The 1906 Valley Parade Riot

By Ian Hemmens

February 10th 1906 was just another day of football fixtures. His Majesty Edward VII launched HMS Dreadnought, the most modern battleship of all time ensuring Britain’s domination of the oceans would remain. Over in the United States, future silent movie star Lon Chaney Jnr was born.

Born 3 years earlier from the former Manningham Rugby Club, Bradford City Football Club were in their 3rd season in the Football League were gradually establishing themselves as a professional outfit.

Under the guidance of Secretary-Manager Robert Campbell, City were a comfortable mid-table side but the Board were ambitious for their new club and in November 1905 the club and Campbell parted company by mutual consent. Centre Half and senior player Peter O’Rourke was asked to look after the team whilst the committee decided their next move. O’Rourke dropped himself and placed Gerald Kirk at centre half. Anthony Carter at full back and Edwin Daw in Goal were the other main changes O’Rourke made as Andy Easton & Jimmy Garvey were both struggling, indeed Garvey had to retire due to his injuries.

City’s undoubted star was diminutive left winger Jimmy Conlin. A fiery character, he was the first ever City player to be sent off but he was also Citys first England International. City’s first International was Jimmy Roberts who played for Wales and beat Conlin to the honour by a week. He was a quick, tricky winger signed from Scottish club Albion Rovers the season before.

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A run of only 1 defeat in 9 games convinced the board that the new man could be in place already and Peter O’Rourke was appointed full time Manager in the February of 1906.

City had just come off a great 5-0 win over 1st Division Wolves and next at Valley Parade in a league game were promotion chasing Manchester United.
who would eventually achieve their aim finishing in 2nd place. They were quite a free scoring side with 4 players reaching double figures and their season saw the beginning of an era with the legendary half back line of Duckworth, Roberts & Bell. The United player that interests us the most though was the burly Right Back , Bob Bonthron, a no nonsense player who took no prisoners.

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United had previous at Valley Parade even before their game started. Their previous visit had finished with fans and journalists alike annoyed by their ‘brute force and shady tactics’. In the week leading up to the match Bonthron had been quoted in the press giving ‘a frank admission that he fouled opponents without worry as it was the best way to stop them scoring’. The stage was set and with the match kicking off in heavy rain, the large crowd was ready for the highly anticipated contest. The other villain of the piece was referee T. A. Campbell who was very weak and offered no protection at all to Conlin who was repeatedly kicked and barged by Bonthron.

On a pitch in shocking condition, the City attack missed several good chances whilst at the other end the Referee Mr Campbell ‘seemed oblivious’ to the offside rule. He also ruled that City keeper Edwin Daw had stepped over the goal line in collecting the ball and awarded United a controversial goal. As half time was reached United had an unbelievable 4-1 lead. The crowd’s mood was already brewing at the perceived injustices when the United Chairman Mr. J. Bentley decided to take a stroll around the pitch waving and twirling his umbrella. This perceived show of arrogance was greeted by Mr Bentley receiving a torrent of mud, stones and Orange peel.

This was nothing compared to what was to come. Chants of ‘Play the Game’ greeted the United players as they emerged for the second half but they just laughed at the crowd. City, with nothing to lose attacked and firstly Conlin having broken clear was rugby tackled to the ground. Then, after beating Bonthron again, the defender took a cowardly swing and took the wingers legs away from underneath him for which he received a caution from the Ref. The crowds mood darkened even further when United scored yet another ‘offside ‘ goal which Mr Campbell allowed. 5-1 down, little Jimmy was nothing if not feisty and when the 8st Conlin glided past the 13st Bonthron the full back took action which had the only result possible and City’s star winger was launched into the picket fence which surrounded the pitch. After his repeated offences and already being cautioned, the referee and linesman conferred and to the shock and disgust of the crowd merely gave Bonthron yet another lecture.

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This was the final straw for the already irate crowd. The crowd cheered when Edwin Daw punched the ball clear and in the process knocked out United forward Clem Beddow. When the whistle finally blew for full time a possee of police constables surrounded both Bonthron and the referee to stop the onrushing crowd reaching the target of their venom. This was only a temporary respite as in those days the players had to walk up the road to the Belle Vue barracks to the changing rooms and offices.

The crowd knew this and were waiting as the players emerged from the rest room on to the streets to walk up. The United players were allowed to walk unhindered up to the barracks, the crowd had their targets. Anticipating trouble and hearing the threats the City officials tried to sneak Bonthron & the Referee out via the Burlington Terrace end of the ground, but they were spotted and the crowd blocked the way. Mr Campbell with 2 escorts , made a dash for it and was pelted with ash and mud and had his pipe knocked from his mouth. Bonthron then tried to make a dash and was hit full on by one of the mob. City director John Brunt and full back Anthony Carter went to his aid and received several blows as Carter was knocked to the ground. One more broke through and attacked Bonthron. He was held by the police but dragged clear by his fellow attackers. City Vice-President Ike Newton was then knocked to the ground and took several kicks as mob rule threatened to take over. They finally managed to reach the relative safety of the barracks despite several further attacks and being covered head to foot in mud and ash.

The carriage of United Chairman Bentley and Manager Ernest Mangnall was pelted by stones.

After a period of time, City Manager escorted Bonthron to the Exchange Station to meet up with his unharmed team mates.

The following week, both City & United stayed at the Norbreck Hotel in Blackpool on a training break and there appeared to be no ill feeling between the 2 sets of players. Even Jimmy Conlin & Bob Bonthron were seen deep in conversation on many occasions.

The Football League convined a meeting to investigate the matter and as a result Valley Parade was closed for 14 days. Bonthron had been given a chance to diffuse the situation by being offered the chance to stay behind and travel with the City team who were leaving later for Blackpool but he insisted on confronting the angry mob and returning with his own team.

Incredibly at the hearing, Bonthron got off with a stern lecture as to his behaviour and the Referee got away scot-free with his incompetence.

Post Script: The crowd didn’t forget though and a month later when United visited Leeds City the Referee was again pelted with missiles by ‘Bradford folk’ and had his face cut. 2 years later whilst officiating at Uniteds Bank Street, He sent off United Centre Forward Sandy Turnbull and was again attacked this time by United fans and in the safety of the United offices he was verbally abused by several club officials whom he reported to the FL for not offering him protection.

As for the 2 major players, they would meet again the season after. Jimmy Conlin had by then gone from strength to strength becoming Bradford Citys first England International and then in the Summer becoming the 2nd most expensive player ever when he moved to Manchester City. Bonthron was struggling to establish himself in the top division against better players and on the 1st December came the first Manchester derby in the top flight. Bonthron came up against his old nemesis and once again Conlin gave him a runaround. Conlin was ‘as tricky as a monkey’ and gave Bonthron a ‘a rare gruelling’. After being ‘left blundering behind’ once more the crowds jibes got to him and he was seen shaking his fists and threatened to see the crowd outside afterwards! He also had a slanging match with team mates Dick Duckworth & Harry Moger. Conlin had had the last laugh and enjoyed a decent career before falling foul of drink before being tragically killed in WW1. He is remembered at the Nieuwpoort Memorial in Belgium. Bob Bonthron left Manchester United at the end of the season.

Jimmy Conlin was the first superstar and darling of the fledgling Bradford City club. A quick and wonderfully tricky winger, he was slightly built but scared of no one and his skill and personality helped the club establish itself in the Football League. As mentioned he was the clubs first England International only being beaten by a week for the honour of being first ever international by Jimmy Robert’s selection for Wales. He is remembered as one of City’s Fallen heroes.

Above are Conlin & Bonthron.

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