Atkinson & Roberts were singled out for praise, as was Allan Ham – “his best match to date”.

Part-timers Brown, Ham & Wood joined in with full-time training in the week leading up to the FA Cup tie at Barnsley. With Brannan unfit because of 4 stitches in a gashed knee picked up against Macclesfield, Brown retained his place in the starting line-up. Barnsley were on a poor run of form, with 2 draws & 5 defeats in their last 7 games. “One good win, I am sure, would work wonders” said their manager Johnny Steele in his programme notes – but he cautioned that Avenue would be “no pushover. They have lost only one of their last 15 matches”.

 A decent crowd of 7,189 turned out to see Steele’s team get the win he hoped for; 1-0 thanks to a Norman Dean penalty after a hand ball by Leighton. Dean thought he’d scored a second, but it was disallowed for a foul on Aubrey. Callaway judged it a wholehearted performance, with especially good displays from Aubrey, Atkinson, Brodie & Campbell, the latter “a tower of strength at centre half”. Avenue could have equalised at the end, as a cross from Brown “floated across an empty goal with no-one on hand to turn it home”.

Surprisingly, in view of the club’s ailing finances, the following week brought a new signing, ex-Bradford City forward Charlie Rackstraw, 32, from Altrincham. Laurie Brown had signed him for Altrincham the previous January, but he still lived in Bradford & travelled 3 times a week for training. Brown’s successor John Davies seemed keen to end this arrangement. No fee was involved, but it was suggested that Avenue winger Alan Brown might make the reverse trip (in the event, he didn’t). It was hoped that Rackstraw, with more than 400 senior appearances & 100 goals for City, Gillingham & Chesterfield, would add some experience & firepower to Avenue’s depleted forward line.

Rackstraw went straight into the Avenue team for the Floodlit League encounter at Witton Albion which, despite an outstanding display from Aubrey, saw the home side take the points in a 3-2 win. Walker & Rafferty were the Avenue scorers.

Kenny Hibbitt, now with 14 first team appearances for Wolves, was called into the England Under-23 squad, with the possibility of a further £1,000 instalment of his transfer fee if selected. (Kenny’s sole Under-23 international appearance came as sub for Mick Channon against Wales Under-23s on 2nd December 1970).

There was less positive news of another young midfielder, 17-year-old apprentice Gary Crampton, who hadn’t progressed to the senior team since signing from Everton in January 1970. He had been released from his contract & had “given up ideas about a career in football”. There was a departure from the boardroom as well, with recently appointed director Stanley Yeadon resigning for personal reasons.

The next NPL game was away at Northwich Victoria. Bernard Rafferty had picked up an ankle injury at Witton & was replaced by fit again Peter Brannan. John Brodie hadn’t fully recovered from a similar injury, so part-timer Phil McCaffery would make his senior debut at left back. Brodie was however, fit enough to be named as substitute. Avenue found themselves 2-0 down by half-time, with Atkinson off injured & replaced by Brodie. The final score was 3-0, a lacklustre performance, one of the worst of the season in Callaway’s view; it was McCaffery’s only senior appearance.

Team changes abounded for the Tuesday night trip to Fleetwood for an NPL Cup tie. Brodie replaced McCaffery, though neither he nor his full back partner Atkinson were fully fit. Campbell was also not 100% fit, but would play; Roberts, Rafferty & Wood were all out injured & Rackstraw was cup-tied. Alan Brown came in for Rackstraw, Mick Walker would play in the unfamiliar role of centre forward & youngster Jimmy Williams would make his debut in the number 10 shirt. Another youngster, amateur Steve Thornton from Heckmondwike, formerly with Ossett Albion, who had only 3 reserve games under his belt, was named as substitute.

The performance against Fleetwood showed considerable improvement, but some defensive lapses helped the home side to a 3-1win, with Walker netting for Avenue after a perfectly judged run at a corner. Tony Leighton was upbeat about his side’s losing run: “It’s a phase, & I think we shall come out of it just as suddenly as we fell into it” he said prior to the weekend home game with Kirkby Town.

The day before the Kirkby game (4th December) came the surprise announcement that manager Frank Tomlinson had been sacked, with Leighton promoted to player/manager. George Sutcliffe gave the reason as “purely on the grounds of economy…we cannot afford to have both a manager & a player coach”. The departing manager was resigned to his fate: “it has not come as a great surprise to me. I am not bitter about this at all. I have enjoyed every minute of my time at Park Avenue….”

Some felt that Tomlinson, having been out of the game for years & with no managerial experience, had been appointed by Metcalfe as his “puppet”. Interviewed by Jeremy Charnock in “Diary of a Lost Cause” Ralph Wright claimed that he couldn’t remember much about Tomlinson, but felt that he was being manipulated by the chairman. Another interviewee, Peter Brannan, couldn’t recall Tomlinson having any involvement with training, which was presumably left for Ron Lewin, then Leighton to look after.  On a more positive note, Andrew Callaway thought the departing manager had made a significant contribution towards rebuilding team spirit after the failure to achieve re-election.

Following his sending off against Matlock, Barry Wood was suspended for 2 weeks from 14th December & fined £5, though he was injured & in plaster anyway. Jimmy Williams retained his place in the team against Kirkby & there was a last-minute change in goal, with Yorkshire colt cricketer Rod Smith making his debut as Aubrey had twisted his ankle in training. Kirkby took the lead, but Atkinson equalised from the spot after a defender was adjudged to have handled on the line. Allan Ham scored a second half winner, Williams could have had a hat-trick & Smith made a competent debut.

Because of his new position, Tony Leighton resigned from the Professional Footballers Association management committee. Alan Roberts & Wood both returned to light training after injury. But there were more injuries after a home friendly against Barrow, which the visitors won 1-3. Ham, who had scored inside the first 2 minutes, went off with damaged ankle ligaments & Leighton was badly concussed in a collision with Barrow’s Jim Irvine. Irvine was carried off, but Leighton continued after lengthy treatment. He later said he didn’t remember playing the rest of the game. Rackstraw & Beanland were Avenue’s best performers on the day.

Alan Aubrey returned to the starting line-up for the trip to Bangor City on 19th December. Leighton dropping himself to substitute & Alan Roberts replaced him. There was a full debut for Steve Thornton & a first outing of the season for fellow amateur Eric Fitzsimons, whose only previous senior appearance had been as Avenue’s last Football League debutant in the penultimate game of 1969/70 at Chesterfield.

Bangor went ahead through Conde on 23 minutes, but Jimmy Williams, in his third (and final) first team appearance, equalised 6 minutes later with a header from close range. Bangor took the lead with 12 minutes to go, & it took a wonder save from their keeper Phil Tottey to deny Brannan after Leighton, on as second half sub for Walker had hit the post. It finished 2-1 to the Welshmen.

There was little pre-Christmas cheer on 22nd December, as the club announced a loss of £38,354 in its accounts for the year ended 31st May 1970. Chairman George Sutcliffe remained upbeat however, pointing out that many costs had been cut since his predecessor’s demise.

On the following day, Leighton was appearing at a disciplinary hearing in Manchester on behalf of former striker Tony Woolmer, sent off for using abusive language in the Floodlit League game against Hyde while at Avenue & Alan Roberts, who had amassed 4 bookings. Leighton appealed against Roberts’ booking for fighting against Netherfield, but the outcome wasn’t as hoped for. Roberts was banned for 14 days & fined £10, with a further 21 day suspended ban for the other 3 bookings. Woolmer was banned for 14 days as well, with a £25 fine. Meanwhile, Graham Carr, who had earlier been dismissed by Altrincham for disciplinary reasons, joined Telford United, managed by his former Northampton Town team-mate Ron Flowers.

There was a quick opportunity to take revenge for the previous defeat, as Bangor were the Boxing Day visitors to Park Avenue. In the T&A Brian Horsfall reported that it was “a real Christmas cracker of a game”. The visitors went 2-0 up, but 2 fine goals from Peter Brannan levelled the match. Leighton hit the bar & Beanland hit the post, but it finished 2-2.  So ended an eventful 1970.

To be continued…

Thanks for visiting VINCIT which is sports code / club neutral, although all content is Bradford related. Follow the links on the menu above to features about the history of different sports and clubs in Bradford. Contributions welcome.

Other content about Bradford Park Avenue on VINCIT can be accessed from this link including Ian’s previous feature about the club’s demise at the end of the 1960s.

Antonio Fattorini

Previous features on VINCIT have examined the contribution to the early development of sport in Bradford by Jack Nunn [1] and Thomas Paton [2], two individuals who had a massive impact in the background at Valley Parade but until recently have sadly been overlooked in the historical narrative. Nunn for instance was the man associated with the redevelopment of the ground in 1908 and Paton for making ‘Glorious 1911’ possible by targeting new signings.

Whilst better known for the family business that designed the FA Cup trophy in 1911, Tony Fattorini‘s impact on local – as well as national and international – sport has arguably not been given the recognition that it deserves…

Messrs Fattorini & Sons (then of Bradford) is known as the firm that designed – although did not make – both the RL Challenge Cup and the current FA Cup trophies, not to mention the medals presented to members of winning teams. The firm also supplied trophies and medals for countless other local and regional sports competitions, including for example the Yorkshire Challenge Cup and the Bradford Charity Cup [3] both of which had major impact on the popularity of rugby in the 1880s.

Tony Fattorini (1862-1931) played a big part in the success of the family business, the reputation of which was enhanced through close links with British sport. Another family concern, Sports & Pastimes Ltd Athletic and School Clothing Manufacturers that supplied sports accessories, similarly benefited from the emergence of the football industry in the third quarter of the nineteenth century and its subsequent growth.

Yet Tony Fattorini was more than a canny entrepreneur exploiting new commercial opportunities because he was also influential as an administrator of sport. He served variously as a committee member of Manningham FC and its successor Bradford City AFC and represented Manningham at meetings of the Yorkshire RFU and the Northern Union. In 1895 he was involved in meetings that led to the rugby breakaway and he later served as a committee member of the Northern Union.

He had been involved with the Manningham Rangers (rugby) club until it was wound-up in 1891 on account of its ground off Oak Lane being used for building development. Shortly after, he was invited to become involved with Manningham FC. As a committeeman at Valley Parade he established a reputation for a stabilising, calming influence among the different factions and in 1902/03 and then 1906 played an important role in averting financial crises (credited with having suggested the archery tournament that rescued the finances on new year’s day, 1903 and later, instigating a number of operational changes to reduce losses).

In his youth Fattorini had been a decent sprinter and had participated in local athletics festivals during the second half of the 1870s. It was this that fostered his interest in athletics for which he became better known, serving as a local and county official in cross country racing and as a vice president of the Amateur Athletic Association in addition to becoming a member of the International Olympic Board. He was a vice president of the Road Walking Association and locally, in 1904 helped instigate the Bradford Whitsun Walk event.

His firm’s reputation as a supplier of watches and clocks created a unique opportunity that led to his appointment as a time-keeper for the King’s Cup air race in the 1920s and his role as a timekeeper at four series of Olympic games. He is also credited as having designed early time-keeping devices suitable for chess and he officiated at RAC motoring time trials.

Fattorini’s obituary listed additional interests in sports as diverse as fishing, swimming,  cycling, climbing and boxing. Collectively it amounted to an impressive pedigree and provided him with a relatively unprecedented degree of influence and knowledge across different activities that might also explain his reputation as an innovator – the man who encouraged a trial game at Valley Parade under the auspices of the Northern Union in September, 1895 between Manningham and Halifax with thirteen aside and a round ball. As a historical figure therefore, he was a man who could rightly be claimed to have helped shape the early development of British sport.

Tony Fattorini continued his involvement at Valley Parade despite the breakaway in 1895 and conversion to association football in 1903, epitomising loyalty to an institution as opposed to a code. He was an archetypal administrator, a member of the body of unsung and invariably anonymous individuals whose efforts were necessary in the background to organise fixtures and competitions, to deal with the politics and the regulations to make things happen.

I can’t comment with any authority about what happened in other places, but in Bradford the development of football – and I adopt the Victorian use of the word as an umbrella term for both rugby and association variants – owed much to the commitment and energy of key individuals such as Tony Fattorini. The contribution of ‘men in the background’ – at Valley Parade for example the likes of Fattorini, Nunn and Paton – has tended to be overlooked in club histories (including certain of those written about Bradford City) and so too another critical theme, the social networks that they participated in. For instance, in Bradford it is quite remarkable how networks of people connected to provide much of the early momentum for the growth of ‘football’ on a competitive basis. The sheer complexity and breadth of these interactions defies a simplistic narrative to explain the social origins of our clubs by class alone.

Fattorini was an adept networker and his commercial success is testament to the sporting contacts that he established. Those contacts also had subtle impact on club football. For example, his involvement with the Airedale Harriers (cross country) club in Bradford most likely encouraged its links with Manningham FC and the staging of its athletic festivals at Valley Parade from 1887. Likewise, his recognition of the value of athletics training no doubt encouraged the engagement of a champion sprinter, Charlie Harper by Bradford City AFC in 1905 whose impact on player fitness was considered a factor behind FA Cup success in 1911. Similarly, Fattorini’s contacts with Pierre de Coubertin – an official at the Stade Francais rugby club who later became famous for his role as founder of the modern Olympic Games movement – may explain how Manningham FC was invited to Paris for an exhibition fixture in 1894.

The fact that Fattorinis became a supplier of paraphernalia to the freemasons hints at other connections and it was an open secret that most of the committeemen at Valley Parade were members. I suspect that this was not unique to Manningham FC among rugby and football clubs but I will not digress. 

At Valley Parade there were also family connections. His uncle John attended the meeting with the Football League in 1903 at which Manningham FC made its formal application for election as Bradford City AFC. His sister married William Pollack, later to become chairman of the club during World War One.

Tony Fattorini appears to have been highly principled and I suspect that his outlook was shaped by his faith as a Catholic as well as being mindful of his family’s own background as immigrants and its subsequent good fortune. The Fattorini family helped finance a number of Catholic youth initiatives across Bradford and Shipley and by the late 1880s they had established various Catholic Boys Clubs in some of the poorest areas in Bradford.

With regards the rugby breakaway in 1895 he made no secret of his scepticism of the venture which he considered unavoidable but also regrettable. Like others in Bradford, he was doubtful that the new Northern Union could sustain itself. He remained of the opinion that the breakaway clubs would eventually re-join the RFU in some form of rapprochement with the latter body forced to accept the need for broken-time compensation to players. Notably, whilst he was supportive of broken-pay compensation for players, he was steadfast in his opposition to outright professionalism which he considered would poison sporting values. Within British athletics and the Olympic movement he was an unequivocal advocate of amateurism.

Tony Fattorini was not alone in Bradford in becoming disillusioned with the development of the Northern Union and by the end of the 1890s had become an avowed associationist, an enthusiastic supporter of junior soccer. The launch of the Bradford & District FA in 1899 provided a massive fillip to grass roots association football in Bradford and I suspect that Fattorini identified parallels with the early development of rugby in the district for which many of his generation were nostalgic. In turn, his conversion to association made him an advocate of Manningham FC abandoning rugby in 1903.

At Valley Parade he continued to have considerable influence prior to World War One and in 1908 he is also credited with having introduced the Bradford City ‘bantams’ identity [4], accompanied by a yoke design shirt that was worn when the club won the FA Cup in 1911 [5]. Arguably Fattorini was a talismanic influence because the club was the first winner of the new FA Cup trophy that Fattorinis had designed.

[1] John Nunn, Bradford physical aesthete by John Dewhirst

[2] Thomas Paton – the forgotten man of 1911 by Kieran Wilkinson

[3] The story of the Bradford Charity Cup by John Dewhirst

[4] The origins of the Bradford City nickname, ‘The Bantams’

[5] The yoke shirt of BCAFC

John Dewhirst is author of ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP ( 2016) which chronicle the origins and early development of rugby in Bradford and the rivalry of the Manningham and Bradford clubs culminating in their conversion to association football. He can be contacted via direct message on Twitter: @jpdewhirst

Thanks for visiting VINCIT which is sports code / club neutral, although all content is Bradford related. Follow the links on the menu above to features about the history of different sports and clubs in Bradford. Contributions welcome.

Lost football grounds of Bradford: Birch Lane

Birch Lane has been the home of the Bowling Old Lane Cricket Club since 1863. Writing in The Athletic News of 2 August, 1887 about the cricket club, Alfred Pullin said that ‘Bowling Old Lane, or, as it is called in the rich vernacular, the ‘Owd Loin,’ is one of those rough and ready districts whose inhabitants are of the out-spoken and unfashionable class, unaccustomed to the smooth tongue which would describe a spade as an agricultural implement, but who are nevertheless constructed of ‘real grit,’ and are clever and good hearted sportsmen to boot.’ 

In 1886 the club extended its estate with the acquisition of an adjacent field and this was used for rugby football from the 1887/88 season. At that time the cricket club was considered the strongest in Bradford and the incentive to launch a football club may have been as much about commercial opportunism as a statement about the club’s stature.

The timing of the venture is notable coming as it did shortly after the development of Usher Street for Bowling FC in 1883 [1] [2]. Around this time there was a boom in the development of local football grounds [3] and the Birch Lane project has to be seen in that context. In relative terms its location was also advantageous with reasonable rail links despite not being central. Whilst it now sits in the midst of urban sprawl, prior to World War One it was on the edge of residential development and surrounded by open fields.

These photos of the cricket ground in the 1970s attest to its prominent position overlooking Bradford. (Images courtesy of Philip Jackson).

The Yorkshireman reported that one contractor had quoted £1,000 to develop the ground and another, £700 but in the end the members did the work themselves at a cost of £300. In itself even the lower amount was a significant amount, an illustration not only of the financial burden for an emergent football club but also of the hubris (naivety?) that it could be repaid. In practice it is highly doubtful that the venture ever repaid the outlay. The fact that the ground was subsequently used by a number of different tenants says as much about the demand for playing space in Bradford as the efforts of the parent cricket club to secure rental income.

The new football (rugby) ground was formally opened on 27 August, 1887 with an exhibition game between Bradford FC and Halifax FC and the reported gate receipts of £70 suggest a crowd of around eight thousand. Nonetheless it did not represent a profit and reference was made in The Yorkshireman of 1 September, 1887 of a Bradford FC forward treating his friends at dinner to a bottle of champagne after the game. His claim that the chairman would pay betrayed his expectation of post-match entertainment and the Bowling Old Lane officials saved his embarrassment when a waiter demanded payment of 9s – the equivalent of two days’ average earnings for a working man.)

The construction of a new pavilion at the cricket ground in 1890 (which was also used by the football section for changing) was further evidence of the ambition of the leadership at Birch Lane. The additional financial exposure probably also reinforced the pressures for the football ground to generate a contribution. The split in English rugby in 1895 caused significant financial problems for junior clubs in the north and the fact that the rugby section at Bowling Old Lane disbanded in May, 1897 would suggest that the parent cricket club had little appetite or means to subsidise the losses of rugby.  

The Birch Lane pavilion constructed in 1890

Nevertheless, the Birch Lane football ground continued to be used for rugby by each of Bradford FC, Bradford Wanderers RFC and Bradford Northern FC. Bradford FC – then playing rugby under the auspices of the Northern Union – adopted Birch Lane for reserve team fixtures and between 1899 and 1903 it was home to the newly formed Bradford Wanderers rugby union club. Most famously it was occupied by Bradford Northern between 1908 and 1934.

The ground was also one of the first in Bradford to stage soccer and was adopted by of the association section of Bradford FC between 1895 and 1898 when Park Avenue was not available and then in 1898/99 was used exclusively. It was also used by Bradford Spartans, a local junior soccer club between 1895/96 and 1897/98.

In 1906 Birch Lane was again adopted for association football with the launch of a Bowling Old Lane team but this lasted for only a couple of seasons and was abandoned as a result of financial losses. [4] It was the launch of soccer at Park Avenue in 1907 that effectively killed the final soccer project at Birch Lane. Prior to that Birch Lane had benefited from the boost to ‘associationism’ from the abandonment of rugby by Manningham FC in 1903 and soccer followers had come to the ground on occasions when first team fixtures were not being played at Valley Parade. From 1907/08 those people went to Park Avenue instead.

In 1908 the new Bradford Park Avenue club made an attempt to safeguard soccer at Birch Lane presumably with the intention of adopting the Bowling Old Lane side as a nursery and to use the ground for reserve fixtures and training. However it was Bradford Northern who secured the lease at the ground. The Yorkshire Evening Post of 25 May, 1908 reported that the committee of Bowling Old Lane Cricket, Athletic & Football Club voted to accept an offer from Bradford Northern Rugby Club to use the ground for a rental of £30. A counter-offer from Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC of £60 to use the ground for two seasons to ‘encourage the Association code in this district’ was rejected. At this stage the club had not secured Football League membership and offered to augment the rent if election was secured the following week.

In part, rejection of the offer from Bradford Park Avenue may have had something to do with animosity towards club chairman Harry Briggs but the Bradford Daily Argus of 30 May, 1908 reported that there was little sympathy for soccer amongst the membership of the club and a committee member was quoted as saying that ‘it would be a scandalous shame after the manner Rugby had been supported for the last twenty or thirty years in Bradford to let it die a natural death.’ Ironically an offer of £50 from the new Bradford Northern Union club (seeking a home after being evicted from Park Avenue in the ‘Great Betrayal’ of Bradford’s conversion to association) had been rejected the previous year.

In comparison to the Greenfield Athletics Ground where Northern had been based in 1907/08, Birch Lane offered the benefit of being closer to town and accessible by tram. Nonetheless the ground was always considered inadequate by virtue of lack of facilities and the poor state of the pitch.

Birch Lane remained home to Bradford Northern RFC, from 1908 to 1934 when the club moved to Odsal. The ground was within reasonable walking distance of Bowling station but was lacking in facilities. An open stand of twelve terraces was constructed in 1908 along one side of the field but was not covered until 1929. The record crowd for a Bradford Northern game was 10,807 for a cup tie in 1924 against Dewsbury. In October, 1908 Birch Lane staged a prestigious fixture between Bradford Northern and the Australian touring side but the attendance of only 4,000 was a big disappointment and the receipts amounted to only £134. The Yorkshire Post reported that neither Park Avenue nor Valley Parade had been available to stage the match and ‘possibly the gloomy atmosphere kept some of the public away.’ Prior to the opening of Odsal Stadium, big games came to be played elsewhere and Valley Parade – rather than Park Avenue – was used on four occasions to stage high profile games, the first of which in February, 1920. [5]

Although the cricket ground survives, the football area has since been built over with housing. The first development on the football ground was the residential estate based around Elwyn Road / Elwyn Grove, constructed by the firm of RJ Patchett Ltd. Research by Kieran Wilkinson has confirmed that those properties had been built by August, 1936 which implies that the land was sold shortly after Bradford Northern had vacated. [6]


[1] Refer to an earlier feature on VINCIT about the development of Usher Street from this link.

[2] Birch Lane was generally considered to be the better football ground in comparison to Usher Street. Despite the central location of the latter it was not adopted by Bradford FC to host games involving its reserve team or association football side despite also being in close proximity to Park Avenue. I believe that Bradford subsequently selected Birch Lane on account of the limitations of Usher Street as an enclosure and the standard of its pitch.

Whilst Bowling CC at Usher Street was very much the junior of Bowling Old Lane CC, Bowling FC was always the senior of the two respective (rugby) football sides. A bizarre modern twist was the merger in 2012 of the two schools which are located adjacent to the sites of the former Bowling and Bowling Old Lane FC grounds.

[3] The story of the junior rugby clubs of Bradford in the last quarter of the nineteenth century is told on VINCIT from this link.

[4] Bowling Old Lane AFC boasted one of the first local players to have progressed into the Football League when Charles Lund signed for Barnsley in 1907 at the end of his first season playing soccer. He was a man of sporting pedigree and during 1905/06 had played rugby for Victoria Rangers.

[5] There are very few surviving photographs of Birch Lane when it was home to Bradford Northern but a number have been secured and will feature in a forthcoming book by the author as part of the bantamspast History Revisited series (details from this link).

[6] The following links to the history of Birch Lane on Wikipedia that refers specifically to the ground continuing to be used for rugby after 1934 and which has been cited elsewhere online. The research of Kieran Wilkinson and myself has been unable to confirm that Birch Lane was used for junior rugby after 1934 – even if that was the case it could not have been for more than a season at most, that is 1934/35. (Bradford Northern historian Trevor Delaney confirms the club used Horsfall as the venue for reserve games after the move to Odsal.)

By John Dewhirst

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

Link to John’s blog: Wool City Rivals where you will find content about historic BCAFC programmes, his features in the current BCAFC matchday programme, reviews of sports books and content about the history of Bradford City. Links to his other features about the history of Bradford sport from this link.

*** Details of his new book (2020) in collaboration with George Chilvers: Wool City Rivals – A History in Colour which tells the story of the rivalry of Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue in the Football League, 1908-70. (Available only online – from the link.)

Thanks for visiting!

Contributions to VINCIT are welcome. We are code agnostic and feature any sport or club with a Bradford heritage…

Links from the drop down menu above including content about the history of rugby in the district.

The following photos of the cricket ground (below) were taken in April, 2021 (the rugby ground was to the right).

Northern & Bulls, Odsal & Elsewhere

By Andrew Foster

Watching Bradford, for me, began with defeat and confusion. My uncle, who followed them home and away, took me along to the game against Wigan, at Valley Parade in April 1988. I took it as obvious that the city’s rugby club would play at the city’s football ground, and that it must be in the north of the city, otherwise why would they be called Northern?

My excuse was that I was seven (and a half). Now the club sits outside the city’s boundaries for the first time since 1863, and the befuddlement and misdeeds that led us there belong to people old enough to know better.

I loved watching Northern. In the early 90s we dodged relegation on points difference, then were denied the title on points difference in the space of three seasons. Peter Fox and his signings – Roy Powell, Deryck Fox, Dave Watson, Paul Dixon and Paul Newlove – transformed us from the worst side in the first division to, at times, the best. But there were already signs that things weren’t right for the club.

Our youth players never seemed to amount to much. Our crowds hovered around the 5k mark. Our near title-winning team dropped badly off the pace, losing to Leeds on four occasions inside five months, conceding 157 points to them along the way. Even before this, winning trophies or getting to Wembley seemed beyond us. Wigan knocked us out of the cup five years out of six between 1988 and 1993. And as much as I loved Odsal… on one occasion I came home from the game in tears, thinking my fingers were going to drop off, they were so cold.

Nonetheless, when I heard on the radio on the way to school that Northern were to become the Bulls, I was outraged. Outraged enough to write to the Telegraph and Argus, so you know it was serious. The club seemed determined to cock a snook at us – while other teams adopted traditional colours for the shortened Centenary season of 1995, we started wearing green, purple and yellow at home.

But then we were away at Leigh in the cup, and news drifted through that Wigan were losing at Salford. A favourable draw in the quarters led to a cathartic semi-final win over Leeds, the club’s first achievement of serious note since securing the title fifteen years previously. A glorious defeat at Wembley helped build the Bulls brand, and a revenge stuffing of Saints live on TV at a packed Odsal was followed by a stunning win with twelve men against Wigan seven days later. The title followed the next season – Northern were gone and the Bulls were here.

But Peter Deakin was soon gone too. The marketing man who believed the club and the game could be so much more had departed. Things started to creak. With the opportunity to make history by going the season unbeaten, we lost our final two games. The next season was a non-event, Shaun Edwards signing, departing, and then returning to chasten us twice with London Broncos.

Signing Henry Paul, then Lesley Vainikolo, and the emergence of the “Brad Pack” – Paul Deacon, Stuart Fielden, Jamie Peacock and Leon Pryce  – brought success back. Odsal looked great with 24k inside it for the first time in a generation… but for regular games it was showing its age. A deal was struck with Tesco’s and we decamped to Valley Parade for two years… only to return to a ground looking much like it did when we left. Stephen Byers called the scheme in for review, and Tesco’s withdrew their interest. St Helens had much better fortune with a very similar venture a few years later.

The Bulls won an unprecedented treble in 2003, and topped the attendance table too. But patchy results over the next two years saw the crowds start to drift away, when the hope was that they would grow further. The stay at Valley Parade had also seen crowds drop off, despite losing only two games there in two seasons. Bulls had taken on the lease, and the costs of operation for Odsal from Bradford council in return for a lump sum.

The team had what turned out to be a last true hurrah in 2005, with arguably the strongest 17 ever fielded by any Super League club taking the title back from Leeds. But that Grand Final was Peacock and Pryce’s last game for the club. Chairman Chris Caisley, Head Coach Brian Noble and Fielden all departed in the first half of 2006. A legal dispute with Leeds over the signing of Iestyn Harris dragged on.

All was not yet lost. Noble’s replacement, Steve McNamara had a plan – trust in youth. And time proved him right. At one point the Bulls had a hypothetical homegrown 17 that was capable of repeating the Treble: Sam, George and Tom Burgesses, Elliott Whitehead, John Bateman, James Bentley, Jake Trueman… an even richer crop than that which emerged at the turn of the Millennium. But by the time they should have been taking the field together, McNamara was long gone, and so were they.

The majority of Bulls fans were gladdened, thinking him not up to the task in hand. But it brought no significant uptick on the scoreboard, or through the turnstiles. The lease for Odsal was sold to the RFL and Bulls became tenants once again. It came as a shock but not a surprise when the club announced in March 2012 that they had to raise £500k from fans in a matter of days or face extinction.

The game rallied round, former players washed cars and auctioned off shirts and medals. The club was saved… till June, when it entered administration. Mick Potter continued as head coach unpaid and delivered an incredible backs to the wall win at Wigan. But this was one of several bright moments that while enjoyable at the time, only temporarily distracted from the descending gloom.

At one point, the Guardian reported that Caisley was to return as chairman, but instead Omar Khan ended up as the new owner. People speak positively about his intentions, but he was not to last long. Another administration led to a points deduction and relegation at the end of the 2014 season.

There could have been an immediate return under one of only three ever to win the Man of Steel as a Bradford player, Jimmy Lowes. But a missed Danny Addy penalty in the 2015 Million Pound Game was followed by a Wakefield try that resulted in the first consecutive season outside the top flight in the club’s history. An abject defeat at Featherstone that following year meant there would be a third… if there was a club to fulfil the fixtures.

By this point the owner was Marc Green, a Londoner and previous creditor of the club upon who League Express editor Martyn Sadler bizarrely bestowed his newspaper’s Man of the Year Award. Green had talked of his ambition to lead the Bulls out at Wembley, but instead of recreating 1949, 73 or 96, he instead turned the clock back to 1963. Bradford Bulls went into liquidation at the start of 2017.

Here was a chance at least for a fresh start. But under new owner Andrew Chalmers, the reborn club was placed in the championship with a points deduction and an inevitable further relegation. Promotion, albeit behind York, followed the next season, and an epic victory over Leeds in the cup gave hope a corner had turned. But the playoffs were missed again and Chalmers announced that the club would be leaving Odsal for Dewsbury, then bailed. A new ownership group consisting of “the family of Nigel Wood” and still-Dewsbury chairman Mark Sawyer took charge, with former Toronto Wolfpack CEO Eric Perez as acting chairman.

Now a stock car promoter is readying Odsal for the return of motorsports and the Bulls’ return seems inevitable too. But it will be to a ground not much different to that which I stood in as an eight year old. Nigel Wood clearly has questions to answer, about when his involvement with the club began, and how he justifies the decisions he took to first purchase the lease on Odsal and then award the club to Chalmers when he was RFL CEO. But at the time of writing, he has refused all media interviews, and the Bradford Telegraph and Argus and League Express newspapers, the only two media outlets who still profess any interest in the Bulls, have no appetite to press for them.

What I have seen since 1988 is that a Bradford rugby league club can be successful, beyond trophies – can attract consistent five figure gates, can provide a path for young Bradfordians (both boys and girls now) to achieve on the world stage, as the Whitehead of West Bowling and Bateman of Dudley Hill have done before them. But for those things to happen requires 21st century facilities in South Bradford, and a competent back office. I won’t hold my breath for either.

Andrew Foster is an education consultant, now living in London. He has written for League Express, Rugby League World, Forty20, and was the founder and editor of the RedAmberandBlack Bradford Bulls fansite. Follow him on Twitter – @andrewfoster101

Contributions to VINCIT are welcome. We are code agnostic and feature any sport or club with a Bradford heritage. Links from the drop down menu above including features on the history of rugby in Bradford. (A forthcoming feature on VINCIT will examine the history of the Birch Lane ground adopted by Bradford Northern before moving to Odsal in 1934.)

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