by Ian Hemmens
This is a series of articles about my life as a City fan, how it happened and what has happened since. A series of memories, events and reminiscences personal & factual. This is my 54th year as a fan and like every other supporter we’ve been through the whole gamut of events and emotions in that time.
I was born into a City supporting family on Carlisle Place, Manningham in 1960. My paternal Grandad was already dead but my Dad had photos of him obviously. One in particular piqued my interest, My Grandad was stood with 2 other men, written on the back was the information I needed. The inscription said, Bob (my Grandad), Bob Torrance, Jimmy MacDonald, Otley Road 1913. Who were these men with my Grandad. Sadly this photo has been lost amid house moves/clearances etc.
My love of the game had been ramped up to a whole new level by the 1966 World Cup triumph. My Dad had bought our first TV just in time for the tournament & we enjoyed Englands victory together. My Dad showed me my Grandads photo and then produced another, the famous team photo of the 1911 FA Cup Winners with the new trophy resplendent. Sure enough, the same two guys were there! My Grandad knew professional footballers. I had been told he played at an amateur level in his youth before the World collapsed in 1914. I have a team photo of him with his team which is reproduced in Rob Grillo’s wonderful book ‘Late to the Game’.
Of course I started grilling my Dad about the 1911 team needing to know everything about them. Before long, I could recite the names of that great team.
Dad had gone with his Father & Brother to Valley Parade in the late 1920s onwards just as City’s glory days were fading into memory. After his death the Brothers continued their weekly pilgrimage , my Uncle George living on Cliffe Terrace, nowadays where the back of the Kop & the One in a Million School is built. In the mid 50s, George and his family emigrated to New Zealand but never forgetting his roots, he had the Yorkshire Sports Pink sent to him although in those days it would take about a month for him to get the results!
For the 1966-67 season after me pestering him, Dad finally took me to Valley Parade for the first time. I don’t have specific memories of the game but I’ve been told it was either Barnsley or Wrexham. I’m inclined to believe it was Barnsley due to my Mum coming from there so there was the added interest. We stood on the what appeared to a small boy as the vast open Kop but apparently I took little interest in the game, more fascinated by watching the Steam trains arriving & departing from Forster Square station. I was taken to maybe a couple of other games that season but to my young eyes, Valley Parade was already a magical place. In reality, the old girl was starting to show her age but that never occurred to me at all. I had noticed that City wore colours that nobody else did, the Claret & Amber Stripes & Black Shorts vivid & unique. That Christmas, my most treasured gift was a City shirt bought from Knuttons on Barry Street. I wore it until it fell apart.
The next season, my Dad had started working shifts at the Power Station on Canal Road & a friend & neighbour offered to take me to Valley Parade when Dad was working or in bed. The trains no longer interested me but the game did. My first hero, the first player to catch my total attention wasn’t a City legend, he wasn’t even a one season wonder. Paul ‘Pablo’ Aimson was only at City for half a season, 23 games in which he scored 11 goals leading the attack. He had a great scoring record at lower league football after once being on the books of Manchester City. I was heartbroken later in the season when he & full back Alec Smith were traded to Huddersfield Town in exchange for Denis Atkins & Tony Leighton. The club was also hit by a tragedy with the untimely death of Manager Grenville Hair during a training season. Under caretaker management of senior players McAnearney & Hallett, the club had a strong finish to the season but finished in 5th place just missing out on promotion.
The following season saw a new Manager in Jimmy Wheeler from Reading, the team was a tight unit and hopes were high for a successful season. I was now fully committed to the cause and as a birthday present, I received my first Season Ticket. I’d started playing football at school with moderate success to start with but I was a quick & willing learner which seemed to impress the Coach. The fact I was one of only a few who kicked left footed no doubt helped my cause. Saturday afternoons were free for Valley Parade though. Back then, nobody ever mentioned the likes of Leeds United, Huddersfield Town or Burnley as rivals. From memory, our main rivals were always Bradford Park Avenue obviously, but the others were Barnsley & Halifax Town. We didn’t have a car but our neighbour would kindly take us to games within a reasonable distance. I recall visits to The Shay, Oakwell, Spotland, Doncaster and the likes.
My maternal Grandparents had retired to live in Blackpool, my Grandad being an ex coal miner, the fresh sea air being good for his dust infected lungs. We would holiday on the coast each year and Grandad would take me to Bloomfield Road which I though was even more run down than Valley Parade at that time. I remember being captivated by the bright tangerine shirts of the home team & Grandad introduced me to Jimmy Armfield, an England International & member of the 1966 squad. Wonderful memory & he was such a gentleman to a little kid when he probably met thousands of people.
The 1968-69 season started really with a bit of a hangover from the previous seasons near miss but after Christmas, City hit a run of form which included breaking the club record for games undefeated 21 in all until the seasons penultimate game, a defeat at Brentford. City had to win their final game away at Darlington to snatch the precious 4th spot and gain promotion. We had to be there and a convoy of cars & coaches travelled up the A1 to Feethams to see City victorious & gain the clubs 1st promotion for 40 years. After years of decline & bumping along, making do , selling any players of potential or achievement, the club was finally, hopefully, awaking from its slumbers.
The Promotion team had several much loved players who would go down as bona-fide legends of the club. The team established itself in the higher level before the usual old problems began to arise stifling any further progress, usually financial. Star forwards Bruce Bannister & Bobby Ham were sold and new players arrived who would also become legends, significantly Ces Podd & Joe Cooke. Good players were signed with the likes of another personal favourite of mine Gerry Ingram & Allan Gilliver to form an exciting partnership. Local talent Graham Oates was sold but flying winger Don Hutchins arrived in a cash exchange but any continuity was hard to maintain.
City had had good performances in the Cups also around this period, particularly memorable being the FA Cup tie against Tottenham Hotspur, Jimmy Greaves et al, which drew a crowd of 25000 to Valley Parade. The Kop was packed & in those days before fan segregation I found myself hoisted onto the shoulders of a huge Spurs fan to be able to see the game finish an exciting 2-2 draw. This was my first experience of a truly large crowd & the experience was exhilerating. I longed to see my team compete every week in front of full houses. My Dad had seen big crowds usually the Wool City Derbys. He had also been up to Park Avenue on occasion to watch such visiting superstars like Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews & Nat Lofthouse but he never had any inclination to go over to Horton on a regular basis. City was in the family DNA. Another Uncle lived in Wibsey and was an Avenue fan but I couldn’t be tempted to change my allegiance. As the 60s drew to a close , the point became moot anyway as Avenue were voted out of the League after years of struggle before the quietly faded away & died in 1974. The rivalry was a double edged sword. I missed the excitement to local Derbys and the partisan rivalry but the trauma & upset their demise caused their fans never occurred to me at that age.
By now we had moved from Manningham over the Valley to the Bolton area, still within walking distance of Valley Parade, indeed I could see the ground from my bedroom window. I was also personally face with a quandary, I had joined the local Boy’s Brigade & played for them doing well enough to play for Bradford & even gaining a trial for Yorkshire. Should I continue this miss my beloved City? For a while the fixture list was my friend as my home games fell when City were away but it came to a head & I couldn’t let my team mates down & for the first time in a few seasons I missed a few games at Valley Parade. Looking back it was a pretty fallow period for City results wise only brightened by an exciting FA Cup run to the Quarter Finals. We actually bunked off school to go to Norwich in the early rounds where City achieved a historic 2-1 victory over the higher team featuring the likes of World Cup Winner Martin Peters. Norwich boss John Bond had bad mouthed the club in preceding weeks. A flu outbreak had put the club in lockdown & Bond had said we should forfeit the tie. This was all the motivation City needed but goals from Scottish striker Billy McGinley & star winger Don Hutchins caused an almighty upset. It was a long, tiring but happy journey home from Norfolk that night. Another huge crowd in the Quarters saw City defeated by a controversial goal later deemed illegal as they exited the cup to Southampton who went on to win the trophy.
The Cup run had given the club a financial lifeline & a motivational boost for the future.
After falling back into the bottom division after 3 years,in 1972, the momentum achieved by the cup run saw the team have a wonderful season and once again managed to win promotion in 1976-77 with club stalwarts Podd, Cooke, Hutchins, Downsborough & Johnson to the fore along with influential newcomers like local lad Terry Dolan & centre forward Bernie Wright replacing personal favourite Ingram who took advantage, as many did at the time , of a lucrative contract offer from the USA. One notable personal aspect of the season was it was the first season City had gone a whole season unbeaten at home. I was never one for leaving early but in January with City losing at home to Exeter & the game entering injury time I decided to set off for home, I reached Midland Road & to my horror heard a huge cheer. My hero Gerry Ingram had equalised late in the game & the unbeaten record was maintained. I vowed that day never to leave early & I never have. We have to live & learn. Unfortunately, it proved another false dawn as the team were immediately relegated once again. There was heartbreak again in 1979-80 when the club missed out on Promotion once again but this time it was on the last day of the season after defeat at Peterborough after another convoy of cars, buses & even trains had headed for London Road in anticipation.
By this time as a teenager I’d started going both home & away to watch usually with friend Peter Clarke & we used the City Travel Club & coaches by be legendary Patsy Hollinger. Stories of our travels are probably worth a volume of their own but thats for another place. One tale that merits mention in this case was the 1977 trip always down to Plymouth. City had broken their transfer record twice in a day to acquire full back Mick Wood & striker David McNiven. A coach load of us travelled down. We arrived just as the team did & we managed to a couple of Complimentary tickets from Don Hutchins, a former Argyle player. Watching the game, City were leading through a debut goal from McNiven when the referee had to be replaced due to a health scare. During the delay the skies had darkened and snow started to fall heavier & heavier. The game was abandoned & when we reached the Coach we were informed that there was no way home due to Devon being cut off by the snowfall. Arrangements were made by the Police to house us at the Royal Marine Barracks at Stonehaven in the town centre. The police took names & addresses to let our loved ones back in Yorkshire know we were safe. This was before Mobile phones & Social Media. We were treated very well by the Marines and finally got home on the Wednesday! A longer stay in Devon than anticipated. The whole episode was symptomatic of City’s relegation season, City losing the replayed game 0-6.
1979-80 & the near miss brought home thoughts that City might never again escape the clutches of lower league football. 1922 had seen the last top flight activity & 1937 the last time we had been in the 2nd tier. Were the club always destined to be amongst the also-rans or could there be hope in the future?
Part 2 will see the arrival of an England star & new found hope.
Ian Hemmens [@IHemmens] has written a number of other features about Bradford sport history which can be found from the dropdown menu above
Future planned articles on VINCIT will feature former BCAFC manager Jimmy Wheeler, the original development of Park Avenue in 1879-80; the history of sports journalism in Bradford; the politics of Odsal Stadium; the history of Bradford sports grounds and the history of crowd violence in Bradford.