By Ian Hemmens
Towards the end of 1927-28, Bradford City faced a very real threat of liquidation. Players didn’t receive wages, debts were mounting and the bank refused the club further funds. This situation led to no recruitment plans for the following season and the club was in a state of limbo as shareholders waited to see what, if any, future the club had.
A chance meeting in the Midland Hotel between City historian and journalist W. H. Sawyer and that enigmatic mover and shaker Tom Paton would have a significant effect on the clubs future. Paton, in his usual way discussed the problems with Sawyer and came up with a plan to save the club. If Sawyer could persuade the Board to resign en bloc and form a new one, Paton would provide the money to get the club through the tough close season which would give them time to explore other ways of finding the necessary finance to continue as long as his name was kept out of the public sphere. This was the way Paton had always worked since the club’s formation, in the background without fuss or publicity but he was a highly respected figure within football.
Sawyer managed to do all he was asked and the season approached with a new Board and funds in the bank. They had also taken the significant step of appointing the legendary Peter O’Rourke as Secretary-Manager for his second spell at the club. He got to work with his vast knowledge and book of scouting contacts to get a team together for the start of what would be one of the most incredible seasons in the clubs history.
The season started at Valley Parade with an amazing 11-0 victory over Yorkshire neighbours Rotherham United with hat-tricks for both Corny White & Trevor Edmunds, both debutants. O’Rourke also cannily signed the likes of Cochrane, Randall, Moon & Summers who along with the vastly experienced Tommy Cairns and a youthful Sam Barkas, existing stalwarts Wattie Shirlaw, Sam Russell & Billy Watson would form the core of the team for a season which wouldn’t be settled until the final fixture of the season after a duel with Stockport County for the single promotion spot.
After Christmas 1928, it became clear that the team needed new impetus to maintain its challenge as several players had been tried as the teams strike leader with all doing ok but misfiring in several matches and O’Rourke soon found his man in February with the signing of Liverpool reserve Bert Whitehurst for a fee of £525. He was a proven goalscorer at this level holding the scoring record at Rochdale but not quite able to make the grade at the Anfield club.
His debut came at Sincil Bank on February 28th 1929 against Lincoln City on a snow covered pitch and he immediately began to repay his fee with a couple of goals in a 4-3 victory. He led the line perfectly being fed superbly by wingers Moon & Randall. His home debut the following week saw another brace in front of a 16000 crowd as it appeared City were back on track but what came a month later was incredible and probably won’t ever be repeated again. The team remained unbeaten to the end of the season just pipping Stockport to top spot and scoring a record 128 goals in the process. In one 5 match spell in March the club recorded results of 8-0, 8-0, 5-0, 5-0, and 3-0 and Bert Whitehurst hit 17 of those goals including a club record 7 goals in the 8-0 demolition of Tranmere Rovers on March 6th. At the seasons end, he had scored an incredible 24 goals in only 15 games and broke the club scoring record of 21 held jointly by Frank O’Rourke and Bob Whittingham. If ever there was a more inspired signing i’d love to see it. A season that almost didn’t start, midway looked like fading away ended with records galore falling as the club won promotion back to Division 2 to renew relations with neighbours Bradford Park Avenue.
As for Bert Whitehurst he couldn’t possibly maintain that form and indeed his future at City was blighted by injury as he quietly faded out of the scene before being sold to the team he tormented in March 1929, Tranmere Rovers. Once again the canny Peter O’Rourke had shown his mettle in problem solving for the teams benefit and the signing of Bert Whitehurst must surely have given him great satisfaction and the after the potential troubles and turmoil of the previous summer a great debt is owed to the likes of Paton & Sawyer that our club is still here for future generations to support.