by Ian Hemmens
The Victorian era saw Bradford FC as one of the countries leading club sides, a club who would regularly field several International and County level players, they had a fixture list the envy of most clubs and were apparently one of the richest clubs playing in an arena at Park Avenue, again, the envy of several clubs.
Towards the end of the 19th century, their pre-eminence began to be challenged on various fronts, even in their Home town, the upstarts across town from Manningham FC were gaining prominence and taking support away from them, their indignance at these upstarts actually challenging their perception as the ‘Towns Team’ , at the same time rumblings of more serious nature by 1895 of a breakaway from the RU by Northern clubs over ‘broken time payments ‘ to players , a move that would eventually lead to the formation of the Northern Union, now known as the Rugby League.
Bradford would never have the same power again in Rugby Union and as if their embarrassment couldn’t reach any lower, 1907 saw the powers at Park Avenue vote to abandon Rugby completely in favour of the coming Association game. Having seen neighbours Manningham switch to ‘Soccer’ in their new guise as Bradford City AFC and start to attract crowds to their Valley Parade ground the Rugby could only dream of, owner & power broker Harry Briggs saw the future & to the dismay of many traditionalists, rugby was cast out of Park Avenue.
Various groups vowed to carry on in the Northern Union and the Bradford Northern RLFC were born & initially found a home at the Greenfield Stadium at Dudley Hill whilst the Rugby Union traditionalists entered a fallow period without a permanent home for several years as they tried to rebuild their club to create some sort of future for their enthusiasts. It was to be several more years after WW1 before a group of fans finally found a piece of land at Lidget Green & set about building a ground ‘fit for when the lads come home’. Among this group of men was on George Myers, a Bradford businessman involved in the cotton/textile manufacture as a broker.
Lets return to 1895, the year of the ‘Great Split’ . George Myers and his wife Annie were in New York on business. Annie gave birth to her Son Edward. He was to be their only child. With his parents frequently away on business he was sent to Dollar Academy in Scotland as a boarder for his education. As well as being highly proficient educationally, in school sports he proved to be an outstanding pupil. 1913 saw him Captain the Rugby, Cricket Golf & Tennis teams as well as winning several medals & prizes for Athletics & Gymnastics.
Leaving Dollar Academy, he moved closer to home entering further education at Leeds University studying various Textile related courses with a view to entering the family business upon graduation. Such was his sporting prowess, one suspects that whatever path young Eddie would have chosen, he would have found success but at University, he decided Rugby was the game for him & he joined the nearby Headingley club. Still at University, his promise was noticed early by his 18th birthday, he made his Yorkshire debut after trialling well. A slight hiccup saw him selected on the wing where his powerful running & strong defence was wasted somewhat. Moved into the centre, he came into his own. A master on the crash ball added to a wonderful body swerve combined with a powerful tackling ethic saw him find his position and the 1913/14 season saw him appear in all 7 Yorkshire games, a game for the North and an England Trial game.
1914 saw events elsewhere gain momentum as the World collapsed into war, the ensuing carnage leaving a generation lost forever. Eddie answered the call and enlisted joining the 6th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant. During his service he was wounded 3 times firstly in 1915 which he received wounds to both thighs. Potentially career ending for a sportsman, he fought back with typical diligence to turn out for Headingley whilst on recuperative leave. 1916 saw him turn out for a Northern Union game alongside Rugby League legend Harold Wagstaff of the Huddersfield club. Partnered in the Centre they played an ANZAC selection both scoring tries in a 13-11 victory.
Finally demobbed in 1919, he moved to the fledgling Bradford club, where as mentioned earlier, his Father & other former fans & members of the old Bradford RFC had bought the Lidget Green arena. The new club as the 1920s progressed were to become for most of the decade the pre-eminent club in the county. Alongside Eddie, the club at various times could boast 17 county players such was the depth of the playing staff. The club, as well as Eddie , had 3 other England trialists in Ferdie Roberts, Harold Monk & Rex Kinghorn, Roberts in particular being hugely unlucky being selected 3 times to play but having to pull out through injury.
Back in 1918 whilst on leave, Eddie had married his sweetheart, Constance Paton at St Peters Church, later Bradford Cathedral. Constance herself was part of a family with notable Bradford sporting connections, her Father, Thomas Paton being a major mover & shaker behind the scenes at Valley Parade helping to make Bradford City AFC into one of the countries top teams pre 1914 and FA Cup Winners in 1911.
His county record for Yorkshire was 42 caps between 1913 and 1925 captaining the side in both 1922 and 1925 . 1924 saw him play the visiting All Blacks at Lidget Green. His first selection for the England XV came against Ireland in 1920 scoring 1 try & setting up another for his Captain Wavell Wakefield. Wakefield was always fulsome in his praise for Eddie calling him the perfect centre. With Eddie’s trademark defensive breaks , Wakefield was an enthusiastic flanker always at Eddies shoulder to take the ball over the line. Eddie’s career with England saw the Lions enjoy a Golden period winning 3 Grand Slams in 1921, 1923 & 1924. 1924 also saw him selected for the British Lions tour of South Africa but pressures of business saw him withdraw from the party.
1925 saw him announce his retirement from International Rugby saying he would rather bow out at the height of his powers rather than playing on without doing justice to the game. It was typical of his modesty although there were calls for him to reconsider his decision. The end of the following season also saw him stand down from County Rugby although if urgently needed he would answer Yorkshires call. 1926 saw the influential Athletic News start a call for his International recall such was his form at Lidget Green. At only 30 years of age , he was reckoned to be still at the peak of his powers showing no sign of slowing up although a nagging groin problem at times was frustrating which he at times hinted was a result of his wartime injuries. He never went back on his decision though and played out his career with the Bradford club later moving onto the committees at both club and county serving both with as much distinction as he had in his playing career.
His Wife Constance bore him a Daughter as he retired his playing career and continued to work in the family textile business. He could look back at 19 England Caps, 42 Yorkshire Caps, several selections for the North, 3 Yorkshire Cup Wins with Bradford and rightly named the most successful Rugby Union player in Bradford history even taking into account the stars of the Victorian era.
Edward Myers died in Bradford on 29th March 1956 aged 60. By then , the clubs Glory days were once again becoming a fading memory never again coming anywhere near the standard of the 1920s XV who had made the old game popular again often playing to crowds of over 5000 for club games at Lidget Green. This was at a time when the competition for crowds included 2 professional Soccer clubs, a professional Rugby League club, Yorkshire Cricket at the old Park Avenue, Bradford League cricket, 2 Greyhound tracks & the new, growing popularity of dance halls & cinemas. The flair of Eddie Myers & his colleagues was an appealing site for the Bradford public after 4 long hard years of War.
Journalist J. M. Kilborn wrote in the Yorkshire Post, ‘He was the complete footballer in temperament and technique’.
The Athletic News commented that ‘The wonderful electrifying straight through dash of Eddie Myers will be remembered long after the Yorkshireman has given up the game’.
The last comment should go to local Rugby journalist HJ writing in the Leeds Mercury.
‘Myers has been a great player and stands as one of the brainiest & most skilled back there has ever been. Players of the Bradfordians class do not come appear every decade but come along once in a lifetime.’
Ian Hemmens [@IHemmens] has written a number of other features about Bradford sport history which can be found from the dropdown menu above. You can also find other features about the history of rugby union in Bradford on this site.
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