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.

Scan_20200727 (13) - Copy

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’.

2008 lincoln

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.

A parallel existed with the situation in 1851 when the Bradford Cricket Club had been forced to find a new ground, the consequence of the advance of bricks and mortar. At that time the talk was about establishing a ‘People’s Park’ – the same language as that of Benjamin Disraeli when he visited Bingley in 1844, endorsing the game of cricket and recreational activity. Eventually the club found a new ground at Claremont, off Great Horton Road but having been made homeless again in similar circumstances at the end of the summer of 1874 from its replacement ground further up Great Horton Road (adjacent Laisteridge Lane), the search for the elusive ‘People’s Park’ began once more. The failure to find a suitable and affordable site led the club to be disbanded. However, 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.

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

Other features about the history of cricket in Bradford can be found elsewhere on VINCIT 

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

Future planned articles on VINCIT will feature Reminiscences about Bradford City; Bradford’s nineteenth century England RU internationals, the history of sports journalism in Bradford; the politics of Odsal Stadium; the history of Bradford sports grounds and the history of crowd violence in Bradford.

Contributions and feedback are welcome.






The first visit of Australian cricketers to Bradford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By John Dewhirst

Twitter: @jpdewhirst

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

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

From the BBC website, 9th July 2013


Daily Mail feature, 21st July 2015


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

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

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


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

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

Future planned articles on VINCIT will feature the original development of Park Avenue in 1879-80; Reminiscences about Bradford City; Bradford’s nineteenth century England RU internationals, the history of sports journalism in Bradford; the politics of Odsal Stadium; the history of Bradford sports grounds and the history of crowd violence in Bradford.

Contributions and feedback are welcome.

Bradford City: The Wheeler Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Ian Hemmens

Tweets: @ihemmens


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

Future planned articles on VINCIT will feature the original development of Park Avenue in 1879-80; Bradford’s nineteenth century England RU internationals, the history of sports journalism in Bradford; the politics of Odsal Stadium; the history of Bradford sports grounds and the history of crowd violence in Bradford.

Contributions and feedback are welcome.


Reaction to Bradford City winning the FA Cup

By Rob Grillo

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

lottingas weekly_0001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Contributions and feedback are welcome.

Harry Briggs (1862-1920), Park Avenue benefactor

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

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

Briggs grave Bowling (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry Briggs YS graphic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by John Dewhirst

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


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

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


Link to John’s blog: Wool City Rivals where you will find his features in the current BCAFC matchday programme, book reviews and other content about the history of Bradford City.
Future planned articles on VINCIT will feature former BCAFC manager Jimmy Wheeler, the original development of Park Avenue in 1879-80; the history of sports journalism in Bradford; the politics of Odsal Stadium; the history of Bradford sports grounds and the history of crowd violence in Bradford.
Contributions to VINCIT are welcome. We are code agnostic and feature any sport or club with a Bradford heritage. Links from the drop down menu above. Thanks for visiting!

New membership of the Bradford Cricket League

by Reg Nelson

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

LIDGET GREEN 1978 - Copy

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


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

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

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

Campion CC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Reg Nelson on Twitter: @regnels1


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

Future planned articles will feature the original development of Park Avenue in 1879-80; the history of sports journalism in Bradford; the politics of Odsal Stadium; the history of Bradford sports grounds and the history of crowd violence in Bradford.

Pictured below Roberts Park, home of Saltaire CC

Thomas Paton: the forgotten man of 1911?

Whilst we rightly laud the achievements of Peter O’Rourke and he is often (rightly) cited as Bradford City’s greatest ever manager, the role of one other individual in City’s golden era, punctuated by the 1911 F.A. Cup win, is often forgotten.

What is overlooked is the fact that the role of a “manager” was very different in the early twentieth century. One of the fundamental differences was that the manager wasn’t responsible for team selection – clubs tended to have a selection committee, consisting of club directors. Though at City we have all-too recent memories of the effect of a club director (with a background in accounting) being involved with team selection, there is a much more positive example of this.

For the period from 1909 to 1911, City’s selection committee was chaired by Thomas Paton. Paton’s role in this most glorious of eras for City has at best been understated and at worst completely disregarded.

Tom Paton was a Scot, born on 26 February 1871 in Ratho, Midlothian to William and Flora Paton.[1]

His first involvement in football administration was as secretary of the St. Bernard’s football club in Edinburgh, a role he was undertaking when only 18 years old.[2] He trained to be an accountant and by the late 1890s his career had brought him to the West Riding.

He was appointed secretary of the Bradford based Yorkshire Woolcombers’ Association (Limited) in November 1899 and then went on to set up an accountancy practice, initially on his own but eventually in partnership with others (the firm of Paton, Boyce and Welch).

His first publicised involvement with City appears to have been in 1906 (though it seems likely that he had been a member of the club since its outset). At that time, the club was run by a committee elected by its members and Paton put himself forward to be elected to that committee at the club’s Annual General Meeting in May 1906. As it happens, at the AGM, it was resolved that a report be commissioned into the club’s financial affairs (which were not in great shape) and the election of new committee members was postponed. Whether the report was at the behest of Tom Paton isn’t clear, but his expertise as an accountant would have assisted. He led the report and presented it at a further meeting in June 1906. The end result of this process was the decision to incorporate the club as a limited liability company (albeit that didn’t happen until 1908).[3] The other important recommendation made in Paton’s presentation was that a “Team Selection Committee” of three members be formed.[4]

Following the report, Paton withdrew his nomination for election to the committee.[5] However, he continued to be a member of the club and was clearly an important figure behind the scenes. He was a prominent figure in calling for amalgamation with Park Avenue in 1907.[6] In 1908, the Athletic News reported the following:

“On January 20, this year, the directors and players of Bradford City were entertained to dinner by the members of the club. Mr. Thomas Paton was the chairman and referring to professionalism, he said that if a man had a gift for playing football, and it was a gift, he saw no reason why he should not earn as much in ten years by the game as he could have earned otherwise in thirty years. But what Mr. Paton wished to say to players was that they should live upon the wages they would have otherwise received at their ordinary occupation and save the extra money they got out of football. It was the duty of the selection committee to see, as far as possible, that the players provided for the inevitable rainy day, so that when their feet had lost their cunning they would not look back on football as a curse, but as a blessing.

Those are words of wisdom. Mr. Thos. Paton has a lifelong experience of the game and players.”[7]

These were fairly enlightened views for the time (the Athletic News noting “If Bradford City can find the time to show such a real interest in the welfare of their players, other clubs can do the same”).

Paton was elected to the board of the club on 26 February 1909 (receiving 179 votes from the shareholders).[8] The next month he was appointed as chairman of the team selection committee (and was also appointed to the club’s finance committee).[9] However, Paton’s influence on player recruitment likely pre-dates this formal appointment. It can be no coincidence that James Logan and Jimmy McDonald joined from St. Bernard’s in 1905 and 1907 respectively. Peter Logan and Harry Graham would also arrive from St. Bernard’s after Paton’s appointment.

Perhaps his first masterstroke following his appointment was the capture of Dicky Bond in May 1909. Bond was already a well-known player, an international and regular in the top flight for Preston. The likes of Jimmy Speirs, Mark Mellors, Frank Thompson and Archie Devine would follow – many of these players forming the bedrock of City’s success over the next few seasons.

Paton’s contacts back in Scotland were invaluable. The recruitment of Scottish players was a very deliberate policy, it being considered that English players were more costly option. Paton himself (being interviewed prior to the 1911 Cup Final) said:

“For instance, to get a player of equal capacity to Bond, we should have to pay an English club at least a thousand pounds. But we can go into Scotland and get uncut stuff cheap and polish it up here. And when we’ve got it and made it into a footballer, even then the anxieties of the directors are not at an end. Only when the season is over can we say to ourselves ‘Well now, it is done with for a bit, anyhow.’”[10]

There is however a sense that, by 1911, the duties were getting a little too much for Tom Paton. At a shareholders’ meeting held at the Mechanics’ Institute in February 1911, he stated that it was with “great diffidence” that he was agreeing to continue as a director and that he found his work as chairman of the Team Selection Committee more than he had bargained for.[11]

The cup success of course followed this a couple of months later. Paton was rightly acknowledged as an architect of this success in the press, the Athletic News describing him as being part of a “Triumvirate”, saying:

“For some time past three men have been instrumental in the building up of Bradford City. I refer to Mr. Pollack (the chairman), Mr. Tom Paton, and Mr. O’Rourke… For a long time Mr. Paton of the well-known firm of Paton, Boyce, and Co., the accountants, was the man behind the scenes. He was the motive power, but there came a day when Mr. Pollack talked of resigning unless Mr. Paton consented to join the board of directors. Since then there has been no concealment of Mr. Paton’s handiwork. The sleeping partner became more active than ever – and probably most of those who have sat with him will agree that Mr. Tom Paton has been the brain of the machine – particularly in the engagement of players and the selection of the team. Combined with the shrewdness and tact of his race – he is an Edinburgh man – he has a high sense of honour.

Moreover he is the very pink of politeness unless his sense of honour is offended. When he is vexed he speaks his mind. He once wrote a letter to the chairman of a famous club in this country which concluded thus:-

“A certain poet once said that man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn. I am one of the countless thousands, but having learnt my lesson I hope I shall have the common sense to see that that strictly conscientious club, of which you have the honour to be the active head, shall not be provided with a second opportunity. If anyone does an unfair thing to me I blame him: if he does it a second time I blame myself.”

These are the words of a man whom it is very advisable to secure as a friend by straight and honest dealing. His enmity is, I should say, something to be avoided, although he is slow to anger.

It is impossible to overestimate the work that Mr. Paton has done for Bradford City. He threatened to retire if ever the City won The Cup. The directors must see that he breaks his word. Once upon a time Mr. Paton was connected with the St. Bernard’s club, Edinburgh, when they won the Scottish Cup. Removing to Bradford, he has fallen in love with the great game a second time, and has played a hand in carrying off the English Cup. But he must not be allowed to withdraw into the privacy of his official sanctum. And he will be so annoyed that I have written this about him but I cannot help it.”[12]

Despite these words, the pressures of being chairman of the Team Selection committee manifested themselves following the cup success. In July 1911, the Athletic News reported:

“The annual meeting of the Bradford City F.C. was a happy function, as might have been expected. Yet there was one fly in the pot of ointment. It is not disputed that no man has done more towards the success of the Bradford City team that Mr. Thomas Paton, who last season was chairman of the selection committee. But having done so much, Mr. Paton feels his own profession must in future have a greater share of his attention and he will not be chairman of the selection committee next season. It is a serious loss to the club.”[13]

Tom Paton resigned as a director the next year. However, that was not the end of the story.

By 1928, City were in dire straits, both on and off the field. Tom Paton had already agreed to act as a consultant to the board in May 1927.[14] At the end of the 1927/28 season, the club were in the bottom division of the league and had run out of money. It appeared that the club were heading for liquidation. Local journalist William Sawyer takes up the story:

“It so happened that on a certain day in May I accidentally met Mr. Tom Paton in the Midland Hotel. He had a travelling rug on his arm and was about to join a train for Scotland to commence his summer vacation at his home on the Ayrshire coast. He had no more than a minute or two to spare. “Well,” I said to him, “It looks like the end of the old club.” “It does,” he replied, “and it’s a pity.” Then he had an idea and with characteristic briskness he said “Look here, Bill; if you can get the board to resign and form a new board, including yourself I will provide you with sufficient money to see you through the close season, but you must get all you can elsewhere and keep my name out of it .” With that he went down the private run-way to the station[15] and I did not see him again for some months. I knew, however, that he was a man of his word and I could rely on his promise.”[16]

There is, I believe, a certain amount of journalistic licence in Sawyer’s retelling of events! It had already been well-publicised in April 1928 that Tom Paton had offered to find £6,000 to keep the club going over the summer (albeit the scheme proposed by Paton had fallen through due to the club’s bank being unwilling to agree terms and Paton, consequently, withdrawing his offer).[17] The City supporters club presented a petition to Paton effectively begging him to provide assistance.[18] There was therefore not really any possibility of Paton’s name being kept out of things.

What is clear is that it was Paton’s money that helped keep the club going that summer. He made a loan to the club totalling around £1,250 which allowed the club to survive (this would be around £78,000 in today’s money).

The detail of that period and the amazing season that followed can be read here

This wasn’t the only example of his generosity in 1928. He had also contributed £1,000 towards a fund to build the new Bradford Infirmary at Daisy Hill (this being a donation rather than a loan).[19]

Despite not being on the board, it is clear that Tom Paton was involved behind the scenes. Herbert Chapman, the Leeds City, Huddersfield Town and Arsenal manager said “In the season when Bradford City were promoted from the Third Division, Mr. Tom Paton was the power behind the club, and it was largely through the energy which he threw into the task that promotion was achieved”.[20] That Paton was highly regarded by one of the greatest managers of the inter-war years speaks volumes.

Such was the turnaround in City’s fortunes, they were able to repay Paton in full during the 1929/30 season.[21] It was reported in 1930 that Tom Paton was going to re-join the board of directors but that doesn’t appear to have come to fruition.[22]

Whilst it was reported in 1925 that he was to retire to take up permanent residence in Girvan[23], this appears to have been a very loose concept of retirement! In the 1930s he moved to Middlesex but continued with his business interests in Bradford. He remained a director of Paton, Boyce and Welch until 1945 and at various times he was a director of Salts (Saltaire) Limited, the company running Sir Titus Salt’s great mill.[24] He died (“suddenly” according to the death notice placed in The Times[25]) on 11 September 1946 at the age of 75 (some newspaper reports erroneously gave his age as 78). His effects were valued at £24,476 17s 5d (around a million pounds by today’s standards).[26]

The accountancy firm that he founded in Bradford eventually became Bostocks Boyce Welch. That firm continues in business to this day and fittingly, its managing director, Alan Biggin has, like Paton, been involved at boardroom level at City for several years.

Given that he was very much a “behind the scenes” man, the above probably only scratches the surface as far as Paton’s contribution to the history of Bradford City goes. Thomas Paton deserves to be much more than a footnote in the history of Bradford City and his name should be up there with the likes of O’Rourke and Spiers as greats of the early decades of the club.

by Kieran Wilkinson


[1] Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950 database.

[2] Scottish Referee – Monday 01 July 1889.

[3] Shipley Times and Express – Friday 22 June 1906.

[4] Leeds Mercury – Friday 22 June 1906.

[5] Leeds Mercury – Friday 29 June 1906.

[6] The Jubilee Story of the Bradford City A.F.C. by W. H. Sawyer, 1953.

[7] Athletic News – Monday 25 May 1908.

[8] Leeds Mercury – Saturday 27 February 1909.

[9] Leeds Mercury – Thursday 11 March 1909.

[10] Leeds Mercury – Thursday 20 April 1911.

[11] Leeds Mercury – Friday 24 February 1911.

[12] Athletic News – Monday 01 May 1911.

[13] Athletic News – Monday 03 July 1911.

[14] Leeds Mercury – Thursday 05 May 1927

[15] The “private run-way” remains in situ (notwithstanding that the station which it served has been moved northwards) and is well preserved. The author’s photographs of it can be seen here

[16] The Jubilee Story of the Bradford City A.F.C. by W. H. Sawyer, 1953.

[17] Nottingham Journal – Saturday 28 April 1928.

[18] Leeds Mercury – Friday 04 May 1928.

[19] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer – Tuesday 17 April 1928.

[20] p151 Herbert Chapman on Football, Herbert Chapman, 1934.

[21] Leeds Mercury – Friday 28 February 1930.

[22] Lancashire Evening Post – Saturday 22 February 1930.

[23] Sunday Post – Sunday 20 December 1925.

[24] Shipley Times and Express – Wednesday 13 June 1945.

[25] The Times – Friday 13 September 1946.

[26] England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995.