Girlington AFC, very nearly Bradford City AFC

By Rob Grillo

Had things been different, the formation in 1903 of Bradford City AFC could have occurred twelve months earlier, if the result of a ploy to create a professional association football at Valley Parade from the seeds sown by two local football clubs and the city’s existing pool of amateur footballers had proved successful.

The Bradford & District FA, founded in March 1899 had overseen an exponential growth in the number of local clubs in the area as the round ball game took over from rugby as the number one winter pastime across the region.

The West Riding, however, was lagging behind the rest of the country. Rugby was still number one in the region, the Yorkshire Rugby Union having accepted that league and cup competition was inevitable and allowing its clubs to introduce the Yorkshire Senior Competition (and a number of lower divisions) as well as the Yorkshire Challenge Cup (t’old Tin Pot). This kept association football at bay for a little longer, while the seeds were sown in the game locally.

Girlington AFC was one of clubs that emerged in the late 1890s, in the wake of a failed attempt to form a successful association team at by Bradford CA&FC at Park Avenue. Poorly supported, and seriously outclassed on the field by South Yorkshire opposition, the Park Avenue team had been banished to Birch Lane in the summer of 1898 before folding at the close the 1898/99 season, several of its players becoming dispersed around the junior (in status) clubs located around the city.

The Girlington club was formed by A H Grunberger and several of his acquaintances in 1896. Its first meeting was in August of that year with just nine members in attendance. All members of the club paid an annual subscription and initially paid for their own playing kits and travelling expenses, and in the early days was run on strictly amateur lines. Grunberger himself fulfilled several roles, including those of secretary and financial secretary. F Bradley took over as corresponding secretary, with other early committeemen including: W Rycroft, A Robertshaw, E C Robertshaw, J S Hawkins, F H Kemp, C Firth, P D Mortimer, S Gibson, and A Broadley.

That first season saw the club win four and draw two of their eleven friendly fixtures, against the likes of Bradford Spartans, Shipley and Pudsey. Initally the club played at a ground near the tram terminus at Four Lane Ends, using the Fairweather Green Board Schools for changing facilities. A new ground at Thornton Road was used for the 1898/99 season, before becoming founder members of the Bradford & District League in 1899. Their headquarters by then was the Red Lion Hotel at Four Lane Ends, with another new home ground close by at Duncombe Street, off Ingleby Road. This pitch, which was actually situated with Wallis Street to the north and Duncombe Street to the south, was also one of those considered for the home games for Bradford CA&FC team’s reserve team games in the mid 1890s.

Girlington were immediately successful in the Bradford & District League, being champions in the league’s first two seasons, 1899/1900 and 1900/01. The following season they won the District Cup, after having lost the previous two finals.

A major influence on the original Girlington team was Duncan Menzies, whose brother David had also played with him Park Avenue. The Scot was described in Yorkshire Sports in October 1901 as ‘a tower of strength’ for his club. Although described as ‘rather short of stature’, it was felt that his ‘cleverness with either foot, and sound judgement to draw out a defence’ were important characteristics of his play. He was, it was argued, ‘one of those ‘knacky’ men on his feet who seem to be born footballers’, who it was hoped, would go on to lead Girlington AFC ‘into the higher flights of the ‘socker’ world’.

To cater for a growing number of spectators, Girlington’s home matches were played at Valley Parade from 1901, the first soccer team to do so. Those in charge at Manningham Football Club were well aware of the potential that soccer offered, and this gave them the opportunity to hedge their bets without the financial outlay that their neighbours at park Avenue had experienced with their failed soccer experiment.

While this move undoubtedly attracted more spectators for Girlington, raising the club’s profile even further things were not always rosy. With both rugby and soccer being played on the same pitch, then wear and tear of the turf was increased, and several games were cancelled because of this. The ground had also been impacted by the staging of the non-sporting ‘Savage Africa’ show during 1901, which caused unexpected damage to the pitch.

There is also a suggestion that things were not all well behind the scenes, with the Leeds Mercury reporting in November 1901, ‘Girlington are not enjoying the state of tranquility which in other years has been their portion, but the management is making every effort to maintain the great reputation which the team has made for itself. The restlessness of the team suggests and unsatisfactory state of affairs, for with all the new men and outside talent, and the acquisition of the Valley Parade ground, they have not been so successful as expected.’ Additionally, although Manningham club was clearly showing interest in association code, the ground wasn’t available to Girlington as often as expected. With Manningham’s own teams taking preference, and Girlington were behind with their fixtures by the time Christmas arrived. It was still a surprise though when the club disbanded in the summer of 1902 despite being accepted into the West Yorkshire League.

The Bradford Daily Telegraph correspondent known as ‘Goalkeeper’ expressed his surprise on Saturday 19th July 1902: ‘The sensation of local football this week has been the withdrawal of the Girlington club from the West Yorkshire League, and practically the ending of the team seeing that the Bradford Leagues are now all completed. Their collapse is most regrettable. Only last season they gained the height of their ambition and became Cup holders. Their record in local football is really admirable, and only intensifies one’s regret at their unhappy ending. Into the pros and cons of the case I do not propose to enter, but I should have thought that entry into the West Yorkshire League bringing with it Competition matches with such clubs as Hunslet, Huddersfield, Altofts, etc’, to say nothing of Airedale and Rawdon, would have meant the beginning of a new era of prosperity to the club. The dispersion of players among other teams should, however, have its useful side. The experience of one of the older hands amongst a club composed of rising juniors would be bound to be beneficial.’

Had the issue over the pitch been the deciding factor, then Girlington would surely have made an attempt to return to their old ground at Four Lane Ends. They would have had to find a new ground within twelve months anyway, given that the professional Bradford City club was to take the ground solely for themselves. Although there clearly was a pitch issue (confirmed in the Yorkshire Sports on 11th October 1902) it would seem that internal politics led to the closure of the club. There were diagreements regarding the ground options open to them, and also over the number of new players who were drafted in during the season, and whatever the truth was, it caused Girlington’s downfall at the time.

However, an alternative reason – or at least contributing factor – can be proposed. The Bradford FA, in conjunction with the Manningham Football Club, could well have been involved in a strategy to base a professional association football club at Valley Parade from 1902, based around Girlington AFC and the appropriately named Bradford City AFC which had finished close runners-up to Airedale during the 1901-02 Bradford & District League campaign. Players representing that club 9formerly known as Harewood Recreation AFC), along with several of those from Girlington, had already represented a local XI teams in exhibition games but they too folded, at the same time as Girlington in the summer of 1902, this time seemingly without any explanation. John Dewhirst has suggested that behind the scenes the local FA may have tried to form a professional club from the two teams, but when it became obvious that the local pool of players was too short of talent to form a competitive side in, for instance, the Midland League. The scheme was shelved for twelve months, with both clubs disintegrating as a result, while the Bradford & District FA assisted club Manningham in a new application to join the Football League. Given that Manningham had allowed Girlington to use Valley Parade, and their agreement to host local and regional cup finals, then it is obvious that the club were hedging their bets should the round ball game continue to grow exponentially, without taking the risks taken up the road at Park Avenue. Twelve months later, Manningham was indeed elected to the Football League – as Bradford City AFC – but instead with a team imported from regions more established in the round ball game.

In January 1903 there was an effort to reform the Girlington club, with the Yorkshire Evening Post reporting, ‘Practically all the difficulties that caused the team to be disbanded during the present season have been overcome. The old committee who brought the team to such a prominent position are ready to help, and the majority of players have expressed the desire to come back.’ The club sadly failed to be revived at the time but Girlington AFC did reform prior to the 1907/08 season, although there was little coverage of their return in the local press. The new team won the Bradford & District FA Cup again at the first attempt (winning 2-1 against Fairweather Green at their old Valley Parade ground), and played in the second division of the West Yorkshire League. The following season they were back in the top division of the Bradford & District League before fading away before World War One.

Rob Grillo 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.

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The Paraders’ record breaking season: 1928/29

Bradford City’s Division Three (North) Championship season

by John Dewhirst

BCAFC 1928-29

This year marks the 90th anniversary of one of the most remarkable campaigns in the club’s history when it secured promotion as champions of Division Three (North) in record breaking fashion. It was the reversal of a decline that had begun immediate after the war, relegation from Division One in 1922 having been a major body-blow to the club from which it had not recovered. It did not help that the local economy was depressed and the affairs of both City and Avenue were impacted by the competing attraction of a rugby revival in Bradford at Lidget Green (the new Bradford Rugby Union club had been formed in 1919) and the emergence of Huddersfield Town as a leading club in English football.

Bradford City had been relegated to Division Three (North) in 1927 after a disastrous season in which the team won only 7 games of which only one away from home; the corresponding points tally of just 23 was the lowest in the club’s 19 seasons in the Football League. The 1927/28 campaign was overshadowed by financial turmoil. City finished in 6th place and 15 points behind neighbours Bradford Park Avenue who were champions – Avenue thereby secured a return to Division Two having previously been relegated in 1922. By the end of that season, Bradford City teetered close to insolvency and it was a refinancing combined with a board restructure in May, 1928 that safeguarded the club.

Two individuals in particular were closely involved with the restructuring arrangements. The first, William Sawyer is probably better known. A journalist by background, he was instrumental in the launch of the first match day programmes at Valley Parade in 1909 and remembered for having written a history of the club in 1927. He later served as a director between 1928-30 and 1934-38.

Thomas Paton is best described as the invisible hand at Valley Parade who made possible the club’s success at winning the FA Cup in 1911 and establishing itself as one of the leading sides in England before World War One. Sadly he has tended to be overlooked, not even given a mention in the footnotes of an earlier history of Bradford City’s golden era.

The club’s finances had deteriorated significantly during the relegation season of 1926/27 and the first season in Division Three (North); a signal that things were going from bad to worse had been the resignation of manager Colin Veitch in January, 1928, frustrated by the financial constraints that he was subject to. The then directors at Valley Parade could neither afford to underwrite continuing losses but neither could they afford to write off their loans to the club. Similarly, there was little incentive for a new director or investor to introduce monies if all that did was to service the loans of former directors. With Paton in the background, Sawyer conducted negotiations and secured the agreement of the chairman (and principal creditor) Thomas Power in addition to Messrs Dallas, Driver and Welch to defer loan repayments to them by the club with the promise that if they resigned, new funds would be forthcoming – coordinated by Paton – and hence Bradford City would remain solvent (thereby the old directors would not have to write-off monies owed to them). Notwithstanding, the individuals concerned were still required to remain bank guarantors.

The existing directors had little choice than to agree. To have rejected Sawyer’s plans would have plunged the club into insolvency. They would have been forced to write-off their loans and suffered the opprobrium of the public. There was little else to celebrate the landmark occasion of the club’s silver jubilee of its formation in 1903. Although Bradford City had avoided insolvency, it found itself in a division below cross-town rivals Bradford Park Avenue for the first time in its history (and indeed, City would remain in the shadow of Avenue for much of the next twenty-five years). Having been acclaimed as pioneers of association football in West Yorkshire, City were now at the level of Halifax Town whilst near neighbours Huddersfield Town and Leeds United were established in Division One.

The rescue of Bradford City in the 1928 close season reflected a determination to reverse the decline of the club that had occurred since the end of World War One. Of course, the slide of the two Bradford football clubs was not dissimilar to what had happened to the local textile industry and little by little, the standing of the city – its economy, financial well-being and sporting stature – had been rewritten and not for the better. Sport remained a core ingredient of civic patriotism and identity, Partisan rivalries aside, Bradfordians welcomed the revival of Bradford Park Avenue. However, for so long having been the senior club and standard bearers for the city of Bradford, it was unpalatable for anyone involved at Valley Parade that the Paraders should remain in third division obscurity and surrender its status.

A make or break season

Little wonder then that Sawyer went so far as to suggest that the forthcoming 1928/29 campaign was a make or break season. In August, 1928 for instance he reportedly told the players ‘This club is in a serious position; we have to go up or down, and you are the people who can put us up.’ He knew that the club remained heavily indebted and the only way to repair the balance sheet was through escaping from Division Three (North). Put simply, Bradford City could not afford to spend as long as Bradford Park Avenue had (1922-27) in the lower division. It was as much a matter of finance as self-respect.

The changes at Valley Parade after the board restructuring demonstrated the commitment to lift the club. Whilst the principal headline was the return of Peter O’Rourke as manager and the influx of new players, there was also a major overhaul in the way that the club was run.

O’Rourke was the most obvious candidate for the role of manager at Valley Parade in 1928 and crucially, under no illusions about what the job would entail. His working relationship and familiarity with the likes of Sawyer, Paton and for that matter Jack Nunn would have been a further advantage. So too the fact that he was well known to, and popular with, the supporters. Possibly his most important signing was that of George Livingstone, as trainer in June, 1928. A former Scottish international and player who had represented both senior Manchester clubs as well as Glasgow Rangers and Celtic (in addition to Sunderland and Liverpool), he remains the only man to have scored for both Manchester and Old Firm clubs in respective derby games.

Livingstone had previously been engaged as trainer at Ibrox between 1920-27 and immediately after World War One had been manager of Dumbarton. There is a good chance that he may have been put in touch with City by Tom Paton whose contacts in Scotland were legend. On the other hand, he would have been known to Peter O’Rourke having been a member of the Manchester United side that won the Football League championship in 1910/11. (Livingstone remained at Valley Parade until 1935, latterly assisting Jack Peart between 1930-35 who took over from O’Rourke.)

Much of the success of O’Rourke at Valley Parade before World War One had derived from the contribution of his trainer Charlie Harper and he opted for a similar approach in 1928. Harper had been an accomplished sprinter (acclaimed between 1893-98 as ‘champion professional of the world’) who introduced high standards of fitness and endurance to the City team after his appointment as trainer in 1905 and it is fair to assume that O’Rourke looked for something similar once again. Livingstone had already demonstrated his worth alongside Bill Struth at Glasgow Rangers who later secured legendary status during his 34 years in charge of the ‘Light Blues’. Struth had selected Livingstone after he had been appointed as manager in 1920 and during the seven seasons that they worked together at Ibrox the team finished as champions in five. Livingstone had been forced to resign in 1927 as a consequence of ill-health and the need to recuperate from a reported complex appendicitis. Nevertheless he came to Valley Parade with impeccable qualifications.

With the announcement in July, 1928 that the club had committed to investment in training apparatus in its Burlington Terrace premises, it was clear how priorities were being defined. A gymnasium was installed in the old billiards room and the Yorkshire Sports reported the installation of ‘Livingstone’s apparatus of electrical treatment for injured limbs, two great teak baths each capable of holding 16 players at a time, a big recreation and tea room, and a well equipped kitchen and washing and drying room for the field kit.’ Collectively it amounted to best practice, if not a better way of operating than how things had been done previously.

These subtle changes would have given Bradford City an immediate advantage over most other third division clubs and provide an important insurance policy against players getting injured, as well as through improving rates of recovery. Alongside the investment in training facilities was the appointment of a new groundsman tasked with making improvements to the pitch.

The Yorkshire Sports of 28 August, 1928 reported that ‘the ever-recurring bugbear of the ground trouble appears to have been overcome at last by the thorough preparations the playing area has undergone, and an expanse of rich, green grass is the result, while a new track has taken place of the old cinder running track, and many of the terraces have been improved.’ Judging from a headline in the same paper, sheep played their role in this transformation. In order to preserve the grass at Valley Parade came the decision that the players should train on the Leyland Lane / Garden Lane field in Heaton.

sheep aug-28

Another important development came in the form of a new supporters’ club. The crises of 1927 and 1928 had demonstrated the fragility of the club finances and the growing dependence on fund raising by supporters (much the same as at Park Avenue and Bradford Northern). Efforts were thus made to reconnect with supporters and in November, 1928 new premises were opened by the Bradford City Shareholders’ and Supporters’ Association at 1 Thorncliffe Road. These provided a permanent venue for supporters to meet as well as to host BCSSA events that had previously been held at commercial venues including the Belle Vue Hotel. (NB It seems unlikely that these were licensed.)

What may have prompted the decision to secure club rooms for the BCSSA was that the Bradford Park Avenue Supporters’ Club had itself opened premises at 21 Morley Street at the start of the season. The two clubs were commercial rivals whose initiatives were invariably designed to attain local advantage. Judging from the price of season tickets at Park Avenue and Valley Parade for instance it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Avenue sought to capitalise on the attraction of higher standard football by charging generally lower prices. For the Bradford City directorship, it was another obstacle to financial recovery.

O’Rourke’s signings

Budget constraints were a big factor in determining O’Rourke’s recruitment strategy. Instead of big money transfers or reliance on former high profile players , his approach was quite the opposite. Neither could O’Rourke rely upon players progressing through reserve teams and in June, 1928 the club had resigned membership of the Central League for economy reasons. In fact all of this was no different to what he had been used to the first time as manager of Bradford City between 1905-21.

Prior to World War One, Peter O’Rourke with the help of Tom Paton had been successful in identifying young, talented players in junior (mainly Scottish) football. So too his initial recruitment strategy in 1928 was based entirely on signing players from junior clubs although this time they tended to be Welsh.

This approach contrasted with that of O’Rourke’s predecessor, Colin Veitch who had relied upon signing veteran League players to get out of the third division. Not only was this a more expensive option but it was probably ill-suited to a third division dog-fight that had more to do with kick and rush than fancy football.

In June, 1928 O’Rourke exploited his contacts from when he had been manager of Pontypridd (1922) to secure three players from Aberdare whose financial difficulties had forced it to withdraw an application to join Division Three (South). Among them were Trevor Edmunds, a prolific scorer in Welsh and Southern League football, David Thomas and Alex Davies. Later that month came Cornelius White from Bangor City. Other new signings included J Charlton and J Jamieson from Wallsend and Fred Smith (a goalkeeper) from an Aberdeen junior side, St Machars. Others included Donald McArthur, signed from Scottish junior club, Glasgow West Park and Tom Moon from Dick, Kerrs of Preston.

These were essentially speculative, opportunist signings and although Edmunds and White managed hat tricks on the opening day of the season, none of these players established themselves at the club and all were released nine months later. What may have had something to do with this was that with the exception of George Hobson, a Leeds amateur in the squad, all the close season recruits were from afar and did not relocate. In fact City could not afford to pay them to do so and arrangements were made for players to train near their homes. This could not have been ideal, particularly given the emphasis on fitness and may explain why results were fairly mixed during the initial stage of the season.

O’Rourke was used to having to operate on a shoestring at Valley Parade and it meant that he was not averse to making difficult decisions. Just as he had been prepared to release club favourites such as James Conlin in July, 1906; Bob Whittingham in April, 1910; James Speirs in December, 1912; or Dickie Bond in May, 1922 he sanctioned the transfer of goalkeeper, Jock Ewart to Preston North End. Ewart had made 255 appearances for City between 1912-23 and then returned at the beginning of the 1927/28 season when he played a further 28 times.

As City manager, O’Rourke’s focus was on fitness, a strong work ethic and a strong team spirit that brought the best out of his players as a whole. The characteristic of his approach was to build a team around a tight defence. It was also said that under his supervision, Veitch’s signings had given performances as they never had before at Valley Parade and longer-serving players such as Ralph Burkinshaw and William Watson enjoyed a new lease of life. As the history of Bradford City has demonstrated time and time again, O’Rourke’s was a successful formula. What is telling from match reports is that whereas supporter barracking had previously been a recurring, problematic issue at Valley Parade in the preceding five years, a good rapport evolved between players and spectators during the 1928/29 season. No doubt O’Rourke recognised that spectators would get behind a hard-working team, an implied criticism maybe of what had happened in the past few years.

Bradford City also benefited from O’Rourke’s experience as a manager, not simply his tactical awareness but his judgement of players and willingness to make changes. Recognising that his close season transfers had not been particularly successful, signings made in October, 1928 proved timely for strengthening the team and getting momentum underway for a promotion challenge. His later recruits, Adam Mitchell (an inside-right from Scottish club, Penicuik) in December, 1928 and then Sandy Cochrane (a Scottish inside forward, from Darlington) in January, 1929 were equally important. Finally, it was the acquisition of Albert Whitehurst from Liverpool in February, 1929 that arguably secured promotion.

In these dealings, the role of Tom Paton was decisive. He was equally a good talent spotter and was credited in the Liverpool Echo for his part in the negotiations for Whitehurst’s signature. Paton provided a good sounding board for O’Rourke and in combination the pairing was an effective partnership.

Rivalry with Stockport County

There was a gulf in standards between Division Two and the regionalised third division (and of the two, the northern section was considered the weaker). Needless to say this was matched by similar inequalities in financial strength between the clubs in the different divisions. Yet whilst most relegated clubs secured a prompt return to the second division, achieving promotion was statistically at least, a difficult proposition. For instance only the champions of the respective third divisions won promotion and this made it extremely competitive between the stronger sides as to who could escape.

In 1928/29 Division Three (North) was dominated by two exceptional teams and this was the season in which the historic rivalry between Bradford City and Stockport County was born, one which had a particular intensity for the best part of the next fifty years.

The League games between the rivals were reported to have been particularly tense affairs with 2-1 home advantage in each case. City derived psychological one-upmanship with a 2-0 victory at Valley Parade in the FA Cup Third Round watched by a bumper crowd of 30,171. Yet for most of the season, Bradford City sat behind Stockport County in the table.

stockport 28-29

It was reported that there was considerable enthusiasm among City supporters for the start of the season and a new era for the club under its famous old manager. An opening 11-1 defeat of Rotherham United provided the best possible start and set a new club record. Nevertheless, at the beginning of October when the club was placed in 5th position there were misgivings being expressed about team strength and the effectiveness of the forwards. The weakness of reserve players forced entry into the transfer market and O’Rourke signed Fred Bedford from Morecambe and James Randall from Ashington (the latter signing financed by new director, Frank Naylor). It had immediate benefit and by the following month the team had confirmed its credentials as a championship contender.

Newspaper reports attributed the improvement in form to the influence of captain Tom Cairns, the strikeforce partnership of Moon and Randall and the versatility of Sam Barkas at wing half. In fact the emergence of Barkas who became a regular in the side from November, 1928 (playing in midfield) was one of the highlights of the season. He made 26 appearances in 1928/29 and subsequently gained a reputation as one of the club’s best players, representing Bradford City on 202 occasions in the League before his £5,000 transfer to Manchester City in April, 1934. Thirty years later he returned to Valley Parade and had responsibility for the club’s pools and fund-raising but left in 1966 amid rumours of embezzlement.

Sam Barkas had joined Bradford City as an eighteen year old in August, 1927 from junior club Middle Dock that competed in the Wearside League. He made his debut in February, 1927 as a right back and had made four appearances in the 1927/28 season. He had four brothers who each played in the Football League, the youngest of whom joined City in 1933/34 and made 16 appearances before signing for Halifax Town in 1934. For the Barkas brothers, becoming a professional footballer was an escape from the Durham coal mines.

A significant factor in the success of the team was the consistency and effectiveness of the defence, the same hallmark that had distinguished O’Rourke’s previous reign at Valley Parade. Between them Watty Shirlaw (goalkeeper), Sam Russell, William Watson, Ralph Burkinshaw and William Summers were virtually ever-present and only Summers (5 out of 42) and Watson (1) missed games that season. Above all, the strong team spirit and a growing self-belief that was shared among the players as well as the supporters was cited as the big difference, exactly the same characteristics instilled by O’Rourke in the City team before World War One.

It was unprecedented to have scored 52 goals in the first 15 games and this was sufficient to have lifted the spirits at Valley Parade. However, what was all the more remarkable was that unlike the defence there had been no consistency in the selection of the forward line and the ongoing changes reflected O’Rourke’s efforts to achieve the ideal combination.

The return League fixture at Edgeley Park on 2nd February, 1929 was billed as one of the most important games played by Bradford City since relegation from Division One in 1922, a true ‘four-pointer’. It was designated by the BCSSA as the occasion of its annual trip and it was estimated that as many as 5,000 followers travelled to Stockport by trains. Defeat in that game came as a major disappointment, not simply because of the result but because it highlighted deficiencies in the side. There was considerable despondency among supporters and after the game at Edgeley Park people feared that City would fall away from the top and concede the championship to County. The considered view was that weakness in the centre forward position was the achilles’ heel of the team.

It seems bizarre that a free-scoring club such as City should not have had a dedicated centre-forward until the signing of Albert Whitehurst in February, 1929. Prior to that, as many as five men – Bedford, Clarke, Moore, Scriven and White – had between them played as a centre-forward but none had been an ideal fit. Whitehurst was an accomplished centre-forward and had been a prolific scorer for Rochdale in Division Three (North). Such had been his record that he was targeted by Liverpool at the start of the 1928/29 season but he struggled to make an impact, scoring twice in only eight games in the first division.

Back in the third division with Bradford City, Whitehurst soon rediscovered his scoring boots. In only his fourth game for the Paraders, he scored seven goals against Tranmere Rovers to equal a Football League record. By the end of the season he had managed two more hat tricks and finished with 24 goals to his credit from only 15 games. He was indeed one of the best signings ever made by the club and Liverpool were understood to have accepted a fee of only £525 – much less than the £1,500 they had paid Rochdale eight months before.

1928 team b

An undefeated run in the final 16 games – with 13 victories and a total of 55 goals scored – secured the title for Bradford City in the last match of the season and Stockport County finished as runners-up. That run coincided with the signing of Albert Whitehurst who scored 24 goals in the last 15 games. During March/April there was a sequence of six fixtures in which City had high scoring victories: 8-0; 8-0; 5-0; 5-0; 3-0 and 4-1; of the 29 goals scored in those games, Albert Whitehurst claimed as many as 17 including 7 in a single game (vs Tranmere Rovers).

Willie Watson D3N medal 1928-29 F

William Watson’s championship medal

In terms of results there was little between the two leading sides. Bradford City managed 27 wins and 9 draws, suffering only 6 defeats out of 42 matches. Stockport gained 28 victories and 6 draws but unlike City, County went undefeated at home and won 19 out of 21 games at Edgeley Park. All told the Paraders finished one point ahead of Stockport although with three points for a win, the tally would have been equal at 90 points apiece. To put this into context, there is a good chance both would have topped 100 points had there been 46 games as is the case for the third tier nowadays.

New Records

What set the teams apart was the goalscoring record and whilst Stockport managed 111 goals for with 58 against, the Bradford City team scored a new Football League record total of 128 goals (of which 82 at Valley Parade), conceding 43. Albert Whitehurst scored the 100th goal at Chesterfield on 16 March, 1929 and from that stage the club began to target a new record to beat the 127 goals scored by Millwall in Division Three (South) the previous season. It was an era of high scoring and Bradford Park Avenue for instance had managed to score 101 goals in three successive seasons to 1927/28.

Previously the highest aggregate number of League goals scored in a season by Bradford City had been 90 in 1907/08, a record subsequently exceeded only in 1928/29 and 1961/62 (94 goals) and matched in 1950/51 (90. (NB Both post-war seasons involved 46 games whereas in 1907/08, 38 games were played and in 1928/29, 42.) The club also set itself new records in 1928/29 with the highest number of goals scored in a League fixture, both at home (11-1) and away (8-2).

The leading goalscorer was Albert Whitehurst with 24 (a new club record) despite having only joined the club in mid-February. The next highest was Tom Moon with 15. However, it was the mark of a free-scoring team that as many as 16 City players scored in League games and of those, 14 got two or more. For Bradford City it was a remarkable transformation because the lack of a prolific goalscorer had been the prime reason for the club’s decline after World War One. In fact, no City striker had managed 20 or more League goals in a season since Frank O’Rourke (20) and Bob Whittingham (21) in 1909/10.

Albert Whitehurst

A characteristic of Division Three (North) was the extent of home advantage and the consensus was that promotion depended on away wins, an adage confirmed by the experience of both Bradford clubs. For example, in 1927/28 City had been defeated only twice at Valley Parade which contrasted with just three victories away from home and ten defeats.

Club officials had admitted that the state of third division grounds had taken them by surprise after relegation in 1927. In April, 1928 the Yorkshire Sports contrasted Feethams, Darlington with the grounds of Barrow, Durham City, Wigan Borough and Rotherham United that were described as ‘unloveliness personified’. Mention was also made of the Rotherham crowd that was said to be unpleasant. As a club with a respectable pedigree, Bradford City was a team that a lot of minnows would have identified as a scalp and quite likely this made the challenge of winning away more difficult.

During 1928/29 City were defeated only 4 times away from home and won 10 out of 21 games. It was a season memorable for its excursions, the first of which was a trip to Carlisle United, newly-elected to the Football League in place of Durham City. The game at Brunton Park was the first in the League and set a new attendance record of 13,496. (For the record the result was 2-2 and there were positive comments made about the standard of the ground.) The 8-2 victory at Ashington in October, 1928 was memorable also as a new club record.

The visit to Nelson on 27 April, 1929 set another attendance record, two years after the fixture with Bradford Park Avenue had attracted 14,143 to the Seedhill ground. Excursion trains priced at 2s 6d carried 7,000 City supporters to Nelson, by far the majority in a 14,979 crowd. City won that game 1-0 but with Stockport winning at Doncaster Rovers it left the Paraders a point behind and a game in hand. Three days later, another fixture in Lancashire provided the opportunity to leapfrog Stockport and go into the final game knowing that a draw would be sufficient to secure promotion.

That penultimate game at Rochdale attracted a 20,000 crowd – around four times higher than the usual gate and a new record for the ground. By winning 3-1 at Spotland, Journalist Dick Williamson (Wanderer) of the Telegraph & Argus was gushing in his praise of the City players for their performance. He described it as a wonderful exhibition of team spirit and singled out Cairns for his own performance, described as one of the best of his career. A large crowd was said to have cheered the team on its arrival back to the old Exchange station.

Bradford City were left in control of their destiny and the championship was won with a 3-1 victory over South Shields at Valley Parade – the attendance for the South Shields game was recorded as 28,778 (although the caption of the photo below suggests that it was much higher).

The advert for the Belle Vue Hotel is a reminder of its historic significance in Valley Parade affairs [1].

The following Thursday, supporters toasted championship success at a celebratory dinner held at the Connaught Rooms. On the menu was claret and amber pudding and Valley Parade trifle.

goal 128 v south sh 1929.jpg

The average League gate at Valley Parade in 1928/29 was 18,551 and this was the highest in the two lower divisions (closely followed by Fulham in Division Three (South)). Away attendances averaged around 12,000, undoubtedly boosted by visiting Bradford City supporters who were a boon to the finances of other clubs. Gate sharing arrangements also benefited visitors to Valley Parade and were thus of net disadvantage to Bradford City.

The crowds at Valley Parade contributed to a financial recovery although ominously the club remained heavily indebted and in December, 1928 was faced with major expenditure to rectify storm damage to the roof of the Midland Road stand. At the start of the season there was a fear that attendances would be depressed with floating supporters preferring to give their allegiance to Bradford Park Avenue. If anything, it was probably the attendances at Valley Parade that constrained those at Park Avenue in the second half of the season. Certainly the Park Avenue gates were boosted by attractive fixtures and Avenue spent most of the season in the top five – finishing 3rd, just below the promotion places. Yet it was the Paraders who had traditionally been the better supported club and this was reflected in the fact that despite Avenue being in the division above City, the average gate at Park Avenue in 1928/29 was only 17,240.

What is remarkable is the extent to which Bradford football attendances improved during 1928/29 with the average at Valley Parade increasing by 52% from 12,180 and those at Park Avenue by 28% from 13,514 in 1927/28 – and these increases were without the benefit of a derby gate which had inflated the average in 1927/28. (NB Despite winning the championship in 1927/28, the Avenue gates had been only marginally higher than in 1926/27 when they were 10,507 whilst those of City had been 12,595.)

The Football League safeguarded gates by ensuring that there were no fixture clashes and (if it could be afforded) it was therefore possible for people to watch League football in Bradford every Saturday. Bradford Northern RFC did not enjoy the same fixture protection and attendances at Birch Lane suffered in 1928/29 as a consequence of the revitalisation of City and Avenue. Neither did it help that Northern had a particularly weak team such that Rugby League was a far less attractive entertainment option.

Football was an escape from a phenomenon that defined the era. There had been a persistently high level of unemployment in Bradford after World War One and after a brief respite during 1926-27, the number of jobless increased sharply from the beginning of 1928, virtually doubling during the next 18 months. What is notable is that the rise in football attendances was in parallel to this increase in unemployment and despite the fact that Bradford had become known as an unemployment blackspot. [2] In this context the attendances at Valley Parade and Park Avenue surely confirm that football was an important feelgood factor for the city.

1929 celebration menu detail

Shortly after the football season ended, on 22nd May, 1929 Valley Parade hosted the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin who held a rally at the ground the week before the General Election. It was a reminder of the traditional political sympathies of those in charge of the two Bradford football clubs. A reported crowd of ten thousand attended the event with Baldwin addressing those assembled from a platform in front of the old main stand. His efforts made little difference and all four Bradford constituencies as well as Shipley continued to elect Labour Party MPs, each with slightly higher majorities and a combined vote of 49% (compared to the Conservatives, 27% and the Liberals, 24%).

No more pudding

The success of Bradford City in record-breaking fashion in 1928/29 created unreasonable expectations, exemplified by a programme cover adopted during the first half of the 1929/30 campaign with a cartoon that claimed ‘Promotion is only a matter of time’. The manner in which Bradford Park Avenue had challenged at the top of Division Two in their first season back convinced City supporters that their club could do likewise, maybe even going one step further and regaining first division status. Why then was the championship season of 1928/29 not a springboard to further success and why was it that only eight years later, in 1937 Bradford City returned to the third tier, to remain a lower division club until 1985?

The answer was money and in my opinion the impact of the trade depression on Bradford football had less to do with attendances as opposed to the willingness or inability of local businessmen to commit significant funds to either of the two senior clubs. Indeed, the fact that unemployment continued to rise – such that by its peak in September, 1931 it was double what it had been two years’ before – confirmed the extent of the downturn in the textile market. In the context of a worsening trade outlook it would have taken a brave man to invest his wealth in Bradford football.

In 1929 O’Rourke delivered what had been asked of him but he would have known that further team strengthening was necessary to consolidate the club in the second division. So it proved and in the 1929/30 season Bradford City narrowly avoided relegation by a single point having struggled throughout.

The bulk of the first team was retained but with notable exceptions (in particular, Sam Barkas), the players who had won promotion were not the men to take the club much further as O’Rourke knew only too well. As for the brilliant Albert Whitehurst, he suffered injuries and could manage only 7 goals in 23 games in Division Two. He eventually left for Tranmere Rovers at the end of the 1930/31 season.

Without the assurance of major investment it would have been a daunting task to rebuild the team and this became the cause of tension between O’Rourke and certain of the Valley Parade directors. Peter O’Rourke was a man who was forthright with his views and probably used to getting his own way. No doubt there was also unease in the boardroom that he was too powerful, someone connected with the club for all but seven years since formation in 1903.

Politics at Valley Parade have typically revolved around money and the relationship between the team manager and the club’s directors. Disagreements over funding for new signings during the 1929/30 season evolved into a debate about extending Peter O’Rourke’s contract beyond the end of the season and that culminated in a boardroom split. In March, 1930 those directors who were supportive of O’Rourke – Messrs Sawyer, Hey and McDermott – resigned and it was no surprise that the manager handed in his notice of resignation in June, 1930. Ultimately it was the failure to invest in the team and build on the momentum of success in 1928/29 that would be the club’s downfall. The financial crisis in 1928 left a shadow over Bradford City AFC as it became distinctly risk-averse with succeeding directors pre-occupied with reducing debt rather than speculating.

NOTES:

[1] The story of the ‘City Rendezvous’, the now forlorn former Belle Vue Hotel at the top of Valley Parade is told here.

[2] In February, 1929 there were more people unemployed in Bradford than in any other Yorkshire town or city (including Sheffield and Hull) and more than twice that in Newcastle. To its credit, Bradford Corporation had introduced a number of work creation programmes dating back to 1922 and again in 1928 it responded to the problem with a number of imaginative as well as ambitious projects across the district.

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Tweets: @jpdewhirst or @woolcityrivals

Links to other online articles about Bradford sport history 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

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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 local boxing, 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 and the history of Bradford sports journalists.

Contributions and feedback are welcome.

==================================

The Noble Art: A History of Bradford Boxing, Part One

by Ian Hemmens

From time immemorial, fighting as a contest has attracted interest be it dualling, fencing, wrestling or outright punch-ups. Men would challenge each other with a wager put aside for the victor. These contests of the ‘bare-knuckle’ variety were often brutal and would be fought until the loser could no longer carry on, many bouts lasting hundreds of rounds . These bouts around the early 18th century had little regulation for the welfare of the competitors. A fighter could become famous though by manipulating the press and attracting decent crowds by fighting a local hero in their back yard. There is evidence even of early ‘agents’ promoting certain fighters to enhance their earning power & reputations.

Bradford’s first boxer of note would probably be one John Leachman born in the town in 1815. At 6ft & 12 stones in weight, by the age of 17 he was already building a reputation beating Ned Batterson of Leeds in a contest lasting well over an hour for a purse of £5. Known locally as ‘Brassey’ after a more nationally well known earlier prize-fighter, his reputation continued to grow with several fights across the North & Midlands. 1835 saw a crowd rumoured to be around 12000 watch Leachman beat Irishman Jem Bailey on Baildon Moor for a £10 purse in a fight lasting 135 minutes. 1836 saw Leachman beat the acknowledged Yorkshire Champion Tom Scruton for a £20 purse and the Title.

Around the same time in Nottingham, a certain William Thompson known as ‘Bendigo’ began making moves in the sport which would culminate in him becoming a boxing immortal recognised as one of the early greats. Bendigo announced his arrival on the big time with the defeat of the much bigger & heavier English Champion Ben Caunt. ‘Brassey’ immediately challenged the Champion for a £50 prize but Bendigo ignored the challenge whilst building his reputation touring & giving exhibitions of the ‘Noble Art’. Brassey bided his time then renewed his challenge which was finally accepted. The fight took place near Doncaster at Stocks Moor. After 52 rounds, Bendigo was awarded the win after the fight was stopped with Brassey committing a foul punch to the Champs lower abdomen. Bendigo then lost the rematch with Caunt who in turn lost to ‘Deaf’ Burke. Bendigo then regained the Title beating Burke. Brassey continued to fight all comers but was marginalised from the ‘big time’. Not all areas were in favour of the the fight game and after a small riot after a bout in Salford, Brassey found himself imprisoned for 2 months for inciting the trouble. After his release he resumed and with Bendigo temporarily retired through a bad knee injury, Brassey took on Ben Caunt at Cambridge but the difference in weight & height took its toll in a brutal contest which saw Caunt victorious. Although never a quitter, the punishment was starting to take its toll and despite an offer from Bendigo for a rematch, it would never take place due to lack of backers who thought it a non contest. Sadly for Brassey he finally accepted the inevitable and retired. The years of punishment meant that he died aged only 30 years old when his 2 great rivals Bendigo & Ben Caunt were contesting the title for a 3rd time. Bradfords 1st real star of the fight games time had gone.

It was becoming a time of change. The brutality of some contests, the violence by large unruly crowds, a more educated & open acceptance of medicine & physiology led certain politicians & members of the constabulary to start to try & enforce more restrictions and rules on the sport. These would eventually culminate in the Queensberry Rules devised by the Marquis of Queensberry. They were fairly rudimentary at first but were gradually revised as medical opinion & comments from others involved were added to and adapted. For now though, steps were taken to almost outlaw & fully ban the sport completely by certain parties but this only drove the contests underground. Others of an entrepreneurial nature saw advantages in offering to hold contests in the Theatres & Music Halls as a way of bringing in extra revenue. A major venue in Bradford was the Jollity Vaudeville Theatre on Canal Road, a building later demolished to make way for the Empire Stores Building. Wrestling bouts also proved highly popular at the Jollity & along with the Star Music Hall on Manchester Road, these were the main venues for the sport in Bradford. The Jollity was the venue for the next Bradford hero, Paddy Mahoney. Although born in Liverpool, he arrived in Bradford as a youngster. The family settled along with thousands of other Irish immigrants in the Broomfield area, now gone but situated near the bottom of Wakefield Road until lost in the slum clearances of 1935. A veritable melting pot for boxing, as well as Mahoney & the Atkinson Brothers, The famous ‘Fighting Delaneys’ also came out of Broomfield but more of them later.

Mahoney was boxing at the Jollity as a 16 year old in 1893 beating Johnny McGowan. By now, the bouts were in a ring and gloved, more recognisable to modern day fight fans. Paddy was game for taking on all comers and eventually found himself as British Champion Bantamweight beating Tom Turner of London comfortably on points to become Bradford’s first ‘Gloved’ Champion. Paddy decided to cash in on his fame, taking over the ‘Ashley’ Hotel on Manchester Road & then embarking on a visit to Ireland & the United States to show his skills. After his return, Paddy retired and went into the promotional side. His mantle was taken by Harry Clarkson but Paddy’s Son Jimmy followed his Father into the game and after a short career became a well respected Referee.

The Atkinson Brothers also began as ‘curtain raisers’ at the Jollity, 2 more Broomfield boys who, whilst not reaching the heights of Paddy Mahoney were regulars on the Northern circuit right up to and just after WW1 when age and ill health finally caught up with them.

Several other personalities of Bradford interest made the pre-WW1 boxing scene in Bradford vibrant. Unfortunately, the authorities were also making it hard for the sport to grow & thrive. Tommy Cullen was another of Irish origin who had arrived in Bradford as a youngster. Around the time of crossover from Bare-knuckle to Glove, Tommy made his reputation in local halls graduating up the ladder with sponsorship from local dignitaries with an eye for favourable publicity. After winning a tight contest on Doncaster Racecourse, he was entered in a National event at Aldershot where bouts of all weights took place. Tommy fought his way through to the final and achieved victory. The highpoint of his career. Sadly, he was unable to build on his blossoming rise when he fell from scaffolding whilst working and was left in a wheelchair for the rest of his life although he continued in the sport by putting on promotions & becoming a judge. Seth Rouse was a well known all round sportsman in Bradford around the 1890s. Boxing, running, swimming, arrow throwing, he was game for any contest where a wager was present. He appeared around the district at venues as differing as Greenfield, Harold Park , Old Red Gin Fields & the ‘Carlisle Road Carpet Beating Rooms’! A born entertainer, he could draw huge crowds and was a more than decent boxer. Dick Burge, originally from Newcastle but Bradford based had an excellent record and at his peak he was alleged to be close to a match up with the legend Jack Dempsey who was touring Britain with Jim Corbett but the much anticipated bout never took place.

From 1912, the boom in the sport, driven by the likes of the first black World Champion Jack Johnson. Crowds in Bradford flocked to St Georges Hall to watch cine-film of the Champ in action with many by todays standards, politically uncorrect voices bellowing out of the audience towards Johnson. He, of course , played up to the part of pantomime villain and despite his proficiency was known to tour with several ‘minders’. Johnson was booked to appear in exhibition contests in 1911 at the Palace Theatre to packed houses but illness robbed the Bradford public of the chance to see the sports biggest star in the flesh. At the same time, opposition to the sport was growing even up to the level of Home Secretary who in 1911 refused to grant licenses for johnson to fight the British Champion ‘Bombardier Billy Wells’. Several members of the clergy, the Lord Mayor 7 Chief Constable of Bradford were among the signatories of a petition to ban the sport. The reasons given were the delicate nature of race relations, the possible brutality on show to theatre crowds and if read between the lines, the lack of understanding a black champion defeating a bona-fide English hero would create amongst the general public. It was thought Britain wasn’t quite reading for such things so soon after various colonial episodes such as the Boer War.

The Chief Constable, a Mr Farndale in 1912 said no further licences would be granted for the City for Professional bouts but exhibitions were permitted if policed properly. The embargo lasted for 2 years by which time, Bradford families had produced 2 sets of Brothers destined for great things in the sport.

 

Brothers in arms

As mentioned earlier, the Broomfields area was a veritable melting pot for Boxers with the Delaney family leading the way. Also prominent was the Blakeborough family. Of the several Brothers, nearly all decent level, Fred Delaney & his younger sibling Jerry Delaney were the best, indeed, Jerry was tipped to reach the very top such was his progress until his tragic end. All the top experts & followers of the sport were excited by the Bradford youngsters progress.

Will Blakeborough

Fred Blakeborough (pictured below) and his Brother Will (pictured right) started their rise just when the local bans began to hit the sport locally. Will moved up to the North East to continue his career whilst Fred, after a promising start at the Bradford Sporting Club at Thornbury, later the Talk of Yorkshire Nightclub. Will’s career was short & somewhat in the shadow of his sibling. Some momentous wins over the Irish Bantamweight Billy Deane & Joby Jordan of Sheffield who had drawn with Jerry Delaney saw Will Blakeborough’s stock rising. A further fight in France against local man Clement proved to be his swansong as he fell to a greater foe when he was killed in action in 1915 aged only 22 whilst serving with the Bradford Pals.

Fred Blakeborough

Fred moved his operations to Manchester where he soon caught the eye with several exciting wins at the Free Trade Hall against some of Lancashires finest. Wins against former rated fighters Marchant, Gordon & McGuinness saw Fred offered a non title bout against the British Champion Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis in Leeds in January of 1914. The bout was cancelled due to a series of strikes in the City but months later in a final eliminator against ‘Seaman’ Hayes, Fred was leading massively on points when Hayes caught him with a lucky punch and took the victory.

By now in 1915, a much bigger conflict was taking place on the fields of France & Flanders. Fred became a PT Instructor at the Catterick Garrison. Continuing to Box, he won several bouts but possibly distracted by the untimely death of his Brother Will, he became very inconsistent losing fights he would normally have won easily. His style was a move & jab rather than a brawler but he lost a couple of big eliminators by trying to mix it with fighters. He met his match against the classy Welshman Llew Edwards and was beaten in 10.

Fred’s next appearance was then in 1919 when he showed his old class against former Champ & Lonsdale Belt holder Billy Benyon but it proved to be his swansong. Admitting he was struggling to make weight, he decided to move into promoting and even later became a renowned Referee. In later years he became a Councillor for the Bradford Moor Ward in the 1950s before his death aged 74 in 1968. The Blakeborough Brothers were popular in Bradford Boxing circles but another family took the sport to new levels in Bradford, the Fighting Delaneys.

Before we tell their story, a novel episode took place with public schoolboy & Son of a local mill owner George Mitchell whose 1st love was actually wrestling announced he would offer the then colossal sum of £200 to fight the World renowned Light Heavyweight Champion of the World, Georges Carpentier in Paris. Carpentier had battered Britains best Bombardier Billy Wells & Ted Kid Lewis both within a round and had even fought the ‘Manassa Mauler’ Jack Dempsey for the World Heavyweight Title before gamely losing. It was rumoured that Mitchell had backed himself heavily to survive longer than his compatriots and despite taking a horrific beating in the fight which took place in August 1914, he actually lasted longer than his more renowned countrymen showing great courage if not skill against one of the Worlds top Boxers. The George Mitchell story has a sad ending though when he too was killed in action in 1915 serving with the Public School Battalion.

The Family Delaney

Coming out of the Broomfields area were Bradford’s most prolific boxing family, the Delaneys who over a period of time provide 6 Sons to the sport. William Delaney had arrived in Bradford from Tipperary in the 1870s like many thousands of others seeking work & settled in the predominantly Irish Broomfields area marrying Catherine Durkin and producing 13 children. The second eldest Son Jack was the trailblazer for the family fighting out of a gym on Lee Street off Thornton Road but younger siblings Billy, who for the reason being there was already a fighter by that name, was known as Fred & Jerry were to become nationally known. The was also Frank & Young Fred carrying on the family tradition over a 30 year span which even continued after that with Tommy Madden, a nephew of the Brothers. Under the tutelage of Jim Driscoll at Lee Street, Fred Delaney polished his act learned in streetfighting & boxing booths at fairgrounds although it was acknowledged that his achilles heel was his short, fiery temper which he never managed to control. The main man who managed to thwart Fred’s progress 3 times in the ring was Middlesbrough born Johnnie Summers who knew exactly how to work Fred in the ring and became a British Champion at 2 different weights.

Fred Delaney

Fred (pictured) had moved to Wales following Driscoll who believed in his talent but could not curb his weakness. This weakness always guaranteed a good entertaining fight and Fred was popular in Wales with fight fans.

Returning to Bradford in 1910, Fred took on Manningham based Alf Wood at the Belle Vue Barracks but arguments over the purse delayed the fight and the sell out crowd began to grow restless, the Broomfield brigade supporting their man & Wood’s followers likewise. What could have turned out serious was quelled when the promoter offered to up the purse and calm was restored. The fight went ahead with Fred eventually finishing off Wood in the 15th saving him further punishment.

For the next fight at the Barracks, Fred was top of the bill against Welshman Albert Smith and won a hard fought bout on points. A sign of things to come saw younger Brother Jerry on the undercard for the first time and he totally outclassed Young Wilkinson of Brighouse in the 1st round.

The Brothers began training & sparring together in rooms on Walton Street and onlookers would vouch to the intensity of the Brothers when sparring with each other , no quarter given or asked.

Boxing news Jerry Delaney

Jerry’s first big fight came in 1911 against the other local star Fred Blakeborough at the Coliseum Ice Rink on Toller Lane. Fred was in the corner for his Brother & in his enthusiasm during a hard fought points win, Fred was warned by the Referee as to his behaviour but Jerry got the verdict.

As the Bans on Boxing in Bradford closed the sport down for a period pre WW1, the Brothers had to move elsewhere and at various times were based in the North East, London & even on sponsored tours to the United States & Australia. Fred had big wins in Blackfriars against Wally Pickard & American Kid Davis who had a long unbeaten run in his career till meeting the Broomfield lad. Next came a trip ‘over the pond’ and the long crossing proved debilitating to Fred who wasn’t a good traveller at all & spent most of his time in the US laid up by the effects of the ‘mal-de-mer’!.

After a while and despite receiving favourable press, the Brothers returned home but Fred once again decamped to Wales where a 2 bout scrap with Welsh star Fred Dyer saw him beaten but win the return on a handsome points decision. Dyer had been a Lonsdale Belt holder & was hugely respected in the game. Various eliminators followed and Promoter Joe Jagger wanted to match Fred with the legendary Freddie Welsh for the lightweight championship & Lonsdale Belt. With Jimmy Driscoll & the famous ‘Mighty Atom’ Jimmy Wilde, Freddie Welsh was amongst the greatest of fighters from Wales over his career of 168 contests had seen him achieve title at British , European & finally the World Lightweight title unbeaten between 1914-1917. While the bout was being organised and money for the purse being gathered, Fred’s title hopes were dealt a massive blow when he was knocked out in 5 rounds by Sapper O’Neill in Liverpool in a warm up bout. 1914 saw a win & another defeat as his career wobbled and the title chance become slimmer.

In the meantime after wowing fight fans at the National Sporting Club in London, Jerry was linked with a fight for the World Title if the American Champion could be enticed over here but there was an ‘elephant in the room’. War was declared and all of a sudden, all normalities of life were cast aside as young men signed up with patriotic fervour for the killing fields of France & Flanders and eventually many points beyond was the carnage engulfed the World.

Jerry Delaney 2

Jerry (pictured) had worked his way up the rankings to be the top contender when the call to arms came. In the meantime, Fred had followed Freddie Welsh over to the States to try and get the title fight on and despite sparring sessions, the fight never took place as events elsewhere took over. Fred left for Australia in 1916 after a couple of return bouts against journeymen fighters. Seeing his Brothers called up for active duty, Fred saw no reason to put the family under further duress and was old enough to escape the first draft. To his credit he wasn’t escaping and did eventually join the Australian Army and was gassed & wounded at Vimy Ridge. He did survive though and by now in his mid 30s, he tried to renew his boxing career but was never the same & never regained his previous form as feared & respected fighter in the game.

As Fred’s career drew to a close he became a Trainer & cornerman for his younger sibling ,the ‘real’ Fred who was known as ‘Young Fred’. Based at the Walton Street gym near to the family home in Broomfields. With the Belle Vue Barracks obviously out of consideration during the Great War, plans were in place to use the ‘Kursaal’ Hall up Morley Street. This venue was later renamed the Windsor Hall & Baths as the name ‘Kursaal’ was deemed to Germanic.

After Fred’s problems trying to get the fight with Freddie Welsh, it was Jerry’s rapid rise up the rankings which saw him matched with Welsh for a possible title fight but Welsh made several excuses for not returning to defend his title from America against Bradford’s finest. To be fair some were legitimate, with the U-Boat threat in the Atlantic a major deterrent to Cross- Atlantic travel. Jerry was a far more gifted boxer than Brother Fred who was a scrapper & mauler showing his streetfighting rots. Jerry was far more scientific in the ring using his speed and agility to jab & move away from trouble and use this to pick off opponents and wear them down. His stock was rising with every bout and eventually he became the darling of the London crowds at the National Sporting Club. Every expert & journalist involved in the sport anticipated greatness for the Broomfield Boy who seemed to have an answer to every style of opponent put before him.

As with the patriotic fervour of the time, Jerry volunteered immediately to do his duty in 1914 enlisting in the Sportsmans Battalion. 4 other Delaney Brothers also enlisted in the Army also doing their duty. During training and before he was drafted to France, he continued to fight at the Sporting Club in Exhibition fights as the ‘Fighting Private’ . After his call to the Front line, his duties also included being a PT Instructor for the Battalion and included a promotion to Lance Corporal. After a dawn raid on a German machine gun nest, Jerry led a team back to his own lines and carried a wounded comrade back to safety depite taking 2 bullets himsel, one to the leg & one to the abdomen. His bravery saw him awarded the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal). News of his gallantry reached Bradford & several promoters & fans put together a benefit for Jerry, amongst the attractions, local rival Fred Blakeborough who came from Catterick where he was a PT Instructor.

After treatment for his wounds, Jerry was offered a posting as a PT Instructor back in Britain but as soldier with experience of the camaraderie of the trenches, he refused it to stay with his fellow comrades in France. A few months later in another bombing raid at Delville Wood on the Somme Offensive, Jerry Delaney, the Pride of Broomfields was tragically cut down. The sport was already reeling after losing middleweight Champ Tommy McCormick some weeks earlier & Jerry’s death was further body blow. He was so well thought of, although he never won a title, such was his promise & reputation, ‘Boxing’ paper had his tribute on the front cover & despite being buried in France, Lord Lonsdale paid for a tribute to be placed in Bowling Cemetery in his home town.

The younger Delaney’s Joe & Young Fred had better than average careers at the Regional level never reaching the heights of Jerry or old Fred. A fallow period followed for Bradford boxing ending for several years in 1924 with the Syd Pape versus Ted Kid Lewis title fight at the Windor Halls being so brutal, the local magistrates refused for several years to give boxing any sort of license within the City boundaries.

Fred Delaney got a job with the Bradford & District Newspapers where he remained and continued to live in West Bowling until his death after a long illness in 1949 aged 64. It was truly the end of an era for Bradford Boxing where local lads had reached for the top and in the case of Jerry Delaney, almost touched it. The tragedy of his loss was felt for many years by the Bradford sporting public who had seen their local hero snatched from their grasp on the cusp of greatness.

Part TWO to follow on VINCIT later this year

  • Thanks to Bradford Libraries
  • Boxing in Bradford & Leeds by Ronnie Wharton
  • Internet Sources on Bareknuckle Boxing

Ian Hemmens is on twitter:     @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 articles are scheduled to feature boxing, cycling, football, the forgotten sports grounds of Bradford, the politics of Bradford sport and the history of Bradford sports journalists.

Contributions and feedback are welcome.

==================================

A Game fit for Heroes: The revival of Bradford Rugby, 1919

The Centenary of the Bradford Rugby Revival

This month marks the centenary of the opening of the Scholemoor ground in Lidget Green in March, 1919 and the revival of a Bradford Rugby Union club as successor to the former (amateur) Bradford FC.

During the first decade of the twentieth century there were frustrated attempts to revive Rugby Union in the Bradford district, principally through the Bradford Wanderers and Horton clubs [1] and in 1907 there had been hopes of restoring the amateur code to Park Avenue. Those efforts reflected an underlying dissatisfaction among traditional rugby followers that the Northern Union had proved lacking and was a poor alternative to the traditional code. The criticisms of the professional game were various, foremost of which was a distaste for how rugby had become commercialised that critics believed was to the detriment of the game itself.Going back to the immediate aftermath of the so-called ‘Great Split’ in 1895, the breakaway rebels had alienated followers of the junior sides who blamed the Northern Union for the financial difficulties of their clubs. [2] By the end of the nineteenth century most had succumbed to insolvency and it remained a grudge against the Northern Union that the juniors had disappeared. To be fair, most of those clubs were financially vulnerable well before the Northern Union came about but the rupture in 1895 made survival a more difficult task. [3]

The rule changes of the Northern Union including the introduction of thirteen aside in 1906 had also alienated rugby fans. In Bradford, and at Park Avenue in particular, much of the antipathy towards the Northern Union had arisen from the fact that whereas prior to 1895 Bradford FC had enjoyed a prestigious fixture card with games against the leading sides of Scotland, Wales and southern England, within the Northern Union there was much less variety or glamour.

As I highlight in LIFE AT THE TOP [4], the tension between the professional and amateur variants of the game was not entirely a matter of class antagonism. Indeed, the experience in Bradford suggests that class identity and mockery of social mores did not become a part of the rivalry between the two codes until around 1905. This phenomenon had much to do with the Northern Union losing its appeal to the public who opted instead for association football and locally, the launch of Bradford City AFC at Valley Parade in 1903 had prompted the desertion of spectators from Park Avenue. In response, the Northern Union sought to promote itself as the peoples’ game. Whilst this made little impact on the popularity of the Northern Union in relation to soccer, it served to differentiate the Northern Union from the Rugby Union in so far as by 1905 the latter game had become a distinctly middle class pursuit. Indeed, whereas many of the junior clubs in the Bradford district who had continued to play Rugby Union after 1895 could be described as working class in their composition, after their disappearance by the end of that decade, Rugby Union in Yorkshire was played almost exclusively by public schools (ie Bradford Grammar School and Woodhouse Grove) and their alumni. However to suggest that after 1895 working class people in Bradford had no affection for traditional rugby – played according to Rugby Union rules – is misleading.

horton 1911-12 named

Prior to World War One, the efforts to sustain a vibrant Rugby Union club in Bradford had floundered on two fundamental issues. The first was the lack of a centrally located ground. The second was the difficulty recruiting new players given that the game did not have the catchment of many young players in the district unlike for example during the 1880s. The issue of where Rugby Union was played was another factor in this in so far as a central ground would have made it more convenient to attract potential recruits. Not surprisingly, those efforts to revive Rugby Union in Bradford prior to World War One made little headway. Ironically, land for a new ground at Lidget Green overlooking the Scholemoor cemetery had been secured in May, 1914 but the outbreak of hostilities three months’ later meant that plans for its development were put on hold. Horton RUFC, the leading side in the district that would have played at the ground, quite possibly relaunching itself as ‘Bradford’.

A new enthusiasm for Rugby Union

By the end of the war the circumstances were better suited to reviving a Bradford Rugby Union club as a successor to the original Bradford FC that had played at Park Avenue. Although the war may have helped reconnect men with Rugby Union (as the game of choice in the armed services), the change in attitude was probably more to do with idealised notions of what the peace should bring and of how sport might contribute to building a brave new world. During 1917 and 1918, editorials in the Yorkshire Sports were already giving thought to peacetime sport. Boxing for example was identified as likely to be popular, presumably because participation had been encouraged in the army [5]. Rugby Union football had similarly been promoted by the armed services and rugby historian Tony Collins has explained how World War One raised the prestige of Rugby Union as the winter sport of the military. [6]

The high casualty rates among rugby players had raised the prestige of the sport. Indeed, Horton RUFC was probably the worst affected of all Bradford sports clubs by the conflict and it was claimed that as many as 15 of the 59 members were killed in World War One and a further 20 had been wounded. This sacrifice further encouraged the efforts to revive Rugby Union in the city and it was considered a gesture of appreciation to the fighting men to endow Bradford with a rugby club to provide the opportunity for future comradeship, recreation and glory. Whilst these were lofty ideals there was a public mood to aspire to something noble that helped reconcile minds to the sacrifice of armed conflict being worthwhile. It was not only in Bradford and as soon as peace was declared came news of Rugby Union clubs being revived, among them Bristol and Leicester announcing plans within days of the Armistice.

The Lidget Green site had been waste land but work began in 1918 to drain and level. The Yorkshire Post of 20th January, 1919 reported that the pitch was ‘on a broad plateau overlooking the Thornton Valley with a beautiful and bracing situation’! The terracing was based on ash banks. A total of £3,000 had been spent on the ground with ‘requisite funds forthcoming from gentlemen in Bradford who feel the necessity for encouraging amateur sport in the city and the neighbourhood.’ It was noted that ‘there had been no appeal for funds, such was not desired, nor was it necessary.’ [7]

Bradford derived a fillip from the new ground being selected as a venue for games in the King’s Cup tournament that was staged in March, 1919 between military sides representing the white Dominions of the British Empire – Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand as well as representatives of the ‘Mother Country’ and the RAF . The competition has been described as rugby’s first ‘World Cup’ whereas it was promoted to bolster imperial unity and excluded non-Empire sides, the most obvious of which being France. Bradford was the only northern venue for the King’s Cup [8} which was quite a coup and this provided the impulse to attract recruits for a new Bradford Rugby Union club that became known simply as ‘Bradford Rugby’.

In Bradford there was a particular affinity with Rugby Union dating back 35 years to when Bradford established for itself a reputation as a rugby hotspot, not due simply to the achievements of Bradford FC or latterly Manningham FC, but the fact that the game was well-established with a strong football culture in the town. For instance there had been a multitude of clubs at junior and local level considered to be of decent standard. Journalists from other towns frequently remarked on the enthusiasm for the game in Bradford. Rugby football had played a big role in defining a Bradford identity and the players of Bradford FC who won the Yorkshire Cup in 1884 had achieved celebrity status. Of the two rival clubs, Bradford FC had by far a more glamorous reputation than Manningham FC. Bradford FC, based at the prestigious Park Avenue ground was considered the town club and its success winning the Yorkshire Challenge Cup in 1884 was the catalyst for prominence on a national stage. Inevitably there were fond memories of the good times when Bradford had commanded such attention.

Fred Bonsor - Rawson Robertshaw - Edgar Wilkinson - Laurie Hickson 1896-97

The legend of Bradford’s rugby history was a source of pride, a reminder of the city’s former greatness and it is not surprising then that nostalgia for those glory years should have had emotional appeal amidst the trauma of war. Prior to the outbreak of the conflict in 1914 there had been a mood of self-confidence in the city that was enjoying a period of economic prosperity and cultural vitality. In other words the rekindling of enthusiasm for Rugby Union and talk of a revived club in Bradford was aligned with the mood of the time to build for the future and restore what had previously been lost.

Reactions to the Rugby Union revival

In all likelihood the nostalgia for amateur rugby was greatest among those in late middle age with misty-eyed recollections of their youth. It seems unlikely to have been shared equally by former partisan Manningham FC members who had long since reconciled themselves to soccer. Their own club had been transformed into one of the leading sides in the Football League, FA Cup winners in 1911 and members of Division One since 1908. Rugby Union (and rugby in general) was viewed as irrelevant and City supporters would have been indifferent to the code’s revival.

Bradford City AFC was by now well-established and thoughts for the future were firmly about carrying on from where things had been left. A good number of the Valley Parade heroes from those heady days were still part of the club and in 1919/20 for instance, eight players who had represented City in the last regular season, 1914/15 provided the nucleus of the first team. Conspicuous by his absence however was Bob Torrance, who had made been killed in action near Ypres in April, 1918. For all involved with the club it must have been a difficult experience but presumably one that encouraged a close bond between players and supporters.

Although supporters of Bradford Park Avenue would have been similarly dismissive about rugby, the leadership of the club was nonetheless sensitive about the revival of a Bradford Rugby Union club. The ‘Great Betrayal’ of 1907 had been controversial and divisive in equal measure as well as fresh in the memory. Park Avenue remained the de facto spiritual home of Bradford sport and Bradford Park Avenue AFC still had ambitions of establishing itself as the senior association club in the city (and by virtue of having finished above Bradford City in the last peacetime season of the Football League it was not an unrealistic objective).

The relative status of football clubs in Bradford had been an emotive topic going back to the original rivalry of Manningham FC and Bradford FC. What Bradford Park Avenue AFC did not want was a resurgent Bradford Rugby club laying claim to inheriting the mantle as natural successors to Bradford FC and usurping its own pretensions, let alone laying claim to Park Avenue as potential tenants. Such was the insecurity at Bradford Park Avenue AFC that the proximity of Bradford Rugby’s Scholemoor ground at Lidget Green to Park Avenue (less than a mile) was also viewed as a threat to its gates. In the Yorkshire Evening Post of 15th March, 1919 Harry Briggs was anxious to dismiss the suggestion that his club was antagonistic to the new venture and offered the use of Park Avenue to the new Bradford Rugby club should it be necessary.

As for Bradford Northern RFC, ever since formation in 1907 (after the ‘Great Betrayal’ at Park Avenue when rugby was abandoned in favour of soccer) the club had struggled to remain a viable entity and during the war there was even talk of disbanding. It had been kept alive through the efforts of its members and directors whose attitude towards Rugby Union could be described as cynical and suspicious if not hostile. Noteworthy is that the Bradford Northern club of the time had much in common with the original Bradford FC when it had been in its prime given that the majority of its players were of local origin. There was the suggestion among Northern Union followers that a new Bradford Rugby Union club would be a positive development in that it might be a source of new talent and the recruitment of players. Despite the bravado, a new rugby club in the city would have constituted a threat to Bradford Northern. Considered one of the weaker sides, Bradford Northern had been perennial strugglers in the Northern Union since formation and the chances of the club providing displays of exhibition rugby were remote. Thus Bradford Northern was vulnerable to the emergence of a decent Bradford Rugby Union club that would make it even more reliant on its partisan followers and the Birch Lane club was less likely to attract those floating spectators who were now offered another option for Saturday afternoon winter entertainment.

What enthusiasts of each of the football codes – Association, Rugby Union and Northern Union – had in common after the hardship of war was a desire to get back to normal. Nothing epitomised that better than the opportunity to watch their favourite game. Thus 1919 and the resumption of peacetime competition was a fresh start for all and the 1919/20 season was one of the most eagerly anticipated by each Bradford club. Other peacetime recreational habits were revived included the reintroduction of trotting races at Greenfield, Dudley Hill in March, 1919 after a break of two years.

Hickson’s Leadership

What is important to understand is that the original ascendancy of Bradford FC had been a very local affair. The heroes of the 1884 team were mostly Bradford men who continued to live in the area. The role of Laurie Hickson, President of the Yorkshire RFU in the revival of the amateur game in Bradford is deserving of particular mention and it was his status within the RFU hierarchy that would have secured Bradford’s involvement in the prestigious King’s Cup tournament. (To my knowledge it is the only time that a Bradford sports ground has hosted ties in an international tournament involving national representatives.)

Hickson had signed for Bradford FC from Bingley FC in 1882 at the age of 21. During a ten year career he was a member of the club’s 1884 Yorkshire Cup winning side and was selected 6 times for England between 1887-90, once as captain. During this time he participated in the club’s high profile tours and fixtures at Park Avenue against leading sides from England, Scotland and Wales. In 1890 he was made a founder member of the Barbarians having been present at the dinner in Bradford at which the touring club was conceived.

After retirement as a player he remained closely involved with affairs at Park Avenue, elected to the leadership committee. However he did not sever his connections in 1895 when Bradford FC seceded from the Rugby Union and remained a member of the powerful Finance & Property Committee of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club from its creation in 1892. He likewise remained a Vice President of the club until 1907 when in that same year he argued passionately for a return to Rugby Union at Park Avenue. At one stage it seemed that he might be successful but his campaigning made him subject to ridicule and critics argued against him that Rugby Union could never be made to pay if the code was restored. In 1919 this would have made him all the more determined to prove otherwise that the amateur game could be re-established at a senior level in Bradford and Hickson would have realised that he would never have a better chance to do so.

Hickson (pictured, left above) provided the figurehead, fronting a leadership group that included other former members of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club, among them Edward Airey, a former treasurer and committee man (pictured, right) as well as Herbert Robertshaw, a former teammate (pictured, middle). All three were also respected industrialists in Bradford. Hickson and Robertshaw’s involvement personified the golden era of Bradford rugby and its traditions. Crucially they were men capable of delivering the project in a manner that the 1884 team captain, Fred Bonsor could not. Prior to 1907 Bonsor had frequently been the champion of Rugby Union in the Bradford /Leeds press. However he did so in a manner that discredited his cause through unrestrained criticism of the Northern Union and repetitive talk of the good old days that must surely have been considered tiresome. By contrast Hickson was able to articulate a vision for the revival of Rugby Union in Bradford. Besides, in 1908 Bonsor had returned once again to Canada to make his fortune as a farmer on the prairies such that he could not embarrass the Bradford Rugby Union promoters. Admittedly Hickson’s vision for Rugby Union was heavily idealised and derived its succour from mythical content. Yet whilst we can be cynical, people were genuinely receptive to the notion of rediscovering the past and deriving comfort from a period that was fondly remembered. At a time of considerable trauma after the circumstances of war it was hardly surprising that there should be such an impulse.

The cult of athleticism in the nineteenth century had fostered notions of how sport benefited participants through healthy and purposeful recreation. It was also considered an expression of civic patriotism and all of this was at the heart of Hickson’s vision. Equally Hickson was against the corruption of sport through commercial interest and pursuit of the profit motive. (Instead, the traditional belief was that any monetary operating surplus should be contributed towards charity.) His championing of amateur Rugby Union was likewise a rejection of professionalism as well as gambling. Not only did this distinguish Rugby Union from the Northern Union code but also in relation to professional (association) football. Of course sport had been encouraged as a means of physical well-meaning with patriotic benefit for the defence of hearth and home through armed service. For Hickson, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the volunteer territorials who had lost a son in the war, this was another theme that had resonance.

Hickson was a prominent Conservative in Bradford but it would be wrong to suggest that enthusiasm for Rugby Union in Bradford was monopolised by Tories despite its imperial associations. An illustration of this was provided by the example of Alderman Joseph Hayhurst, installed as Bradford’s first Labour Lord Mayor on 9th November, 1918 only two days before the end of war. By background Hayhurst was General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Dyers and he confessed a love of Rugby Union from having followed Bradford FC and Manningham FC in his youth. As Lord Mayor he was called upon to be the civic dignitary at the opening of the Scholemoor ground in March, 1919 and did not spare effusive comments about the game. Sadly Hayhurst died in office only three months later on 13th June.

During the summer of 1919 Hickson also had a lead role in the efforts to revive Bradford cricket. In 1915 Bradford Cricket Club had been wound up and by the end of the war its ground at Park Avenue was in need of major repair. Hickson became involved in discussions with Harry Briggs to buy the freehold and as with the Scholemoor initiative, Hickson became a trustee in the eventual purchase in 1920. Although the new Bradford RFC and revived Bradford Cricket Club had common support they remained independent entities and there was no suggestion of re-establishing the merged organisation that had been formed at Park Avenue in 1880 and which existed until 1907. With regards Bradford cricket, there was an uncanny resemblance to the efforts of Bob Appleyard and his ‘Friends of Park Avenue’ campaign in 1986 with Hickson similarly acting to safeguard the ground as a cricket venue in 1919. On his death in August, 1920 Hickson was rightly acclaimed for his contribution to the sporting life of Bradford and his various efforts should be remembered for having played a big part in the recovery of the city from war and the transition to peace. Three of his sons – Lawrie, Stanley and Fred – subsequently played for Bradford Rugby.

Ground opening

The opening game for the Scholemoor ground at Dracup Avenue, Lidget Green was on 8th March, 1919 for a challenge match between representative teams of Yorkshire and New Zealand, the latter ‘All Blacks’ comprising members of the New Zealand military. The Yorkshire Evening Post of 7th March had reported that ‘the Colonials visit marks the commencement of a new era in Bradford, or rather the revival of an old, for the real Rugby game is to be given a fresh start‘. It was a prestige fixture, all the more remarkable for the fact that on the same day New Zealand were due to play Canada at Portsmouth in the King’s Cup and yet they fielded the strongest side in Bradford.

The Lord Mayor, Alderman Joseph Hayhurst conducted a brief ceremony (at which the Lord Mayor of Leeds was also present) before the game and celebrations continued after the match in a style reminiscent of the original Bradford club, involving dinner at the Talbot Hotel followed by a smoking concert. Laurie Hickson proclaimed that the ground had been opened with the sole objective of catering for amateurs but that the club was not to be run with the intention of making a profit. The Lord Mayor’s language was entirely consistent with that of Hickson, adding that ‘the old Bradford club had bred real men, and in the days to come he hoped equally thrilling stories would be told about the true sporting ways of the present day amateurs’ adding ‘there will be no squaring of matches here. Bookies will not be known.’ He said that he was reminded of the 1881-90 era, the ‘great days of the old Bradford Club… in those days they were all hero worshippers, and used to pay homage to such names as Bonsor, the brothers Robertshaw, Ritchie and Hickson.’

It represented a yearning for a sporting idyll, free from the corruption of money-making or gambling. In his speech Alderman Hayhurst declared that ‘the ground would be used for the development of physique and pure sport and spectators could be sure of the best team winning. The public would find pure relaxation.’ It was as if the clock could be turned back before rugby had become commercialised.

BRFC Myers

However if ever there was a mythical golden era of sportsmanship in Bradford rugby it would have been the first half of the 1870s before Hickson and Robertshaw had played for Bradford FC. Instead, local nostalgia was focused on a supposed golden era in the following decade when Hickson had coincidentally been in his prime. This overlooked the fact that the game had rapidly become commercialised in the 1880s and by the middle of that decade traditional ideals were increasingly only being paid lip service. Indeed there were emergent contradictions, the most obvious of which was that lease commitments pushed clubs towards commercialisation. In turn the commitment to charitable giving was sacrificed to the obligation to repayment of monies borrowed to develop grounds. However what older generations of Bradfordians recalled was that the 1880s had been a decade in which Bradford FC had been known as one of the top sides in Great Britain. That above all else ensured that memories of the era would be cherished.

LG Apr-19 1

It was incidental that the Yorkshire side was heavily defeated 5-44 in the contest with the New Zealanders. What was more significant was that the game attracted a crowd of 10,000, confirming local interest in the revival of rugby traditions in Bradford. It was reported that there was a reunion of old supporters from the days of rugby pre-1907 at Park Avenue (which must have been similar to the reunion of former followers of the original (1908-74) Bradford Park Avenue AFC when it reformed in 1988).

The gate receipts of £355 were said to have been the highest for a rugby match in the city since 1906. Inevitably it raised hopes among advocates of Rugby Union that their code would usurp the rival variant in Bradford. Praise was also given to the Lidget Green ground and whilst it did not have the grandeur of Park Avenue, it would have compared favourably with Birch Lane, home of Bradford Northern. The directors of the latter must have looked on with jealousy, regretting that their own club was not similarly blessed.

LG Apr-19 2

A fortnight later, on 22nd March the planned game between the Australia and New Zealand military teams at Lidget Green was postponed on account of snowfall and it was eventually played on 12th April (a 6-5 victory by Australia) in front of a crowd reported to be ‘six to eight thousand’ in size. It was a shock defeat but on 16th April, New Zealand defeated the Mother Country to win the King’s Cup at Twickenham. [9]

NZ v Aus Bradford

Fullback, Captain Bruce ‘Jackie’ Beith is tackled in the match between Australia and New Zealand at Bradford on 9th April, 1919. Identified: 1. A. Wilson, New Zealand (NZ); 2. Referee Mr Yeadon; 3. Private A. Singe, NZ forward; 4. Captain Bruce ‘Jackie’ Beith; 5. unidentified NZ forward; 6. Sergeant Joseph Murray; 7. Corporal Vivian ‘Viv’ Dunn; 8. R. Sellars, NZ; 9. unidentified NZ, obscured; 10. Lieutenant Horace ‘Dick’ Pountney; 11. Lieutenant Ernest ‘Bill’ Cody; 12. Ernest ‘Moke’ Belliss, NZ. (Thanks to Phil Atkinson for the photo.)

Bradford Rugby Club played its first game on 29th March against a scratch team selected by the Yorkshire Rugby Union secretary, RF Oates in which the home side succumbed to a 8-24 defeat.

LG Oct-24

The new Bradford club drew upon the nucleus of the former Horton RUFC albeit whose membership had been depleted in the war. The star player was Eddie Myers, a Bradford man who had previously played for Headingley and who won the first of 18 England caps as a Bradford player in 1920. The launch of Bradford RUFC in 1919 encouraged interest in Rugby Union and it is no coincidence that another longstanding club in the district, Bradford Salem RUFC was formed shortly afterwards in 1924. Bingley RUFC was similarly revived in 1922. [10]

1923-04-23 t'owd tin pot

In 1923 Bradford RUFC emulated Bradford FC’s achievement in 1884 by winning the Yorkshire Challenge Cup, admittedly by then not as competitively contested. Between 1923-25 Bradford set a new record by winning the cup in three successive seasons (photograph below of the 1925 final at Ilkley) and it was reported that its games often attracted five figure attendances. New Zealand sides returned in 1924, 1926 and 1935.

Apr-25 Bfd Rugby YCC triple

The facilities at the ground remained basic but they were sufficient for the club’s needs and allowed it to remain independent. The North Stand was re-erected from Peel Park having previously been used for galas and in 1923 the club erected a covered stand on the south side at Scholemoor (see photo below – a structure that became prone to vandalism and was eventually declared unsafe and condemned in the 1970s). The club’s reserve pitch was off Hollingworth Lane but the use of this was lost in the 1950s when it was developed for warehousing by Fields (printers).

new stand LG 1923

During the club’s first decade of existence there is a good chance that it cannibalised attendances at the other senior Bradford clubs. To what extent is impossible to say but in the first half of the 1920s the success of Bradford Rugby contrasted with the doldrums of the other three who were each struggling and downwardly mobile.

Bfd rugby YCC 1923 - Copy.jpg

The revitalisation of Avenue in 1927/28 and then City in 1928/29 restored the old order. By this time Bradford Rugby was already beginning to fade and could no longer be considered a threat.

1929-10-23 The Tatler Bradford RUFC (2)

The fate of Bradford Rugby

In the 1930s Bradford RUFC drifted out of favour with the Bradford public, for whom it was simply another entertainment option. There were a number of reasons for this, the first was that fashions changed and in Bradford it tended to be the case that public affection switched between the four senior clubs – Bradford City, Bradford Park Avenue, Bradford Northern and Bradford Rugby – each of whom competed for attention. After the opening of Odsal in 1934 for example, Rugby League became the most popular rugby code in the city and even began to attract spectators from the round ball game. Secondly, Bradford RUFC struggled to recruit sufficient players of good standard to ensure succession planning. A third handicap was the club’s location. Whilst Scholemoor was adequate as a basic ground, within ten years it was surrounded by housing that created practical difficulties of access and parking as well as the later problem of persistent vandalism. Similarly, with no suitable facilities nearby the club became forced to rely on fields across the city to stage reserve and youth team games (latterly the King George V playing fields off Canal Road). This made it difficult to co-ordinate activities, for example to fulfil parallel fixtures involving first team and reserve fixtures and it also compromised options for training and the development of juniors.

Whilst Bradford RUFC eschewed professionalism and commercial activity it still faced financial obligations for the upkeep of its ground. There was no escaping the financial imperative to make a surplus to fund those commitments. By the late 1930s ‘Bradford Rugby’ (as Bradford RUFC became known) was struggling to attract public interest, finding it difficult to recruit new players and was having to appeal to the goodwill of its members to remain solvent. Despite its early promise in the 1920s, thereafter it became relatively insignificant in terms of sporting interest beyond its own membership and a hardcore of Rugby Union enthusiasts. Nevertheless, Scholemoor continued to host prestige county games which attracted decent crowds.

In February, 1954 a 16,000 crowd attended a game between the NE Counties and the All Blacks in the 21st game of their tour which the visitors won 16-0 to remain undefeated in England. An eight ton road roller was used to help prepare the pitch after a heavy frost and this was later blamed for crushing the drains, a cause of future waterlogging.

Hickson had envisaged Bradford RUFC to be in the making of Bradford FC as a club staging headline fixtures at Scholemoor as had been the case at Park Avenue in the 1880s, effectively offering alternative entertainment to that of Bradford City, Bradford Park Avenue or Bradford Northern. Instead the club became better known as somewhere to play Rugby Union rather than to watch and this was actually much closer to the early origins of Bradford FC prior to the mid-1870s when the onus had similarly been on participation.

In October, 1965 Scholemoor hosted a game with the Barbarians touring side to mark the 75th anniversary of its formation in Bradford and the centenary of Bradford Rugby the following year. Although the origins of Bradford FC could be traced to 1863, the date of formation has tended to be regarded as 1866 when affairs were organised on a more formal basis. The centenary reminded the club of its heritage and latterly it referred to itself as Bradford RFC, dropping the ‘U’ on the basis that it could claim ancestry as the oldest in Yorkshire. Bradford lost that game with the Barbarians 3-47 and were said to have been ‘punished but not disgraced’.

By the late 1960s there was a general consensus that the Scholemoor ground was no longer ideal for the club’s needs and its encouragement of participation in Rugby Union. This prompted consideration of options that included the first suggestion of merger with Bingley RUFC. In 1969 Bradford Corporation offered a site outside the city’s boundary between Thornbury / Pudsey (currently used by Bradford University sports teams). The move was rejected on the basis of being too distant [11] and after an aborted attempt to introduce greyhound racing at Lidget Green (that would have been unpalatable to Hickson), Bradford RUFC set about modernising its ground.

scan_201903242777772321447011500.jpg

By the standards of professional football stadia, facilities at Scholemoor were modest although they were considered highly respectable in Rugby Union circles. The emphasis of investment in the ground was not on spectator facilities as opposed to amenities for members. The club had originally used a local school for changing rooms before erecting a large wooden hut of the type associated with Scout groups or church halls, eventually replaced in December, 1972 by a permanent structure. A clubhouse was constructed in the 1920s comprising bar and catering facilities as well as a meeting room, replaced in 1974 by a new structure that also included squash courts to capitalise on the popularity of the game at the time.

Scholemoor continued to host decent crowds. In December, 1972 for instance as many as 14,000 attended Lidget Green for the fixture between the NE Counties and New Zealand. It was also an attendance that compared favourably to any at Valley Parade or Park Avenue at that time.

In common with the three main football grounds in the city, the fate of Scholemoor was dictated by local authority planners and it became something of a pawn in the grand schemes of City Hall. At the beginning of the 1970s Bradford Corporation successfully opposed the introduction of greyhound racing and the cynic could be forgiven the suggestion that this served to keep its options open with regards the future use of the ground. In 1980 for example, it was reported that Bradford Metropolitan District Council investigated the possibility of Bradford Northern being relocated to allow Odsal to be divested for land-fill and waste disposal. Nothing came of this but after refusing planning permission for a Morrisons supermarket development, the council was able to make a discounted and uncontested bid for ownership in 1982. The subsequent reincarnation of Scholemoor as a civic sports centre in 1983 with an all-weather pitch (as well as the squash courts) most likely accomplished what had been on the planners’ agenda since the end of the 1960s. However, after a fanfare opening the centre eventually closed in 2000 and was left derelict for six years before community leaders reclaimed the site. Like Park Avenue, it was another tragic waste that insulted the efforts of Bradford’s sporting forebears such as Laurie Hickson.

Bradford RFC 1974 x

When Bradford Rugby relocated to Wagon Lane in Cottingley to merge with Bingley RUFC in 1982 the club was already but a shadow of its former self. By the end of the 1970s it was struggling to recruit talented new players and handicapped by the fact that Rugby Union was still only played by three local schools – Bradford GS, Thornton GS and Woodhouse Grove. Whereas many rugby playing boys had traditionally returned to Bradford after university, often to join family businesses, this had become much less common. Another change was the relocation of many middle class families away from once affluent suburbs in Bradford to outlying areas that undermined the convenience or attraction of Scholemoor. By the time that professionalism was legalised by the Rugby Union in 1995 there was little prospect that Bradford & Bingley RFC – as a successor to the original Bradford FC – would become a leading side in the national game, something that would have pleased Hickson notwithstanding that the club was by now ranked among junior sides (the equivalent of a village team in the hierarchy of the late nineteenth century).

The Bradford & Bingley Sports grounds accommodate a first team rugby pitch, training fields and adjoining cricket pitch. It is home to a canoe club as well as Bingley Harriers AC. There is a degree of irony that Bradford CC abandoned Park Avenue in 1986, moving to Wagon Lane and merging with Bingley CC as cohabitants with the rugby club. Whilst Wagon Lane lacks the grandeur of the Victorian Park Avenue enclosure, in many ways the site in Bingley has much in common with what existed in Horton, fulfilling the original objective of a dedicated sports complex.

After conversion to an artificial football pitch in 1983, the Scholemoor site enjoyed a brief renaissance only to become derelict, latterly converted to an adventure playground. Had timing been different, Scholemoor could have provided a suitable home for Bradford Park Avenue as a non-league venue although the issue of vandalism would have remained a problem. Car parking would similarly have been difficult to accommodate and the congestion of Bradford’s ring road is now far worse, making access arguably more difficult than ever before.

Bradford Rugby never emulated Bradford FC and Rugby Union was not restored to prominence in the district as Hickson had hoped. Like Park Avenue, Scholemoor is testament to a lost dream, a monument to sporting ambition that succumbed both to economics – the forces of supply and demand that dictate financial viability and the means of existence – as well as local authority machinations. Just as at Park Avenue, the visitor to Scholemoor will detect few clues – the remnants of terracing aside – that it had been a football ground replete with a couple of grandstands.

By John Dewhirst

NOTES

[1] The early history of Bradford RFC is told on VINCIT Note that the Bradford Wanderers club which was the principal amateur side in the district at the turn of the centre had not been formed until 1899 (contrary to what has been written elsewhere).

[2] The circumstances of the Great Split of 1895 in Bradford is told on VINCIT

[3] The forgotten story of Shipley FC and the fate of other junior rugby sides feature on VINCIT

[4] LIFE AT THE TOP published by Bantamspast, 2016

[5] A series of open air boxing tournaments took place at Valley Parade in May, June and July, 1919.

[6] Rugby Reloaded podcast by Tony Collins

[7] Prior reference by another writer to ‘Lidget Green’ as a sports venue refers to Horton Grange. Contrary to what has been written elsewhere the site at Scholemoor had not been used prior to 1919.

[8] The other venues included Newport, Swnsea, Inverleith, Portsmouth, Gloucester, Leicester and Twickenham.

[9] For further reading, refer: The King’s Cup 1919 – Rugby’s first ‘World Cup’ by Evans & Atkinson, St David’s Press (Cardiff) 2015. My thanks to Phil Atkinson, Editor of Touchlines (published by Rugby Memorabilia Society) magazine for letting me feature his scans of the programme cartoon and ticket as well as the photo of NZ v Australia at Scholemoor in 1919. Refer also to a feature on the World Rugby Museum blog.

[10] Of Bradford’s other surviving historic Rugby Union clubs, Baildon RUFC was formed in 1912 and Wibsey RUFC in 1932.

[11] My suspicion is that the enthusiasm for relocation was much greater on the part of Bradford Corporation than Bradford RFC with the former identifying the strategic value of Scholemoor for its own objectives. This is a theme to be the subject of a future feature on VINCIT.

[12] My thanks also to John Wright and Richard Lowther (Burglar Bill) for feedback.

The above menu provides links to other features about the early history of Bradford rugby, both amateur and professional.
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The author has written widely about the history of Bradford City AFC. His books, ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP (pub bantamspast, 2016) narrate the origins of sport in Bradford, the development of sporting culture in the town in the nineteenth century and of how sport came to be commercialised. He provides the background to how Manningham FC and Bradford FC became established and of how they converted to professional soccer in the twentieth century as Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue. These are possibly also the first business histories of nineteenth century rugby. John is currently working on a new history of the rivalry of the two sides as members of the Football League in WOOL CITY RIVALS (FALL FROM THE TOP).

His books form part of the BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED SERIES which seeks to offer a fresh interpretation of the history of sport in Bradford, addressing why events happened in the way that they did rather than simply stating what occurred (which is the characteristic of many sports histories).

Other online articles about Bradford sport by the same author

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John contributes to the Bradford City match day programme and his features are also published on his blog Wool City Rivals where you can also find occasional Book Reviews

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Bradford RFC 1920s (5)

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 boxing, cycling, football, the forgotten sports grounds of Bradford, the politics of Bradford sport and the history of Bradford sports journalists.

Contributions and feedback are welcome.

The Bradford Boys

The Bradford Boys – Winners of the English Schools Shield 1915/16

by Ian Hemmens

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Bradford Boys record in the English Schools Trophy since the Bradford Schools FA at the Osborne Hotel in 1901 was a very mixed bag of results with a couple of good runs to the later rounds only to lose out to the eventual winners on both occasions.

Every association in those days had the problem of trying to achieve a settled side as boys could and usually did leave school on reaching their fourteenth birthday. The 1915/16 season saw a team created which had only three survivors from the previous years campaign.

Consider the times also. The country was in the middle of the largest conflict to involve the nation. After the earliest optimism driven days of the war, the reality was kicking in with the horrors of the carnage hitting home to just about every community in the land. Whole village, towns and cities saw a generation of young men leave to fight and not return. Every household dreading the arrival of the official brown envelope telling of a love one killed or missing in action.

Boys leaving school had to become the man of the house until they themselves were likely to be conscripted to the forces. Schoolboy football was therefore a welcome release from the worries and pressures approaching their young lives.

The three survivors in the 1915/16 squad were Wellock of Drummond Road, Arnold of Green Lane and Silson of Fairweather Green. These boys were included in a trial on 23rd October 1915 at the Park Avenue ground in Horton. A total of 54 boys divided into four teams. Game One was ‘Blues’ who beat ‘Stripes’ 4-1 – Arnold & Pearson (Whetley Lane) having fine games and standing out. The second game was considered to have more of the ‘Probables’ and again the ‘Blues’ were victorious 3-1 with Maurice Wellock scoring all three goals to stake his claim. The boys were then narrowed down to a ‘Probables’ versus ‘Possibles’ again held at Park Avenue on 9th November.

The draw for the first round of the trophy had pitted Bradford against Dewsbury away from home on 20th November. However the home side scratched from the contest leaving the Bradford Boys to progress to a second round tie with Leeds to be played at Greenfield on 4th December. The team chosen was :

Rawnsley (Whetley), Hume (Whetley), Burke (Parish Church), Taylor (Ryan Street) , Ockerby (Green Lane), Downs (Wyke), Skitt (Bradford Moor), Silson (Fairweather Green), Wellock (Drummond), Arnold (Green Lane) & Pearson (Whetley Lane). Bradford were leading 4-1 when inclement weather caused an abandonment. A 6-0 victory in the replay progressing to Round Three against N. E. Derbyshire who had beaten holders Sheffield in the previous round to be played at Valley Parade on 22nd January. Two goals from ‘Big Mo’, Maurice Wellock and an own goal were sufficient to see them progress. For his age, Wellock was tall and well built, not to mention skillful and able to ride tackles and Bradford used this to their advantage throughout the campaign. Such was his form that between the rounds, it was announced Wellock had been selected to play for England Schoolboys to meet Wales at Bolton in April. Maurice thus achieved the honour of being Bradford’s first ever schoolboy international.

Before this though, between the rounds Skitt and Arnold had reached leaving age having reached fourteen and further trial matches were held at Girlington Rec and Park Avenue before Needham (Lapage) & Armitage (Whetley) were chosen to replace the two leavers.

The fifth round (quarter-final) draw was made with Bradford having to travel for the first time to a game to be played at Anfield against Liverpool Boys. With the match on the horizon, the selection committee was hit with a couple of potentially large dilemmas. Firstly, due to Hume & Silson reaching leaving age, replacements were needed and the further trial games gave an opportunity for Bartle (Wyke) & Hellewell (Usher Street). An even bigger potential calamity was faced when talisman Maurice Wellock was sent off in a fiery match between Drummond and Belle Vue? The committee meeting held on 19th April wisely decided that the sending off of Wellock combined with a censure for the school regarding its future behaviour would be punishment sufficient. Problem averted, it was announced at the same meeting that Wellock had again been selected for England Schoolboys to play Scotland in Glasgow on 24th April.

The game at Anfield saw the Bradford youngsters once again emerge victorious with a 3-2 win, goals courtesy of Wellock (2) & Pearson. Wellock maintained his record of scoring in every round. Diminutive goalkeeper Eric Rawnsley also distinguished himself with a penalty save. Yet again, the draw for the semi-final was kind and Bradford were drawn to play Sunderland at Valley Parade on 15th May. Joe Dean (Horton) came into the side to replace Hellewell at inside right.

The game, as a semi final should be was a close affair with the teams tied at 1-1 until a decisive burst in the last 6 minutes saw the Bradford Boys jubilant in reaching a first Shield Final. Yet again, ‘Big Mo’ with a hat-trick was the hero accompanied by a Downes goal for a final score of 4-1.

At that time, the English Schools allocated the finals alternately and with wonderful fortune, the game was allocated to Valley Parade on 27th May. The opponents however would be West Ham schools, an association with four previous appearances in the final with two victories in 1907 & 1912. Despite this formidable record the Bradford Boys played out a comfortable 3-0 victory to secure the trophy, goals courtesy of Wellock, Pearson and Downs. The West Ham boys hadn’t conceded a goal until the semi-final tie and had travelled up the day before. After being welcomed by the committee they were entertained to a night at the Alhambra by the famed Francis Laidler.

Bradford Boys 1916

The day of the match saw a crowd of around 7,000 at Valley Parade, mostly youngsters or men in khaki. The Bradford team was:

  1. Eric Rawnsley (Whetley Lane)
  2. Herbert Bartle (Wyke)
  3. Jimmy Burke (Parish Church)
  4. Harold Taylor (Ryan Street)
  5. Len Ockerby (Green Lane)
  6. Spencer Armitage (Whetley Lane)
  7. Ted Needham (Lapage)
  8. Joe Dean (Horton)
  9. Maurice Wellock (Drummond)
  10. Joe Downs (Wyke)
  11. Herbert Pearson (Whetley Lane).

Bradford took the lead after ten minutes, Wellock heading home a cross to maintain his wonderful record of scoring in every tie that season to compliment a debut goal in his first international as an England schoolboy. Bradford continued to press home the advantage with ‘Big Mo’ looking like scoring with every touch. Three minutes into the second half, the advantage was doubled when Wellock hit the crossbar but Herbert Pearson was following up to force the ball home. Joe Downs then added the third to complete an emphatic victory for the boys. At the post match reception held at the Osborne Hotel, the Shield was presented to Mr W. L. French, Secretary of the Bradford Schools FA in the presence of the Lord Mayor.

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The only player qualified to play the next season was keeper Eric Rawnsley who gained a reputation for penalty saves and was rewarded with a place as reserve for the England Schoolboy team.

As with now, the rate for players progressing to the professional game was attritional and of the victorious Shield winners, only two of the side went on to make their name in the ‘Mens’ game. Midfielder (Half Back) Harold Taylor went on to make over 350 first class appearances for Bradford Park Avenue in the 1920s/30s holding the club record for many years before it was broken in the 1960s by Charlie Atkinson.

Harold Taylor

Maurice Wellock was taken on by the wily Peter O’Rourke at Bradford City and despite making first team appearances during wartime football, he was allowed to leave to Halifax Town. Despite his size, he was still very young and City were an established Division One side in those days with a deadly strike force of Oscar Fox and Jimmy McIlvenny, it would have been hard for Maurice to progress. Maurice had an excellent career after City which included Halifax Town, Blackpool, Darlington, Oldham, Peterborough and Torquay United before spending many years as trainer and groundsman at The Shay. He then ran a bookies shop in his native Manningham. His career despite being used as a centre half at times saw him score almost a goal every other game.

Maurice Wellock

Bradford’s defence of the trophy was ended at the third round stage by Sunderland. It would not be until the 1960s before Bradford again reached the later stages of the Shield competition even with schoolboy prodigies like Albert Geldard and Len Shackleton available to them in earlier decades.

During the time of 1916, with the horrors of the Great War in full swing and every aspect of society feeling the strain, a group of young schoolboys from Bradford brought joy to a city who needed a lift from horrors facing them day to day.

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Ian is a regular contributor to VINCIT and has written about a wide variety of clubs and sports. The following is a link to his feature on Albert Geldard. You can find his other features through the drop down menu above.

We welcome contributions from anyone interested in Bradford sport history, irrespective of club or code.

Future planned articles on VINCIT include:

  • Lost sportsgrounds of Bradford.
  • Early association football in Bradford.
  • The origins of cycling in Bradford.
  • The impact of social networks on the origins of Bradford sport.
  • The financial failure of Bradford football clubs.
  • Baseball in Bradford.
  • The politics of Odsal Stadium.
  • The influence of the press on the development of Bradford sport.

Contributions are always welcome!

 

The role of the railways in the early development of Bradford football

With the news that Bradford has been designated a stop on the Northern Powerhouse Railway it seems topical to consider the historical importance of railways to the district, in particular their contribution to the development of football.

Surprisingly the significance of rail links to Bradford sport has tended to be overlooked. [1] This is astonishing because no-one would dispute the significance of the railways to the economic and social transformation of Great Britain in the nineteenth century. Indeed, the impact of the railways on Bradford’s development was no different and it is hardly surprising that they played a big part in the commercial transformation of sport in the district, from recreational activity into business.

The city’s two railway stations serve as a metaphor for Bradford’s economic decline. Yet although Bradford’s railways are nowadays a fraction of what once existed and what was planned, their legacy remains. Whilst redundant stations have long since been demolished, there are sufficient surviving civil engineering structures in the Bradford district to remind us that the railways had a major impact. They should also be remembered for their role in defining the history of football in the district.

As the Transport for the North body has now recognised, the tragedy for Bradford is that it lacks a through line connection on the railway network, undoubtedly a disadvantage for the economic prospects of the city. During the second half of the nineteenth century Bradford was very much in the grip of railway mania although – as we know to our cost – there was one scheme that proved elusive. Following the collapse of another scheme to construct a (north-south) through line in Bradford, a correspondent to the Leeds Times in January, 1884 wrote: ‘As it was in the beginning – Bradford on a siding – is now – Bradford on a siding – and ever shall be – Bradford on a siding – world without end – Bradford on a siding.[3]

Investment in national rail links has bypassed the city and as things stand, Bradford metaphorically remains on a siding with two railway stations. There was no shortage of schemes to achieve a through line in Bradford but their failing should not allow us to under-estimate the influence of the railways in Bradford, least of all with regards to the commercial development of (rugby) football in the final quarter of the nineteenth century.

The urban geography and topography of the town created limitations on where the game could be played but the railways had a major role in making new venues accessible to people living within and without the district. The best illustration of this was the ground nearby the Stansfield Arms at Apperley Bridge where Bradford FC was based between 1874-80. In the absence of a suitable site near the centre of the town, the railway connection made a relatively peripheral site accessible requiring a journey of around twenty minutes from the Midland station.

In the 1870s the prime consideration was the commuting time for players rather than the means to attract spectators. Apperley Bridge was not convenient for everyone and this gave impetus for games to be played closer to Manningham which was home to a good number of football enthusiasts. Nevertheless, railway connections remained vital with Manningham station serving Lister Park and Peel Park and then after 1875, Frizinghall station encouraged the use of a ground on Frizinghall Road (currently the lower playing fields of Bradford Grammar School).

Railways allowed fixtures with other clubs further afield and were relied upon by each of the leading sides in the Bradford district to attract visiting clubs as well as to fulfil fixtures away from home. Yet another way that railways were influential in their contribution to the sport was by facilitating governing structures to be established which oversaw the administration and control of Yorkshire rugby.

Rail links allowed deputies from across West Yorkshire (and Hull) to attend the regular meetings of the Yorkshire Rugby Union at the Green Dragon Hotel in Leeds and co-ordinate the development of the game. In December, 1888 the Great Northern Railway had boasted an express connection between Bradford and Leeds of only 17 minutes. For Bradford-based representatives this connectivity ensured that the town was able to enjoy political influence in the sport. The same could be said about participation in meetings of the national Rugby Football Union and indeed, railways made possible the selection of a national team comprising players from across the country – note that before 1895, Bradford FC provided more England internationals than any other Yorkshire club.

During the 1870s trains were routinely used for away games and the players of Bradford FC would meet at the railway station on match day. Railway timetables determined both the choice of opposition as well as the time of kick-off and in this way they helped define the earliest sporting rivalries. A further example of how they dictated arrangements was in December, 1872 when the game between Hull FC and Bradford FC was played halfway between in Selby, a consequence of railway schedules as well as the fact that overnight stays were as yet unheard of.

Kick-off times and the duration of games were flexed to accommodate railway timetables. In 1873 for example a Bradford FC game at Girlington was delayed until 3:30pm to allow the Rochdale team to arrive and a game at York in 1875 was similarly delayed until 3:45pm for the benefit of the Bradford Zingari players. In February, 1871 the kick-off for a Bradford FC game against Leeds in Peel Park was moved to 4:30pm owing to the breakdown of a train and its late arrival into Manningham station. (The inconvenience of trekking up the hill from the station was later given as a reason for Bradford FC to relocate into Manningham itself.)

Football journeys became a big part of the esprit de corps of teams and generally associated with rowdyism and drunken antics. In February, 1884 there is an account of the Bradford FC players returning by train from Sunderland via York station where they were forced to spend the night. The legend was that the station master had been so annoyed by their behaviour that he blew his whistle and the Bradford train departed early (without the Bradford team on board). Before too long it became the norm for the larger clubs to embark on an annual tour that was the highlight of the season for the participants.

By the mid-1880s Bradford FC looked beyond the confines of Yorkshire as the club chased the prestige and status of games in Scotland and the south of England. In November, 1883 it embarked on its first tour of Scotland and the defeat of Northern FC (NB based in Newcastle), Edinburgh Academicals and Glasgow University helped to define its credentials. After winning the Yorkshire Cup the following year it organised an ambitious tour in November, 1884 involving games against Marlborough Nomads, Oxford University and Cambridge University, the success of which was a defining moment in the profile and self-image of the club. The same railway connections allowed fixtures to be reciprocated at Park Avenue and in so doing Bradford FC was able to build its reputation as a leading side in England and this helped to attract spectators. Subsequent tours by Bradford FC included games in Wales. Manningham FC was equally adventurous and could boast tours of Devon, Scotland, Wales and Ireland – none of which would have been possible without rail travel.

Railways similarly ensured that the Yorkshire Senior Competition (YSC) launched in 1892 could function and fixtures could be fulfilled that allowed league football to become institutionalised. However, the benefit of this was not confined to Bradford FC and Manningham FC who were among the leading sides in the first division. By 1895 a total of 64 clubs comprised the four divisions of the YSC, of which 14 were from the Bradford district. These included the two seniors in the top tier – Bradford FC and Manningham FC; second tier – Bowling FC; third tier – Bowling Old Lane, Keighley & Shipley; fourth tier – Bingley, Brownroyd Recreation, Idle, Low Moor St Mark’s, Saltaire, Silsden, Wibsey & Windhill. In other words, railways helped a competitive league structure to become established across West Yorkshire (as well as Hull and York) that impacted on junior rugby, arguably raising standards through competition as well as further encouraging rivalry. Each of the above named clubs were gate taking – charging people to attend – and hence the railways can be credited with providing stimulus to spectator sport in the district.

The Bradford FC players came to be regarded as celebrities and high class rail travel added to the glamour with touring arrangements reported in the local press. On 21 November, 1893 a Bradford FC squad comprising twenty players travelled to Cambridge for a game against the university side. They travelled in a Pullman Dining Car from the Midland Station in Bradford at 3:30pm, arriving at 9:05pm for a game the following day, kicking off at 2:30pm. They then departed at 4:55pm to arrive in Bradford at 10:50pm. In December, 1894 Manningham FC went one better with a trip to Paris, likewise travelling in Pullman coaches from the Midland Station.

Railway links also encouraged innovations in training and the pretence of ‘scientific football‘. For instance, in preparation for the club’s Yorkshire Cup tie at Park Avenue, Manningham FC players stayed in Blackpool for four days. The practice appears to have been copied from Lancashire soccer clubs: the previous year Blackburn Olympic FC had sent its players to Blackpool ahead of the FA Cup final against Old Etonians whilst Blackburn Rovers and Darwen prepared for their Lancashire Cup Final with breaks in Morecambe and Blackpool respectively. Although a trip to Blackpool helped Blackburn Olympic lift the FA Cup, as far as Manningham FC was concerned, it proved futile. Nevertheless, once again in 1906 the Bradford City squad spent time at Blackpool ahead of a cup tie at Everton. (The Bradford Daily Telegraph of 19 February, 1906 described the resort as a ‘favourite of athletes seeking to get to top form‘.)

Proximity to a railway connection was considered a condition precedent by those evaluating options for a sporting venue. The Bradford Daily Telegraph of 17 July, 1878 quoted the treasurer of Bradford Cricket Club regarding the search for a new ground: ‘He thought that there would be no difficulty getting a ground, but they would not get one so central as the old one (ie at Great Horton Road), and as other towns had done, they might go outside and get a ground near a railway station.’ Another correspondent on 11 September, 1875 had suggested that Bradford CC should move to the ground of Eccleshill CC on account of it being ‘within three minutes’ walk from the station and the fare is 21/2 d.’ The opening of a new station at Horton Park in 1880 would have been considered a significant factor justifying the development of Park Avenue by the newly merged Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club.

It was no coincidence that each of the major grounds in Bradford were within walking distance of a railway connection. For example not just Valley Parade (Manningham station) and Park Avenue (Horton Park) but Usher Street, home of Bowling FC (St Dunstans) and Bowling Old Lane, home of the eponymous Bowling Old Lane FC (Bowling). Clubs also relied upon horse drawn transport for transit from stations and to / from hotels that were used for dressing. In this regard the Manningham FC accounts for the 1893/94 season included expenditure on waggonettes (four wheel horse-drawn vehicles) of £53 for visiting as well as its own players.

It was not simply that football grounds were based around the railway network, the urban geography of Bradford was shaped by railway speculation and this had further influence on the location of sports grounds. The Valley Parade site for instance had been earmarked as a consignment warehouse by the Midland Railway but the financial downturn that began at the end of 1873 led to plans being deferred and then eventually abandoned in 1884 after the collapse of the so-called Bradford Central Railway scheme – hence the opportunity in 1886 for Manningham FC to utilise a vacant plot close to the city centre. [2]  The various attempts at developing a cross-rail link in the town impacted on land use firstly around the Thornton Road / Whetley Hill area which led to the eviction of Bradford FC from Four Lane Ends in 1874 and then, following the Bradford Central Railway scheme the forced relocation of Bradford Rangers FC from Four Lane Ends to Apperley Bridge. A beneficiary was Manningham CC who occupied the vacant Whetley Lane site in 1878 after the eventual collapse of the scheme unveiled by the Midland Railway in 1873 for a tunnel underneath Manningham from Spring Gardens (adjacent to the existing line) to Whetley Lane in Girlington. [3] 

The final attempt at a cross-rail link in 1897 (the so-called West Riding Lines scheme) led to a planning blight in the centre of Bradford for twenty years as uncertainty existed over future land use. With concerns over security of tenure at Valley Parade a decisive factor in members of Bradford City AFC rejecting merger proposals and relocation to Park Avenue in 1907 was the willingness of the club’s landlords, the Midland Railway to grant a long-term lease to the club. At the time the Midland was concerned that if City relocated that it would lose potential passenger income derived from visiting spectators who might instead travel on the Great Northern line to Horton Park, a factor that could have also disadvantaged its cross-rail scheme.

manningham station

The importance of Manningham station for the Midland Railway was that it served visitors to Peel Park (and those attending the West Riding Galas) and provided transport for those working in Bradford, encouraging the development of the area as a popular suburb. Latterly it benefited from football traffic to/from Valley Parade.

The potential relocation of Bradford City to Park Avenue would have impacted on passenger revenue to/from Manningham station, the cost of which would be all the greater if a link was built and the club won promotion to Division One (which was the case in 1908). In a delicious irony it then begs the question whether the issue of a central through station in Bradford compromised the chances of the two clubs joining together. The Midland for example had every incentive to keep Bradford City at Valley Parade and was therefore willing to promise security of tenure.

By the 1880s there was a commercial imperative to attract spectators and proximity to a railway station amounted to a strategic commercial advantage. Nevertheless it is impossible to say how many football supporters were carried by the railways to games involving the Bradford clubs. The local rail network was limited in its ability to convey people from one side of the district to another but its importance was that it allowed people to travel into town from the suburbs or outside the district whence they could make an onward journey to the likes of Valley Parade or Park Avenue through a further rail connection, on foot, by taxi-cab or horse-drawn tram. The railways thus extended the catchment area of Bradford clubs and allowed people to get into Bradford to attend games.

Prior to 1895 at least Bradford FC attracted visitors from outside the Bradford district to witness big games and this further raised the stature and influence of the club within West Yorkshire. (During the 1880s the team had also comprised players who lived outside the district such as Skipton, Leeds and Wharfedale.) It is similarly reported that Manningham FC attracted spectators from the Aire valley (who would have utilised the Midland Railway line) and after the launch of Bradford City in 1903 a good proportion of spectators came from outside Bradford to support the pioneering soccer club – the first member of the Football League to be based in West Yorkshire.

Railways were also the means by which Bradford people could attend games elsewhere. Excursions were regularly arranged for important cup games and on occasions the numbers travelling were respectable. In November, 1883 The Athletic News reported that a special excursion train had been booked from Bradford to convey the players and supporters of Manningham FC to Hull. Likewise, in April, 1885 it was reported that as many as ten excursion trains converged on Halifax to allow Bradford FC and Batley FC supporters watch their sides in the Yorkshire Cup semi-final.

The strategic importance of football to the railways was commented upon in the Bradford Daily Telegraph of 4 February, 1899 quoting mention in the Athletic Record that ‘never in any previous seasons on record have so many matches been played, and never have our railways been patronised to such an extent as they have been during the season that is now in progress.’ It was stated that ‘it is a well-known fact that our great railway companies drive more pecuniary benefit directly through football than all the other branches of British pastime combined.’

The railway companies recognised the commercial opportunity of promoting excursion trips as the illustration from 1896 attests.

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Such was the popularity of these journeys that after 1905 an away game was nominated each season for the annual outing of Bradford City supporters and in April, 1905 an estimated 2,000 followers saw the fixture at Grimsby Town. In February, 1908 the practice of an annual trip was adopted by the Park Avenue club and 1,000 followers travelled to London to see the Queens Park Rangers game. In this way the railways contributed to a distinct football culture. [4]

Away travel played its part in the viral spread of supporter behaviours, a good example of which being the exposure of City followers to singing at matches which was then replicated at Valley Parade. In this way, railways had their impact on the atmosphere at grounds. A good example of this was the adoption of the ‘Pompey chimes’ by Grimsby supporters subsequent to the visit of Portsmouth to Blundell Park for an FA Cup tie in 1901/02. The singing of the so-called ‘Pontoon Choir‘ at Grimsby made an impression upon Bradford people in September, 1903 and again during the return game at Valley Parade such that it inspired the ‘Hello Chorus‘ to be sung in Bradford. The practice of annual trips by Bradford City supporters had itself been copied from the example of Woolwich Arsenal whose fans had nominated Valley Parade for their own excursion the previous season.

In February, 1904 an estimated three thousand Arsenal fans travelled to follow their team against Bradford City – a game that was forced to be abandoned on account of the weather. However it was not unprecedented for there to be large away followings in Bradford. For instance games with Halifax prior to 1895 were known to attract a good number of visitors at Park Avenue and Valley Parade and the vitality of West Yorkshire ‘football’ competition was derived from the proximity and accessibility of neighbouring towns. Railways facilitated those rivalries but even in the 1880s people travelled from further afield and in March, 1886, a reported 800 people – out of a 10,000 crowd – came from Hull to follow their side against Manningham FC at Carlisle Road.

The popularity of the Yorkshire Challenge Cup after the inaugural season in 1877/78 and the Yorkshire Senior Competition after 1892 was based around local rivalries and the phenomenon of travelling supporters would have been an element in the success and appeal of those competitions. Yet although there was the example of Seth Firth, a Bradford FC supporter whose death was reported in the Bradford Daily Telegraph in March, 1903, credited with having followed his club home and away for each game, it would be wrong to suggest that this was common practice. Few would have been able to afford regular travel every other week and indeed in Bradford it became the practice for enthusiasts to float between clubs on the basis of attractive fixtures and/or when one of the seniors was playing away. (Even so, floaters would have accounted for no more than 15% to 20% of a bumper gate.)

The majority of spectators lived nearby and their experience of football would have been within Bradford alone and without reliance upon railways. Thus Bowling FC had its own local catchment and the support of Manningham FC and Bradford FC was based around the surrounding area. As I explain in my book ROOM AT THE TOP, a key factor in the emergence of Manningham FC in 1880 had been the demand for a local club. Whilst not impossible it was nonetheless inconvenient and time consuming for people based in the Manningham area to attend matches at Park Avenue in Horton. The haphazard and frenetic development of Bradford along a north / north-west axis had been at the expense of urban planning and/or a suitable road infrastructure to facilitate travel across the district.

Ownership of one’s own horse and trap, or indeed being able to afford a horse drawn cab, was the exception to the rule. It was not simply that ‘Shank’s pony’ was time-consuming, anyone reliant upon walking around Bradford would do so at the expense of their footwear. However people began to look outside of their locality on a day-to-day basis thanks to the evolution of a public transport network in Bradford after 1882 which had become well-established by 1903 with an extensive electric tram network. It was this that provided affordable and timely travel for the masses within urban areas.

In terms of direct access, Valley Parade was arguably better served than Park Avenue. Both horse trams and steam vehicles turned at Lister Park and electric trams served Manningham Lane from 1892 whereas the electric tram service from Victoria Square to Horton Bank Top did not commence until August, 1898. Electric trams enhanced the means to attend matches and would have played a role in generating the relatively high attendances at Valley Parade after rugby was abandoned in favour of soccer (a sport that was fashionable and commanded considerable support among younger people and women for whom rugby had lost its appeal). Writing in the Yorkshire Evening Post of 26 September, 1903 ‘Old Ebor’ marvelled at the gates at Valley Parade during the first month of soccer and contrasted them to the gates that Northern Union clubs could expect. He explained the crowds at Valley Parade were ‘not all from Bradford itself, but the city itself is so admirably situated, and so well connected by railways and trams, that other towns contribute liberally.’

In 1907 one of the deciding criteria of the newly-formed Bradford Northern club was that a new ground had to be on a penny tram route, an illustration of how public transport options continued to dominate the choice of location. (Ironically the club was forced to locate at Greenfield, Dudley Hill which was not on a direct tram route but then secured Birch Lane the following season – the ground that had been the preferred option in 1907.)

In the twentieth century tram and bus networks assumed the strategic importance that railways had enjoyed previously but even so, it would be wrong to under-estimate the enduring importance of the railways for Bradford football prior to motor coaches dominating long-distance travel after the last war. Without the trains, many of the fixtures involving far away sides could not have been fulfilled and in which case supporters would have had no reason to attend a match. In other words the importance of railways was not based simply around the number of people that they carried to games, it was the fact that they facilitated the sort of fixtures that would attract spectators in the first place.

The experience in Bradford demonstrates that the railways helped make competitive football (ie rugby) appealing by allowing clubs to broaden their horizons and give birth to a football culture. Of course Bradford was not unique in having railway connections – and other towns / clubs also benefited – but with today’s skeletal network it is easy to under-estimate just how important the railways were for the development of commercialised sport in Bradford and West Yorkshire as a whole.

The competitiveness of Yorkshire rugby in the 1880s and 1890s was a foretaste of soccer in the twentieth century on a national scale with the very same ingredients (ie compelling fixtures; an engaging spectator experience; popular interest; local pride; and press attention). The railways underpinned the early success of rugby in West Yorkshire and the measure of how the game became entrenched is that it took soccer until the twentieth century to become established locally, long after being recognised as the principal winter sport in England as a whole.

By John Dewhirst

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Notes

[1] An example of this was a recent publication by someone who describes himself as ‘one of the north’s leading historians of sport and leisure’. His book (reviewed here) purports to provide an authoritative account of the growth of spectator sports in Bradford in the nineteenth century yet gives no recognition to the importance of railways. It is a remarkable oversight for anyone claiming such academic credentials.

[2] Refer to my feature about The origins of Valley Parade and Midland Road – a story about railway developments.

[3] For more detail about these schemes refer to another article by the author on the subject of aborted cross-town rail links in Bradford: On a Siding (published on his blog in January, 2018).

[4] A further example of how the railways facilitated football excursions and organised away travel is provided on the author’s blog about the day when visiting Portsmouth and Chelsea supporters came to Bradford for FA Cup games at Park Avenue and Valley Parade respectively (on 3rd February, 1912): LINK HERE

[5] Feature about Railway excursions to the 1911 FA Cup final.

 

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The above is taken from the author’s book ROOM AT THE TOP, (pub BANTAMSPAST, 2016) which also includes images / maps relating to the railway network in Bradford and plans for its development. You can read about the origins of sport and football – rugby and soccer – in Bradford in his books ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP which form part of the BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED series.   ***   [Link to purchase the books]   ***

If anyone wishes to reproduce this text the author expects due credit to be given for his research. Tweets: @jpdewhirst or @woolcityrivals

Other online articles about Bradford sport by the same author

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

Subsequent articles on VINCIT will examine other themes that had influence on the early development of Bradford football and the commercialising of sport in the district. 

 

 

Gone to the Dogs

by Ian Hemmens

Between the two world wars, Bradford, although still a fairly prestigious city in the textile & mercantile sense, had lost some of the greatness that epitomised it as a leading player during its Victorian & Edwardian heydays. The Great War not only saw a lost generation of Men and a decimated workforce but a change in the world order of doing business in ways which affected Bradford trade. The diminishing German population of Bradford & their business savvy & acumen was sorely missed.

As the country started the long rebuild, new ideas were gaining ground in stronger rights for workers with unrest and revolution in the air in several countries, Votes at last for women, a partial collapse of the old class ridden society where everyone knew their place. People were questioning the old ideals.

 As the workforce was more widely spread due to shortages, people found more time on their hands. The old Victorian music halls found themselves being overtaken by the new craze from the United States, namely talking pictures and newsreels which made the world seem a whole lot smaller. Old time dance halls saw a rise in popularity with jazz & big band offering the live entertainment.

 On the sport front, Bradford was well served for offering entertainment having two Football League clubs, a Rugby League club, a Rugby Union club, a superb cricket arena at Park Avenue which Yorkshire used regularly, a vibrant cricket league, roller skating rink.

 In the 1930s Speedway would enter the arena along with a second greyhound track in the Brownroyd area of the City on Legrams Lane.

 1926 though saw the entry of greyhounds to Bradford when the National Greyhound Racing Club took over the greenfield stadium at Dudley Hill. The arena was already well established in Bradford, in 1906 it consisted of an athletics track and had featured trotting meetings on its eliptical shaped track.

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 It had also seen local Soccer games before the newly formed Bradford Northern Rugby League club  rented the arena in 1907 from Whitaker’s Brewery for £8. The attached Greenfield Hotel became the club’s headquarters. Northern spent only the single season there the highlight beating the touring New Zealand side. Northern had spent £302 on improvements, a Grandstand, the pitch and perimeter fencing. The clubs first AGM in June 1908 saw them leave and move to Birch Lane which was regarded as nearer town and with better transport links. The Greenfield arena resorted back to its original use of athletics meets and trotting derbyies.

 The year 1926 saw the arena become one of the first in the UK to become a greyhound track. By now more developed with much more covered accommodation for spectators, the development saw a large Tote board erected at one end and a clubhouse built with betting facilities enclosed. Race day kennels and a paddock were built behind the main stand and residential kennels also provided for local animals.

Greenfield

 The arena had a successful start but suffered a blow when on the night of 29th October 1927, severe gale force winds ripped the roofs off both stands and the betting enclosure. Two major investors oversaw repairs to what was seen as a prestigious track in the north, the Greyhound Racing Association & the Electric Hare Company of Liverpool. The circuit had a 420 yard circumference which catered for both flat races and hare races at a variety of distances from 300 to 700 yards in length. The shape of the track featured a long run to the finish which heightened the excitement for punters. A third stand was eventually built on the third bend bringing the capacity to 7,000.

Race highlights feature famous trainer Jimmy Rimmer of Waterloo Cup fame set a track record 504 winners in  one season in 1932. Rimmer went on to become a trainer at the top London tracks in future years .

 In 1934, a Greenfield trained dog named ‘Deemsters Mike’ represented the track in the National Greyhound Derby Final and also won the Northern title in the Flat race.

 The year 1931 saw the National Cup ran over 500 yards held at Greenfield, a big honour for the track which was won by a dog named Doumergue in 29.34 seconds. The club was run by members with an annual subscription of 1 guinea.

 During the 1930s, Britain saw a short-lived craze to establish baseball in the country and Greenfield had a team but the craze didn’t last.

Greenfield baseball

 Post war, as attendances started to dwindle, other avenues were explored and after the demise of the Tudors/Boomerangs Speedway team at Odsal, the reconstituted team named the Panthers arrived in 1961 to race on the newly laid speedway track which was laid inside the dog track. The experiment, despite the expertise of speedway legend Johnnie Hoskins, only lasted a year and ended with a double header meet with Sheffield and Leicester in October, 1962.

Greenfield aerial

 The attendances at the dog racing continued to dwindle until after pull outs by investors saw the old arena finally close for business in March 1969. A sad end to an exciting piece of Bradford Sporting History. Sadly, no trace remains of such a fine arena, the stadiums footprint being totally covered by industrial buildings and warehousing. 

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The final meeting was on March 5th 1969 with an attendance of 4790. Many more than had regularly attended and was probably boosted by sentimentality for the old place and a final goodbye to many memories.

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 With the success of greyhound racing in the 1930s, across the city in the Brownroyd area saw the building of a second track just off the Legrams lane tram route. Surrounded on all sides by industrial buildings and a freight carrying railway line, it was known as the City Stadium officially opened on Monday 15th August 1932 five years after the opening of Greenfield. It also featured a Tote board and seating with kennelling on the Legrams Lane side.

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Officially and originally affiliated to the rival British Greyhound Track Control Society, when this body disbanded in 1935 the stadium owners became independent and unaffiliated. Compared to Greenfield the facilities were very basic and probably the tracks biggest claim to fame was the fact it featured in several scenes in the famous & successful 1958 film ‘Room at the Top’. As regards the racing it specialised in handicap races over its 470 yard distance. As with other tracks, efforts were made to find other sources of income as crowds struggled. A velodrome was created around the track for cycle racing, karting races were held as seen in the fantastic images provided by Graeme Wright. Also tried out was baseball with the ‘City Sox’ using the arena (photo below) but as with Greenfield, the craze never really established itself and soon folded. Dog meetings were held on Wednesday & Saturday afternoons and clearly had plenty of competition of many sports in Bradford to compete with.

City Sox @ Legrams

 The Betting & Gaming Act of 1960 allowed the opening of high street betting shops and this affected the Tote turnover and attendances. 1963 also saw a serious fire caused over £50,000 damage from which the track never recovered. The last Greyhound meeting was held on Wednesday afternoon of 30th October 1965. Cycling events continued for a while but with the track being a hard surface with tight bends it wasn’t conducive to fast sprinting.

 

 

 The track was originally built on the site of an old mine on scrubland with a dye works belching out noxious fumes on one side and the railway wrapping itself around the track. Nothing now remains of the track , now also under industrial units although a tip of the hat to its old use is there with a road named ‘Greyhound Drive’ leading to the industrial units.

City aerial

 Bradford invested largely in the greyhound craze which really had its peak in the 1930s and the two tracks were decently supported for a while despite all the other distractions in the City but sadly, eventually fell foul of dwindling support.  Attempts to diversify to maintain the arenas sadly also failed. Even in the strongholds in London, the sport is a shadow of its former self. These days the nearest tracks are at Kinsley near Pontefract and at Owlerton in Sheffield.

ADDENDUM – Keighley greyhounds

Ten miles up the Aire Valley in Keighley, the buzz of the 30s craze of Greyhound Racing that had led Keighlians to travel to Bradford for their fix was finally catered for when they got their own track.

!947 saw the conversion of the old Keighley Town stadium known as Parkwood, although technically it was in the Aireworth district for Greyhound Racing. Originally called Parkwood AFC, a name change to Keighley Town saw the team rise to a top quality amateur status without ever worrying the highest standards of the game. For a proper history please reference the book on Keighley football by Rob Grillo, highly recommended. Town folded for the first time in 1948 but their ground was placed between the River Worth & Beeches Road approximately behind the present Aireworth Vets Practice & the Harrison & Clough factory.

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The track opened for racing on 22nd November 1947 and operated as an independent track outside the affiliation of the NGRC. Such tracks were known as ‘flapping’ tracks. The racing took place on Tuesday evenings & Saturday evenings at 7.30pm. My own family legend has it that local men would visit the track after an afternoon watching Rugby League at Lawkholme Lane and return home via several public houses worse for wear and skint after a full day out watching sport & drinking much to the ire of their wives.

The track was 410 yards in length and major race distances were over 306 & 518 yards. There was a mechanised ‘Hare’ system & photo finish apparatus. Very much ahead of its time for the immediate post war era. A licensed bar, snack area and car parking made it all the more attractive for the punters. I remember going in the 1960s with my Uncle & cousin who lived in Keighley and can remember the buzz of a very decent crowd as the dogs burst out of the traps. It was one of my first exposures to sport. The kennels for the resident dogs were housed over in Steeton .

As mentioned, crowds were always pretty healthy with the track well within walking distance of the town centre & also the rugby ground.

Parkwood van

1965  saw a dog named ‘Rusty’ break the track record in a time of 29.05 seconds but there was a mystery and potential scandal around the achievement as it was alleged that ‘Rusty’ was in fact a dog named ‘Hi Joe’ which had been stolen from the NGRC licensed kennels of Noreen Collinand had in fact won a prestigious Juvenile race and was one of the favourites for the 1965 Greyhound Derby. The mystery was never solved as the dog once again vanished after its triumph at Parkwood.

As with the rest of the industry, as the 1970s approached the crowds dwindled and the march of progress saw the track finally close on Christmas Eve 1974 due to proposals for the route of the new Aire Valley road which today cuts across the footprint of the old site. It was the end after almost 30 years of racing in the town. The road was finally opened (A650) in 1988 and covers twhat was the southern part of the stadium. Nothing remains now but a football ground covers what was the Northern end of the stadium.

 Photo images thanks to Graeme Wright, Mick Pendleton.

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Ian has contributed articles to VINCIT about a broad range of sports and links can be found from the drop down menu above.

Future planned articles on VINCIT include:

  • The story of how railways impacted on the development of football in Bradford in the nineteenth century.
  • Lost sportsgrounds of Bradford.
  • Early association football in Bradford.
  • The origins of cycling in Bradford.
  • The impact of social networks on the origins of Bradford sport.
  • The financial failure of Bradford football clubs.
  • Baseball in Bradford.
  • The politics of Odsal Stadium.
  • The influence of the press on the development of Bradford sport.

Contributions are always welcome!