Northern & Bulls, Odsal & Elsewhere

By Andrew Foster

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.)

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Lost sports grounds of Bradford: Usher Street

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.

Bowling FC

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. [1]

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. [2]

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.

Nine Hoil

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.

Usher Street, 1893

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. [3]

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.

[Note 1] This feature on VINCIT tells the story of the junior rugby football clubs in Bradford, their origins, ambitions and eventual collapse.

[Note 2] The influence of the Rifle Volunteer movement on Bradford (rugby) football

[Note 3] Bowling FC was among other northern based junior clubs with a predominantly working class membership who opposed professionalism and were critical of the secession of those seniors who formed the Northern Union. The case to reconsider the split in rugby football in 1895 based on what happened in Bradford is told here.

By John Dewhirst

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

Link to John’s blog: Wool City Rivals where you will find content about historic BCAFC programmes, his features in the current BCAFC matchday programme, reviews of books featuring content about Bradford sport and his writing about the history of Bradford City. Links to his other features about the history of Bradford sport from this link.

*** 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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Eddie Myers – Bradford’s Rugby Superstar

by Ian Hemmens

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.

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Bradford Dukes: The Last Speedway in West Yorkshire

By Christian Oldcorn

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.  

Photo credits

  1. Kenny Carter, 1985 Overseas Final, Odsal. Photo courtesy John Somerville Collection
  2. Kenny Carter Crashes out of 1985 World championship, Vetlanda. Photo courtesy Mike Patrick
  3. Heat 12 gets underway.  1985 World Final.  Photo courtesy John Somerville Collection
  4. 1985 World Final rider parade. Photo courtesy John Somerville Collection
  5. 1985 World Champion Erik Gundsersen, runner up Hans Nielsen and 3rd placed Sam Ermolenko. Photo courtesy John Somerville Collection
  6. Bobby and Allan Ham. Photo courtesy John Somerville Collection
  7. 1986 British Champion, Neil Evitts, Brandon Stadium, Coventry. Photo courtesy John Somerville Collection
  8. Gary Havelock in action for GB Lions, 1991. Photo courtesy John Somerville Collection
  9. 1990 World Champion Per Jonsson, Runner up (on the night)Shawn Moran and 3rd placed Todd Wiltshire. Odsal. Photo courtesy John Somerville Collection
  10. Gary Havelock in full flight on the way to his 1992 World Championship.  Wroclaw, Poland. Photo courtesy of Dukes Facebook page collection.
  11. Gary Havelock returns to Odsal with the FIM World Speedway Championship trophy, 1992, Odsal. Photo courtesy of Dukes Facebook page collection.
  12. 1992 World Champion Gary Havelock with runner up Per Jonsson and 3rd placed Gert Handberg. Photo courtesy of Dukes Facebook page collection.
  13. 1992 Keyline Dukes, Kelvin Tatum and Simon Wigg. Photo courtesy of Dukes Facebook page collection.
  14. Joseph Screen, 1995. Photo courtesy John Somerville Collection
  15. Champion winning heat leaders, Havelock, Screen and Loram.  1997. Photo courtesy of Dukes Facebook page collection.
  16. The Dukes 2 Champion sides: Halifax 1966 and Bradford 1997. Photo courtesy of Dukes Facebook page collection.
  17. 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!

Historic Bradford pubs and their part in the development of football

An earlier feature on VINCIT narrated the story of the Belle Vue Hotel and its part in the development of sport in Bradford. However it was far from being the only public house with a sporting pedigree.

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.

In Shipley, the Ring of Bells was the headquarters of Shipley FC who played on a field opposite the pub until 1901 when the land was developed for housing.

By John Dewhirst

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

The above is taken from ROOM AT THE TOP by John Dewhirst which narrates the origins and early development of football and organised sport in Bradford in the nineteenth century.

City Memories – Part Two in a series of reminiscences

By Ian Hemmens

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

BCAFC reminiscences  Part One by Ian Hemmens

The Birth of the Harrier in Bradford

By Rob Grillo


Leeds Intelligencier, 26th July 1845:

FOOT RACES – On Saturday last, a foot race came off on Bradford Moor, for £10 a side; distance 150  yards, between Henry Petty, of Horton, and Joseph Robinson, of Horton. A great number of spectators were present. At the commencement, Petty took the lead, which he maintained the first 40 yards, when his antagonist shot past him, and got to the winning post three yards ahead of him. On Monday, another race was run neat Queens Head, for £1 between Jarvis Jagger, of Clayton Heights, and James Crabtree, of Queens Head, distance 100 yards. The latter came off victorious.

Rugby School’s  ‘Crick  Run’,  one of the earliest examples of  cross-country  running,  began  in  1837. The course, run in December that year, was no less than 13 miles long, seven miles of which were across ploughed fields and meadows. The school is the setting of the Thomas Hughes novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays, which brought ‘hare and hounds’ running to the attention of many of its readers for the first time. The Thames Hare & Hounds was the first adult club to be founded, in 1868, by members of Thames Rowing Club. Its name derives from the tradition of hunting, ‘Hare and Hounds’ or a  ‘Paper Chase’, in which a pair of runners (the ‘hares’) lay a trail of paper to be followed by the other runners (the ‘hounds’ or the ‘pack’). The title also reflected the social status of those who were early pioneers of the sport.

By 1880, the sport had begun to take off in the rapidly growing industrial centres of Bradford and Leeds, and in that year three important clubs were founded, the Airedale Harriers in Bradford, Moortown Harriers (soon to be renamed Leeds Harriers), and Leeds St Mark’s Harriers.

The birth of ‘Hare and Hounds’ running packs signalled a huge shift in attitudes towards running. Whereas the sport had previously one of achievement, that is improving ones-self, winning the race, often at any cost, or by pleasing God – or of punishment, there was  a third dimension that was introduced to the sport. That third dimension serves what Keele University’s John Bale has termed a ‘trialectic’ of configurations, and that is of ‘running as a sensory experience’.

The pre-World War Two clubs in Bradford are listed below. Many have ecclesiastical origins, but others were village or neighbourhood clubs. As with other sports, such as rugby and association football, the latter rarely used local public houses are headquarters.

Airedale Harriers (Bradford): 1880 to date. The current Bradford Airedale Athletic Club is the second oldest club in the north of England. The roots of the club go back to 1878, however, when a group of young men from the Tetley Street Baptist School discussed the possibility of forming a ‘Hare and Hounds’ club. The discussions went on until formation of the club in 1880. For two years, the new club used local schools as headquarters, before transferring to the Coffee Tavern in Carlisle Road, Manningham. The first Hon. Secretary of the club was Stuart Watmough, who was well-known in local business circles.


Airedale Harriers, 1937

A new base at ‘The Church Institute’ was used in 1885, but by 1893 the Osborne Hotel on Kirkgate was being used (the hotel itself closed down in December 1952), and in 1908 the Peel Park Hotel in the north of Bradford.  The club benefitted when the successful Bradford Trinity Harriers pack was absorbed into the club in October 1894. By the 1920s, the Airedale club could boast members from a wide range of countries, including Canada, Belgium, France, and New Zealand

The club relocated to the south of the city when it took advantage of the opening of Horsfall Playing Fields in 1931, a venue that was more suited to the needs of the local running fraternity and since then has been based there. Before, various other venues had been used for the club’s track and field championships, including Bowling Old Lane in the late 1880s and early 1890s, and Valley Parade in 1895.

Club colours were originally black ‘drawers’ with royal blue vests, with the club badge on the back and that kit was certainly being used in 1900. The Yorkshire Cross-Country Association in 1891 described the club’s kit as maroon jersey and white knickers, however. By 1931 that badge was on the front of the vest, while in 1937 the blue vests were abandoned after the club’s sprinters complained that the dark vests left them at a disadvantage in close finishes in poor light. After that, a white vest with central blue hoops was adopted. The blue shorts were replaced by red shorts when Airedale merged with Spen Valley Harriers on 10th September 1965, the name of the new venture being Airedale & Spen Valley Athletic Club (ASVAC in short). A further change to Bradford Airedale AC was made in the 1990s. Antonio Fattorini was linked to the club in the early years, also serving as president of the Bradford, Yorkshire, Northern and English Cross-Country associations at various times between 1893 and 1911. Another former president of the club from the same period was Major Arthur Shepherd, who, like Fattorini, one of Bradford’s sporting pioneers, having also been heavily involved in association football in the city.

Airedale won the Yorkshire Cross-Country team title three times between 1891-99. George Cyril Ellis, gained international status in the mid ‘30s, finishing 21st in the International Cross-Country championship at Caerleon, Wales on 25th March 1933. A Women’s section was formed at committee meeting at the Sun Inn, Cottingley 1931, one of the first women’s sections in the north of England.  At the Women’s National Cross-Country Championship 1933 at Warwick Airedale Harriers took first place, also winning Northern and Yorkshire titles that year.

By the time the club had reached its Jubilee year in 1930, it had seen a number of distinguished individuals assume the role of President, these being; Messrs Antonio Fattorini, S Watmough, Percy Illingworth, Lord Barnby, Major Arthur Shephard, Messrs Henry Mason, T  Hopkinson, Percy Fell, G A Clark, A Boardman, and J W Lancaster.

Notable team titles (Cross-Country): Northern Junior: 1891, 1893, Yorkshire Senior: 1891, 1897, 1898, Yorkshire Youth: 1935, National Women’s: 1933, Northern Women’s: 1932, 1933, Yorkshire Women’s: 1933,

 Bowling Harriers (Bradford): 1886-99.  The Bowling club was said to have over 30 members in February 1896. On 21st September 1895, according to the Bradford Daily Telegraph, ‘Thirteen members of the club had a capital run on Saturday from the Upper Croft Coffee Tavern. The hares (J W. Hainsworth and A Rawnsley) were despatched at three o’clock. The trail led through Bradford Moor, Undercliffe, Idle, Calverley, Farsley, Fagley, and home, distance about nine miles. The slow pack followed five minutes later paced by K Lockwood with J George as whip. The fast pack followed three minutes later paced by N Firth,  whip W Verity. The first man in was J Gay (fast pack); 2. Verity (fast pack); 3. N Firth (fast pack). The club was present at the first Yorkshire Cross-Country Junior championship race at Rotherham racecourse in May 1893, but by 1895 was said to be a club with a very young membership, ‘I don’t think above one or two could be found as old as 18’, reported the athletics correspondent in the same Bradford Newspaper. The report also included the complaint that the Bradford Parish Church club had members as young as thirteen turning out for pack runs. It concluded, ‘Youthful Harriers should be given to understand that it is a privilege to run Cross-Country and should not be abused.’

Bradford Harriers: First club: 1882-1894. The club originally consisted mainly of members of the Manningham Bicycle Club which was founded around the same time, and which seems to have wound up within a couple of years of its formation.

It would seem that the club absorbed the Bradford YMCA Harriers in 1890, which itself had been founded in 1885. The Leeds Mercury correspondent, Penanink was gushing in its praise of the club in June 1890, ‘Those Bradford Harriers go in for Cross-Country for its own sake, and stick to it well.  They have the best average turn up in the field, wet or fine, of any of the Bradford clubs, and they take some god, healthy hedge-and-ditch runs. They make no show on the race ground, because they have not the necessary influence and prestige to ‘kidnap’ fancy runners, but they are working hard at training a few young recruits, and I think they will pull off a prize or two before the end of this season. As nearly all their members are hard working youths, and as they have no patrons, any success they may win will be all the more creditable.’

 It seems that the club, which attracted several former Bradford Trinity harriers to its ranks, finished before the end of 1894. The club’s AGM was held in September that year, with Antonio Fattorini elected president, and L J Pounds as captain, and the Athletic News reported that ‘The prospects of the club are very bright, and it strong in running talent as well as numerically’, but nothing else was heard from the club, which may well have thrown in its lot with Bradford Trinity Harriers, which itself became part of the Airedale Harriers in 1895.

Second club: 1895 – 1902. The new club was founded on 15th August 1895 at a meeting at Tyrell Street Coffee House. F W Milligan was elected the club’s first president, with J Hounam elected as captain, with the headquarters at All Saints School. Training headquarters in 1898 was at the Second West Hotel in Lidget Green, which was used every Wednesday evening during the winter from November, one assumes on account of its gym or similar. The club was accepted into the membership of the Yorkshire CCA and three or more club championship races were staged each year, including a novice handicap, an open handicap and a scratch race for the club championship, the Milligan Cup. The club merged with Bradford St Stephen’s in 1902 to form Bradford Athletic Harriers, after an initial approach to Bradford Athletic Club in 1896 had failed.

Notable team titles (Cross-Country): Yorkshire Senior 1884, 1885,

Bradford Athletic Harriers / Athletic Club:   1902-39. The Bradford Athletic Harriers organisation was created by a joining together of the Bradford St Stephen’s Harriers and Bradford Harriers clubs.

The original Bradford Athletic Club had been founded in the summer of 1865, the Bradford Observer on  Thursday 31st August that year giving us all a sneak preview of the facilities on Bath Street, off Leeds Road; ‘The Bradford Athletic Club. We had an opportunity last night of walking through the rooms which are shortly to be opened by this club, and, as far as we could judge, nothing has been left unprovided which could add to the comfort or convenience of the most fastidious student of muscular Christianity. The chest-expanding apparatus, recently patented by Messrs. Snoxell and Spencer, of London, is wonderful piece of mechanism. We understand that upwards of one hundred different exercises may be performed on it; and it will be their own fault if our young townsmen, whose business engagements will not allow of their taking sufficient outdoor exercise, do not avail themselves of the opportunities it will afford them of fully developing their muscles, and otherwise promoting their physical health. A committee of management has already been appointed, and the necessary arrangements are nearly completed for the formal opening of the club, of which due notice will be given by advertisement. We have heard it whispered that several gold and silver medals are to be competed for on the opening night, or shortly afterwards, on conditions to be agreed upon by the committee.


Photo: Bradford Athletic Harriers, 1908

The training of the body, as well as the mind, has for some time occupied the attention of the most eminent teachers of our day, and if it be of importance that we should each of us possess mens sana in corpore sano (A sound mind in a sound body), we think that the efforts of Mr. Lillywhite (Harry Lillywhite, a scion of the famous cricketing family) to provide a suitable school-room and suitable professors for such teaching, are worthy of every encouragement.’

 Athletics Festivals at Park Avenue began in 1878, and in 1896 the athletic club was approached by Bradford Harriers with regards to a merger of the two. However, despite the football section there being open to the idea, it was recognised that with both rugby and association teams already being catered for, the idea should be referred to cricket section, which was not as accommodating. The idea was put on ice, but certainly not abandoned, because, despite there being nothing in the press at the time, it would seem that the Bradford Harriers were incorporated into the club in 1902, along with those from the St Stephen’s Harriers. The club was initially referred to as Bradford City Athletic during the 1902 summer athletics season.

The new Bradford Athletic Harriers maintained the levels of success of its constituent clubs, winning the Yorkshire Junior Cross-Country title in 1903 – one year after the St Stephen’s club had done so –  with two pairs of brothers, the Dempsey’s and Priestley’s in the winning team. In another reorganisation, Bradford Athletic Harriers resigned from the Yorkshire Cross-Country Union in 1908, replaced by Bradford Athletic Club. The club’s annual eight-mile championship was known as the ‘Brogden Shield’ race, the winner’s trophy being donated by Isaac Brogden, and was first competed for in 1908 and 1908 before being thrown open to, first, all member clubs of the Bradford CCA, and then also to those in membership of the Leeds CCA. During the war, the race was made open to any runner from a club affiliated to the Bradford & District Cross-Country association, although, sadly, the inaugural winner, George Warrener was killed in December 1915 while fighting for his country.

Most club meetings were held at the George Hotel in Bradford (which George Hotel is not clear, as there were a number of similarly titled public house with this name in and around Bradford), as well as the Osborne Hotel on Kirkgate. Plans to organise a 25-mile Cross-Country marathon in March 1908 did not come to fruition, although other clubs were sounded out as late as February that year as whether they would be interested. The club committee that had considered it included one Antonio Fattorini, a man who was involved with virtually all of Bradford’s top sporting clubs at one time or another. Closing down in 1939 for the Second World War, it  would seem that the club was not revived afterwards.

In 1908, George Rhodes, one of several talented Bradford AC Harriers, earned selection for his country when he finished 10th in the English Cross-Country Championship at Newbury Racecourse on 7th March 1908. There were two further Bradford runners listed as reserves, J Smith (13th, only three seconds behind Rhodes), and G W Colcroft (15th). G F Atkins finished 16th in the same race, earning the team third place in the team event. The team had also finished second to Hallamshire Harriers in the Northern Cross-Country Championship at Haydock Park a few weeks earlier, with Colcroft 6th and Smith 7th. Rhodes himself went on to finish 16th in the International Cross-Country event  on 26th March, at Colombes, France.

Notable team titles (Cross-Country): Yorkshire Senior: 1905, 1908, Yorkshire Junior: 1903, 1904, Northern Women’s; 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, Yorkshire Women’s: 1935, 1936, 1937, Also finished second in the 1908 & 1909 Northern Cross-Country championship.

 Bradford Parish Church Harriers: 1893-99. On Saturday 11th November 1893, the club turned out ten members from Perry’s, Shipley Glen, and had a very pleasant run – one of its first –  over Baildon Moor. Perry’s would be used many times by the club. As referred to previously, the club was criticised in 1895 for having members as young as thirteen taking part in club runs. Unsurprisingly, given its ecclesiastical purpose, and its young membership, Saturday Cross-Country runs were from local coffee houses rather than public houses; The Royal Café, Saltaire for example, or even from local schools where changing rooms would have been utilised.

4The club resigned from the Bradford Cross-Country Association in September 1899, folding completely at the same time, which is something of a surprise given that less than two years earlier, October 1897, the club had won the silver whistle, donated by Antonio Fattorini, for the club turning out the most runners in the Association’s ‘monster meet’ from the Buttershaw Church School buildings. Parish Church runners made up twenty-seven of the total of 120 runners.


Bradford St Chrysostom’s Harriers: This club was admitted to the Yorkshire Cross-Country Association in September 1898, but it would appear that it was very short-lived and was possibly defunct by the time the county championship was held the following March. The St Chrysostom’s Church from which the club evolved can be found on Bolton Road.

 Bradford St Oswald’s Harriers: In October 1903, the Bradford Cross-Country Association invited this club into membership, but it would seem that this offer was not taken up. There seems to be no other reference to this club, which obviously wound up a short time after its formation.

 Bradford St Stephen’s Harriers: 1886-1902. Club colours in 1900 were black drawers, with a red jersey adorned with an SSH badge.

The successful club merged with Bradford Harriers in 1902 to form Bradford Athletic Harriers.  Notable team titles: Yorkshire Junior: 1902,

Bradford Trinity Sunday School Harriers:    1885-94. The Trinity pack was one of the leading clubs in the county in the early 1890s, the Yorkshire Cross-Country Association in 1891 describing the club’s kit as a white jersey with red badge, and blue knickers.

Having seen several of its former runners return in 1894 when the first Bradford Harriers club folded, the Trinity club threw in its lot with Airedale Harriers in October the same year, with its former members also turning out for Halifax Harriers in later years. The club’s final Cross-Country championship race in March 1894 had to be held at the Halifax Cricket and Athletic Club ground, Hanson Lane as there were no suitable facilities available in Bradford, Valley Parade being in use and Bradford CA&FC refusing to let its ground at Park Avenue for the day. It wasn’t the first time the club had to go ‘out of town’ for such events, with the Pudsey Britannia cricket field being used for its trial race (to select a team for upcoming championship races) in January 1893. A Carnelly finished nearly a lap in front of his closest rival that day.

Notable team titles (Cross-Country): Northern Junior: 1889, 1890, Yorkshire Senior: 1892, 1893, 1894,

 Bradford YMCA Harriers: 1885-89. First coming to prominence early in 1885, the YMCA club held its runs from hostelries such as the Willowfield Hotel on Legrams Lane and the Red Lion at Bankfoot. In 1887 the Athletic News described the club’s runners as ‘a young but likely-looking lot of Cross-Country runners’. No fewer than 33 members of the club took part in a run over Cottingley Moor on 28th September 1889, having set off from Heaton, but despite this healthy number the club was absorbed into Bradford Harriers in 1890.

However, on 26th October 1908 a report in the Yorkshire Post referred to a runner from Bradford YMCA Harriers being dispatched from Bradford to Keighley in order to relay a congratulatory message to the Keighley YMCA branch for the progress it had made since its inception. It is likely that the YMCA Harriers at this time was an informal group of runners, with no other indications anywhere that a formal club had reformed.

Daisy Hill Sunday School Harriers (Bradford): 1903-05. A short-lived club based in the north of Bradford, and linked to the local Primitive Methodist chapel. Occasional runs took place with other local clubs, and the club took part in the Bradford & District Cross-Country championship .

 Dirk Hill Church Harriers (Bradford): 1887. This was possible the most obscure of all the tiny clubs that emerged in Bradford, and one of the shortest-lived. In the last weekend of March 1887, the pack enjoyed ‘a good run up Legrams Lane, across Bentley’s fields, past Clayton Gasworks, into Queensbury, and thence for home, through Wibsey, down Beacon Hill, and across Southfield Lane. Distance, eight to nine miles’, according to the report sent to the Leeds Times. This was more likely to have been an informal bunch of runners rather than a properly organised club, from the Dirk Hill chapel in the Great Horton area.

 Horton Harriers (Bradford): 1900-03. The Horton pack took part in regular inter-runs with other local clubs but was always of a junior status and did little to promote itself in the local press, at a time when most of clubs were so keen to do so. It is only possible to trace it’s inter-runs through the fixtures published from the likes of the Bradford Athletic, Halifax and Ingrow clubs. The club’s brief history ended with its resignation from the Bradford CCA in October 1903, having recently folded.

 Idle Trinity Harriers (Bradford): 1903-05. This club had its roots in the ‘Idle Parish Church Junior  Mutual Improvement Association’, which possessed less than twenty members but which, through the efforts of Rev J J Beagley, evolved into Idle Trinity Harriers. The headquarters of the club was at the Idle Parish Church School, in what was previously used as a ‘lumber room’. The former storage room underneath the school was converted by the club members themselves, with the opening ceremony performed by a Mrs Marshall. Improvements were made to the facility the following year.

The north Bradford club joined the Yorkshire CCA in January 1905, and took part in the Bradford & District CCA championship, but at the club AGM in August it was recognised that the small turn out for club runs needed to be improved on. One month later the club was said to be defunct, after having substituted the ‘Harriers’ suffix with ‘Athletic’ and unsuccessfully attempting to merge with the local rugby club. Its promising young runner George Webster moved on to Airedale Harriers, with other members said to have taken up rugby instead.

A new Idle Trinity club emerged in the 1940’s, lasting over a decade, and of course there is the current Idle Athletic Club in existence.

Laisterdyke Harriers (Bradford): 1892-1905. Laisterdyke Cricket and Athletic club organised athletic festivals from the 1880s and the subsequent harriers club may well have had its roots in that organisation. In October 1894, the harriers took part in a fifteen-mile inter-run with Airedale Harriers from the Junction Hotel. Evidently ‘all the runners were too fagged to run in with much style,’ according to the Bradford Daily Telegraph.

J Smith won the Yorkshire Junior Cross-Country title in 1899, with the team finishing third. Captain in the 1899-1900 winter season was F H Crofton Jr, while club president W E Hinchliffe was also a running member. That season started off in dramatic fashion, the Bradford Weekly Telegraph reported that on 30th September 1899, ‘The War Horse of Laisterdyke, R Heaps, was chased by a bull,. It was said that the ‘Raggy’ ran faster than any of the ‘Yorkshire’ men just then, and finished up by jumping a very high hedge’.

Club colours in 1900 were black drawers, with a red stripe, white jersey with a black gate in a red diamond. The club resigned from the Yorkshire CCA in January 1905.

 Manningham Harriers: The township of Manningham was, in the nineteenth century, an area that was a distinct part of Bradford, to which it saw itself as a ‘rival’. This was manifested in the rivalry between the district’s two Football clubs, Manningham and Bradford, members of the Rugby Union and founder members of the break-away Northern Union (now known as Rugby League). The rivalry was less marked in the world of ‘Hare & Hounds’, however, with the original Bradford Harriers having had its roots in Manningham Cycling Club, and Manningham’s own clubs, listed here, being very much Junior in status.

First club: 1883-90. The original Manningham club commenced pack runs in the winter of 1883, and was still in operation in June 1890 in local athletic events during the summer, before folding up before the following winter season.

 Second club:  1911-14. A revived Manningham club joined the Yorkshire Cross Country Association in September 1912 (as Manningham Athletic Club Harriers) after having initially run as an unaffiliated body. It seems that the club, which shut down for the duration of World War one, was not revived afterwards.

 It is nice to know that running events take place to this day at the same venue in the form of the Park Run, Manningham (Lister) Park having also hosted many other running events over the past one-hundred years.

 Manningham St John’s Harriers: 1899-1903. The ‘other’ Manningham pack was admitted to the Bradford Cross-Country Association in 1899. Club colours in 1900 were dark blue pants, with a pale blue stripe, and a royal blue jersey, and its headquarters were on Wilmer Road. In  November 1899, runners were forced to run in one pack of twenty-one from the Coffee Palace at Shipley, after it was found impossible to procure enough paper for the trail. The pack that day was paced by G Glover, and whipped by A Horner. About eight miles of good country were traversed, a lengthy road finish resulting in G Pickles reaching the changing rooms first, G Glover being second, and Fred Wright third.

Rehoboth Harriers (Bradford): 1889. This informal pack represented the Bradford Rehoboth Primitive Methodist chapel in Bowling Old Lane which had opened in 1878. It does not appear to have lasted very long and was likely not more than an informal group of runners who were trying out the sport, which was rapidly growing in popularity at the time.

Shipley Harriers: 1892-1914, The Shipley club went under the radar for much of its existence, having little success in championship races but enjoying a busy schedule of inter-runs and handicaps as well as weekly pack runs. The club organised invitation meets, with the likes of Airedale, Bradford Athletic, Wibsey Park and Otley joining the club for an event on 16th December 1905 from the Shipley Cycling Club. Club colours in 1900 were black drawers, with a white jersey. The club’s eight-mile championship race took in a stiff route from Baildon Green through Charlestown to Esholt and Apperley Bridge, returning via Idle and Thackley to the starting point. Closing down for the duration of World War One, and resigning its membership of the Bradford Cross-Country Association due to the majority of its members having joined the army, the club was sadly not revived afterwards. Notable team titles (Cross-Country): Yorkshire Junior: 1895, 1898,

 Shipley St Paul’s YMA Harriers: 1898-99. This was a very short-lived club. The Shipley Times & Express reported, on 3rd December 1898 that ‘The first handicap under the auspices of the newly-formed harriers club in connection with St Paul’s Young Men’s Association was run on Saturday. From  the headquarters at the National Schools, the course was up Manor Lane, Bradford Road, through Heaton Wood, Cottingley Road, past the Bar House, Bingley Road, and Church Lane, home (about six miles).’ It seems that the club was not entirely successful as resigned from the Bradford Cross-Country Association in September 1899.

 Undercliffe Harriers (Bradford): 1885-86. This was a short-lived club from Bradford. The club ran a ten-mile route from its headquarters in November 1885, across fields to Bolton Woods, along the canal to Frizinghall, up Scotchman Lane and across fields to Shipley, skirting Windhill, then across to Wrose Hill, Thackley, and Idle Moor Quarries to Five Lane Ends. The club took part in the Kennedy Cup competition, then the county Cross-Country championship, in February 1886, but did not re-emerge for the winter following season.

 Wibsey Park Harriers (Bradford): 1897-1952. Wibsey Park Athletic Sports was a popular annual event in the late 1800s, held each July on the quarter-mile cinder track in the Bradford park. The track had been given ‘special attention’ during the months leading up to the 1896 event and it is no surprise that a club would be formed in the vicinity. That club became one of the best known, and most successful, in the district with success at northern, county and district level.

What was probably the first ‘monster meet’ for Wibsey Park Harriers was from the Buttershaw Church Schools, organised by the proposed Bradford District CCA on 2nd October 1897 where 120 runners congregated. The first man home on the eight-mile route via Royds Hall, Shelf, Queensbury, and back through Wibsey happened to be A Bowker of Wibsey Park, a man who would serve as secretary of the club. Inter-runs were a mainstay of the club’s weekend runs, with the occasional fixture with clubs from further afield; Lancaster Primrose Harriers making the trip to Bradford on 22nd December 1906. Club colours in 1900 were black drawers, with a back jersey and pink badge.

The first ‘annual supper’ of the club took part at the Foresters Arms on 7th February 1899 – as did many of the pack runs – with Antonio Fattorini occupying the chair following the supper. In 1912 the club became a founder member of the Halifax Cross-Country Association. Well attended and prestigious summer athletic festivals were held on the park track, some in conjunction with Bankfoot Cricket Club, and a walking section was formed on 17th July 1923 at the Alexandra Hotel, Wibsey Park Harriers Walking Club becoming the second such club in the Bradford district alongside Yorkshire Race Walking Club. The club therefore produced some fine individual walkers as well as runners.

5By 1909, Wibsey Park Harriers had two internationals, Michael McHale and Fred Lord. In the English Cross-Country Championship at Haydock park, Lord finished 10th in what were terrible weather conditions. The International event at Derby on 20th March saw Lord finish 7th, with Michael McHale, representing Ireland, finishing 25th. This was a rare instance of two runners from same club representing different nations.

Lord, who joined Wibsey Harriers in 1905, aged 26, was the only man to run in both 1908 and 1912 Olympic Marathon races. He finished 15th in the sweltering heat in 3-19-08 in the London race, and then 21st in 3-01-39 in Stockholm in 1912. One year later, he was the first English runner to finish in the 1913 Polytechnic Marathon in London on 31st May, where Ahlgren of Sweden ran a world best time of 2-36-06, Lord finishing fifth in 2-49-07.

In 1903 an eight-mile handicap race from Wibsey saw three brothers Edwin, George and Fred Foster take first, second and third place. Another brother, Len, also went on to compete for the club.

Notable team titles (Cross-Country): Yorkshire Junior: 1906, 1910, 1912, also runner-up in Northern Junior race 1908, 1909.

 Wilsden & District Harriers (Bradford): 1903-04. This short-lived club took part in the Bradford & District Cross-Country championship in 1904, and took part in inter-runs with local clubs such as Keighley and Windhill Harriers.

Windhill Harriers (Bradford): 1903-04. Another club from the Bradford district that was very short-lived. A run with the Wilsden pack took place on 9th January 1904, but the club did not compete in any competitive events, and was possibly not much more than an informal bunch of runners.

* * * * * * * * * * * *  *

This article is adapted from ‘Crusty Farmers With Pitchforks’, the forthcoming book from Rob Grillo, due out towards the end of the year. It is a history of distance running in West Yorkshire, starting when records began, and ending at the outbreak of World War Two in 1939. The historical account begins with a look back at the earliest examples of running, before moving on to the athletic sporting events of the mid to late 1800s, continuing on to the introduction of hare and hounds and trail running, and then reflecting on the subsequent clubs that were formed. The races that emerged are also covered, as well as some of the most notable international runners, and those individuals whose organisation and influence made a huge difference to the sport.

  • Earlier this year, Rob published ‘A Noble Winter’s Game’ which covered the early growth of association football in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and of course in 2019 wrote ‘Late To The Gamein the Bantamspast History Revisited series, which covered the origins and development of association football in Bradford up to the start of World War Two.
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!

The evolution of the Bradford City match programme


It is an open secret that in recent years programme sales have been declining at every professional club and it has been no exception at Valley Parade. This is despite the fact that the standard of the match-day publication – The Parader – is unrecognisable in relation to what was produced until quite recently. Lewis Redmond who edits the programme cannot be faulted for the effort and hard work that he invests in its production. The content, design and general quality is simply light years ahead of what older supporters would have purchased in times gone by. Whilst considerably more expensive, it is definitely far better value for money. And yet the irony is that despite massive improvements, fewer people nowadays bother to buy a programme.

This season may be the last that Bradford City AFC publish a match day programme unless sales are sufficient to justify otherwise. Relative to the effort involved in their production, the net profit for BCAFC like that at many other Football League clubs, is marginal. Are the days of the match day publication thus coming to an end? For those of us whose match day routine has involved buying a programme – and for those who have collected them – it is an unwelcome prospect, the price of progress and another consequence of the internet age.

In celebration of the history of the Bradford City programme, this season’s match day magazine at Valley Parade will feature designs of old and there will also be historical themed content in what promises to be an innovative venture on the part of BCAFC and producers, Curtis Sport. The covers for 2020/21 have been selected from archive issues, in the main (and where possible) from earlier fixtures against the same opposition. Included in the selection will be the programmes from the 1910/11 FA Cup winning season and that of 1921/22 when City were relegated from Division One as well as issues from each decade since.

I am delighted to have been able to assist the club with making this project possible and I am hopeful that it will be well received by supporters. This feature looks at how the BCAFC programme has changed since the first issue in 1909 and what the future may hold in store.


The content

Even with the emergence of ‘match day magazines’ at football grounds, the basic content still revolves around: (i) statements of club health by club officials; (ii) detail of fixtures and results; (iii) some background to the opposition club; (iv) team line-ups; and (v) adverts to offset the cost of production and generate a profit.

One feature that no longer exists is a section to record half-time scores which was a function of programmes at Valley Parade until 1977/78. Because transistor radios were not readily available the programme was the means by which a supporter could comprehend the code to discover half-time progress elsewhere. The scores were displayed on a scoreboard at the top of the Kop with two showings, ‘red flag’ and ‘white flag’ respectively. In 1968 a tea bar was built into the scoreboard which was expanded for a single showing only. Scores are currently displayed on the electronic scoreboard, the original version of which was installed in October, 1988 on the top of the Bradford End stand. And of course we have mobile phones to get the half-time scores nowadays even if bandwidth gets more challenging at 3:45pm.

Social History

Old football programmes provide a unique insight into social and economic trends. For instance, club statements about the need to curb ‘youthful exuberance’ and anti-social behaviour were not exclusive to the 1970s as the following extracts show.

The programme for the game with Doncaster on 3rd October, 1962 included the comment: ‘Whatever one may think of a decision by a referee or action by a player, the answer is not to throw objects one may lay his or her hand on, and so bring the game into disrepute. Having seen someone throw an object, others are apt to follow suit and the damage is done.’ The following month, the programme for the Rochdale game on 17th November sought an end to pitch invasions and the ‘Supporters Notes’ by columnist ‘Ubique’ conveyed his irritation at the throwing of toilet rolls which had occurred at the Oldham away fixture a fortnight previously. By November, 1963 the programme notes were imploring youngsters not to let off fireworks in the ground.

The programme from the Everton fixture on 6th November, 1920 referred to Foul Language: ‘Several complaints have been made with regard to objectionable language at Valley Parade, and the directors of the club desire to warn offenders that they are liable to expulsion from the ground. There are more ladies at football matches nowadays, especially on the grandstands, than ever there has been in the past, and we are all delighted to see them, but it is not pleasant for them to have to listen to foul language. This cannot be tolerated and the directors would be glad to receive reports as to the identity of offenders in order that steps may be taken to impress upon them the need for keeping to Parliamentary language when letting off steam.’

On 26th February, 1977 the programme for the game with Torquay United included a full page notice from The Football Association advising supporters about the risk of ground closure as a consequence of misconduct. Similar warning notices were displayed around Valley Parade for the next month and followed an attack by a spectator on a Colchester player during the game between the promotion rivals in December, 1976. There were further incidents in the 1978/79 season when a spectator and a player were injured by stone throwing with a repeat of the FA notices in August, 1979. (It should be explained to younger readers that stones were readily available on the Spion Kop due to the decayed concrete terracing. Hence if you were so inclined you were not obliged to bring such ammunition into the ground.)

Old programmes also attest to wartime experience. A feature of the programme in the 1914/15 season was the exhortation for supporters to enlist in the army. By contrast, between 1939 and 1945 the content of the programme gave little indication that the country was at war (other than air raid precautions included in 1940).

League football was suspended on account of war in 1915 and resumed in 1919. The Bradford City AFC accounts disclose income generated from programme sales during this period but at a much reduced level which would suggest publication of team cards only. Football League competition was similarly abandoned between 1939-46 and programme issues tended to be flimsy, fold over affairs with little content.

Old adverts

Advertisements in old programmes provide reminders of long-forgotten independent businesses that were based in Bradford: Hammond’s Sauce; HJ Knuttons; National & Provincial Building Society; OS Wain; Hammonds Ales and the Alfresco Garage to name but a few. The adverts also provide an illustration of changing mass consumption patterns, for example bicycles advertised before World War One, transistor radios in the 1930s, rupture supports and surgical aids promoted through to 1922 and motor vehicles more frequently advertised from the 1950s. Raincoats were also regularly advertised through to the 1950s. The 1947/48 programme carried a rear page advert for newly released ‘Subbuteo Table Football’, a game that was a personal favourite during my own childhood in the early 1970s. Whilst so much of the match-day experience at Valley Parade has changed there is one ingredient that hasn’t. The refreshment bars in the ground have altered but they still sell Seabrook crisps, that unique and wonderful taste of Bradford since 1945 (advertised in the programme in 1954).

An increasing proportion of adverts for financial services is discernible in the last twenty years or so although adverts for credit existed a hundred years ago. Beer adverts have been a regular feature since 1910/11. Local tobacconists were also regular advertisers until the 1970s; by contrast adverts for national tobacco companies were less common. Whether it was a reflection of changing tolerance or desperation for advertising revenue, in 1978/79 the programme advertised a strip club with ‘Topless Go-Go Girls’ and then between 1978-80 and again in 1981/82 there were adverts for a sex shop.

In the last twenty years there has been a higher proportion of business-to-business adverts as opposed to those aimed solely at consumers. In the latter category the disappearance of adverts for independent retailers has mirrored changes on the high street. A further observation is that since the 1970s there has been a much greater turnover of advertisers from one season to the next. Historically the same adverts were often repeated in different years.

Financial clues

How a programme is designed, compiled and even printed says much about a club’s competencies and financial well-being. For example, the quality of paper on which programmes were printed is a good indicator of financial health. The adoption of lower grade, unbleached paper between 1919 and 1939 (compared to what had been used immediately before 1915) is worthy of mention. In particular the adoption of war-grade, rag paper in 1963/64 highlighted the perilous state of Bradford City finances at that time. Having finished 91st in the Football League in 1962/63 (and forced to apply for re-election) the club instigated a number of savings of which one was to produce the programme in-house, a venture that lasted only one season with printers re-engaged from August, 1964. Things were so bad that the programme was not even stapled, an economy that continued until March, 1966.  (The club’s accounts for 1963/64 confirm a one third saving in print costs compared to 1962/63. Unfortunately the £298 cost reduction had limited impact on total losses of £15,564.)

Subtle economies in the production of the programme in the early 1980s betrayed financial difficulties which explained to some degree why the quality of Bradford City programmes lagged behind that of other clubs. Although an improved version with a full colour cover had been introduced (for the first time) at the start of the 1982/83 season this didn’t last for long and the publication of four page and latterly single sheet issues by March, 1983 were symptomatic of the inability of the club to pay print bills, an early warning of the insolvency crisis the following summer.

Comparison of City programmes

In recent seasons, The Parader has been acclaimed as one of the best in the lower divisions but it has not always been the case that the Bradford City programme has been anything to boast about. For much of the twentieth century the City publication was ordinary at best and in terms of quality it was below average.

Nevertheless there were a few exceptions and in particular the programme published between 1909 and 1922 (when the club competed in Division One) compares very favourably with others of the same vintage.  There is a discernible pride in the production and tone of those programmes which were compiled and edited by William Sawyer (a local journalist) who later wrote the 1927 history of the club. Sawyer was a Bradford City board member in 1928-30 and then between 1934 and 1938. As a correspondent for the Bradford Daily Telegraph, and later as a freelance, he reported on the club’s games. The standard of the City programme before World War One can also be measured by the quality of paper on which it was printed. Subsequent economies meant that the same grade of paper was not used again for at least sixty years.

Prior to 1909/10 Bradford City had published a basic team sheet for fixtures although we cannot be certain that they were necessarily produced for every game. It was reported in 1903 that soccer rules were printed on the reverse of team sheets (as well as on posters in the ground) to help educate spectators. The accounts for the year ended 30 April, 1909 are the first in which reference is made to ‘net profits from programme sales’ and given that those profits were only £32 my estimate is that there were average sales of between 750 and 1,000 per game.  Few examples of early team sheets survive which has much to do with them being ephemeral items.

BCAFC 1908-09

A souvenir team sheet with fixtures on the reverse and player portraits in the centre was produced for the club’s opening match with Gainsborough Trinity on 5th September, 1903, albeit published by the Bradford Daily Telegraph / Yorkshire Sports. Another survives from the Division One fixture with Manchester United on 29th April, 1909 which was the final fixture of the club’s first season in the top flight. This particular game was important as victory ensured that Bradford City would not be relegated and it attracted one of the largest crowds of that season with around thirty thousand in attendance. It was no more than a folded sheet that provided four pages with team and statistical details but neither commentary nor adverts.

By then clubs such as Aston Villa, Sheffield United and Chelsea had pioneered match day publications and a team sheet would have compared unfavourably with the programmes or journals being published by competitors in the first division. Clubs of that era regarded such publications as a means of conveying respectability in the football world and it was the practice to present programmes to visiting directors and officials.

A further compelling reason to publish a programme was as a source of profit from sales as well as advertising, the potential for which had already been shown by the publication of yearbooks by the Bradford Daily Argus. Notwithstanding this commercial opportunity, programme revenues remained negligible and growth in advertising income was not apparent in the accounts of either Bradford City or Bradford Park Avenue before World War One. (The explanation is that the bulk of advertising revenue was retained by the printer or agent responsible for production of the programme with only a licence fee payable to the respective clubs.)


The strategic value of a club publication was to deny local newspapers a monopoly of written words and it is more than a coincidence that the match programmes at Valley Parade and Park Avenue emerged at a stage when the press had established for itself a position of authority and power in the reporting of club affairs. In Bradford therefore it could be said that football programmes were a by-product of sports journalism, to challenge negative opinions of journalists. They benefited from the literacy of the public and the same hunger for information that generated interest in newspaper content. Above all, the phenomenon of football programmes was made possible by sports journalists acting on behalf of the clubs.

Securing first division status on the last day of the season and avoiding an immediate return to Division Two in 1909 would have boosted self-belief and confidence at Valley Parade, much the same as in 1997 or 2000 when Bradford City avoided relegation in the last week of the season. There would also have been considerable relief that a financial crisis was averted given the extensive and relatively ambitious ground developments that had just been completed. Accordingly, the club began the 1909/10 season with eager anticipation and something akin to a relaunch. This included a new shirt based on the new bantam identity, incorporation on the shirt of the (new) Bradford coat of arms that was also displayed on the centre gable of the (new) Midland Road stand, and last but not least, a new programme.

Sawyer was the driving force behind the publication who compiled and edited the programme from 1909 until 1928. There is a discernible pride in the production and tone of the early programmes and I believe that Sawyer looked upon it as an end in itself, a documentary record for posterity at a time of great pride and optimism. The standard of the Bradford City programme before World War One can also be measured by the quality of paper on which it was printed. Subsequent economies meant that the same grade of paper was not used again for at least sixty years and the editorial standards set by Sawyer were never repeated.

Issues of the programme from 1909/10 betray the enthusiasm and effort invested in a new project. Quite clearly Sawyer was an opportunist who recognised that these ventures would enhance his professional career and it would appear that he had close links with Mallett & Co who acted as agents to manage programme advertising. Indeed, Sawyer may have identified other rewards.


However Sawyer was not alone in this field. The firm of William Berry printed and published a new match programme, the Park Avenue Journal, on behalf of Bradford Park Avenue in 1909/10 although in my opinion the standard of programmes at Valley Parade before World War One was superior. Like Sawyer, Berry would later become a director of his client.

Not only did Bradford City AFC publish a match-day programme for League games but team cards were also produced for reserve fixtures in the Central League with the same cover price (1d) as the main programme. The new programme was successful and the club’s financial accounts from before World War One also confirm steady growth in revenue from programme advertising. However, whilst programmes made an annual contribution of around £100 it was insufficient to transform the club finances.

Peak programme sales were achieved in 1909/10 with gross income (excluding advertising) of £268. Assuming that this included the sale of reserve game team cards, then average programme sales per game must have been at least 1,600. The corresponding expense of producing the programme was fairly high and I suspect that a decent commission was paid variously to Messrs Mallett & Co and William Sawyer. Nevertheless the arrangement appears to have been more beneficial to Bradford City than that agreed by Huddersfield Town in 1913 who sold the rights to supply programmes at Leeds Road to the Express News Agency for just £20 in 1913.

In my opinion the best Bradford City programme of the pre-World War One era was that of the 1910/11 season. After finishing 7th in Division One in 1909/10 there were expectations for the following campaign and the 1910/11 programme is testament to the upbeat mood. William Sawyer later described it thus: ‘Burnley came and brought a horde of spectators with them; 39,461 people paid for admission, whilst one of the gates was rushed and several hundreds got in without paying, which brought the total attendance to over forty thousand. The cash receipts were £1,641, with a sixpenny gate.’ It established a record at Valley Parade that remains unbeaten.

During the first half of the 1912/13 season the programme included full page player portraits, a feature that did not reappear until the emergence at Valley Parade in the last twenty years of so-called match day magazines. All told it was a professional product with an excellent cover drawing and printed on good quality paper. It compared well with programmes issued at this time by other Division One clubs and at face value signified that Bradford City was becoming established as a leading club in the country. My suspicion is that the pen and ink cover may have been inspired by that of the Park Avenue Journal in the previous season.


William Sawyer and Mallett & Co continued to manage the programme on behalf of Bradford City until 1928 but after World War One it is evident that the club sought economies in production and content. By 1922 the programme was established and most likely considered an obligatory offering rather than something special deserving major input. Besides, the mood at Valley Parade was much different than in the previous decade. It was a time of austerity, not adventure.

Putting all this into the historical picture it is possible to describe a transition at Valley Parade from a team sheet in 1909 to a journal which then later evolved into what we would recognise as a more traditional programme by 1922. Until 1977 there was little real change whereas the following twenty years witnessed the increasing use of graphic design, albeit at a basic level, and the growing influence of desktop publishing. The final transition was to an all-colour ‘match day magazine’ from 1997. In the last twenty years or so match-day publications have been characterised by more sophisticated design and layout, driven by digital technology.

Unfortunately, surviving examples of match publications from 1909-22 are rare and the better quality copies tend to have been in bound volumes. I suspect that the circulation averaged around fifteen hundred per game. Given that many of those programmes featured a good number of today’s bigger clubs (ie Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal etc) the interaction of limited supply with higher demand among collectors means that they tend to command relatively high prices at auction. It is noteworthy that Bradford City did not call the programme the Valley Parade Journal. I wonder if this was considered overly pretentious?


In 1909/10 the cover of the new programme carried a bantam graphic to exploit the identity introduced less than a year before. Surprisingly a bantam did not appear on the cover again until 1963 and in 1910/11 it was replaced by a prominent title banner including a sketch of the Town Hall with the Bradford coat of arms. A feature of the 1910/11 programme was a cartoon strip featuring supporter ‘Niffy’ in a flat cap with bantam at his side. This must have been aimed at broadening the appeal to expand readership. Adverts were included on the cover from 1910/11 and this practice continued until 1966 (with the exception of the period 1940 to 1947). In 1911/12 the banner graphic was changed again and civic references replaced with drawings of the recently won FA Cup alongside a new cover advert promoting ‘trusses for rupture’ by Bush’s of Sunbridge Road. (The same firm also promoted its products in the Park Avenue Journal.)

From 1912 the cover became much more attention grabbing. Between 1912 and 1921 it featured a pen and ink sketch of a player in front of the Kop which appears to have been drawn by the same person responsible for Niffy. This changed in the 1921/22 season and then from 1922 to 1929, and from 1930 to 1932, there was a simple sketch of a goalkeeper kicking the ball (a drawing that would nowadays be described as clipart having first appeared on the cover of Preceptor’s Football Annual in 1913 that featured both Bradford clubs). From 1932 to 1940 the programme was titled The Parader and the sketch disappeared.

The programme for the start of the 1929/30 season had a cover drawing of two striped players attacking the goal and Father Time catching the ball. The epithet ‘Promotion is only a Question of Time’ was somewhat presumptuous – the club would not be promoted again until 1969. By the end of November, 1929 Bradford City were foundering at the wrong end of the table and the cover was discretely changed to an empty goal. In 1930/31 the club reverted to the cover used between 1922 and 1929 which was not prone to embarrassment.


After World War Two the programme covers featured player sketches and there were five different variants through to the 1965/66 season. The phenomenon was revived in 1979/80, 1980/81 and again in 1981/82 (at the time of the revival of the Bantams identity mid-season in December, 1981) as well as 1983/84. The modern standard of drawing however was poor.

Clues about the financial health of the club are provided by the reduced pagination of the programme after World War One alongside a doubling in price from 1d to 2d in 1919. (The minimum price of admission to the ground was also doubled in that year, from 6d to 1/-.) In 1910/11 the programme had been sixteen pages in size and printed on good quality paper. By 1920/21 it was twelve pages in size and printed on lower grade, unbleached paper (NB post-war paper shortages impacted on what was available and paper became more expensive). By 1930/31 it comprised only eight pages although the physical size increased to 19cm by 25cm, presumably to detract attention from the shrinkage in content. Programme sales may have suffered as a consequence of this and in 1931 the cover price was reduced from 2d to 1d. This was accompanied by a new promotion to encourage sales with each programme numbered for a half-time draw which continued until 1940. Nevertheless, in comparison to the minimum price of admission it will be noted that the programme was relatively expensive, much more so than nowadays.

The cover price remained at 1d until 1944. With the reduction in pagination the editorial was much reduced as Bradford City relied upon the programme to generate advertising revenue and this continued going forward. The narrative in the programme during the inter-war period was minimal, something that did not change until 1966 when twelve pages were restored.


During World War Two paper rationing impacted on what could be produced. The club issued a four page programme in 1939/40 and then again from 1944/45 but this was no more than a single folded sheet of cheap paper. Between 1940 and 1944 it was a basic team card. An eight page programme was brought back for the 1947/48 season, albeit utilitarian in design and content with little more than a brief club comment, detail of fixtures and teams and advertisements. Tellingly it was often the case that space reserved for advertising was never filled.

The cover design was changed in October, 1948 and lasted until February, 1957 when the printers were replaced by Messrs Harry Berry of Shipley. This ended the relationship with Messrs Wilkinson & Woodhouse (and successor firm Woodhouse Cornthwaite) of Morley Street, who had printed the programme since 1909. (Whether it was due to them going out of business, a disagreement or an unpaid bill is not known but shortly after a different firm operated from their former premises.) Messrs Harry Berry printed the programme until 1971 (with the exception of the 1963/64 season) and like Woodhouse Cornthwaite before them they were replaced mid-season in March, 1971 for reasons that we can only speculate about. The Berry firm had pedigree in programme publishing having produced the original Bradford Park Avenue programme in 1911, continuing to do so until 1935.


During the 1950s the content of the Bradford City programme was very basic and there was little change from one year to the next. To be fair this was not unusual among clubs and neither was it confined to the lower divisions. Government control of paper supply was not finally lifted until 1956 and paper remained in short supply until the end of the decade. The size of the programme was also smaller than what had been produced before the war with an inch shaved off both the length and the width. The quality of paper used to produce the programme in the early 1950s differed considerably on occasions and my interpretation is that it was a case of using whatever paper the printer could supply. With corresponding high costs of production it made sense to economise and as a consequence minimal effort was invested in the programme. Higher print/paper costs forced a 50% increase in the cover price in December, 1952 and it remained at 3d until 1964 (having been 2d since 1944). It was not until the 1960s, and post 1966 in particular, that football clubs recognised marketing and commercial opportunities through match programmes and the cost of paper was no longer as prohibitive.

Park Avenue programmes

A comparison of the programmes published by Bradford City with those of Bradford Park Avenue is noteworthy, particularly after 1927 when Bradford Park Avenue established itself as the stronger of the two clubs. Indeed, this primacy could be detected from programme design which gave a much different impression of the club than that at Valley Parade. Notwithstanding, appearances were misleading. The death of chairman, Arthur (Harry) Briggs in 1920 removed the club’s bank guarantor and thereafter Bradford Park Avenue was forced to rely on player sales to remain solvent.


I am convinced that the rivalry between the two clubs extended to programme production. Whilst the Bradford City offer appears to have been determined by cost considerations, that of Bradford Park Avenue shows much greater attention to image and profile. Even in 1913 the Park Avenue Journal had had a two colour ink (green and red) cover for the Christmas Day fixture with Arsenal at Park Avenue which probably had much to do with the largesse of Briggs. In the 1930s the Park Avenue programme was a far superior product, printed on better quality paper and well designed – something that could not be said of the Bradford City publication. The Bradford Park Avenue programme of 1929/30 for example featured a cover landscape photo of the main stand at Park Avenue that conveyed the grandeur of the Archibald Leitch architecture (from 1911/12 a pen and ink sketch of the stand and Dolls House changing rooms had been used on the cover). Following a board restructuring in 1935 (and change in printer) a new programme was introduced that included three colour inks on the cover. At Bradford City it remained one colour until 1946 when three colours were finally applied. Surviving items of stationery and fixture cards of the inter-war era further demonstrate that Bradford Park Avenue was conscious about image.

Bradford Park Avenue reduced the pagination of its programme from 12 pages to 8 in 1928, two years before Bradford City. Although the price had likewise been increased to 2d in 1919, the reduction to 1d at Valley Parade in 1931 was not matched at Park Avenue until the following year. What is notable is that this may have proved financially untenable for Bradford Park Avenue given that the price was then restored to 2d in 1933. Why then was the price reduced back to 1d in 1935? My explanation is that Bradford Park Avenue may have suffered negative feedback with reference to the price charged across the city. A 20% drop in attendances during 1934/35 would have made this a sensitive issue at Park Avenue. In the 1935 close season a new board under Ernest Waddilove responded to falling gates with major investment in new players. However, it raises the question whether Bradford Park Avenue was forced to incur lower margins from programme sales as a consequence of pricing decisions at Valley Parade and the policy at Park Avenue to have a better quality, and evidently more costly, product. It would have caused annoyance to the Bradford Park Avenue board if that was the case. It may be another illustration, however minor, that competition between two clubs in a city the size of Bradford was a handicap to both.


The attention to profile (what would today be described as the brand) continued after the war and the Bradford Park Avenue programme between 1951 and 1955 had a very classic, almost formal cover design based around the Bradford coat of arms which contrasted to the rather crude cover of the Bradford City publication. Even so, the Bradford Park Avenue programme of the 1950s was a much lesser product to that of the 1930s.

Programmes since 1960

The ending of regionalised lower division leagues in 1958 brought with it subtle improvements in the standard of club programmes. In the main, former members of FL Division Three (South) were ahead of their northern rivals in terms of financial resource, attendances, as well as playing strength. I would argue that their programmes were generally of better quality, possibly a reflection of more adept commercial functions. Exposure to new competitors as well as the launch of the new national competition prompted changes to existing programme designs. Whereas prior to 1958 club programmes remained generally unchanged from one season to the next, thereafter changes became more regular – in particular new cover designs and in some cases experimentation with different sizes.

Between 1959 and 1966 it was Bradford Park Avenue rather than Bradford City that was the more innovative in programme design, pioneering a pocket size no more than 8cm by 13cm. This could be attributed to the fact that Bradford Park Avenue had been the more successful club in relative terms with better gates (promoted to the third division in 1961 and in so doing, exchanging places with City) but it also confirmed the competencies of those involved with the respective clubs, as well as the printers concerned. Another observation worth making is that Bradford companies advertising in the Bradford Park Avenue programme (often seeking to recruit labour) were generally bigger than those who advertised in the Bradford City programme which must have had an impact on the respective advertising revenues and production budgets. In general, a higher proportion of smaller, owner-managed businesses featured in the Bradford City programme. Notable from a modern perspective was the prominent back page advert in the Bradford Park Avenue programme by Tordoff Motors Ltd (forerunner of JCT 600) during the 1962/63 and 1963/64 seasons.

1963 b smaller

During the early 1960s there was a struggle to make the Bradford City programme pay and I would assume this was due to falling sales. Unlike at Park Avenue there had been no change to the programme since a new cover was introduced in 1957. When change did come it was less to do with innovation as desperation. I have documented how the club resorted to production in-house during 1963/64. The cover price was increased from 3d to 4d in 1964/65 and then to 6d in 1965/66 with little corresponding improvement in content and no change in size. For the consumer it offered poor value for money. It was the introduction of the City Gent character that heralded a new era with a radical mid-season redesign of the cover commencing with the Halifax Town fourth division fixture on 16th March. (Link here to feature on the origins of the City Gent character)

Whilst the new programme itself remained modest and unsophisticated in comparison to those of other clubs (for example lacking photographic content), the change represented a leap forward at Valley Parade with twelve pages, greater reading content and the re-introduction of staples to hold it together (and the price remained 6d). The City Gent cover was used until 1974 (although during the 1972/73 and 1973/74 seasons the City Gent wore all claret and all amber strips respectively). In April, 1969 the Bradford City programme was even voted the best in Division Four by readers of the Football League Review.

1966 mar

From February, 1966 the Bradford City programme included an insert entitled the Soccer Review. This was a 16 page publication with team features and editorial about football including the amateur game, foreign competitions and the forthcoming World Cup which had increased interest in soccer generally. It also included football related adverts, a number of which promoted the sale of football club merchandise. The benefit for clubs such as Bradford City was that it allowed them to provide more content to encourage programme sales. The publication was taken over by the Football League at the start of 1966/67 and renamed the Football League Review (FLR) until 1972/73 when it became League Football (LF). Bradford City included the FLR and then LF as an insert until the end of February, 1974. The Football League had subsidised its production but increasing print costs combined with fewer clubs supporting the venture (a combination of developing their own match day programmes and the hassle of co-ordinating the insertion of the FLR in programmes) meant that the magazine eventually disappeared altogether from League grounds at the end of December, 1974.

Having grown up with the programme featuring the City Gent on its cover I would consider those for the period 1966 to 1974 among my favourites. However I should also include those between 1974 and 1977 which remained essentially much the same, cover apart. For me this was an era of classic, traditional football programmes even though by the end of that period the content and design was becoming distinctly dated and staid in comparison with changes being introduced elsewhere in the lower divisions. When Bradford City later attempted to emulate other clubs with a more modern programme after 1977 it could not be described as an unqualified success. The subsequent period between 1977 and 1985 is best forgotten given the standard of what was produced.


During the twilight years at Park Avenue between 1966 and 1971 a series of bright new covers in conjunction with a reversion to standard size did not disguise the deterioration in the quality of the Bradford Park Avenue programme. Production was contracted out to a Leeds printing firm which had little interest in detracting from its template design let alone promoting the Avenue ‘Arry character. The style of the Bradford Park Avenue programme was almost identical to those which it produced for Rochdale and York City. The fact that the club allowed its programme to be sold with a predominantly blue cover in 1966/67 said much about what was unfolding at Park Avenue. The Bradford club was the only one of the three to retain the firm through to the 1970/71 season (by which time it competed in the Northern Premier League). The Park Avenue club had previously been adept at conveying a chosen profile of itself through programme design but it was Stafford Heginbotham who had the marketing nous in the second half of 1960s.

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The emergence of match day magazines at Valley Parade

Following promotion to Division Three in 1977 a new programme was introduced that represented a major shift in layout based around the inclusion of recent action photographs (which was a first). The cover price was also increased from 12p to 15p whilst the size remained 16 pages having been increased from 12 the previous year. The programme was identified as a source of advertising revenue and in 1978 its size was increased to twenty pages and the cover price raised to 20p. The following year it was reduced back to sixteen pages whilst the price remained 20p. This had the benefit of generating more revenue although by 1981/82 this amounted to only £9,611 (NB the club’s total income was £393,537). Between 1975/76 and 1981/82 annual average match day sales of the programme fluctuated between 1,100 and 1,700.


The programme at the beginning of the 1981/82 season featured a silhouette of Park Avenue, an act of mischief by the designer Pete Bell who had been a follower of Avenue before shifting his allegiance to City after his club went into liquidation in 1974.

Content wise the new publications were a disappointment and the kindest comment that could be made of the club programme through to 1985 is that Bradford City went through the routine of producing it with the least effort. It consistently compared unfavourably to the programmes of other clubs in the same division. (Between 1979-82, a dozen or so lower division clubs, including Halifax, Stockport, Northampton and Bournemouth had programmes printed by a firm in Newton Abbot with the same template design and a standard sixteen page insert. Whilst the format was bland it offered far more reading material than the Bradford City programme could offer.)

From 1977 there was a series of eye-catching cover designs including the radical step of a colour team photograph in 1978/79 and then in 1982/83 a full colour action photo from the previous season’s League Cup tie against Ipswich Town. The covers were illusory and could not hide the fact that the content was pretty much the same as the traditional programme. Although there were (grainy) photographs there were noticeably more adverts. The cover designs subsequently reverted to three colour prints between 1979-82 and then 1983-85 which suggests that cost constraints prevailed.

For the first half of the 1981/82 season the programme cover featured a silhouette of a football stand and floodlight pylon. Few people realised that it was in fact a silhouette of the old Park Avenue stadium with the design having been the responsibility of Peter Bell, a former Bradford Park Avenue fan (albeit a subsequent convert to the Bantams).

The state of the club programme at this time said as much about the club’s resources as the skills of those responsible for producing it. Given that little money and/or losses  were made from the sale of the programme it was something of a nuisance to produce unless someone was prepared to make it a labour of love and printers were able to assist with compilation and design.

1983 mar

After the financial crisis of 1983 Bradford City published low cost programmes in both 1983/84 and 1984/85. In 1984 the production was franchised to local printers, Wheeldens and whilst this had the benefit of removing a potential cash outflow as well as an administrative burden at the club, the standard of the programme did not give a positive impression of Bradford City. It was at this time that we launched The City Gent supporters’ magazine (October, 1984), partly as a response to the poor quality of the programme and the lack of match-day reading on offer.

There was a gradual, albeit marginal improvement in the standard of the programme through to February, 1994 when Wheeldens were displaced by the in-coming chairman, Geoffrey Richmond. It was quite evident that Richmond sought to minimise the cost of the programme whilst also increasing its financial contribution. By contemporary standards his programmes between 1994 and 1996 were mediocre.

It was not until 1996/97 that Bradford City made a serious attempt at improving the standard of the club programme. The reading content was boosted by the inclusion of the Nationwide Review insert (similar to the Football League Review thirty years before) during the 1996/97 and 1997/98 seasons.

At this time there was considerable expectation within the club, not least given the rebuilding of Valley Parade, the growth in attendances and strong season ticket sales. A quality publication also supported Richmond’s ambitions: it could attract commercial advertising as well as raise the profile of the club whilst he pursued external investment.

The year 1997 represented a milestone in terms of the evolution of the Bradford City programme and thereafter increased content became the norm. This was accompanied by the use of heavier grade and glossier paper to reinforce the illusion that the buyer was getting more for his/her money. A consistent theme since 1991 has been for cover photographs to change with each issue (1994-96 apart). Fast forward to 2000 and I would suggest that the transition to a so-called match day magazine had been completed. The club has relied upon third parties (for example the Telegraph & Argus) to assist with the compilation and production but has never repeated what happened in 1963/64 when the programme was both produced and printed in-house.

The circulation of the club programme reached a peak during the two seasons in the Premier League, 1999/2000 and 2000/01. In comparison to those published by other Premier League clubs it lacked a degree of sophistication and set itself apart by its unpretentious, almost basic content and design. Geoffrey Richmond no doubt decided that the marginal profit of a glossier programme was not worth the investment of time.

The standard of the Bradford City programme has improved markedly since our time in the Premier League. In that regard the endeavour of former club secretary, Jon Pollard who edited the programme between 1996 and 2009 should not go unrecognised. Whilst the club under-performed on the field, at least the Bradford City programme provided a good read.

With the exception of the programme published for the 2005/06 season (which was 21cm by 23cm – ie roughly 9 inches square) the Bradford City programme has been produced in a ‘standard’ size consistent with that of other clubs. Typically this was 16cm by 25cm in the pre-war period; 14cm by 22cm through to 1978; and thereafter approximately 17cm by 24cm. Whilst a minor point of detail for some, it has implications for collectors both in terms of storage as well as condition given that larger programmes tend to get folded or damaged due to their size. For that reason the 2005/06 programme was badly received. A member of the marketing team at the club explained to me that it was her brainchild, inspired by wanting to produce something different. Thankfully Bradford City never opted to publish a ‘newspaper’ programme that became fashionable among a small minority of clubs in the late 1970s for reasons of economy, again loathed by collectors.

Grimsby 1996-97 (1)x

Between 1996-2002 the programme assumed the title Claret & Amber, then Bantams World between 2002-11, The Bantams in 2011/12 before resorting to The Parader from the start of the 2012/13 season. The title of The Parader is not new having originally been used between 1932 and 1940, in 1978/79 and then for part of the 1981/82 season. It had also been applied as the title of supporter yearbooks in 1951 and 1952. The title of The Parader has thus been the most used whereas The Bantams has been the least, for the second half of 1981/82, 1982/83 and in 2011/12 only. To date these are the only titles that have been adopted for the match day publication; as far supporters are concerned however it has always been known simply as ‘the programme’.

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Improved design and increased content has inevitably come at a price. The cost of the Bradford City programme increased from 2d in 1944/45 to 5p by 1974/75, thereafter it was subject to exponential inflation with a cover price of £1 by 1991/92. In 1999/2000 it cost £2 and since 2010/11 it has been £3. The increase in the cost had as much to do with increasing production costs as attempts by the club to maximise marginal revenues.

The fact that the programme price remained relatively low for so long suggested a limit of what people were prepared to pay – a reflection not only of disposable income levels but prevailing attitudes about worth. Price points were also determined by coin denominations for the practical purpose of managing cash and change. By the time the cover price reached 50p in 1985/86 there was an argument that it was justified by increased content (the 24 page programme being twice the size of ten years’ prior). In conjunction with price inflation there has been an ongoing increase in the number of pages in the programme, from 8 pages fifty years ago to 68 by 2010/11 which remains the current size. Whether the programme has ever offered value for money reading is debatable. A premium price has been variously justified on the basis of the match-day experience, the appeal to collectors and the inclusion of official or exclusive club information.

Despite a wealth of content, colour and photography that would have been undreamt of even twenty years ago and yet, despite five figure gates at Valley Parade, current programme sales are understood to number less than a thousand. Collectors bemoan the fact that the new breed of programmes (or rather ‘match day magazines’) demand greater storage space but surely the underlying reason for the decline in readership is that a football club programme is no longer the primary source of information about that club. I suspect that supporters are also more demanding in terms of their expectations and reluctant to pay £3 for information that can be gleaned for free and instantly on the internet. It might suggest that programme publishing is a thankless task for a club such as Bradford City and it is therefore fully understandable why out-sourcing is an attractive option.

Co-ordinating the production of programmes for a number of clubs makes it an attractive option for a publisher to work with a few writers or seek library content. In turn an industry has evolved to provide football statistics and bland content for match-day magazines to the extent where many club programmes have common features. Without wishing to dismiss progress I wonder whether we have now reached the stage where football club programmes have lost much of their character and individuality. It is perhaps no coincidence that single sheet, double sided A4 team sheets issued on a match day have risen in popularity among collectors.


Given the standard that has already been achieved it is difficult to say how the programme could evolve or be further improved in the future. I would champion using it to encourage interest in the history of the club as a deliberate marketing strategy. Indeed, the official club magazine is ideal for that purpose. Latterly content has also been designed to appeal to younger supporters (ie centre page photo portraits to pull out).

The publication provides opportunity to generate advertising revenue and it has always be a fine balance between editorial and advertising content. During the 1980s a number of clubs experimented with printing a programme in newspaper format but this never caught on. One option that has never been attempted is to produce a free issue edition like the newspapers handed out at no charge in the centre of large urban areas. It might yet be a means to safeguard the printed programme.

The internet remains the biggest threat and would hardly be surprising if the traditional match day programme or magazine was replaced by a ubiquitous ‘App’ on a smartphone. In fact it could be said that the official Bradford City website already provides such an alternative to the programme. Developments in the USA point to what seems likely in the UK where the latest stadium designs now incorporate wi-fi to allow spectators (or rather, consumers) to be targeted with communications, much of it of a commercial nature.

From the perspective of a football club the strategic value of a match day publication has been considerably diminished. At Valley Parade for example it has continued to generate negligible revenues but crucially football clubs have other options to communicate with supporters. Websites allow the statement of club policy and news and can be updated instantly whereas a programme is published typically no more then three times a month, quite often less. Neither do clubs rely upon a match day publication as a means of deriving self-respect or one-upmanship with peers.

Following the repeal in 2018 of the Football League regulation that clubs are required to publish a programme for each fixture in the competition it would hardly be surprising if we see their disappearance. Already we have skeleton issues being produced for FA Cup ties and that may become extended for league games. For instance Crawley Town has resorted to publishing a basic programme for its games – this has more in common with the style of lower division clubs in the 1960s than the match magazines we have grown accustomed to.

I hope that matchday programmes can be retained in some form and the club is rightly considering different options for the future. Once gone it seems unlikely that it would ever return and hence the need to consider how or whether the publication could be safeguarded. At Valley Parade programmes have been a feature of the match day experience for the past 111 years but nostalgia may be insufficient to sustain the tradition.

Details of how to subscribe to issues of the BCAFC programme in 2020/21 from this link

By John Dewhirst

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

Link to John’s blog: Wool City Rivals where you will find content about historic BCAFC programmes, his features in the current BCAFC matchday programme, book reviews and other content about the history of Bradford City. A more extensive gallery of historic City and Avenue programmes can be found in his book: A History of BCAFC in Objects (Bantamspast, 2014).
Future planned articles on VINCIT will feature variously the history of cross-country harrier running in Bradford; 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!

City Memories – Part One in a series of reminiscences

by  Ian Hemmens

This is a series of articles about my life as a City fan, how it happened and what has happened since. A series of memories, events and reminiscences personal & factual. This is my 54th year as a fan and like every other supporter we’ve been through the whole gamut of events and emotions in that time.

I was born into a City supporting family on Carlisle Place, Manningham in 1960. My paternal Grandad was already dead but my Dad had photos of him obviously. One in particular piqued my interest, My Grandad was stood with 2 other men, written on the back was the information I needed. The inscription said, Bob (my Grandad), Bob Torrance, Jimmy MacDonald, Otley Road 1913. Who were these men with my Grandad. Sadly this photo has been lost amid house moves/clearances etc.

My love of the game had been ramped up to a whole new level by the 1966 World Cup triumph. My Dad had bought our first TV just in time for the tournament & we enjoyed Englands victory together. My Dad showed me my Grandads photo and then produced another, the famous team photo of the 1911 FA Cup Winners with the new trophy resplendent. Sure enough, the same two guys were there! My Grandad knew professional footballers. I had been told he played at an amateur level in his youth before the World collapsed in 1914. I have a team photo of him with his team which is reproduced in Rob Grillo’s wonderful book ‘Late to the Game’.

Of course I started grilling my Dad about the 1911 team needing to know everything about them. Before long, I could recite the names of that great team.

Dad had gone with his Father & Brother to Valley Parade in the late 1920s onwards just as City’s glory days were fading into memory. After his death the Brothers continued their weekly pilgrimage , my Uncle George living on Cliffe Terrace, nowadays where the back of the Kop & the One in a Million School is built. In the mid 50s, George and his family emigrated to New Zealand but never forgetting his roots, he had the Yorkshire Sports Pink sent to him although in those days it would take about a month for him to get the results!

For the 1966-67 season after me pestering him, Dad finally took me to Valley Parade for the first time. I don’t have specific memories of the game but I’ve been told it was either Barnsley or Wrexham. I’m inclined to believe it was Barnsley due to my Mum coming from there so there was the added interest. We stood on the what appeared to a small boy as the vast open Kop but apparently I took little interest in the game, more fascinated by watching the Steam trains arriving & departing from Forster Square station. I was taken to maybe a couple of other games that season but to my young  eyes, Valley Parade was already a magical place. In reality, the old girl was starting to show her age but that never occurred to me at all. I had noticed that City wore colours that nobody else did, the Claret & Amber Stripes & Black Shorts vivid & unique. That Christmas, my most treasured gift was a City shirt bought from Knuttons on Barry Street. I wore it until it fell apart.

The next season, my Dad had started working shifts at the Power Station on Canal Road & a friend & neighbour offered to take me to Valley Parade when Dad was working or in bed. The trains no longer interested me but the game did. My first hero, the first player to catch my total attention wasn’t a City legend, he wasn’t even a one season wonder. Paul ‘Pablo’ Aimson was only at City for half a season, 23 games in which he scored 11 goals leading the attack. He had a great scoring record at lower league football after once being on the books of Manchester City. I was heartbroken later in the season when he & full back Alec Smith were traded to Huddersfield Town in exchange for Denis Atkins & Tony Leighton. The club was also hit by a tragedy with the untimely death of Manager Grenville Hair during a training season. Under caretaker management of senior players McAnearney & Hallett, the club had a strong finish to the season but finished in 5th place just missing out on promotion.

The following season saw a new Manager in Jimmy Wheeler from Reading, the team was a tight unit and hopes were high for a successful season. I was now fully committed to the cause and as a birthday present, I received my first Season Ticket. I’d started playing football at school with moderate success to start with but I was a quick & willing learner which seemed to impress the Coach. The fact I was one of only a few who kicked left footed no doubt helped my cause. Saturday afternoons were free for Valley Parade though. Back then, nobody ever mentioned the likes of Leeds United, Huddersfield Town or Burnley as rivals. From memory, our main rivals were always Bradford Park Avenue obviously, but the others were Barnsley & Halifax Town. We didn’t have a car but our neighbour would kindly take us to games within a reasonable distance. I recall visits to The Shay, Oakwell, Spotland, Doncaster and the likes.

My maternal Grandparents had retired to live in Blackpool, my Grandad being an ex coal miner, the fresh sea air being good for his dust infected lungs. We would holiday on the coast each year and Grandad would take me to Bloomfield Road which I though was even more run down than Valley Parade at that time. I remember being captivated by the bright tangerine shirts of the home team & Grandad introduced me to Jimmy Armfield, an England International & member of the 1966 squad. Wonderful memory & he was such a gentleman to a little kid when he probably met thousands of people.

The 1968-69 season started really with a bit of a hangover from the previous seasons near miss but after Christmas, City hit a run of form which included breaking the club record for games undefeated 21 in all until the seasons penultimate game, a defeat at Brentford. City had to win their final game away at Darlington to snatch the precious 4th spot and gain promotion. We had to be there and a convoy of cars & coaches travelled up the A1 to Feethams to see City victorious & gain the clubs 1st promotion for 40 years. After years of decline & bumping along, making do , selling any players of potential or achievement, the club was finally, hopefully, awaking from its slumbers.

The Promotion team had several much loved players who would go down as bona-fide legends of the club. The team established itself in the higher  level before the usual old problems began to arise  stifling any further progress, usually financial. Star forwards Bruce Bannister & Bobby Ham were sold and new players arrived who would also become legends, significantly Ces Podd & Joe Cooke. Good players were signed with the likes of another personal favourite of mine Gerry Ingram & Allan Gilliver to form an exciting partnership. Local talent Graham Oates was sold but flying winger Don Hutchins arrived in a cash exchange but any continuity was hard to maintain.

City  had had good performances in the Cups also around this period, particularly memorable being the FA Cup tie against Tottenham Hotspur, Jimmy Greaves et al, which drew a crowd of 25000 to Valley Parade. The Kop was packed & in those days before fan segregation I found myself hoisted onto the shoulders of a huge Spurs fan to be able to see the game finish an exciting 2-2 draw. This was my first experience of a truly large crowd & the experience was exhilerating. I longed to see my team compete every week in front of full houses. My Dad had seen big crowds usually the Wool City Derbys. He had also been up to Park Avenue on occasion to watch such visiting superstars like Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews & Nat Lofthouse but he never had any inclination to go over to Horton on a regular basis. City was in the family DNA. Another Uncle lived in Wibsey and was an Avenue fan but I couldn’t be tempted to change my allegiance. As the 60s drew to a close , the point became moot anyway as Avenue were voted out of the League after years of struggle before the quietly faded away & died in 1974. The rivalry was a double edged sword. I missed the excitement to local Derbys and the partisan rivalry but the trauma & upset their demise caused their fans never occurred to me at that age.

By now we had moved from Manningham over the Valley to the Bolton area, still within walking distance of Valley Parade, indeed I could see the ground from my bedroom window. I was also personally face with a quandary, I had joined the local Boy’s Brigade & played for them doing well enough to play for Bradford & even gaining a trial for Yorkshire. Should I continue this miss my beloved City? For a while the fixture list was my friend as my home games fell when City were away but it came to a head & I couldn’t let my team mates down & for the first time in a few seasons I missed a few games at Valley Parade. Looking back it was a pretty fallow period for City results wise only brightened by an exciting FA Cup run to the Quarter Finals. We actually bunked off school to go to Norwich in the early rounds where City achieved a historic 2-1 victory over the higher team featuring the likes of World Cup Winner Martin Peters. Norwich boss John Bond had bad mouthed the club in preceding weeks. A flu outbreak had put the club in lockdown & Bond had said we should forfeit the tie. This was all the motivation City needed but goals from Scottish striker Billy McGinley & star winger Don Hutchins caused an almighty upset. It was a long, tiring but happy journey home from Norfolk that night. Another huge crowd in the Quarters saw City defeated by a controversial goal later deemed illegal as they exited the cup to Southampton who went on to win the trophy.

The Cup run had given the club a financial lifeline & a motivational boost for the future.

After falling back into the bottom division after 3 years,in 1972,  the momentum achieved by the cup run saw the team have a wonderful season and once again managed to win promotion in 1976-77 with club stalwarts Podd, Cooke, Hutchins, Downsborough & Johnson to the fore along with influential newcomers like local lad Terry Dolan & centre forward Bernie Wright replacing personal favourite Ingram who took advantage, as many did at the time , of a lucrative contract offer from the USA. One notable personal aspect of the season was it was the first season City had gone a whole season unbeaten at home. I was never one for leaving early but in January with City losing at home to Exeter & the game entering injury time I decided to set off for home, I reached Midland Road & to my horror heard a huge cheer. My hero Gerry Ingram had equalised late in the game & the unbeaten record was maintained. I vowed that day never to leave early & I never have. We have to live & learn. Unfortunately, it proved another false dawn as the team were immediately relegated once again. There was heartbreak again in 1979-80 when the club missed out on Promotion once again but this time it was on the last day of the season after defeat at Peterborough after another convoy of cars, buses & even trains had headed for London Road in anticipation.

By this time as a teenager I’d started going both home & away to watch usually with friend Peter Clarke & we used the City Travel Club & coaches by be legendary Patsy Hollinger. Stories of our travels are probably worth a volume of their own but thats for another place. One tale that merits mention in this case was the 1977 trip always down to Plymouth. City had broken their transfer record twice in a day to acquire full back Mick Wood & striker David McNiven. A coach load of us travelled down. We arrived just as the team did & we managed to a couple of Complimentary tickets from Don Hutchins, a former Argyle player. Watching the game, City were leading through a debut goal from McNiven when the referee had to be replaced due to a health scare. During the delay the skies had darkened and snow started to fall heavier & heavier. The game was abandoned & when we reached the Coach we were informed that there was no way home due to Devon being cut off by the snowfall. Arrangements were made by the Police to house us at the Royal Marine Barracks at Stonehaven in the town centre. The police took names & addresses to let our loved ones back in Yorkshire know we were safe. This was before Mobile phones & Social Media. We were treated very well by the Marines and finally got home on the Wednesday! A longer stay in Devon than anticipated. The whole episode was symptomatic of City’s relegation season, City losing the replayed game 0-6.

1979-80 & the near miss brought home thoughts that City might never again escape the clutches of lower league football. 1922 had seen the last top flight activity & 1937 the last time we had been in the 2nd tier. Were the club always destined to be amongst the also-rans or could there be hope in the future?

Part 2 will see the arrival of an England star & new found hope.

Ian Hemmens [@IHemmens] has written a number of other features about Bradford sport history which can be found from the dropdown menu above


Future planned articles on VINCIT will feature former BCAFC manager Jimmy Wheeler, the original development of Park Avenue in 1879-80; the history of sports journalism in Bradford; the politics of Odsal Stadium; the history of Bradford sports grounds and the history of crowd violence in Bradford.

The early development of Park Avenue

Park Avenue: The People’s Park.

Flat land has always been at a premium in Bradford and during the town’s rapid development in the nineteenth century the best sites were claimed by industry and housing. Not surprisingly it was at the expense of fields where cricket or football could be played. A common theme for sports clubs in Bradford during the 1860s and 1870s was the shortage of options for where to play and the demand for sports fields far outweighed the availability. The geography of the town and the extent of urban expansion made the problem acutely felt.

The opening of Park Avenue in 1880 therefore had massive significance. It was the long awaited ‘People’s Park’ – it was nothing less than the ‘promised ground’. To understand the psychological importance of Park Avenue goes a long way to explain the subsequent rivalry between Bradford FC and Manningham FC.

The story of Park Avenue went back to the difficulties faced by Bradford Cricket Club to find a secure home. In 1851 it had been forced to vacate its Claremont ground which it had occupied since 1839, the consequence of the advance of bricks and mortar. This had prompted talk about establishing a ‘People’s Park’ – the same language as that of Benjamin Disraeli when he visited Bingley in 1844 and endorsed the game of cricket and recreational activity.

In 1852 the club secured a new ground further up Great Horton Road (adjacent Laisteridge Lane). This venue soon established itself as the de facto centre of sporting activity in Bradford and played a big part in the social calendar of the town, hosting not only prestige cricket fixtures but also archery (from 1844), bowling (from 1864) and athletics festivals (from 1869). Additionally, between 1864-67 it staged the earliest activities of the nascent Bradford Football Club formed in 1863.

Unfortunately, the cricket club was made homeless again in similar circumstances at the end of the summer of 1874 and hence the search for the elusive ‘People’s Park’ began once more. It was the failure to find a suitable and affordable site that led the club to be disbanded. Having been considered the sponsor of sporting activity in Bradford this was considered a major blow to the well-being and self-respect of the town. (The story of how Bradford CC provided the DNA of Bradford sport is told in this feature on VINCIT.)

In July 1878 newspaper correspondence prompted a renewed effort to find a dedicated sports ground and with it a resuscitation of the town’s cricket club whose origins dated to 1837. Other than Four Lane Ends there were no other obvious sites to develop a ground near the centre of Bradford. Even if it was not necessarily easy to get to – for example from Manningham – Park Avenue had the advantage of being in a green field, elevated area beyond the pollution of industry and the Leeds Times reported on 26 April, 1879 that it was ‘in a healthful, breezy position, well out of the smoke.’ (The point was not lost on The Bradford Observer of 6 March, 1880 which similarly referred to the ground’s ‘singular immunity from smoke,’ a comment that betrayed local sensibilities.) It thus satisfied the criteria of allowing a prestige development.

In 1874, Francis Sharp Powell had offered a site to Bradford CC on the east side of Laistridge Lane near Horton Green but this was subsequently rejected over concerns about the length of the lease (10 years) and there is no evidence that this site was considered again. The Park Avenue site by contrast would have preferable given that it was adjacent to the newly developed Horton Park.

The experience of athletics festivals at the former Great Horton Road home of Bradford CC had taught that a new ground would need permanent structures and that it was insufficient to plan for a basic enclosure only. Besides, civic pride dictated otherwise. In other words, it was realised from the start that for the new ‘People’s Park’ to be a success it required fixed investment and needed to be utilised by more than just cricket. This created a financial focus not only to raise funds for the development but also to generate profit to repay borrowings. Almost by accident, the new venture at Park Avenue assumed commercial characteristics that defined the future behaviour of what became the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club.

The ‘Bradford Athletic Sports’ festivals at Great Horton Road had been extremely popular and the Bradford Observer reported on 21 July, 1873 that the event that year had attracted five to six thousand spectators. The success of the festivals encouraged Bradford CC to invest in a new, permanent grandstand that accommodated 700 people:

 ‘The grandstand, which on former occasions has been merely a temporary structure, has this year been erected in a more durable way, it being the intention of the committee to keep it permanently standing for the accommodation of visitors to the cricket matches on the field. It is placed nearer the Ashgrove side of the field than grandstands have been put in former years, and is of larger dimensions than previous erections, being nearly 50 yards in length.’

This commentary provides an understanding of the finances of Bradford CC and infers that the construction of temporary grandstands and refreshment tents had previously represented a large proportion of the expense in staging games. The report of the club’s meeting in the Bradford Observer of 8 November, 1873 states that cost of the grandstand was £210 whereas temporary structures had previously cost £40. The investment reflected the importance of the athletics festival to the finances of the club and in 1873 this alone generated income of £274 out of £1,032 in total. The festival contributed a profit of £151 whereas the profits from cricket were only £35. Therefore, the erection of a permanent grandstand would have allowed considerable future savings and potentially transformed the club’s profitability. Another illustration of the benefit of permanent structures came in September, 1874 when the refreshment tents erected for the All England game at Great Horton Road were blown away (in what the Bradford Observer described as a hurricane).

In January, 1874 the Great Horton Road ground staged the Yorkshire v Lancashire rugby game, organised by Bradford FC, and expenditure on the new grandstand may have been with this in mind. Irrespective, the grandstand would have made the fixture possible.

It is highly unlikely that the grandstand was covered or that it offered more than a viewing platform and I would assume that a permanent structure had never before been erected due to considerations of cost and the fact that the club operated on a short lease. The irony is that the grandstand was not used by Bradford CC beyond 1874 and I suspect that it was moved to the Bradford Albion ground at Horton Green when Great Horton Road was vacated. The surplus provided by the festival in 1873 had made a compelling case for the grandstand and provided more learning for the future. It demonstrated that for Bradford CC – and for Bradford ‘athletics’ – to thrive and prosper, a future ground had to accommodate more than cricket. However, to make permanent structures feasible, security of tenure was required.

The cost of developing Park Avenue

The construction of Park Avenue was funded by a combination of public subscription and debt finance and the fact that this was possible confirms the importance of the ground to public-minded individuals who were not necessarily sportsmen. It shows how athleticism had become idealised as a noble cause in Bradford, not simply for the recreation that it provided but as an expression of civic pride, a means of raising funds for charity and as a unifying force for the people of the town. This was entirely consistent with what Bradford Cricket Club had stood for in the 1840s and the sentiments expressed by the Volunteer movement.

A list of subscribers was published in the Bradford Observer of 6 March, 1880 which listed benefactions in the total amount of £1,498. There appears to have been three categories for subscription. The first was for dignitaries and it was probably deliberate that the serving lord mayor, Angus Holden (who was also nominated president of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club) should have made the largest donation of £200. Other donations came from cross-party politicians, Sir Isaac Holden and Arthur Illingworth (both Liberals), Sir Henry W Ripley (Conservative) and notables including Lt-Col Harry Hirst (commander of the 3rd Yorkshire West Riding Rifle Volunteer Corps – the Bradford Rifles – and joint owner of the family brewery) and Henry Mitchell (founder of Bradford Technical College, Weslyan benefactor and prominent supporter of the Conservative Party who was later knighted). The sum of £50 was also received from Messrs Mitchell & Shepherd of which Major William Shepherd was the owner and the same amount from the family firm of J Harper Mitchell JP.

The second category of subscribers were local businesses who were invited to subscribe £21 (twenty guineas) apiece which provided life membership of the club. Included among them were donations from Edward Briggs (whose firm was based at nearby Briggella Mills) and his two brothers, John and Moses. Another was Harry Armitage, later to become president of Bradford City at Valley Parade and a man who argued for merger of his club with Bradford FC at Park Avenue in 1907. A third category embraced more modest donations from private individuals and smaller traders, with amounts listed of between £1 and £10.

The vast majority of the donations came from business sources but what is notable about the published subscribers is the extent to which they reflected a broad spectrum of political opinion as well as commerce. Nevertheless, the extent of generosity should not be overstated. Although the amount donated for the development of Park Avenue was unprecedented (that is to say, as a sports enclosure) it nevertheless represented a small fraction of what was contributed for places of worship.

The 1870s had been a decade of church building in Bradford, matched by the opening of non-conformist chapels and The Leeds Times of 31 May, 1879 reported there to be 36 establishment churches and 94 chapels with capacity of 17,772 and 42,094 respectively. Since 1860 alone there had been 13 new chuches and 32 chapels and a Church Building Society had been formed in Bradford in 1859 to progress construction of church building. Many of the largest Anglican churches in Bradford came from that movement which was funded by individual benefactors like Sir Francis Sharp Powell and this had prompted competition from other sects funded by benefactions such as the Wensleyans (who enjoyed the patronage of Sir Henry Mitchell) and the Baptists (supported by Alfred Illingworth).

To get a sense of the amounts invested in spiritual salvation, in April, 1878 a new Baptist Chapel in Girlington had been opened which cost £8,000 to build. It had an organ worth £650, presented by Angus Holden JP. It could be said that the depression in trade had given many industrialists time to reflect on other matters. To put the fund-raising for Park Avenue into further context, subscriptions for the ground were also dwarfed by what had been raised in Bradford during 1875 for the Asia Minor famine fund. The suffering of people in Turkey had come to prominence as a humanitarian disaster and commentators used the opportunity to contrast governance in the Ottoman Empire with enlighted British rule in India. Just under £4,000 was raised in Bradford through public donations, nearly three times as much as that contributed for Park Avenue.

The Leeds Times of 13 March, 1880 reported that the total cost of construction was in the region of £4,000, principally for the purpose of levelling the ground and constructing pavilions although my estimate is that the total cost may have been closer to £5,500. An appeal for further subscriptions was made but it is unknown how much that raised. To make up the difference, reliance was placed upon debt funding through an overdraft secured by guarantees from individual members.

The subscribers

Perhaps surprising is that whilst names of people formerly associated with Bradford Cricket Club are recognisable, the same cannot be said about former players of Bradford Football Club. Ironically the only name being identifiable as having a football connection was that of W E Scharff, stuff merchant whose son had played with Bradford Caledonian FC in 1875. The lack of donations from former players and in particular, other merchants hints at a shift in the social background of those involved with the new Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club in contrast to the preceding Bradford club. What is notable is that in 1880 it was industrialists rather than merchants who emerged as a dominant group at Park Avenue. It was as if they were attracted to get involved as a means of deriving social prestige.

The mill owners of Bradford were quite distinct from merchants who tended to be of foreign origin, better educated and more cosmopolitan. The following extract written by the author and poet, Humbert Wolfe (1885-1940) about the German community in Bradford hints at possible discrimination by members of Bradford Cricket Club. Wolfe was Italian-born but came from a Jewish family with a German father and lived in Bradford; a former Bradford Grammar School pupil he was one of the most popular writers in Britain in the 1920s. His comments provide a wonderful illustration of the enthusiasm of German immigrants in Bradford to become part of local society, a desire for social assimilation and more than just economic integration.

Writing in his book Now a Stranger, London, Cassell and Company, 1933 (p.126) about German (Jewish) merchants in Bradford, Wolfe observed: ‘In their speech they used Yorkshire phrases, and clipped their vowels. They attempted slow utterance in lieu of gesture and volubility. The men at the weekends smoked unusually large pipes, drank whiskey-and-sodas, and wore Norfolk jackets, alarmingly checked, and the thickest of heather mixture stockings underneath their breeches. They were followers of Lord Salisbury to a man, feeling there was something un-English about the formidable rhetoric of Mr Gladstone. If there had been hunting in Bradford, they would all have been fox hunting men. In the absence of hunting, the elder men took a hand at whist while the younger ones were experts on cricket averages, and would have joined the Bradford club if there had been any chance of being elected. The women went further. They contrived (and without the help of cosmetics) to develop an English complexion…They consented to abandon their natural good taste in dress, and to wear the drab and clumsy apparel habitual among their Christian neighbours. They [p.127] educated their children in the English virtues – reticence, sportsmanship and inattention to thought.

Germans proprietors had previously encouraged the formation of cricket teams among their workers and in the 1860s the sons of German merchants had been involved as players with Bradford FC. After 1880 there is limited evidence of second or third generation German immigrants being involved with Bradford football clubs, almost as if they were excluded from participation or chose to remain aloof. In fact, it was only after the conversion to soccer at Valley Parade that men of German extraction resumed a contribution to sport in the district.

What we can conclude from the list of subscribers to Park Avenue is that this was very much a civic initiative as opposed to being that of members alone. It signified support for the ground and its facilities rather than for the club itself; it was a park for the people and support was a demonstration of being public minded. The sentiment was exactly the same as that in 1851 and likewise the same language of the former Young England movement.

At a later meeting of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club, the Yorkshire Post of 26 January, 1882 quoted the club’s vice president, J H Mitchell: ‘There was no doubt they would make a profit from year to year, but he thought there should be some special effort to clear off the present debt, because it was of great importance that the ground should be retained to the people of Bradford forever. They had also got a capital cricket ground, and that should never be lost to the town – but if they once let it pass out of their hands, he could not see where they would get another ground so favourably situated…’ He suggested a bazaar to raise funds: ‘It would be just one of those happy occasions when all classes of people could unite, if only on the ground that there was no chapel or church connected with it (laughter)… If they could only clear off their debt they could, of course, afford to provide sport for the people of the town at a much cheaper rate than now.’

Mitchell was acknowledging religious division in Bradford which was a divisive theme in local politics between nonconformists and Anglicans. Park Avenue was seen to transcend those divisions and help unite the people. Although not described as such at the time, Park Avenue stood for ‘One Bradford’ even if that was to the exclusion of Bradford’s Germans.

The development

The Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club took on a lease of the ground for 14 years from Francis Sharp Powell (expiring in February, 1893). There is no record of what was paid in terms of rent but my guess is that it was relatively low, possibly no more than £50 per annum. In 1891 the club entered discussions to buy the site from Powell, albeit through a 999 year lease. The protracted nature of negotiations leads me to believe that Powell thought that he had been over generous in consenting to a low rental in 1879.

The scheme required the relocation of an existing tenant from the site of Park Avenue which was arranged by J H Mitchell who also provided land for the development. The Leeds Times reported on 31 May, 1879 that: ‘The promoters are greatly indebted to Mr J H Mitchell for the part he has taken in the matter. Had not that gentleman freely undertaken to effect an exchange of land with Mr Booth, the former tenant of the ground, and also to throw into it a considerable portion of his private park, the scheme could not have come before the public in its present shape.’

The ground was literally a green field site and the division between football and cricket was relatively arbitrary with the cricket field taking two-thirds of the area. The allocation had lasting implications. The following are descriptions of Park Avenue from contemporary reports:

The Leeds Times 31 May, 1879: ‘The football ground will be contiguous to Horton Park-avenue, and at its lower end will be 121 yards wide, the width of the upper or terrace end being 145 yards and the distance from the terrace to Horton Park Avenue 86 yards. On this terrace will be erected a grand stand thirty yards in length, having frontages to the football ground and the cricket ground. Dressing and refreshment rooms will be provided.

 ‘The cricket ground will be 166 yards by 137. The ground when laid with turf will have a fall of one yard in 137, so as to allow the water to pass off, but to the eye it will appear a perfect level. It will be bounded by a path four yards in width, prepared for athletic exercises, forming a course of three laps to the mile…At the corner of the ground adjoining Horton Park will be erected an entrance lodge, with living room and bed room for the groundsman, and money-taker’s room.’

The Leeds Times, 24 July, 1880: ‘The new area has an area of over eight and a half acres, and is divided into two parts, the higher part being set apart for cricket and the lower part for football. Two pavilions are being erected on the ground, one for the upper part and the other for the lower.

 ‘The principal structure at the upper portion of the field, has a frontage of 130 feet, and is intended for the use of members and subscribers. It is a two storey building, in a modified Italian style of architecture, with over-hanging eaves. There is a capacious grandstand in front. At the south end of the building, on the ground floor, are dressing rooms for the cricketers, the home and visiting teams each having separate apartments and lavatories. In the corresponding wing are living rooms for the ground men or steward, and ladies’ cloak and retirement rooms, the latter having direct communication with the steward’s apartments. At the back of the building is a refreshment bar, measuring 60ft by 13ft, and in the basement below are beer cellars. At the back of the building also have been constructed ample conveniences. In the upper storey of the pavilion the arrangements are excellent. The south gable affords an approach by a staircase to a large assembly hall or dining room, and is capable of seating over 130 people. The front of this room facing the cricket ground is closed in with a roofed balcony, which will seat about 200. At the south end of the dining hall are a committee room and a commodious scoring box. At the other end of the building are steward’s bedrooms, a room for ordinary purposes, and a room set apart for the representatives of the press.

 ‘The lower pavilion has frontages both to the cricket and football grounds, but is more particularly adapted for the latter. Overlooking the cricket ground is a grandstand capable of accommodating 300 persons, and a similar stand faces the football ground. The internal arrangements of this building are similar to those in the other building.’

Park Avenue 1890

Description of the ground in 1890

An Australian connection?

The dual-facing grandstand at Park Avenue that separated the football and cricket fields was an innovative structure and I am unaware of other examples at leading football grounds in England. By contrast, at Bramall Lane in Sheffield the cricket and football grounds were three sided with a void on the shared side. Ironically the Park Avenue leadership was to later opt for that configuration in its plans for redevelopment of the ground in 1892 but these had to be aborted through lack of finance. Park Avenue therefore retained its dual-facing grandstand and this was again the case in 1907 when the ground was redeveloped for the newly formed Bradford Park Avenue AFC and a new stand constructed. (The same grandstand survived until the demolition of the ground in 1980, by chance 100 years after the original development of Park Avenue.)

The inspiration for the structure at Park Avenue was quite likely derived from the development of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Victoria, Australia. A visit to the MCG with its 100,000 capacity catering principally for Aussie Rules football and cricket offers few clues of it having anything in common with Park Avenue. It surely ranks as one of the most advanced stadiums in the world with facilities that are state of the art. Additionally there is a museum as well as an extensive reference library covering all aspects of Australian sport.

The MCG is testament to the commercial transformation of sport and by the time that a new ground was being considered in Bradford the MCG had already established itself as one of the leading enclosures in the British Empire. Melbourne was well known as a centre of cricket enthusiasm and it had been widely reported in England that the MCG had had a crowd of 25,000 for a game against an All England XI on New Year’s Day, 1862. The MCG was also known for hosting football matches and the Sporting Gazette of 1st September, 1877 reported that there had been crowds of up to 10,000 – an unprecedented number of people, virtually unheard of in England. The scale of expenditure on a new grandstand at the MCG in 1876 was equally newsworthy.

The minutes of the Melbourne CC committee record construction of a new grandstand ‘of ingenious design’ at the MCG in 1876 and what distinguished the grandstand was the fact that it provided reversible seating. The Melbourne Argus reported that ‘The floor of the stand is suspended on hinges along the middle line, so that once certain movable supports have been withdrawn from beneath the top of the incline, the floor can be sloped in the opposite direction, to enable the public to look down upon football play instead of upon an empty cricket ground.’

According to the Yorkshire Gazette of 19 May, 1877 ‘Many folks have laughed at the Melbourne Cricket Club, which for the present has gone to the fore amongst the rival clubs here, and on whose splendid ground the match (with an All England Eleven) was played, for building such an enormous grandstand. It holds 3,000 spectators, and cost nearly £10,000. Since the crowds that have gathered there during the All England match, however, these scoffers will have changed their minds. The committee knew the Australian taste’ (NB in its report of the Melbourne grandstand burning down in 1884, the Bradford Daily Telegraph stated the cost to have been £5,930.) The development of the Melbourne grandstand thus provided an early case study in the economics of sport.

Unlike the stand at Melbourne, that at Park Avenue did not have reversible seating with an equal number of permanent benches facing either side and this meant that in Bradford the grandstand would only ever be half full. The capacity of the Melbourne stand was also greater by virtue that it had a much bigger footprint. According to the Melbourne CC committee minutes, the grandstand accommodated 2,000 spectators and a surviving plan suggest that it was at least 215ft in length. The corresponding stand at Bradford was no more than 100ft long and the number of people who could be seated in the dual-facing stand in Bradford at a football or cricket match was much lower, reported as above to be 300.

In 1880, football was considered secondary to the investment in cricket facilities at Park Avenue and hence what we would regard as a modest grandstand. By the time that Bradford FC had won the Yorkshire County Cup in 1884, football had become the dominant sport. Hence when the lower grandstand was extended in 1885, the seated capacity for football was substantially increased at the expense of cricket accommodation.

The evidence linking Melbourne with Bradford is circumstantial and not confirmed by surviving documentary sources but it seems inconceivable that anyone contemplating designs for a new sports ground would not have heard about the development at Melbourne. For instance, the MCG had recently staged games with visiting English teams in 1877 and again at the beginning of January, 1879. Besides, Bradford had trade links with Melbourne that would have provided familiarity.

Nor would it have been unreasonable for Bradfordians to benchmark Melbourne. In 1880 for example Melbourne’s population of roughly 280,000 was only slightly higher than that of the Bradford district (recorded as 254,124 in 1881). In many respects Melbourne was a British city and its civic architecture dating from that era is indistinguishable from that of an English provincial centre. What it had in common with Bradford was that both had experienced rapid population growth driven by inward migration and both derived wealth from wool (although in Melbourne’s case there had been a gold rush in the 1850s and 1860s).

The civic elders of Bradford and Melbourne shared a similar self-confidence borne out of economic success and by the 1880s they had similarly embraced sport as a form of civic patriotism and expression of British imperial values. For Park Avenue to have copied the development at Melbourne would have been entirely in keeping with the cultural spirit in Bradford at the time, representing a clear statement of ambition and an intent to adopt a leading example of ground design.

The construction of the reversible stand represented a major watershed for the Melbourne Cricket Ground, making it an attractive venue for promoters and the public. It thereby ensured the financial stability of the club and played its part in the commercial transformation of sport in Melbourne. The development of Park Avenue had similar impact in Bradford. A difference between the two is that in Melbourne it was cricket that led the way and in fact in the late nineteenth century, (Australian Rules) football was only played at the MCG on a regular basis between 1879-83. At Park Avenue it was (Rugby Union) football that was the driver of commercial activity.

In 1880 Park Avenue hosted the visiting Australian cricket tourists on two occasions, on 9th August for a match against a ‘Bradford 18’ and the second on 20th September for a game against ‘Players of the North’. The second game appears to have been arranged at short notice and the Sydney Mail of 27th November, 1880 reported lobbying by Bradford representatives at the Oval earlier in September. Given that the Australians were scheduled to visit Dewsbury and Huddersfield it was a matter of pride that a first class game should be played in Bradford and it provided an opportunity for the newly formed Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club to show off its new sports enclosure.

Australian newspapers were consistent in their complimentary accounts about Park Avenue and Melbourne CC officials were sufficiently impressed by Park Avenue that the Bradford Daily Telegraph reported on 10th February, 1881 that ‘A communication from the secretary of the Melbourne Cricket Club has recently been received by the hon. secretary of the Bradford Cricket Club asking for a sketch plan of the cricket pavilion at Park Avenue ground. The Melbourne Cricket Club have had under discussions for some months past various plans for a new pavilion, but none of them has come up to their ideas. The latter states that Mr Alexander of the Australian Cricket Team, has brought over a photograph of the pavilion, and that he was so enthusiastic in his praise of the arrangements of the building, that the writer is anxious to have a sketch of the ground plan and elevation. The Club has now a separate grandstand, capable of accommodating about 3,000 people, but a pavilion is required for the accommodation of members, the number of whom is now around 800. The club do not wish to spend more than £2,500 or £3,000 on the contemplated erection. In a postscript Mr Wardill adds that Mr Alexander’s photograph of the Bradford Cricket Club pavilion had been framed, and was hanging in their pavilion.’

 It was praise indeed and a measure of the development at Park Avenue that it should be recognised in this way. Nevertheless, when a new pavilion was constructed at the MCG in 1881 (known as the second members’ pavilion that remained in use until 1927) it did not bear resemblance to that at Park Avenue and the Bradford design was evidently not adopted. [1]

Park Avenue 1926 Yorkshire v Australians

Park Avenue, 1926: Yorkshire vs Australia

The significance of Park Avenue

Park Avenue was formally opened by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Holden on 20 July, 1880 who declared his hope that ‘the public of Bradford would take an increased interest in the Bradford club so that Park Avenue might be used in the rational enjoyment of cricket and football.’ The ceremony included a military display and the principal guests of honour were officers of the 103 Regiment of Foot (Royal Bombay Fusiliers) who had been garrisoned in Bradford for the previous three months. The Lord Mayor’s toast to ‘the Army, Navy and Reserved Forces’ was a reminder of the traditional influence of the military with sport in the town.

As a result of soft conditions, the opening game of Gentlemen versus Players was played on the adjoining football field due to bad weather. By a strange twist of fate, the first rugby match on 25 September 1880 against Bradford Rangers was played on a section of the cricket field. (In 2014 there was redevelopment of Park Avenue funded by the English Cricket Board and wickets are now sited on the old football pitch, hence not for the first time that cricket has been played there.)

In 1880 the new Park Avenue ground represented the realisation of a long held objective to secure a permanent sports ground in Bradford. It allowed Bradford Cricket Club the opportunity to reassert itself as a leading club in Yorkshire and to stage high profile games in Bradford after a lengthy absence. After the disappointing circumstances in which the club had declined in the ten years prior to becoming dormant, it allowed Bradford CC to relaunch itself with the same lofty ideals that it had promoted in the 1840s.

Bradford CC had been handicapped by the lack of a first class ground until the opening of Park Avenue in 1880 and this had compromised the ability of Bradford to propose an alternative venue to Bramall Lane, Sheffield. It therefore explains why the development of Park Avenue was of such significance not only to Bradford CC but to the town itself. At the celebration dinner for the opening of Park Avenue, the Lord Mayor, Angus Holden declared that ‘establishment of the club was the beginning of a new era in the reputation of the town for good cricket.’ A tradition was inaugurated at Park Avenue with the regular hosting of the Australian tourists from 1880 onwards and there were as many as ten different matches involving the Aussies at Park Avenue between 1880-99 – a mark of the high profile of Bradford cricket. The final decade of the nineteenth century was arguably the glory era of Yorkshire cricket at Park Avenue and whilst those in Leeds claimed the superiority of Headingley on account of size, in West Yorkshire it was generally agreed that Park Avenue and Headingley were both superior to Bramall Lane on account of air pollution in that part of Sheffield. (However, there continued to be deference towards the latter on account of its reputation as the traditional home of Yorkshire cricket.)

The Park Avenue ground also allowed the town to host a representative football club. Had the existing Bradford Football Club not agreed to relocate from Apperley Bridge and become part of the new set up alongside a revived Bradford Cricket Club, it is almost certain that a new club would have been formed. By embracing the original Bradford FC with origins dating back to 1863, it allowed the new Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club to inherit its record and boast of continuity as one of the top Yorkshire clubs.

Park Avenue also harnessed the hopes of Bradford people to secure room at the top, to achieve sporting acclaim for the town consistent with its achievements in industry or commerce. The new Bradford sporting enclosure was itself pioneering in relation to other towns and for the townsfolk provided a source of pride, much the same as other civic buildings or parks constructed in the previous decade. It was for the good of Bradford as a town and for the good of Bradford people, to encourage athleticism and to provide a stage for the best that Bradford could offer. As if this was insufficient the ground existed so that – once the debt funding had been repaid – sport could be applied for charitable giving. It was more than just a ground.

In addition to cricket and football Park Avenue provided for athletics (including short distance cycle races), lawn tennis, archery and quoits. The latter two activities were considered female sports and by accommodating them it could be claimed the ground served all the people. During its existence it also hosted bowling, association football and lacrosse.

Athletics festivals were staged on an annual basis. The first, in July, 1881 is reported to have attracted a crowd of around six thousand and the proceeds of £160 demonstrated the potential of Park Avenue for charity fund raising. It was the commitment to the town’s charities – typically support of the infirmary – that would define the status of Park Avenue in Bradford.  The athletics events became an opportunity for displays of Bradford pride and community, no less symbolic than the charitable purpose. Festivals were discontinued after 1896, a consequence of the controversy over professionalism in sport but were replaced by the annual Park Avenue Children’s Sports Day, the first of which was held on 12 July, 1898, organised by the Bradford Schools Athletics Association to raise money for its own activities. This established a new tradition with school sports events continuing to be staged at Park Avenue until the 1960s.

The prospect of developing a ground allowed the Bradford Cricket Club to be reformed in 1879 after remaining dormant for four years. It provided security of tenure with no risk of the ground being used for housing development, the fate of the Great Horton Road site in 1874 which put the future of the club in doubt. Security of tenure was an issue that concerned most, if not all the prominent sports clubs in Bradford – cricket and football alike – but for the town’s representative club it was a particularly sensitive matter.

We know that in 1880 the ambitions of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club were relatively modest in terms of the likely crowds at Park Avenue. The development of the ground was consistent with this, seeking to optimise hospitality rather than necessarily maximising capacity. The limited footprint of the estate had implications in the twentieth century but the original investment in refreshment facilities undoubtedly acted as a spur to the popularity and financial success of Park Avenue, remaining an important differentiator with Valley Parade. By the mid-1880s the facilities would have been significant in making match-day at Park Avenue a fashionable option among the emergent middle classes. The lack of the same at Carlisle Road, and after 1886 at Valley Parade, may have also played a part in defining the self-image of Manningham FC as an enthusiasts’ club in contrast to Bradford FC whose appeal became derived from more than just the football.

Until 1904, Park Avenue remained the only ground in Bradford to provide covered accommodation for spectators and this afforded it a luxury status. It should be noted that when Victorians spoke of ‘pavilions’ they meant a covered facility whereas when they spoke of grandstands it meant an uncovered viewing platform that incorporated bench seating. By the start of the twentieth century a grandstand or stand had the meaning that we now recognise.

The symbolic significance of Park Avenue should not be underestimated and is confirmed by the willingness of people to subscribe to a fund for the land to be developed. The ground assumed a quasi-religious status in the town as an asset – a temple of sport – to be safeguarded by a proud townspeople. In my opinion this state of mind continued beyond the eventual demolition of the football ground in 1980, that of the cricket pavilion in 1986 and the abandonment of the cricket ground as a first class venue in 1996. Park Avenue was entwined with the identity of Bradford and its derelict state prompted the detachment of many Bradfordians with their home city such was its emotional symbolism. Even now, mention of Park Avenue prompts misty-eyed nostalgia among those who attended football and cricket games at the ground, not to mention those who supported Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC whose name was derived from its home.

The status of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club became inseparable from its role as guardian of the town’s sports ground, the de facto trustee in possession. This became a key element in the self-image and personality of Bradford FC and bestowed upon it a special importance which had implications for other clubs in the district. As far as Bradford Football Club was concerned, upholding the honour of Bradford and safeguarding Park Avenue gave it a sense of entitlement and privilege. In other words, Park Avenue led Bradford FC to consider itself superior to any other club – Manningham FC in particular, a mindset that continued for the best part of the next hundred years, long after conversion to soccer.

The development of Park Avenue in 1879-80 has to be seen in the broader context of a period which shaped the footprint of Bradford. The 1870s was a decade that defined Bradford’s urban identity through iconic buildings, civic parks and the designs of the Bradford Improvement Act which provided a framework for road building, water supply and town planning. The fruits of that decade have been enduring and included the buildings such as the new Town Hall which came to be regarded as shorthand for Bradford. Park Avenue followed the sequence of new parks in Manningham, Horton and Bowling. It was no coincidence that the name of the ground was derived from its proximity to Horton Park and hence ‘Park Avenue’. By ending the long wait for a permanent sports ground in the town it represented another form of urban improvement, a contribution to what was described in the language of the time as the mental and physical well-being of Bradford.

Sadly, very little remains of Park Avenue as a reminder of the former grandeur of the sports enclosure and the bold venture that it represented.

John Dewhirst


[1] Thanks to the archivists at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for their assistance. Visitors to Melbourne are encouraged to visit the museum and library at the ground. 


Model in the MCG museum of the reversible stand


The MCG in February, 2020

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

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