By Ian Hemmens
In the history & folklore of Bradford City, many characters have left their mark for all sorts of reasons. Some are forgotten as time passes and some are fondly remembered as their tales are passed on from generation to generation.
One such player from the immediate post WW2 era was one Abraham W. Rosenthal, known to one and all as ‘Abe’. Despite losing several years of his career to the Second World War , he made a name for himself in the game right up to the mid 1950s . Also, he was not your archetypal athlete, at one point he touched 14 stones on the scales and his robust, burly appearance hid a body swerve that Sir Stanley Matthews would have been proud of, ball skills like a post war Matt Le Tissier, and a bludgeon of a shot. So why isn’t he remembered like the great Tommy Lawton or other superstars of his day? Here is his story!
Abe was born in Liverpool, 21 of October 1921 to a Jewish family, he had an elder Brother , Gordon. The Boys were very sport obsessed, Abe representing Liverpool & Lancashire Schoolboys in football and Gordon representing Liverpool in swimming. Abe signed for Liverpool on Amateur terms firstly but frustrated by his lack of progress, he and Gordon moved across the Mersey and signed for Tranmere Rovers in January 1939 both managing a single 1st team appearance and 3 in the aborted 1939-40 season before War was declared and their immediate careers were put on hold.
Abe at 18 years
Abe and his Brother Gordon both joined the Parachute regiment, Abe as a glider pilot. Abe eventually rising to be a Commisioned Officer but tragedy struck in August 1942 when Gordon was killed. The Spitfire he was piloting came down in the River Dee and whilst he was an excellent swimmer, he was concussed by the shattered cockpit and tragically drowned. He was 22 years old.
Wherever he was stationed, any leave time was used to turn out for the local clubs, Abe making appearances for Plymouth Argyle, Bath City, St. Mirren and Swindon Town. Returning to Prenton Park after the war, his attitude had changed. Realising he had lost vital years of his footballing career to the conflict, he and his Brother-in-Law showed true entrepreneurial style setting up a company producing ices & lollipops eventually becoming the 2nd largest manufacturers in Britain. Roscana Lollipops had factories in Bradford and Manchester employing up to 50 people in the Summer months. He once said his £9 a week wage from Tranmere Rovers all went in tax due to the money he was making with Roscana.
After 8 goals in 26 appearances for Rovers, in April 1947, Bradford City tabled a £2000 bid for his services after losing their own goalscorer Alf Whittingham to Huddersfield Town. His 1st spell at Valley Parade lasted 18 months with a return of 11 goals in 44 games before moving to Oldham for 5 months and then back to Tranmere Rovers in August 1949. Back at Prenton Park, Abe hit the ground running. On opening day 1950 he hit 4 goals in a thrashing of York City and followed that with 10 in his next 16. He was capable of spectacular goals but could also be very frustrating leading to fans shouting for him to start selling lollies or ice creams to the crowd rather than stand around on the pitch. Taking the criticism in good heart he would then usually ‘wow’ the crowd with a bit of magical skill or a superbly struck goal to shut them up.
January 1952 and his outside business interests saw him move back to Yorkshire once again signing for Bradford City and probably at the height of his career scored 17 goals as part of a double act with the small and nippy Eddie Carr who hit 20. The following season after Carr had moved on, Abe led the attack scoring a further 15 goals to head the charts.
BCAFC 1952/53 – Abe middle front row with ball
Like a homing pigeon, August 1954 saw him return yet again to Tranmere Rovers. Now 33 years old and approaching 15 stones, he was now playing purely for fun and his powers began to wane as more athletic players began to take over the game. In 1955, new City manager Peter Jackson brought him back once again to Valley Parade for an incredible 3rd spell which to go with his 3 spells at Tranmere Rovers made him a record breaker as the only player to appear 3 times for 2 clubs. After a single final appearance, he turned out fro Bradford amateur side Salts before finally hanging his boots up for good.
Upon retiring he sold the Lollipop & Ices business and moved back to his native Liverpool settling in the Woolton district.
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