by John Dewhirst
Have you ever considered what other names might have been adopted by Bradford’s leading football clubs. Might Bradford City have been Bradford United, Bradford Albion or Bradford Rovers for example? The following is a summary of the Bradford identities adopted by the football clubs in the district and considers how they came about. The detail is derived from my research into the origins of football in Bradford in the nineteenth century.
Until the end of the nineteenth century Bradford was very much a rugby centre and its earliest clubs were exclusively rugby sides. Many of those converted to soccer – a good example of which was Manningham FC in 1903 – and it was a common phenomenon for local rugby clubs to abandon their code of football at the turn of the century.
In Bradford there was a strong sense of hierarchy among the rugby clubs from the outset. Bradford FC had been the first club to be established in Bradford and considered it unnecessary and undesirable to adopt a suffix because it considered itself to be the Bradford football club. In Germany the club would have been known as 1FC Bradford (meaning the first or leading side in the town).
Manningham FC was not established until much later (formed in 1880) and emerged as a challenger to Bradford FC even if it had not originally been intended to compete against the Park Avenue club. The rivalry between the Bradford and Manningham clubs was intense and a dimension of it was the bragging rights as the town’s representative. Manningham FC for example resented the attempts by Bradford FC to derive the monopoly status as the town club to the exclusion of itself. When soccer was introduced to Valley Parade in 1903 the club was anxious to stamp its own authority as the city club and hence the name Bradford City AFC was an unsurprising choice. After its own conversion in 1907, the Park Avenue club clung to its identity as Bradford FC as a demonstration of its historical status.
During the 1870s, emergent rugby clubs following in the wake of Bradford FC all tended to have Bradford names. By the 1880s however most of those had disappeared and the majority of second tier rugby clubs who sat in the pecking order below the two senior clubs in Bradford tended to have geographic names linked to their village or suburb such as Bowling FC, Heaton FC, Wibsey FC or Shipley FC which identified that club as representative of its home area. Notable is that none of the second tier or so-called ‘junior’ clubs, Manningham FC included, adopted a Bradford identity. It might have been because there were too many of them to adopt the Bradford name and besides, a village identity was more distinctive. Instead, a Bradford name tended to be the preserve of lower ranking or ‘local’ sides and it was almost as if there was a naming convention that deterred anyone from having a Bradford name, presumably because a village or township name became the norm for the juniors and modesty prevented the use of a Bradford identity.
(NB In 1906, the emergence of Horton RUFC as a challenger to the then dominant Bradford rugby union side, Bradford Wanderers aped that of Manningham FC in relation to Bradford FC – another case of a club with a township identity becoming a direct competitor and rival to the senior town club in Bradford.)
Of those Bradford identities, a good proportion of the names are derived from political or patriotic affinity (ie Bradford Primrose, Clarence, Churchill, Caledonian, Celtic, Britannia or Albion) as well as generic reference to the playing of sport (ie Bradford Recreation) and the practice of travel to play games in different places (ie Bradford Rangers, Rovers, Wanderers or Zingari). Similarly, Bradford Rifles is a name that reveals the military heritage of sport in Bradford. Other names were more esoteric such as Bradford Spartans or Bradford Hornets. Bradford Trinity was a name quite possibly inspired by the example of Wakefield Trinity FC rather than as a result of a church connection. Bradford Star Rangers may have been promoted by a public house, if so the only example of a ‘Bradford named’ club named in this way that I am aware of.
It would be interesting to compare the naming conventions in Bradford with those in other towns. My assumption is that many of the names of Football League clubs betray not only their origins, but their early history. In certain cases the identity of ‘ United’ can be traced to the merger of clubs (ie Newcastle and Rotherham). Clubs without a suffix or adopting the name ‘Town’ or ‘City’ can most likely be assumed to have enjoyed dominance – if not, aspired to it – as the leading side where they came from. Blackburn may provide an interesting comparison with Bradford on account of the development of sport in the two towns in the 1870s. At that time, Bradford FC was dominant in Bradford whereas in the Lancashire town there was rivalry between Blackburn Rovers and Blackburn Olympic. Notable is that neither Blackburn side had assumed a name that suggested being the principal town club as in Blackburn Town FC or just Blackburn FC.
The origins of Bradford FC can be traced to 1863 but a formal organisation appears to date from the beginning of the 1866/67 season. On this basis the foundation date of the club is 1863 but the formation date of the club as a formal organisation is more appropriately stated as 1866.
Games were originally played at the then home of Bradford Cricket Club at Laisteridge Lane off Great Horton Road, moving to Peel Park in spring, 1871 and then North Park Road in 1871/72. Between 1872-74 the club was based at Four Lane Ends, Girlington before renting a field at Apperley Bridge between 1874-80. The club merged with the reformed Bradford CC at Park Avenue in 1880 to become a constituent section of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club.
The club was originally a winter section of the Bradford Cricket Club. A distinct identity as Bradford FC did not arise until the start of the 1872/73 season when the club signed a formal lease for its playing field at Four Lane Ends, Girlington.
Conversion to soccer in 1907 led to the formation of Bradford (PA) AFC at Park Avenue and Bradford Northern RLFC (which spent its first season at the Greenfield Athletic ground but moved to Birch Lane in 1908 prior to relocating to Odsal in 1934).
The origins of Bradford RFC, established in 1919 and based at Scholemoor, Lidget Green from 1919 can be traced back to the launch of the Bradford Wanderers rugby union club in 1899 and the revival of interest in Rugby Union in the district. All descendants of Bradford FC shared common red, amber and black colours with dark blue serge knickers. (Bradford RFC was known as ‘Bradford Rugby’ and merged with Bingley RUFC at Wagon Lane, Cottingley in 1982 to become Bradford & Bingley RUFC.)
In 1895 the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club launched a soccer section as a contingency option given the uncertainty about the future of English rugby. The Buckstone Park club that played at Apperley Bridge was co-opted to form the team which competed as Bradford AFC. The initiative lasted until 1899 when it was closed down by the parent (rugby) club.
Another soccer club preceded Bradford AFC. Established in 1888 – quite possibly inspired by the formation of the Football League – it had been known as Bradford Association and played at Thornbury. This club played intermittent fixtures during three separate seasons before disbanding at the end of 1890 having struggled to attract either players or spectators.
After the abandonment of rugby at Park Avenue in 1907 the new soccer club was also known as Bradford AFC although its formal title was Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC.
The other Bradfords
The following is a summary of all the different Bradford clubs of which I am aware. The date of origin refers to the first use of the name as a football identity in Bradford. Where the date of formation is uncertain, the year in which the club was first reported is stated in brackets. Feedback is welcome to allow this listing to be updated.
Further detail can be found in ROOM AT THE TOP (bantamspast, 2016) by John Dewhirst which tells the history of the origins of sport in Bradford.
Bradford (Manningham) FC – 1876 / Rugby
Comprised former members of the Bradford Juniors and Bradford Zingari clubs. Games played in Manningham Park before merger with Bradford Zingari in 1879. No connection with the subsequent formation of Manningham FC in 1880 although a number of common members.
Bradford Albion – 1875 / Rugby
Part of Bradford Albion Cricket Club which had been established in 1855. Based Little Horton Green, headquarters at the Old Red Lion Inn. Cricket club wound up in 1886 but football club ceased activity in 1882, presumably the impact of Park Avenue having opened nearby in 1880. Albion is the historic name for Great Britain. Identity revived by a local rugby side in 1896.
Bradford Borough – n/a
Name never adopted. Bradford FC as the recognised ‘town club’ in Bradford was also the de facto Bradford Borough representative so the name was unnecessary.
Bradford Britannia – 1886 / Rugby
Based Bunker’s Hill, Otley Road. Members of the Bradford Junior rugby league. Linked to cricket club of same name.
Bradford Caledonian – 1873 / Rugby
Competitive fixtures from 1874, club dissolved 1879 prompted by senior players joining Bradford FC. Initially based in Manningham Park, latterly Girlington from 1877. The name betrays Scottish links given a sizeable Scots immigrant community in Bradford and a Bradford Caledonian Society can be traced to 1837. Bradford Caledonian curling and cricket clubs preceded the (rugby) football club.
Bradford Celtic – 1896 / Rugby
By 1900 identity of a local soccer team in the Bradford & District League, presumably comprising players of Irish descent. Possibly linked to social missionary efforts of the Catholic churches in Bradford.
Bradford Churchill – 1893 / Rugby
Local rugby team, members of Bradford & District Rugby Union and founder members of Bradford Junior League in 1894 switching to Northern Union in 1896. By 1898 conversion to soccer, in 1899 members of Bradford & District FA Division Two based at Harewood Street and from 1902 based at Greenfield. There was similarly a Churchill United club. Another identity, Bradford Church Hill is recorded as the name of a junior rugby team which was presumably the same. The different spelling causes uncertainty over origins, whether derived from a place name (ie Church Hill) or derived in tribute to the Conservative Party leader, Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill (1849-95). Churchill had actively promoted the Primrose League which was popular in Bradford and among those involved with football clubs – for example officials of both Manningham FC and Bradford FC were active in the Primrose League. (Lord Churchill visited Bradford in November, 1893.)
Bradford City – 1901 / Soccer
Identity launched in 1901 by Harewood Recreation AFC, members of the Bradford & District FA, who sought to relaunch themselves to take advantage of the growing enthusiasm for soccer. The club relocated from Boldshay Fields, (off Barkerend Road) to Greenfield (Dudley Hill). It was a close competitor with Girlington AFC who had similar ambitions and relocated in the same year to Valley Parade. The original Bradford City club resigned from the Bradford League in 1902 in circumstances that may have been linked to an aborted attempt to launch a new club in Bradford to compete at a much higher level. During the 1902/03 season a team of the same name played a number of friendlies against local opposition in an ad hoc revival of the identity. The name ‘Bradford City’ was then adopted by Manningham FC at Valley Parade in 1903. It was considered the prize name to denote the leading soccer team in the city and not surprisingly was the choice of the new club which sought membership of the Football League. In all likelihood the identity was encouraged by the leadership of the Bradford & District FA but Manningham FC would have been equally anxious to secure a name that would signify representation of the city. Notwithstanding, other names were considered for the new club and the shortlist also comprised Bradford Wanderers and Bradford United. The former was abandoned due to its association with rugby union and the existence at the time of the Bradford Wanderers rugby club. The Bradford United name was presumably considered because it would emphasise an appeal to all Bradfordians. Of course, both ‘Wanderers’ and ‘United’ were prominent soccer names in 1903.
Bradford City Athletic – 1903 / Soccer
Suggested identity for St Jude’s team if adopted as reserves for Bradford City AFC. Proposal rejected.
Bradford Clarence – 1894 / Rugby
The name Clarence alludes to the monarch, William IV (1830-37) who preceded Queen Victoria. The third son of George III was created Duke of Clarence in 1789 before acceding to the throne. As king, William was associated with reform of Parliamentary voting, child labour, Poor Law provision and the abolition of slavery and the adoption of the suffix ‘Clarence’ was a form of popular tribute to him. (NB Manningham Clarence CC had links to the formation of Manningham Albion FC in 1879 and Manningham FC in 1880.) Bradford Clarence had become a soccer club by 1899. Clarence was one of the most popular names for local sides among members of the Bradford & District FA in 1900 with the Bradford Moor Clarence, Undercliffe Clarence, Keighley Clarence, Menston Clarence and Pudsey Clarence clubs. Similarly, Clarence Rangers, Horton Clarence, Idle Clarence and Whetley Clarence were examples of earlier rugby sides in Bradford.
Bradford Corinthians – (1902) / Soccer
Established in 1904 and based at Ingleby Road, Brownroyd and members of Bradford & District FA albeit competing at a lower level. A club of the same name existed in 1902/03 but unclear if it was connected. The name was presumably inspired by the amateur Corinthians club who had played in Bradford at Park Avenue in December, 1897 defeating the hosts – Bradford AFC which was the soccer section of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club – by 6-1. Notable is that whilst this was a prestige fixture it attracted only 500 spectators.
Bradford Gaelic – (1893) / Rugby
Origins unknown, likely a transient club linked to Catholic social missionary efforts. Reported existence in 1893 through to at least 1896 as a junior Bradford rugby team.
Bradford Grammar School FC – 1872 / Rugby
School team that originally played its games at Carlisle Road, the ground later adopted by Manningham FC in 1880. First recorded game November, 1872 against Bradford FC reserves but particularly active in the second half of the 1872/73 season when rugby appears to have been embraced. By the beginning of the twentieth century Bradford GS had established a reputation as one of the strongest rugby-playing schools in the north.
Bradford Harlequins – (1894) / Rugby
Origins unknown, likely a transient club. Reported existence between 1894-1897 as a junior Bradford rugby team. Derivation of the name is unknown. There was no historic connection between Bradford rugby clubs and Harlequins RFC (est 1866 and a founder member of the RFU).
Bradford Home Club – 1876 / Rugby
Formed by Manningham resident members of Bradford FC who sought to establish a club based locally (instead of Apperley Bridge). Games played in Frizinghall (current Bradford GS field, Frizinghall Road). Existed for one season only.
Bradford Hornets – 1881 / Rugby
Based at Bunker’s Hill, Otley Road. Merged with Bradford Trinity in 1883. Name presumably copied from Rochdale Hornets, a club established in 1871 and with a strong reputation.
Bradford Juniors – 1871 / Rugby
Second (rugby) football club in Bradford, origins 1871 but first competitive fixtures with other clubs not until 1873. Based at Peel Park, relocated to Four Lane Ends and renamed as Bradford Rangers in 1880. The name ‘Juniors’ may have been selected to distinguish the club from the senior side in Bradford at the time, that is Bradford FC. Similarly, the name could have been dropped in 1880 arising from growing self-confidence and ambition.
Bradford Metro – 1974 / Soccer
Proposed name for a relaunch of soccer in Bradford after liquidation of Bradford (PA) and the formation of new municipal authority in the same year. Identity rejected by supporters of Bradford City.
Bradford Nationals – (1894) / Rugby
Origins unknown, likely a transient club. Reported existence in 1894 as a junior Bradford rugby team.
Bradford Northern – 1907 / Rugby
Phoenix Northern Union club established after the ‘Great Betrayal’ at Park Avenue resulted in soccer being played at the ground instead of rugby which had been staged since 1880. The name was selected to highlight the fact that Northern Union was still played in Bradford after the Great Betrayal of 1907. The Northern Union had also insisted that the name Bradford FC could not be used.
Bradford Parish Church – 1901 / Soccer
1901 members of Bradford District League Division Four. Name suggests a church sponsored social initiative to deter young men away from drink and anti-social activity. In Leeds, the Leeds Parish Church club had been a prominent rugby side whereas the Bradford Parish Church side was very much a low level entity.
Bradford Park Avenue / Bradford (Park Avenue) – 1907 / Soccer
Following the abandonment of rugby at Park Avenue in 1907, the football section of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club became known in the press as Bradford Park Avenue to distinguish from Bradford City. Notwithstanding, the identity Bradford AFC had been registered with the FA in 1905. As a compromise, to satisfy the Football League requirement for clubs in the same town to have distinct identities, ‘Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC’ was adopted as the formal identity of the club which continued to be referred to as ‘Bradford’ by its supporters.
Bradford Primrose – 1899 / Rugby
Name betrays sympathy for / sponsorship of local Primrose League in Bradford. Conservative Party supporters traditionally influential in Bradford sport. By 1900 identity of soccer team.
Bradford Rangers – 1880 / Rugby
Successor club to Bradford Juniors. Games played at Apperley Bridge in 1880/81, relocating to Girlington 1881 and then ceasing to exist at the end of the 1881/82 season. Match reports during that final season refer to the team having been much less successful. The reasons for the club’s demise are unclear but presumably linked to difficulties raising a team, not helped by the club moving grounds which could not have been convenient to all members.
Even in the 1880/81 season, Rangers had considered itself an equal to Bradford FC. However with the latter gaining the advantage of the Park Avenue ground, those associated with Rangers may have considered ongoing rivalry to be futile and this may have been a demotivating factor when faced with the challenge of sustaining the club in a nomadic existence.
In 1883 the club identity was adopted by a junior, third tier club at Ingleby Road which merged with Horton Alexandra but it is unclear whether there was any common membership with the original Rangers organisation. The last record of existence was 1896/97 although it is unclear whether there was continuing existence in this period. The identity was again revived in 1904 as a Rugby Union club based at Lidget Green but survived for only two seasons. The name Rangers, like Rovers and Wanderers, alludes to playing games in different places.
Bradford Recreation – 1896 / Rugby
Origins unknown, likely a transient club. Reported existence in 1896 as a junior Bradford rugby team.
Bradford Rifles – 1875 / Rugby
Team formed by members of the 3rd West Yorkshire Rifle Volunteer Corps. Played at Four Lane Ends, irregular fixtures after 1880 and last game reported in 1887.
Bradford Rovers – 1901 / Soccer
Originally joined Bradford & District FA Division Four and progressed to join West Riding County Amateur League in 1934. Originally based at Spier Fields, Fagley by 1904 the club had progressed sufficiently to merit tenancy at Greenfield, Dudley Hill. Later played at Lower Lane / Parry Lane (shared with Bradford (PA) ‘A’ team) before winding-up in 1979. Ground currently used by Dudley Hill ARLFC.
NB A Bradford Airedale club is believed to have been formed at Spier Fields, Fagley in 1904 when the Rovers vacated. No further details available.
Bradford Spartans – 1893 / Soccer
Played at Boldshay Fields. Origins may have been a team formed by local schoolboys taught the game by Albert Slater, a teacher who came to Bradford in 1891 and is understood to have encouraged the sport locally at a time when rugby was the dominant code of football in West Yorkshire. Considered a pioneering soccer club, the Bradford Spartans disbanded in 1898. (The club’s disappearance came a year before the launch of the Bradford & District FA which was to give a considerable boost to association football in the area.)
The name Spartans was derived from Greek mythology, attributed to fighting prowess and collective strength.
Bradford Star Rangers – 1886 / Rugby
Local rugby club, first mention of which in 1886 – presumably one of the many clubs emerging around that time at the height of enthusiasm for rugby in Bradford. A club by the name of Star Rangers was in existence as a member of the Bradford District Rugby Union in 1907 but it is unclear whether it was the same. Origins unknown, possibly connected to the Star Inn on Westgate, Bradford?
Bradford Town – n/a
Name never adopted. In the latter half of the nineteenth century it would have offended local sensibilities for a club to have adopted the suffix ‘Town’ and unlikely after granting of city status to Bradford in 1897.
Bradford Trinity – 1880 / Rugby
Based in Undercliffe, originally at Peel Park and then after merger with Bradford Hornets in 1883, on Otley Road before relocating to Undercliffe CC in 1885. Converted to soccer and founder members of the Bradford & District FA in 1899. A cross country club, Bradford Trinity Harriers existed in the 1890s. No evidence that the name was derived from connections with a church and instead may have been copied from Wakefield Trinity FC which was at that time a leading rugby side in Yorkshire and fierce rivals of Bradford FC.
Bradford United – 1878 / Rugby
Identity adopted by 3rd XI of Bradford Cricket Club in 1865. Adopted in 1878 by a (rugby) team comprising players of other Bradford clubs (excluding Bradford FC) to contest the Yorkshire Challenge Cup.
There was speculation in 1905 that the identity might be adopted by a merged City / Park Avenue soccer club and the name was subsequently associated with proposals for an amalgamation of the two clubs, again referred to in the 1920s. By the late 1960s the name ‘Bradford United’ had become a metaphor for merger.
The same identity was used by a semi-pro club competing in Yorkshire League, 1945-51 that played at Hunsworth Lane, East Bierley (ground subsequently adopted by Dudley Hill Athletic). Bradford United AFC emerged out of East Bierley AFC, both having been promoted by the same benefactor, local businessman Harold Rhodes.
In 1903 the Bradford United identity was considered by the Manningham FC committee as a name for the proposed association side before selection of Bradford City.
Bradford Victoria – 1893 / Rugby
Name in tribute to the monarch, 1837-1901.
Bradford Wanderers – 1891 / Rugby
An identity adopted across a number of sports but better known for its association with rugby union. A club of the same name existed between 1891-94 but it is unknown whether there was common lineage with the club that was launched in 1899 at Birch Lane. Bowling Old Lane FC disbanded at the end of 1898/99 and Bradford Wanderers occupied Birch Lane between 1899-1903 before moving to Red Beck Fields (the ground used by Manningham Albion in 1879/80 before the launch of Manningham FC at Carlisle Road in 1880) where they were known colloquially as the Red Beck Amataeurs.
In 1906 the club merged with the revived Bradford Rangers on account that the two clubs were struggling to recruit new players. Contemporary reports stated that the combined club had hoped to secure the Lidget Green ground of Rangers but instead it was based at Red Beck Fields.
Following merger the club became known to rugby followers as plain ‘Bradford’ whose principal rival was Horton RUFC. In 1908 the club renamed itself as Shipley (R)FC before reverting back to Bradford Wanderers two years later and moving to Apperley Bridge, a traditional home of Bradford rugby and soccer. Bradford Wanderers disbanded in 1912 and then reformed shortly after. Remaining members of the club merged with Horton RUFC to form Bradford RFC in 1919.
I have found evidence of a cricket club with the same name between 1893-99 and a cycling club adopted the identity in 1894 but it is conjecture whether these organisations had common membership with the rugby body. In 1898/99 there was also a football association club known as Bradford Wanderers and it won the championship of the newly-formed Bradford Junior League in a play-off at Valley Parade. Surprisingly the soccer club disbanded after only one season and whether this had anything to do with the revival of rugby union in 1899 is again speculation, intriguing nonetheless as it would have been in contrast to other situations where rugby was being abandoned in favour of association. (Notable is that in September, 1899 the club cited its inability to raise a team as the reason for withdrawal from competition. With the formation of the Bradford & District FA League in 1899 it seems likely that Wanderers suffered from the poaching of its players by other clubs.)
As above (refer comments re ‘Bradford City’) the name was considered as an identity for the new association side by Manningham FC in 1903 but discounted on account of it being used at the time by the rugby union club.
Further detail about Bradford Wanderers and its Shipley connection from this link.
Bradford Wednesday – (1903) / Soccer
Isolated report of fund raising in April, 1903 by Bradford Wednesday FC but in the absence of any other mention in the local press around that time this may have been a one-off event and it is possible that the club was transient. Unclear whether the Bradford Wednesday team that played at the White Hart ground, East Bowling (as photographed in 1913 below) was the same as the one referred to in 1903. In Bradford, Wednesday was the traditional midweek half-day closing.
Bradford Worstedopolis – never adopted
What a name for a club this could have been – in the style of Middlesbrough Ironopolis FC (1889-94).
Bradford Zingari – 1874 / Rugby
Initially played in Manningham Park, then Frizinghall Road from 1875. Club dissolved 1881. The name is Italian for gypsies, adopted by sports teams in the second half of the nineteenth century on account of playing at different grounds (NB in this case the club had its own regular home venue.)
You can find further detail about these clubs and the grounds they played on in my books ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP which tell the story of the origins of football and sport in Bradford and subsequent rivalry of the Park Avenue and Valley Parade clubs. For information about where to buy them refer www.bantamspast.net Tweets @jpdewhirst
A future article on VINCIT will feature the historic sports grounds of Bradford. Contributions welcome to add further detail to this compendium.
John contributes to the Bradford City match day programme. His articles, as well as book reviews and features about the history of Bradford football, are published on his blog Wool City Rivals
Details about the BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED BOOKS