Given the dearth of serving players from either Bradford City AFC or Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC to represent England at association football it seems remarkable that in the nineteenth century, players of Bradford FC (based at Park Avenue) were virtually ever-present in the England Rugby Union team between 1885 and 1895. In that period, thirteen different players won a total of 48 international caps. In this period caps were awarded for 27 different games and on only two occasions was a Bradford player not represented. In other words, of the total caps awarded Bradford FC players won 12%.
It was the practice that northern players from Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire represented half of the England side, of which most came from the white rose county. But of all the Yorkshire clubs, it was Bradford FC players who won the most caps and with this record alone the club could claim to have a team of celebrities.
On two occasions, no fewer than four out of the fifteen representing England were Bradford FC players– the combination of Fred Bonsor, Laurie Hickson (portrait featured), Rawson Robertshaw and Edgar Wilkinson in January and March, 1887 against Wales and Scotland respectively (pictured above). Not surprisingly there was no reluctance on the part of Bradford FC to reimburse players for the expense of international call-ups. The Yorkshireman of 23 January, 1886 reported that the club paid the expense of international caps which cost 18s 6d each.
Thomas Tetley had been the first Bradford FC player to be selected for England in 1876 followed by Harry Garnett in 1877. In total therefore Bradford FC had 15 England internationals prior to 1895 who won 50 caps between them. In the same period the total number of caps won by players from all other Yorkshire clubs amounted to 86 of which Halifax players, 15; Heckmondwike, 15; Bramley, 7; Huddersfield, 6 and Hull, 6; Bingley FC, 5 and Leeds FC, 5. (The Bingley FC international, Tom Broadley won a sixth cap in 1896 before joining Bradford FC and it may surprise readers that a couple more Bingley players won a total of four caps between 1896-99 inclusive. )
Edgar Holmes (pictured) was Manningham FC ’s sole international albeit with only two caps which were both gained in 1890. In the same year, Holmes was a member of the Yorkshire side that defeated England on 1 March at Park Avenue. In 1891 he became the only Manningham player to have ever captained Yorkshire.
The England game at Park Avenue was celebrated in particular by Bradford members given its contribution to the prestige of their club. However, there was also a scare resulting from injury to Hickson and the fear that he might need a leg amputating due to infection – an outcome almost inconceivable today with the benefit of modern medicine. When an England side played Ireland at Park Avenue in February, 1909, the ground became one of a select number to have hosted an England representative team in both rugby and association football.
Bradford’s most capped player was Jack Toothill (above) who played twelve games followed by Fred Bonsor – who captained England in 1888/89 – with six and Laurie Hickson, also six. Toothill, like Joe Hawcridge (the ‘Artful Dodger’ – pictured at the bottom of this feature) was a former Manningham FC player. Hawcridge ran a sports outfitters shop with his brother on Manningham Lane but emigrated to the USA in 1893, becoming an attorney in Chicago. He caught typhoid in San Francisco where he died in 1905.
Both Bonsor and Hickson captained England in February, 1889 (against the Maoris) and March, 1890 (against Scotland) respectively. Alongside Dickie Lockwood (who captained England twice in 1894) they were the only Yorkshiremen to captain England in the 54 internationals preceding the schism of 1895.
In 1889 Bonsor (pictured) achieved a hat-trick as captain of Bradford FC, Yorkshire and England in victories against the Maoris.
Percy Robertshaw was one of fifteen payers including Fred Bonsor and Laurie Hickson awarded England caps in 1888 despite never playing a game for their country, a peculiarity arising from the fall out between the four British rugby unions in that year.
Of the three Robertshaw brothers only Rawson actually played for England and both Herbert and Percy were unsuccessful triallists. By this achievement alone the Robertshaws were probably Bradford’s most famous sporting family before the Brownlees in 2012. However the Ducketts should also be mentioned in this regard. Horace, formerly of Heaton FC represented Bradford FC at Park Avenue between 1888-94 and was capped twice for England in 1893 whilst his son, Donald played for both Bradford clubs in the Football League and was a member of the Bradford (PA) AFC side that won the Division Three (North) championship in 1927/28.
Above: Joe Hawcridge
Bradford FC Internationals(all England except annoted)
John ‘Jack’ Toothill
Fred Schutt (Ireland)
* Fred Schutt made his name with Bradford FC before joining Dublin Wanderers FC in 1877 which gave him the qualification to represent Ireland
*** Formerly Manningham FC players
In addition to the above, the following Bradford FC players were unsuccessful England triallists: J W Marshall, 1882; Thomas Steriker, 1882; Herbert Robertshaw, 1886; Percy Robertshaw, 1886; Frank Ritchie, 1888; and Fred Cooper, 1895.
Not included are the nominal (non-playing) caps awarded to Fred Bonsor, Laurie Hickson and Percy Robertshaw in 1888.
Saturday 30th May 1970 at the Café Royal in London. The annual general meeting of the Football League, with Avenue having to apply for re-election for a 4th consecutive season. Since the resumption of football after World War 2, only 2 sides had failed to be re-elected to the league, New Brighton in 1951 & Gateshead in 1960.
At 1967’s AGM, Avenue had received 42 votes & in 1968 that figure increased to 44. The vote fell to 38 in 1969, but that was 11 more than Newport County & 22 more than Cambridge United, the most successful of the non-league applicants. Newport also had to apply again in 1970, along with Hartlepool & Darlington. Chairman Herbert Metcalfe, vice-chairman George Sutcliffe, manager Frank Tomlinson & trainer/coach Ron Lewin arrived at the AGM with a degree of cautious optimism.
But when the votes were counted, there were only 17 in favour of Avenue. Southern League Cambridge United polled 31 votes & were elected along with existing members Darlington (47 votes), Hartlepool (42) & Newport County (31). Even Northern Premier League runners-up Wigan Athletic received more votes than Avenue, with 18 – Avenue’s 52-year membership of the Football League was over
Metcalfe was “dreadfully disappointed”. He admitted that what he referred to as “the rumpus last October” (when he’d insisted on picking the team, despite not having seen them play, provoking manager Laurie Brown to resign & virtually the entire playing staff to ask for transfers) “played a big part”, but he maintained that hestill thought that he’d been right. The future of the club would be decided at a board meeting on Monday.
Monday 1st June: The Telegraph & Argus led with the headline “Avenue face ‘go on or quit’ dilemma” – was the club going to go out of business, or would it apply to continue in the Northern Premier League? George Sutcliffe clearly favoured the latter option & Peter Swales of Altrincham, spokesman for the NPL, made it known that Avenue would be welcome to join.
Sutcliffe indicated that changes would need to be made to the club’s existing set-up to cope with the potential loss of revenue. Stanley Pearson speculated that the club would be unable to afford to run 3 sides as it had done previously & that the current playing staff of 16 full-timers, 1 part-timer & 2 apprentices might have to be significantly reduced.
Perhaps ground down by having covered Avenue’s failing fortunes since 1966, Pearson said “my own view is that the sensible way would be to pack up now”. In an editorial in the same issue headlined “Club that died of shame”, he penned what proved to be a rather premature obituary.
In Tuesday’s paper, Pearson reported that the Monday night board meeting had started promptly at 6pm. At 6.40, Ron Lewin emerged & invited Supporters Club secretary George Hudson to join the meeting. After another 30 minutes, Lewin re-emerged & before driving to his home in the north-east explained that he’d been fired, as the club could no longer afford him.
When the meeting ended, Metcalfe announced that due in great part to George Hudson’s assurances that the Supporters Club would continue to back them, Avenue proposed to carry on & apply to join the NPL. “We are all pulling together, trying to make this not our Waterloo, but our Dunkirk” he said, before advising that the players would be spoken to later in the week. Any not wishing to remain would be allowed to leave, he said.
On 5th June, Pearson reported “another shock” as development manager Denis Marshall resigned, saying that he & his assistant Stuart Thorp (a former Avenue junior) were to join another club “not far from here” from 1st July. Most of the players met with the manager & chairman on the same day, with a statement on the outcome expected later. Pearson speculated that the club would aim to employ only about 6 full-time professionals, with the rest of the playing staff being made up of part-timers. On the following day, Avenue applied to join the NPL & were accepted at its AGM in Leeds.
On 15th June it was announced that Avenue’s reserve team would play in the Yorkshire League in 1970/71. Arsenal were rumoured to be interested in signing Terry Dolan, but 3 days later, the T&A reported that he had committed to stay with Avenue. Also staying were Trevor Atkinson & Tommy Henderson, all 3 players remaining on full-time terms.
Fred Eyre had re-signed as a part-timer but wouldn’t be taking charge of the youth team as had previously been the case. 2 youngsters, forward Alan Brown, who’d made a goalscoring debut in the West Riding Senior Cup match against Huddersfield Town the previous April, & defender Phil McCaffery were signed as part-time professionals. Hartlepool had been given permission to talk to Ralph Wright, who would be allowed to leave on a free transfer.
There was more bad news for English football fans that week – Sunday 14th saw West Germany beat England 3-2 after extra time in the World Cup quarter-final in Mexico. Then on Friday 19th we opened our copy of Soccer Star to find that it was the last ever issue – a brief statement said it was being merged with its sister publication World Soccer – the end of another era.
22nd June saw the publication of the NPL fixture list; the season would begin on 15th August, at home to Netherfield. On 24th June, Ralph Wright, whose time at Avenue had been plagued by injury, signed for Hartlepool.
At the well-attended Supporters Club AGM, Mr Metcalfe received an enthusiastic reception & the club was presented with a cheque for £500. He in turn expressed his thanks to the supporters & reiterated his intention to guide the club back into the Football League. He said that unsettled players would only be allowed to leave if it was in the club’s best interests. Arthur Birdsall was appointed as the new development fund organiser. No mention was made of the presentation of the Player of the Year award – Graham Carr, the recipient of that slightly dubious honour, had refused to re-sign, so wasn’t there.
On 26th June the T&A reported that 30-year-old Tony Leighton, surprisingly freed by Bradford City at the end of 1969/70 had been interviewed for the post of Avenue player/coach, with a decision expected soon.
On 29th June, a new bonus scheme for the first 30 games of the new season was unveiled. Players would get £8 for a win & £4 for a draw; £100 for winning the league & £100 for winning the non-league cup. The list of full-time players who had re-signed for Avenue was now Atkinson, Beanland, Brannan, Campbell, Dolan, Henderson, Rafferty, Roberts, Walker & Woolmer. Yet to sign were Brodie, Carr, Hardie, Hudson & Tewley. Though Terry Dolan had been given permission to attend pre-season training / trials at Arsenal.
In his Yorkshire Sports column on 1st July, Andrew Callaway, who had taken over Avenue reporting duties from Stanley Pearson, had good news of 2 players – Dolan had returned early from his spell at Arsenal citing homesickness & the club’s longest serving player, John Hardie was to re-sign as a part-time professional.
On 6th July, Avenue were elected to the North-West Floodlit League & the following day, Tony Leighton’s appointment as player/coach was confirmed, effective from Monday 13th, when pre-season training began. With more than 400 senior appearances for City, Huddersfield Town, Barnsley & Doncaster Rovers, the signing of Leighton was a clear statement of Avenue’s intent to meet the challenge of returning to the Football League at the first time of asking head on. Meanwhile, recently freed Avenue centre forward Ray Charnley had signed for Morecambe, from where he’d joined Blackpool back in 1957.
Unusually, there appears to be no pre-season team photograph for 1970/71. On 13th July, the T&A included a picture of Leighton addressing 14 of his full-time playing staff. Back row: Tony Woolmer, Terry Dolan, Tommy Henderson, Alan Roberts, Tony Beanland, John Brodie, Danny Campbell, Trevor Atkinson & Gary Hudson; Front row: Gary Crampton, Bernard Rafferty, Mick Walker, Peter Brannan, Alan Tewley.
Missing from the picture were Graham Carr & John Hardie, as neither had yet re-signed & apprentice Harry Preece. Unlike most first days of pre-season, there was only one newcomer to the group, Leighton himself.
In the following Saturday’s edition of Yorkshire Sports, Andrew Callaway sounded a note of caution. With smaller crowds & lower income expected, could Avenue sustain a full-time staff of 12, the largest of any in the NPL? That figure of 12 was made up of the players pictured above, excluding Crampton (apprentice) & Gary Hudson, who didn’t re-sign until 27th July, on which day Hardie also signed his new part-time terms.
On 20th July, it was reported that Avenue would enter the 1970/71 FA Cup campaign in the 4th qualifying round. On 22nd July, the club suspended Graham Carr for 14 days for refusing to sign the forms that would allow him to play in the NPL. Carr had repeatedly written to the club asking to be released from his contract & was transfer listed at £1,200. He was training alone to prepare for the coming season. In Yorkshire Sports on the 25th, Callaway urged the club & Carr to settle their differences. Carr was said to be content with the terms offered but was hoping to stay in the Football League. Just a few days later, on the 29th, Avenue released Carr & the following week he signed for Altrincham, re-joining his former boss, Laurie Brown.
A report on the 29th that Dolan was wanted by Huddersfield Town was quickly followed on the 31st by one which said they were no longer interested in him.
Saturday 1st August saw Avenue open their campaign with a home friendly against Cheshire League side Buxton. Terry Dolan scored in the first half & 2 goals each from Henderson & Tewley rounded off a 5-0 win. On 11th August, the T&A introduced the reporters who’d be covering local sides. Stanley Pearson would report on Huddersfield Town, who were back in the First Division after 11 years. His replacement as Avenue correspondent, Andrew Callaway, was the only one of the reporters not to merit a photo. This proved an early indicator of the reduced press coverage the club itself could expect to receive with the loss of Football League status.
On Saturday 15th August there were 2 new faces on Avenue’s team sheet for the NPL opener – Leighton in the number 9 shirt & Alan Brown on the right wing. Other than Brown, the team comprised a full complement of players with Football League experience. Kendal based Netherfield had finished the previous season in 10th place & Avenue might have been expected to win quite comfortably, but a respectable crowd of 2,216 saw the visitors take home the points, the final score 0-2. “The same old Avenue story” said the T&A headline.
There was a shock in store on Monday 17th, with the news that First Division Crystal Palace wanted John Hardie as back-up to their first-choice keeper John Jackson. Hardie had recently started a joinery business with Don McCalman, but the offer from Palace was too good to refuse & he signed on the dotted line. A fee of £2,000 was quoted in the T&A, though the Rothmans Football Yearbook later recorded it as £5,000. The T&A speculated that Hardie’s weekly wage could be as much as £80 if he appeared in Palace’s first team. However, Jackson was a consistent performer, who was rarely injured – he was ever-present in Palace’s league team for 5 seasons between 1967 & 1972, so Hardie’s appearances were restricted to reserve games.
Manager Frank Tomlinson turned to neighbours City, hoping to re-sign Pat Liney to replace Hardie, as the only other keeper on Avenue’s books was junior Alan Dean. City refused, as a player/exchange deal with Preston involving Bobby Ham & Preston keeper Gerry Stewart had fallen through. Dean was expected to make his debut in the Wednesday night game at Wigan Athletic. Another debutant would be Allan Ham, brother of Bobby, who had just been signed as a part-timer from Guiseley.
On the day of the Wigan game a new goalkeeper emerged – Alan Aubrey, a 22-year-old printer from Leeds had impressed for the reserves the previous night & had been signed on part-time terms. His previous experience included spending the 1969/70 season with Cork Hibernians in the League of Ireland. Tomlinson invited another keeper, Weymouth’s 21-year-old Terry Hawke for a month’s trial. Hawke played a few reserve games before being released.
Wigan won the Wednesday night encounter 3-0, all the goals scored by Geoff Davies, 1 of a remarkable 7 hat-tricks he notched up that season. Wigan had spent £4,000 on former Everton & England winger Derek Temple from Preston, & he tormented the Avenue defence, which was missing skipper Atkinson with a thigh strain. There was praise for Alan Aubrey’s display, though he took a blow to the head which affected his second-half performance.
Atkinson was still unfit for the Saturday trip to South Liverpool, but Peter Brannan had recovered from a similar injury & returned in place of Alan Brown. Danny Campbell, who had worn the number 9 shirt at Wigan switched places with centre-half Dolan. Avenue went a goal down after 5 minutes, but the game was one which they dominated, with Tony Beanland outstanding in midfield. But despite creating several good chances, they only had Tony Leighton’s equaliser to show for it. They very nearly lost, with the home side hitting the post & Dolan clearing off the line in the late stages. 1-1, a goal & a point on the board at last.
Frank Tomlinson rang the changes for the following Wednesday’s trip to Gainsborough Trinity for the NPL Cup qualifying round game. Out went Roberts, Ham & Henderson, replaced by Gary Hudson, Tony Woolmer (his first appearance of the season) & Manchester youngster Nigel Lester, recently signed as a part-timer. Woolmer was rumoured to be the subject of interest from a 3rd Division side.
The performance proved to be one of Avenue’s best of the season & resulted in their first away win since February 1968 at Bradford City. A performance of “fire & determination” said Callaway. Goals from Brannan, Woolmer & Tewley put Avenue 3 up & although Trinity pulled 2 back after Leighton went off injured, Avenue were resilient & a 2nd from Woolmer secured a 2-4 victory & a home tie with Kirkby Town. Everyone played well, but Woolmer (“outstanding”), Beanland, Leighton & Tewley were singled out for praise by Callaway. Scouts from Crewe, Rochdale, York & Everton (!) were said to have been at the game.
The T&A reported that Avenue could receive a payment of £1,000 if Kenny Hibbitt made his full debut for Wolves at Nottingham Forest on the coming Saturday. In the event, Kenny wasn’t picked, but he did make a goalscoring start against Chelsea a fortnight later.
Optimism was high after the win at Gainsborough as Avenue headed west to Fleetwood on 29th August. They were missing the injured Alan Tewley, but Trevor Atkinson was fit again & replaced him. Avenue were a penalty goal down at half-time & then collapsed to a 5-0 defeat – a debacle, said Callaway, noting that there was a large contingent of disappointed away supporters in the crowd of 1,135 – “had they played till midnight the ball wouldn’t have gone in the net”.
A home game against Matlock Town the following Monday saw Hudson & Lester omitted, with Roberts & Bernard Rafferty (his first appearance of the season) replacing them. It was a memorable night for Rafferty who scored a hat-trick in a 4-1win. Peter Brannan netted the fourth & Callaway described it as “a display of fine football”.
There was another trip to the west coast the following Saturday, this time with Morecambe the destination. In an unchanged side, Peter Brannan stood out, he was brought down for a penalty, which Atkinson converted & scored with a 25-yard effort near the end. It finished 0-2 – a much happier journey home than the previous weekend.
The games were coming thick & fast. Next up leaders Wigan at home on Tuesday 8th September, with Avenue unchanged again. Brannan hit the bar & Alan Roberts went close, but Wigan went ahead when Aubrey fumbled a corner & their main marksman Davies headed in. With many of the crowd of 3,387 making their way out, Tommy Henderson went on a cross-field run before blasting home from 30 yards to save a point. Callaway’s verdict – a result that was well deserved for the team’s sustained effort.
Huddersfield Town were reported to have renewed their interest in Terry Dolan & Tony Woolmer was said to be on the radar of both York City & Rochdale. The chairman announced that “no player considered good enough for the first team will be transferred unless the financial situation becomes so grim that it demands it” – how prophetic those words would prove to be.
Allan Ham was restored to the team in place of Rafferty for the 1st round proper NPL Cup match at home to Kirkby Town. The performance was disappointing, though Brannan (twice) & Henderson had shots cleared off the line before Henderson scored from an acute angle to give Avenue a 1-0 win. With better finishing, Callaway thought they could have netted 6 or 7.
In correspondence, the chairman revealed that the club had been looking at centre-forwards, including former Manchester United striker Alex Dawson. The £7,000 fee quoted by Brighton was too high though. In other correspondence, he admitted that reports suggested that 2 of the youngsters signed at the start of the season, Brown & Lester, had not progressed as well as had been hoped.
On 15th September, Avenue announced that estate agent Stanley Yeadon had been co-opted onto the board & goalkeeper Alan Aubrey had been upgraded from part-time to full-time terms. Alan Tewley was expected to start training again soon after 2 weeks out with a septic ankle. Defender Alan Roberts had been filling in for him in midfield competently enough, but Callaway thought Roberts never really seemed comfortable there.
Tommy Henderson was again on the scoresheet in a Thursday night game at Matlock, this time netting after only 2 minutes. Opposing centre-forward McArthur equalised almost straight away, & those were the only goals, though Woolmer came close to grabbing a late winner.
Callaway was full of praise for the next performance, a 2-1 win against South Shields at home on 19th September. Henderson, who scored the 1st goal was man of the match, with Brannan a close second. Brodie & Dolan were outstanding in defence. Trevor Atkinson netted the winner from the spot after Brannan had been fouled.
The chairman appealed to local businessmen for financial assistance – he asked for loans totalling £10,000 to tide the club over a “temporary shortage”, otherwise players would have to be sold. Lancashire cricketer Barry Wood was training with the club to keep fit during the winter. He was later signed on part-time terms on a short-term contract.
At 2-0 down with 10 minutes to go, it looked as though Avenue had made a fruitless trip to Great Harwood on 26th September. Then came, in Andrew Callaway’s words a “dramatic transformation”. Leighton pulled a goal back on 81 minutes, Henderson netted from close range 2 minutes later & Woolmer got the winner with 2 minutes left.
The following Monday, Avenue faced table-topping Macclesfield Town at home, with the T&A predicting a crowd of 4,000. In fact, 3,713 turned out to see Avenue’s unbeaten run of 7 games come to an end, the visitors winning 0-1. Callaway thought Avenue the better side, more skilful & imaginative, but they couldn’t take their chances.
Across the Pennines, former Avenue player/manager Laurie Brown resigned from his role at Altrincham after some poor results. News of injured players – Alan Tewley would return as substitute against Runcorn on 3rd October, but Gary Hudson was to see a specialist about the knee from which a cartilage had been removed last season.
Tommy Henderson continued his goalscoring run with a hat-trick against Runcorn, a home game which Avenue won 3-1. Also impressing was the fit again Tewley, on as substitute. He returned to the starting eleven for the first North West Floodlit League game of the season at home to Chorley on the following Monday, when Callaway rated him the best player on view. Avenue won that by a single goal, with Woolmer scoring from the rebound after a header from Danny Campbell had hit the bar.
Saturday 10th October saw a 3rd consecutive home game, with Altrincham the visitors. There were some familiar names on the visitors’ team-sheet – Graham Carr, Charlie Rackstraw (ex-City) & David Shawcross (ex-Halifax Town). It was a real game of 2 halves; Callaway described Avenue as “playing as badly as at any time last season” in the first half. Altrincham were 1 up through a deflected shot at half-time, but 10 minutes into the second half, Tewley replaced Ham & Leighton moved up front. Goals from Dolan, Leighton, Henderson & Tewley saw Avenue to a 4-1 win; Tewley was the catalyst for the turnaround.
The 2nd NW Floodlit League game was away at Macclesfield on Wednesday 14th. The home side was dominant & ran out 3-0 winners, including 1 scored by future Avenue player Frank Beaumont. There was worse news when an x-ray revealed a hairline fracture across the bridge of Trevor Atkinson’s right foot; he was expected to be in plaster for 6 weeks.
For the trip to Netherfield, Gary Hudson replaced Atkinson & Tewley started in place of Ham, with Barry Wood on the bench. Netherfield went ahead through an own goal by Dolan, but Avenue hit back through Henderson just before the interval & took the lead through Woolmer just after. Netherfield were awarded a penalty when Hudson handled on the line, but it was blasted high & wide. Tewley made the game safe in the dying minutes with a beautifully taken goal. 1-3 to Avenue, revenge for the opening day defeat; they were 6th in the table with 17 points, just 5 behind leaders Macclesfield.
Neither Leighton (groin strain) nor Hudson (knee ligaments) was fit to play at Hyde United in the Floodlit League game on Monday 19th. Peter Brannan was switched to left back, with Danny Campbell & Barry Wood, who had made his debut as substitute at Netherfield, coming in. Avenue lost 3-2, with Tony Woolmer, the scorer of an early goal, sent off 5 minutes before the interval for abusive language towards the referee. Hyde were 3-1 up by then, but Terry Dolan pulled a goal back & Tewley twice hit the woodwork near the end.
20th October – the chairman was appealing for funds again, this time to pay a £1,000 rates bill. He claimed that if the money wasn’t raised within 3 weeks, the club might fold. Admission prices were being increased for the next home match with adults having to pay 5 shillings. In the T&A, Callaway noted that Metcalfe had not only invested money in the club, but also considerable time & effort, which had affected his health & led to his doctor warning him to take a complete rest – advice which, it seems, went unheeded.
George Hudson said that the supporters’ club could do no more – it was already handing over £50 a week towards players’ wages & funding the production of the programme. He felt that the club’s wage bill was far too high – the reserve team had contained 8 paid players in its most recent game, which had been lost 0-2. Metcalfe, on his way to Scotland on a scouting trip, seemingly forgetting his recent appeals for support, countered “if you have a successful side, no wage bill is too high in my view”.
Hudson & Leighton hadn’t recovered from injury, so Campbell & Wood were retained for the trip to Lancaster City on 24th October, with Allan Ham on the bench. On the morning of the match, there was shocking news – Herbert Metcalfe, who had stopped off in Glasgow on his way to see a game in Aberdeen, had died overnight in his hotel room; he was 63. Almost a year to the day since his interference in team selection had provoked “the rumpus”, the chairman was in the headlines again. This time, though, could the club recover from the loss of his financial support?
On the field, Avenue came away from Lancaster with both points in a 0-1 win, which moved them up to 4th in the table. Barry Wood got the goal with a fine header from Tewley’s pin-point delivery. It could have been more: Beanland hit the post & had a 30-yard free kick well saved, a header from Campbell was cleared off the line & Henderson twice hit the side netting.
Despite this on-field success, the club was in a state of shock – & financial instability. Ironically, on Monday 26th October, the T&A included an advertisement prepared by Herbert Metcalfe, appealing for support & for another director (or 2), optimistically headed “Do you want First Division Football in Bradford?”
The following day, director Stanley Yeadon proposed a fund-raising scheme whereby supporters would be able to buy a square-foot portion of the Park Avenue pitch for a charge of £1, estimating that this could raise as much as £160,000. A local conveyancing expert suggested that this might raise legal issues, with the possible costs involved being £9 per transaction. Later that week, Yeadon said he had received 140 provisional orders.
Meanwhile, a player exodus began with Terry Dolan joining Huddersfield Town for £2,000 & leading scorer Tommy Henderson starting a 2-month trial with York City. 4 other first-teamers, Alan Tewley, John Brodie, Peter Brannan & Danny Campbell were to travel to Crewe for talks with a view to transferring there. Only Tewley did sign, a few days later, for an undisclosed (though small) fee. Crewe agreed to pay Avenue 50% of any future transfer fee received for Tewley, but that came to nothing, as he was freed after 2 seasons.
The board announced more staff redundancies, with the services of trainer George Stabb, groundsman Maurice Garside, chief scout Wilf Gledhill, assistant trainer Bob Wood & laundress Sheila Keating all being dispensed with. For former player Stabb it brought a sad end to his 34-year association with the club.
Director Mark Brown described the next Saturday’s home match against Morecambe as going a long way towards deciding “which way the club goes”. A good attendance was hoped for. With Atkinson & Hudson both sidelined, young amateur Peter Balmforth made his debut at right-back, with Allan Ham returning for the departed Tewley, Campbell replacing Dolan & Alan Brown, out of the first team picture since the second game of the season, on the bench.
A crowd of 2,416 saw Avenue make a dream start, a pinpoint pass from Tony Beanland setting up Tony Woolmer for the opening goal. An enthusiastic performance should have brought more; a thunderbolt from Beanland was deflected onto the roof of the stand, Ham nearly netted direct from a corner & Woolmer hooked a shot just wide. In the second half, they were rewarded for their efforts, with Ham pressuring Tomlinson into an own goal & goals from Woolmer again & Leighton. Callaway rated Roberts & Wood the outstanding performers in the 4-0 win, but the whole team was deserving of the ovation it received at the end. A collection organised by the supporters’ club raised £57.
On Monday 2nd November, Avenue held a board meeting chaired by George Sutcliffe. Manager Frank Tomlinson would put forward his plan for a revised playing staff with a reduced number of full-timers (perhaps only about 6, speculated Callaway). Tomlinson had previously suggested this in the close season but had been overruled by Metcalfe. Delighted with the performance against Morecambe, Tomlinson singled out the part-timers for praise, saying “it is these players to whom we will have to give more responsibility in future”.
On the Tuesday, the remaining players met with the management & pledged their support to the club. The board expressed its intention to retain a strong playing staff to progress in both league & cup competitions. A further public meeting would be held to update supporters on the state of the club following Herbert Metcalfe’s demise. Part of the outstanding rates bill had been paid & development fund manager Arthur Birdsall had agreed to go part-time, with assistant secretary Len Padgett taking over his role. Elsewhere former Avenue keeper David Lawson had made a “brilliant” debut for Huddersfield Town in their West Riding Senior Cup semi-final against Bradford City.
On 4th November Tony Woolmer became the 4th player to leave the club in the past week, when he was transferred to Scunthorpe United for a small fee. Part-timer Fred Eyre, who had made his sole league appearance against Swansea in March 1970 had his contract cancelled by mutual consent.
3 days later, Avenue travelled to Wearside League club Washington for an FA Cup 4th qualifying round game. Skipper Trevor Atkinson had recovered from the broken bone in his foot more quickly than expected & replaced Balmforth at right-back. Alan Brown returned to the starting line-up for the first time since August in place of Woolmer.
To the relief of all concerned, Avenue ran out 0-3 winners, with Allan Ham scoring a hat-trick. Callaway’s praise was mainly for the defence though, in which Atkinson, Campbell & Roberts stood out. Inevitably, he said, the forward line was missing the experience of the departed Henderson, Tewley & Woolmer. The reward for the win was a trip to Third Division Barnsley in the 1st round proper.
The following Tuesday, Avenue travelled to Chorley for a NW Floodlit League match in a “mudbath” coming away 0-3 winners, Brannan with 2 & Rafferty on the scoresheet.
A public meeting was held in St George’s Hall on Friday 13th November & around 800 people attended. The T&A reported that through various donations & fund-raising initiatives, the club was now £427 better off. George Sutcliffe, who became chairman, said he believed that Avenue could progress & prosper; he announced the club’s intention to apply for re-election to the Football League at the end of the current season.
The next day Avenue played a home friendly against Matlock Town. Callaway reported that “it turned into a battle in the mud, as players on both sides found it easier to kick each other rather than a ball that bobbled on the heavy surface”. Beanland & Leighton were missing through injury & junior Ogden tried hard to cover Beanland’s role. Allan Ham & Danny Campbell got Avenue’s goals in a 2-3 defeat. Barry Wood was sent off for “handing off Brandon in true rugby fashion”. Aubrey had a day to forget & Campbell was the only Avenue player to emerge with any credit.
There was an improvement in the Monday night Floodlit League match at home to Macclesfield, which Avenue won 1-0 with a Rafferty goal. Beanland was back from injury, Aubrey back on form & Atkinson & Roberts were singled out for praise, as was Allan Ham – “his best match to date”.
Part-timers Brown, Ham & Wood joined in with full-time training in the week leading up to the FA Cup tie at Barnsley. With Brannan unfit because of 4 stitches in a gashed knee picked up against Macclesfield, Brown retained his place in the starting line-up. Barnsley were on a poor run of form, with 2 draws & 5 defeats in their last 7 games. “One good win, I am sure, would work wonders” said their manager Johnny Steele in his programme notes – but he cautioned that Avenue would be “no pushover. They have lost only one of their last 15 matches”.
A decent crowd of 7,189 turned out to see Steele’s team get the win he hoped for; 1-0 thanks to a Norman Dean penalty after a hand ball by Leighton. Dean thought he’d scored a second, but it was disallowed for a foul on Aubrey. Callaway judged it a wholehearted performance, with especially good displays from Aubrey, Atkinson, Brodie & Campbell, the latter “a tower of strength at centre half”. Avenue could have equalised at the end, as a cross from Brown “floated across an empty goal with no-one on hand to turn it home”.
Surprisingly, in view of the club’s ailing finances, the following week brought a new signing, ex-Bradford City forward Charlie Rackstraw, 32, from Altrincham. Laurie Brown had signed him for Altrincham the previous January, but he still lived in Bradford & travelled 3 times a week for training. Brown’s successor John Davies seemed keen to end this arrangement. No fee was involved, but it was suggested that Avenue winger Alan Brown might make the reverse trip (in the event, he didn’t). It was hoped that Rackstraw, with more than 400 senior appearances & 100 goals for City, Gillingham & Chesterfield, would add some experience & firepower to Avenue’s depleted forward line.
Rackstraw went straight into the Avenue team for the Floodlit League encounter at Witton Albion which, despite an outstanding display from Aubrey, saw the home side take the points in a 3-2 win. Walker & Rafferty were the Avenue scorers.
Kenny Hibbitt, now with 14 first team appearances for Wolves, was called into the England Under-23 squad, with the possibility of a further £1,000 instalment of his transfer fee if selected. (Kenny’s sole Under-23 international appearance came as sub for Mick Channon against Wales Under-23s on 2nd December 1970).
There was less positive news of another young midfielder, 17-year-old apprentice Gary Crampton, who hadn’t progressed to the senior team since signing from Everton in January 1970. He had been released from his contract & had “given up ideas about a career in football”. There was a departure from the boardroom as well, with recently appointed director Stanley Yeadon resigning for personal reasons.
The next NPL game was away at Northwich Victoria. Bernard Rafferty had picked up an ankle injury at Witton & was replaced by fit again Peter Brannan. John Brodie hadn’t fully recovered from a similar injury, so part-timer Phil McCaffery would make his senior debut at left back. Brodie was however, fit enough to be named as substitute. Avenue found themselves 2-0 down by half-time, with Atkinson off injured & replaced by Brodie. The final score was 3-0, a lacklustre performance, one of the worst of the season in Callaway’s view; it was McCaffery’s only senior appearance.
Team changes abounded for the Tuesday night trip to Fleetwood for an NPL Cup tie. Brodie replaced McCaffery, though neither he nor his full back partner Atkinson were fully fit. Campbell was also not 100% fit, but would play; Roberts, Rafferty & Wood were all out injured & Rackstraw was cup-tied. Alan Brown came in for Rackstraw, Mick Walker would play in the unfamiliar role of centre forward & youngster Jimmy Williams would make his debut in the number 10 shirt. Another youngster, amateur Steve Thornton from Heckmondwike, formerly with Ossett Albion, who had only 3 reserve games under his belt, was named as substitute.
The performance against Fleetwood showed considerable improvement, but some defensive lapses helped the home side to a 3-1win, with Walker netting for Avenue after a perfectly judged run at a corner. Tony Leighton was upbeat about his side’s losing run: “It’s a phase, & I think we shall come out of it just as suddenly as we fell into it” he said prior to the weekend home game with Kirkby Town.
The day before the Kirkby game (4th December) came the surprise announcement that manager Frank Tomlinson had been sacked, with Leighton promoted to player/manager. George Sutcliffe gave the reason as “purely on the grounds of economy…we cannot afford to have both a manager & a player coach”. The departing manager was resigned to his fate: “it has not come as a great surprise to me. I am not bitter about this at all. I have enjoyed every minute of my time at Park Avenue….”
Some felt that Tomlinson, having been out of the game for years & with no managerial experience, had been appointed by Metcalfe as his “puppet”. Interviewed by Jeremy Charnock in “Diary of a Lost Cause” Ralph Wright claimed that he couldn’t remember much about Tomlinson, but felt that he was being manipulated by the chairman. Another interviewee, Peter Brannan, couldn’t recall Tomlinson having any involvement with training, which was presumably left for Ron Lewin, then Leighton to look after. On a more positive note, Andrew Callaway thought the departing manager had made a significant contribution towards rebuilding team spirit after the failure to achieve re-election.
Following his sending off against Matlock, Barry Wood was suspended for 2 weeks from 14th December & fined £5, though he was injured & in plaster anyway. Jimmy Williams retained his place in the team against Kirkby & there was a last-minute change in goal, with Yorkshire colt cricketer Rod Smith making his debut as Aubrey had twisted his ankle in training. Kirkby took the lead, but Atkinson equalised from the spot after a defender was adjudged to have handled on the line. Allan Ham scored a second half winner, Williams could have had a hat-trick & Smith made a competent debut.
Because of his new position, Tony Leighton resigned from the Professional Footballers Association management committee. Alan Roberts & Wood both returned to light training after injury. But there were more injuries after a home friendly against Barrow, which the visitors won 1-3. Ham, who had scored inside the first 2 minutes, went off with damaged ankle ligaments & Leighton was badly concussed in a collision with Barrow’s Jim Irvine. Irvine was carried off, but Leighton continued after lengthy treatment. He later said he didn’t remember playing the rest of the game. Rackstraw & Beanland were Avenue’s best performers on the day.
Alan Aubrey returned to the starting line-up for the trip to Bangor City on 19th December. Leighton dropping himself to substitute & Alan Roberts replaced him. There was a full debut for Steve Thornton & a first outing of the season for fellow amateur Eric Fitzsimons, whose only previous senior appearance had been as Avenue’s last Football League debutant in the penultimate game of 1969/70 at Chesterfield.
Bangor went ahead through Conde on 23 minutes, but Jimmy Williams, in his third (and final) first team appearance, equalised 6 minutes later with a header from close range. Bangor took the lead with 12 minutes to go, & it took a wonder save from their keeper Phil Tottey to deny Brannan after Leighton, on as second half sub for Walker had hit the post. It finished 2-1 to the Welshmen.
There was little pre-Christmas cheer on 22nd December, as the club announced a loss of £38,354 in its accounts for the year ended 31st May 1970. Chairman George Sutcliffe remained upbeat however, pointing out that many costs had been cut since his predecessor’s demise.
On the following day, Leighton was appearing at a disciplinary hearing in Manchester on behalf of former striker Tony Woolmer, sent off for using abusive language in the Floodlit League game against Hyde while at Avenue & Alan Roberts, who had amassed 4 bookings. Leighton appealed against Roberts’ booking for fighting against Netherfield, but the outcome wasn’t as hoped for. Roberts was banned for 14 days & fined £10, with a further 21 day suspended ban for the other 3 bookings. Woolmer was banned for 14 days as well, with a £25 fine. Meanwhile, Graham Carr, who had earlier been dismissed by Altrincham for disciplinary reasons, joined Telford United, managed by his former Northampton Town team-mate Ron Flowers.
There was a quick opportunity to take revenge for the previous defeat, as Bangor were the Boxing Day visitors to Park Avenue. In the T&A Brian Horsfall reported that it was “a real Christmas cracker of a game”. The visitors went 2-0 up, but 2 fine goals from Peter Brannan levelled the match. Leighton hit the bar & Beanland hit the post, but it finished 2-2. So ended an eventful 1970.
To be continued…
Thanks for visiting VINCIT which is sports code / club neutral, although all content is Bradford related. Follow the links on the menu above to features about the history of different sports and clubs in Bradford. Contributions welcome.
Previous features on VINCIT have examined the contribution to the early development of sport in Bradford by Jack Nunn and Thomas Paton, two individuals who had a massive impact in the background at Valley Parade but until recently have sadly been overlooked in the historical narrative. Nunn for instance was the man associated with the redevelopment of the ground in 1908 and Paton for making ‘Glorious 1911’ possible by targeting new signings.
Whilst better known for the family business that designed the FA Cup trophy in 1911, Tony Fattorini‘s impact on local – as well as national and international – sport has arguably not been given the recognition that it deserves…
Messrs Fattorini & Sons (then of Bradford) is known as the firm that designed – although did not make – both the RL Challenge Cup and the current FA Cup trophies, not to mention the medals presented to members of winning teams. The firm also supplied trophies and medals for countless other local and regional sports competitions, including for example the Yorkshire Challenge Cup and the Bradford Charity Cup both of which had major impact on the popularity of rugby in the 1880s.
Tony Fattorini (1862-1931) played a big part in the success of the family business, the reputation of which was enhanced through close links with British sport. Another family concern, Sports & PastimesLtd Athletic and School Clothing Manufacturers that supplied sports accessories, similarly benefited from the emergence of the football industry in the third quarter of the nineteenth century and its subsequent growth.
Yet Tony Fattorini was more than a canny entrepreneur exploiting new commercial opportunities because he was also influential as an administrator of sport. He served variously as a committee member of Manningham FC and its successor Bradford City AFC and represented Manningham at meetings of the Yorkshire RFU and the Northern Union. In 1895 he was involved in meetings that led to the rugby breakaway and he later served as a committee member of the Northern Union.
He had been involved with the Manningham Rangers (rugby) club until it was wound-up in 1891 on account of its ground off Oak Lane being used for building development. Shortly after, he was invited to become involved with Manningham FC. As a committeeman at Valley Parade he established a reputation for a stabilising, calming influence among the different factions and in 1902/03 and then 1906 played an important role in averting financial crises (credited with having suggested the archery tournament that rescued the finances on new year’s day, 1903 and later, instigating a number of operational changes to reduce losses).
In his youth Fattorini had been a decent sprinter and had participated in local athletics festivals during the second half of the 1870s. It was this that fostered his interest in athletics for which he became better known, serving as a local and county official in cross country racing and as a vice president of the Amateur Athletic Association in addition to becoming a member of the International Olympic Board. He was a vice president of the Road Walking Association and locally, in 1904 helped instigate the Bradford Whitsun Walk event.
His firm’s reputation as a supplier of watches and clocks created a unique opportunity that led to his appointment as a time-keeper for the King’s Cup air race in the 1920s and his role as a timekeeper at four series of Olympic games. He is also credited as having designed early time-keeping devices suitable for chess and he officiated at RAC motoring time trials.
Fattorini’s obituary listed additional interests in sports as diverse as fishing, swimming, cycling, climbing and boxing. Collectively it amounted to an impressive pedigree and provided him with a relatively unprecedented degree of influence and knowledge across different activities that might also explain his reputation as an innovator – the man who encouraged a trial game at Valley Parade under the auspices of the Northern Union in September, 1895 between Manningham and Halifax with thirteen aside and a round ball. As a historical figure therefore, he was a man who could rightly be claimed to have helped shape the early development of British sport.
Tony Fattorini continued his involvement at Valley Parade despite the breakaway in 1895 and conversion to association football in 1903, epitomising loyalty to an institution as opposed to a code. He was an archetypal administrator, a member of the body of unsung and invariably anonymous individuals whose efforts were necessary in the background to organise fixtures and competitions, to deal with the politics and the regulations to make things happen.
I can’t comment with any authority about what happened in other places, but in Bradford the development of football – and I adopt the Victorian use of the word as an umbrella term for both rugby and association variants – owed much to the commitment and energy of key individuals such as Tony Fattorini. The contribution of ‘men in the background’ – at Valley Parade for example the likes of Fattorini, Nunn and Paton – has tended to be overlooked in club histories (including certain of those written about Bradford City) and so too another critical theme, the social networks that they participated in. For instance, in Bradford it is quite remarkable how networks of people connected to provide much of the early momentum for the growth of ‘football’ on a competitive basis. The sheer complexity and breadth of these interactions defies a simplistic narrative to explain the social origins of our clubs by class alone.
Fattorini was an adept networker and his commercial success is testament to the sporting contacts that he established. Those contacts also had subtle impact on club football. For example, his involvement with the Airedale Harriers (cross country) club in Bradford most likely encouraged its links with Manningham FC and the staging of its athletic festivals at Valley Parade from 1887. Likewise, his recognition of the value of athletics training no doubt encouraged the engagement of a champion sprinter, Charlie Harper by Bradford City AFC in 1905 whose impact on player fitness was considered a factor behind FA Cup success in 1911. Similarly, Fattorini’s contacts with Pierre de Coubertin – an official at the Stade Francais rugby club who later became famous for his role as founder of the modern Olympic Games movement – may explain how Manningham FC was invited to Paris for an exhibition fixture in 1894.
The fact that Fattorinis became a supplier of paraphernalia to the freemasons hints at other connections and it was an open secret that most of the committeemen at Valley Parade were members. I suspect that this was not unique to Manningham FC among rugby and football clubs but I will not digress.
At Valley Parade there were also family connections. His uncle John attended the meeting with the Football League in 1903 at which Manningham FC made its formal application for election as Bradford City AFC. His sister married William Pollack, later to become chairman of the club during World War One.
Tony Fattorini appears to have been highly principled and I suspect that his outlook was shaped by his faith as a Catholic as well as being mindful of his family’s own background as immigrants and its subsequent good fortune. The Fattorini family helped finance a number of Catholic youth initiatives across Bradford and Shipley and by the late 1880s they had established various Catholic Boys Clubs in some of the poorest areas in Bradford.
With regards the rugby breakaway in 1895 he made no secret of his scepticism of the venture which he considered unavoidable but also regrettable. Like others in Bradford, he was doubtful that the new Northern Union could sustain itself. He remained of the opinion that the breakaway clubs would eventually re-join the RFU in some form of rapprochement with the latter body forced to accept the need for broken-time compensation to players. Notably, whilst he was supportive of broken-pay compensation for players, he was steadfast in his opposition to outright professionalism which he considered would poison sporting values. Within British athletics and the Olympic movement he was an unequivocal advocate of amateurism.
Tony Fattorini was not alone in Bradford in becoming disillusioned with the development of the Northern Union and by the end of the 1890s had become an avowed associationist, an enthusiastic supporter of junior soccer. The launch of the Bradford & District FA in 1899 provided a massive fillip to grass roots association football in Bradford and I suspect that Fattorini identified parallels with the early development of rugby in the district for which many of his generation were nostalgic. In turn, his conversion to association made him an advocate of Manningham FC abandoning rugby in 1903.
At Valley Parade he continued to have considerable influence prior to World War One and in 1908 he is also credited with having introduced the Bradford City ‘bantams’ identity , accompanied by a yoke design shirt that was worn when the club won the FA Cup in 1911 . Arguably Fattorini was a talismanic influence because the club was the first winner of the new FA Cup trophy that Fattorinis had designed.
John Dewhirst is author of ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP (www.Bantamspast.net2016) which chronicle the origins and early development of rugby in Bradford and the rivalry of the Manningham and Bradford clubs culminating in their conversion to association football. He can be contacted via direct message on Twitter: @jpdewhirst
Thanks for visiting VINCIT which is sports code / club neutral, although all content is Bradford related. Follow the links on the menu above to features about the history of different sports and clubs in Bradford. Contributions welcome.
Birch Lane has been the home of the Bowling Old Lane Cricket Club since 1863. Writing in The Athletic News of 2 August, 1887 about the cricket club, Alfred Pullin said that ‘Bowling Old Lane, or, as it is called in the rich vernacular, the ‘Owd Loin,’ is one of those rough and ready districts whose inhabitants are of the out-spoken and unfashionable class, unaccustomed to the smooth tongue which would describe a spade as an agricultural implement, but who are nevertheless constructed of ‘real grit,’ and are clever and good hearted sportsmen to boot.’
In 1886 the club extended its estate with the acquisition of an adjacent field and this was used for rugby football from the 1887/88 season. At that time the cricket club was considered the strongest in Bradford and the incentive to launch a football club may have been as much about commercial opportunism as a statement about the club’s stature.
The timing of the venture is notable coming as it did shortly after the development of Usher Street for Bowling FC in 1883  . Around this time there was a boom in the development of local football grounds  and the Birch Lane project has to be seen in that context. In relative terms its location was also advantageous with reasonable rail links despite not being central. Whilst it now sits in the midst of urban sprawl, prior to World War One it was on the edge of residential development and surrounded by open fields.
These photos of the cricket ground in the 1970s attest to its prominent position overlooking Bradford. (Images courtesy of Philip Jackson).
The Yorkshireman reported that one contractor had quoted £1,000 to develop the ground and another, £700 but in the end the members did the work themselves at a cost of £300. In itself even the lower amount was a significant amount, an illustration not only of the financial burden for an emergent football club but also of the hubris (naivety?) that it could be repaid. In practice it is highly doubtful that the venture ever repaid the outlay. The fact that the ground was subsequently used by a number of different tenants says as much about the demand for playing space in Bradford as the efforts of the parent cricket club to secure rental income.
The new football (rugby) ground was formally opened on 27 August, 1887 with an exhibition game between Bradford FC and Halifax FC and the reported gate receipts of £70 suggest a crowd of around eight thousand. Nonetheless it did not represent a profit and reference was made in The Yorkshireman of 1 September, 1887 of a Bradford FC forward treating his friends at dinner to a bottle of champagne after the game. His claim that the chairman would pay betrayed his expectation of post-match entertainment and the Bowling Old Lane officials saved his embarrassment when a waiter demanded payment of 9s – the equivalent of two days’ average earnings for a working man.)
The construction of a new pavilion at the cricket ground in 1890 (which was also used by the football section for changing) was further evidence of the ambition of the leadership at Birch Lane. The additional financial exposure probably also reinforced the pressures for the football ground to generate a contribution. The split in English rugby in 1895 caused significant financial problems for junior clubs in the north and the fact that the rugby section at Bowling Old Lane disbanded in May, 1897 would suggest that the parent cricket club had little appetite or means to subsidise the losses of rugby.
Nevertheless, the Birch Lane football ground continued to be used for rugby by each of Bradford FC, Bradford Wanderers RFC and Bradford Northern FC. Bradford FC – then playing rugby under the auspices of the Northern Union – adopted Birch Lane for reserve team fixtures and between 1899 and 1903 it was home to the newly formed Bradford Wanderers rugby union club. Most famously it was occupied by Bradford Northern between 1908 and 1934.
The ground was also one of the first in Bradford to stage soccer and was adopted by of the association section of Bradford FC between 1895 and 1898 when Park Avenue was not available and then in 1898/99 was used exclusively. It was also used by Bradford Spartans, a local junior soccer club between 1895/96 and 1897/98.
In 1906 Birch Lane was again adopted for association football with the launch of a Bowling Old Lane team but this lasted for only a couple of seasons and was abandoned as a result of financial losses.  It was the launch of soccer at Park Avenue in 1907 that effectively killed the final soccer project at Birch Lane. Prior to that Birch Lane had benefited from the boost to ‘associationism’ from the abandonment of rugby by Manningham FC in 1903 and soccer followers had come to the ground on occasions when first team fixtures were not being played at Valley Parade. From 1907/08 those people went to Park Avenue instead.
In 1908 the new Bradford Park Avenue club made an attempt to safeguard soccer at Birch Lane presumably with the intention of adopting the Bowling Old Lane side as a nursery and to use the ground for reserve fixtures and training. However it was Bradford Northern who secured the lease at the ground. The Yorkshire Evening Post of 25 May, 1908 reported that the committee of Bowling Old Lane Cricket, Athletic & Football Club voted to accept an offer from Bradford Northern Rugby Club to use the ground for a rental of £30. A counter-offer from Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC of £60 to use the ground for two seasons to ‘encourage the Association code in this district’ was rejected. At this stage the club had not secured Football League membership and offered to augment the rent if election was secured the following week.
In part, rejection of the offer from Bradford Park Avenue may have had something to do with animosity towards club chairman Harry Briggs but the Bradford Daily Argus of 30 May, 1908 reported that there was little sympathy for soccer amongst the membership of the club and a committee member was quoted as saying that ‘it would be a scandalous shame after the manner Rugby had been supported for the last twenty or thirty years in Bradford to let it die a natural death.’ Ironically an offer of £50 from the new Bradford Northern Union club (seeking a home after being evicted from Park Avenue in the ‘Great Betrayal’ of Bradford’s conversion to association) had been rejected the previous year.
In comparison to the Greenfield Athletics Ground where Northern had been based in 1907/08, Birch Lane offered the benefit of being closer to town and accessible by tram. Nonetheless the ground was always considered inadequate by virtue of lack of facilities and the poor state of the pitch.
Birch Lane remained home to Bradford Northern RFC, from 1908 to 1934 when the club moved to Odsal. The ground was within reasonable walking distance of Bowling station but was lacking in facilities. An open stand of twelve terraces was constructed in 1908 along one side of the field but was not covered until 1929. The record crowd for a Bradford Northern game was 10,807 for a cup tie in 1924 against Dewsbury. In October, 1908 Birch Lane staged a prestigious fixture between Bradford Northern and the Australian touring side but the attendance of only 4,000 was a big disappointment and the receipts amounted to only £134. The Yorkshire Post reported that neither Park Avenue nor Valley Parade had been available to stage the match and ‘possibly the gloomy atmosphere kept some of the public away.’ Prior to the opening of Odsal Stadium, big games came to be played elsewhere and Valley Parade – rather than Park Avenue – was used on four occasions to stage high profile games, the first of which in February, 1920. 
Although the cricket ground survives, the football area has since been built over with housing. The first development on the football ground was the residential estate based around Elwyn Road / Elwyn Grove, constructed by the firm of RJ Patchett Ltd. Research by Kieran Wilkinson has confirmed that those properties had been built by August, 1936 which implies that the land was sold shortly after Bradford Northern had vacated. 
 Refer to an earlier feature on VINCIT about the development of Usher Street from this link.
 Birch Lane was generally considered to be the better football ground in comparison to Usher Street. Despite the central location of the latter it was not adopted by Bradford FC to host games involving its reserve team or association football side despite also being in close proximity to Park Avenue. I believe that Bradford subsequently selected Birch Lane on account of the limitations of Usher Street as an enclosure and the standard of its pitch.
Whilst Bowling CC at Usher Street was very much the junior of Bowling Old Lane CC, Bowling FC was always the senior of the two respective (rugby) football sides. A bizarre modern twist was the merger in 2012 of the two schools which are located adjacent to the sites of the former Bowling and Bowling Old Lane FC grounds.
 The story of the junior rugby clubs of Bradford in the last quarter of the nineteenth century is told on VINCIT from this link.
 Bowling Old Lane AFC boasted one of the first local players to have progressed into the Football League when Charles Lund signed for Barnsley in 1907 at the end of his first season playing soccer. He was a man of sporting pedigree and during 1905/06 had played rugby for Victoria Rangers.
 There are very few surviving photographs of Birch Lane when it was home to Bradford Northern but a number have been secured and will feature in a forthcoming book by the author as part of the bantamspast History Revisited series (details from this link).
 The following links to the history of Birch Lane on Wikipedia that refers specifically to the ground continuing to be used for rugby after 1934 and which has been cited elsewhere online. The research of Kieran Wilkinson and myself has been unable to confirm that Birch Lane was used for junior rugby after 1934 – even if that was the case it could not have been for more than a season at most, that is 1934/35. (Bradford Northern historian Trevor Delaney confirms the club used Horsfall as the venue for reserve games after the move to Odsal.)
*** Details of his new book (2020) in collaboration with George Chilvers: Wool City Rivals – A History in Colour which tells the story of the rivalry of Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue in the Football League, 1908-70. (Available only online – from the link.)
Contributions to VINCIT are welcome. We are code agnostic and feature any sport or club with a Bradford heritage. Links from the drop down menu above.
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The following photos of the cricket ground (below) were taken in April, 2021 (the rugby ground was to the right).
Watching Bradford, for me, began with defeat and confusion. My uncle, who followed them home and away, took me along to the game against Wigan, at Valley Parade in April 1988. I took it as obvious that the city’s rugby club would play at the city’s football ground, and that it must be in the north of the city, otherwise why would they be called Northern?
My excuse was that I was seven (and a half). Now the club sits outside the city’s boundaries for the first time since 1863, and the befuddlement and misdeeds that led us there belong to people old enough to know better.
I loved watching Northern. In the early 90s we dodged relegation on points difference, then were denied the title on points difference in the space of three seasons. Peter Fox and his signings – Roy Powell, Deryck Fox, Dave Watson, Paul Dixon and Paul Newlove – transformed us from the worst side in the first division to, at times, the best. But there were already signs that things weren’t right for the club.
Our youth players never seemed to amount to much. Our crowds hovered around the 5k mark. Our near title-winning team dropped badly off the pace, losing to Leeds on four occasions inside five months, conceding 157 points to them along the way. Even before this, winning trophies or getting to Wembley seemed beyond us. Wigan knocked us out of the cup five years out of six between 1988 and 1993. And as much as I loved Odsal… on one occasion I came home from the game in tears, thinking my fingers were going to drop off, they were so cold.
Nonetheless, when I heard on the radio on the way to school that Northern were to become the Bulls, I was outraged. Outraged enough to write to the Telegraph and Argus, so you know it was serious. The club seemed determined to cock a snook at us – while other teams adopted traditional colours for the shortened Centenary season of 1995, we started wearing green, purple and yellow at home.
But then we were away at Leigh in the cup, and news drifted through that Wigan were losing at Salford. A favourable draw in the quarters led to a cathartic semi-final win over Leeds, the club’s first achievement of serious note since securing the title fifteen years previously. A glorious defeat at Wembley helped build the Bulls brand, and a revenge stuffing of Saints live on TV at a packed Odsal was followed by a stunning win with twelve men against Wigan seven days later. The title followed the next season – Northern were gone and the Bulls were here.
But Peter Deakin was soon gone too. The marketing man who believed the club and the game could be so much more had departed. Things started to creak. With the opportunity to make history by going the season unbeaten, we lost our final two games. The next season was a non-event, Shaun Edwards signing, departing, and then returning to chasten us twice with London Broncos.
Signing Henry Paul, then Lesley Vainikolo, and the emergence of the “Brad Pack” – Paul Deacon, Stuart Fielden, Jamie Peacock and Leon Pryce – brought success back. Odsal looked great with 24k inside it for the first time in a generation… but for regular games it was showing its age. A deal was struck with Tesco’s and we decamped to Valley Parade for two years… only to return to a ground looking much like it did when we left. Stephen Byers called the scheme in for review, and Tesco’s withdrew their interest. St Helens had much better fortune with a very similar venture a few years later.
The Bulls won an unprecedented treble in 2003, and topped the attendance table too. But patchy results over the next two years saw the crowds start to drift away, when the hope was that they would grow further. The stay at Valley Parade had also seen crowds drop off, despite losing only two games there in two seasons. Bulls had taken on the lease, and the costs of operation for Odsal from Bradford council in return for a lump sum.
The team had what turned out to be a last true hurrah in 2005, with arguably the strongest 17 ever fielded by any Super League club taking the title back from Leeds. But that Grand Final was Peacock and Pryce’s last game for the club. Chairman Chris Caisley, Head Coach Brian Noble and Fielden all departed in the first half of 2006. A legal dispute with Leeds over the signing of Iestyn Harris dragged on.
All was not yet lost. Noble’s replacement, Steve McNamara had a plan – trust in youth. And time proved him right. At one point the Bulls had a hypothetical homegrown 17 that was capable of repeating the Treble: Sam, George and Tom Burgesses, Elliott Whitehead, John Bateman, James Bentley, Jake Trueman… an even richer crop than that which emerged at the turn of the Millennium. But by the time they should have been taking the field together, McNamara was long gone, and so were they.
The majority of Bulls fans were gladdened, thinking him not up to the task in hand. But it brought no significant uptick on the scoreboard, or through the turnstiles. The lease for Odsal was sold to the RFL and Bulls became tenants once again. It came as a shock but not a surprise when the club announced in March 2012 that they had to raise £500k from fans in a matter of days or face extinction.
The game rallied round, former players washed cars and auctioned off shirts and medals. The club was saved… till June, when it entered administration. Mick Potter continued as head coach unpaid and delivered an incredible backs to the wall win at Wigan. But this was one of several bright moments that while enjoyable at the time, only temporarily distracted from the descending gloom.
At one point, the Guardian reported that Caisley was to return as chairman, but instead Omar Khan ended up as the new owner. People speak positively about his intentions, but he was not to last long. Another administration led to a points deduction and relegation at the end of the 2014 season.
There could have been an immediate return under one of only three ever to win the Man of Steel as a Bradford player, Jimmy Lowes. But a missed Danny Addy penalty in the 2015 Million Pound Game was followed by a Wakefield try that resulted in the first consecutive season outside the top flight in the club’s history. An abject defeat at Featherstone that following year meant there would be a third… if there was a club to fulfil the fixtures.
By this point the owner was Marc Green, a Londoner and previous creditor of the club upon who League Express editor Martyn Sadler bizarrely bestowed his newspaper’s Man of the Year Award. Green had talked of his ambition to lead the Bulls out at Wembley, but instead of recreating 1949, 73 or 96, he instead turned the clock back to 1963. Bradford Bulls went into liquidation at the start of 2017.
Here was a chance at least for a fresh start. But under new owner Andrew Chalmers, the reborn club was placed in the championship with a points deduction and an inevitable further relegation. Promotion, albeit behind York, followed the next season, and an epic victory over Leeds in the cup gave hope a corner had turned. But the playoffs were missed again and Chalmers announced that the club would be leaving Odsal for Dewsbury, then bailed. A new ownership group consisting of “the family of Nigel Wood” and still-Dewsbury chairman Mark Sawyer took charge, with former Toronto Wolfpack CEO Eric Perez as acting chairman.
Now a stock car promoter is readying Odsal for the return of motorsports and the Bulls’ return seems inevitable too. But it will be to a ground not much different to that which I stood in as an eight year old. Nigel Wood clearly has questions to answer, about when his involvement with the club began, and how he justifies the decisions he took to first purchase the lease on Odsal and then award the club to Chalmers when he was RFL CEO. But at the time of writing, he has refused all media interviews, and the Bradford Telegraph and Argus and League Express newspapers, the only two media outlets who still profess any interest in the Bulls, have no appetite to press for them.
What I have seen since 1988 is that a Bradford rugby league club can be successful, beyond trophies – can attract consistent five figure gates, can provide a path for young Bradfordians (both boys and girls now) to achieve on the world stage, as the Whitehead of West Bowling and Bateman of Dudley Hill have done before them. But for those things to happen requires 21st century facilities in South Bradford, and a competent back office. I won’t hold my breath for either.
Andrew Foster is an education consultant, now living in London. He has written for League Express, Rugby League World, Forty20, and was the founder and editor of the RedAmberandBlack Bradford Bulls fansite. Follow him on Twitter – @andrewfoster101
Contributions to VINCIT are welcome. We are code agnostic and feature any sport or club with a Bradford heritage. Links from the drop down menu above including features on the history of rugby in Bradford.(A forthcoming feature on VINCIT will examine the history of the Birch Lane ground adopted by Bradford Northern before moving to Odsal in 1934.)
Asked to name the lost sports grounds / stadia of Bradford it is unlikely that Usher Street would spring to mind despite the fact that it was an important venue in the early development of football in Bradford. Sadly it’s never been included on the tours of Bradford sporting landmarks let alone credited as having existed. Odsal, Park Avenue, Birch Lane, Greenfield, City Road… but Usher Street? Like nearby Ripley Ville, no trace remains and it’s been sadly forgotten and overlooked.
Usher Street was the home of Bowling FC. Formed in 1873, it was the club’s relocation to Usher Street that helped it come to prominence. Originally based at a field between Paley Road and New Hey Road, then Top Hall (with headquarters at the Bowling Park Hotel), Bowling FC had a short stay at the Greenfield Grounds at Dudley Hill. Merger in December, 1883 with Bowling Victoria CC – to become the Bowling Cricket, Athletic & Football Club – led to the development of Usher Street. 
By this stage Bradford FC and to a lesser extent Manningham FC were attracting decent crowds to Park Avenue and Carlisle Road and there was a similar motive in the choice of the Usher Street venue which was considered to be in a ‘densely populated district’ and thus likely to ensure that the club was well supported. In relative terms Bowling FC was no less ambitious than either of two senior clubs in the town and by 1890 Bowling had emerged as the third side in the Bradford hierarchy.
Like Manningham, Bowling was essentially a local club but there were good reasons why it was the former, and not the latter who came to challenge Bradford. For a start, by the time Bowling had become established there was already a degree of momentum behind Manningham FC and an established record in cup competition whereas Bowling did not participate until 1883/84 (having been denied entry the previous season). Carlisle Road, and in particular Valley Parade, also possessed advantages in relation to capacity but the biggest factor in favour of Manningham was its geographic location.
The Bowling FC colours were distinctive – navy blue with a white Maltese cross on the chest. Whilst speculative, the cross may have been inspired by a military connection through links with the local Volunteers.
Finding Usher Street
Usher Street is at the foot of Wakefield Road in touching distance of the city centre, parallel (south) of the railway line to Leeds and it runs west-east from Hall Lane to Wakefield Road. The area is now the heart of the Bradford scrap metal industry with a regular flow of skip wagons and it is fair to say that it has seen better days. In fact it is difficult to believe that this was once the site of a cricket and rugby enclosure – the south west corner of the rugby field on Barnard Road is where the higher stone building now stands.
Usher Street now runs through where cricket would have been played. The red brick building in the above photo occupies the southern part of the cricket ground – refer to the map below.
The derelict building to the left in the above photo and below stands where cricket would have been played. (This was a Poor Law Union Relief Station and bears the civic boar’s head motif and date of construction, 1902. Thanks to Kieran Wilkinson for this detail.)
Below: the south-east corner and touchline of the rugby ground bordered the former Great Northern railway line to/from Wakefield.
Usher Street was a quintessential Victorian urban sports ground characterised by improvisation and ingenuity. Like Valley Parade on the hillside to the north, it was a ground established in the most improbable location and became known for its distinct slope from the north-east to the south-west with a height differential between the two points of at least ten – maybe fifteen – feet.
As a result, the ground became infamous for what was described as Bowling’s ‘nine hoil’ in the corner near where Barnard Road now joins Usher Street. It was suggested that the slope of the pitch was more pronounced than those of either Mount Pleasant, Batley or Lane Head, Brighouse which were also known for their slopes. The confines of the site also restricted space on the touch lines and in September, 1894 this was blamed for a serious accident during a game.
Whilst it could hardly be compared with the premier sporting enclosure in the district at Park Avenue, the members of Bowling FC were no less proud of their ground. Indeed, for all clubs their ground was an integral part of their identity but equally significant, the original development of Usher Street spoke of the ambition of Bowling FC.
If ever there was a ground redolent of the era and the nineteenth century urban landscape this was it, juxtaposed between industry, railways, a chapel, school and local terraced housing. In contrast, Valley Parade was almost genteel. Usher Street represented a low cost, claustrophobic version of Park Avenue but provided a number of advantages not otherwise available from an open field.
By the standards of the time it would have offered capacity for maybe five thousand spectators. Like Park Avenue, Usher Street staged football, cricket and an annual athletics festival was hosted annually from 1885 in conjunction with Bradford Harriers and later Airedale Harriers.
The football ground was first used in January, 1884. In the previous month the Bowling CA&FC had been formed through amalgamation with Bowling Victoria Cricket Club who were already based at Usher Street, adjacent to the cutting of the surviving Bradford-Leeds line. (The cricket club had been established in 1868 but it is unknown whether it had played at Usher Street throughout.) There must have been a degree of commercial opportunism in the merger of the two and the development of the ground; for example an account in The Yorkshireman of 15 December, 1883 suggests that it came about from the field adjacent to the cricket area becoming available.
The adjacent railway embankment was described as a ‘natural grandstand’ and provided an excellent vantage that avoided the need for a raised platform to be built. It also provided a natural barrier to the ground much the same as the deep railway cutting bounded the cricket field to the north. With buildings to the west and east the ground was land locked which ensured that people could not attend for free. My guess is that one, maybe two thousand people were routinely attending matches at the ground when Bowling FC was in its prime at the end of the 1880s.
The Usher Street ground had the further benefit of the proximity of the GNR stations at St Dunstans (opened 1878) and Bowling (1854) in addition to being close to the residential areas of Bowling. The railway embankment would have also provided an excellent view of the Town Hall, not impeded as is now the case.
Other than at Park Avenue, permanent structures at Bradford football grounds in the 1880s were rare and at Carlisle Road consisted only of a raised wooden viewing platform (and that during the 1885/86 season only). It was not uncommon for clubs to exploit the physical relief to provide viewing areas; in this regard the adjacent railway embankment at Usher Street had much in common with the way that the sloping land off South Parade at Valley Parade was used for terracing.
There were no facilities at Usher Street and the club used the Barley Mow pub on Wakefield Road for changing and the Lark Inn as its headquarters. The club’s resources were all focused on levelling the pitch and conversion from wasteland.
The fate of Usher Street
By the late 1890s Bowling FC was heavily indebted and I assume that this arose from expenditure on Usher Street, possibly from the erection of a viewing platform opposite the embankment. The club had been vocal in its opposition to broken time and considered professionalism to represent a threat to its viability. Its collapse was alongside that of other smaller rugby clubs in the north of England. 
The club operated on a lease and there was always the likelihood of the land at Usher Street succumbing to development. In particular, it was always vulnerable to the possibility of Usher Street being extended to provide a thoroughfare between Wakefield Road and Hall Lane which is what now exists. The rent paid by Bowling FC must have been relatively high given the potential commercial value of the land and after the club was wound-up in 1900 a laundry was built on the site in 1903 (of which the building between the school and Barnard Road still survives).
Despite being adjacent to a school the ground was never adopted as a playing field and this must have been due to its inadequacies. However the practice was that Bradford’s four main parks – Peel Park, Lister Park, Horton Park and Bowling Park – were used by schools and provided the venues for competition under the auspices of the Bradford Schools Athletics Association.
Shortly after the development of Usher Street, the Bowling Old Lane Cricket Club established its own football section with a football field adjacent to that of cricket at Birch Lane in 1886. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Usher Street had provided the inspiration. Of course Birch Lane was later the home of Bradford Northern RFC between 1908-34.
An association football section was formed at Usher Street in 1897 and Bowling (A)FC became founder members of the second division of the Yorkshire League in the same year. The Bowling club continued in existence until 1900 but the association section became defunct in 1899. (A junior association side of the same name re-emerged in 1902 but it is unclear where this played.)
Despite the central location of Usher Street, Birch Lane was chosen in preference by Bradford FC to host games involving its reserve team or association football side – this despite it being in close proximity to Park Avenue.
Whilst Bowling CC was the junior of Bowling Old Lane CC, Bowling FC was always the senior of the two respective (rugby) football sides. As at Usher Street, association football was later played at Birch Lane. A bizarre modern twist was the merger in 2012 of the two schools which are located adjacent to the sites of the former Bowling FC and Bowling Old Lane FC grounds.
Just as the Broomfields area of Bradford had a big part in the economic history of the district it also contributed to its urban sporting heritage. Yet, like the former industrial village of Ripley Ville there is no surviving physical evidence of the former Usher Street ground.
*** Details of his new book (2020) in collaboration with George Chilvers: Wool City Rivals – A History in Colour which tells the story of the rivalry of Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue in the Football League, 1908-70. (Available only online – from the link.)
Contributions to VINCIT are welcome. We are code agnostic and feature any sport or club with a Bradford heritage. Links from the drop down menu above.
The Victorian era saw Bradford FC as one of the countries leading club sides, a club who would regularly field several International and County level players, they had a fixture list the envy of most clubs and were apparently one of the richest clubs playing in an arena at Park Avenue, again, the envy of several clubs.
Towards the end of the 19th century, their pre-eminence began to be challenged on various fronts, even in their Home town, the upstarts across town from Manningham FC were gaining prominence and taking support away from them, their indignance at these upstarts actually challenging their perception as the ‘Towns Team’ , at the same time rumblings of more serious nature by 1895 of a breakaway from the RU by Northern clubs over ‘broken time payments ‘ to players , a move that would eventually lead to the formation of the Northern Union, now known as the Rugby League.
Bradford would never have the same power again in Rugby Union and as if their embarrassment couldn’t reach any lower, 1907 saw the powers at Park Avenue vote to abandon Rugby completely in favour of the coming Association game. Having seen neighbours Manningham switch to ‘Soccer’ in their new guise as Bradford City AFC and start to attract crowds to their Valley Parade ground the Rugby could only dream of, owner & power broker Harry Briggs saw the future & to the dismay of many traditionalists, rugby was cast out of Park Avenue.
Various groups vowed to carry on in the Northern Union and the Bradford Northern RLFC were born & initially found a home at the Greenfield Stadium at Dudley Hill whilst the Rugby Union traditionalists entered a fallow period without a permanent home for several years as they tried to rebuild their club to create some sort of future for their enthusiasts. It was to be several more years after WW1 before a group of fans finally found a piece of land at Lidget Green & set about building a ground ‘fit for when the lads come home’. Among this group of men was on George Myers, a Bradford businessman involved in the cotton/textile manufacture as a broker.
Lets return to 1895, the year of the ‘Great Split’ . George Myers and his wife Annie were in New York on business. Annie gave birth to her Son Edward. He was to be their only child. With his parents frequently away on business he was sent to Dollar Academy in Scotland as a boarder for his education. As well as being highly proficient educationally, in school sports he proved to be an outstanding pupil. 1913 saw him Captain the Rugby, Cricket Golf & Tennis teams as well as winning several medals & prizes for Athletics & Gymnastics.
Leaving Dollar Academy, he moved closer to home entering further education at Leeds University studying various Textile related courses with a view to entering the family business upon graduation. Such was his sporting prowess, one suspects that whatever path young Eddie would have chosen, he would have found success but at University, he decided Rugby was the game for him & he joined the nearby Headingley club. Still at University, his promise was noticed early by his 18th birthday, he made his Yorkshire debut after trialling well. A slight hiccup saw him selected on the wing where his powerful running & strong defence was wasted somewhat. Moved into the centre, he came into his own. A master on the crash ball added to a wonderful body swerve combined with a powerful tackling ethic saw him find his position and the 1913/14 season saw him appear in all 7 Yorkshire games, a game for the North and an England Trial game.
1914 saw events elsewhere gain momentum as the World collapsed into war, the ensuing carnage leaving a generation lost forever. Eddie answered the call and enlisted joining the 6th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant. During his service he was wounded 3 times firstly in 1915 which he received wounds to both thighs. Potentially career ending for a sportsman, he fought back with typical diligence to turn out for Headingley whilst on recuperative leave. 1916 saw him turn out for a Northern Union game alongside Rugby League legend Harold Wagstaff of the Huddersfield club. Partnered in the Centre they played an ANZAC selection both scoring tries in a 13-11 victory.
Finally demobbed in 1919, he moved to the fledgling Bradford club, where as mentioned earlier, his Father & other former fans & members of the old Bradford RFC had bought the Lidget Green arena. The new club as the 1920s progressed were to become for most of the decade the pre-eminent club in the county. Alongside Eddie, the club at various times could boast 17 county players such was the depth of the playing staff. The club, as well as Eddie , had 3 other England trialists in Ferdie Roberts, Harold Monk & Rex Kinghorn, Roberts in particular being hugely unlucky being selected 3 times to play but having to pull out through injury.
Back in 1918 whilst on leave, Eddie had married his sweetheart, Constance Paton at St Peters Church, later Bradford Cathedral. Constance herself was part of a family with notable Bradford sporting connections, her Father, Thomas Paton being a major mover & shaker behind the scenes at Valley Parade helping to make Bradford City AFC into one of the countries top teams pre 1914 and FA Cup Winners in 1911.
His county record for Yorkshire was 42 caps between 1913 and 1925 captaining the side in both 1922 and 1925 . 1924 saw him play the visiting All Blacks at Lidget Green. His first selection for the England XV came against Ireland in 1920 scoring 1 try & setting up another for his Captain Wavell Wakefield. Wakefield was always fulsome in his praise for Eddie calling him the perfect centre. With Eddie’s trademark defensive breaks , Wakefield was an enthusiastic flanker always at Eddies shoulder to take the ball over the line. Eddie’s career with England saw the Lions enjoy a Golden period winning 3 Grand Slams in 1921, 1923 & 1924. 1924 also saw him selected for the British Lions tour of South Africa but pressures of business saw him withdraw from the party.
1925 saw him announce his retirement from International Rugby saying he would rather bow out at the height of his powers rather than playing on without doing justice to the game. It was typical of his modesty although there were calls for him to reconsider his decision. The end of the following season also saw him stand down from County Rugby although if urgently needed he would answer Yorkshires call. 1926 saw the influential Athletic News start a call for his International recall such was his form at Lidget Green. At only 30 years of age , he was reckoned to be still at the peak of his powers showing no sign of slowing up although a nagging groin problem at times was frustrating which he at times hinted was a result of his wartime injuries. He never went back on his decision though and played out his career with the Bradford club later moving onto the committees at both club and county serving both with as much distinction as he had in his playing career.
His Wife Constance bore him a Daughter as he retired his playing career and continued to work in the family textile business. He could look back at 19 England Caps, 42 Yorkshire Caps, several selections for the North, 3 Yorkshire Cup Wins with Bradford and rightly named the most successful Rugby Union player in Bradford history even taking into account the stars of the Victorian era.
Edward Myers died in Bradford on 29th March 1956 aged 60. By then , the clubs Glory days were once again becoming a fading memory never again coming anywhere near the standard of the 1920s XV who had made the old game popular again often playing to crowds of over 5000 for club games at Lidget Green. This was at a time when the competition for crowds included 2 professional Soccer clubs, a professional Rugby League club, Yorkshire Cricket at the old Park Avenue, Bradford League cricket, 2 Greyhound tracks & the new, growing popularity of dance halls & cinemas. The flair of Eddie Myers & his colleagues was an appealing site for the Bradford public after 4 long hard years of War.
Journalist J. M. Kilborn wrote in the Yorkshire Post, ‘He was the complete footballer in temperament and technique’.
The Athletic News commented that ‘The wonderful electrifying straight through dash of Eddie Myers will be remembered long after the Yorkshireman has given up the game’.
The last comment should go to local Rugby journalist HJ writing in the Leeds Mercury.
‘Myers has been a great player and stands as one of the brainiest & most skilled back there has ever been. Players of the Bradfordians class do not come appear every decade but come along once in a lifetime.’
Ian Hemmens [@IHemmens] has written a number of other features about Bradford sport history which can be found from the dropdown menu above. You can also find other features about the history of rugby union in Bradford on this site.
Recently, the issue of the use of Odsal stadium has come to the forefront of discussion once more. To be honest, it has rarely been out of the news in the last 35 years. From the doomed Superdome project in the nineties, through to more recent times where there has been no professional sport played there since September 2019 when Bradford Bulls “left”, it is a constant source of copy for sports writers and local political correspondents.
Of course, Odsal is inextricably linked to Rugby league. Through the successes of Northern and the Bulls and the international games played there over the years. And then of course there is the 1953 Rugby League Challenge Cup final replay between Halifax and Warrington, which went down in folklore as the world record attendance at a rugby league match of 102,569. In fact this was only bettered in 1999.
There have been a wide variety of other events, sporting and non-sporting at the stadium. It’s natural bowl gives the feel of an amphitheatre, albeit one with it’s own microclimate, and it’s location outside of the city centre makes it easily accessible, especially since the M606 was built to link to the M62.
Having said all of this, the stadium isn’t really loved by many. The change to summer rugby in 1996 allowed Odsal to have more appeal, and it was seen as the perfect platform for Super League rugby. But as the stadium lease agreement took the maintenance of the ground out of the council’s hands, it slowly fell into disrepair and now stands, just about, needing remedial work to allow crowds on the terraces. There is a history of redevelopment at Odsal, but nothing that has transformed it, or makes it be regarded as a modern stadium facility. The bars and hospitality facilities are a mix of modern and 30 year old Portakabin and the stadium offices are a conversion of the old club house and changing rooms dating back around a hundred years. Being kind, it can be described as “full of character”.
But I love the place. Many of my happiest memories originate in that old ground. Some of my longest friendships were made in that bowl. And the source of those fond memories is a combination of two sports (It would be three, but as a City fan, I hated our time at Odsal). The impact of rugby league in our city is well documented as are the successes of Northern and the Bulls. But for me, the happiest times at Odsal come from the years 1985 to 1997, when Speedway bikes were last seen and heard racing at Odsal. As we enter 2021, the prospect of speedway returning to Odsal is nearer than at any time since the closure of 1997. Stock car promoter Steve Rees is well on with his plans for a 2021 return on four wheels at Odsal, and is keen to have speedway make a return. These therefore are my speedway memories of Odsal, and as my age dictates, it will focus on the 1986-1997 version of the two wheeled shale sport in BD6.
Speedway had a number of incarnations at Odsal between 1945 and 1997. The Boomerangs, Barons, Tudors, Northern and Panthers. All of these were relatively short-lived with the Tudors operating from Odsal for 10 years between 1950 and 1960 being the longest that any one team competed.
In the late 1970’s and into the 80’s, if you wanted to see live speedway in West Yorkshire, you had to visit The Shay in Halifax. They had been operating since the early 1960s. They had limited success on track, with one championship in 1966, and in the early 80’s, as Speedway began to disappear from the “World of Sport” TV screens, attendance figures at The Shay declined, even though their number one rider was arguably the best rider of his era never to win a World Championship, local hero, Kenny Carter. At the same time, Wembley would no longer host Speedway and Britain was without a venue to hold the World Championship finals.
In the mid 1980’s Bradford had a regeneration arm of the council, “Bradford Mythbreakers”. Their aim was to try and support the regeneration of Bradford, by promoting the City, and wider metropolitan district as a place to live, work, and visit. They sponsored tourism campaigns promoting local attractions and in 1984, the announcement was made that £1 Million would be spent by the council to lay a new speedway track and upgrade the ageing stadium in order that Bradford could host the 1985 World individual speedway final. In the run up to the final on August 31st, other lesser world events were staged at Odsal as the work was ongoing. The first of these being on the 12th May 1985 when a World team cup qualifying round was held there.
The hype around Odsal was growing. Not only was Britain hosting a World Final in the new “Wembley of the North”, but the British rider with the best prospect of winning the world title was a Yorkshireman who lived just six miles from the venue, Kenny Carter. Sadly, a crash in the final qualifying round in Vetlanda, Sweden, put paid to Carter’s attempt to win at Odsal, and Kelvin Tatum was the sole British representative in the showpiece event that was eventually won by Dane Erik Gundersen. We will hear more about all three of those riders later in this piece.
As Odsal emerged as a world class facility, seven miles along the A6036, the Shay in Halifax became financially unviable for promoter Eric Boothroyd to keep going. And for the start of the 1986 British league season, the Halifax Coalite Dukes moved lock, stock and barrel to Odsal, losing some loyal Halifax fans on the way, but picking up two men would figure significantly in Bradford sporting history, and would be huge influences on British speedway in the 80’s and 90’s. The Ham brothers, Bobby and Allan, had been becoming more involved in speedway as sponsors of Kenny Carter, and also helped broker the sponsorship deal that renamed the Dukes as the “Coalite Dukes” as the building supplies company supported them until they were taken over by Keyline in 1992.
With the Hams onboard, and Mr Boothroyd’s many years of speedway experience as rider, manager, promoter, track curator etc…. They were confident that a move to the new facility would be a success. The core of the 1985 Halifax team was retained. Carter was the undoubted number one for club and country, West-Midlander Neil Evitts continued to improve and develop as a second heat leader, Larry Ross and Sean Wilmott offered a wealth of experience, and the loan signing of 1984 world number three, American Lance King from Cradley, meant that the team had the means to improve on Halifax’s 1985 performance. Add to that the local reserve talent of Gordon Whitaker and Michael Graves, and you could see that there was a solid, medium to long term plan for speedway success in Bradford.
Just two months into the new venture, the events of May 21st 1986, would set that progress back monumentally. Kenny Carter murdered his wife Pam, and then turned the shotgun on himself. Bradford Speedway and British Speedway lost it’s best rider. But more importantly, a family lost a son and daughter, and their children lost both their parents. It was truly tragic.
Immediately, many fans felt that without Kenny, speedway would never be the same and attendances fell. The use of guest riders hampered on track progress and in all honestly, it would take years for the team, and all those associated with it to truly recover. There were some crumbs of comfort. Neil Evitts won the British Championship, that Carter had dominated in the previous two years. The fact he won it less than two weeks after Carter’s death, and then dedicated his victory to the memory of his team-mate, showed that he was ready to be our number one. Also in 1986, we had a young number eight rider (a youngster we could call upon from a lower league) who would become our greatest ever rider, Gary Havelock.
The emergence of Havelock was probably one shining light that gave the Hams something to build upon, but this was not without controversy. In 1988 Bradford Dukes finished bottom of the British League, winning fewer than 25% of their matches. In the late 80’s, most British league teams had at least one, maybe even two, top world riders in their teams. The very best had three! Oxford in 1988 had Nielsen, Wigg and Cox. Cradley had Gundersen, Pedersen and Cross. We had one up and coming talent in Havelock, and one decent rider in Evitts. The rest, simply were not good enough to mount a challenge.
The abiding memory for me of 1988, is that it was the first year, aged 11 that I pretty much went to every home match. The Hams allowed free entry for kids under 12 for the first month of the season. They then extended it twice more for a month at a time. They saw that getting new fans through the gate was the only way to make speedway viable. This initiative got me hooked and I attended pretty much every home meeting, and many away ones, until 1997. On track, 1988 was the year Havvy really arrived. He became our top rider, represented GB in tests and at the World Team Cup and thus earned a place at the British League Riders Championship in October. Sadly, he gave a drugs sample after that event that showed up positive for Cannabis. He was ruled out for 1989. So it was again, one step forward and two back.
The 1989 Dukes team was only marginally better than it’s 1988 counterpart. As well as the banned Havelock, out went Randy Green, Sean Wilmott, Rob Pfetzing and Tony Hulme, to be replaced by Henrik Kristensen, Antal Kocso, Bryan Larner, Andy Smith, Glenn Doyle and Paul Thorp. Smith reached his first world final in 1989 and it was a year where he emerged as the genuine talent many had hoped he would become at Belle Vue. But still, no real success in terms of winning trophies.
It is also worth mentioning that as well as the regular Saturday evening fixtures, there was also speedway at Odsal on many Mondays too. The training school ran most weeks in the summer. For a small fee, amateur wannabes could mix with seasoned Pros and ride the world famous track. In 1989, riders that would go on to have good careers, such as Scott Smith and Andre Compton, were regulars, as was a certain Mr Havelock. On occasions top world riders would arrive at these informal sessions to test new equipment, get fit after an injury absence or just to avoid getting a bit rusty. One evening in 1989 there were two future World Champions there among the amateurs, as Sam Ermolenko joined Havelock on track.
1990 was the dawn of a new decade and a new Dukes team. A genuine team of three heat leaders in Evitts, the returning Havelock and loan signing Maryvn Cox. Smith and Thorp providing great, solid back up and Larner and Doyle at reserve. Mid table finish and a cup final defeat were massive steps in the right direction, and fans were now starting to believe that the club could actually become successful. 1990 also saw the second Odsal World Individual final. It was widely regarded as the best final in many years and it was won by Sweden’s Per Jonsson after a run-off with Shawn Moran of the USA.
1991 saw Bradford Dukes sign one of the sport’s best riders. Simon Wigg was at this point a three time world longtrack champion and was the GB team captain. He was the ultimate professional. He would go on to win a total of five longtrack championships before his untimely death in 2000, aged just 40. His immaculate green leathers and bike, and his well spoken, knowledgeable demeanour, was something that had an impact on the other riders in the team and the whole organisation. The season ended with the Dukes finishing second behind Wolverhampton in the league,and winning the knockout cup. Havelock finished with a 9.89 average meaning he was the fourth best rider in the league.
At this point, every season the club made a step forward in team building and on the track, but attendances still were at just about break even level. This was the best prepared racing track, in the best speedway stadium in the country, with the best team we had ever had, and still it wasn’t making money. The Ham promotion were seen as trailblazers in race day presentation, but it didn’t make people flock to Odsal.
The 1992 team, was in my opinion the best Dukes team, and the best year of being a Dukes fan. But it was all really about Just one man, Gary Havelock. He had been British Champion in 1991 and repeated this success the following year, but in 1992 he was not just the best of British, he was the best rider on this planet. He made his debut World final appearance in Wroclaw in 1992, and joined the tiny group of riders to be crowned World Champion on debut.
The Dukes team that year had a top three of Havelock, Wigg and new signing Kelvin Tatum. The Hams wanted the best British talent racing at Odsal and his arrival meant that every British champion from 1984-1997 had at some point ridden for the Dukes.
In the early to mid 90’s, the Dukes became the cup kings, winning the Gold Cup, BSPA Cup and the Speedway Star Knockout Cup on numerous occasions. Allan Ham’s control of the team and managing within points limits was well known as they tried to achieve the Holy Grail of a league win. Riders came and went, but Havelock was the only rider to appear for the Dukes in all 11 seasons that they operated from Odsal. He was “Mr Bradford Dukes”. The theme of having top world class stars linking with Havelock and other local or British riders was continued. Swedish GP rider Jimmy Nilsen spent two years at Odsal and local Yorkshire riders such as Sean Wilson, Andre Compton, Garry Stead and Simon Green all made significant contributions.
In the run up to the 1994 season, Bradford Paid the huge fee (in 90’s speedway terms) of £35,000 for Belle Vue’s Joe Screen. He would spend four years at Odsal and became our top rider as Havvy’s progress was curtailed by serious injuries. Joe was probably the most entertaining British rider of his generation, and after Bradford folded he had a long and successful career including being part of the Grand Prix series.
For the 1997, Allan Ham added Mark Loram to the team giving a three heat leader attack of Havelock, Screen and Loram. Arguably the best three British riders at that time (although Chris Louis might say differently) and all three riders who would be near on untouchable around Odsal’s wide open spaces. They were supplemented by solid support from David Walsh, Josh Larsen and Garry Stead in a season that saw six man teams (rather than 7, or even 8 in previous years) and one division in British speedway.
The Dukes finished the season ten points clear of Eastbourne Eagles at the top of the league. They were league champions for the first time, eleven seasons after the move from Halifax.
And that was it.
The mid to late 1990’s were a boom time for professional sport in Bradford. Northern had become the Bulls and Rugby league became a summer sport, with a season that was virtually the same as speedway. They too won their championship in 1997 and would go on to be hugely successful. In 1996, Bradford City won promotion to the second tier of English football and would end the decade in the Premier League. But as with City and the Bulls for every boom, there was a bust.
In order for the stadium to be redeveloped for the growing Bulls fanbase, speedway moved out temporarily at the end of the 1997 season. The final meeting being the Premier league riders championship. As well as being the home of the Dukes, Odsal was also British speedway’s unofficial national stadium, and it hosted pretty much every possible FIM international meeting on the calendar. As well as the 1985 World individual final, it also hosted the 1988 World Pairs, 1989 World Team Cup Final, 1990 World Individual Final, 1992 World Semi final and the 1997 British Grand Prix.
It says a lot about British Speedway that the 1989 World Team Final at Odsal was the last time Britain won this title. It was a memorable meeting for all the wrong reasons. In the very first heat, there was a crash that left all four riders; Jimmy Nilsen, Lance King, Simon Cross and Erik Gundersen unable to continue. It in fact ended the career, and almost the life of Gundersen, who was saved by the swift actions of the Odsal St John’s Ambulance and medical staff. He suffered life changing spinal injuries at the venue where only four years earlier he had won the second of his three world championships.
During the lockdown of 2020, I had time to re-engage a little more with speedway, having only sporadically attended Sheffield and Belle Vue since Odsal closed. I found that podcasts were a great way to reminisce about one’s youth, and found myself listening to speedway podcasts where ex riders told their tales of the tracks. It has been brilliant looking back and hearing about the days when life just seemed simpler, less complicated and more fun.
One of the best was an episode of Ian Brannan’s “Humans of speedway” podcast, where he interviewed Gary Havleock. He was asked, like Ian’s other guests to choose his fantasy speedway meeting; any track, in any stadium, with and riders etc… He chose Bradford, echoing the sentiment he stated in a previous Sky Sports interview. “It had the best track, the best pits, the best stadium the best fans and the best showers. It was the best speedway track in the world”.
Here’s hoping that Steve Rees gets his venture off the ground, and that in 2022 speedway can return once more to Bradford. It has been a long wait.
Gary Havelock returns to Odsal with the FIM World Speedway Championship trophy, 1992, Odsal. Photo courtesy of Dukes Facebook page collection.
1992 World Champion Gary Havelock with runner up Per Jonsson and 3rd placed Gert Handberg. Photo courtesy of Dukes Facebook page collection.
1992 Keyline Dukes, Kelvin Tatum and Simon Wigg. Photo courtesy of Dukes Facebook page collection.
Joseph Screen, 1995. Photo courtesy John Somerville Collection
Champion winning heat leaders, Havelock, Screen and Loram. 1997. Photo courtesy of Dukes Facebook page collection.
The Dukes 2 Champion sides: Halifax 1966 and Bradford 1997. Photo courtesy of Dukes Facebook page collection.
Andy Smith Leads Hans Nielsen into turn one. British GP, Odsal, 1997. Photo courtesy John Somerville Collection
Christian Oldcorn was born, raised and still lives in Bradford where he is a secondary school teacher and father of four sons. An avid follower of Football, Speedway and Rugby League since his childhood, when he lived in South Bradford, a short bike ride from Odsal, and a bus ride (plus a long walk) from Valley Parade. Still making those trips to this day!
Future planned articles on VINCIT will feature variously Bradford’s England rugby internationals of the nineteenth century; the history of sports journalism in Bradford; the politics of Odsal Stadium; the history of Bradford sports grounds and the history of crowd violence in Bradford.
Contributions to VINCIT are welcome. We are code agnostic and feature any sport or club with a Bradford heritage. Links from the drop down menu above. Thanks for visiting!
In Victorian Bradford, rugby was the dominant football code. In that era, mention of ‘football’ related to both rugby and association codes and in West Yorkshire the term was synonymous with rugby. (On the basis that there were historic links between soccer and rugby in football in Bradford, the origins of rugby is relevant to the origins of local soccer.)
The vast majority of clubs had nominated meeting places on match day that would have served as dressing rooms in addition to being places where gate receipts could be counted and formalities dealt with. Typically, these were public houses in the vicinity of the ground and from the very beginnings, football established a close link with the licensing trade that became a profitable arrangement for breweries.
The phenomenon was not exclusive to Bradford and in his book Rugby’s Great Split: Class, Culture and the Origins of Rugby League Football (1998) Tony Collins wrote that of the forty-five rugby clubs listed in the Yorkshire Football Handbook of 1881, forty had their headquarters in public houses.
Member meetings tended to be conducted near to where players lived or in bigger venues in town such as Leuchters’ Restaurant on Kirkgate in the centre of Bradford. Certain pubs had a reputation among sportsmen generally and were adopted by running and cycling clubs for their meetings, The Spotted House, Queens Hotel on Lumb Lane and Belle Vue Hotel among them as well as the Alexandra Hotel in the centre of town.
The Peel Park Hotel (then known as Daniel Riddiough’s Hotel) on Otley Road was adopted by Bradford Juniors FC at Peel Park and the same property was used by the Artillery and Rifle Volunteers for their meetings. Riddiough owned the Peel Park Brewery and possessed the freeholds of a number of pubs in the Bradford area, the Quarry Hill Inn included.
The Girlington Hotel (of which my great-great-grandfather, Harry Dewhirst was landlord in the 1870s) likewise served the Four Lane Ends ground and at Horton, the Old Red Lion was the home of Bradford Albion FC. In Manningham, The Spotted House on Manningham Lane was used by a number of the early clubs in the 1870s who played at Lister Park. It was also a meeting place for harrier cross-country running events which often began close by. The Spotted House had a long-established pedigree, reputedly the oldest public house in Bradford.
At Apperley Bridge the Stansfield Arms was adjacent to the playing field where Bradford FC came to prominence before the move to Park Avenue in 1880. (The same venue was also significant in the history of association football in Bradford.)
The history of Bowling FC was similarly closely linked to pubs, having originally used the Bowling Park Hotel and after 1883 adopting pubs on Wakefield Road close to its Usher Street ground. One can assume that Manningham Albion FC – a forerunner of Manningham FC – likewise adopted The Branch Hotel in Shipley which was sadly demolished in 2018.
The Queens Hotel on Lumb Lane and the Belle Vue Hotel were utilised by football clubs in the 1870s for formal (advertised) meetings, presumably selected on account of convenience for Manningham resident players. The Belle Vue was popular with other sports clubs including rowers, harriers and cyclists. By promoting itself as a healthy venue it sought to attract athletic groups but nonetheless it was very much regarded as an up-market venue, far removed from the seedy topless bar that it became a century later.
Manningham Rangers FC used the Fountain Inn on Heaton Road for changing. Until twenty years ago this pub was known as a meeting place for Bradford City supporters but sadly it is now derelict. There is an amusing story of an incident in around 1890 when a German band that was playing outside was invited in by the players after a match. According to an account in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus in 1928, ‘Arthur Briggs poured a jug of ale into the bell end of one instrument and then there was a terrible row, the Germans carrying on to some tune.’
Manningham FC adopted variously the Junction Hotel (at 115 Church Street, Manningham), the Carlisle Road Hotel and later, the Belle Vue Hotel on Manningham Lane – these were utilised on match day as well as for annual meetings. So too was Leuchters’ Restaurant (opened in 1871) and the Alexandra Hotel (1877) which were both very fashionable.
Leuchters’ was well known for its bar and billiards rooms – strictly speaking it was a standard above the average public house / licensed premises in Bradford. It staged auctions and also established a reputation as a meeting place for professionals so was very much at the heart of Bradford life. Prominent pubs already played a big role in bringing people together and in turn this helped the development of a local football social network in the formative decade of the 1870s.
Prior to 1875 the Boar’s Head restaurant in Bradford had been popular with cricket clubs for annual dinners and it seems likely that there was competition among different establishments to stage end of season social events which became an institution in themselves. (The practice adopted by local cricket clubs, later repeated by football clubs, was to invite members of other sides to their events which probably resulted in fairly raucous behaviour – the reported disgraceful conduct of three Bradford Albion cricketers at the Undercliffe CC dinner in November, 1878 being a case in point.)
Until 1874 Bradford FC used the New Inn at the former junction of Thornton Road and Tyrrel Street for meetings which had previously been used by Bradford CC (and which later staged meetings of Manningham CC). Thereafter the Mechanics Institute tended to be used for club meetings. With the growing profile of Bradford FC after 1880 it was mutually beneficial for the club to be associated with the best hotels in the town such as the Talbot (Kirkgate) and the Alexandra (Great Horton Road).
The Alexandra Hotel was considered the premium hotel in Bradford and came to be adopted as the club’s headquarters where its trophies were displayed on the mantel piece of the smoke room. In September, 1906 it was reported that three trophies with a value of 130 guineas were saved from fire damage at the hotel.
The Talbot Hotel was built on the site of a seventeenth century coaching inn of the same name and had two statues of talbot hunting dogs outside its entrance. When the building was converted to retail use in 1974 the statues disappeared and with no disrespect to the mobile phone shop now occupying the premises, the grandeur of the old hotel has been completely lost. Nevertheless, it still survives whereas the Alexandra Hotel was demolished in 1993 to be replaced by a car park. The latter will be remembered as the place where the Barbarians club was established in 1890.
After the last day kick in the teeth down at Peterborough, the following season (1980-81) saw the inevitable hangover as City slumped to 14th place. Campbell still managed 19 goals in the league, no one else coming close to his total. There was a changing of the guard with several home-grown players emerging, amongst them Peter Jackson, Barry Gallagher & Mark Ellis.
The obvious & enormous highlight of the season came early on, August 27th to be precise when City , the good times were back but were drawn to meet Liverpool in the 2nd round of the League Cup. A Two legged affair in those days , City were at Valley Parade first against the current League Champions. A crowd of over 16000 turned up for the midweek game to watch City show wonderful spirit & fight against their superior opponents. The fairy tale was completed when Bobby Campbell followed up a Terry Dolan free kick to slot home the winner sending Valley Parade into raptures of ecstasy. The club was back on the front pages after their epic effort. It couldn’t last though as over at Anfield for the 2nd leg, natural order was restored as City were beaten 4-0. It gave us hope though that there was something about the team, a spirit & some potential to be tapped into.
In March, Manager George Mulhall was tempted away to Bolton & Bryan Edwards once again guided the club until in May it was announced that City had appointed former England International Roy MacFarland as Player-Manager in May. The Centre half was a class act as a player. He immediately brought new ideas & a new professionalism to the team. The promising youngsters were given their head & responded magnificently. After starting with a draw & a loss, City hit gold with 9 consecutive wins, Barry Gallagher scoring in 6 consecutive games, to give the team a huge foundation to build on. Only using 18 players all season & only losing 7 games, The benefit of a settled side was clear to see. 2 major signings were made on deadline day to help the team over the line, old favourite Joe Cooke returning & playmaker Mike Lester arriving. With Campbell, McNiven & Gallagher all managing double figures , it was a wonderful season with City chasing Sheffield United all the way for the title itself, the Blades finally winning it but a 2nd place finish was a wonderful achievement. McFarland & his team were feted by all for their exciting football.
The good times were back but as always with City fans, an inbuilt cynicism had all wondering how long it would last. The new season started with McFarland stating he would only play if needed , showing faith in Jackson & Cooke, 3 signings were made in Eric McManus, Terry Gray & Ian Mellor. The first game at VP against Reading is worth noting for the appearance of a small ginger haired kid playing full back in for the injured Ces Podd. His name was Stuart McCall & he would go on the greater things!
The club established itself in the higher division without any problems & another Cup bonus was on the horizon with a 2 legged tie against Manchester United coming up when the inevitable bomshell dropped. November saw Roy MaFarland tender his resignation & with almost vulgar speed be appointed Manager at his old club Derby County. Taking assistant Mick Jones with him , the guts were ripped out of the club at a crucial time. City battled to a 0-0 draw with United but all the talk was about McFarland. From being love, worshipped almost , his actions made him public enemy number one in Bradford. He didn’t help himself coming back & taking advantage of the clubs precarious finances by almost stealing star forward Bobby Campbell. It was later proven that Derby had illegally approached McFarland & tapped him up. The lure of Derby had proved too much & City were compensated for their actions. To this day many have never forgiven McFarlands ‘treachery’ and indeed, at the time it was devastating for the club but with the benefit of hindsight, the tenure of both George Mulhall & Roy McFarland brought a new thinking & professionalism to a club seemingly stuck in a rut of lower league football for too long. Credit should rightly be given to them for their spells as Manager, we saw true progress, the development of players who would serve the club well in the forthcoming future and an attitude that ‘ambition’ wasn’t a dirty word .
The ‘new era ‘ began again when another former England International took on the mantle of player-manager, Trevor Cherry arriving from neighbours Leeds United along with his colleague, Welsh International Terry Yorath as his assistant. “ players with huge experience. They managed to steady the ship & finish midtable after the previous turmoil. Cherry also made another notable free transfer signing in youngster Greg Abbott from Coventry whose versatility in the coming years would make him an integral part of the team. If we thought all would be ok after the ‘McFarland problem’ were were all unready for what happened next.
Although the season started with Cherry pruning the staff & bringing in 2 more untried youngsters in Chris Withe & Gary Haire along with the experienced John Hawley as a replacement for Campbell, the club struggled badly and were deep in the bottom four. News had broken in June of the clubs financial problems & Chairman Bob Martin finally bowed to the inevitable and had no choice but to bring in the receivers. It was touch & go for a few months as costs were cut to the bone and negotiations took place before the company was dissolved & a new company formed as Bradford City (1983) was formed under the new stewardship of Stafford Heginbotham & Jack Tordoff. The whole business had still to be sanctioned by the Football League as the City held its breath. Would Bradford become the first City to lose 2 Football League clubs?
Happily for all, acceptance was forthcoming which lifted the storm clouds off the field but with funds provided by the new ownership, the return of Bobby Campbell from Derby after a few unhappy months there proved seminal for the club. Wallowing close to possible relegation, a surprise 4-1 away at Brentford late in November began a club record run of 10 consecutive wins as Cherry’s young team suddenly hit gold. A run of form took them flying up the table to a 7th place finish only ending when the team ran out of steam after the travails of the early season problems. It held promise for what was to come though. Cherry & Yorath were building a team of young & hungry players, our own products, players discarded by other clubs & a core of 3 or 4 hardened, more experienced professionals to help guide the others, a wonderful Combination.
1984 saw the season open with 2 major additions to the team in Centre back Dave Evans to partner Peter Jackson at the back and a young winger again released by Coventry, the Scot John Hendrie. Yet another Coventry player would be signed during the season in midfield playmaker Martin Singleton. Local products Tony Clegg, Don Goodman & Mark Fletcher until a career ending injury, also showed they had what it takes as the season progressed. City started strongly, staying amonst the leading pack until on November 28th , they played main rivals Millwall at Valley Parade and a 3-1 victory saw them hit the top of the table for the 1st time where they stayed until the end of the season winning their first Championship trophy since the heady days of 1928-29. It also marked a return to the 2nd level of football for the first time since 1936.
On a personal level, the team is my favourite ever in my time of watching City, their brand of exciting attacking play, the combination of youth & experience an absolute joy to watch. I know we have had great sides at a higher level but after the fear of administration & relegation, the building of a new team by Cherry all came together. Fans & team were as one as we willed the club forward. I offer no apologies for naming the core of the side here, I didn’t miss a single game in that momentous season. Here we go, Eric McManus, Greg Abbott, Chris Withe, Stuart McCall Peter Jackson, Dave Evans, John Hendrie, John Hawley, Bobby Campbell, Martin Singleton & Mark Ellis with honourable mentions to Tony Clegg, Don Goodman & Player Manager Cherry himself. Others made fleeting appearances and all played their part in a glorious season.
We all know what happened next on the occasion of the team receiving the Trophy and its been mentioned elsewhere in the detail it deserves. Needless to say its effects scarred the club & the population of Bradford & indeed further afield for years to come. From such a ‘high’ , the tragedy was the lowest point in the clubs history and its importance should never be forgotten or diminished out of respect for those ‘lost’ or affected in any way by that days events.
As the investigations & enquiries into the tragedy began, the club resigned itself to playing as ‘wanderers’ for the foreseeable future as decisions were to be made about the future of Valley Parade. Neighbours Huddersfield Town & Leeds United kindly offered their grounds as venues for City to kick off the new season. A few tweaks were made to the playing staff notably keeper Peter Litchfield, experienced International Arthur Graham, Gavin Oliver & local product Ian Ormondroyd. Followed by a huge following & on a flood of emotion the club took the field at Carlisle’s Brunton Park and achieved a 2-0 courtesy of a double by who else but Bobby Campbell.
Odsal Stadium, the unforgiving huge bowl in South Bradford, the home of Bradford Northern, was also adapted for City to play there, personally, I suspect this was part of a plan for City to move there permanently but in all honesty, it was never & could never be a football stadium. It was bleak, barren & open to the elements and I can’t remember many kind words said about the place. City, despite the problems managed a 13th place finish after a season of uncertainty & huge emotion.
Amongst fans the future was indisputable, a vast majority wanting a return to a rebuilt Valley Parade. Not only was it our spiritual home in our spiritual district of Manningham, it was now a lasting shrine & memory to those who went to the Lincoln game the season before & never made it home.
Emotions ran high as plans were finally announced for the rebuilding of the stadium but City still had to negotiate the forthcoming season at Odsal before the stadium was finished. Finally in the December of 1986 the newly built Valley Parade was opened, a modern safety-first stadium. A game against an England XI was the centre of the celebrations in the January. Everything was great again, but, this is Bradford City & only 10 days after the return, news came out that Manager Trevor Cherry had been sacked. As far as shocks go, this was up there and demonstrations against the decision were planned as the much loved Manager left. There was no logic behind it but looking back, I personally think the whole experience as City manager may have taken its toll on him emotionally. The problem of administration, the high of the Championship win to the low of the tragedy. The years of being homeless whilst maintaining progress had maybe drained him more than he realised. In all the years since, right up to his sad death in 2020 he maintained his dignity & I can’t recall him saying a bad word against his time at City. A wonderful man & great manager for us, personally speaking again, my favourite ever.
September had seen the departure of bona-fide club legend Bobby Campbell to Wigan Athletic. Leaving behind his legacy as the clubs all-time record goalscorer his boots would be hard to fill as City’s form wobbled. Newcomers included the hard working Mark Leonard & the wonderfully talented Leigh Palin in midfield.
The club announced Cherry’s assistant, former player Terry Dolan would take over . He refreshed the side with 2 key signings in Scottish Full Back Brian Mitchell from Aberdeen & wily campaigner Ronnie Futcher arrived to lead the line & score vital goals as City managed to pull away from the lower reaches of the table. Although the Board would probably say they were justified, the departure of Trevor Cherry could have been handled better after all he had done during his tenure. Terry Dolan had shown his mettle quickly though also bringing through young full back Karl Goddard who slotted into the side like he’d been there for years. Big money had been made by the The sale of Skipper Peter Jackson to 1st Division Newcastle United & for the forthcoming 1987-88 season it was invested in 2 major signings, keeper Paul Tomlinson & centre back Lee Sinnott.
There was interest from all how new manager Dolan’s team would develop and if he could maintain the progress made since 1983. 1 defeat in the first 13 games saw City up with the leaders for a place in the promised land, even with the occasional blip, the team was usually in the top 2. The club added midfield enforcer Micky Kennedy but a gradual tiredness and the small size of the squad saw City lose to Ipswich on the final day of the season to fall into the play-offs. A victory over Middlesbrough 2-1 wasn’t to prove enough as Trevor Senior’s away goal proved vital for the Teesiders who proved at home it was a game too far for the City squad.
Now permanently known as the ‘Nearly Season’, the Board were accused of skimping on the squad when depth & reinforcements were needed to cover for the inevitable injuries & suspensions that come with a long hard season. Inevitably it meant the clubs star players, Stuart McCall & John Hendrie were allowed to leave to further their careers deservedly so after the service they had given the club but it seemed like the end of an era with an uncertain future. The money made from the departure of the 2 stars wasn’t spent wisely with replacements Andy Thomas & Ian Banks not lasting the following season. Striker Paul Jewell was more of a success but the inevitable hangover occurred after such a near miss & a position of 14th wasn’t any sort of success or reward for the fans. Terry Dolan was dismissed in January 1989 & a familiar face returned in the guise of Terry Yorath. A small bright spot was the goalscoring form of Irishman Jimmy Quinn after his late signing. Sadly Yorath did last the full season of 1989-90 as City tumbled back into the 3rd level of football after 5 years away. When relegation was confirmed, Yorath was gone & his replacement was dour Scot John Docherty who had wonderful success with Millwall. After the wonderful football seen by the fans during the Cherry & Dolan years, fans were in for a shock. Docherty was known for his direct style & boy was it direct.
He showed no interest in explaining his philosophies to the exasperated fans as they began to vote with their feet. He flooded the team with former Millwall reserves & despite an 8th place finish it was poor fare for the fans. High points would be the signing of Centre forward Sean McCarthy, The skill & graft of Veteran Robbie James, the wand of a left foot of Brian Tinnion & the emergence of local youngster Lee Duxbury. Docherty’s cold attitude turned fans against him from the start and it was no surprise that by November 1991 he was gone after failing to progress. December brought another rookie Manager to the club but a highly experienced player in Republic of Ireland star Frank Stapleton. He took time to settle and alter the mindset of the club after the Docherty debacle & although he had his hands tied slightly by finances there was a large turnover of players . At this time the highlight was a very successful Youth side who won several trophies & several of the lads made it into the 1st team squad & made fleeting appearances but with the exception of Lee Duxbury, none of them were able to establish themselves long term in the team. Stapleton was an intelligent, thinking manager who managed to get City up to 7th in the table.
Off the field the regime of Heginbotham & Tordoff had been taken over by Travel agent Dave Simpson. Without the finances to progress the club, a bizarre transfer of owners took place when Scarborough Chairman Geoffrey Richmond became new City owner & Simpson went in the other direction. Richmond had made his money speculating in business & had sold the Ronson lighter company for big money. He is ambition was as big as his ego & he soon found the principled Stapleton wasn’t to his taste. Another new era was about to begin & this will be addressed in Part 3 of City Memories where the roller coaster ride of being a City fan took us to untold heights and all the back down to the depths but boy, it was a hell of a ride whilst it lasted.
Ian Hemmens [@IHemmens] has written a number of other features about Bradford sport history which can be found from the dropdown menu above