The first visit of Australian cricketers to Bradford

In 1868 an Australian Aborigine cricket team toured England which is now recognised as the first Australian side to have visited England. It was a commercial venture that derived inspiration from the first English team – an All-England XI – that had toured Australia in 1861/62. (That and a repeat tour by English cricketers in 1863/64 were both motivated entirely by commercial gain which set the example.)

Following the opening of Park Avenue in 1880, visits of Australian touring sides to Bradford became a routine occurrence with ten matches between 1880-99. However, it came to be forgotten that the first Australian cricketers were the same aborigine tourists of 1868 who played two games in the Bradford district, the first at Bradford on 10-11 July and the second at Keighley on 27-28 July.

The aborigine tourists had set sail from Sydney on 8th February, 1868 in a ship that was transporting wool to England and which no doubt also ended up in Bradford. Just over three months later they arrived in England and during the next five months played a total of 47 games. Of those, nine were played in Yorkshire and of the remainder: ten in London; seven in Lancashire; four from the Midlands; two in the North-East; one in Swansea; and the balance (fourteen) in the south-east.

The game at Bradford was played on a Friday / Saturday, the significance being that it was regarded as a premier fixture. Indeed, judged by mention in the Sporting Life of 16 May, 1868 it appears to have been one of first to be arranged and reflected the fact that Bradford was known as a centre of enthusiasm for cricket. (NB On this occasion textile industry links do not appear to have been decisive in securing the fixture.)

The same journal reported ‘Since the late George Martin brought Deerfoot from America to contest against English pedestrians no arrival has been anticipated with so much curiosity and interest as that of the Black Cricketers from Australia.’ (Deerfoot was a native America and during the course of his tour had visited the so-called City Sporting Grounds at Quarry Gap, Laisterdyke in August, 1862 where he competed alongside local athletes in competitions as diverse as sack racing, running and pole-vaulting which were the focus of gambling interest.)

The commercial nature of the cricket tour explains the busy schedule and it would seem that other fixtures were arranged at short notice that required adjustment to travel schedules. Thus the tourists travelled to Bradford from Rochdale via Swansea. After Bradford they went to York, Manchester, Bury and Norwich… then to Keighley. We can assume that they came to rely upon Bradshaw’s guide (published as a ‘Descriptive Railway Hand-Book of Great Britain and Ireland’) and the completion of the tour is testimony to the railway network of the era.

The cricket matches were combined with athletic competitions incorporating ‘native sports’ that allowed a display of boomerang throwing. Undoubtedly this added to the appeal of the event to attract spectators but it also gave the aborigine cricketers the opportunity to win prize money. Whilst they were provided with free travel and accommodation it seems unlikely that they were paid, a crucial factor for the viability of the tour. At Bradford there was a display of native sports but with the cricket over-running there was no time for athletic events to take place.

The Bradford fixture was staged at the town club’s Great Horton Road ground, adjacent to Laisteridge Lane. The Leeds Mercury of 13th July, 1868 provided detail of the game entitled ‘The Black Cricketers at Bradford’ and the circumspect reportage is notable: ‘…the match between the Australian cricketers and eleven gentlemen of Bradford was finished on the ground in Great Horton-road. The blacks played better than on the preceding day, Mullagh contributing 55 in admirable style. The stumps were drawn at half-past six, when the aborigines performed for a short time with the spear and boomerang. The attendance was very large…’ [1]

The Bradford Observer headlined ‘The Aboriginals at Bradford’: ‘We had the Australian Aboriginals here on Friday and Saturday, and though they did not show to great advantage on Friday they did much better on Saturday. In fact they kept possession of the wickets so long that there was not time for the gentlemen of Bradford to finish their second innings, and leave any time for the after sports of the blacks. These, it is scarcely necessary to add, were witnessed with great interest by a very full field.’

Fascination with aboriginal peoples may have been a factor that attracted people to the event to see for themselves an Australian native and the suggestion is that public interest in Britain about exotic races had been stimulated by the publication of Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species in 1859. It was equally a form of imperial curiosity not dissimilar to the Savage Africa show at Valley Parade in 1901 involving Matabele warriors or the Somali village attraction that featured in the Bradford Exhibition at Lister Park in May, 1904.

According to the surviving ledger that documented the finances of the 1868 tour, the Bradford fixture generated a surplus of £65 for the visitors which was one of the highest in comparison to other games. The ledger records income of £115 at Bradford compared to £122 at Keighley where paying spectators were said to have numbered 3,500 (this probably excluded women who were typically admitted free of charge). On the face of it therefore the crowd at Bradford was slightly less despite the game being played over a weekend. In fact, the receipts at Bradford were well below the average of other games in the series.

The tourists yielded a surplus of £35 at Keighley and the differential with that at Bradford can be explained by the terms negotiated by the respective cricket clubs. It was the practice for the visitors to charge either a percentage of the receipts or a fixed fee. In the case of Bradford CC my guess is that the club had anticipated a bigger crowd and offered a generous fee to the visitors. There might even have been a degree of desperation to secure the event but whatever the explanation, the net outcome for the Bradford club is likely to have been disappointing even allowing for the fact that local newspapers had reported a good attendance.

Around this time Bradford CC was experiencing a decline in its fortunes and it was said that it lacked suitable leadership. Although it possessed the best ground in the town, clubs such as Manningham CC and Bradford Albion CC were regarded as stronger with better players. Bradford CC no longer had the profile it had enjoyed in the two preceding decades and the loss of public interest in its affairs may have had a big bearing on the attendance.

After incurring losses from the staging of a game with Notts CCC in June, 1866, Bradford CC did not host other county games or exhibition matches with prestige touring sides such as the All-England XI. The financial circumstances of the club made it distinctly risk averse and in 1867 it had dispensed with engaging a professional player. In fact, the Australian game was the highest profile cricket match promoted by Bradford CC in that period and from the following year it resorted to hosting athletic festivals to raise money.

There were 9 aborigine tour games in Yorkshire out of a total of 47 in the tour, as follows:

  • 26 & 27 June, vs Halifax at Halifax (visitors won)
  • 10 & 11 July, vs Bradford at Bradford (draw)
  • 13 & 14 July, at York vs Yorkshire (Yorkshire won)
  • 27 & 28 July, at Keighley v Keighley (draw)
  • 10, 11 & 12 August, at Sheffield vs Sheffield (draw)
  • 13, 14 & 15 August, at Dewsbury vs Saville (Saville won)
  • 24 & 25 August, at Middlesbrough vs Middlesbrough (draw)
  • 27, 28 & 29, at Scarborough vs Scarborough (visitors won)
  • 31 & 01 September, at Leeds vs Hunslet (visitors won)

Of the total 47 games played, the visitors won 14 and lost 14. The high proportion of drawn games was attributed in large part to the weather. Games were typically played over two or three days from 11am to 7pm. Not surprisingly, towards the end of the tour newspaper reports alluded to the Australians being exhausted.

By John Dewhirst

Twitter: @jpdewhirst

 [1] In 1874 Bradford CC lost the use of its Great Horton Road ground for housing and the club remained dormant until the opening of Park Avenue in July, 1880 which is the subject of a forthcoming feature on VINCIT.

[2] Links for further information about the aborigine tour of 1868:

From the BBC website, 9th July 2013


Daily Mail feature, 21st July 2015


John is the author of Room at the Top (Bantamspast 2016) which narrates the origins of cricket and sport in Bradford. He can be contacted through DM to the twitter address above.

Links to other features written by the author about the origins and history of Bradford sport

His blog Wool City Rivals includes content about Bradford City AFC as well as reviews of books on local sport.


More about the early connections between Bradford and Australian cricket on VINCIT next month (Jul-20)…

VINCIT provides an accessible go-to reference about all aspects of Bradford sport history and is neither code nor club specific. We encourage you to explore the site through the menu above. Link here to other features on Bradford cricket published on VINCIT.

Future planned articles on VINCIT will feature the original development of Park Avenue in 1879-80; Reminiscences about Bradford City; Bradford’s nineteenth century England RU internationals, 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.

Contributions and feedback are welcome.

Bradford City: The Wheeler Years

city_gentFebruary 20th 2020 saw the passing of one Jimmy Wheeler, a former Manager of Bradford City in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Even with the passage of time, I think it would be fair to say that Jimmy wouldn’t be at the top of fans favourite Managers of the past but that would be very harsh on his record.

I started going to Valley Parade in the mid 60s with my Father but as he worked shifts, I wasn’t allowed to go every week until the 1967-68 season when friends Father would take both of us. This article will hopefully pay respect to Mr Wheeler for his efforts in what turned out to be quite an eventful tenure in charge.

stafford hThe eventful nature of things had actually started the previous season when the Manager, dual international Willie Watson resigned in January 1968 to take a job in Johannesburg. The team he had built were actually pushing for promotion, the goals of Paul Aimson, Bruce Bannister & Charlie Rackstraw keeping the side in touch. To try & keep the momentum, Chairman Stafford Heginbotham (pictured) gave the job to Watsons assistant, the former Leeds United stalwart Grenville Hair. A veteran of over 400 games at Elland Road, he was probably unlucky not to gain full international honours but he was in competition with the World Class Jimmy Armfield. He was popular with the City players and everything seemed to going to plan. Hair had decided to freshen up the team for the final push bringing in striker Bobby Ham from Bradford Park Avenue, winger Bruce Walker from Swindon Town & a double deal which sent Aimson & full back Alec Smith to Huddersfield Town in exchange for striker Tony Leighton & full back Denis Atkins.

The very next day after the double deal was completed, 7th March 1968, tragedy struck when during a training session, Grenville Hair collapsed and was pronounced dead before he reached hospital. He was 36 years old. For someone so young & super fit the death sent shockwaves through the club.

Due to the sheer shock and also out of respect, the club decided to wait before appointing a new Manager & skipper Tom Hallett & senior pro Jimmy McAnearney took over the running of the team. Despite losing only once in the last 11 games, the club was to fall just short of its goal finishing in a heartbreaking 5th place.

Wheeler-2-180x200Jimmy Wheeler arrived in June 1968 for his first job in management after being the assistant to former England star Roy Bentley at Reading. Jimmy had spent his whole career at Reading playing over 400 games & scoring over 100 goals. He is regarded as a club legend & is in the Berkshire clubs Hall of Fame. A month later, utility player Ron Bayliss followed him from Reading as his first signing but he was told that the transfer policy must be one-in one-out to keep a control on the clubs finances. The previous seasons near miss meant that he started with a strong foundation to work with. A couple of fringe players were then sacrificed to bring in 2 players who would play a big part in the forthcoming season. Speedy forward Peter Middleton arrived from Sheffield Wednesday & Aussie keeper John Roberts arrived from Sydney club APIA to try his luck in the Football League.

Tony LeightonThe new campaign started off with a 5 match unbeaten run before the team hit an inconsistent patch with results as varied as a 0-6 reverse at Rochdale & a 5-0 victory over York City with Bobby Ham hitting 4 of them. Searching for a winning combination, Wheeler was not afraid to blood the clubs youngsters with the likes of Harney, McNally & Montgomery all seeing league action. The masterstroke that changed the season came with the switch of Bruce Bannister out to the wing in place of Walker, the move of Striker Leighton (pictured) back to wing half & the signing of totem forward Norman Corner from Lincoln to lead the line with the likes of Middleton, Ham & Rackstraw feeding off the big man.

A win away at Notts County on January 11th 1969 saw the team embark on a record breaking 21 match unbeaten run taking them once again into the heart of the promotion battle. 3 games to go and a thrilling match at Valley Parade saw the side come back from 0-2 down against Southend to win 3-2 with winger John Hall getting the winner in front of 11000 fans. A defeat at Brentford in the penultimate game put the side in the dreaded 5th position again, surely not more heartbreak? The final game was the memorable trip to Darlington on 9th May where all points North had an armada of cars & coaches covered in Claret & Amber favours. Despite a wall collapsing due to over exuberance, a 3-1 victory saw the side capture the precious 4th promotion place. Jimmy Wheeler’s first season as a Manager had seen him achieve the clubs first promotion for over 40 long years.


Entering the new season in the 3rd Division, with an eye still on finances but also showing faith in the team that got promotion, only one signing was made in utility player Peter McConnell. The club carried the momentum into the new season and were challenging for the top positions before fading away to mid table towards the seasons end. The highlight of the league season being an 8-1 thrashing of Bournemouth at Valley Parade, a Bobby Ham hat-trick amongst the 5 different scorers.

The glory & excitement of the season was to come in the cup competitions. A run to the 4th round of the League Cup saw the highlight of a magnificent 2-1 away win at top division Sunderland. It was a settled side & Wheeler was a big believer in continuity, the only changes usually down to injury. Roberts shared keeper duties with Pat Liney & big Barry Swallow was a more than capable deputy for Hallett at centre half before his departure in the Summer.


The FA Cup brought further excitement when the 3rd Round draw saw City drawn at home to the might Tottenham Hotspur, a team full of stars like the legendary Jimmy Greaves, Alan Gilzean ,Cyril Knowles & the rest. The biggest crowd for many years, a crowd of over 23000 saw the team bravely draw 2-2 with the first division giants only a Cyril Knowles goal line clearance saving them from a memorable giant killing act. Sadly, the replay at White Hart Lane saw class tell as City lost 0-5 but the memories of the cup games that season stayed long in the memory. For myself, I can remember struggling to see the game on the packed Kop & I recall a Spurs fan lifting me onto his shoulders to watch the game. There wasn’t a hint of hooliganism & no segregation in the ground, just funny banter between fans. Even the replay defeat couldn’t deflate the excitement of a first visit to London & a first division stadium.

The season had been satisfactory with the early promise & the cup highlights. Once again, Wheeler wasn’t scared to blood youth with the young Graham Oates, England Youth Peter Turbitt & Bob Cullingford becoming the clubs youngest ever player, a record only recently broken by Reece Staunton. A notable late season signing had been influential midfielder Les O’Neill who soon became a fan favourite. Jimmy Wheeler had kept faith in players that had served him well and at this period City had several long serving players who would rightly become legends & household names in Bradford folklore. The likes of Bruce Stowell, John Hall, Bruce Bannister , Bobby Ham, Tommy Hallett and others are still fondly remembered to this day by Bantams followers.

Season 1970-71 was Jimmy’s 3rd in charge after another bright start became a war of attrition with a real danger of relegation before a final finish of 19th. No joy in the cups either to offer inspiration from somewhere. Jimmy had made a couple of ‘big’ signings to freshen up the ageing team with strikers Terry Owen, Father of future England star Michael & Colin Hall arriving after the sale of star striker Bobby Ham to Preston. Neither of the new men had the desired effect as City struggled and faded out of the picture. The only bright spots of the season were the establishment in the side of 2 youngsters, Graham Oates who would later be sold for very decent money in 1974 to Blackburn Rovers with Don Hutchins coming in the other direction & local product Ces Podd started what would be a career to outlast any other City player before or since. He would battle racism from opposing fans to establish himself as a much loved legend and a hugely respected player in the game. He always mentioned that the faith shown in him by manager Wheeler made him stronger and able to contend with all the problems he faced in his early career.

The season of struggle had ended with murmurings of discontent amongst sections of the crowd & despite starting the season with several new signings, the most notable of which was full back Graham Howell, the club faded dismally to finish bottom returning to Division 4 once again. Jimmy Wheeler wasn’t there to see it though. After an early season campaign led to a poor start, he resigned to be replaced by the popular Bryan Edwards.

Jimmy’s time at Valley Parade saw some wonderful success in both league and cup competition & I think he has been sadly underrated and almost forgotten by some fans. The promotion side was wonderful to watch with goals from all over the field. He displayed an honourable loyalty to players who performed for him & yet, as mentioned , he wasn’t afraid to blood youngsters. He was said to be a disciplinarian but Ces can remember him putting an arm round him & encouraging him when he was thinking of walking away from the game. He was approachable to the fans also, recently, long term fan Keith Bruce retold how his late father had spoken to Jimmy at a supporters forum about tactics as viewed from the stands and then he received an invite from Jimmy to join him in the dug out for a match to watch him closely at work. The story was featured in the T&A.


It would be another 5 years before City gained another promotion but Jimmy never managed another Football league club. It was said he had only been cautioned once in a 16 year playing career but a touchline clash with the officials at a cup tie at Lincoln saw him punished by the FA and ordered up to the stands for several games. The calm pragmatist showed he did have the passion which every knew he had but was rarely shown. He deserves to be remembered for his 3 year tenure, certainly he is by me as it was the beginning of my connection to the club enshrined by that wonderful promotion season of 1968-69. Thank you & Rest in Peace Jimmy.

Ian Hemmens

Tweets: @ihemmens


VINCIT provides an accessible go-to reference about all aspects of Bradford sport history and is neither code nor club specific. We encourage you to explore the site through the menu above.

Future planned articles on VINCIT will feature the original development of Park Avenue in 1879-80; Bradford’s nineteenth century England RU internationals, 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.

Contributions and feedback are welcome.


Reaction to Bradford City winning the FA Cup

By Rob Grillo

Bradford City AFC was already a pioneer club: First West Riding team to be elected to the Football League. First to be promoted to the First Division. And then the club only went and won the FA Cup in only its eighth year of existence.

lottingas weekly_0001

The English Cup final was highlight of the season, a fitting climax to eight months of competition. A competition that has previously been dominated by the old boys teams had, since 1883 – with just one exception – been won by a team from the north or midlands. Following narrow victories over New Brompton (now known as Gillingham), Norwich City, Grimsby Town and Burnley, City had achieved a resounding 3-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers in the semi-final at Bramall Lane on 25 th March. For the first time, a team from the West Riding was making the biggest headlines. Eleven special trains took City fans to Crystal Palace for the final, in what was universally reported as a disappointing goal-less draw on Saturday 22 nd April. The occasion was reported nationwide, with varying support for the Yorkshire team.

The Leeds Mercury football correspondent Flaneur wrote his piece for his newspaper the previous evening before sending to his office. He was obviously quite excited:

‘London, Friday Night. Let’s to the palace. In a few short hours we who are fortunate enough to have a coign of vantage marked out for us amid the seats of the mighty will be watching the crowds assembling round the famous arena that has been the venue of so many great cup finals since 1895. It will be a familiar spectacle to many of us who have long ceased to wonder at the extraordinary enthusiasm which induces men to stand for hours in great physical discomfort for the sake of ninety minutes’ football, who no longer marvel at the providence which keeps the more daring safe in their perches among the trees that overlook the arena.

‘To the old stager there will seem to be nothing new. He may well imagine that he is watching last season’s crowd gathering again.  He will see the same display of black and white favours, of black and white umbrellas, and even black and white top hat sand coats and trousers. He will hear the same hybrid twang that accompanies the wearers of the colours of Newcastle United, the twang that always seems to be a mixture of Scotch and Yankee; he will hear some good Yorkshire that is utterly intelligible to the man whose milk teeth have been cut elsewhere than in the broad acre. If he be a close observer, the old stager will note that the Yorkshire contingent is wearing the claret and amber of Bradford City, instead of the red and white of Barnsley. Otherwise he will see nothing that he did not see twelve months ago.

‘But to the novice in cup final football everything will be of interest. One’s first final at Crystal Palace is never forgotten. From early morn the crowds hurry through the turnstiles and a continuous stream of people invades every nook and corner of the Palace grounds.’

There was no doubt in anyone’s minds that final itself was a disappointing affair, but it wasn’t the first time that this had happened. However, Sporting Life was less than flattering of the occasion than most, the London broadsheet adopting a high-brow attitude towards the attendance that ‘ only numbered 69,800.’ The reason for this, for them, was obvious. ‘Bradford City is a club with practically little history. It has become one of the most powerful in the land but it has had a comparatively uneventful career. It is not yet a name to conjure with. There is no glamour about it.’  The writer perhaps failed to appreciate, or was maybe unaware of the club’s long history as Manningham Football Club in the Northern Union, and perhaps did not appreciate just how the club had managed to capture the imagination of the whole of the West Riding as its pioneering club took on the might of Newcastle United, cup holders and finalists on several occasions. What is clear, however, that the club was not yet regarded by all as part of the established order.

The newspaper was forced to remark, however, on the ‘extraordinary enthusiasm of the Bradford crowd’, claiming that claret and amber favours outnumbered those of the holders by twenty to one, ‘The great human ring…was ablaze with red and gold.’ The writer had perhaps not done his homework either.

The replayed final, at Old Trafford on Wednesday 26 th April aroused considerable interest too. Given that the match was much closer to home, there were special trains and other methods of travel again put on for the occasion. However, reports confirm that many of those who attended were from other parts of the region. Brighouse station was awash with fans boarding the 11.33 and 1.13 specials to Manchester, many of those doing so sporting the claret and amber of City. Not all will have made it into the ground however, with 66,000 inside, thousands were left outside when the gates were locked due to the ground capacity having been met.

Two day excursions and three half-day excursions were laid on at Halifax railway station, all said to be well patronised, and again by those bearing the colours of the City club. The trains had begun their journeys at Bradford, but extra carriages were put on at either Halifax or Sowerby Bridge en-route, with even the luggage vans full of standing passengers. A hundred or so spectators were left on the platform at Halifax when attempting to board the overcrowded 11.52, although they had only a few minutes to wait for the arrival of the next ‘special’, when they were told ‘Packed in the rear. Try to get in at front.

Efforts to form a Halifax town team were already in full swing, and the occasion will only have added impetus and interest to proceedings. Ironically, a meeting of the ground committee of the Halifax & District Football Association regarding the purchase of the Sandhall ground was held the same evening, with plans in place to form a town team.  In the meantime, without their own team, Calderdale’s football fans were clearly out for a City win.

Of course there was no bigger celebration of the cup final victory than in Bradford itself, and this too was reported widely around the nation. There was no doubting that the club had done the West Riding proud. The Yorkshire Evening Post report the following day waxed lyrical over the evening’s celebrations. In their story headlined ‘Bedlam in Bradford’ the story reported, ‘ Whew! What a night! There is a headache today in the mere recollection of those cheering, surging crowds, intoxicated with the joy of conquest, which thronged the principal streets of Bradford last night to do honour to their gallant football eleven, and to celebrate the great victory they had won. Was there a man in Bradford last night who didn’t turn out and raise his voice with the rest, nay, was there a woman or a child who did not witness the home-coming of the team with the famous English Cup?

‘The whole population was out: hot with excitement, delirious almost with joy, and with sheer wonder of the renown which was theirs. There could not have been a more impressive scene, a more whole-hearted and boisterous enthusiasm no matter what the cause. Truly, he who scoreth the goal was for one night at least ‘greater than he who taketh a city’. If Bradford had taken a whole nation of cities the reception accorded the warriors, one imagines, must have paled before the mighty burst of that great wave of pent up joy, which was like thunder in its volume and like sweetest music in its meaning, which greeted Captain Spiers and his men when they reached home with the English Cup, strenuously won. It was a night such as few, who were privileged to share in the orgie of it all, will ever forget.’

Charles Crump, the senior vice-president of the Football Association said, while presenting the cup to the victors, ‘I consider it a very wonderful thing that the West Riding of Yorkshire, where Association Football was scarcely known ten years ago, should for two years in succession have at team in the final tie – a great testimony to the determination of the Yorkshire people.’ He was actually half-right. Barnsley (founded in 1887) had lost the previous years’ final to Newcastle, but for footballing purposes was in the Sheffield & Hallamshire boundaries, and Association football was certainly much more than a decade old in the town. Bradford was a different matter, and it was testament to those who had made it happen.

Among the crowds that thronged around Bradford’s Exchange railway station, having spent much of the afternoon hanging around the various newspaper offices waiting for the latest information, were women wearing claret and amber tulips, as well as dozens with their concertinas, Jews’ Harps, Tommy talkers, rattles, big drums and little drums, mouth organs and tin whistles, with the Idle and Thackley Brass Band meanwhile doing their best to match the cacophony of sound. This was civic pride at its best, and it would not have been lost on those just down the road in Leeds who read the Evening Post in their thousands.

While reports into the relative merits of each team’s performance in the replay vary, the same Sporting Life saw it one way, ‘The strength of the winners was their determination and doggedness. The weakness of Newcastle United was their exceptional cleverness. The latter may appear paradoxical, but it is the literal truth. In the opening exchanges the Cupholders were – to use a well-understood phrase – streets ahead of their opponents in all the subtleties and finer points of the game. The Bradford players were in earnest, very much in earnest, and it was apparent that they had made up their minds to spoil the work of their opponents by dash and grit, and to a large extent they succeeded. And yet, while giving the fullest credit to the winners for the manner in which they defended when Newcastle were using all the tricks in their extensive repertoire, the losers did as much towards defeating themselves as Bradford did to achieve a sensational success.’

Rival newspaper, The Sportsman, provided a more positive outlook. Notwithstanding the fact that the replay was a much improved match in all respects, and with a positive outcome at last, reporting that ‘ it wasn’t that Newcastle United played much below their form … but simply because Bradford City put more life into their work, and declined to be kept upon the defensive so persistently.’

The following weekend, cinemas all over the region showed footage from the final ties, where the general public could make up their own minds. Few sports fans in the whole of the north of England could have missed the news of West Yorkshire’s first FA Cup win.

As sweet as victory was, it was recognised that this was a home-grown squad. With the sport still in its relative infancy in the district, it could hardly have been expected that a team of first class Bradfordians, or even Yorkshiremen, could at that stage have been raised.  The team that comprised mainly of Scotsmen had enabled the West Riding strike a shot in the direction of the country’s leading teams, but sustaining such success  – the club finished 5 th in the league that season  – would have been dependent on local talent. What is clear however, is that the decision of Manningham Football Club to abandon the Northern Union less than a decade earlier had proved a resounding success. By the time war had broken out three years later, cross-city rivals at Park Avenue, who had followed Manningham’s lead by abandoning Northern Union in the Great Betrayal had not only joined City in the First Division, but actually finished above them in the 1914/15 season, while Leeds City and Huddersfield Town had established themselves in the Second Division, both with aspirations of matching the success achieved by the Bradford pioneers.


The fall from grace of both Bradford teams following the Great War is covered in vast detail in other publications, as are the changing fortunes of both Leeds (United) and Huddersfield clubs. Industrial decline affected Bradford more than most, and within a few years that head start in the Association game would count for nothing.

Rob Grillo [@RobGrillo] is author of LATE TO THE GAME, Volume 6 in the Bantamspast History Revisited series which tells the story of the origins of association football in Bradford. Details of his book and online ordering is available from this link.


VINCIT provides an accessible go-to reference about all aspects of Bradford sport history and is neither code nor club specific. We encourage you to explore the site through the 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.

Contributions and feedback are welcome.

Harry Briggs (1862-1920), Park Avenue benefactor

The modern history of Bradford City has been shaped by high profile characters in charge at Valley Parade. Stafford Heginbotham (1965-73 and 1983-88), Geoffrey Richmond (1995-2002) and Edin Rahic (2016-18) will be remembered for their impact on the fortunes of the club – not all necessarily in a positive light.

At Odsal, Harry Hornby (1937-56) was an influential figure whose entrepreneurial energy was crucial for Bradford Northern. In contrast, at Park Avenue Herbert Metcalfe (1969-70) tends to be cited as the archetypal meddling chairman. In particular, his presence may have been decisive in hastening that club’s exit from the Football League in 1970 and undermining the confidence of other clubs as to how Bradford Park Avenue was being run.

Briggs grave Bowling (2)

However, if you had to name the individual who was arguably most influential in shaping the direction and fate of Bradford football it has to be Harry Briggs who died one hundred years ago on 31st March, 1920. (The photograph shows his family tomb at Bowling Cemetery.) Briggs was the man who personified Bradford Park Avenue AFC to the extent that in 1907 the Yorkshire Sports depicted his face on a cartoon character to accompany match reports about Avenue. It was Harry Briggs who forced conversion from rugby at Park Avenue that led to the formation of Bradford Northern RFC and the bitter soccer rivalry with Bradford City. The competition of three senior clubs in the district arguably fragmented sporting effort and financial investment to the extent that all were denied sustained success and became better known for failure.

Harry Briggs’ father, Edward was the second son of John Briggs of Briggella Mills in Bradford and long before the death of his father and elder brother Moses, he had assumed the managing directorship of the family firm. Under Edward’s management the business established for itself a reputation as innovative and commercially successful.

In 1882 Edward Briggs established a huge state-of-the-art worsted factory and model industrial community at Marki near Warsaw, which was then part of the Russian empire. It was one of the first mills in Europe to be lit by electricity in 1883 and Marki became known as ‘a second edition of Saltaire’.

Edward became a founder member of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club (BCA&FC) at Park Avenue in 1880 and the proximity of his mill allowed him to offer employment to players of the club (thereby avoiding contravention of the Rugby Union’s regulations on amateurism). He became a guarantor of the club’s borrowings and was instrumental in the club’s financial rescue in 1896 when it came close to insolvency.

As part of its rescue Edward insisted on the club having management supervision and introduced Harry to fulfil the role. Edward died in 1898 and Harry inherited his status as the Park Avenue benefactor. From 1896 until his own death in 1920, Harry came to personify the Park Avenue club (much the same as Stafford Heginbotham was the personification of Bradford City at Valley Parade between 1966 and 1972). Harry never concealed his dislike of Manningham FC at Valley Parade who he considered a financial threat to the well-being of Park Avenue.

From 1905 Harry Briggs championed conversion to soccer at Park Avenue and attempted to persuade the City club to transfer to the other side of town in a new merged organisation. The traditional Manningham supporters were suspicious of Briggs and needless to say the overtures for amalgamation were rejected, culminating in a decisive vote of City members on 27 May, 1907.

Briggs recognised that the city of Bradford could not support two first class association sides but he was determined that the sport be adopted at Park Avenue as a more profitable alternative to rugby. Faced with rejection by the City membership and with family pride at stake, Harry dug himself deeper into an expensive hole and ended up increasing his financial commitment to funding Park Avenue.

Harry’s father was a brilliant businessman as Sarah Dietz (1) has convincingly portrayed. I agree with her assessment that this represented an enormous burden for Harry – his only son – who lived in Edward’s shadow even after his death. Harry was desperate to please his father and there is circumstantial evidence that this extended to playing both rugby and cricket at Park Avenue. The whim may have been accommodated by the club leadership as a gesture of gratitude to Edward and I am doubtful that Harry was selected on merit. (A consistent theme in accounts of meetings of the BCA&FC was the extent of obsequiousness towards the Briggs family.)

Match reports in Bradford newspapers confirm that Harry Briggs made a handful of appearances for Bradford Cricket Club during the 1880 season although there is no evidence of participation in subsequent years. In 1903, a correspondent to the Bradford Daily Telegraph credited him with having bowled the first ball at Park Avenue (in 1880) to the groundsman, Henry Boden (a game that was played on the football ground because the cricket pitch was not ready until the 1881 season). Given the solemnity of the occasion it was notable that the honour should have been granted to an 18 year old whose cricketing skills were never subsequently called upon.

As regards football, he was originally selected in the Bradford FC reserve team in October, 1881 and was selected on four occasions for the first team in January and February, 1882. Thereafter there is no further mention of him which is consistent with the suggestion that he was injured and forced to retire from the game. It was also claimed that when his footballing career came to an end, he donated the £50 insurance proceeds to charities. ‘Injury’ may have been his face-saver.

Harry Briggs saw it as his duty to uphold and even aggrandise his father’s reputation. An incentive for Harry to invest in Rolls-Royce was that it allowed him the chance to prove himself as a businessman in his own right and when it came to Park Avenue, he could not disappoint his father’s legacy. Consequently, Harry opted for the sort of bold venture that he believed his father would have approved of. He knew that if there were two clubs in Bradford it would undermine the profits of both but his chosen strategy was to vanquish the other through underwriting a new Bradford Park Avenue club. Hell would have no fury like a Harry Briggs scorned. By any measure it was a reckless, high stakes response.

For a businessman who stood no chance of financial gain from his benevolence and who publicly acknowledged the financial risk of forming a soccer club to compete with Bradford City, his behaviour seems extraordinary. Yet it was the same obsessiveness that he displayed in his passion for Rolls-Royce racing cars. In C W Morton’s History of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, (1964) there is mention of a claim that Briggs’ ‘enthusiasm for motor cars and his interest in the Rolls-Royce stifled his business acumen.’

During the amalgamation controversy Briggs was successful in alienating most of those around him and it is revealing that the Bradford Daily Argus of 27 May intimated that he was in a minority of one among the Park Avenue leadership in favouring amalgamation. In fact, the paper was later requested to retract that allegation which Briggs would have considered damaging to his cause. Faced with the partisan opposition of Manninghamites the remainder of the Bradford FC committee had come to the belief that the club should launch its own soccer club, independent of Bradford City. By this stage pride made it difficult for Bradford members to prostrate their club to the whims of those at Valley Parade. However, it put further pressure on Harry Briggs because he knew that he would be the man expected to finance the launch of a Bradford Park Avenue soccer club.

Briggs pursued amalgamation to the end and whilst he supported the decision to create a Park Avenue team and appoint Fred Halliday as secretary-manager I believe that he saw this measure as a bluff rather than as an end game. In his interview with the Bradford Daily Argus on 14 May, 1907 Briggs had been explicit about the disadvantage of two clubs in Bradford.

It was not simply partisan prejudice that caused the City committee to oppose relocation to Park Avenue. Harry Briggs was himself the principal obstacle to a fusion of the two clubs. For more than a decade he had wielded power at Park Avenue and on occasions his conduct had alienated players and supporters at his own club as well as those at Valley Parade. (In fact it is tempting to see similarities with a recent chairman at Valley Parade!)

Bradford FC had been known for its high and mighty attitude in the 1880s and Briggs was seen as a continuation of this, the Napoleon of Park Avenue who wanted to impose his will and was used to getting his own way. He quite literally embodied the Park Avenue bogey of old – the attempts by the ‘town club’ to extinguish the insubordinate challenger which was Manningham FC.

For the majority of his adult life Harry Briggs had made it his mission to ensure the ascendancy of Bradford FC over Manningham FC. Readers of Room at the Top will recall the incident in December, 1891 when he had done all in his power to make the Park Avenue pitch playable, spurning the goodwill gesture of Manningham FC to make Valley Parade available so that a game with Runcorn would not have to be postponed. Harry’s devotion to his father served to perpetuate prejudices about Manningham FC which dated from the beginning. It was now a complete volte-face, the man who had wanted to eliminate the Valley Parade organisation was trying to woo it.

Harry Briggs was seen as a playboy who had lived a life of privilege without having had much responsibility – whilst the titular head of his father’s old firm at Briggella Mills, in the background it was his uncle Francis Whitehead who ran the business.

In the absence of trust, he was thus the benefactor that no-one wanted, all the more emotive given the historic enmity between Manningham and Bradford. The irony in this is that Briggs offered major concessions. A degree of pragmatism was shown by the willingness to sacrifice his club’s identity in 1907 (to adopt that of ‘Bradford City’) and four years later to jettison the traditional colours of Bradford FC by adopting green and white as the price to secure Tom Maley as manager.

Should history remember Harry Briggs as a pig-headed fool or as a saint?

Harry Briggs YS graphic

The memory of Harry Briggs has been dictated by the rivalry of Bradford FC and Manningham FC. To the supporters of the former he was a saviour and guarantor. In the eyes of the latter he was considered a Machiavellian character with megalomaniac intent. He is also remembered as the man who had confidence to invest £10,000 in the floatation of Rolls-Royce in December, 1906 and someone possessed with considerable passion for its cars. Rather unkindly this has led at least one writer to compare him to Toad of Toad Hall (2). Author Kenneth Grahame’s character of the Edwardian era was similarly obsessed with motor cars, at that time a product of fancy and for which a mass market had still to be developed.

Yet whilst Briggs – in common with Toad – had enjoyed a privileged upbringing, inherited his father’s wealth and been something of a mid-life playboy, it would be unfair to suggest he was the conceited or lazy buffoon implied by the characterisation. Nonetheless, it is difficult to avoid the observation of him as a somewhat pathetic figure, wholly out of his depth in the leadership role he found himself. Judged from his statements, as well as his actions, there is a sense that on occasions he was gripped by panic and his muddling contrasted with the strategic direction and diplomacy of his contemporary, Alfred Ayrton at Valley Parade. He had never had direct experience managing people and accounts of his conduct suggest that his inter-personal skills were woefully under-developed. No wonder that the conversion process at Park Avenue was such a clumsy affair.

Briggs’ investment in Rolls-Royce and his commitment to soccer at Park Avenue surely reveals a man desperate to carve an independent reputation for himself whilst at the same time gaining the approval of his deceased father. The tragedy is that Briggs may have overreached himself just at the moment that he had committed to his projects. There is the suggestion that by the second half of 1907 he was financially stretched and no longer able to bankroll his new soccer club to the extent he originally intended. Indeed, Bradford Park Avenue failed to make an immediate impact on the Second Division when elected in 1908 and promotion was only achieved at the sixth attempt. The death in March, 1907 of his uncle, Francis (Frank) Whitehead – who had shared the management and ownership of J Briggs & Co. at Briggella with Harry after Edward’s death – led to changes in the Bradford business through the inheritance of Harry’s Polish-based cousin. Circumstantial evidence suggests that all of this tied up his capital, if not depleted it through the transfer of funds out of the firm.

The aggressive funding of Bradford Park Avenue that had been feared by those at Valley Parade did not materialise. Indeed, it was not until the appointment of Tom Maley at the end of February, 1911 that there was new momentum to the Park Avenue venture. Likewise, Harry’s investment – and directorship – in Rolls-Royce may have captured his attention, so much so that in March, 1907 at the time of the Bradford City merger dispute he was simultaneously trying to persuade the company to establish a new factory on his land in Bradford (presumably nearby Briggella Mills and Park Avenue). Instead, Derby was chosen but it might have otherwise had a major impact on the development of the Bradford economy.

Harry Briggs failed to achieve his objective of a merged club at Park Avenue and this can similarly be attributed to the fact that he alienated those whose support and trust he needed. Had he exercised more decisive leadership – or had the benefit of wise counsel – in 1905 or 1906 his goal might have been achieved. (Even so, it didn’t alter the fact that he remained a contentious figure in the eyes of Valley Parade members.) Likewise, in 1899 he could have chosen to sustain the soccer experiment on a low key basis for at least a couple of years more and this might have been the basis for conversion from rugby.

The death of his uncle in March, 1907 may have been significant. It removed a possible restraint on him embarking on what was undoubtedly a sequence of impulsive and risky ventures – not to mention expensive – through the launch of a second Bradford club, investment in redeveloping Park Avenue in 1907, membership of the Southern League in the same year and then, resignation from the Southern League in 1908 without any guarantee of a place in the Football League. In the end Briggs was saved from absolute disaster by circumstance and good fortune. With hindsight his decisions may seem visionary and inspired. All I can say is that if he drove his racing car in the same fashion it would have been pretty scary to be his passenger.

In contrast to many others who became involved with Bradford sport, Harry Briggs should be remembered favourably and deserves credit for his genuine commitment. In assuming the burden, he was not motivated by personal gain or vanity but by duty to his father and the belief that Park Avenue existed for a noble purpose, the creed that it served to promote sport and raise money for charity. His mission was to safeguard the ground that Edward Briggs and his father’s generation had secured in 1879 for the benefit of the people of Bradford. For him, what was on the line was family honour and he applied himself to the task with zeal.

The tragedy for the Park Avenue club was the death of Harry Briggs in 1920 at the age of only 58 (his father too had passed away at the same age). He died on 31st March, just over three weeks after his side had been defeated in the FA Cup Quarter-Finals by Chelsea.

Harry died at his home at Cottingley Manor and is buried in the Briggs Tomb at Bowling Cemetery. It left Bradford (PA) AFC without an obvious successor or bank guarantor and the club was forced to cope without ownership of the Park Avenue freehold. These were fundamental issues that handicapped his club and made it difficult to stand on its own two feet. Briggs knew that Bradford could not support two senior soccer clubs and he recognised the futility of them clinging resolutely to their independence. His assessment proved correct but there is irony in the fact that his behaviour drove a bigger wedge between them.

In 1920 there were signs that Bradford Park Avenue might overtake Bradford City whose finances had been exhausted. Both City and Avenue fell from grace in the 1920s – from being rivals in Division One in 1920/21 to contesting derbies in Division Three (North) by 1927/28. Had Bradford retained its membership of the first division it would have enjoyed a dominant position that Bradford City would have struggled to overcome. Final victory would then have been certain for Park Avenue. His death one hundred years ago effectively put an end to the Park Avenue ambitions and fifty years later his club lost its membership of the Football League that Harry had jealously coveted.

by John Dewhirst

From his book Life at the Top, a history of the rivalry of Manningham FC and Bradford FC pub Bantamspast, 2016. This narrates the circumstances of the two clubs changing code from Rugby Union in 1895 and then from the Northern Union in 1903 and 1907 respectively. He is currently working on a history of the rivalry of the two clubs as soccer rivals in the twentieth century.


(1). Sarah Dietz is the author of British Entrepreneurship in Poland: A Case Study of Bradford Mills at Marki near Warsaw, 1883-1939, Routledge, 2015.

(2). Harry Briggs is compared to Toad of Toad Hall by Richard Sanders in Beastly Fury, The Strange Birth of British Football, Bantam Press, 2009. (His book contains a number of inaccuracies about Bradford City and Park Avenue but is readable and puts the story of what happened in Bradford at the turn of the twentieth century into a broader context of what was going on elsewhere in the country.)


Link to John’s blog: Wool City Rivals where you will find his features in the current BCAFC matchday programme, book reviews and other content about the history of Bradford City.
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.
Contributions to VINCIT are welcome. We are code agnostic and feature any sport or club with a Bradford heritage. Links from the drop down menu above. Thanks for visiting!

New membership of the Bradford Cricket League

by Reg Nelson

As the Bradford Cricket League enters its 117th year in 2020, and begins a new decade, it could be an appropriate time to contemplate how things are going since it widened its geography in 2016.

After losing several inner-city clubs in the decade, the chance to replace them with top outfits like Methley CC, Wrenthorpe CC and Townville CC from the Central Yorkshire League must have sounded appealing to the Bradford Cricket League Board. This league was losing more and more clubs to the Bradford Cricket League, and with Methley CC being tipped to be the next one to go, the death knell was sounding. After amicable negotiations it was decided that most of the Central Yorkshire League clubs would join the Bradford Cricket League, and the others would relocate to the Drakes Huddersfield League, or in the case of Wakefield Thornes CC, to the Yorkshire South Premier League.


It meant that the Bradford Cricket League would acquire the three aforementioned clubs, and also pick up clubs like Hunslet Nelson CC, Carlton CC, Liversedge CC and Ossett CC who had fine grounds. They would also have to cater for some smaller, lower ranked clubs who were perceived by some purists as lacking in real Bradford League potential. This view might turn out to be right, but the likes of Pudsey Congs, New Farnley and Woodlands all emerged historically from a very modest cricket base.


The new structure was seen in some quarters as a great lift to the league in an era when they were granted ECB Premier League status. The likes of Methley CC, Wrenthorpe CC and Townville CC were formerly the power base of the Central Yorkshire League and were capable of shaking up the old order, and some of the other new clubs would certainly stiffen the second sphere of the league. That had been a bone of contention for a number of years, as the old second division had deteriorated beyond recognition. Now, the league had the honour of being granted Premier League status when it normally only applied to county regions, and had a much stronger base of clubs.

The downside was the league’s inability to provide enough umpires for a league which had more or less doubled in number. There were also widespread murmurings on social media about the increased travelling distances, and also continued dialogue about the strength of the lower clubs that had been accepted. Those making the latter point failed to acknowledge the fact that some of these clubs had no immediate league to go to with the demise of the Central Yorkshire League. If the Bradford League had simply `cherry-picked’ the more fashionable clubs, they would doubtless have had to answer to the Yorkshire Premier League Cricket Board if clubs went out of existence. Some of these clubs might not be seen as top flight sides for the foreseeable future, but they can develop with Clubmark (ECB Accreditation) and find their level as part of the league pyramid.

Another criticism was that the Bradford Cricket League was titled as such in name only, as the membership spread out as far as the outskirts of Leeds, Castleford and Wakefield. There were some calls to rename the league structure West Yorkshire ECB Premier League. However, the Yorkshire Premier League Cricket Board recognised the historical strength of the league, and obviously agreed that its very name carried enough kudos to headline the new structure.

The reputation of the Bradford Cricket League has always attracted new clubs to join, and there has been disquiet in the past about the travelling involved. Yorkshire Bank joined the league in 1974 when there were much less people with cars, and the trek to Moortown was considerable. After a couple of years, players, officials and spectators could not imagine the league without the Bank, as they enjoyed the ground and hospitality. Those that resisted Yorkshire Bank in the beginning would eventually bemoan the situation when the club eventually folded.

Hanging Heaton CC was regarded as a trek when they joined in 1980, but what an asset club they turned out to be, and nobody grumbles now!


The Bradford Cricket League has lost many inner-city clubs in the last few decades, and this number includes Eccleshill CC, Laisterdyke CC, Lidget Green CC, Great Horton CC and Manningham Mills CC. There were also clubs away from the inner cities like Salts CC and Idle who perished. The changing demographic in the city has had a role to play in this, but this is not wholly the reason. The aforementioned clubs ended their days with either an all-Asian team, or very nearly so. In an era when virtually all the `street cricket’ was played by Asian children, it was obviously a good player resource for clubs, and one could acknowledge that they kept these clubs going.

LIDGET GREEN 1978 - Copy

However, the culture of family members and friends of players keeping the club going by buying raffle tickets, frequenting the bar and helping with basic fundraising began to dissipate. The falling membership of such clubs led to poor administration and shrinking committees, and when crisis dawned, there was a mass exodus of players leaving the club few options to continue. When Salts CC perished it was said that not one player attended the winter crisis meeting.


The one exception to this theory is Bowling Old Lane, another all-Asian team, who have found a way to not only survive after historic vandalism, but have built their workforce within the community. Astonishingly, they have not been the beneficiaries of any major grants, despite ticking all the right boxes in a deprived area, and surely possessing the right postcode for financial assistance.

In an ideal world, all the inner city clubs would have survived, and the league would have retained more of a Bradford feel to it. But, when a club like New Farnley, who have a Dales Council tradition, can grow as a club like they have in the Bradford Cricket League, there is compensation in spades. Some of the traditionalists will never be convinced, but sport never stays the same.

Look at the West Riding County Amateur Football League- once the most powerful amateur football league underneath the non league feeder leagues in Yorkshire. Now the league does not exist as clubs like Silsden AFC, Brighouse Town, Albion Sports, Hemsworth Miners Welfare, Silsden, Steeton, Campion and Golcar have climbed onto the ladder of non league football.

Campion CC

Some say that the Bradford Cricket League has lost its glint, and is not as powerful as the old days. This could be said about every senior league in Britain given the collapse of U17 cricket, and the declining numbers in junior sides below that level.

Others would argue that it must still be the most competitive league in Yorkshire when one notes how Methley CC struggled all last season against relegation from the Premier League despite having Yorkshire players Matthew Waite and Jarrod Warner in their ranks!

There are still issues and we all have opinions on how we can improve the structure. My take is that the Premier and First Division divisions should remain the same, and the last two divisions regionalised. It’s a fact that the smaller clubs in the lower divisions have more trouble staffing teams to travel from the wrong side of Bradford to Wakefield or Pontefract. This extreme journey might just apply a couple of times a season, but it can be off putting to the less ambitious cricketer, and those that work Saturday mornings.

Regionalisation could be awkward bureaucratically, but non league football can cope with far wider areas to consider. Look at Silsden AFC who have had to move from Northern Counties East to Northern Counties West in the football non-league structure.

On the plus side there appears to be nothing wrong with the Bradford Cricket League when one looks at how many contracted Yorkshire players played in the league last season- James Logan (Farsley), Joshua Poysden (Farsley), Tom Kohler-Cadmore (Cleckheaton), Tim Bresnan ( Hartshead Moor), Daniel Revis (Bradford & Bingley), Matthew Waite (Methley), Jarrod Waite (Methley), Jordan Thompson (Pudsey St Lawrence)and Matthew Revis (Farsley)- to be joined next season by Ben Coad (Townville – pictured below) and Moin Ashraf (Morley).

Warwickshire v Yorkshire - Specsavers County Championship: Division One
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: Ben Coad of Yorkshire celebrates after trapping Rikki Clarke LBW during the Specsavers County Championship One match between Warwickshire and Yorkshire at Edgbaston on April 14, 2017 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Reg Nelson is an unofficial historian of Bradford Premier Cricket League, a Woodlands CC League Delegate, Saltaire CC Life Member and local league ground-hopper. You can read his history of the Bradford Cricket League on VINCIT from this link.

Follow Reg Nelson on Twitter: @regnels1


Thanks for visiting VINCIT, the online journal of Bradford Sport History which is code and club agnostic. You can find more features about cricket and other sports from the drop down menu.

Future planned articles will feature 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.

Pictured below Roberts Park, home of Saltaire CC

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.


The Sad Demise of Bradford Northern 1963-64 by Ian Hemmens

Over recent years there has been a terrible feeling of deja-vu with regards to the troubles faced by the city’s premier Rugby League club. As the Bradford Bulls, the club had reached the very heights of the sport reaching the pinnacle as World Club Champions, Serial Super League and Challenge Cup Winners. Over ambition, dubious ownership and the eternal problem of Odsal have conspired a downfall few would have forecast during the glory days.

Now, transport back to 1950, the then Bradford Northern were arguably the sports premier club having just achieved a hat-trick of appearances in the the prestigious Challenge Cup, a playing squad full of internationals featuring some of the biggest names in the sport. If you had said to one of the faithful back then that within 13 years the club would have been liquidated after a terminal decline which culminated in a pathetic attendance for one game of a paltry 324 in the vast Odsal bowl that had just 9 years earlier held a World Record crowd of 102,569 for a Challenge Cup Final Replay, you would have been laughed all the way down Manchester Road!

Before we get to that sad occasion we must go back to the glory days of the immediate post war era, the great players of that era started to grow old together and although certain ones were replaced by arguably stronger players who would in turn become club legends, the club slowly lost ground on its opponents, selling players to rival clubs, not replacing proper quality like for like. Huge stars like Ernest Ward & Ken Traill were allowed to move on, others like the great Trevor Foster finally bowed to old Father time and retired. Charismatic Chairman Harry Hornby pulled 2 rabbits out of the hat with the signings of Kiwis Joe Phillips & Jack McLean who went on to become bona fide club legends but they weren’t replaced but the same quality and then when even the lesser players were sold off, the quality dipped even further. The club took a massive hit in the mid-50s when Harry Hornby had to step down due to ill health. Without its major backer and his entrepreneurial ways the club became almost rudderless.

Set against these problems, the post war years had seen a change in lifestyle by a population worn down by 6 years of war. People were wanting a brighter future than had been given to the population after the carnage of the Great War where promises weren’t kept, life was a huge struggle and the Great Depression of the 1930s killed off much of the trade people relied on for just basic living. By the 1950s, Northern were still having to compete with the Citys 2 professional Soccer clubs, 2 dog tracks, a successful Speedway side, a reasonable Rugby Union side at Lidget Green and this was all before non sporting activities begin to be brought into consideration. A boom in picture houses, dance halls, pubs & clubs as well as milk & coffee bars for the ‘new teenagers’ that ‘appeared’ with the arrival of Rock ‘n Roll from the USA. Homes were starting to be able to buy televisions, cars were becoming more affordable and all these things had a pull on the monies people put aside for leisure activities.

We also now have to face the problem of the ‘elephant in the room’, Odsal Stadium itself. The huge bowl has always seemed to have a life of its own climate wise the cost of maintaining such a huge area has always been a millstone for Northern & the Bulls. Even though the likes of Speedway, Stock Cars, Kabbadi & all others sorts of events brought in valuable income, they also brought with them additional costs due to safety aspects pertaining especially to the motor sport events. In the late 50s the club ran a successful pools competition, a precursor to todays lotteries but in their wisdom they dispensed with its creator who took his idea to Keighley RL and created similar success over at Lawkholme Lane. The club had to go cap in hand to the council twice in a 4 year period to try & renegotiate their rental position and to ask for help and although these gave a temporary respite, the financial spiral was still in a downward direction. Crowds had plummeted from an average of 15000 in 1950 to barely 2500 by the late 50s. These would continue to fall as the fare on offer declined. At shareholder meetings, disgruntled fans would ask why the best talent was continually being sold off, why wasn’t there any visible investment from the Board and what were the Boards plans for halting the decline but sadly there weren’t any answers coming from the Board. They seemed trapped in the downward spiral and unable to find solutions.

1963 saw the low point when a meagre 345 souls turned up to see Northern lose 0-29 to Barrow in a game which brought in just £30 in gate receipts. The clock was now ticking and only one more fixture was fulfilled against Leigh before the full truth of the situation emerged to shocked fans. The headline in the T&A on Tuesday December 10th read ‘The End of the Line for Northern’, Money Difficulties mean we can’t go on. The whole Rugby League community fell into shock, never mind the Bradford public. The RL were informed that the club were unable to fulfill their fixtures as there simply wasn’t any money in the kitty.

Trevor Foster-1964-59

Within days, club legend Trevor Foster (pictured) and assorted business associates offered to take over the club if the present board would resign & liquidate it. As 1963 moved into 1964, meetings were had with the Foster consortium and the RL, shareholders, creditors, the Council to find a way forward but the RL dropped a bombshell announcing that as Northern hadn’t been able to fulfill their fixtures, their membership of the RL was at risk and their players could be classed as free agents & able to sign for other clubs as their contracts hadn’t been respected. This blow raged on into the March of 1964 when it was announced that with no further progress in respect of protecting the players contracts, the RL had no other option but to terminate Northerns membership. March 18th 1964 ultimately was the day the founder member of the Northern Union became extinct.

Club legend Joe Phillips had now joined the fight with Foster to save the club and explore any possible avenues open to keeping Northern going. A consortium was quickly formed and public opinion was gauged before approaching the council about the Odsal problem. The authorities thankfully gave their permission for the bowl to be used if the consortium could form a new club. March 23rd saw them then approach the RL for membership for the new club. A public meeting at St Georges Hall attracted over 1500 to hear the consortiums plans. There were pledges of support from former legends Ernest & Donald Ward, Eric Batten & Vic Darlison. Former Coach Dai Rees also sent a telegram with the inspiring message of ‘Its a long way from Birch Lane to Wembley, it can be done again’.

St Georges Hall 1964

A sum of £5000 was needed by the RL as assurances against the fixtures and other requirements. A £1 share option was started to run the club day to day whilst other donations flooded in along with further promises of assistance. Such a success was the share issue that the consortium were able to officially announce the formation of the new club on 20th April 1964. It would be named Bradford Northern (1964) Limited. By the middle of May the sum required by the RL had been reached and membership was granted for the new club. The prompt & proactive action by Trevor Foster had proved vital as any delay might have seen public enthusiasm & also that of the RL wane & possibly die. Even after such a problematic period, there was still an appetite for professional Rugby League in Bradford.

A ground to play on, fixtures to be looked forward to, the new club was up & running but it now needed a team that would be competitive. Fellow RL clubs were approached for any available players whilst from the previous club, only 6 were retained but they were only squad players. A better class was needed and the 1st signing was Jack Wilkinson from Wakefield Trinity who became Player/Coach. New players arrived almost daily with some of good quality & good potential also. The players such as young Scrum half Ian Brooke also from Trinity, Welsh forward Idwal Fisher along with others such as Levula, Lord, Rae finally saw the squad take some shape for the new season. They made their debut in the Headingley Sevens to create a familiarity between the new players. To the surprise of everyone the new squad took the tournament by storm winning the contest by beating Huddersfield 16-7 in the final. Northern were back!

1st Game -1964-25

The months of worry & trepidation, the hours of hard work to build the new club all came to fruition on Saturday 22nd August 1964 in front of a magnificent crowd of 13,542, the opponents being the beaten 1964 Challenge Cup finalists Hull Kingston Rovers which despite a valiant & honourable fight by the new club saw them succumb to a 20-34 defeat. The spirit shown gave the newclub home that they could at least be competitive. 2 more defeats followed both away at Hunslet & Featherstone before finally on 2nd September a first victory was gained with a 20-12 win over Salford.

1st game v Hull KR

Over the season stability was maintained and a final position of 17th out of 30 clubs was a very creditable & respectable return to the sport. Initial struggles in that first season gave the management an idea of the standards required and it was quickly decided that new blood would be required to compete. Of the 1st starting 13, only 5 would be still there at the final game. Names who would become well loved by the Odsal crowds, Dave Stockwell, Terry Clawson, Alan Rhodes & Tommy Smales amongst them. A mammoth cost of £24,500 had been spent on team building brought a seasonal loss of £20,550 which was £12,451 over that which was the debt when the club had collapsed. The news of these figures brought about fears that another collapse was on the horizon. Such a large debt was surely unsustainable but by any means possible they managed to continue. The council in the meantime had kept its promise to upgrade Odsal and a massive bank of concrete terracing was laid at the Rooley Lane End. On the field the team started to gel the faithful fans were rewarded by a success in the 1965 Yorkshire Cup beating Hunslet 17-8 at Headingley.


After being back in existence only a matter of 14 short months, it was a great reward for everyone who had helped to reform the club and the fans who had backed them. Over the next few years, less choppier waters were entered and the club began once again began to progress towards the upper end of the table. Players of undoubted quality like Welsh stars Berwyn Jones & Terry Price arrived, Geoff Wrigglesworth & Ian Brooke all attained International class which in turn kept the club progressing and the turnstiles ticking over. For now, the club was back and although, several times in the future, problems of varying degrees and severity would hit the club, there would also be a couple of periods of real glory & reward for the club. Rugby League in Bradford is always and has always been a turbulent affair never far way form crisis but also glory to the highest the game can give.

As we speak, the club is again in a dark period of its existence and in fact not even present in Bradford with games for the forthcoming season due to be played in Dewsbury. A mixture of RL politics, bad ownership and the perennial problem of Odsal all no nearer being resolved. Who knows what the future holds, if there is indeed any future but looking back to 1964, it seemed like the end back then until honest people with the club at heart stepped up to save the club from extinction.

by Ian Hemmens

Ian is a regular contributor to VINCIT and has written widely about different sports in the district including boxing, soccer, cricket and speedway. You can find links to his other features about Bradford rugby from this link. Tweets: @IHemmens 

The drop down menu above provides links to features about Bradford sport history. This site is neither code nor club specific! Contributions welcome. 

The Bradford Rifles

We remember the serving and former players of Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue who gave their lives in World War One [1] yet it has long been overlooked that the connections between sport and the military in Bradford go back much further [2]. Remarkably it has been a theme completely overlooked by others in the study of the origins of Bradford sport, even by those with local knowledge claiming academic credentials. We know of Third Lanark FC, a club in Glasgow with military origins. English League club Macclesfield Town is another, descended from the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers formed in 1874. Locally, the Bradford Rifles FC had similar roots although by accident of history it is now an unfamiliar and long forgotten sporting identity.

Soldiering and Bradford’s military heritage

No-one talks about a military heritage in Bradford and few would consider that it had ever been a military town. However, in the second half of the nineteenth century joining the territorial army – or Volunteers as it was then known – represented a leisure activity. A consequence of this is that the identity of our football clubs became closely associated with popular support of the military.

The origins of the Volunteer Corps dates back to 1859 when a new territorial militia force was established in response to the fear of invasion from France. Bradford’s Volunteers comprised separate ‘rifle’ and ‘artillery’ corps and their history is particularly relevant as the movement was possibly the single most influential factor in driving the development of football in the town by popularising the game. This is not necessarily surprising given that the early history of clubs in Huddersfield and Hull during the 1860s was closely linked to the Volunteers and the use of drill fields to play on. The Halifax club, founded in 1873, had similar connections and originated out of a gymnasium which had connections with the Rifle Volunteers in the town. In Scotland where the volunteer movement was particularly strong, placenames in towns provide the clues – ‘Volunteer Park ‘or ‘Drill Field’ being common.

Yet the extent to which the militia shaped the sporting culture in Bradford has seemingly been overlooked and forgotten. The memory of Jimmy Speirs and other serving or former players of Bradford City who were killed in World War One thus needs to be seen within the context of a much longer tradition.

The Volunteers amplified local patriotism in Bradford which became infused into the culture of the town’s leading clubs and Bradford FC in particular. The Volunteers promoted athleticism as a force for good and another dimension to this was the notion that sports events were for the purpose of charity fund raising. It was not simply about playing the game and nor was it just about winning. Bradford FC assumed the same sense of civic duty and purpose that the Volunteers espoused in their own faintly comical manner that appealed to the vanity of many Bradfordians. Exactly the same sort of bombast which characterised the local leadership of the Volunteers in the 1860s and 1870s can be recognised in the ‘high and mighty’ attitude of Bradford FC in the 1880s.

Local Volunteers Corps

3rd WYRV Bradford crest

Unlike the yeomanry cavalry established in 1843, the Volunteer militia formed in 1859 was not intended to respond to civil unrest. Its role was entirely focused on national defence such that it could provide support to the army in the event of a national or imperial emergency, possibly also providing recruits. The specific role of the Artillery Volunteers was to manage coastal batteries and the Bradford corps regularly trained at Scarborough and Morecambe.

Rifle Volunteer battalions were first raised in Bradford in September, 1859 and drill training was initially organised at the ground of Bradford Cricket Club as well as in Manningham Park. This connection with the cricket club was the first link with Bradford sport and arose most likely from the enthusiasm of its commander, Lt-Col Harry Hirst who was also involved with the ‘Old Club’ (as Bradford CC was known). It was convenient because the cricket ground was one of the few available venues in Bradford for such activity.

In April, 1860 the original companies of Rifle Volunteers in Bradford were re-designated from 5th and 6th Yorkshire, West Riding Rifle Volunteer Corps to the 3rd Yorkshire, West Riding Rifle Volunteers Corps (3rd YWRRVC) [crest illustrated above and cap badge below] and in October of that year amalgamated with the 24th Corps from Eccleshill. The 39th Corps (based in Bingley, formed in 1861) was associated with the 3rd YWRRVC and relocated to Saltaire in 1871, disbanding in 1875. In 1887 the 3rd YWRRVC became the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment which continued to be based at Belle Vue barracks and a detachment served in South Africa between 1900 and 1904. (Detail from ‘The Rifle Volunteers’ by Ray Westlake, published in 1982).

The 2nd Yorkshire (West Riding) Artillery Volunteer Corps (2nd YWRAVC) was formed in October, 1860 and in 1874 it amalgamated with units from Heckmondwike and Bowling. In 1898 it became the 2nd West Riding of Yorkshire Royal Garrison Artillery (Volunteers). The Rifle and Artillery Volunteers were distinct from the Yeomanry Cavalry. Although all three corps were comprised of volunteers and had representation in Bradford, the 2nd West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry was not based in the town. Another more fundamental more point of difference was that eligibility for the latter was the possession of a horse.

The historical background of the Volunteer movement is that it came at the same time that a growing number of men were seeking recreational opportunities to make use of increased leisure time arising from the reduction in working hours. A consequence of the 1850 Factory Act was that workers had more leisure time thanks to the reduction in factory hours and a half day Saturday holiday being introduced. Opportunities for recreation were otherwise limited and the Rifle Volunteers met this demand in addition to providing various social activities.

What seems surprising is that a militarist organisation could command cross-party support in a town such as Bradford that had such a strong Nonconformist background. The consensus support is confirmed by the record of attendees at various events organised by the local Volunteers – balls, dinners and prize awards for example – from Conservative politicians such as Francis Powell, Henry Wickham and Henry Mitchell to Liberals and Nonconformists including William Forster and Titus Salt (who had two sons in the Volunteers). Ditto Henry Ripley who was first a Liberal MP, later an Independent MP and then a Conservative candidate.

Prominent industrialists were also involved. Forster was himself behind the formation of a Volunteer unit among his employees in Eccleshill in 1860 (later merged into the 3rd YWRRVC) and held the rank of Captain. Likewise, Major Ripley of HW Ripley & Co, based at Ripleyville in Bowling was closely involved with the 2nd YWRAVC. Harry Armitage, whose family business was also involved with dyeing (the same Lieutenant-Colonel Armitage, later President at Bradford City in 1907) was an officer in 2nd YWRAVC. Key figures in the 3rd YWRRVC were Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Sagar Hirst and Major William Shepherd whose family firms were involved with brewing and worsteds respectively. Both Hirst and Shepherd were members of Bradford Cricket Club. Both were active in the Conservative Party.

One reason why the Volunteers commanded local support is quite simply that, because the movement was popular and politically influential on a national basis, Bradford could not allow itself to be left behind. Apart from contributing to the defence of the realm however, politicians and religious leaders recognised that the Volunteer movement offered a positive example in terms of social conduct and physical well-being. It was also celebrated as a vehicle to foster better relations between the classes and could almost be described as a Boy Scouts movement for men.

Bfd Rifles cap badge.jpg

The Bradford Observer of 23 May, 1861 reported that a bazaar was held at St George’s Hall in aid of ‘the project for erecting a permanent armoury, drill room, and other offices for the Bradford Rifle Volunteer Corps, on ground between North Parade and Lumb Lane’ – the origin of Belle Vue Barracks. Stalls at the bazaar had the following slogans which summarise what the Volunteers saw as their guiding principles: ‘Be ready when wanted’; ‘Our hearths and homes’; ‘For defence, not defiance’; ‘To preserve peace, be prepared for war’; ‘For our Queen and country’; and ‘Labour conquers everything.’ The displays provided a succinct illustration of what the Volunteer movement stood for, allowing people to express their emotional attachment to Britain as well as to Bradford in defence of what people held dear to them. Patriotism in the wider sense was more than just the love of one’s country.

To get a sense of the spirit in which the Volunteer movement was established locally, the following quote by Revd W Busfield, rector of Keighley Parish Church at a meeting held to establish a Volunteer Rifle Corps for Keighley (Airedale Rifle Corps) in the Leeds Intelligencer of 25 August, 1860 is pertinent:

‘Apart from the importance of the rifle Volunteer movement, I may perhaps be permitted to state one or two reasons why it is an eminently wholesome and salutary one. The Anglo-Saxon race from time immemorial have been fond of vigorous exercises and outdoor amusements. Our gentry will have their hunting, their moors, and their stubble fields; our middle and lower classes their cricket, foot-ball and wrestling matches. Well: let them follow out these active tastes, by combining the useful and agreeable. Let the useful and able of our population devote a few of their leisure hours to drilling, playing, (if you will) at soldiers, but showing, should any serious occasion arise, that they can do something more than play. Again, in these manufacturing districts a little diversion from the everlasting din of trade might be pleasant. The first Napoleon used to call us a nation of shopkeepers, and though there is nothing discreditable in the honest pursuit of commerce, we may be too entirely and exclusively absorbed in it.

‘…whatever tends to union and brotherhood is most desirable. We have class arrayed against class, to the formenting of mutual jealousies. Something has to be done to mitigate this estrangement. There is a growing toleration of diversities of opinion, and a meeting together of ranks on something like terms of equality. In our churches and chapels the rich and poor meet as one, with the conscious acknowledgement that ‘the Lord is the maker of them all’. Here is an opportunity for joining hand and heart on the same drilling ground, with no other rivalry than who shall be best and soonest fitted for serving his country in the hour of need.’

The general sentiments were consistent with those of the Bradford Cricket Club fifteen years previously and the Volunteers followed the same track as a focal, classless institution in the town which also promoted sporting activity. Hardly surprising perhaps that the leadership of the Rifle Volunteers was filled by prominent members of the cricket club, ironically to the detriment of the ‘Old Club’ which was deprived of their active involvement.

The culture of the Volunteer movement was aligned with that of sport because it fostered – indeed encouraged – competition between different corps who were de facto representatives of their towns. They competed with each other in a number of ways through shooting contests, membership numbers or the attainment of skills and by the late 1870s there were football games with corps raising their own teams. In so doing the Volunteers helped to institutionalise rivalries and this was seen to be in the interests of raising standards of military preparedness for the love of one’s country. Competitive rivalries of this kind were considered a positive phenomenon and equated local pride and patriotism with that at a national level.

Bradford’s volunteers

A good reference on the national Volunteer movement is provided by Hugh Cunningham’s book, The Volunteer Force (published in 1975). The point he makes is that to be a Volunteer required commitment of time, effort and money and despite the fact that membership invariably entailed some financial outlay, there was considerable enthusiasm amongst the working class. Cunningham observed that ‘the Volunteers were fired not so much by love of Britain as by pride in, and a sense of belonging in, their local community’ and indeed this was definitely so in Bradford. His further comments are equally relevant to Bradford: ‘More important, the local corps did not stem from some fringe element in the community, but were from the beginning associated with the local elite. They thus quickly came to play a part in local functions, and their success or failure was seen as a commentary on the civic or village leaders, and on the community as a whole.’

In January, 1860 there was a meeting at St George’s Hall to encourage membership of the Volunteer movement in Bradford on a par with Liverpool and Manchester. It invoked people to put as much energy into the movement as they did with regards to their business, above all emphasising pride in Bradford and the willingness of its people to undertake a patriotic duty. Politically, membership of the Volunteers would have promoted a conservative, unionist outlook.

Cunningham describes the Volunteers as ‘the spectator sport of mid-Victorian Britain’ and again this was true in Bradford. In June, 1862 fifty thousand people witnessed a review of the Volunteers at Peel Park during the Whitsun Gala and three years later, in 1865 sixty thousand watched a mock battle. In October, 1862 there was a ‘sham battle’ in the Upper Park at St. Ives near Bingley with 3rd YWRRVC contesting participating alongside corps from Guiseley, Keighley and Bingley and the day’s events were followed by band music and a firework display. It was described in the Bradford Observer of 9 October, 1862 as an ‘exciting but bloodless battle‘ and the scene of ‘an action fought under General Fairfax, in 1642, and where he encamped.’ The event was reported to have created great interest in Bingley with flags and banners on display and attended by a large number of people from visiting towns that raised £60 from the entrance fee.

The Volunteers brought a sense of pomp to events of the time being prominent in the parade for the opening of the Town Hall in 1873, the formal opening of Lister Park in 1875, the funeral of Sir Titus Salt in January, 1877 or the Royal Visit in 1882. There had been a tradition of military bands playing at Bradford CC games in the 1840s and this was inherited by the band of 3 YWRRVC who regularly played at the club’s Great Horton Road ground. (NB the Royal Visit in 1882 was commemorated by the Norman Arch at the corner of Lister Park in 1883 – the current stone structure replaced the original wooden edifice erected in 1882 and it was constructed with stone from Christ Church on Darley Street, Bradford which had been demolished in 1879).

The Artillery and Rifle Volunteers mobilised public support for donations and prizes, and encouraged attendance at events, whether band concerts, reviews in the park or dress balls. In this way they promoted a Bradford identity and loyalty. The Volunteers embraced civic consciousness and represented the town as its contribution to national defence and as a display of patriotism in Bradford. In short the Volunteers represented the pride and honour of the town on a national – it could be claimed, imperial – stage. Furthermore, if Bradford CC had been an early example of ‘Bradfordism’ and local patriotism, the Volunteers helped raise it to a new level and there would be a natural succession of this sentiment to the town’s senior football club.

Where the Volunteers had a direct impact on football was through the promotion of athleticism and physical activity. The philosophy was that to be effective in their duty, it would require more than military technique. This was as much to do with physical training as the need to make the Volunteers an integral part of the community from which they had been drawn. Speaking at the bazaar in May, 1861 (reported in the Bradford Observer) Lt-Colonel Lister, Commandant of the Rifle Volunteers spoke thus:

‘They wished to see the ground (ie Belle Vue) a place where, during the summer months, those citizens who felt so disposed might witness the drill of the corps from time to time, and also listen to the playing of the band. They proposed also, that the ground should be rendered instrumental for the encouragement of all kinds of manly games. For his own part, he should be glad if they could form a good cricket club. It was true that there was one club in the town which had rendered good service in this respect, and it might be that this ground could be rendered of value to the same end, either in connection with that club, or in some other way. His sole desire was to see this ground so employed that it should conduce to the healthy exercise of the population. There was nothing so clear as this, that we were too incessantly engaged in work which was destroying the mind and the brain, and that it would be a great gain to the community if we could regularly obtain such a variety of out-door relaxation as would tend to counteract this detrimental tendency.’

WP_20150516_13_12_12_Pro 1.jpg

From the outset therefore sport was identified as a means of providing an esprit de corps as well as an antidote to urban life and an example to all. In the 1860s, the leadership of the 3rd YWRRVC adopted a proselytising role to promote athleticism. Again, there is a parallel with what Bradford CC had previously considered to be its role in promoting recreational activity in the town from the 1840s.

The Rifle Volunteers were synonymous with the annual athletics festivals held at the Bradford Cricket Club’s Great Horton Road ground between 1869 and 1874. The festivals provided an invaluable public relations opportunity and members of the Volunteers (and the 3rd YWRRVC in particular) were omnipresent either as contestants or band musicians and its officers both organised events and awarded the prizes. Lieutenant-Colonel Hirst acted as President of the co-ordinating body, Bradford Athletic Sports.

The Volunteer movement was at the forefront of athleticism in Bradford and gyms were incorporated in the drill hall at Belle Vue in 1861 and at Hallfield Road in August, 1878. Membership of the Volunteers thereby provided access to facilities that were otherwise only available through private subscription. Involvement in gymnastic displays and athletic festivals provided an opportunity to promote athletic prowess and derive attention, not least recruit new members. For individual Volunteers it was also a great way to show off and derive local fame.

Perhaps not surprisingly, in August, 1875 a football club was established for members of the 3rd YWRRVC although, as mentioned previously there is no evidence that a Rifles cricket club became established to the same extent. The story of that club is told in a succeeding section and it had an important role for the corps in both recruiting new members as well as generating support for the Volunteers from the Bradford public. Football was justified as a suitable form of winter activity with drill tending to be confined to the summer. However, the officers may have also considered preparation for a football or cricket game as a better way to motivate the Volunteers than the repetition of marching or cleaning rifles.

The Manningham drill hall

The Bradford Observer of 5 December, 1861 reported the opening of the new drill hall by Lieutenant–Colonel Lister of Manningham Hall and its description of the building evokes the image of a Tintagel Castle in the midst of Manningham. The glamour of the building would have encouraged new recruits and its popularity is confirmed by the fact that season tickets were sold to the public allowing entry to the parade ground to watch the weekly parades.

The premises are fenced in with substantial stone walls, and are entered by gateways leading from Manningham Lane and Lumb Lane. The parade ground, which is upwards of an acre and a half in extent, is covered near the building with asphalt. The building, which is constructed with stone from the neighbourhood, is in the Italian style of architecture, and presents towards the parade ground a front 150 feet in length; it rests upon a raised terrace twelve feet wide, roofed in so as to form a covered walkway or verandah. The front and sides of the building are flanked with loopholed turrets so constructed that each face may be commanded by the rifle, and the whole, if necessary rendered defensible. The turrets are surmounted with flagstaffs, and the building with ornamental ventilators.

The building internally comprises a drill room, 97 feet by 60 feet and 30 feet high to the apex. For evening drill the room will be brilliantly lighted with gas. In an elevated recess there is a gallery capable of containing about forty musicians; it is also adapted as a platform for speakers. Communicating with the drill room is the armoury, 44 feet by 20 feet, against the walls of which are about 400 rifles. Corresponding with the armoury on the opposite side of the drill-room, there is the gymnasium, 44 feet by 20 feet fitted up with all the modern requisites for gymnastic exercises. There are also within the main building an officers’ orderly room, committee room and store room, all of ample dimensions. To the rear is a stable for the officers’ horses and at the side near Lumb Lane a very comfortable two storied dwelling house, occupied by the drill sergeant. The total cost of construction is £2,000.’ In 1893 the building was replaced with a more utilitarian structure described by contemporary observers as reminiscent of a mill building.

The following illustrations date from 1893. The architectural style adopted in 1893 was consistent with other Volunteer Barracks in northern cities. The best surviving example of which I am aware is on Norfolk Street near Bramall Lane in Sheffield and there is another in Hulme, Manchester which still exists as a territorial centre.

1893-02-14 new Volunteers barracks at Belle Vue (2) 1.jpg

1893-02-14 new Volunteers barracks at Belle Vue (3) 1.jpg

The 2nd YWRAVC was originally based at Riddiough’s Hotel, Peel Park Hotel and the 5th  YWRAVC (from Bowling) at Bowling Iron Works. The amalgamation created urgency to relocate and at the annual prize awards in December, 1874 it was announced that the corps was seeking a building of its own, ‘more convenient and in every way suitable.’ Correspondents to the press complained about getting to Eccleshill, a factor of Bradford’s urban geography and deficient cross-town connections. In 1878 the Artillery Volunteers moved to new premises at Hallfield Road, occupying a school property that had been vacated following the opening of the new Bradford Grammar School in June, 1873 and donated by its commanding officer Major Ripley. Later, in 1894 the 2nd YWRAVC moved to larger premises off Valley Parade, immediately above and parallel to South Parade. The choice of this final address demonstrates that Valley Parade was regarded as accessible due to its relatively central location, and is confirmation of the site’s contemporary appeal.

The adjacent Belle Vue Hotel inevitably had close links with the barracks and served as a meeting room for officers. It was similarly associated with the history of Manningham FC and later that of Bradford City. [3]

Other public houses with links to the barracks included the Volunteers’ Arms on Green Lane and the Barrack Tavern on Lumb Lane. A connection with Manningham FC was that two of its celebrity players, Rob Pocock and Fred Clegg were the respective landlords in the 1890s.

The appeal of the Volunteers

It is quite possible that sport was the principal reason why men joined the Volunteers. As regards football, the 3rd YWRRVC had its own ground at Girlington and it would have provided many with an induction to, and enthusiasm for, the game.

beer ticket

Recreational opportunities were a big attraction to joining the Volunteers. Other than football and athletics, rifle shooting was particularly popular with prizes available for winners of contests on Baildon Moor. Major Shepherd promoted target shooting through the West Riding Rifle Association, linked to the National Rifle Association and comprising many former members of the Volunteers.

3wyrvc button 3 1

Membership of the Volunteers would have provided a degree of respectability and social prominence that would not otherwise have been accessible to people. The uniform itself was appealing to many, a handsome uniform being described as ‘the passport to the heart of a dame’ by the Bradford Observer in December, 1859. The original uniform of the 3rd YWRRVC in 1859 was reported in the Bradford Observer to be dark grey with black facings, beaded in red. This was changed to dark green in 1863 but in June, 1875, at the request of the members (and with benefactions from Lieutenant-Colonel Hirst, Major Shepherd and Major Muller), scarlet jackets with green facings were adopted to look more like regular soldiers. That same year the new Bradford Rifles Football Club then adopted scarlet and white as its colours.


Attendance at annual camps, mainly at Scarborough, were also popular judging from participation levels which averaged around 90% of total members. Commenting on the reduction in membership of the 3rd YWRRVC in 1877, Colonel Hirst was quoted in the Leeds Mercury of 20 December, 1877 that one reason for this ‘was that the corps did not go into camp at Scarborough this year, and he was sorry that the heavy expense prevented the corps going every year.’ The following year the Volunteers returned to Scarborough and coincidentally enjoyed a recovery in numbers.

Additionally, the Volunteers participated in national events, including shooting competitions at Wimbledon and regular social occasions, such as dress balls that were heavily reported in the press. National and regional reviews were organised on a regular basis which appear to have been memorable occasions. As at Peel Park, displays by the Volunteers were well attended and established a precedent for mass spectator events. One such review was that of West Riding Volunteers at Doncaster race course in August, 1862 which involved 4,000 participants or which 270 from 3rd YWRRVC. The popularity of the event was demonstarted by the attendance of 10,000 spectators including what was described by the Bradford Observer as the ‘elite of the county’. The following month there was a review at Huddersfield involving 1,300 Volunteers and attended by 15,000 spectators.


Subsequent reports of the Doncaster event suggest that it was a fairly riotous excursion with guns having been fired from the windows of railway carriages. The Bradford corps had been particularly disappointed by the fact that not only were they delayed in boarding their return train at Doncaster but several of the carriages booked by them had been filled with civilians and part of the Leeds corps. ‘The officers and privates had left great quantities of refreshments in the carriages for their return which included wines of various kinds…To their great disappointment, a large portion of the refreshments had been stolen. Of a large quantity of wine, only about half a bottle of claret was left.’ A commotion on the platform had involved the police and the Bradford Observer noted that: ‘The Bradford corps was treated with great rudeness by the officials connected with the Great Northern Railway.’ The train eventually arrived in Bradford at 1am having left Doncaster at around 10pm.

Much of the staple activity however was military drill which primarily involved marching around Bradford. This served a double purpose of making the Volunteers visible as well as keeping the men occupied and which conjures mental images of the childrens TV programme, ‘Trumpton’ combined with the grand old Duke of York. The suggestion that it was marching for the sake of marching is supported by a letter from a disgruntled member of the Volunteers wrote to the Bradford Observer on 1 November, 1873 complaining about ‘route marching’ around Bradford which ‘the officers interpreted as a march through the streets, stumbling along slippery paving stones, and visiting some of our charming back streets, and then back, tired and grumbling to the barracks.’ The lack of enthusiasm about marching may have encouraged the formation of a football team in 1875 as a means of raising morale.

Public exposure was also maintained by band performances in Lister Park. On the other hand, shooting practice in the park was less well received. In April, 1874 correspondence to the Bradford Observer referred to ‘the nuisance thrust upon us whether we like it or not – parading the best part of the park, frightening our children almost into fits, and wasting our money in useless cracking of guns – is more than I can swallow.’ Another writer asked: ‘Is the presence of our valiant defenders of the volunteer corps absolutely essential to the safety of those who frequent Manningham Park…There must be several other places in the neighbourhood of the town, where these men can play the soldier without being an annoyance to the peaceable and music-loving frequenters of Manningham Park.’

Attitudes to the military

1879-03-15 who shot the dog re volunteers 1.jpg

The Volunteer movement nationally was held to a degree of ridicule as a result of a member accidentally shooting a dog in Wandsworth Park, London in 1860 that led to the cry ‘who shot the dog?.’ Those in Bradford were not immune and the Leeds Times of 22 December, 1883 recorded a speech at a prize giving event in Bradford: ‘At the beginning of the Volunteer movement, and for years after that a Volunteer could scarcely walk the streets without being scoffed at, if not by men, at least by boys.’

However, the fact that the Volunteer movement was enduring confirms that it was both popular as well as credible. Cunningham comments that recruitment peaked when there were imperial crises and the record in Bradford was consistent with this. Notable was the surge in recruitment in 1884 at the time of the Egypt / Sudan crisis.

The attitude of the Bradford public to the Volunteers stands in contrast to that in respect of the regular army. In the 1840s, the popularity of the military in Bradford had been compromised by the anti-social behaviour of soldiers billeted in the town, one of the reasons behind the formation of the yeomanry at that time. Proposals to establish a military camp on Rombalds Moor in January, 1873 provoked considerable opposition among local people prior to being finally rejected in August of that year. As an alternative the barracks at Bradford Moor were expanded and instead of Rombalds Moor, the War Office selected Catterick which is now Europe’s biggest garrison town. How history could have been different.

The Bradford Observer of 8 January, 1873 reported that ‘an announcement was made some time ago that it was the intention of the Government to establish a military encampment on Rombald’s Moor’ but that recently ‘an inspector from the War Department has been in the district inspecting the locality, and it is generally understood that he has recommended that a tract of moorland of from 6,000 to 8,000 acres should be selected for a military camp on Rombald’s Moor, and that the land to be acquired will stretch over from Ilkley across the moor to Bingley.’ The choice was determined by the railway links in both Airedale and Wharfedale as well as the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Bingley ‘for the purpose of conveying the explosive stores.’

The suggestion drew opposition from people in Ilkley who feared ‘it would be disastrous for the town as a place of resort for visitors who there seek to be reinvigorated.’ A meeting of townspeople was told that it was to be the Aldershot of the north with up to 30,000 soldiers encamped and this prompted concern that ‘Satan would find mischief for idle hands’ who happened to be in the prime of their life.

A committee was formed comprising residents of Ilkley and Keighley to protest against the camp and in a letter to the Secretary of State for War included among its objections the ‘pernicious influence of young female lodgers.’ Specifically, it referred to the ‘peculiar temptations that would beset the large number of females who, owing to the higher scale of wages now prevailing, are enabled to live in lodgings and thus withdraw from parental authority and guardianship.’ However, the inveterate correspondent ‘Hortonian’ declared his support for the encampment in a letter to the Bradford Observer on 13 March, 1873 and suggested that apart from generating trade for the district it would be convenient in the case of rioting in Bradford.

Finally, on 9 August, 1873 the Bradford Observer reported that the War Office had abandoned the proposal on account of the uneven land and the ‘severity of the weather to which troops would be exposed during the colder months on such an elevated position.’ The women of Ilkley were safe.

The Bradford Volunteers were never called upon to fight. However, in 1884, at the time of the Egyptian crisis there was heightened excitement that provided the background to Manningham FC adopting claret and amber, the colours of the West Yorkshire Regiment. There was widespread speculation about a possible French invasion and in the event of Yorkshire troops being sent to Sudan, the Volunteers were on standby to provide cover at home. (NB The Bradford Rifle Volunteers of the 3rd West Riding Corps based at Belle Vue – in close proximity to Valley Parade – had close links to the West Yorkshire Regiment.)

How popular were the Volunteers?

On the face of it, the numbers involved with the Volunteers seem low. In 1871 the population of Bradford was 146,000 whilst at that time there were only 800 members in the various Bradford Volunteer corps. Hugh Cunningham wrote that Volunteers represented around 2% of the male population in Yorkshire, aged 15-49 between 1862 and 1881 whereas my estimate for Bradford in 1871 is that less than 1% of the population in this age group were members at that time.

Nevertheless, the statistics are misleading at face value and understate the significance of the movement. In 1884 it was reported that a total of 5,350 men had been members of the 3rd YWRRVC (excluding the artillery corps) since 1861. This number is broadly consistent with Cunningham’s analysis that the average period of membership was fairly low, often no more than three years and likely the period of adulthood before marriage. By that measure alone the proportion of adult males in Bradford who had been members at some stage of their life would have been much higher, possibly 8% (one in twelve) or more.

The significance of the Volunteers was more to do with the level of participation in the constituency from which they were drawn, by coincidence the same group behind the popularity of football in the 1870s. Cunningham concluded firstly that the median age of Volunteers was youthful – typically late teens to early twenties – becaming younger towards the end of the century, and secondly that the Volunteers tended to be drawn from middle class and artisan backgrounds. My estimate is that the total number of males aged 15-30 years in 1861 would have been around 20,000, increasing to around 24,000 in 1871. Of those I doubt that more than 7,500 were in the core catchment demographic at any one time and that being the case, underlying participation in the Volunteers in 1871 would have been in excess of 10% (ie more than one in ten of young males from middle class and artisan backgrounds).

In practice, participation in the Volunteers was restricted to those within close proximity of a drill hall (in Eccleshill, Manningham or Bowling) which means that the effective participation rate was even higher, maybe between 15-20% (which is to say one in seven, maybe one in five). Specifically, in a district such as Manningham where a drill hall was within easy reach, participation would have been greatest and if my estimates are correct it implies that membership was both fashionable and relatively commonplace.

Generous column inches in the local press was a product of media management but it also alludes to the popularity of the Volunteers in Bradford among the same socio-economic group that purchased those newspapers – again, the same group or constituency behind the take-off in football in the 1870s. Hence my strong belief is that among members of the middle and skilled working classes, the Volunteer movement was an extremely influential agent in shaping their behaviour and leisure practice and in Manningham, particularly so. What it meant is that the Volunteer movement helped popularise football, facilitate participation and encourage interest in the game.

Judged from reports of annual prize awards there is no evidence that the Bradford Rifle Volunteers suffered a loss of membership in the 1870s as a consequence of football offering an alternative attraction, a phenomenon that Cunningham says occurred in other parts of the country. A possible reason for this was that there was limited capacity within Bradford football clubs for additional members, a factor of land constraints that put a cap on how many clubs could exist (or teams fielded) in the first place. In my opinion the Volunteers retained and continued to recruit members locally for the very reason that the 3rd YWRRVC provided the means for its members to play. In other words there was hardly any incentive for someone to leave the Volunteers on account of wanting to play football because he had a better chance to do so with them. Besides, such was the reputation of the Volunteers as being at the forefront of athleticism in Bradford that it would have helped retain members. However this did not continue and by January, 1891 it was reported in The Yorkshireman that members were being lost to football, cricket and cycling.

In my opinion the significance of the 3rd YWRRVC in particular is that they made playing football a legitimate, respectable and also fashionable pursuit through promotion of a cult of athleticism as the basis of military preparedness. The Rifles club introduced many Volunteers to football and team listings in newspapers confirm that a number of individuals moved on to play with local clubs, including such as Manningham Clarence FC, a forerunner to Manningham FC.

Officers, Non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and privates serving in the 3rd YWRRVC were active members in each of the early football clubs, Bradford FC included. This went some way to define the nature of class relations between players of different backgrounds in the same teams but, equally as significant, it would have lowered the entry barriers for (skilled) working class players to participate in the game. An illustration of how the Volunteers democratised football is provided by the fact that when the Bradford Rifles played its first game in March, 1875 the team comprised two officers and nine NCOs. By the time of the fixture with Bingley in February, 1877 there were two officers in the side but only four NCOs.

The Volunteers encouraged a Bradford identity and the notion of a sense of purpose about their activities. Quite likely the Volunteers brought with them a military, objectives-focused attitude to the game that culturally paved the way to professionalism. In other words, their influence was as much to do with democratising football in Bradford as making it even more single-minded, played less for the sake of playing and more for the purpose of winning in fulfilment of a civic duty.

In the absence of member details it is impossible to gauge the numbers concerned but anecdotal evidence suggests strong representation of Volunteers within both the Bradford FC and Manningham FC teams. Members of the Volunteers and players from the 3rd YWRRVC football club were heavily represented among new joiners to Bradford FC in 1879 and in my opinion were behind a subtle shift in culture at the club following its relaunch at Park Avenue in 1880.

Manningham FC likewise had members from the same background and this goes a long way to explain why the club adopted claret and amber. The proximity of Belle Vue barracks similarly explains how Manningham FC (and later Bradford City) operated with minimal facilities at Valley Parade for so long and how the links with the Volunteers were sustained. The gym facilities were used for training and similarly the barracks were adopted as changing rooms until 1903 when facilities were finally constructed at the Bradford End of the Valley Parade ground. It was also the practice for Manningham FC to rent the Drill Shed for annual club meetings. (In 1906 the club adopted the Artillery Barracks on Cottingley Terrace off Valley Parade as its headquarters prior to the development of offices at the bottom of Burlington Terrace two years’ later.)

An advert in the Bradford City AFC programme for the fixture with Everton on 29th March, 1913 for the National Service League confirms the sympathy among the club’s leadership for military training as a form of patriotic duty. The National Service League was established in 1902 and lobbied for compulsory military training for home defence. For the generations involved with the Rifle Volunteers this would have struck a chord and is another illustration of the political outlook of the Valley Parade leadership that was strongly Conservative and imperialist in its support [4].

National Service League 29-Mar-13

Bradford Caledonian FC

A good number of the Volunteer soldiers were members of Bradford Caledonian FC during its short existence between 1873-79 and the connections between the two bodies provide good reason to assume close cultural and social affiliations. In turn, alumni of that club were hugely influential in the early history of both Bradford FC at Park Avenue and Manningham FC at Carlisle Road and later, Valley Parade. The name provides clues of the Scottish ancestry of certain members with Bradford Caledonian clubs having been long-established in Bradford since the early decades of the nineteenth century.

Among them were Arthur Perkins (a former member of Bradford Zingari FC) who moved to Bradford FC in 1877 and later acted as secretary of that club, most notably at the time of the infamous dispute with Manningham in March, 1887 and James Freeman, later President of Manningham FC. WF Frost, who first played for Caledonian in 1874 and then the Rifles in 1875 (and who also guested for Bradford Zingari in 1877), later joined Bradford FC and served as a committee member at the beginning of the 1890s. The Heron cousins – Albert and Ernest – who lived on Hallfield Road and Salem Street, undertook administrative responsibilities for Manningham FC and Bradford Caledonian respectively. Ernest’s occupation as an office assistant probably made him qualified by default.


Others included the three Sim brothers who had been brought up on Southfield Square in Manningham. Their father, a minister of the United Presbyterian Chapel on Simes Street in Bradford, had died in 1864 when the boys were in their early teens. William in particular established a reputation as a keen sportsman, representing Manningham Albion Cricket Club in 1868 and then Bradford FC between 1870 and 1874. In 1874 he also played for Bradford Juniors possibly as a guest player to make up the numbers. At the start of the 1874/75 season he joined Bradford Caledonian and was instrumental in the launch of the Bradford Rifles club in August, 1875 of which one of his brothers was also a member. By the 1878/79 season he was captaining Bradford United and for the final two seasons of his career he played for Bradford FC once more. In total he played for at least five different Bradford sides and what appears to have led him to leave Bradford FC in the first place was its relocation from Girlington to Apperley Bridge in 1874.

By 1874 William Sim had been promoted to sergeant in 3rd YWRRVC and was active in its affairs, regularly winning prizes in rifle contests. He personified a local patriotism and hence his enthusiasm not only for the Rifles football club but later Bradford United and after 1879, Bradford FC.

The medal is that of Sergeant Slater of the Bradford Rifles awarded in a shooting contest in 1880. In 1875 he had been a founder member of Bradford Rifles FC.

The Belle Vue Barracks

In 2016 the Belle Vue Barracks on Manningham Lane were closed, thus ending a military heritage dating back nearly 155 years. With suitable investment and the sort of imagination that our Victorian forebearers displayed, the site could be utilised as an indoor training facility or sports centre. It would be a fabulous way to renew a sporting tradition and the link with Bradford City and a better alternative to the prospect of it becoming derelict.

John Dewhirst

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

The author is keen to make contact with local collectors and/or historians with Bradford Rifles artefacts or relics in their possession.

Contact: johnpdewhirst at geeeeeeeeemaillllllll dotttt commm / tweets @jpdewhirst


[1] Features about the serving and former BCAFC players who died in the Great War can be found on the author’s blog as follows: Feature on Jimmy Speirs; Feature on Bob Torrance; Remembrance Day reflections.

[2] The forgotten military heritage of Bradford sport: feature in the Bradford City AFC programme vs Plymouth Argyle on 11-Nov-2017

[3] The following link provides a history of the Belle Vue Hotel on Manningham Lane which had its own part in the history of both the Volunteers as well as Manningham FC / Bradford City AFC.

[4] The political allegiance of the Valley Parade leadership pre 1920 is discussed in this feature on VINCIT.


Tweets: @jpdewhirst or @woolcityrivals

Other online articles about Bradford sport by John Dewhirst including those on VINCIT

John contributes to the Bradford City match day programme and his features are also published on his blog Wool City Rivals

Victorian athletic festivals in Bradford

Valley Parade has hosted football and rugby but it tends to be overlooked that it was originally also known as an athletics venue, hosting annual athletic festivals between 1887-96.

Athletic festivals became established as a popular phenomenon in the Bradford district from the staging of the first by Bradford Cricket Club, 150 years ago in July, 1869. It was an era when people were actively seeking new forms of leisure and earlier features on VINCIT record the origins of cycling in Bradford the same year and the formation of Bradford Amateur Rowing Club in 1867. Similarly Bradford FC had played its first competitive game in February, 1867. This feature examines the origins of athletic festivals in Bradford including those held at Valley Parade.

The love of deep pockets in Bradford

In April, 1868 a correspondent (‘HW’) wrote to the Bradford Observer: ‘I have often wondered how it is that in a town like Bradford, noted for its love of outdoor sports, no movement has ever been made to establish an amateur athletic yearly meeting for running, jumping etc.’ The letter called upon local cricket clubs to organise such an event, possibly at the ‘Old Cricket Ground, Horton Lane.’

A week later, on 30 April, 1868 the correspondent, ‘Gymnast’ who had previously encouraged the formation of a rowing club provided his explanation: ‘No matter how much the people of Bradford love out-door sports, they love their pockets much better, and have a great objection to disburse their contents in support of that which does not repay them with interest.’

Gymnast’ mentioned that consideration had already been given to organising a festival but it had not been progressed, possibly on account of the fact that events in Huddersfield and Manchester had been loss-making. ‘Gymnast’ argued for the need for broad support to make a venture successful and he called upon the officers of the rifle corps and artillery corps, the committee of the Bradford Old Cricket Club and the Gymnastic Club (on Salem Street) to establish an Amateur Athletic Yearly Meeting.

It is interesting that there was no reference at this time to Bradford FC which was obviously considered peripheral. Instead the letter demonstrates the extent to which the Bradford (Rifle and Artillery) Volunteers were influential with regards to physical activity, a reminder of the fact that sport in Bradford has a strong military heritage.

The identity of ‘Gymnast’ was not revealed, but in a subsequent letter on 7 May, 1868 ‘HW’ presumed him to be a member of the Bradford Gymnasium and my belief is that it was B. Wright who was secretary of the Bradford Gymnastic Club and a founder member of the Bradford Rowing Club the previous year. Towards the end of 1868 came an exchange of correspondence in the Bradford Observer calling for a public gymnasium to be established which referred to the fact that ‘the private one now in existence is not at all well supported.’

What can be inferred from the letter written by ‘Physique’ dated 9 November is that people could not justify subscriptions for a private gym which says a lot about the viability of commercial leisure provision at this time, not to mention the attraction of joining the Volunteers to get free access. If indeed ‘Gymnast’ was involved with Bradford Gymnasium Club his motive in encouraging a Bradford rowing club or a Bradford athletics festival may have been to drive membership of his gym as a means of training.

On 17 December, 1868 ‘Physique’ again wrote to the Bradford Observer calling for a public gymnasium to be opened in the town. He suggested that during the day it could be used for ladies’ classes and mentioned the Liverpool gymnasium where ‘certain days are devoted to the ladies, they having a costume properly adapted for the exercise.’

A later editorial in the Bradford Observer of 2 January, 1869 stated that the writer’s ‘predilections are on the side of open-air pursuits rather than on that of the indoor turning of cranks, or climbing of poles, or twisting around bars…in awful contortions.’ I suspect that this was a view shared by many and the subsequent popularity of athletic festivals and football matches provided the fresh air and a new form of exhibitionism. Notwithstanding, gymnastics remained popular in Bradford and was later encouraged as a form of Muscular Christianity in the 1870s with a gymnasium operated by the Bradford Church Institute.

The Bradford All Saints Gymnastics Club gained a reputation as one of the foremost clubs in Yorkshire in the first decade of the twentieth century. The club claimed its origins to have been in the 1860s, quite possibly from the original gym on Salem Street. Gymnastic displays by the Bradford All Saints Gymnastics Club were regular events at both Park Avenue and Valley Parade either side of World War One, an historic reminder of how athleticism and football later evolved from gymnastic activity.

The first athletic festival in Bradford

Possibly in response to the correspondence the previous year, an inaugural athletics was staged on 24 July, 1869 at the Bradford Cricket Club ground on Great Horton Road which served as the de facto leisure centre of the town. The event was supported by the Rifle Volunteers with Lieutenant-Colonel Hirst of the 3rd Yorkshire (West Riding) Rifle Volunteer Corps acting as president and the band of the corps being present. It proved to be a success, attracting between three to four thousand spectators including ‘many of the elite of Bradford.’

Following the lead of Bradford CC in July, 1869, athletic festivals became commonplace in the following decade and were staged by other local cricket clubs including Shipley, Bradford Moor (later staged at Thornbury United CC following loss of the Bradford Moor ground), Bradford Albion, Eccleshill and Undercliffe. Festivals on the Ilkley racecourse were similarly inaugurated in 1873. One of the pre-eminent organisers of events at Eccleshill and Undercliffe was John Nunn who was at the forefront of promoting athleticism in Bradford. Events were staged in neighbouring towns and villages which attracted Bradford contestants, examples of which in 1869 at Huddersfield, Guiseley and Burley.

The final athletic festival to be staged at the Bradford CC Great Horton Road ground was in 1874. Shortly after the club disbanded following the sale of the ground for residential development and in 1879 the call to develop Park Avenue as a dedicated sports enclosure was driven in good measure by an urge to revive the annual athletic festivals in the town. It was no accident that the name of the newly formed club which occupied the ground was the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club. (The first festival at the new Park Avenue enclosure took place in July, 1881.)

The cult of athleticism

Reporting on the Leeds athletic festival, the Bradford Observer of 13 September, 1869 commented that ‘open air festivals, embracing a programme of running, walking, ‘putting the stone’ and throwing the hammer are now becoming popular’ and referred to events at Mirfield, Guiseley and Buttershaw since the festival at Bradford Cricket Club two months previously. The attendance at Leeds however was less than that at Bradford on account of the weather. Festivals became seen as a way of attracting crowds to the extent that even the Bradford Floral & Horticultural Society resorted to organising such an event at its Peel Park show in July, 1870. In 1873 Bradford CC later relied upon its athletic festival to offset losses from staging cricket.

However as if to anticipate the charge that athletic festivals were commercial ventures with the intent of personal reward, it was stressed that they were organised to raise funds for charity. This endowed further respectability and further distinguished them from the sort of events staged at Quarry Gap. It meant that athletics was firmly associated with a more noble cause or ideal and avoided any embarrassment about making a profit. In Bradford, the principle of raising money for the town’s charities became a central tenet when staging sport. In this way the practice of athleticism was portrayed as a force for good and this had a major influence on Bradford’s sporting culture.

Events at these festivals were what we might expect at a church garden fete rather than being recognisable as modern athletic contests. Those at the inaugural festival at Bradford CC in 1869 were typical: ‘Walking over two miles; throwing the hammer; putting a shot; flat race over 100 yards / 220 yards / a quarter of a mile / one mile; running high jump; standing wide jump; one mile bicycle race; 100 yard hurdle race over eight flights; quarter hurdle race over twelve flights; and throwing the cricket ball.’

They could be characterised as short duration, intensive affairs sufficient to command spectator appeal. They could equally be described as curio events. None of them constituted tests of endurance but I suspect that they were matched to the fitness of contestants. Neither did the selected events demand an onerous training regime. As a measure of performance, in 1869 the 100 yard flat race was won in just over ten seconds.

The suggestion in the Leeds Times on 13 March, 1875 that ‘the annual athletic sports, where the ‘youth and beauty’ of the district assemble to witness the manly efforts of their male friends in games which rival the Olympic sports of old’ seems a bit wide of the mark in terms of describing the events. However, a consistent theme in newspapers is that the festivals attracted a good proportion of female spectators.

Despite the standard the contests were taken seriously and the Bradford festivals consistently attracted contestants from across the country with 206 entrants in 1869. At first, medals and cups were awarded to the first three finishers but within ten years, bigger prizes were at stake and by the end of the 1870s local festivals were attracting large crowds. In July, 1879 as many as ten thousand people attended the Bingley Athletics Festival.

The different festivals vied to attract contestants through the range of prizes that were offered and by introducing new contests, such as ‘Cumberland and Westmoreland’ wrestling at Bradford Albion’s festival on Horton Green in July, 1875.

The respectability of these athletics festivals contrasts to that of the touring ‘English Champions’ show which visited the City Sporting Grounds, Quarry Gap at Laisterdyke in August, 1862. On that occasion the star billing had been an American Seneca Indian, ‘Deerfoot’ who contested a four mile race, winning in just over twenty minutes. The show attracted fifteen hundred spectators with other events such as sack racing, ball gathering, ‘pole-leaping’, a 220 yard race and a one mile race in which local people were invited to participate. The show was part of a tour of the British Isles (which had visited variously Cork, Edinburgh, Dundee, Glasgow, Newcastle, Carlisle, Kendal, Lancaster, York, Malton and Scarborough before reaching Bradford) and would better be described as a travelling athletics circus. Contestants to the four mile race were instructed to wear proper costume – long drawers, guernseys and short-coloured over-drawers whilst Deerfoot wore his Indian costume.

Another example of an event at Quarry Gap that combined athletic accomplishment with showmanship was that in September, 1864, namely the attempt of a 36 year old local lady by the name of Emma Sharp (the wife of a mechanic from Bowling) to walk 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours. The feat attracted much interest and it was reported that on one occasion ‘5,000 females were in attendance.’ The Bradford Observer of 3 November, 1864 reported on the success of her endeavour which had taken place during the preceding six weeks ‘exciting great interest among the sporting and betting fraternity, of whom there have always been some present both night and day.’ It added that ‘Mrs Sharp had gained weight… and grew weary of her task during the latter days, declaring she would never repeat it.’ Admission was charged to the event and it was claimed that Mrs Sharp’s portion of the receipts was at least £500.

Although the athletic festivals remained oriented towards spectator spectacle, the degree of showmanship was replaced by more earnest endeavour involving a broader base of local participants and a number of visiting contestants. The affairs were considered to be far more serious and they also had the endorsement of local dignatories. Thus whereas the Quarry Gap entertainments were typically regarded as a means to generate the sale of alcohol and encourage gambling (the case of a £50 foot race in May, 1863 and an arrow throwing context in March, 1868 being such examples), the festivals were linked with raising monies for local charity and interest was encouraged by the honest competition and rivalry of local men. The venues – typically cricket grounds – were also significant in that the festivals derived respectability from being staged at other than Quarry Gap which was associated as a show ground and between 1855 and 1868 was better known for staging horse racing.

In 1883 The Yorkshireman later made disparaging remarks about the presentation of prizes at the Bradford Sports festival that confirms the snobbery about Quarry Gap… ‘It lowers the standard of our manly English sports, and reduces such a ground as Park Avenue to the level of Quarry Gap and similar places.’

A comment in the Bradford Observer of 1 June, 1865 that ‘gambling produces a mania for all that is sportive and sensational’ summed up the prejudice felt by many towards sports events and the sort of showmanship at Quarry Gap. The link with gambling was thus the biggest obstacle to acceptance of sport. Indeed, what is significant is the extent to which gambling and alcohol dominated popular entertainment in the nineteenth century and there are many examples of contests being staged for ad hoc wagers in front of crowds. (One such was reported in the Leeds Times of 13 September, 1879 concerning a race on what is now the traffic congested A650: ‘A two miles trotting match for £50 took place on the Bradford and Keighley road, the starting point being the milepost opposite the old Sorters’ Gardens and the finishing point being Nab Wood. There were about 2,000 persons on the highway to witness the race, a large number coming from distant places in vehicles.’)

The Huddersfield festival was considered one of the bigger profile events in West Yorkshire and also one of the longest established (first staged in 1865 – in fact, it is likely to have been one of the first in the county).

Scan_20190428 (25).jpg

The prestige of the competition and the value of prizes helped attract contestants from afar as the pages below attest. The colours of the runners were not those of individual clubs, rather of the individuals themselves (like those of jockeys) and the variety of combinations would have created a colourful display. In practice the colours were most likely to have been displayed with sashes or belts rather than jerseys.

Scan_20190428 (24).jpg

The other observation is that whilst each runner was affiliated to a sports club, the names of the organisations reveal that they were not limited to athletic clubs but were members of running clubs (ie South London Harriers), gymnasia (ie Liverpool – presumably the same establishment as that which existed twenty years before as referred to above) as well as football clubs – the latter comprising both rugby and association football. Accordingly the races would have pitched competitors from a variety of sporting backgrounds but as far as the Victorians were concerned, they were all athletes who happened to participate in different forms of athleticism. The basis of a successful event was therefore a good field of events tempted by the prizes on offer but it also required the chance benefit of good weather. .

1887-07-14 Fattorinis advert for athletics prizes

A central feature of the athletic contests was the silverware awarded to the winners. The Bradford firm of Fattorini & Sons derived considerable benefit as the foremost local supplier of trophies and medals which were invariably displayed in the windows of its shops on Kirkgate and Westgate in Bradford. This undoubtedly added to the excitement and anticipation ahead of festivals, providing a degree of glamour to the occasion. Tony Fattorini’s enthusiasm for athleticism allowed seemless networking opportunities and helped his firm establish its reputation as the leading designer of sports trophies in England, culminating in the design of the new FA Cup in 1910 of which Bradford City AFC was the inaugural winner in 1911.

Valley Parade’s first athletic festival: 20th August, 1887

When the Manningham FC management committee looked for a new ground in 1886, the original intent was that it would stage other activities such as cycling and athletics alongside rugby football. Although it was recognised that this could have financial benefit, it was also regarded as a means by which the ground would establish for itself a higher profile as more than just a football enclosure. Amon the Manningham FC membership there was also enthusiasm for athletics and John Nunn, by this time a member of the club, could be relied upon to help organise and promote athletic events.

Manningham FC had in fact staged its first athletic festival in conjunction with Airedale Harriers at its Carlisle Road ground in September, 1885 and this was considered a mark of the growing respectability of the club. The staging of athletic festivals was thus seen as a way in which Valley Parade might establish its status as a leading sports ground with reflected glory accruing to Manningham FC.

At the time, the leading athletics club in the district was Airedale Harriers, of which coincidentally Tony Fattorini was a member. It had been hoped that the club could stage an athletic festival at Valley Parade in the summer of 1886 but the ground was not ready and so the event was staged at Lady Royd Cricket Club, Allerton which attracted a crowd of four thousand. The adequacy of the Lady Royd venue had been criticised – it was said that ‘the provision for keeping spectators in check proved inadequate and… people hampered the runners’ – which raised expectations about Valley Parade that staged its first festival the following year. The advert below appeared in The Yorkshireman.

1887-08-18 advert for Airedale Ath fest

The following graphic was published in the Manchester publication, Black & White and to my knowledge is the oldest surviving depiction of Valley Parade. It will be noted that a marquee was erected on what is now the site of the Kop. The ground had a running track around its perimeter that could also be used for cycle races.

Valley Parade August, 1887.jpg

The Manningham FC programme for the event provided a race card of the various contests as well as fixtures for the forthcoming season, 1887/88. The presentation of prizes by Sir Henry Mitchell affirmed the respectability of the event. (Images courtesy of Jon Longman.)

Scan_20190428 (19).jpg

Scan_20190428 (20).jpg

The inaugural Valley Parade event attracted contestants from across the north and at stake was an impressive array of prizes, the most prestigious of which was an attractive trophy for the winners of the three mile inter-club steeplechase. Manufactured by Fattorini’s, this had a reported value of £40 which was in excess of the average annual wage for a workman. There were three teams of four runners apiece competing for the prize which was won by Salford Harriers. It was said that they had ‘a ridiculously easy journey’ finishing two laps ahead of the fastest runner from the Bradford Trinity club whilst none of the Airedale team finished. The achievement of Salford Harriers was celebrated in the Manchester publication Black & White (pictured).

1887-08-26 Salford Harriers.jpg

Unfortunately the attendance at the Airedale Harrier’s Festival was considered disappointing and it was acknowledged in the press that a profusion of other athletics events in West Yorkshire had saturated public interest. For instance the Bradford Athletic Club festival had taken place at Park Avenue the fortnight before the one at Valley Parade and was generally regarded to be the most prestigious. The Bradford Daily Telegraph reported on 23 January, 1888 that it generated receipts of £464 and a profit of £379. Inevitably there were unfavourable comparisons drawn in relation to that in Manningham.

1887 BPA.jpeg

The following listing of festivals in August and September, 1887 attests to the prevalence of events in the north of England and the week after the one at Valley Parade, Bowling FC staged its own athletics festival at Usher Street. It was a mark of status that a club had the wherewithal to stage such an event yet few could match the profitability of the Park Avenue event.

Black & White magazine  - 1887-08-26 list of forthcoming athletics festivals.jpg

Proxy competition

Local (rugby) football clubs effectively became involved in a proxy competition to stage athletic festivals, with the offer of ever more generous prizes. Undoubtedly this mirrored the intensification of football rivalries during the 1880s as Yorkshire rugby became increasingly commercialised.

1887-08-25 Advert Dewsbury Athletics Festival

As football club finances came under pressure, athletic festivals were relied upon as a means to generate additional monies. Manningham FC continued to host an annual festival until 1896 by which time controversy over rugby professionalism dissuaded amateur athletes from compromising themselves through participation in events staged by Northern Union clubs.

The Manningham FC festivals became another dimension to the rivalry with Bradford FC although the Valley Parade events never matched the commercial success of those at Park Avenue. Nonetheless those at Valley Parade were reasonably well-attended and in 1893 for example the athletic festival attracted a five thousand crowd which generated a surplus of £83. Athletic festivals at Park Avenue were similarly identified as a source of income, typically to offset the losses of the cricket section and that in July, 1890 was reported to have attracted as many as thirteen thousand people. These were fashionable events but popularity also derived from the gambling opportunities they offered.

During the 1880s the programme of events became progressively more codified for example with standardised running events that would have further attracted betting interest. From 1885 there were more bicycle and tricycle competitions which would have reflected the fashion of the time and also provided more of a spectacle around the perimeter of the cricket ground. However even in 1896 (the final year that the festival was staged) the events continued to include the more sublime such as the 200 yard association football dribbling race but the festival of that year remained popular with 7,000 spectators, 300 entrants and prizes worth £200.

The value of prizes on offer at the athletic festival at Park Avenue in July, 1893 was high in the context of average weekly wages which were in the region of 30 shillings (£1.50) for skilled men. Whilst participants competed as amateurs, the rewards of success were not insignificant and footballers were at a distinct advantage in these events given that the general level of fitness and participation in sport by most people was low. Organisers of athletic contests would have also welcomed the entry of footballers to attract spectators. One such player, Fred Cooper (who joined Bradford FC the following October) was particularly successful in short distance sprints and during the summer months attended various festivals in England as well in South Wales where he had been brought up. (On the same weekend of the Park Avenue festival he had been a prize winner at the Cardiff athletics festival.) Other prominent sprinters who played for Bradford FC included Tommy Dobson and Frank Ritchie.

After 1986 annual sports festivals continued to be staged at Park Avenue but on a far more low key basis with a headline objective of charity fund raising. These continued into the twentieth century, latterly in the guise of the Bradford Police Sports until the 1960s. The golden era of athletic festivals in Bradford however remained the 1880s.

by John Dewhirst Tweets: @jpdewhirst

From his book ROOM AT THE TOP. Other content written by the author about the history of football in Bradford is published on his blog, WOOL CITY RIVALS where you can access his features published in the Bradford City AFC matchday programme as well as book reviews and archive images.


VINCIT provides an accessible go-to reference about all aspects of Bradford sport history and is neither code nor club specific. We encourage you to explore the site through the menu above.

Future articles are scheduled to feature the military heritage of sport in Bradford, the forgotten sports grounds in the Bradford district, the politics of Bradford sport and its sports grounds, the financial failure of football clubs in Bradford and the history of Bradford sports journalists.

Contributions and feedback are welcome.


The Noble Art – A History of Bradford Boxing, Part Two

By Ian Hemmens

Part 1 of the story saw the origins of bare-knuckle boxing through to the organisation of the sport via the Queensberry Rules featuring notable Bradford Boxing celebrities ranging from ‘Brassey’ & Paddy Mahoney to the Blakeborough Brothers & the Fighting Delaneys up to and just after the Great War. With the tragic loss of Jerry Delaney in the conflict, Bradford’s biggest, brightest hope was lost.

1924 saw Bradfords next big promotion with York fighter Syd Pape being matched with a legend of the sport , Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, a veteran of over 200 bouts and a former World & European Champion. Pape had gained respect with Bradford crowds for his battling & game displays against a noted Aussie heavy called Lloyd. Sadly, the difference in class was there for all to see even from Round 1. Lewis handed out a severe beating but Pape gamely stuck in there despite the crowd calling for the fight to be stopped. The Referee allowed the fight to continue until Pape’s corner threw the towel in during the 2nd Round. Such was the brutality on show, it was perhaps unfortunate that sat at Ringside were the Lord Mayor of Bradford, the Chief Constable & several other notables who allegedly but never proved, were splattered with blood from Syd Pape. The Referee came under severe criticism for allowing the fight to continue but he defended himself as an experienced official saying he was working within accepted rules. This didn’t wash with the officials and the Chief Constable called the whole event a ‘Sickening Spectacle’ which, if it was indicative of the way Boxing was going, would not be allowed in the Windsor Hall or indeed, Bradford as a whole.

As a result, Boxing was banned from anywhere in the Bradford Corporation boundaries. Bradford was not the only place where bouts were banned, Hull, Nottingham & even parts of London also withheld licences. Amateur & Schoolboy boxing under ultra-strict rules was allowed to continue mainly under Police supervision which saw the rise of the Bradford Police Boys Club as a major venue for young, up & coming fighters to learn the right way.

The fallow period lasted a long 6 years before professional boxing was allowed to return to the City. The main venue by this time was the Olympia Buildings on Thornton Road. The Boxing Board of Control had promised to clean up the sport with even stricter rules and more medical securities for fighters before it was allowed licences.

Former Bradford fighter & now Manager Fred Blakeborough organised the event and a crowd of over 4000 showed there was a healthy appetite for the sport in the City. For the next decade, although no Bradford boxers made any notable impression at a higher level, the Olympia held several big bouts of note before gradually fading from the scene with the Windsor Hall once again taking pride of place as the Citys major venue. British Middleweight Champion Len Harvey attracted a crowd of 5000 for his bout with Belgian Theo Sas which to the ire of the crowd lasted a paltry 175 seconds. If that upset the crowd the next big bout featuring Canadian Champ Larry Gains destroyed Marcel Moret in a mere 34 seconds. Stewards, Commissioners & Constables had to go into the crowd to calm them & local Heavyweight Ted Brookes addressed the crowd from the ring to calm events down. Despite the farcical scenes, Larry Gains drew a crowd of 5000 on his return to the City in 1934 for his bout with Polish Champion Bert Casimir. To his credit, Gains had a highly respectable record even holding a joint decision with World Heavyweight giant Primo Carnera earlier in the year. Casimir came boasting of never being knocked down but he had never fought anyone near the class of Larry Gains. After the last farce, what the crowd needed was a competitive bout but after stalking his opponent around the ring for a mere 125 seconds, the first serious punch thrown by Gains put the Pole on the canvas & out for the count. The mortified crowd felt cheated once again & chants of ‘We want our Money back ‘ started growing with stewards once again moving into the arena to protect the Boxers & BBBC officials from their anger.

1934 also saw up & coming Welsh fighter Tommy Farr contest a hard fought draw with South African Eddie Pierce. The Bradford crowd were dubious of Farr’s pedigree but he was to become a British Boxing great when 3 years later he went the distance and very narrowly lost on points to the legendary ‘Brown Bomber’ the one & only Joe Louis.

During this period from a Bradford point of view, the main characters in the Ring were the Melia Brothers from White Abbey, Mick & John. Although Mick was good enough to fight at National level in the ABA ranks, their pro careers never reached any notable heights despite being well respected on the circuit. Popular Local Heavyweight Ted Brookes managed to get a bout with the ‘Ambling Alp’ Primo Carnera, the World Heavyweight Champ during an exhibition tour in 1931. It took place at the Winter Gardens in Morecambe and although Ted put up a valiant showing he was caught by one and knocked out by the 6’5” giant. Ted later said he couldn’t remember a thing about the punch. Ted was later offered a contract for another bout with Primo over in Ireland but it was later withdrawn when a better offer was put in. After retiring, Ted had a pie & pea shop up Otley Road and pride of place was a photo of Ted in the Ring with Carnera which Ted would regale his customers with stories of his fight with the ‘Champ’.

As the 1930s progressed, Boxing in Bradford seemed to quietly fade from public view with other more ‘public friendly’ attractions coming to the fore. As well as 2 professional Football teams, Bradford boasted a Rugby League team, A successful Rugby Union team, 2 successful Greyhound tracks, Speedway was introduced at Odsal. Yorkshire Cricket Club played regularly at Park Avenue and the Bradford Cricket League was possibly the strongest in the country. Outside sport but competing for public attention was the rise of Dancehalls, the talking picture sensation of Cinema, a rise in the accessibility of public transport, all placing demands on public income. Add to this the financial slump of the Great Depression all combined to see a sport like Boxing become less palatable to the public. Even Wrestling which was seen as less Bloody & brutal saw a rise in popularity to the detriment of Boxing. With War again on the horizon, it was to be a long fallow period before the sport in the City started to show roots of recovery and recognition once again & it came from an unlikely source.

The immediate post war period brought an almost immediate change of scenery for Boxing. In fact, locally the only thing of note would be an exhibition visit to Leeds by the then unknown but upcoming future World Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson. The whole vista had changed with a series of occurrences. The massive rise of Radio & the coming availability of Television broadened the horizons of families realising there was a whole world out there. The attraction & professional publicity machines by American promoters promoting the likes of Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson & the likes were appealing & on a whole new level to back street boxing halls. The sensational victory by Brit Randolph Turpin over Sugar Ray captured the sport fans attention but locally it was a barren landscape. Another major effect was the introduction of an Entertainment Tax by the government on the profits made by promoters which almost overnight killed off many boxing promotions & the number of halls in the 50s fell by three quarters down to below 200 nationwide. Television was able to offer more money for fighters which meant that locally, promoters couldn’t compete.

TV brought into the big time Characters like Cassius Clay & his gallant British opponent Henry Cooper and local Boxing Halls faced a precarious time as audiences refused to pay the money needed to bring quality bouts to the public.

Dunn & Ali.jpgLocally it was to be the early 70s before interest was perked with a Leeds born but Bradford raised bricklayer & former paratrooper named Richard Dunn came to the attention of the local fans. After years of journeyman bouts going nowhere, a call to veteran manager George Biddles saw his career boom big time and under his management, Dunn, within a year was British Heavyweight Champion following it up by taking the European crown. The whirlwind rise to fame saw him enter the ring in 1976 against arguably the Greatest ever, Muhammed Ali, the former Cassius Clay. Working his was up the rankings, a defeat by the teak tough Jimmy Young in 8 rounds where Dunn was actually ahead on the scorecards, a former sparring partner of Smokin Joe Frazier was no shame or disgrace & his upward trajectory continued with tough fights against well known characters like Danny McAlinden, Billy Aird & Neville Mead before taking the European crown against 6’7” German Bernd August, the Referee stopping the bout in the 3rd. Dunn had fought in the City at locations like the Talk of Yorkshire & The Midland. A typical, dour no nonsense Yorkshire man was now thrust into the national limelight. The fight with Ali was fixed for Munich on 25th May 1976 matching a ‘living legend’ with the ‘Bradford Brickie’ ! Despite a braveness & game showing there was to be no fairytale ending as the bout was stopped in the Round 5 after Ali cut loose leaving the Referee no option but to stop the fight. There was no shame in this and indeed the great Ali was effusive in his praise for the Bradford fighter admiring his courage and never-say-die attitude.

Richard arrived back to Bradford to a wonderful reception and his pride was clear to all as the City honoured him by naming the newly built sports centre in his honour. Bradford was finally back on the Boxing map.

Bradford’s long wait for a locally born Champion finally arrived in 1986 with the Girlington born Featherweight John Doherty and by the time he was finished in the early 1990s, John had been British Champion a record 3 times.

In the stable of local trainer John Celebanski, Doherty made great strides after beginning at the Bradford YMCA. Working his way up the rankings & despite getting cuts on several occasions, notably against future Champion Pat Cowdell, John proceeded to work his way forward even filling St Georges Hall before his date with destiny in Preston against his namesake Pat Doherty. After a slow start, John worked his way into the fight and despite another cut, the Referee gave John the verdict by 2 clear rounds. Bradford finally had its own homegrown Champ.

Defeat came in his next fight against old foe Pat Cowdell, again, cuts halting the Bradford man. A couple of years passed, John taking time out with various injury problems before a victory in a final eliminator against Kevin Pritchard saw John matched with the flamboyant new Champion Floyd Havard. John altered his tactics and kept the showy Havard at close quarters where his powerful punching saw him cause a major upset to regain his title against all odds.

Once again, john was unable to defend his title losing a very closely fought bout with Joey Jacobs before circumstances where for 11 consecutive fights, the Champ was unable to defend his title saw John once again given the chance to win a cherished Lonsdale Belt. Pitched against Sugar Gibiliru of Toxteth at Stockport Town Hall, Girlingtons best was determined to not let the chance of a fabled Belt slip him by and despite a nasty gash on the eye in Round 9, John wore down his opponent and became a 3 time Champion. It was to be the last hurrah for Doherty as after yet again losing his title in 1992, he decided it was time to hang up his gloves. John Doherty can rightly claim his place at the top table of Bradfords Boxing Hall of Fame with his gritty performances and no little talent. Without the handicap of easy cuts who knows how high he could have reached but Bradfords pride in its very own Champion was clear to all.

As Doherty’s career was winding down, like London buses, another Bradford born Boxer became a Champion. West Bowling born Frank Grant had no real background in the sport and secured the honour after no amateur career and only 23 bouts. A short spell behind bars had focussed Frank and whilst a gym orderly had turned him into a fine specimen. A basic training & coaching, his evident promise attracted John Celebanski who added him to his stable. His first couple of bouts showed his inexperience but then his continued exposure to intense training & expertise saw him win 6 bouts in succession, 4 by referee stoppage. By early 1990, a record of 13 from 15 saw Frank catapulted up the Middleweight rankings as an eliminator along with Kid Milo for the title held by the classy Sheffield based Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham. When Milo couldn’t make the fight, Celebanski saw & grasped the chance for his man. Unfortunately, various circumstances , the sudden death of Frank’s Mother, Boxing politics & the backlash from the Michael Watson incident where he suffered brain damage after his defeat by Chris Eubank all conspired to stop the fight being arranged. All boxers were made to take brain scans and Frank’s showed up a small anomaly which was proved to be wrongly diagnosed but nevertheless further delayed his date with destiny.

Graham had further enhanced his reputation as one of Britains best winning & holding titles at both Light Middleweight & Middleweight , indeed his only defeats had been at European level & 2 World title fights. The bout with Frank Grant (pictured below) was set for September 1992 at Elland Road, Leeds on the same bill as Leeds upcoming Super Middleweight Henry Wharton.

frank grantNobody outside his immediate circle & his Bradford fans gave him a chance against the classy ‘Bomber’ but Frank got his gameplan spot on by restricting the Champ in his movement around the ring and continually pinning the Champ against the ropes. Graham, in the 7th started to realise he was in trouble and started to work Grant more winning the next couple of rounds but come the 9th , Frank came out revigourated and his speed & power put the Champ down. Although he beat the count, Frank stormed forward unrelentless until the Referee had no choice but to halt the bout. The eminently qualified Mickey Duff was quoted as saying the 9th Round was one of the best he had ever seen. Bradford had another Champion to celebrate.

Frank defended his title at a packed & rowdy St Georges Hall against the durable John Ashton & there was talk of a bout to be held at Valley Parade to maximise Franks potential. Sadly, a lot of the headlines were caused by unruly elements in the crowd as several fights broke out & the police had to be called to quell the trouble but it had future consequences for fighting in the City. In the ring Frank more than lived up to the billing with the tough Ashton quoted as saying ‘it was like being hit by a truck’ such was Franks power punching. The purists were disparaging of Franks lack of ring craft but there was no denying, after only 25 fights he was a worthy Champion. His ranking rocketed him into the Worlds top 10 with the the great American Champs Gerard McClellan & Roy Jones in his sights. Due to the problems at St Georges Hall his next defence was to be held in Manchester with a Lonsdale Belt at stake. His opponent was Neville Brown from Brendan Ingle’s stable who had a record of 21 wins from 22 fights. Brown & Ingle had done their homework and managed to hold Frank at distance patiently picking him off with well placed jabs. In the 6th Brown opened a cut under Franks eye & his inexperience showed as desperation set in and Brown was able to finish the fight in the 7th. He was to become a valid Champion with several defences before being outclassed by future World Champ Steve Collins.

Frank had hit the heights quickly but bravely decided the fight game wasn’t for him and bowed out gracefully to enter the licensing trade.

Bobby Vanzie

The 1990s saw yet another Bradford product emerge in the form of Lightweight Bobby ‘Viper’ Vanzie (pictured above) who won British & Commonwealth titles and challenged for the Inter Continental title being beaten by Yuri Ramanau.


Junior WitterAlso emerging was Bradford born Light Welterweight Junior Witter (pictured left) who finally reached the promised land after being crown British, European & Commonwealth champion he fought and lost his first World bid losing to Zab Judah in 2000. September 2006 saw ‘The Hitter’ finally be crowned World Champion beating American Demarcus Corley at the Alexandra Palace. He made 2 successful defences before losing on a split decision to American Timothy Bradley. A rematch was offered but then Bradley was stripped of his belt with Witter being matched with mandatory challenger Devon Alexander in 2008. Alexander proved too strong for Witter and despite valiantly trying to continue, his moment of fame had passed. After finally bowing out in 2015, he now runs a gym in South Yorkshire but after over 150 years, Bradford could finally claim its own World Champion.


Recently the gloves have been passed to yet another Welterweight with Bradford born Darren ‘TNT’ Tetley (pictured above) winning the WBO European belt . Another chapter has begun in Bradfords Boxing History.

By Ian Hemmens

Bradford’s boxing heritage: Part One   by Ian Hemmens

Tweets: @IHemmens

References: Bradford Libraries
Boxing in Bradford & Leeds by Ronnie Wharton.

VINCIT provides an accessible go-to reference about all aspects of Bradford sport history and is neither code nor club specific. We encourage you to explore the site through the menu above.

Future articles are scheduled to feature the military heritage of sport in Bradford, the forgotten sports grounds in the Bradford district, the politics of Bradford sport, the financial failure of football clubs in Bradford, early athletic festivals in the district and the history of Bradford sports journalists.

Contributions and feedback are welcome.