By Ian Hemmens
In my last piece for VINCIT, I explained the emotional and tempestuous birth of Bradford Northern RLFC from the Great Betrayal of 1907, their formation and initial season at Greenfield Stadium at Dudley Hill. I ended with their move to a new ground and hopefully a new future at Birch Lane.. With its location nearer the City centre and on a busier transport route it was hoped the potential was there for bigger crowds following a successful side. Although the facilities were basic and Spartan, it was thought the possibilities for expansion were greater. I’m left wondering , with the adjoining Cricket field of Bowling Old Lane, there was an underlying hankering still for the days of the Park Avenue enclosure albeit at the present on a far less grander scale?
The club made the move with hopes of better days and hopefully the glories of the past once again. Instead, the immediate future held the trauma and chaos caused by the Great War, many fallow years on the pitch and running the club on a hand-to-mouth existence with an almost perennial threat of closure hanging over it. It was not to be until the move to Odsal Stadium and the arrival of Harry Hornby onto the Board that the Glory years would return.
If they thought things would start looking up, it wouldn’t be long before they were knocked back once more. February 1908 saw the club replace the Secretary at the clubs foundation, a Mr R. Hinchcliffe, with a new man called William Bayliss. 9 months later in the November of 1908, Bayliss suddenly informed 2 of the clubs best players, club Captain Tommy Surman and International forward Alf Mann that without any notice they were to be transferred from the club for reasons of a potential financial chasm if possible extinction if they didn’t raise some quick money to satisfy their debts.
With no reason to disbelieve the club official, the 2 players travelled with Bayliss firstly to the Leeds club where he proceeded to offer the 2 players to the Loiners for a combined fee of £150 . Although the club wanted the 2 players of obvious talent in their side, they were not prepared to be held to ransom. They tried to negotiate but Bayliss was adamant that the price was £150 so the move broke down.
Seemingly undeterred the trio travelled next to Humberside where the players were now offered to the Hull Kingston Rovers club. Bayliss now said the asking price for the 2 was £120 in cash all upfront. Although slightly suspicious, the Hull KR officials wanted the players and put it down to the inexperience of the Bradford Secretary in the accepted ways of buying & selling players so they paid the fee to Bayliss there and then.
Bayliss then gave Surman £25 and Mann £20 in lieu of their loyal service to the Bradford club. This was in fact an illegal practice within the rules of the Northern Union as the only payments allowed were from contracted wages.
2 days later the affair blew up when the committee met to select the team for the upcoming fixture with St Helens. When they asked why the 2 players were missing from training, the other players told them about their transfer to a collective disbelief.
They immediately contacted the Hull KR club to explain they had no knowledge or indeed had given any permission for the moves and also contacted the Northern Union governing body to ask them not to ratify the transfer.
Bayliss was summoned to appear and explain his actions but with £75 in his pocket he had vanished without trace. An investigation found that nobody had seen or heard from him since the day he told the players of the prospective move.
Despite the conversations between the 2 clubs, Rovers protested they had accepted with good faith and paid the fee asked for by an official of the Bradford Northern club as they produced papers with the Northern Secretaries name and signature of them.
A special meeting was convened in Manchester to investigate the matter. Bradford Northern produced papers from the club that showed that Bayliss had been communicating with a Mr Johnson of the Hull KR club since the June of 1908 with a view to transferring the players. Hull KR didn’t dispute this but Mr Johnson had acted within the rules at every opportunity and the never had an inkling that Bayliss was in fact selling the players for his own gain. They had paid good money and acted in good faith so the players were theirs.
The committee decided that Mann & Surman must pay back the monies given to them by Bayliss to the Hull KR club. Although technically the players were the property of Hull KR with all the relevant paperwork being signed by an official of the Bradford club, if the Northern club paid the outstanding amount back to Hull KR, plus administration fees to cover the transfer back to Birch Lane, the players could return to Bradford.
Reluctantly the club agreed to this even though they said they were actually buying back their own players and were now out of pocket at a time when finances were of paramount importance at the fledgling club.
The whole affair led to a change in the rules so that in future, a senior figure like a Chairman or Director of a club must also sign any necessary documentation, not just the serving Secretary. Bayliss was immediately removed from office and all investigations into his whereabouts drew a blank. He was never heard of again and never apprehended for his crime even though the police were asked to investigate.
The final twist in the whole affair came in the June of 1909 when Bradford Northern, still desperate for money to see them through the close season approached the Hull KR club to see if they were still interested in Mann & Surman. They were and a transfer was arranged and agreed and a fee of £50 each for the two saw them finally move to Humberside..
The move to Birch Lane was supposed to see a new dawn for the club but burdened by financial problems and rank bad decision making by the inexperienced committee saw the club bounce along the bottom for many years but that is another story.
You will find articles about a broad range of sports on VINCIT with new features published every two to three weeks. We welcome contributions about the sporting history of Bradford and are happy to feature any sport or club provided it has a Bradford heritage.
Planned articles in the next few months include features on the impact of the railways on Bradford sport; the continued story of Keighley AFC; Bradford soccer clubs in the 1880s and 1890s; the origins of cricket in Bradford; the story of Shipley FC; the meltdown of Bradford PA in the 1960s; the impact of social networks on the early development of Bradford sport; and the early politics of Bradford CC.
VINCIT readers may be interested in attending a talk by John Dewhirst on 19 May, 2018 in Bradford Local Studies Library on the Sporting Heritage of Bradford, featuring the origins and development of sport in the district in the nineteenth century.