Thomas Paton: the forgotten man of 1911?

Whilst we rightly laud the achievements of Peter O’Rourke and he is often (rightly) cited as Bradford City’s greatest ever manager, the role of one other individual in City’s golden era, punctuated by the 1911 F.A. Cup win, is often forgotten.

What is overlooked is the fact that the role of a “manager” was very different in the early twentieth century. One of the fundamental differences was that the manager wasn’t responsible for team selection – clubs tended to have a selection committee, consisting of club directors. Though at City we have all-too recent memories of the effect of a club director (with a background in accounting) being involved with team selection, there is a much more positive example of this.

For the period from 1909 to 1911, City’s selection committee was chaired by Thomas Paton. Paton’s role in this most glorious of eras for City has at best been understated and at worst completely disregarded.

Tom Paton was a Scot, born on 26 February 1871 in Ratho, Midlothian to William and Flora Paton.[1]

His first involvement in football administration was as secretary of the St. Bernard’s football club in Edinburgh, a role he was undertaking when only 18 years old.[2] He trained to be an accountant and by the late 1890s his career had brought him to the West Riding.

He was appointed secretary of the Bradford based Yorkshire Woolcombers’ Association (Limited) in November 1899 and then went on to set up an accountancy practice, initially on his own but eventually in partnership with others (the firm of Paton, Boyce and Welch).

His first publicised involvement with City appears to have been in 1906 (though it seems likely that he had been a member of the club since its outset). At that time, the club was run by a committee elected by its members and Paton put himself forward to be elected to that committee at the club’s Annual General Meeting in May 1906. As it happens, at the AGM, it was resolved that a report be commissioned into the club’s financial affairs (which were not in great shape) and the election of new committee members was postponed. Whether the report was at the behest of Tom Paton isn’t clear, but his expertise as an accountant would have assisted. He led the report and presented it at a further meeting in June 1906. The end result of this process was the decision to incorporate the club as a limited liability company (albeit that didn’t happen until 1908).[3] The other important recommendation made in Paton’s presentation was that a “Team Selection Committee” of three members be formed.[4]

Following the report, Paton withdrew his nomination for election to the committee.[5] However, he continued to be a member of the club and was clearly an important figure behind the scenes. He was a prominent figure in calling for amalgamation with Park Avenue in 1907.[6] In 1908, the Athletic News reported the following:

“On January 20, this year, the directors and players of Bradford City were entertained to dinner by the members of the club. Mr. Thomas Paton was the chairman and referring to professionalism, he said that if a man had a gift for playing football, and it was a gift, he saw no reason why he should not earn as much in ten years by the game as he could have earned otherwise in thirty years. But what Mr. Paton wished to say to players was that they should live upon the wages they would have otherwise received at their ordinary occupation and save the extra money they got out of football. It was the duty of the selection committee to see, as far as possible, that the players provided for the inevitable rainy day, so that when their feet had lost their cunning they would not look back on football as a curse, but as a blessing.

Those are words of wisdom. Mr. Thos. Paton has a lifelong experience of the game and players.”[7]

These were fairly enlightened views for the time (the Athletic News noting “If Bradford City can find the time to show such a real interest in the welfare of their players, other clubs can do the same”).

Paton was elected to the board of the club on 26 February 1909 (receiving 179 votes from the shareholders).[8] The next month he was appointed as chairman of the team selection committee (and was also appointed to the club’s finance committee).[9] However, Paton’s influence on player recruitment likely pre-dates this formal appointment. It can be no coincidence that James Logan and Jimmy McDonald joined from St. Bernard’s in 1905 and 1907 respectively. Peter Logan and Harry Graham would also arrive from St. Bernard’s after Paton’s appointment.

Perhaps his first masterstroke following his appointment was the capture of Dicky Bond in May 1909. Bond was already a well-known player, an international and regular in the top flight for Preston. The likes of Jimmy Speirs, Mark Mellors, Frank Thompson and Archie Devine would follow – many of these players forming the bedrock of City’s success over the next few seasons.

Paton’s contacts back in Scotland were invaluable. The recruitment of Scottish players was a very deliberate policy, it being considered that English players were more costly option. Paton himself (being interviewed prior to the 1911 Cup Final) said:

“For instance, to get a player of equal capacity to Bond, we should have to pay an English club at least a thousand pounds. But we can go into Scotland and get uncut stuff cheap and polish it up here. And when we’ve got it and made it into a footballer, even then the anxieties of the directors are not at an end. Only when the season is over can we say to ourselves ‘Well now, it is done with for a bit, anyhow.’”[10]

There is however a sense that, by 1911, the duties were getting a little too much for Tom Paton. At a shareholders’ meeting held at the Mechanics’ Institute in February 1911, he stated that it was with “great diffidence” that he was agreeing to continue as a director and that he found his work as chairman of the Team Selection Committee more than he had bargained for.[11]

The cup success of course followed this a couple of months later. Paton was rightly acknowledged as an architect of this success in the press, the Athletic News describing him as being part of a “Triumvirate”, saying:

“For some time past three men have been instrumental in the building up of Bradford City. I refer to Mr. Pollack (the chairman), Mr. Tom Paton, and Mr. O’Rourke… For a long time Mr. Paton of the well-known firm of Paton, Boyce, and Co., the accountants, was the man behind the scenes. He was the motive power, but there came a day when Mr. Pollack talked of resigning unless Mr. Paton consented to join the board of directors. Since then there has been no concealment of Mr. Paton’s handiwork. The sleeping partner became more active than ever – and probably most of those who have sat with him will agree that Mr. Tom Paton has been the brain of the machine – particularly in the engagement of players and the selection of the team. Combined with the shrewdness and tact of his race – he is an Edinburgh man – he has a high sense of honour.

Moreover he is the very pink of politeness unless his sense of honour is offended. When he is vexed he speaks his mind. He once wrote a letter to the chairman of a famous club in this country which concluded thus:-

“A certain poet once said that man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn. I am one of the countless thousands, but having learnt my lesson I hope I shall have the common sense to see that that strictly conscientious club, of which you have the honour to be the active head, shall not be provided with a second opportunity. If anyone does an unfair thing to me I blame him: if he does it a second time I blame myself.”

These are the words of a man whom it is very advisable to secure as a friend by straight and honest dealing. His enmity is, I should say, something to be avoided, although he is slow to anger.

It is impossible to overestimate the work that Mr. Paton has done for Bradford City. He threatened to retire if ever the City won The Cup. The directors must see that he breaks his word. Once upon a time Mr. Paton was connected with the St. Bernard’s club, Edinburgh, when they won the Scottish Cup. Removing to Bradford, he has fallen in love with the great game a second time, and has played a hand in carrying off the English Cup. But he must not be allowed to withdraw into the privacy of his official sanctum. And he will be so annoyed that I have written this about him but I cannot help it.”[12]

Despite these words, the pressures of being chairman of the Team Selection committee manifested themselves following the cup success. In July 1911, the Athletic News reported:

“The annual meeting of the Bradford City F.C. was a happy function, as might have been expected. Yet there was one fly in the pot of ointment. It is not disputed that no man has done more towards the success of the Bradford City team that Mr. Thomas Paton, who last season was chairman of the selection committee. But having done so much, Mr. Paton feels his own profession must in future have a greater share of his attention and he will not be chairman of the selection committee next season. It is a serious loss to the club.”[13]

Tom Paton resigned as a director the next year. However, that was not the end of the story.

By 1928, City were in dire straits, both on and off the field. Tom Paton had already agreed to act as a consultant to the board in May 1927.[14] At the end of the 1927/28 season, the club were in the bottom division of the league and had run out of money. It appeared that the club were heading for liquidation. Local journalist William Sawyer takes up the story:

“It so happened that on a certain day in May I accidentally met Mr. Tom Paton in the Midland Hotel. He had a travelling rug on his arm and was about to join a train for Scotland to commence his summer vacation at his home on the Ayrshire coast. He had no more than a minute or two to spare. “Well,” I said to him, “It looks like the end of the old club.” “It does,” he replied, “and it’s a pity.” Then he had an idea and with characteristic briskness he said “Look here, Bill; if you can get the board to resign and form a new board, including yourself I will provide you with sufficient money to see you through the close season, but you must get all you can elsewhere and keep my name out of it .” With that he went down the private run-way to the station[15] and I did not see him again for some months. I knew, however, that he was a man of his word and I could rely on his promise.”[16]

There is, I believe, a certain amount of journalistic licence in Sawyer’s retelling of events! It had already been well-publicised in April 1928 that Tom Paton had offered to find £6,000 to keep the club going over the summer (albeit the scheme proposed by Paton had fallen through due to the club’s bank being unwilling to agree terms and Paton, consequently, withdrawing his offer).[17] The City supporters club presented a petition to Paton effectively begging him to provide assistance.[18] There was therefore not really any possibility of Paton’s name being kept out of things.

What is clear is that it was Paton’s money that helped keep the club going that summer. He made a loan to the club totalling around £1,250 which allowed the club to survive (this would be around £78,000 in today’s money).

The detail of that period and the amazing season that followed can be read here

This wasn’t the only example of his generosity in 1928. He had also contributed £1,000 towards a fund to build the new Bradford Infirmary at Daisy Hill (this being a donation rather than a loan).[19]

Despite not being on the board, it is clear that Tom Paton was involved behind the scenes. Herbert Chapman, the Leeds City, Huddersfield Town and Arsenal manager said “In the season when Bradford City were promoted from the Third Division, Mr. Tom Paton was the power behind the club, and it was largely through the energy which he threw into the task that promotion was achieved”.[20] That Paton was highly regarded by one of the greatest managers of the inter-war years speaks volumes.

Such was the turnaround in City’s fortunes, they were able to repay Paton in full during the 1929/30 season.[21] It was reported in 1930 that Tom Paton was going to re-join the board of directors but that doesn’t appear to have come to fruition.[22]

Whilst it was reported in 1925 that he was to retire to take up permanent residence in Girvan[23], this appears to have been a very loose concept of retirement! In the 1930s he moved to Middlesex but continued with his business interests in Bradford. He remained a director of Paton, Boyce and Welch until 1945 and at various times he was a director of Salts (Saltaire) Limited, the company running Sir Titus Salt’s great mill.[24] He died (“suddenly” according to the death notice placed in The Times[25]) on 11 September 1946 at the age of 75 (some newspaper reports erroneously gave his age as 78). His effects were valued at £24,476 17s 5d (around a million pounds by today’s standards).[26]

The accountancy firm that he founded in Bradford eventually became Bostocks Boyce Welch. That firm continues in business to this day and fittingly, its managing director, Alan Biggin has, like Paton, been involved at boardroom level at City for several years.

Given that he was very much a “behind the scenes” man, the above probably only scratches the surface as far as Paton’s contribution to the history of Bradford City goes. Thomas Paton deserves to be much more than a footnote in the history of Bradford City and his name should be up there with the likes of O’Rourke and Spiers as greats of the early decades of the club.

by Kieran Wilkinson


[1] Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950 database.

[2] Scottish Referee – Monday 01 July 1889.

[3] Shipley Times and Express – Friday 22 June 1906.

[4] Leeds Mercury – Friday 22 June 1906.

[5] Leeds Mercury – Friday 29 June 1906.

[6] The Jubilee Story of the Bradford City A.F.C. by W. H. Sawyer, 1953.

[7] Athletic News – Monday 25 May 1908.

[8] Leeds Mercury – Saturday 27 February 1909.

[9] Leeds Mercury – Thursday 11 March 1909.

[10] Leeds Mercury – Thursday 20 April 1911.

[11] Leeds Mercury – Friday 24 February 1911.

[12] Athletic News – Monday 01 May 1911.

[13] Athletic News – Monday 03 July 1911.

[14] Leeds Mercury – Thursday 05 May 1927

[15] The “private run-way” remains in situ (notwithstanding that the station which it served has been moved northwards) and is well preserved. The author’s photographs of it can be seen here

[16] The Jubilee Story of the Bradford City A.F.C. by W. H. Sawyer, 1953.

[17] Nottingham Journal – Saturday 28 April 1928.

[18] Leeds Mercury – Friday 04 May 1928.

[19] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer – Tuesday 17 April 1928.

[20] p151 Herbert Chapman on Football, Herbert Chapman, 1934.

[21] Leeds Mercury – Friday 28 February 1930.

[22] Lancashire Evening Post – Saturday 22 February 1930.

[23] Sunday Post – Sunday 20 December 1925.

[24] Shipley Times and Express – Wednesday 13 June 1945.

[25] The Times – Friday 13 September 1946.

[26] England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995.