The England Rugby Union internationals of Bradford FC

Given the dearth of serving players from either Bradford City AFC or Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC to represent England at association football it seems remarkable that in the nineteenth century, players of Bradford FC (based at Park Avenue) were virtually ever-present in the England Rugby Union team between 1885 and 1895. In that period, thirteen different players won a total of 48 international caps. In this period caps were awarded for 27 different games and on only two occasions was a Bradford player not represented. In other words, of the total caps awarded Bradford FC players won 12%.

1887 BFC internationas 1

It was the practice that northern players from Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire represented half of the England side, of which most came from the white rose county. But of all the Yorkshire clubs, it was Bradford FC players who won the most caps and with this record alone the club could claim to have a team of celebrities.

1884-11-15-Toby-Farfamed Ftbllrs- L Hickson (3)On two occasions, no fewer than four out of the fifteen representing England were Bradford FC players– the combination of Fred Bonsor, Laurie Hickson (portrait featured), Rawson Robertshaw and Edgar Wilkinson in January and March, 1887 against Wales and Scotland respectively (pictured above). Not surprisingly there was no reluctance on the part of Bradford FC to reimburse players for the expense of international call-ups. The Yorkshireman of 23 January, 1886 reported that the club paid the expense of international caps which cost 18s 6d each.

Thomas Tetley had been the first Bradford FC player to be selected for England in 1876 followed by Harry Garnett in 1877 [1]. In total therefore Bradford FC had 15 England internationals prior to 1895 who won 50 caps between them. In the same period the total number of caps won by players from all other Yorkshire clubs amounted to 86 of which Halifax players, 15; Heckmondwike, 15; Bramley, 7; Huddersfield, 6 and Hull, 6; Bingley FC, 5 and Leeds FC, 5. (The Bingley FC international, Tom Broadley won a sixth cap in 1896 before joining Bradford FC and it may surprise readers that a couple more Bingley players won a total of four caps between 1896-99 inclusive. [2])

Holmes Mar-90 1Edgar Holmes (pictured) was Manningham FC ’s sole international albeit with only two caps which were both gained in 1890. In the same year, Holmes was a member of the Yorkshire side that defeated England on 1 March at Park Avenue. In 1891 he became the only Manningham player to have ever captained Yorkshire.

The England game at Park Avenue was celebrated in particular by Bradford members given its contribution to the prestige of their club. However, there was also a scare resulting from injury to Hickson and the fear that he might need a leg amputating due to infection – an outcome almost inconceivable today with the benefit of modern medicine. When an England side played Ireland at Park Avenue in February, 1909, the ground became one of a select number to have hosted an England representative team in both rugby and association football.

j toothill bfc

Bradford’s most capped player was Jack Toothill (above) who played twelve games followed by Fred Bonsor – who captained England in 1888/89 – with six and Laurie Hickson, also six. Toothill, like Joe Hawcridge (the ‘Artful Dodger’ – pictured at the bottom of this feature) was a former Manningham FC player. Hawcridge ran a sports outfitters shop with his brother on Manningham Lane but emigrated to the USA in 1893, becoming an attorney in Chicago. He caught typhoid in San Francisco where he died in 1905.

1886-10-02 Fred Bonsor (1) 1Both Bonsor and Hickson captained England in February, 1889 (against the Maoris) and March, 1890 (against Scotland) respectively. Alongside Dickie Lockwood (who captained England twice in 1894) they were the only Yorkshiremen to captain England in the 54 internationals preceding the schism of 1895.

In 1889 Bonsor (pictured) achieved a hat-trick as captain of Bradford FC, Yorkshire and England in victories against the Maoris.

Percy Robertshaw was one of fifteen payers including Fred Bonsor and Laurie Hickson awarded England caps in 1888 despite never playing a game for their country, a peculiarity arising from the fall out between the four British rugby unions in that year.

Robertshaws 1Of the three Robertshaw brothers only Rawson actually played for England and both Herbert and Percy were unsuccessful triallists. By this achievement alone the Robertshaws were probably Bradford’s most famous sporting family before the Brownlees in 2012. However the Ducketts should also be mentioned in this regard. Horace, formerly of Heaton FC represented Bradford FC at Park Avenue between 1888-94 and was capped twice for England in 1893 whilst his son, Donald played for both Bradford clubs in the Football League and was a member of the Bradford (PA) AFC side that won the Division Three (North) championship in 1927/28.

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Above: Joe Hawcridge

Bradford FC Internationals (all England except annoted)      
John ‘Jack’ Toothill 12 1890-94 ***
Rawson Robertshaw 5 1886-87  
Edgar Wilkinson 5 1886-87  
Fred Bonsor 6 1886-89  
Lawrence Hickson 6 1887-90  
Joseph Richards 3 1891  
Arthur Briggs 3 1892  
Horace Duckett 2 1893  
Joseph Hawcridge 2 1885 ***
Thomas Tetley 1 1876  
Harry Garnett 1 1877  
James Wright 1 1890  
Charles Emmott 1 1892  
Thomas Dobson 1 1895  
Herbert Ward 1 1895  
Fred Schutt  (Ireland) 2 1878-79 *
Manningham FC      
Edgar Holmes 2 1890  

* Fred Schutt made his name with Bradford FC before joining Dublin Wanderers FC in 1877 which gave him the qualification to represent Ireland

*** Formerly Manningham FC players

In addition to the above, the following Bradford FC players were unsuccessful England triallists: J W Marshall, 1882; Thomas Steriker, 1882; Herbert Robertshaw, 1886; Percy Robertshaw, 1886; Frank Ritchie, 1888; and Fred Cooper, 1895.

Not included are the nominal (non-playing) caps awarded to Fred Bonsor, Laurie Hickson and Percy Robertshaw in 1888.

By John Dewhirst

(from his book ROOM AT THE TOP (Bantamspast, 2016) )

Tweets: @jpdewhirst


[1] Some background here about Harry Garnett from the author’s blog

[2] Brief history of Bingley FC included in this feature about Shipley FC

[3] Other features about the history and origins of Bradford rugby on VINCIT