Antonio Fattorini

Previous features on VINCIT have examined the contribution to the early development of sport in Bradford by Jack Nunn [1] and Thomas Paton [2], two individuals who had a massive impact in the background at Valley Parade but until recently have sadly been overlooked in the historical narrative. Nunn for instance was the man associated with the redevelopment of the ground in 1908 and Paton for making ‘Glorious 1911’ possible by targeting new signings.

Whilst better known for the family business that designed the FA Cup trophy in 1911, Tony Fattorini‘s impact on local – as well as national and international – sport has arguably not been given the recognition that it deserves…

Messrs Fattorini & Sons (then of Bradford) is known as the firm that designed – although did not make – both the RL Challenge Cup and the current FA Cup trophies, not to mention the medals presented to members of winning teams. The firm also supplied trophies and medals for countless other local and regional sports competitions, including for example the Yorkshire Challenge Cup and the Bradford Charity Cup [3] both of which had major impact on the popularity of rugby in the 1880s.

Tony Fattorini (1862-1931) played a big part in the success of the family business, the reputation of which was enhanced through close links with British sport. Another family concern, Sports & Pastimes Ltd Athletic and School Clothing Manufacturers that supplied sports accessories, similarly benefited from the emergence of the football industry in the third quarter of the nineteenth century and its subsequent growth.

Yet Tony Fattorini was more than a canny entrepreneur exploiting new commercial opportunities because he was also influential as an administrator of sport. He served variously as a committee member of Manningham FC and its successor Bradford City AFC and represented Manningham at meetings of the Yorkshire RFU and the Northern Union. In 1895 he was involved in meetings that led to the rugby breakaway and he later served as a committee member of the Northern Union.

He had been involved with the Manningham Rangers (rugby) club until it was wound-up in 1891 on account of its ground off Oak Lane being used for building development. Shortly after, he was invited to become involved with Manningham FC. As a committeeman at Valley Parade he established a reputation for a stabilising, calming influence among the different factions and in 1902/03 and then 1906 played an important role in averting financial crises (credited with having suggested the archery tournament that rescued the finances on new year’s day, 1903 and later, instigating a number of operational changes to reduce losses).

In his youth Fattorini had been a decent sprinter and had participated in local athletics festivals during the second half of the 1870s. It was this that fostered his interest in athletics for which he became better known, serving as a local and county official in cross country racing and as a vice president of the Amateur Athletic Association in addition to becoming a member of the International Olympic Board. He was a vice president of the Road Walking Association and locally, in 1904 helped instigate the Bradford Whitsun Walk event.

His firm’s reputation as a supplier of watches and clocks created a unique opportunity that led to his appointment as a time-keeper for the King’s Cup air race in the 1920s and his role as a timekeeper at four series of Olympic games. He is also credited as having designed early time-keeping devices suitable for chess and he officiated at RAC motoring time trials.

Fattorini’s obituary listed additional interests in sports as diverse as fishing, swimming,  cycling, climbing and boxing. Collectively it amounted to an impressive pedigree and provided him with a relatively unprecedented degree of influence and knowledge across different activities that might also explain his reputation as an innovator – the man who encouraged a trial game at Valley Parade under the auspices of the Northern Union in September, 1895 between Manningham and Halifax with thirteen aside and a round ball. As a historical figure therefore, he was a man who could rightly be claimed to have helped shape the early development of British sport.

Tony Fattorini continued his involvement at Valley Parade despite the breakaway in 1895 and conversion to association football in 1903, epitomising loyalty to an institution as opposed to a code. He was an archetypal administrator, a member of the body of unsung and invariably anonymous individuals whose efforts were necessary in the background to organise fixtures and competitions, to deal with the politics and the regulations to make things happen.

I can’t comment with any authority about what happened in other places, but in Bradford the development of football – and I adopt the Victorian use of the word as an umbrella term for both rugby and association variants – owed much to the commitment and energy of key individuals such as Tony Fattorini. The contribution of ‘men in the background’ – at Valley Parade for example the likes of Fattorini, Nunn and Paton – has tended to be overlooked in club histories (including certain of those written about Bradford City) and so too another critical theme, the social networks that they participated in. For instance, in Bradford it is quite remarkable how networks of people connected to provide much of the early momentum for the growth of ‘football’ on a competitive basis. The sheer complexity and breadth of these interactions defies a simplistic narrative to explain the social origins of our clubs by class alone.

Fattorini was an adept networker and his commercial success is testament to the sporting contacts that he established. Those contacts also had subtle impact on club football. For example, his involvement with the Airedale Harriers (cross country) club in Bradford most likely encouraged its links with Manningham FC and the staging of its athletic festivals at Valley Parade from 1887. Likewise, his recognition of the value of athletics training no doubt encouraged the engagement of a champion sprinter, Charlie Harper by Bradford City AFC in 1905 whose impact on player fitness was considered a factor behind FA Cup success in 1911. Similarly, Fattorini’s contacts with Pierre de Coubertin – an official at the Stade Francais rugby club who later became famous for his role as founder of the modern Olympic Games movement – may explain how Manningham FC was invited to Paris for an exhibition fixture in 1894.

The fact that Fattorinis became a supplier of paraphernalia to the freemasons hints at other connections and it was an open secret that most of the committeemen at Valley Parade were members. I suspect that this was not unique to Manningham FC among rugby and football clubs but I will not digress. 

At Valley Parade there were also family connections. His uncle John attended the meeting with the Football League in 1903 at which Manningham FC made its formal application for election as Bradford City AFC. His sister married William Pollack, later to become chairman of the club during World War One.

Tony Fattorini appears to have been highly principled and I suspect that his outlook was shaped by his faith as a Catholic as well as being mindful of his family’s own background as immigrants and its subsequent good fortune. The Fattorini family helped finance a number of Catholic youth initiatives across Bradford and Shipley and by the late 1880s they had established various Catholic Boys Clubs in some of the poorest areas in Bradford.

With regards the rugby breakaway in 1895 he made no secret of his scepticism of the venture which he considered unavoidable but also regrettable. Like others in Bradford, he was doubtful that the new Northern Union could sustain itself. He remained of the opinion that the breakaway clubs would eventually re-join the RFU in some form of rapprochement with the latter body forced to accept the need for broken-time compensation to players. Notably, whilst he was supportive of broken-pay compensation for players, he was steadfast in his opposition to outright professionalism which he considered would poison sporting values. Within British athletics and the Olympic movement he was an unequivocal advocate of amateurism.

Tony Fattorini was not alone in Bradford in becoming disillusioned with the development of the Northern Union and by the end of the 1890s had become an avowed associationist, an enthusiastic supporter of junior soccer. The launch of the Bradford & District FA in 1899 provided a massive fillip to grass roots association football in Bradford and I suspect that Fattorini identified parallels with the early development of rugby in the district for which many of his generation were nostalgic. In turn, his conversion to association made him an advocate of Manningham FC abandoning rugby in 1903.

At Valley Parade he continued to have considerable influence prior to World War One and in 1908 he is also credited with having introduced the Bradford City ‘bantams’ identity [4], accompanied by a yoke design shirt that was worn when the club won the FA Cup in 1911 [5]. Arguably Fattorini was a talismanic influence because the club was the first winner of the new FA Cup trophy that Fattorinis had designed.

[1] John Nunn, Bradford physical aesthete by John Dewhirst

[2] Thomas Paton – the forgotten man of 1911 by Kieran Wilkinson

[3] The story of the Bradford Charity Cup by John Dewhirst

[4] The origins of the Bradford City nickname, ‘The Bantams’

[5] The yoke shirt of BCAFC

John Dewhirst is author of ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP ( 2016) which chronicle the origins and early development of rugby in Bradford and the rivalry of the Manningham and Bradford clubs culminating in their conversion to association football. He can be contacted via direct message on Twitter: @jpdewhirst

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