The Worst of Times – A Look at Bradford City’s Lowest point in League Football

by Ian Hemmens

The 1960s proved to be a very odd decade for the club starting with a relegation to the bottom tier of the Football League, a promotion at the end of the decade and in between, 3 near misses in the promotion race and more ominously, 2 seasons with the ignominy of having to go cap in hand to the fellow league clubs for their support as the club had to apply for re-election. Add to all this the obligatory financial crisis and it seems like business as usual for City.

Thankfully, the club has never felt the shame of finishing at the foot of the whole football league but on 2 occasions it came pretty close. Two 23rd place finishes in the 1960s made the decade a low point of the clubs history. In fact, for Bradford it was a desperately poor sporting decade. Speedway had packed up for the 2nd time, City struggled and cross-city rivals Bradford Park Avenue hit the skids mid-decade and never recovered getting the boot from league football in the 1969-70 season and finally having to call time in 1974 crushed by mis-management, financial trouble and Council indifference from the City authorities.

City themselves under the managership of Bob Brocklebank who had arrived in May 1961 had a real roller coaster of a time under his tutelage. City had been relegated to the new Division 4 in 1961 under the long serving Peter Jackson snr. and Brocklebank inherited a side with a decent amount of talent with a goalscorer in David Layne, a solid reliable defence with Flockett, Mollatt, Harland & Mike Smith. There were also the shoots of a promising youth policy with Trevor Hockey, Bruce Stowell, Brian Kelly, Roy Ellam & England schools keeper David Roper all starting to make claims for a place in the side.

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Added to that was return of former record goalscorer & crowd favourite John McCole (pictured) from Leeds United and the solid signings of Barry Tait & Tommy Hoyland. Farewells were said to long term favourites Johnny Reid, Bobby Webb & Derek Hawksworth & sadly, through injury, Jim Lawlor as Brocklebank shaped his side. A superb run from New Years Day 1962 with only 2 defeats saw the side agonisingly miss out on promotion by 1 point. Even ‘Bronco’ Layne smashing the clubs goalscoring record with 34 league goals ably backed up by McCole & Tait couldn’t compensate for the agony of missing out.

 The following close season saw the inevitable departure of star striker Layne to Sheffield Wednesday who would later gain notoriety for his part in the betting scandal  of the mid 60s which would cost him not only his career but also, for a while, his liberty. The young upcoming star Trevor Hockey was also sold for a record £15000 fee to Nottingham Forest. Journeyman Barry Tait also left but Bob Brocklebank was left with the core of his side still available to him. Incoming signings included inside forward Barry Webster from Rotherham & Peter Bircumshaw from Notts County and a young winger who had been on amateur forms signed his first professional contract. He would go on to be a major part of Citys history in the decade, his name John Hall. It was anticipated that Johnny McCole would take over the goalscoring mantle of the departed Layne but sadly, the combination of a previous broken leg and even more sadly a burgeoning drink problem saw him far less effective than his previous spell at the club where he had achieved his rightful place as a City legend by breaking the long term scoring record of FA Cup hero Frank O’Rourke.

The 1962-63 season began fairly decently with only 2 defeats in the first 8 games although McCole only managed 1 goal, it appeared that the team might well be challenging again and showed no sign of a hangover after the near miss of the previous season. The goals were being shared around the team which had a settled look but towards the end of September the side started hitting runs of games without picking points up several times having runs of 4 games without a point as they started to slide down the table. Manager Brocklebank was never under pressure jobwise with the board showing commendable faith in him to put it right as he shuffled the pack to get the side back on track. Youngster Hall was given his debut and fellow youngsters Ellam (pictured), Kelly & Stowell all had runs in the side but nothing seemed to work as City struggled to find any form at all. During the season, never once did the team go more than 4 games without a defeat and that included 3 draws. Consecutive defeats on the other hand were a regular occurrence as the team struggled to find any form at all. John McCole’s disappointing 5 goals from 20 games was a huge shock to City fans who had idolised ‘King McCole’ 5 seasons earlier. A sad end to club legend came in January when he left for Rotherham but his career never hit the same heights again and sadly he was a shadow of the goal machine of his younger days. City needed goals urgently and City looked over to Horton for McCole’s replacement. Avenues bustling striker Rodney Green came across the City to provide more firepower and presence to a frankly, lightweight attack.

roy-ellam

 Due to the harsh winter of 1962-63 football was hit hard and City went nearly 3 months without a game and despite signing in December, Green (pictured) had to wait until March 1963 to make his debut in an auspicious 0-5 defeat away at Crewe. It didn’t look good for the restart and a push for safety from re-election. He got off the mark in his second game and the scored a brace at home to Chester but it proved a false dawn as the side then went on a 3 game losing streak.

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The return after a 5 month injury break of Mike Smith proved another false hope as Manager Brocklebank ‘tinkered’ with personnel and formations to find a combination that worked and during the second half of the season, nobody actually gave City a big beating, several losses being by the odd goal but a record of only 4 wins in the second half of the season since the enforced lay-off  showed the clubs problem. Green finished with a creditable 10 goals from 22 games in a struggling side and decent support was given by midfielder Harland & winger Webster with 8 goals apiece but a distinct lack of goals and a tendency to give away cheap goals at the other end proved their downfall as the club finished in an all time lowly position of 23rd in the bottom division of English football. At least it was saved the embarrassment of actually finishing bottom by a 7 point gap to perennial strugglers Hartlepool United to the shame felt by fans at the clubs decline over the years from a 1st Division side and FA Cup winners to bottom division strugglers was hard to take although it was probably the past fame and good name in the game which saved them when it came to applying for re-election and going cap in hand to Football League to save their status. Although nothing could be said, it would have been embarrassing for the League to kick out a former Cup Winner albeit a long 50 years earlier and thankfully the club were duly re-elected. It proved a bad season for Bradford football all round as neighbours Park Avenue were relegated from Division 3 to renew the Wool City rivalry the following season. It was possibly the start of Avenue’s decline and subsequent demise.

Looking back now, the 1962-63 season appears to be a blip and a bit of a freak set of results as the season after City were in the fight for promotion until 2 crucial defeats at the end to rivals Workington & York City saw them finish again in 5th place 2 points shy of a place in the 3rd division. Rod Green rampaged his way through the season scoring 29 league goals and newcomer Dudley Price added 15 of own. Only 19 players were used as a consistent team including several of the youngsters coming of age in the team showed a maturity probably borne of the struggles of the season previous. Kelly, Ellam, Stowell & Hall all playing significant parts in the ‘nearly’ season.

 The club suffered by selling star striker ‘Bronco’ Layne (pictured) in 61-62 and it made the same mistake in 64 selling Green to Gillingham in July 64 although finances probably dictated the move. The 1960s proved a turbulent decade for the City club until Stafford Heginbotham took over the club and despite an early struggle lead the club to its first promotion for 40 years as the decade neared its end.

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1965-66 saw City once again finish in 23rd position before the ‘rebirth’ under Stafford but the playing record was marginally better despite finishing only 2 points better off than bottom club Wrexham. Statistically 62-62 was the worst finish on record in the clubs history and the club seriously flirted with both being kicked out of the league and financial meltdown. Thankfully the club survived to create more history in the forthcoming years although sadly it would do it alone as Avenue went into terminal decline in the 1960s from which it never recovered finally closing in 1974. The Wool City Rivalry was over but for City the season had been to quote a famous saying ‘The Worst of Times’

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