Gone to the Dogs

by Ian Hemmens

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Greenfield baseball

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

Greenfield aerial

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

Greenfield 1

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

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


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

City Sox @ Legrams

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



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

City aerial

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

ADDENDUM – Keighley greyhounds

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

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


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

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

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

Parkwood van

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

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

 Photo images thanks to Graeme Wright, Mick Pendleton.


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

Future planned articles on VINCIT include:

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

Contributions are always welcome!

The forgotten story of Shipley FC

The forgotten story of the origins of football in Bradford and the significance of the junior clubs in the district…

What motivated me to write my books about the origins and development of sport in Bradford is the fact that there have been so many simplistic narratives about what happened. In the final quarter of the nineteenth century Bradford was known as a centre of sporting enthusiasm and a hotbed of rugby football with a vibrant network of clubs of different sizes. Yet surprisingly, coverage of their existence has previously amounted to little more than a passing footnote.

My interest in Shipley FC arose from wanting to discover more about a club that would have been my local side, playing opposite the Ring Of Bells public house. It reveals an alternate perspective to the history of rugby in the Bradford district and demonstrates that the story of how spectator sport developed in Bradford cannot be told with an exclusive focus on Bradford FC and Manningham FC alone.

Football supporters in Bradford have tended to ignore what happened before the formation of Bradford City AFC in 1903 despite the fact that the club had its origins as a rugby organisation. (NB Prior to World War One the term ‘football’ was synonymous with both rugby and soccer but in West Yorkshire it tended to mean rugby.)

Rugby League followers have similarly tended to overlook what happened prior to the launch of the Northern Union in 1895. Going further back you find common roots between rugby and cricket in Bradford.

The history of the origins of sport in Bradford and these common links has been ignored. Likewise the subtleties of what happened have been missed altogether and it is a subject area that has fallen foul of simplistic narratives. Surprisingly perhaps it has been overlooked that Bradford sport in the nineteenth century was heavily influenced by the military and motives of charitable giving. Sport was also recognised by our Victorian forebears as an important form of expression for civic pride and identity (or what was then described as local patriotism), another theme that has been forgotten despite its relevance for today.

Juniors rugby

Bradford is known as having been at the centre of the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century but it should also be recognised for a prominent role in the sporting revolution that took place in late Victorian Britain. In the 1880s the Bradford district derived a reputation as a hotbed of ‘football’, albeit the oval ball variety. The Association rules game was virtually unknown and attempts to promote it at Park Avenue in 1882 were thwarted by rugby enthusiasts whose sport claimed all available playing fields. To all intents and purposes, ‘soccer’ was crowded out until the end of the nineteenth century.

The introduction of the Yorkshire Challenge Cup competition in the 1877/78 season had been the catalyst for the spread of rugby and it was the triumph of Bradford FC in 1884 that gave added impetus to the enthusiasm. The competition captivated peoples’ imagination and the possibility of sporting glory inspired the emergence of new clubs whose numbers mushroomed in the wake of Bradford’s cup victory. The opening of Park Avenue in 1880 similarly had a big impact on local interest and the ground regularly hosted capacity crowds such that it was progressively enlarged during the decade. Football became a fashionable pastime among a broad cross-section of the population and so too it acquired a glamorous image with the stars – so-called ‘cracks’ – of Bradford FC being the celebrities of their era.

Further momentum was given to the game by the launch of the Bradford Charity Cup in the 1884/85 season. The trophy presented by Isaac Smith, Mayor of Bradford was known as the ‘small pot’ (the Yorkshire Cup was referred to as ‘t’owd pot’) and it became a focus for intense competition between junior clubs in the district. The Bradford Charity Cup gave a sense of purpose for smaller sides and a real opportunity for glory in a competition that remained fairly open; during the ten seasons of its existence between 1884/85 and 1893/94 there were seven different winners of the trophy and a total of ten different clubs reached the final.

Apart from the first two seasons when Manningham FC was allowed to enter its first team (and duly won the cup in each), the Bradford Charity Cup was confined to junior clubs in the Bradford district as well as the Bradford FC and Manningham ‘A’ sides (ie reserves). At its peak there were sixteen entrants with the final and semi-finals played at Park Avenue, the final at Easter weekend. The contribution of the competition to developing a localised football culture should not be under-estimated and it played a big role in sustaining support for junior rugby. Similarly, the manner in which it encouraged local sporting rivalries was a precursor to the impact of the Bradford & District Football League after 1899 and the Bradford Cricket League from 1903 which inherited the same passions.

By the end of the 1880s there was a defined hierarchy of clubs in what now constitutes the Bradford metropolitan district. At the top were the two senior clubs – Bradford FC and Manningham FC (who relocated to Valley Parade in 1886) – and then Bowling FC was acknowledged to be the nearest challenger below them. The next tier comprised around ten junior sides. Among the juniors, status was jealously guarded and whilst smaller clubs such as such as Bingley or Dudley Hill would typically play games with the Bradford and Manningham reserves, the likes of Cleckheaton and Bowling had higher aspirations and considered such fixtures infra dig. Among  these clubs in particular a form of one-upmanship and proxy competition began to develop as they sought to upgrade their facilities.

At the bottom of the hierarchy were local clubs. These ranged from village sides such as Heaton FC (who had their own dedicated fields) to nursery clubs who were invariably based in local parks (Lister Park being a particular hub of activity).

A chain emerged whereby larger clubs would poach talented players from their smaller brethren who served as feeder clubs. A good example of this was the career of the celebrated full-back George Lorimer who died in 1897 at the height of his fame as full back for Manningham FC. Lorimer’s induction to rugby had been park football as a member of Manningham Free Wanderers in 1887 and he moved to Heaton FC and then Manningham Clarence before eventually joining Manningham FC in 1889. The flow of players was not one way and junior clubs also secured those who fell out of favour in the teams of seniors or preferred a less demanding routine.

Individuals could dream of upward mobility and the possibility of county or even international honours. However, it was the prospect of cup exploits that focused minds. Arguably, success in the Yorkshire Cup or for that matter, the Bradford Charity Cup became the raison d’etre of junior sides and provided the bravado to invest in grounds. It became a matter of pride among the respective organisations to boast a self-respecting home venue, fully enclosed and possessing a ‘grandstand’ (which was in practice an uncovered viewing platform). The actual financial commitment was modest but in emotional and relative terms it was not insignificant. Payment of annual rent was the principal liability of any club but it was the construction of grandstands and ground improvements, as well as maintenance, that dictated the economics.

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A precarious existence

The finances of junior clubs could at best be described as precarious and considerable damage was inflicted by bad weather through postponements or from the expense of straw or oak husks to make a field playable. Invariably a glamour cup-tie or a big game with a local rival made the difference between profit and loss in a season’s workings. By the end of the 1880s financial reality had begun to catch up with these clubs who found themselves weighed down by indebtedness and increasingly desperate circumstances. The trade depression at the beginning of the following decade increased the difficulties further. Bradford Trinity, a club formed in 1880 – the same year as Manningham FC – decided to disband at the beginning of the 1894/95 season on account that the draw for the Yorkshire Challenge Cup had not afforded them a home tie.

The problems of the junior clubs were further exacerbated arising from their structures and weaknesses in financial management. As member organisations, subscribing members enjoyed the privilege of one man per vote but they were also equally liable for repayment of liabilities. Once a club found itself in difficulty there was little incentive for members to renew and as a consequence, financial difficulties were compounded by a drop in subscription revenue. All told, their structures impeded capital raising to fund losses and dissuaded people from getting involved who might have had the business skills to manage a club’s affairs. Not surprisingly it was not sustainable.

The loss of a ground arising from urban development was a factor that could crystallise the liabilities of a club and in this regard, Manningham Rangers is a good example. In September, 1891 for instance a benefit game had to be organised at Valley Parade to raise funds for Manningham Rangers to repay its liabilities prior to dissolution after its Oak Lane ground (roughly bordered by what is now Dartmouth Terrace and Garfield Avenue) was requisitioned for building. Formed in 1882 Manningham Rangers was a classic case of a club that had been formed in the heat of enthusiasm for rugby in Bradford. In 1884 its membership was reported to have been 55 and at the club’s AGM the same year it reported its expenditure to ‘have been rather heavy’ which had presumably related to the expense of ground development and maintenance.

Manningham Rangers became a feeder to Manningham FC (which afforded it the occasional use of Valley Parade) and a number of its players including Alf Barraclough and Ike Newton graduated to the senior Manningham side. On the other hand, the half-back Arthur Briggs – nicknamed ‘Spafter’ – was acclaimed as the successor to Fred Bonsor at Park Avenue after moving from Manningham Rangers via Bowling Old Lane.

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By the start of the 1890s most junior clubs were struggling to remain solvent and the looming issue of broken time payments had grave implications for their finances. Although sympathetic to the needs of individual players, few clubs could afford to pay generous expenses. In 1894 the secretary of Bowling FC was realistic in his assessment that professionalism was an inevitable outcome for northern rugby. Nonetheless he had grave misgivings about how clubs such as his own could accommodate on a widespread basis even the intermediary measure of just broken time payments. The likes of Bowling FC were all too mindful of the delicate balancing act that they already faced between financial failure and survival; the fear was that legalisation of broken time monies would expose junior clubs to an auction for talent in which they could not compete.

The winding-up and disappearance of countless junior sides across Yorkshire and Lancashire by the end of the decade was as dramatic as their sudden emergence in the 1880s. If previously their financial difficulties had been overcome by arranging a fixtures with a local senior side, by 1900 the reality was that rugby football no longer had the same appeal and the leading Northern Union clubs had their own problems. Neither was it feasible for the Northern Union to repay the debts of the juniors and they were to all intents and purposes left to their fate, described by the Yorkshire Post of 12th February, 1900 as a consequence of their ‘overweening ambitions’.

The example of Heaton FC

Heaton FC was a good example of a club that over-committed itself in chasing a dream – it was a shooting star that fell to earth in little more than seven years. Established in January, 1884 the club had an impressive rise that was propelled by enthusiasm and ambition in equal measure. Its original name – Heaton Cricket & Football Club – hints that it may have started life as an offshoot of the parent cricket club. Yet by April, 1891 it was on its last legs, the first of many junior clubs who disappeared in that decade almost as quickly as they had emerged in the 1880s.

(NB Although the Heaton club played according to Rugby Union rules and was, to all intents and purposes, a rugby club it was common practice in West Yorkshire at the time to be known as a football club and the term ‘football’ is best interpreted in the generic sense rather than code specific.)

In the 1885/86 season Heaton FC was one of the sixteen clubs invited to compete in the Bradford Charity Cup which was confirmation that it was regarded as one of the stronger sides in the district. Indeed the proof of its credentials was demonstrated by reaching the second round where it was defeated by the Bradford ‘A’ team. That particular tie in December, 1885 was played in front of three thousand spectators at Park Avenue and provided a taste of the big time for a village club formed less than two years previously.

Heaton FC had its headquarters at the King’s Arms – less than half a mile apart from the Fountain Inn which was later adopted by Manningham Rangers. Its home venue was originally the Heaton recreation ground adjacent to the cemetery but a creditable record in the Bradford Charity Cup fuelled the confidence of members and encouraged the search for a new ground. In 1887 Heaton FC secured a field off Emm Lane – most likely the site of the St Bede’s playing fields – and its first game there in August, 1887 was commemorated with an exhibition match against a Manningham XV.

The year 1887 was probably the peak of football fever in Bradford and a measure of this was the launch by The Yorkshireman magazine of a dedicated football publication in September. It seemed that there was a contagious enthusiasm to commit monies in the pursuit of sporting glory. Heaton FC was not the only club investing in a new ground. So too the Bowling Old Lane football ground opened the same weekend as that at Emm Lane. Similarly, Shipley FC announced in August that it had invested £80 improving its ground opposite the Ring of Bells. Earlier, in March there had been the controversy of a postponed cup tie at Park Avenue which defined the future relationship between the Bradford and Manningham clubs. The affair arguably reflected badly upon the game, inviting ridicule that a sporting dispute should be referred to the Crown Court. The respectability of (rugby) football was to be further tested in relation to the financial viability of its also-ran clubs – the headline profitability of Bradford FC would be proven to be the exception as opposed to the rule.

The calibre of Heaton FC was confirmed by victory over the Bradford ‘A’ team in December, 1887 and in March, 1888 the Heaton side was defeated in the semi-final of the Bradford Charity Cup by Cleckheaton, a poorly attended game at Park Avenue. The achievement proved to be the apogee for Heaton FC and three years later the club disbanded, having struggled to service its debts. The expense of the new ground had undermined its prospects of survival and in the end it was forced to rely upon the goodwill of other clubs to pay its liabilities. Fund raising efforts for this purpose included a testimonial played on behalf of Heaton FC at Valley Parade in April, 1891.

Ironically Heaton FC achieved a creditable record in the development of young players but this served only for it to become a de facto nursery side for Manningham FC rather than for its own benefit. George Lorimer was one such player who graduated to Valley Parade via Manningham Clarence in 1889 where he became established as one of the best full-backs of his era. Another former player, Horace Duckett represented England in 1893 whilst a Bradford FC player.

The case of Shipley FC

Shipley is a town to the north of Bradford whose growth in the nineteenth century was similarly driven by the textiles industry. With a population of around 20,000 in 1890, it was roughly an eighth of the size of its larger neighbour.

Shipley FC provides an interesting case study of the fate of junior clubs and their experience after the split in English rugby in 1895. Shipley FC was better placed than many others to survive. Although traditionally ranked as a third tier club, it had the potential benefit of a decent local catchment with a strong local identity.

The club was also one of longest established in the Bradford area. The formation of Shipley FC in 1876 was at the same time as that of Bingley FC and Keighley FC – evidence that football mania had spread down the Aire valley and of a parochial instinct to keep up with neighbouring towns. The club had a relatively modest existence and highlights of the season tended to be games with near neighbours Windhill FC and Saltaire FC (who were based within the Shipley district).

There was similarly a close rivalry with Bingley FC and Keighley FC. That with Bingley was impacted by an incident in a Bradford Charity Cup tie at Valley Parade in 1886 when a disputed winning try led to the Bingley players leaving the field three minutes before the end of the game. It was not unique to Shipley that by the end of the 1880s local football had established its own folklore and countless legends of petty grievances that sustained public interest.

During the first half of the 1880s Shipley FC began to derive kudos from the graduation of its players to one of the seniors – either Bradford FC or Manningham FC. In common with other clubs of similar stature there was genuine pride when former Shipley men made the grade at a higher level. (NB In the Bradford district there was a sense of patriotic duty for a player to represent the town club, Bradford FC.) In common with other junior sides, Shipley FC became a feeder to the nearby senior clubs with a number of its players graduating to both Bradford FC and Manningham FC. At the beginning of the 1884/85 season for example a couple of Shipley players were enticed to join Manningham FC, by this stage emerging as a serious challenger to Bradford FC.

Shipley FC 1886-87

Shipley FC 1886/87: Back row, left to right: A Thornton, H Shaw, J Moore, C Brumfit, H Walker, W Woodward, and F Hanson (umpire). Middle row, left to right: S Holmes, S Hodgson, J Dawson (captain), J Hartley, J Hardaker, and Lister Wade. Front row, left to right: James Wade, T Horsfall, G Bateson and C Bailey.

In October, 1886, Shipley FC was able to boast that one of its men – Charles Brumfitt – had graduated to Park Avenue to become a member of the town’s premier side. Sadly, things did not work out and he returned to Shipley FC a few weeks later. Newspaper reports suggested that he had been excluded from the Bradford FC team on account of favouritism. Nonetheless, Brumfitt did not suffer from his association with Bradford and he represented Yorkshire in 1887 as a Shipley player.


Shipley FC cup record

The Athletic News of 12 October, 1886 described Shipley FC as a ‘coming’ club… ‘a much smarter lot than many people think’ and this reputation appears to have been sufficient to attract Widnes to Shipley in December, 1887 for a game on their Yorkshire tour. However, until the formation of a league competition in 1892, Shipley’s ranking in Yorkshire rugby was judged on its performance in the Yorkshire Challenge Cup and in that regard, it had a mediocre record. The club’s entry to the cup for the first time in the 1881/82 season arose from the withdrawal of higher profile pedigree sides and hence there was no surprise when Shipley FC was knocked out in the opening round. Between 1882 and 1895 the club never progressed beyond the second round. A consequence of this was that the Yorkshire Cup was never a money-spinner for Shipley FC and it never had the luck of a lucrative home tie. In March, 1893 for example the first round home tie with Armley generated gate money of only £24 (with a corresponding crowd of just under two thousand) and the second round tie that season was unlikely to have attracted an attendance in excess of four thousand.

A particular bogey team in the Yorkshire Cup was Dudley Hill who defeated Shipley twice, in 1883/84 and then 1886/87. Nevertheless, Shipley enjoyed a couple of glamour ties: in March, 1892 the team was defeated in the first round by near neighbours Manningham at Valley Parade and then in March, 1895 it suffered an opening round defeat at the cup holders Halifax.

Shipley FC was also involved in a couple of controversial cup ties, the circumstances of which provide a fascinating insight into the Victorian game. In March, 1893 Shipley had played Wortley at home in the second round, at stake a third round tie at Otley. Wortley managed a narrow victory but Shipley contested the result when it became known that the Wortley side had included a couple of Wakefield men. The tie was ordered to be replayed, on this occasion at Valley Parade but once again Wortley emerged as victors.

The following season, Shipley FC was defeated in the first round by Hull KR. On this occasion it was controversy about a drunken referee that led the tie to be replayed. The Hull Daily Mail of 20 March, 1894 was circumspect in describing the ‘allegations against the referee‘ that led to the cup tie being restaged despite the Hull side having defeated Shipley, 7-0. It was alleged that George Bateson, the Shipley captain had drawn attention to the ‘referee’s condition’ and that he did not think he was in a fit condition to act as referee – during the course of the game ‘decisions were given that were not in accordance with the rules.’ One of the Hull KR supporters protested that the referee, Mr C. Berry was perfectly sober before the start of the game but being of a ‘free and easy disposition’ it gave the Shipley players the wrong impression of his condition! The Yorkshire Rugby Union ordered that the game should be replayed at Castleford and Hull KR won that game, 14-0.

Shipley FC had the best record of all clubs in the Bradford Charity Cup and its achievements in the competition represented the only honours credited to the club prior to 1895. Shipley were losing finalists in 1886/87 and then winners in successive seasons, 1888/89 and 1889/90. On both occasions Shipley defeated Buttershaw in the final although in 1890 had been scheduled to play Manningham ‘A’. Buttershaw had previously won the cup in 1888 and stood in when the Manningham team was unable to participate due to being on tour in South Wales.

Possibly the largest crowd for a game involving Shipley FC was the Bradford Charity Cup final of 1886/87 against Cleckheaton that was attended by twelve thousand. Also at Park Avenue, the attendance for the final in 1889 was reported to have been eight thousand and the semi-final against Bowling Old Lane in 1890 attracted seven thousand. However, by virtue perhaps of the final in 1890 being something of an exhibition game, the crowd was said to have been only three thousand. The celebrations that followed victory at Park Avenue on Easter Monday, 1890 were recorded in the Shipley Times and confirmed the enthusiasm for the competition. It was said that the victors were brought back to Shipley in an open waggonnette and the successful players were greeted by the Saltaire Brass Brand and excursionists enjoying the Easter holiday at Shipley Glen, a local beauty spot.

Unfortunately the club’s record in the Bradford Charity Cup was overshadowed by the death of Lister Wade as a consequence of injuries sustained during the course of the semi-final tie with Saltaire FC at Park Avenue in March, 1889. The Bradford Daily Telegraph of 9 March reported that several rough incidents had occurred in the second half of the game and that he had been ‘recklessly charged by two opponents’ and forced to leave the field with ‘bleeding from the ears’. Yorkshire rugby had become associated with violent play and the incident was widely reported throughout Britain in syndicated despatches that gave further credence to the sport’s critics.

At the end of November, 1889 a Shipley player, George Flaxington broke his leg in the first round Bradford Charity Cup tie with Manningham Rangers. The North Eastern Gazette of 2 December, 1889 reported that ‘Being a cup tie encounter, there was a good deal of excitement and some rough play.’ Commenting on the incidence of violence, the observation was made at the club’s AGM in June 1890 that ‘Betting was responsible for a good many injuries, as it often happened that a player who had made a bet of 2s., and thought he was going to lose it, would half kick a man to death rather than lose.’ (Reported in the Shipley Times of 28 June, 1890.)

Shipley Baines

The finances

In 1884/85 Shipley FC reported income of £97 and in 1886/87 it was £136; by 1889/90 this had increased to £263. With limited cost commitments in 1884/85 and 1886/87, the club was also able to boast decent operating surpluses of £20 and £15 respectively. In 1889/90 the operating surplus was only £3, a consequence of the significant increase in expenses.

The earlier profitability of Shipley FC encouraged investment in its ground and at the club’s AGM in 1887 it was said that ‘a great many improvements for the convenience of spectators in the field were contemplated, and would no doubt be carried out during the summer months‘ (as quoted in the Bradford Observer of 4 May, 1887). Accordingly, the wooden grandstand constructed on its ground opposite the Ring of Bells may have dated from then with the timing of the investment prompted by the decision of rivals Windhill FC who had committed to spending £100 on developing a new ground in the same year. (This was a major commitment for Windhill FC because in 1887/88 its gate receipts amounted to only £57 and in May, 1888 the Windhill members faced a situation where £20 of club funds was unaccounted for and the cash book was missing.)

Ring of Bells ground.jpg

The growing stature of the club may be gauged from the growth in turnover: revenues of £263 in 1889/90 were hardly insubstantial in the context of average weekly earnings of around £1. Nevertheless, when measured in financial terms, Shipley FC was a relative minnow compared to the likes of Bradford FC or Manningham FC whose revenues that season were £3,420 and £942 respectively. Despite the higher income, it is striking that in 1889/90 the operating surplus of Shipley FC was only £3, evidence of a finely balanced if not precarious existence. New monies were being absorbed almost as quickly as they were being earned and with minimal reserves it only took a match postponement to instigate a financial crisis.

The increase in operating costs was accounted for by the expense of rail fares, playing kit, print costs and advertising as well as straw (to protect the field). The comments of the Shipley chairman at the AGM, quoted in the Shipley Times of 28 June, 1890 reveal the burden of travel costs, considered unavoidable for an ambitious club: ‘The committee was endeavouring to reduce the expenses but considering the gates, the railway fares were enormous. He had brought the matter up before, and he thought that if they got fixtures nearer home it would be to their advantage, although the prestige of the club should not be sacrificed to save a few shillings.‘ It was also revealed that the squad comprised just 15 players, two reserve men, two trainers, an umpire and an officer. ‘A good deal of money was paid for men coming from Idle, Tong Park and Manningham while training. These men came down three or four times a week, when there fares would amount to 1/6 or 2s. The railway fares last year were £63 but they did not go to West Hartlepool or Askam.’

Other items of expenditure would have been directly related to the players themselves, classified innocuously as ‘refreshments’ but quite possibly including illicit boot money (the term applied to covert monetary rewards, literally dropped into players’ boots). In 1889/90 the annual rent charge was reported to have been £11 and further expense would have derived from the upkeep and improvement of the ground as well as repayment of debt relating to ground development.

A local institution

By the start of the 1890s Shipley FC was well-established in its community. The Shipley team comprised men who were motivated to play for local honour and the relative lack of honours should not be interpreted as lack of passion or commitment. Furthermore, reported crowds of around two thousand for holiday fixtures reveal the interest of local people in the club’s affairs. Involvement with the club also afforded a degree of social prominence that was not restricted to the players themselves.

Responsibility for managing the club’s affairs bestowed status on committee members. One person who became involved was Maurice Bonsor who lived nearby at Hall Royd in Shipley and in 1892 he was elected president of Shipley FC. The Bonsor family (which was of French descent) had settled in Shipley and the father, Robert was a textiles dyer. Maurice is better known for having been the brother of England international and Bradford FC captain Fred Bonsor (who guested for Saltaire FC in December, 1891 against Shipley). Nevertheless, he had a respectable record in his own right as a local sportsman.

1892 Maurice Bonsor

In 1881 Maurice had joined Bradford Trinity and was latterly captain of the second team before he joined Bradford FC. Between 1883 and 1887 he was an irregular member of the first team at Park Avenue and he remained an active squad player prior to his retirement from the game in1890. Maurice was also a captain in the Rifle Volunteers and as a keen cyclist was responsible for organising a ‘Cyclist Section’ within the Bradford corps. Fred enjoyed celebrity status in Bradford and there is the sense that Maurice’s patronage of Shipley FC was his way of defining a reputation and legacy. Indeed, the egos and vanity of committee members was a major factor in driving the development of individual rugby clubs.

Nevertheless, as financial commitments increased and football clubs began to accrue liabilities, the responsibility of office brought with it the personal risk of having to repay debts in the event of winding-up. The issue weighed on peoples’ minds and would later deter individuals from seeking election to Shipley’s leadership committee. The same consideration may have dissuaded Bonsor from maintaining his involvement with the club.

Shipley FC at the time of the rugby split in 1895

In 1892 Shipley joined the third tier of the new Yorkshire league competition. In the last season under the auspices of the Yorkshire RFU a total of 64 clubs comprised the four divisions, of which 14 were from the Bradford district listed as follows: Seniors in the top tier: Bradford FC and Manningham FC; second tier: Bowling FC; third tier: Bowling Old Lane, Keighley and Shipley; fourth tier: Bingley, Brownroyd Recreation, Idle, Low Moor St Mark’s, Saltaire, Silsden, Wibsey and Windhill.

Newspaper reports confirm that league games were highly competitive. Yet the sporting world inhabited by Shipley FC seems quaint in contrast to what we are familiar with. A wonderful illustration of the practical differences between then and now is provided by the Shipley correspondent of the Yorkshire Evening Post on 29 January, 1894: ‘There was a singular misapprehension at Shipley, on Saturday, as to the result of the football match between the Hull Kingston Rovers and Shipley, and apparently it was due to the referee getting bewildered by the storm. The spectators on both sides believed the result to be a draw, but as they were leaving the field a question to the referee elicited the response that Shipley were the winners with 8 points to 6. Further inquiries, however, showed that the storm had played havoc with the referee’s pencillings, and he had concluded that the Shipley men were entitled to a goal from a try, and not a penalty goal. The point was, however, really a penalty goal and the match was a draw after all. Owing to the storm, good football was out of the question, and Shipley were disappointed in not winning.’

Around the time of the split in 1895 Shipley FC was struggling to make ends meet and was faced with servicing debts that had built up from the costs of ground development as well as the funding of trading losses. It was hardly a unique state of affairs and the trade depression at the turn of the decade was blamed for having exacerbated the financial difficulties of most clubs in the Bradford area (by virtue of impact on disposable incomes). In December, 1894 the prospective Unionist MP for Shipley, Fortescue Flannery had encouraged the three Shipley-based clubs – Saltaire, Shipley and Windhill – to combine.

The Leeds Mercury of 5 December, 1894 quoted Flannery who had ‘suggested that if the three clubs amalgamated they could get a team which would carry them to the front rank of football clubs in Yorkshire.‘ Windhill FC had been runners-up in the Bradford Charity Cup in 1892 and 1894 – an achievement that may have fostered unrealistic expectations – and its membership could not be persuaded to give up independence or abandon the Crag End ground. Merger discussions continued between Saltaire and Shipley although these were reported to have been aborted in March, 1895 on account of the Saltaire club’s objections to playing at Shipley’s ground. However whilst amalgamation made sense, the obstacles were more than just emotional. A combined club for instance still faced the obligation to repay the collective debts and few members would have relished inheriting the liabilities of rival clubs in addition to their own.

Increasingly, Shipley FC came to rely upon fund raising social events to remain viable. During the 1896/97 and 1897/98 seasons the Ring of Bells ground also hosted the newly formed Shipley AFC which may have been a further attempt to generate additional income. The side was one of few playing the association code in the Bradford area at the time but became defunct before the launch of the Bradford & District FA which boosted the game after 1899. Arguably the soccer initiative was premature and the Shipley club might otherwise have established itself as a leading pioneer of the game. (The town never had a soccer club of any stature; although a revived Shipley AFC emerged in 1900 and joined the Bradford & District FA in 1901, it disbanded in 1920 on account of indebtedness.)

A new opportunity for Shipley

The new Northern Union competition that came into being at the end of August, 1895 was not universally popular in the north and certainly not in the Bradford district. Criticism of the breakaway came from those who looked upon it as a de facto cartel, dismissive of the interests of smaller clubs such as Shipley. The breakaway was viewed with a high degree of cynicism and the Shipley committee identified an opportunity for the club to attract people who were alienated by the decision of the seniors to secede from the Rugby Union.


The formation of the Northern Union gave Shipley a new lease of life and the possibility of defining for itself a new niche as the leading side in the district among those remaining within the Rugby Union. In the absence of the seniors, clubs such as Shipley viewed the breakaway of the rebels as an opportunity to grab the limelight as well as a means of financial salvation.

Optimism was raised by the defection of prominent players from Bradford FC. For example, James Barron and Harold Ramsden joined Bingley FC with whom they later obtained England caps and the Shipley FC team was strengthened by the return of Yorkshire county player Herbert Ward (see Baines card above). Similarly, Frank Murgatroyd re-joined Idle FC and Arthur Briggs opted to join Pudsey. These players wanted to avoid the prospect of being ‘professionalised’ by playing Northern Union football at Park Avenue and by returning to their local clubs believed that they would avoid compromising their chances of county and national selection.

The Shipley team was further strengthened by the inclusion of Charles Emmott (pictured), a former England international half-back (capped once in 1892 against Wales) and Yorkshire county player (for whom he made four appearances between 1890/91 and 1891/92) whilst with Bradford FC. Emmott was a Saltaire man and had played with his local club after making his debut in 1885. In September, 1890 he had transferred to Park Avenue before returning to Saltaire FC at the start of the 1892/93 season. He then had another brief spell with Bradford FC in 1893/94, signed by that club in September, 1893 as an emergency response to the team’s loss of form but re-joined Saltaire once again before moving to Bowling FC midway through the 1894/95 season. As an established joiner by trade, Emmott would not have been concerned with receipt of broken time payments and his transfer to Shipley FC in September, 1895 (at the age of 26 years) was presumably with the intent of remaining an amateur and reviving his county career. He remained with the club until January, 1901, ending his playing days with Windhill FC. In 1904 he was appointed trainer of Bradford Wanderers RUFC who were based at Red Beck Fields, Shipley.

Charlie Emmott

At the end of the 1895/96 season Shipley FC finished as champions of the new second tier league of the Yorkshire Rugby Union whilst neighbours Idle FC finished top of the third tier.


During the following season, 1896/97 Shipley FC established itself as the top amateur side in the district and its members had genuine ambitions about the club reaching the heights of English rugby.

Scan 1896 rail

In 1896/97 Shipley FC were beaten finalists in the Yorkshire Cup, losing to Hull KR. Despite the competition being much diminished in the absence of senior clubs, the achievement fuelled the improbable dream that the club could transform itself and become one of the leading sides in the country. It was claimed that the occasion of the final was the first in 18 years to suffer rainfall but this was no excuse for a gate described as one of ‘meagre dimensions’.

Even so, Shipley FC appears to have benefited from higher attendances after 1895. On the same day in October, 1896 for example there were three thousand spectators at Shipley to witness the game with Featherstone and only five thousand at Park Avenue to watch Bradford FC and Liversedge. On 22 January, 1898 the Yorkshire Evening Post ventured that Shipley FC had had a record gate for the visit of Keighley with receipts in excess of £80: ‘It has often been remarked that gates in Bradford are not now what they were in former times. One explanation of this is to be found in the rise of clubs like Shipley, Bingley, and Keighley. Many enthusiasts from the Airedale district used to go to Park Avenue and Valley Parade not long ago for their football. They now find a sufficient attraction nearer home.’ The crowd at the Ring of Bells ground on that occasion must have been close to six thousand.

The following season Shipley were winners of the first division, ahead of local rivals Keighley who were runners-up and Bingley who managed only to avoid the wooden spoon. Nevertheless, the mood of optimism and confidence was tempered by financial worries. The Shipley Times of 18 March, 1899 reported the dinner in ‘celebration of their having carried off the premier honours of the Yorkshire No.1 Competition.’ The chairman had congratulated the club but ‘wished to see the club occupying an even better position, and if its supporters only pulled themselves together and wiped off the debt which a present hampered it he had no doubt they would succeed, and he need not say they would be chary of contracting similar debts in future.’ Another official was quoted to the extent that ‘every year Shipley were getting nearer to the top of the tree in matters of football so far as Yorkshire was concerned, and their efforts during the present season, taken on their merits, were not only a credit to the players and the committee, but to the town.’

Shipley Baines

The collapse of a dream

The immediate aftermath of the split in 1895 had revealed the interdependence of the senior and junior clubs and both groups became losers. For the latter, the RFU ban on relations with the Northern Union took away an umbilical cord. The seniors were also impacted by new complications about recruiting local talent from sides whom they had always considered de facto nurseries. For the players, graduation to one of the senior clubs was now a make or break affair. Having represented a senior club or even played a trial game with a Northern Union side, the individual concerned ‘professionalised himself’ and by being denied amateur status was thus prevented from ever playing with a junior club under the auspices of the Yorkshire Rugby Union. In other words, where previously there had been a food chain between the small and large clubs as well as the backflow from senior to junior clubs, the free movement was now restricted in one direction only.

In 1897 Shipley FC was reminded of its relative status in the rugby world with the defection of Nim Greenwood to Manningham FC. Greenwood (pictured) had been one of the club’s leading players and a member of the cup team defeated by Hull KR in the Yorkshire Cup final. His loss was a major blow to Shipley and demonstrated that the Northern Union would always be a magnet for leading players in the Yorkshire Rugby Union. (He is remembered as one of the best of his era and after five years at Valley Parade joined Pontefact before transferring to Bradford FC in the second half of the 1903/04 season. Greenwood was in the Bradford team during the final season of rugby at Park Avenue in 1906/07 and in 1906 was a member of the club’s Northern Union Challenge Cup winning team.)

Nim Greenwood ex Shipley FC - Bradford FC NUCC 1906

The problem that the junior clubs faced was that they were forbidden to play fixtures with sides who had joined the Northern Union. At a stroke this removed the financial benefit of prestige games, in particular cup ties. Similarly, Bradford FC and Manningham FC had previously taken it upon themselves to organise friendlies with struggling junior sides to sustain their finances but this charity was no longer possible.

Before long there began to be misgivings in Yorkshire about whether the traditional junior clubs could survive as members of the Rugby Union in parallel to the Northern Union. The impasse between the RFU and Northern Union offered little prospect for junior clubs to resolve their financial difficulties. If anything, the pressures increased as a consequence of being forced to travel longer distances to secure fixtures and being unable to attract the public to games involving mediocre or nondescript opposition. In 1897 there was even talk of establishing a new, separate union of those clubs to represent their interests and this was prompted by charges of professionalism against Hull KR which most observers considered unfair. The subsequent defection of Hull KR to the Northern Union was generally interpreted to have dealt a blow to a third way solution and forced a binary choice. With the benefit of hindsight, the move by Hull KR was highly significant in determining the fate of those left behind as members of the Yorkshire Rugby Union.

The timing was cruel for Shipley FC which could rightfully consider that it had the opportunity to make a name for itself in Yorkshire rugby. Even if the competitions were weakened as a result of defection to the Northern Union, Shipley FC could still boast having been a finalist in the Yorkshire Challenge Cup of the1896/97 season and in 1898/99 champions of the top tier of the Yorkshire Senior Competition. It was confirmation to partisan supporters that Shipley FC was on the verge of a breakthrough and therefore it must have seemed almost as if a rug was being pulled from under its feet as one by one, other junior clubs either fell by the wayside or opted to join the Northern Union. For Shipley FC, the dream ended no sooner than it had begun.

Shipley FC and the Northern Union

Despite the depletion of the Yorkshire Rugby Union, and with it the loss of critical mass, there was still guarded optimism among the membership of Shipley FC. In 1896/97 the cup run had helped Shipley to generate record receipts of £364, albeit with an operating surplus of only £1. The following season, income fell by 7% but remained at a respectable level by historic standards. Even though there was a profit of only £3, the financial outlook was not critical and at that stage it could not be said that the club was disadvantaged by its membership of the Yorkshire Rugby Union.

The disbanding of Saltaire FC also presented an opportunity. Shipley FC inherited its wooden grandstand which was removed from Saltaire’s ground off Albert Road and it was also able to call upon the support of its former rival. It led the Leeds Times of 10 September, 1898 to suggest that the club’s position this season ‘will be strengthened by the recent demise of the Saltaire organisation.’

Shipley became known as a club that was loyal to the Yorkshire Rugby Union, dismissive about joining the Northern Union. A good reason for this was that Shipley FC had established itself as one of the leading clubs and enjoyed a status that had previously been denied. The Shipley Times report of the Shipley FC AGM of 18 August, 1898 confirmed that ‘the chief reason for remaining in the Yorkshire Union was that if Shipley FC joined the Northern Union they would have no chance of getting a player into the county, they would have no representation, and they had no guarantee of promotion by merit. Seeing that the club had now got to the top of the ladder in Yorkshire amateur football as it existed, he thought the best thing they could do was to remain loyal to the English Union.’

Although there remained a degree of bitterness towards the original rebels it was telling that there was a softening of attitude towards the Northern Union. At the same meeting, the chairman acknowledged that ‘at one time he did not think much of the tactics of that organisation, but to his mind they were in a vastly different position to what they were when they left the Yorkshire Union. They now had open professionalism and promotion by merit, and their action was now altogether open and above board.’ He added that the best thing they could do was forming another union of their own, an option discussed among other Yorkshire clubs the previous year prior to the defection of Hull KR. In other words, far from considering the Yorkshire Rugby Union to be ideal it was viewed as a ‘least worst’ option and a comfort blanket that afforded familiarity.

It was not an exaggeration to say the viability of junior clubs was questionable. Shipley FC was no exception to this but unlike many others it had the good fortune for its bank borrowings to be guaranteed by a benefactor. Percy Illingworth was another man of means to be involved with the club, the youngest son of the Bradford industrialist Henry Illingworth. Percy boasted a creditable football pedigree having represented Cambridge University, Blackheath and, as a guest player, Bradford FC. It is my belief that he – and possibly Maurice Bonsor – had encouraged the club’s ambitions to become a leading side within the Rugby Union after 1895. Illingworth’s motive to guarantee the bank borrowings in 1899 might even have been to discourage Shipley FC from joining the Northern Union. Yet even though Illingworth provided support he could hardly be described as a sugar daddy who was prepared to underwrite losses indefinitely and at the AGM in August, 1899 it was reported that his guarantee was limited to £40, only a third of the total debt at that time.

(Like Maurice and Fred Bonsor, Percy Illingworth was another prominent Bradford football personality who served in the South African war between 1899-00. Had Illingworth been actively involved with Shipley FC affairs in the 1899 close season then quite possibly he may have persuaded the club to remain in the Rugby Union.)

Loyalty to the Yorkshire Rugby Union was inevitably tested at the end of the 1898/99 season when, despite winning the first division of the Yorkshire RFU competition, there was a 30% collapse in gate receipts. It left no room for sentimentality and members were more concerned about facing personal liability for the club’s growing indebtedness. Not everyone was in favour of the club joining the Northern Union and it was a contentious issue that divided opinion. The collapse of cricket leagues in Yorkshire in 1899 and scepticism about the sustainability of competitive leagues had even led some to question whether the Northern Union had a future. There was an impasse between different factions which was not surprising given what was at stake and the sheer uncertainty of outcomes. It must have felt like a jump into the unknown, a bet on the future of the club.

The Shipley Times of 18 March 1899 reported a meeting of members: ‘The chairman appealed for help in the endeavour which the club were making to free themselves from the debt which had hung like a millstone round their necks for many years. If they could not wipe out that debt now, when the club was practically at the zenith of its fame, he did not know when they would be able to do it… there was no denying that the gates had not come up to expectations.’ With regards the Northern Union, the chairman said ‘they had thrashed the matter out time after time and he did not think the situation had altered. The club was better off without it. They were not governed by the rod of iron which dominated the operations of many of the clubs in the Northern Union – some of which he knew would be only too glad to return to the Rugby Union.

The Shipley FC AGM was delayed until the summer, most likely on account of the politics between different member factions. In the meantime, local rivals, Windhill FC – the ‘Crag Enders‘ – seceded immediately after the end of the 1898/99 season but what is intriguing is that that club attempted to rename itself ‘Shipley’ as a Northern Union club. I find it difficult to believe that this initiative was entirely unrelated to the disagreements that were ongoing between members of Shipley FC. Yet whether it was a case of mischief or commercial opportunism, Windhill FC sought to position itself as the Shipley representative in the Northern Union with the intention to rename the club ‘Shipley Northern Union FC’.

The move constituted a threat to Shipley FC with the implication of local players and even spectators being attracted to Windhill at the expense of the former. The Yorkshire committee of the Northern Union pre-empted this but it was not until the beginning of September, 1899 that it refused to grant authority for the name change. Agreement already existed between the Northern Union and the Football Association to prevent duplicate names but the Windhill case represented a rare example of co-operation with the Yorkshire Rugby Union to prevent an identity clash.

The Shipley Times report of 9 August, 1899 spoke of the heated debate when the AGM of Shipley members eventually took place: ‘some members expressed dissatisfaction at the manner in which the club had been worked during the last season. The question of old liabilities continually cropped up, and mainly on account of being held responsible for the debts, most of the late officers were unwilling to be re-elected. There was a stalemate in terms of future options although joining the Northern Union was rejected. It was agreed that the old committee would meet to determine a course of action for the forthcoming season.’

The reluctance of people to accept office on account of the club’s liabilities led to the old committee being asked to resolve the deadlock and a final decision was made three weeks later on 30 August to join the Northern Union. The decision was made at roughly the same time as the conclusion of the Windhill renaming saga which must have had a bearing on the outcome. Ultimately, the fact that defection took place in the last week of August, close to the beginning of the 1899/00 season suggests that it was not well-planned.

There were two key reasons cited in the Leeds Mercury of 2 September, 1899 for the decision. The first was a dearth of fixtures with the few arranged being far below the standard of prior years and only 16 games having been scheduled for the forthcoming season. The second was that the club had to face the probability of having their ranks considerably weakened by the migration of their players to wealthier Northern Union clubs. The defection of two leading players at the end of August, 1899 may have prompted the decision to secede to the Northern Union with Ernie Jacobson moving to Hunslet and Herbert Ward rejoining Bradford FC.

A further issue was that the club was aggrieved at only having been granted one county trial match by the Yorkshire Union. The consensus within the committee had been ‘that to remain longer in the Rugby Union would be to court disaster.’ It was said that the players favoured the move and ‘a majority of the members of the club have for some time been hankering after a change.’

The Northern Union had an attraction for the rank and file players because it offered better fixtures and more local games. Not only did this promise higher gate revenues; a reduction in travelling also ensured lower costs and had benefit for the finances. Membership of the Northern Union was seen as an insurance policy to retain players but it also offered advantages for recruitment simply because the number playing the amateur game was diminishing.

Yet whilst these were considerations common to other clubs, there were also issues that were specific to Shipley FC in dictating the choice of the Northern Union. A defensive response to Windhill’s action was one such factor. Another was the impasse between factions of the Shipley membership to determine a viable future for the club and in the final event the old committee acted almost like receivers of the club. The lack of consensus among members threatened the club’s ability to deal with its increased indebtedness, a factor which had dissuaded people from getting involved with the management of its affairs. Accepting the status quo by default was therefore hardly an option and hence radical decision was considered necessary to reinvigorate Shipley FC.

1899-09-16 BDT Shipley cartoon

Nevertheless, Shipley FC came close to be excluded from the Northern Union which would have been embarrassing having resigned from the Yorkshire Rugby Union. Club officials needed to lobby the Northern Union clubs both for late admission to the league and for fixtures to be arranged. Thankfully Antonio Fattorini of Manningham FC is known to have supported the application of Shipley in the face of opposition from others, including the members of Windhill. A suggestion that the club was in disarray is provided by the fact that Shipley’s opening game in the Northern Union was a crushing defeat at Dewsbury.

The end for Shipley FC

The move to the Northern Union was not popular with everyone. Shipley FC went from the top division of the Yorkshire Rugby Union to the second tier of the Northern Union in Yorkshire and this was the dilemma for Shipley FC, to be a big fish in a draining pond or to be a small fish in deeper waters. It also illustrated that defecting to the Northern Union was never going to be a magic solution to financial difficulties. And so it proved in 1899/00 when total income during the club’s first season in the Northern Union was only £112 – a reduction of £106, nearly half of that in the previous year – with a deficit of £23.

Shipley FC Dec-00

Shipley v Keighley, 25th December 1900

During the 1900/01 season the club made a determined effort to raise funds through various social events alive and the fund-raising efforts were nothing less than innovative. The Shipley Times of 8 September, 1900 announced that a grand bazaar was to be held at Christmas to remove the debt and on 29 December, 1900 it was reported that on Christmas Eve a ‘Corean Bazaar’ was held in the Shipley Central Infants’ School, opened by Percy Illingworth who declared ‘that a town so well organised and so well-contained as Shipley ought to have a football team worthy of the reputation of the place. He treated that all who appreciated football as an outdoor sport would endeavour to bring about that state of things, and would rally to the support of the committee in their effort to accomplish their laudable aims. He was an ardent supporter of all outdoor games and he did not think there was anything more suited to the temperament and genius of our people than Rugby football. It drew forth many qualities, among them courage, good temper, and endurance.’

Illingworth confessed that ‘he viewed with some feeling of apprehension the time of the split in Rugby football. He was one of those who thought that if a little more discretion had been shown on both sides they would still have been playing under the rule of the Rugby Union, a body which was now sadly in need of the help of its old Yorkshire supporters who were now under the Northern Union. He was not particularly fond of a crowd at football matches. He would prefer to see 10,000 playing than 30 playing and 10,000 watching; but he was afraid the club treasurers would not agree with him.’ His comments reveal that he was primarily concerned with the survival of Shipley FC as a local institution and that prejudices about the Northern Union were secondary to this. The support of chairman, William Denby – who was the owner of the dye works at Tong Park – similarly betrayed local patriotism. In acknowledging him, Illingworth said of Denby that ‘there was no good cause in Shipley which had not that gentleman on its side.’

Illingworth declared his hope that the bazaar would be a success to clear the club’s debt of £120 ‘a small one for a town like Shipley‘. The fund-raising efforts probably also encouraged support for the club through promotion of the holiday fixture with Keighley FC on Christmas Day, 1900 at the Ring Of Bells ground. It was reported in the Bradford Daily Telegraph that seven thousand people attended the game and in the absence of railway connections it was claimed that hundreds of people had resorted to walking down the Aire Valley en masse to Shipley.

It seems likely that the crowd for the derby game at Shipley constituted the record attendance at the ground which would have provided a considerable boost to the club’s finances. Whether the attendance was actually as high as seven thousand is questionable and whether the club was able to collect monies from all the spectators is another question entirely. For a start, the site of the ground was not extensive and the perimeter structures would have been rudimentary, possibly no more than tarpaulin covers with a couple of entrances at which gate money was collected.

From a financial perspective the 1900/01 season was something of a success for Shipley FC. It was subsequently reported in April, 1901 that the club had ended the campaign ‘£50 better off than at the commencement of the season’ which probably encouraged a sense of optimism among Shipley supporters that the club could stabilise its affairs and enjoy a revival.

There were no further attempts at merger with either Saltaire or Windhill but it is doubtful whether this could have transformed the prospects of Shipley FC. The experience of football in the Spen Valley had demonstrated that amalgamation was easier said than done. For example in 1899 the officials of the Liversedge and Heckmondwike clubs had resisted coming together despite their financial difficulties and the fact that the Spen Valley – like the Shipley district – could not support two professional sides. The case for merger of those clubs was strong and the Bradford Daily Telegraph of 8 April, 1899 ascribed the reason why it didn’t happen to the self-interest of the individuals concerned. The following year Liversedge combined with Cleckheaton FC following the latter’s secession to the Northern Union. However, this arrangement was generally accepted to have been a failure in terms of both financial outcomes and playing performances. The experience of Liversedge / Cleckheaton may have reinforced attitudes that fusions were not the best way to ensure survival.

Indeed, it is telling that apart from Liversedge / Cleckheaton no other amalgamations occurred among junior rugby clubs in West Yorkshire and besides. Such was the independent-mindedness and competitiveness between rivals that the emotional baggage of any merger was always going to be a major obstacle. With the Saltaire club having wound-up in 1898, the Shipley committee must have concluded that if Windhill FC was left to collapse under its debts then this would be a preferential outcome.

The record of Shipley FC in the Northern Union was modest. Denied a place in the Northern Union Challenge Cup competition of 1899/00 (presumably on account of late registration), in 1900/01 it suffered a first round defeat at Stockport.

Shipley was one of the stronger sides in the Yorkshire Second Competition Western Division and in 1900/01 there had been a close race between Heckmondwike, Shipley, Sowerby Bridge and Keighley for the championship. However, it was Heckmondwike who were champions of the division during the two seasons of Shipley’s membership.

1901-02-16 YS cartoon

Yorkshire Sports cartoon, February 1901

In April, 1901 the Shipley members were informed that the Earl of Rosse had recently sold the club’s ground opposite its headquarters at the Ring Of Bells for residential development and that the club had been given notice to vacate by the end of the month. The short notice period is worthy of mention as it hardly provided security of tenure for the club, another factor conspiring against robust finances or more extensive development of facilities.

Having investigated the possibility of a new ground the leadership decided that it could not afford the cost of levelling the land and building a retaining wall. (The site of the ground is reported as having been ‘between the railway and the canal with its entrance in Ashley Lane’ but there is also reference to a field at Jane Hills.) In July, 1901 it was decided to disband Shipley FC but at least the club avoided the indignity of Bingley FC the previous December, whose landlord distrained for non-payment of rent and removed the goal posts at Wagon Lane.

Nevertheless, Shipley FC had outstanding debts of £83 and its members were liable for this. In October, 1901 the auction of the remnants of the club’s two wooden stands realised only £7 and additional fund-raising activity had to continue until the end of the year.

Within ten years of the rugby split that had occurred in 1895, the Bradford district had become a soccer stronghold. The city boasted the first Football League club in West Yorkshire and the Bradford & District Football League comprised local sides from every suburb and village. Rugby was played in only a handful of schools and most striking of all, the junior rugby clubs of what is now the Bradford Metropolitan District were virtually extinct – the most notable exception being Keighley FC who by this stage was one of the leading Northern Union sides in the county. (The only other survivor was Wyke FC, again a member of the Northern Union.)

The emergence of Shipley Victoria FC after the winding-up of Shipley FC may have been an attempt by former Shipley members and enthusiasts to continue playing Northern Union rugby. However Shipley Victoria existed at a very junior level as members of the second division of the Bradford & District Rugby Union and had a fleeting existence. The team ground shared with Windhill Rangers at Cowling Road, Windhill.

The end of Windhill FC

No further attempt was made by Windhill FC to assume the ‘Shipley’ identity and in July, 1901 the Shipley members rejected a proposal for a committee to investigate the possibility of merger with Windhill FC. (Irrespective it is unlikely that Windhill members would have had any enthusiasm to combine and take responsibility for the Shipley debts).

Windhill FC eventually disbanded at the end of the 1902/03 season, succumbing to its financial difficulties which were compounded by poor accounting and weak controls. In March, 1903 there was embarrassment at the fact that the club had been unable to fulfil a fixture at Sowerby Bridge on account of not having sufficient funds to pay the rail fare. During the course of inquiry it emerged that a cheque payment from a benefactor had been ‘lost’, a not dissimilar situation to that in 1888 when the financial records had gone missing. The donation had been made by Sir Fortescue Flannery, by this time the Shipley MP (1895-1906) and his support for Windhill FC is another example of the far-reaching links between Conservative politicians and football clubs in the Bradford district and surrounding areas. The Shipley Times of 6 March 1903 disclosed the internal investigations within the club and recriminations: ‘In the course of a heated discussion it appeared that the financial difficulties of the club were due to a great measure to the way in which the books of the club had been kept… and that the present officials thought that the interests of the club would be best served by ‘hushing’ the matter up.

Whether Windhill FC enjoyed favourable political patronage is a matter of speculation but it is notable that alone of other junior rugby clubs in the Bradford district and vicinity, its ground at Crag End was safeguarded thanks to civic intervention. In January, 1901 Shipley District Council agreed to the purchase and ‘laying out’ of the Windhill Cricket & Football Field as a public recreation ground at a cost of £3,000. The Shipley Times of 2 February reported that ‘the proposed recreation ground at Windhill was in a densely populated district, and it was thought that it would very unadvisable to let it be disposed of for building purposes.’ It is unclear if the Windhill club enjoyed beneficial lease arrangements from the new ownership but the decision is notable, representing as it did a fairly enlightened policy. (Arguably the proximity of alternative recreational facilities at Red Beck Fields dissuaded Shipley Council from seeking to protect the home of Shipley FC at the Ring of Bells ground from property development. However, being situated in a relatively affluent area, the case for intervention would have been much weaker.)

At the end of June, 1904 nearby Idle FC was wound up. Bumper receipts from its cup tie reply with Manningham FC the previous February had provided temporary respite but the club was not viable and its members recognised the futility of continuing. Blame for the club’s demise was attributed to the Northern Union. Such sentiments were consistent with those of many other rugby followers in Bradford and reflected growing disenchantment with the code around that time.


The fate of Keighley FC

Keighley FC had similar pretensions to those of Shipley and had finished as runners-up in the top tier of the Yorkshire Rugby Union in 1897/98 and then 1898/99. It had previously been champions of the YSC second division in 1896/97 (twelve months after Shipley FC won the same title). Shipley’s defection to the Northern Union in 1899 removed a key competitor and in 1899/00 Keighley secured the YSC first division championship (again, emulating Shipley’s achievement the previous year). Nevertheless, rumours in the Bradford Daily Telegraph in January, 1900 of Keighley following Shipley into the Northern Union proved accurate and at the end of the season Keighley seceded alongside the Bingley, Cleckheaton, Otley and Wyke clubs.

In 1900/01, league rivalry between Keighley and Shipley was renewed as fellow members of the Northern Union’s Yorkshire Second Competition Western Division. The motives of Keighley FC had been entirely financial, specifically to benefit from better crowds and to reduce travelling costs. In terms of fostering local interest, membership of the league was seemingly ideal with a total of fifteen other clubs in the division and no more than twenty miles between them. Five of those were based in Calderdale and five were from Airedale – Bingley, Idle and Windhill in addition to Keighley and Shipley. (The remaining clubs were Dewsbury, Heckmondwike, Kirkstall, Birstall and Otley.)

In 1901/02, with the disbanding of Shipley FC, it was Manningham FC who became local rivals for Keighley FC. The following season Keighley finished above Manningham to secure promotion to the top tier of the Northern Union as champions of the newly formed second division (that embraced Lancashire and Yorkshire clubs).

Although Keighley FC was relegated at the end of 1903/04, in 1905/06 it was ranked fifth highest in the north and in 1906/07 it was fourth (pictured below), finishing above Bradford FC. Prior to the outcome of World War One it was the strongest club in what is now the Bradford Metropolitan District. It was a remarkable ascendancy, an achievement that defied Shipley FC. Arguably Keighley benefited from the demise of Shipley in 1901 and the conversion of Manningham FC to soccer in 1903 – as Bradford City AFC – because it was able to attract rugby enthusiasts along the Midland Railway / Aire valley corridor. Similarly in 1901 and 1903 it was able to recruit former Shipley and Manningham players.

Keighley NRFC 1907.jpg

In November, 1907 when the new Bradford Northern club played Keighley at Greenfield it was remarked that there were as many Bradford district players in the Lawkholme Lane side as the home team and that the fixture could hence be classed as a local ‘derby’.

Had Shipley FC not faced eviction in 1901 and the expense of relocation, quite possibly its members would have prolonged the struggle and it might have been Shipley and not Keighley – now known as Keighley Cougars in the Rugby League – who survived.

A new Shipley club

The Shipley identity was revived in September, 1908 by members of the Bradford Wanderers rugby union club who opted to rename their organisation. The Wanderers played in Shipley and the club’s decision was intended to encourage local interest – prompted perhaps by the revival of Otley RFC the previous year. It revealed a distinct identity and sense of local autonomy that is not so quaint as might be presupposed.

The extent to which Shipley people were independent-minded in relation to Bradford is notable and provides historic context to recent suggestions about Shipley seceding from the jurisdiction of the wider Bradford Metropolitan District. In 1938 for example, the Shipley Times & Express reported celebrations in the town when the compulsory incorporation of Shipley into the Bradford district was rejected in Parliament. It echoed similar sentiments in 1901 when Baildon residents had lobbied to remain within the Shipley district rather than be absorbed into Bradford. The resistance was as much driven by economic reasoning as sentimentality and ever since the 1880s there had been sensitivity in Shipley about the cost of water supplies from Bradford Corporation. Shipley people were also mindful about higher property rate levies in Bradford.

Bfd Wanderers lo-res

The Bradford Wanderers club had been formed in 1899 and originally played its games at Birch Lane which had been vacated as a result of the Bowling Old Lane rugby section disbanding in 1897. In 1903 the club had relocated to Red Beck Fields off Otley Road and used the nearby Branch Hotel as its headquarters. (This was the same ground that had been used by Manningham Albion – a predecessor of Manningham FC – in 1879/80 and until 1883, by the original Shipley FC. Sadly the Branch Hotel is no more to be seen having been demolished in August, 2018.) Bradford Wanderers became known as the ‘Red Beck Amateurs’. However, in 1906 when the club merged with Bradford Rangers it became known as plain ‘Bradford’, thereby implying the inheritance of the town club’s rugby union heritage.

The reason for the merger was to remove competition between Rangers and Wanderers for new recruits. By combining it was felt that standards could be improved and the future of rugby union in the area safeguarded. Nevertheless, the move was not welcomed by all and a new club, Horton RUFC was formed. A crucial point of difference was that the Horton club was based in Bradford and more convenient to those living in the south of the city – much the same factor that had driven the way in which rugby had originally evolved in the district during the three preceding decades. (At the time of the merger it was reported that the combined club had hoped to play at the former Lidget Green ground of Bradford Rangers. However it is unclear why this did not happen and how it was that the Horton club adopted the ground.)

The emergence of Horton undermined the initiative at Shipley and hence within two years came the seemingly radical measure of changing the latter club’s name. The decision to forsake the Bradford identity for that of Shipley needs to be seen in the context of the ‘Great Betrayal’ in 1907 when rugby had been abandoned at Park Avenue. This had led to the emergence of two new sporting identities – Bradford Park Avenue and Bradford Northern – and the disappearance of the ‘Bradford’ rugby club. Mindful of possible confusion, the renaming of Bradford Wanderers to ‘Shipley’ can be interpreted as signifying a fresh start for rugby in the area and the adoption of a distinct identity. Furthermore the club did not have its base within the Bradford boundaries and it could appeal to those who had followed the original Shipley FC. Undoubtedly there would have been a sentiment among local rugby followers of unfinished business from the previous decade as well as an eye to what Keighley FC had achieved.

The appeal to ‘local patriotism’ in Shipley may also have been encouraged by long time benefactor and patron Percy Illingworth who was president of Bradford Wanderers and by this time also the MP for Shipley (a Liberal, elected 1906 and serving MP until his death in 1915). The underlying motive for a relaunch however was to attract new recruits to the club to safeguard its survival and give vibrancy. The fact that the club had found itself struggling to compete with Horton RUFC – by this time established as the leading rugby union side in the Bradford district – was the fundamental issue.

horton 1911-12 named

The challenge for the club was not so much one of finance; it was the struggle to recruit new players. By this stage there were few who played rugby union and before long came the realisation that Shipley RFC was disadvantaged by being based at the Red Beck Fields which it shared with the town’s soccer side that played in the Bradford & District League. In December, 1909 a home fixture was arranged with Skipton at the Stanacre ground of Victoria Rangers (who had disbanded the previous summer and converted from Northern Union to soccer). The Leeds Mercury of 1 January, 1910 reported the experiment and said that the club was even considering a revival of its earlier ‘Bradford Wanderers’ identity, a decision that was clearly driven by recruitment needs. Ultimately the Shipley identity was sacrificed and the club – renamed as Bradford Wanderers – later everted to the tradition home of Bradford rugby at Apperley Bridge.

Bradford Wanderers briefly disbanded in 1912 before reforming once more. The club’s somewhat transient existence came down to the difficulty of recruiting new members, a malaise that continued to affect rugby union in Bradford with reliance upon former Bradford Grammar School (and to a lesser extent Woodhouse Grove School) boys to fill the ranks. Immediately after World War One the remaining members of Bradford Wanderers joined those of Horton to form Bradford RFC at Lidget Green. [Refer here about the revival of Bradford rugby union in 1919]

Shipley FC remembered

Virtually nothing remains other than Baines trade cards as a reminder that Shipley had its own rugby club. Yet whilst the history of the Rugby League has tended to focus on the big names, the fate of junior sides such as Shipley FC was equally significant. The story of Shipley is part of the narrative of how rugby became commercialised as an entertainment industry and of how this impacted on the fate of smaller clubs. The case of Shipley FC also contradicts the prevailing version of the 1895 split in English rugby that junior sides in Yorkshire were enthusiastic about seceding from the Rugby Union and that class identity was a driver of this.

Although its playing colours of black, scarlet and blue were more distinctive than its playing record, Shipley FC should be remembered as one of those bread and butter clubs who were part of the sporting revolution that took place in the last quarter of the nineteenth century in the Bradford area. The story of Shipley FC is also a reminder that no meaningful history of rugby at a national level can be written without considering the fate of unglamorous and long forgotten local sides.

By John Dewhirst [ @jpdewhirst ]

**My thanks to Stuart Quinn for allowing me to feature two of his Shipley cards (pub Baines of Bradford) in this feature.

Links to other online features:

More on the history of Bradford rugby on VINCIT

The Bradford Charity Cup

How the Bradford case study contradicts the orthodox view re 1895

The revival of Rugby Union in Bradford in 1919

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

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


Other features about Bradford Sport History by John Dewhirst

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

Tweets: @jpdewhirst


The Albert Geldard story



16th September 1929 was a significant milestone in the annals of both the Football League and more relevantly, Bradford Sporting History.

 At the tender age of 15 years, 156 days, Bradford born youngster Albert Geldard made his Football League debut for Second Division Bradford (Park Avenue) against Millwall at the Den in South London.

 Just  as an aside, Albert’s record was amazingly equalled in 1951 by Wrexham’s Ken Roberts against…………..Bradford (Park Avenue)!

Geldard 3

 It has since been broken by Barnsley youngster Reuben Noble-Lazarus on 30th September 2008 who lowered the bar to 15 years and 45 days of age. As another sign of the times, Noble-Lazarus wasn’t allowed any payment and had to go to school the next morning. Albert in 1929 was already working in the office for a firm of dyers and had to seek permission to make the two day journey to London to fulfil the fixture. He recalled that Avenue’s trainer, the former Bradford City winger Albert Bartlett had told the players after a reserve game in the Midland League to report to the ground the following morning,  a Sunday, as the club’s Directors were selecting the travelling party for the trip to London. Geldard had to ask if this was correct as he had just broken into the reserve team at his tender age. Bartlett insisted he was to attend but arrived late not being irreverent enough to sneak out of church early for his date with destiny.

 Once it was confirmed he was in the party, there was also the small matter of gaining his Father’s permission & also that of his employers. He was taken in Chairman Stanley Waddilove’s limousine to firstly, his home, then place of work and thankfully, all permissions were granted. The team travelled by train and he shared a room with Avenues ex-England half-back Alf Quantrill. The game itself was won 2-0 and passed the youngster by in the main playing on a surge of nerves and adrenaline. The next day after travelling back North he had to report to work and faced the inevitable barrage of questions about the game, how he felt , how did he play etc.

 This, though, was only the beginning. Albert Geldard was born 11th April 1914 in the Brownroyd area of Bradford. His Father Frederick was an outstanding winger in Bradford Amateur Football and both Albert & his elder Brother Norman inherited their Fathers sporting prowess.

By 1925 and now attending Whetley Lane school, he was representing Bradford Boys, his Brother Norman Captaining the side against Ardsley. The following season saw him & Norman selected for the Yorkshire Boys team thus becoming the 1st Brothers to appear for the side in the same season. At this time, Whetley Lane were dominant in Bradford Schools football, cricket & athletics, no doubt helped by the 2 Geldard Boys. Norman was good enough to be offered trials at both Huddersfield Town & Bradford Park Avenue but by this time he was committed to a career outside sport and his work commitments meant he  never entered the professional ranks. Albert on the other hand went from strength to strength. In his final season at school, he scored an incredible 113 goals for his side including a 22 goal haul in a 35 goal victory against a hapless Carr Lane School.

Spring 1927 saw Albert selected for his 1st International trial in a North v Midlands match at Newark. His inside partner was a ‘little boy from Sunderland’ named Raich Carter. The 2 were kept together when the England team was selected for a match against Wales at Bristol Rovers Eastville ground. I believe this made him the 1st Bradford born schoolboy international since 1914 when Maurice Wellock of Bradford City was selected. In 1927 & 1928, Albert played for every representative side at Junior level, Captaining the Yorkshire Boys side. He also represented Bradford Boys at Cricket and had to make the decision on leaving school whether to spend his free time pursuing a career in Football or Cricket.

As mentioned earlier, upon leaving school Albert gained employment as a clerk in a Dyeing Company but he continued his football with the Manningham Mills club.

At the tender age of just 12, Albert had been spotted by the Secretary-Manager of Park Avenue, Claude Ingram and after gaining the permission of albert’s Father, at the age of 15 made his debut for the Reserves against Northern Nomads on 9th March 1929. After showing well in the following seasons Pre-season practise games, the local press were already raving about the potential of the youngster. After his full debut, word quickly spread about the young prodigy and to ward off interest from Charlton Athletic amongst others, Albert signed Professional terms with Bradford Park Avenue on his 17th Birthday. At first he was drip-fed games with the 1st team to ease him in to the professional game. One of his rivals for a place was the Welsh international Eddie Parris who was a great friend of Alberts.

Between 1929 & 1932, Albert made 34 appearances scoring 6 goals before a bid of £4000 was accepted by the club from Everton. The week after his transfer, he made his 1st team debut at Middlesbrough providing the centres for the legendary Dixie Dean. At Everton, as well as supplying the ammunition for Dean, his successor, another legend, Tommy Lawton was a great admirer of Alberts tricky wing play, great crossing ability and his blistering speed. It  was acknowledged that Lawton uttered the memorable quote that Albert was so quick ‘He could catch pigeons’.

Soccer - Football League - Everton

1933 saw Albert selected for the FA Cup Final team after an injury scare in the Semi Final. At only 19 years of age he was one of the youngest ever Finalists and provided the cross for Jimmy Dunn’s winning goal for the Toffees. To add to the excitement of playing in the FA Cup Final, the week before, Albert had learned to his surprise that he had been selected for the England touring party to visit Italy & Switzerland. Albert was selected against Italy and became the first Bradford born England International. He also played against Switzerland in Berne  but had to leave the field injured. He was to make 2 further England appearances.

During his Everton career he made 180 appearances scoring 38 goals. A decent return when the wingers job was usually to supply crosses for the Centre Forward.

Albert Geldard 2

By 1938 however, Albert had fallen out of favour with certain sections of the Goodison crowd and was in fact dropped to accomdate Torry Gillick on the wing. In the March, Everton transferred Albert to Bolton Wanderers for a fee of £7000. his time at Bolton was blighted by injury and he found himself in & out of the side before in 1939, the country once again found itself at War with Germany. Bolton’s players enlisted en masse and Albert was, as many players were, assigned as a PT instructor seeing service in France, Italy  & Greece before returning home. He was one of the more fortunate ones as his Captain at Bolton, the England International Harry Goslin, was killed in action.

By 1946 , albert decided to bow out at the top and despite a season in amateur football with Darwen, he retired to concentrate  on his future in Waste management with a firm in Bury.

 Outside football, his interests included conjuring and magic tricks, being introduced to it by  his Uncle Will. On signing for Everton, he met a noted magician of the era, one Oscar Paulsen who introduced him the the Liverpool Magic Circle. His slight of hand also matched his speed on the field and he became an accomplished conjuror entertaining his team mates on long away trips and even appearing in several shows after the war in the Bury area. He was always a welcome guest at Everton reunions for the 1933 Cup Winners.

On a visit back to Bradford, he met his old friend, the England international full back Sam Barkas. At one point in 1929, Geldard at Park Avenue & Barkas at Bradford City were the 2 bright young stars of Bradford football both going on to represent their country.

During his career he collected all the press reports, programmes and photographs of his career and was a keen member of the PFA whilst at Bolton, campaigning to improve the lot of his professional colleagues and also had a spell as a journalist with the Sunday Post. He was shy, private person who never boasted of his exploits and his place in history as the youngest ever player.

 Albert Geldard, a true legend of Bradford sport died aged 75 on October 8th 1989.

The origins of women’s football in Bradford

This feature examines the origins of women’s football in Bradford and considers the impact of the Football Association’s ban on women’s football in 1921 on the subsequent development of the game in the district. Case studies of the early Bradford experience provide an illustration of the prejudices about women’s football. Below an advert in the BCAFC programme, April 1921.

The ban on women’s football

The advances of women’s football in the last few years and the growth in its profile make it seem all the more incredible that between 1921-71 the Football Association enforced a ban on women’s football being staged on any of the grounds of its member clubs, whether Football League stadia or amateur pitches.

The ban in December, 1921 came just at the time when certain women’s sides – most notably Dick, Kerr Ladies – had demonstrated a capability to attract huge crowds. The best example of this had been on Boxing Day, 1920 when a reported crowd of 53,000 had attended Goodison Park (and a further 14,000 were locked out) for a game involving the Dick, Kerr team against St Helens Ladies that raised £3,115 for charities. The scale of the crowd is all the more remarkable for then having been the second largest ever recorded for any association game in England.

The Dick, Kerr team, comprising employees of the Dick, Kerr munitions factory in Preston had been formed in 1917 and during World War One had played games to raise money for soldiers’ charities. It was not unique and other teams were formed by female munitions workers. In 1917, fourteen women’s teams entered the new Munitionettes Cup competition which was probably the first to cater solely for women’s football.

After the war Dick, Kerr Ladies had continued to participate in exhibition games across the north of England, including Bradford, with the matches promoted to raise funds for charity – for example, for the benefit of injured ex-servicemen or hospital funds. The emergence in 1921 of the Manningham Mills Ladies team, followed shortly after by Hey’s Ladies, suggest that Dick, Kerr Ladies inspired the formation of other works-based teams. Of itself it was unique within British football that a works side should achieve such prominence.

(It should be highlighted that Dick, Kerr also organised a women’s hockey team around this time and the encouragement of sport in this way needs to be considered in the context of employer paternalism. Similarly, Manningham Mills and Hey’s Brewery fostered women’s cricket teams.)

The Dick, Kerr Ladies team was also relatively unique in so far as its games were exhibition matches – rather than league or cup games – against other women’s sides and in this regard it had more in common with such as the Corinthians who arranged ad hoc fixtures with men’s teams (both professional and amateur). At the time there was no national league or cup competition for women’s football and thus Dick, Kerr Ladies organised games by invitation. Presumably Dick, Kerr Ladies were similarly no different to the Corinthians in avoiding fixtures where costs could not be recovered.

Dick, Kerr's Ladies

Yet why could the Football Association have been so bothered about the rise of women’s football? Casting aside any aspersions about members of the FA’s leadership committees, my belief is that what prompted the ban on the women’s game was concern that the integrity of the (men’s) game might be undermined if football became known equally for showground spectacle (by women) rather than just competitive contest (by men). The fact that outside commercial interests stood to benefit was another factor in this. The Football Association considered itself responsible for upholding the self-respect and standards of the game and it was a legitimate worry that the sport could be de-valued in some way. Take for example the popular opposition that has arisen in the modern era when American promoters have suggested changes to the ‘rules of soccer’ for the principal purpose of making it more of a spectacle. That is not to condone the FA’s ban as opposed to try and understand how it could have come about.

The ostensible reason for the Football Association ban of 5th December, 1921 was that although games were advertised as charity fund-raising, it was claimed (following specific incidents in Plymouth and Dundee) that not all the proceeds were applied for that purpose. The inference was that individuals could be making private gain and the FA was known to be sensitive to the spectre of financial irregularity in the game, irrespective of male or female participants.

Discomfort may have also been caused by the fact that the Dick, Kerr side was openly linked to the Preston firm of the same name (later known as English Electric) which would have derived commercial benefit from the publicity. Take for example that the Dick, Kerr Ladies side was credited with pioneering floodlit football and in December, 1920 staged a game under floodlights at Deepdale, Preston in front of a 10,000 crowd. The fact that the Dick, Kerr Ladies enjoyed the advantage of the parent firm possessing core skills in electrical engineering raised the suspicion of gains accruing from linkage with a sponsor. The Football Association thus faced a potential threat that the game might become hijacked by outside commercial interests who were not financially accountable.

It seems likely that the Football Association perceived the phenomenon of women’s football as a material threat. There is a strong case that the ban arose because the FA was concerned that curiosity for, and the distraction of, women’s football might undermine the men’s game. A headline theme was the scale of public interest with attendances at games involving Dick, Kerr Ladies being typically in excess of those of third division clubs in the Football League. During the calendar year of 1921 the side played as many as 67 games with aggregate attendances of around 900,000 – an average of just over 13,000 which was impressive by second division standards.

However, that the Football Association justified its ban by claiming football was not suited to the physiology of women makes it difficult to avoid the accusation of misogyny. The fact that it came so soon after women had been given the vote in 1918 and the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 (which had ended legal discrimination against women) implies a revanchist agenda on the part of the Football Association. From today’s standards the decision is difficult to believe as well as indefensible.

Although a number of prominent male players expressed disapproval about the ban, the Football Association action in 1921 did not prompt political uproar or widespread opposition in the country at large. In other words, at the time it was not considered particularly controversial. How then can the action of the FA be explained? Examples of the early experience of women’s football in Bradford may offer some clues about the social and cultural perspectives that existed a hundred years ago.


The first women footballers in Bradford

The origins and history of women’s football in Bradford has received scant attention. In the limited coverage of the subject, even so-called (or rather, self-proclaimed) leading historians of sport and leisure have fallen into the trap of taking historic mention of women’s football matches at face value. For instance Pendleton, whose book Kick Off! (2018) specifically examines the early history of women’s involvement in sport in Bradford, fails to recognise that in the nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth, women’s football matches were treated as showground spectacles rather than serious competitive fixtures. Yet this distinction is crucial in understanding the evolution of women’s football in Great Britain and of how it was shaped by social prejudices.

Three separate accounts of women’s football matches in the Bradford district confirm the prejudice and misogyny that existed in relation to female participation, illustrating how games were staged for the amusement and titillation of predominantly male spectators, principally as shows of farce and mockery. Women’s football had novelty value, akin almost to a freak show or circus. The reports of games – all of which were association football – at Windhill, Shipley in 1881, Valley Parade in 1895 and Park Avenue in 1917 are consistent in highlighting that those attending had not done so for the purpose of watching a serious game.

One hundred years ago, at a national level few of those involved with the men’s game took women’s football seriously. In the Victorian era women’s football had been associated with exhibitionism and this continued to pervade attitudes. That few people could imagine otherwise was confirmation of the prejudice and social opinions that were then commonplace. An example of this is the following ballad that was published in the Yorkshire Sports (Bradford) in 1901:

1901 YS Lady footballers

Locally, players and officials from Bradford City AFC can be credited with having given assistance to women’s football with individuals involved with the game at Park Avenue in 1917. Similar goodwill was extended in 1921 towards the newly formed Hey’s Ladies. The support could equally be interpreted that women’s football was not considered a threat to the Valley Parade club, let alone to the men’s game.

In Bradford two new sides had emerged. They were not the pioneers in West Yorkshire however; the Huddersfield Atalanta club had been formed in November, 1920 (non-works related, comprising middle class membership). First came the Manningham Mills Ladies’ side in 1921 (also known as Lister Ladies) whom Dick, Kerr Ladies defeated 6-0 at Valley Parade in front of 14,000 on 13 April (pictured below).

1921 Manningham Ladies

The day after, Dick, Kerr Ladies repeated the victory over Lister’s at Millmoor, Rotherham by 7-0 with a crowd of over ten thousand. In August, 1921 the recently formed Hey’s Ladies (another works side based in Manningham, being that of the eponymous brewery) played Dick, Kerr Ladies in Leeds but were defeated 0-9 and a week later Dick, Kerr’s again defeated Lister’s Ladies, this time by eleven clear goals. In October, 1921 Hey’s Ladies met Dick, Kerr Ladies at Valley Parade and the score was more respectable, a defeat by only 1-4. (The crowd of that game has been variously reported as 4,070 and 10,000 and stated attendances may have been exaggerated for effect.)

Dick Kerr v Listers at VP Apr-21

Photo from Leeds Mercury 14th April, 1921: DKL (stripes) v Lister’s at Valley Parade

What is distinct about the sponsorship by Hey’s Brewery is that, as a consumer-facing business, the promotion of a women’s football team offered considerable commercial opportunity through brand exposure and awareness. By contrast, whilst Dick, Kerr’s (or Lister’s of Manningham Mills) would have enhanced their company profiles and raised employee identity / morale through sponsorship of women’s football, the direct commercial benefits were less obvious. The heritage of Dick, Kerr for example was railway and tramway equipment and whilst football would have enhanced the profile of the firm, the link with selling locomotives could have been no more than indirect. Likewise, whilst the promotion of floodlit football could be portrayed as an advert for the firm’s electrical engineering competences it did not represent a form of direct marketing.

Hey's Brewery lr.jpg

Like Dick, Kerr’s who were understood to have raised as much as £70,000, the games of Hey’s Ladies were advertised for the purpose of generating funds for charity. Therein was a similarity with the local origins of men’s sport because charity fundraising had been a driving factor behind the impetus for athletic sporting events in Bradford in the 1860s. By the 1920s, such had been the track record of football that most people in Bradford would have been cynical at the suggestion that the sport could be a bastion of charitable support. As I have written in my books, the record of men’s football in Bradford at charity fundraising had been poor but this could have made people responsive to the efforts of Hey’s Ladies by virtue they were unsullied by professionalism and epitomised a fresh innocence.

Manningham Mills LR.jpg

Prior to the emergence of either Manningham Ladies or Hey’s Ladies there was little mention of local women’s football in the local press. In fact, I have found no evidence that women’s football was played in Bradford on a competitive basis but this is not surprising in the context of the time. For a start, women tended to enjoy less leisure time than men and were wholly responsible for household duties and childcare. There were also cultural restrictions arising from the expectation of modest clothing being worn which precluded playing football. Notwithstanding there was an active Ladies Hockey League in Bradford which was given coverage by the Yorkshire Sports. Notable is the caption below from 1919.

1919-02-08 ladies hockey bfd7890687057987792192..jpg

Ladies’ hockey was also relatively established in Bradford long before football. Furthermore it enjoyed sufficient prestige that in April, 1911 the Manningham Ladies Hockey team was given access to the Park Avenue football ground to play a game with a Derby team.

Standards of endurance fitness among young women were probably also relatively low, an inevitable consequence of limited physical training and exercise. Not only would this have made football more of a daunting physical challenge but it would have been significant in dictating standards of play, irrespective of skills. Similarly, the dominance of rugby and shortage of playing fields in Bradford effectively crowded out the possibility of other games being played, whether men’s soccer or women’s football (by which I refer to both rugby and association codes) and the lack of available opposition would have been another factor. Besides, women’s football was considered a showground spectacle and something that tended to be ridiculed.

Even though Hey’s Ladies were deemed Yorkshire Champions in 1921 (following an emphatic defeat of Doncaster Ladies on Boxing Day), of four games played against Dick, Kerr Ladies in that year, all ended in defeat and the aggregate score was 1-18. Hence without seeking to trivialise the game, it is a fair assumption that footballing standards were poor and it would be foolish to over-estimate the quality of women’s football. It is also questionable whether women’s football had become more competitive and whether the participation of women had increased. On 13th April, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph ventured that women’s football had been a product of the war and that a majority of the clubs formed had by then disappeared. For example there is no record of Lister’s Ladies after 1921.

Women’s football in the immediate post-war period comprised only a limited number of teams and of the 67 games played by Dick, Kerr Ladies in 1921 no fewer than 13 had been against St Helens Ladies and a further 16 were played against five other sides, of which Lister’s three times and Hey’s, four times. In 1921 Dick, Kerr Ladies went unbeaten in games against 33 different sides (of which at least 10 had names implying scratch representative teams).

Most of the momentum of women’s football surrounded the phenomenon of Dick, Kerr Ladies who became the face of the women’s game (although between 1916-17 the Portsmouth Ladies side had been equally prominent). In that sense maybe the nearest modern equivalent is that of the basketball side Harlem Globetrotters (albeit without the theatrical routines). The timing of the Football Association ban served to arrest that momentum and by denying access to Football League stadia, restricted the possibility of large crowds attending exhibition matches of women’s football which limited its visibility. By banning the use of pitches registered with Football Association affiliated clubs, the options for where women’s football could be played were further curtailed. The FA also banned its registered referees and linesmen from officiating over women’s football.

Dick, Kerr Ladies had been at the centre of the orbit of women’s football and arguably suffered disproportionately from the FA ban. Within a few years of the ban the team’s profile had become diminished as had public interest in women’s football. In 1921 twenty-five clubs had been represented at a meeting in Bradford to form the English Ladies FA but by the following year this had collapsed and with it a structure that could have co-ordinated the women’s game. In 1926 the Dick, Kerr Ladies side was reincarnated as Preston Ladies and links with the company were severed. Whilst the reasons for this were not disclosed there was inference that the team’s administrator (who had been an employee) had been diverting monies for his own financial benefit, essentially substantiating the original allegations from 1921.

Hey’s Ladies

1923-04-28 YS advert for Greenfield Athletic grounds

Unable to use Valley Parade or Park Avenue, Hey’s Ladies staged a game with Dick, Kerr’s in January, 1922 at the Wakefield Trinity RLFC ground at Belle Vue and later adopted the Greenfield Stadium at Dudley Hill. The latter venue actively advertised its facilities for sporting events in the local press and hence would have been particularly receptive to staging women’s football. Crucially however there is no evidence that the Hey’s Ladies club signed a permanent lease at Greenfield as opposed to using the ground on an ‘as and when required’ (and when available) basis. Previously, Hey’s Ladies had been denied use of the Bradford RFC ground at Lidget Green when the Yorkshire RFU refused to sanction access in March, 1922. Hence the option of Greenfield may have been as a last resort and preferable to the Birch Lane ground which was used by Bradford Northern and generally derided.

The incident relating to Lidget Green is another illustration of prevailing attitudes towards women’s football by male sports administrators who harboured historic prejudice. Denied the use of a soccer ground, in March, 1922 Hey’s Ladies had been keen to stage a high profile fixture with French opposition at the recently opened Rugby Union ground in Bradford (Opened in 1919, Lidget Green was considered a prestigious venue as told from this link).

In expressing his opposition to the use of the ground, the longstanding YRFU committee member James Miller was quoted in the Yorkshire Post of 22 March, 1922 that ‘when women tried to play football, they failed, and made a ridiculous exhibition of themselves. He was against encouraging it, for the game of football among women players was neither good for them not or the game. They were not football matches, but simply woman shows, and they ought not to allow them to make exhibitions of themselves on their grounds. Although the cause – of charity – was right, if people concerned wished to obtain the support of sporting bodies like the Football Association, the Northern Union, and themselves, they must work on different lines.’ The comments of fellow delegates are equally telling. Rev R Huggard of Barnsley, that ‘it was quite out of place for women to make an exhibition of themselves – and sometimes an unseemly exhibition – on football grounds’ whilst H Duncan of Otley considered that ‘football among women would die a natural death.’

Bradford, 1923-4-29.JPG

By the time of the Football Association ban at the end of 1921, the Hey’s Ladies side had established itself among the leading clubs in women’s football and this probably had much to do with the energy and enthusiasm of Arthur Hey, general manager of the Hey’s brewery and later to be a director of Bradford City AFC. His initiative most likely explains how Bradford became linked with developments in the women’s game although there is no evidence that participation in the game by women was any higher in Bradford than elsewhere.

An illustration of the status of Hey’s Ladies was the fact that in April, 1923 the club provided the nucleus of the team in a England representative side that played France at the Stade Pershing in Paris, a fixture that was billed locally as an international. (Image below and of the team thanks to Helge Faller.) That game, a 1-0 victory for ‘England’ appears to have been a return match linked to the visit of a touring French side, Olympique de Paris to Bradford in March, 1922. Denied use of Lidget Green, the game had been staged at Greenfield Athletics Stadium.

In April, 1920 Dick, Kerr Ladies had played a series of games with a French touring side in the North West, including one at Deepdale, Preston that had attracted a crowd of 25,000 and this was followed by a tour of France later in the year. The fixtures enjoyed considerable goodwill in England, considered an extension of the wartime friendship and were promoted to raise funds for the rebuilding of Rheims Cathedral. So popular were the games that a series had been organised in 1921 and again in 1922. This then was the context of the visit of the French side to Bradford when 3,000 people were reported to have attended the game at Greenfield, a 2-0 victory for the home side.

It is unclear what were the arrangements for the game in Paris in 1923 and whether the trip was underwritten by Hey’s Brewery. Either way the Hey’s Ladies side became the de facto England team for the occasion.

France v England 29-apr-1923

The football ‘international’ in Paris in April, 1923 was headline billing of a programme of events organised by La Federation Feminine Sportive de France that included basketball and athletics. Nine of the visiting ‘England’ team were regulars with Hey’s Ladies, the others being players from Dick, Kerr Ladies and St Helens.

By 1925 the Hey’s Ladies team had ceased to exist. Any number of reasons could be offered for its demise – the lack of opposition; the failure to secure succession of new players; the cost of staging games at Greenfield; the loss of enthusiasm. In fact few games are recorded to have been played subsequent to the team winning the Whitehead Lifeboat Shield in competition against five other sides in May, 1922. It is notable that the Yorkshire Sports as a dedicated sports newspaper had no coverage of high profile fixtures involving Hey’s players – whether for example the games against French opposition in 1922 and 1923 or the Whitehead tournament at Greenfield. Reports in the daily local papers were basic and matter of fact rather than affording the oxygen of publicity, all of which ensured that public interest remained limited and did nothing to uplift the status of the women’s game.


Exhibition games of women’s football continued to be staged in Bradford on an ad hoc basis. The above cutting for instance is from November, 1932. Similarly the reputation of the former Dick, Kerr side endured and as Preston Ladies they played an exhibition match against a Belgian representative side at Odsal Stadium in August, 1939. Despite the FA ban, the Odsal match enjoyed the patronage of Bradford football celebrities. David Steele, manager of Bradford Park Avenue was the referee and two Avenue players, Bob Danskin and Chick Farr were linesmen. Present at the game were the directors of both the City and Avenue clubs as well as the Lord Mayor. However a measure of the event was that a local beauty queen performed the ceremonial kick-off.

All of the effort relating to women’s football in Bradford had been concentrated in the two Manningham works sides as distinct from attempts to encourage grass-roots participation by women at playing the game. It seems highly unlikely that any local women’s sides ever existed. There were no league structures and the Bradford & District Football Association which had been established in 1899 to promote soccer – and was evangelical in doing so – played no role in encouraging the women’s game. In all probability the phenomenon of females playing football – if at all – was confined to ad hoc, informal street or playground games among schoolgirls which is a long way removed from organised team football.

Judging from press coverage there appears to have been much greater participation among women in hockey as opposed to football and this was arguably a more common and better established winter sport for women. The fact that it was staged on local cricket grounds also provided opportunities for the sport (ie given a shortage of football playing fields).

The still birth of women’s football in Bradford, as in the rest of England was in good measure due to the prejudice and attitudes of the day handed down from earlier decades. We now consider the local experience of what happened in Bradford prior to the formation of either the Lister’s Ladies or Hay’s Ladies clubs to understand how opinions had been shaped.

The shaping of prejudice towards women’s football

A game at Windhill, Shipley in June, 1881 was possibly the first involving women to be played in Bradford. It was one of a series of exhibition games between teams of women purportedly representing England and Scotland, staged in Scotland the previous month and then across the north of England in Blackpool, Manchester and Blackburn. The fact that Bradford was chosen as part of the tour reflects the fact that it was recognised as a centre of enthusiasm for football. However, this was not an initiative to encourage female participation in football. It was literally a crude commercial entertainment venture to attract a male audience.

Of note, the games in Glasgow and Manchester had provoked crowd disturbances. Newspaper reports are not clear what could have been the cause but it is possible that the crowd had objected to the standard of the entertainment and/or that their expectations had not been met. A common cause of crowd disturbance in the 1880s was to do with betting disputes, invariably because scores were deemed unfavourable or unjust and sometimes grievances that the outcome of the games had been rigged. We can only speculate but for disturbances to have occurred twice inevitably raises suspicions about gambling disputes.

By the time the troupe (that appears to have originated from Glasgow) had arrived in Shipley, provincial newspapers had already railed about the spectacle. The Dundee Courier of 20 May, 1881 for instance commented that ‘the unsuitability of the game to women in every way, for all reasons, is sufficiently obvious’.

The Dublin Daily Express of 23 June, 1881 similarly reported on two of those games that had recently taken place in Manchester, equally dismissive of what had occurred. The reporter referred to the players having been ‘attired in a costume which is neither graceful nor very becoming’ and hinted at lewd display: ‘The score or so of young women who do not hesitate to gratify vulgar curiosity by taking part in what is termed a ladies’ football match.’

Impudent women in unwomanly garb

The account of the Windhill game that appeared in The Yorkshireman of 18 June, 1881 was entirely consistent in expressing its own disapproval. What is unambiguous is that the event was staged solely for the purpose of entertaining a male audience, capitalising on the growing enthusiasm for football. That the game was staged at Windhill as opposed to the district’s premier sporting enclosure at Park Avenue is a demonstration that it was highly unlikely to have been deemed a respectable show.

‘There is no branch of human knowledge, industry, or advancement in which women have not – whilst actuated, no doubt, by that feeling of mental superiority which every one of them feels she possesses over those over-rated and altogether despicable beings, the men – in recent times encroached upon the special privileges of the other sex.

‘I should, with the characteristic blindness and folly of my mindless sex, have imagined her disqualified (to play football).

‘I marvelled much when I heard that a comparatively obscure place like Windhill had been chosen as the scene of an exhibition of so advanced a kind as a female football contest.

‘Reader I know what you will at once ejaculate when you reach this point, ‘What were they like?’ Well, that’s just what I mean to tell you so far as I can. Imagine to yourself a mixture of disbanded ‘extra’ ballet girls, dissipated mill girls, and dubious maidens with light, metallic-looking, dyed, flaxen hair, and usually known as ‘canary birds,’ and let your imagination as much figure as possible – waist sashes, loose flannel breeches reaching to the knees, ordinary coarse striped stockings and unlimited impudence. It was not like football; although the players were evidently purporting to play an ‘Association’ game, it had none of the spirit of the game, for the players – with the exception of one dusky-looking female, with an evident dash of nigger blood in her, who was christened ‘the demon’ – struggled or lolled about in an enervated, half-hearted way. Bless your life, the spectators didn’t attend to see a game of football, they went to see a lot of impudent women in unwomanly garb, and engaged in a brutal occupation.

‘The contending parties professed to represent England and Scotland, but not a man I asked, and I asked many, could tell me which was which, and I doubt if the players themselves knew which side they belonged to. There was palpably no genuine rivalry between the sides except to command the admiration of the male spectators as much as possible. The whole of the players evidently had an impression the plain English of which was ‘We must do something as an excuse for having as little clothing on as possible and acting as little like women as we can.’ And they carried out the idea by listlessly struggling with a ball and, whenever it was at all feasible, getting near the spectators. As to those, they were mostly Bradfordians, fast merchants’ clerks, betting men, publicans, and men about town generally, with a sprinkling of other male individuals who attended out of ‘curiosity.’ I cannot say that all the spectators were youthful, for there were present many men well stricken in years whom no amount of curiosity should have induced to lend countenance to such a display.

‘The character of the show was indicated in the spectators themselves, for throughout the latter there was an all-pervading air of looseness,

‘There were plenty of Germans of course amongst the spectators in the field, and I heard one of them say, ‘All zese girls are in ze game vat you call ‘forwards’. I suppose.’ All around the field a running fire of coarse comments was kept up by the spectators.

‘It beats cock fighting into fits, enthusiastically claimed a dirty man, clothed in a seedy check suit.

‘At last the game was concluded and the players all made a rush for the gate. As they ran so did the spectators and, incredible as it may seem, many of the latter seized the former bodily and hugged them amorously.

‘I turned towards Bradford, asking myself whether this show will not inaugurate a new phase in the already pretty extensive list of degrading amusements, and whether we shall not ere long be subjected to female cricket matches, and swimming contests, and athletic sports and, well, I really dare not picture even to myself what besides.’

A further example is that of another exhibition game by the so-called ‘Lady Footballers’ at Valley Parade in May, 1895. This was part of a series of matches organised by a group of female footballers as a commercial venture and they toured the country to exploit the curiosity of people in women’s football. It was again another showground spectacle and it is unambiguous that the crowd had not assembled for the purpose of watching a competitive contest or to witness a game of soccer (at that time a code uncommon in Bradford).

A miserable travesty of a splendid game

The following is the report from the Bradford Daily Telegraph on 8 May, 1895:

‘Although the visit of the Lady Footballers to Valley Parade last night had only been advertised for one day a crowd of between 2,000 and 3,000 people turned up to see the fun. It was fun that was expected by the spectators, and fun was all that was forthcoming, the attempts at football being feeble and farcical.

There was nothing in the costume of the lady footballers to shock the sensibilities of Mrs Grundy, but all the same the attire is not likely to become popular with the fair sex, for the simple reason that it is not becoming. Had the lady footballers been less favoured by Nature they would have presented a ‘dowdy’ appearance, but the natural beauty and grace of several saved the team from this.

To the regret of many Rugbyites the ladies played yesterday evening under Association rules, and owing to the half-hearted way in which most of the players entered into their work the exhibition at times fell woefully flat. Several members of the team seemed, as the crowd put it, afraid of hurting the ball, and they persistently refused to ‘give it boot.’

The kicking of some was so gentle as to suggest parlour football, but there was one exception. A young girl operating on the left wing, who was styled ‘Tommy’ by the London spectators under the belief that she was a boy, put in a lot of dashing play and fairly roused the crowd from its lethargy to cheering. She was certainly worth any three of the other players, but at the same time it should be said that one or two other players did not ‘frame’ at all badly.

The great drawback to ladies’ football, however, seems to lie in the fact that it seems a physical impossibility for ladies to run quickly and gracefully. As an exhibition of football the play was a miserable travesty of a splendid game and as an entertainment it soon became tedious.’

The game would have been the first soccer match to have been staged at Valley Parade although the historic significance was not recognised at the time (or subsequently). A further point to note is that for Manningham FC to have consented to host the event would imply that there were no misgivings about decency. (The organiser was the so-called British Ladies Football Club that had been formed in January, 1895 and which toured Great Britain during its brief existence until around September, 1896. Having been established by a woman with an upper class background, and with a genuine commitment to playing football, the project was afforded a degree of respectability despite being unashamedly commercial in nature.)

A weakness for gossiping

In common with other British towns, women’s football became more common during World War One with games staged between factory teams, invariably to raise funds for war charities. The comments below from the (Bradford) Yorkshire Sports in December, 1916 confirm that women’s football was not taken seriously and that there were no pretensions for it to be treated as an equivalent to the male game.

1916-dec womens football

It is noteworthy that the writer thought fit to make comparison with the earlier tour by the British Ladies Football Club of 1895. What is striking is not so much the condescending language, rather the fact that the tour remained uppermost in the mind of football commentators and influencers. Yet the extraordinary phenomenon of women’s football was still considered deserving of column inches elsewhere in the paper, even if they only served to provide further mockery.


In August, 1917 a women’s game was staged at Park Avenue between two works sides representing the Phoenix Dynamo Company and Thwaites. Again, newspaper reports hint that the game was an entertainment spectacle rather than a competitive contest of skill. The Leeds Mercury of 7 August, 1917 pointedly referred to the women footballers that ‘their methods were not quite orthodox’ but was more charitable in acknowledging the entertainment: ‘Apart from a weakness for gossiping with the crowd when they ought to have been getting on with the game, they did very well, and the fun never waned.’


It will be noted that unlike in 1881, or even 1895, in 1917 there was no suggestion of social impropriety. Whilst this reflected that attitudes had changed and that it might now be considered harmless fun, justification for the activity was also derived from the fact that it was linked to the war effort. Yet the above reports from 1916 and 1917 were still dismissive about the merits of women’s football and it is therefore easy to see how prejudices would have been shaped about women’s football ahead of the Football Association ban in 1921. Indeed there is no reason to believe that attitudes in Bradford were any different to those elsewhere.

Shows of pure burlesque?

A further dimension to the prejudice is illustrated by another example of what happened in Bradford, this time with regards to the Football Association’s response to the staging of pantomime soccer games at Valley Parade in 1907. Annual pantomime charity football matches had been held at the end of the panto season in February between artistes in costume from the rival Bradford shows. The tradition had begun at Valley Parade in 1891 (presumably on account of proximity to theatres on Manningham Lane) but had then been staged at Park Avenue from 1893. The fixture was revived at Valley Parade after the conversion of Manningham FC to soccer in 1903 but in February, 1907 the Football Association adopted a rather highbrow attitude and was reported to have ‘intimated that they did not wish the game to become pure burlesque.’ I should imagine that women’s football was similarly dismissed as burlesque.

A Craze of the Future?

In spite of the negativity, a correspondent to the Yorkshire Sports in June, 1917 had ventured that there might be a future for women’s football, even though contemporary medical opinion suggested that some form of modification was necessary. In the final event the Football Association would never have sanctioned such changes to the sanctity of the game and nor would existing professional clubs have tolerated the emergence of a competitive threat. In the context of the time therefore, the subsequent FA ban seems entirely understandable.


(NB The Northern Union had felt obliged to make a series of changes to the rules of traditional rugby (union) for its code, the most obvious of which being a switch to thirteen aside in 1906. These changes were considered necessary to maintain the interest of the public in the face of competition from soccer and the Football Association might reasonably have considered that a similar threat would emerge in relation to its own rules if the women’s game was encouraged.)

What might have happened?

How women’s football might have developed had there not been a Football Association ban is a matter of conjecture but it is intriguing to consider the local implications. There had already been a fragmentation of sporting options in Bradford at the beginning of the 1920s. Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue faced competition not just from Bradford Northern RFC, but also from a resurgent interest in rugby union and a revived Bradford rugby club at Lidget Green. Might attendances at Valley Parade or Park Avenue have been cannibalised by women’s football had the FA ban not been imposed or would the novelty of women’s football have simply worn off?

Sp23 Tyke.jpg

There are parallels in West Yorkshire between the Football Association’s attempt to suffocate women’s football in 1921 and with what had happened towards the end of the nineteenth century when it was widely felt that senior Northern Union (rugby) clubs had deliberately acted to discourage the take-up of association football through withdrawal of support to their own soccer sides. Yet while women’s football was denied an umbilical cord in 1921, the history of Bradford soccer suggests that more would have been necessary for women’s football to thrive and participation to be encouraged at a grass-roots level.

In Bradford at the beginning of the twentieth century, leaders of the Bradford & District FA – so-called associationists – recognised that for soccer to take hold in a rugby stronghold would require deep foundations. Critical success factors that they identified included the supply of local players, a suitably competitive league / cup infrastructure and a network of evenly matched teams to raise standards, the oxygen of local press coverage as well as the inspiration of a local professional club. The association itself was equally important in order to provide effective leadership and promote the sport. Much the same would have been necessary for women’s football to become established.

With regards local press coverage, it is notable that there was photographic coverage of women’s football in the Yorkshire Sports during spring 1921 (albeit limited) which happened to be when the paper was expanding photo content. However the coverage abruptly ceased at the end of the 1920/21 season although women’s hockey, tennis and cricket teams were subsequently featured. That there were no match reports or mention about the subsequent ban on women’s football in the same title confirms that it was still not an activity taken seriously. In July, 1922 a game between Hey’s Ladies and a celebrity Jockeys XI at Greenfield (Dudley Hill) epitomised the status of women’s football in Bradford – photographs from the Yorkshire Sports of 8th July, 1922 below.

Undoubtedly the Football Association ban was damaging by preventing prestige exhibition matches and the corresponding visibility and inspiration that they might provide. There was further harm arising from restrictions on junior soccer clubs sponsoring women’s football through sharing facilities. Nevertheless there were other major obstacles to the promotion of women’s football at a grass roots level. For instance, the Bradford & District FA had attached considerable importance to the schoolboy game as a means of propagating enthusiasm and new talent but schoolgirl sport would continue to be undeveloped for a long time to come. (For that matter there were insufficient playing fields in Bradford for existing school needs with much reliance upon the city’s main parks. This was a factor that assisted the spread of women’s hockey given that it was played on cricket grounds.)


Even if the Football Association had not enforced its ban, women’s football surely lacked the necessary ingredients and local foundations to establish and sustain itself at a national level. There were also challenges for senior, elite clubs to become established. In particular it was acknowledged that the strength of the Dick, Kerr team was due to the willingness and ability of the firm to pay good wages to talented footballers. Crucially, women’s football would have continued to remain dependent upon the sponsorship of employers to support players and be sympathetic to them having time off work – this was because there was little prospect that professionalism would have been a viable option for many players or women’s sides as stand alone entities. Likewise, as had been the case in the second half of the 1890s, emergent soccer clubs would remain beholden upon the support of professional (Football League or Northern Union/Rugby League) clubs for the use of stadia if a breakthrough in support was to be achieved. As the experience in West Yorkshire in the previous century had demonstrated, those professional clubs had the means at their disposal to prevent the prospect of a competitor attraction becoming established and refuse ground sharing. Even without an FA ban, women’s football needed the enduring goodwill of the men’s game.

The sheer dominance of Dick, Kerr Ladies also highlighted that at a national level women’s football was far from being broadly based to provide compelling interest in league or cup competitions as a means to regularly attract spectators. The novelty value of women’s football would probably have worn off in the absence of new teams emerging or a change in the format of the game away from reliance on exhibition matches.

Women’s football would have been vulnerable to competition and in all likelihood, would have faced adverse comparison with other forms of football as spectator attractions, judged on the standard of game being played. Because women’s football would have struggled to become professionalised, how could it have raised standards to compete with the men’s game? As an entertainment business, women’s football would have faced further competition from emergent attractions such as greyhounds and speedway as well as the rise of the cinema. Consequently it would have been difficult for the game to secure a profitable niche with men’s football and rugby having established support and traditions to rely upon. In other words the commercial opportunities in the inter-war period were limited.

On balance therefore, it seems fanciful to believe that the women’s game would have thrived in Bradford or the country as a whole. Indeed, it would take at least five decades for a supportive environment to evolve. It was not simply that women’s football required a change in cultural attitudes and social acceptance as a competitive sport, it also needed the economic fundamentals to be in place.



Without wishing to appear dismissive, I believe the emergent craze for women’s football in the aftermath of World War One would have petered out almost as dramatically as it had begun, even without the Football Association ban. In Bradford the shifting fortunes of soccer, amateur rugby and then professional rugby in the inter-war years demonstrate that ‘football’ was subject to changing fashions and popularity. How could women’s football have been immune if it was to avoid resorting to being a showground spectacle or lobbying for a change of rules?

Thus my belief is that the infamous ban was far from being the only factor in the still birth of women’s football at a senior level. Furthermore, whilst the Football Association ban might well be deemed indefensible by modern standards, we need to accept that the context of its enforcement was entirely different and take account of the historical setting of the prejudices and circumstances at that time. As I have sought to demonstrate, what happened in Bradford provides insight into that historical context.

by John Dewhirst



Yorkshire Sports 16 April, 1921

Other online articles about Bradford sport by the same author

John contributes to the Bradford City match day programme. You will find these, book reviews and other features on his blog Wool City Rivals


You will find articles about a broad range of sports on VINCIT with new features published every two to three weeks. We welcome contributions about the sporting history of Bradford and are happy to feature any sport or club provided it has a Bradford heritage.

Planned articles in the next few months include features on the impact of the railways on Bradford sport; the political background to the history of Odsal Stadium; Bradford soccer clubs in the 1880s and 1890s; the story of Shipley FC; the impact of social networks on the early development of Bradford sport; amateur football in the Bradford district; and a compendium of Bradford sports stadia.




Keighley AFC, 1896-1901 – a second attempt to establish a senior club in the town

By Rob Grillo

Following the first, unsuccessful attempt to establish an association football club in Keighley, there was another attempt made in 1896. Or rather there were two simultaneous attempts.

On October 1st of that year a meeting took place in the Acorn Coffee House (where the original club had been envisaged a decade earlier), and again the formation of a new Keighley side was discussed. A Mr.Longsden was elected chairman and practice games were quickly organised. Ironically, a first fixture was again against Meanwood. The new Keighley only lost 1-2 this time, with Morris credited with their first ever goal. He same opponents were beaten 3-2 one month later, and other games Leeds and Oulton were possibly played. And then that was that, the new side folding up in double quick time.

However, in the mean time, another meeting had taken place in another coffee house. On November 24th 1896 at the Heber Coffee House a ‘Keighley Association Club’ was formed. Under the presidency of a  Mr.E.Briton, a motion by one Walter Hobson (later to become club captain) was passed and suddenly Keighley had two clubs of the same name. This particular Keighley AFC claimed to have enlisted the services of some of the players from the long defunct original club, as well as two former Darwen reserve team players.  Keighley Trinity rugby club placed their ground at the clubs’ disposal and they were underway. The first fixture was not against Meanwood, but Menston, who won with the only goal of the game despite play from the Keighley side that, according to reports, was ‘distinctly promising’.

Again, scant press coverage was probably down to a lack of reporting from the club itself, but Shipley AFC’s players  were known to have had their  festive activities ruined on Christmas Day when Keighley thrashed them 6-1. The new team had actually not got round to registering with the County FA, which caused them at least one cancelled fixture, but by the end of January 1897 the necessary paperwork was complete.

Following a relatively successful first season, the club became the first from the town to join a league, when in the summer of 1897 it was accepted into the newly formed West Yorkshire League, and elected to division two (north) alongside Beeston Hill Parish Church, Renshaw Albion, Bowling, Otley, Menston, Bradford Spartans and Bradford ‘A’.  The first league fixture took place at Lawkholme Lane on September 11th 1897, and resulted in a fine 7-0 win for Keighley against Bowling. However, the points could not be awarded to Keighley until a league meeting later that month, as the official referee had been sent to Bowling by mistake, and did not arrive at Lawkholme Lane until half time, by which time a home official had taken charge. Things were looking all rosy, and the Keighley Herald reported that ‘there seems to be capital material in the Keighley team’.

Keighley were actually joint top of the league by Christmas, and an exhibition game with Bradford ‘A’ played at Silsden rugby ground attracted a larger than usual attendance, probably due to the novelty value of the game.. Despite a dodgy run in the middle of the season, a 5-0 thrashing of Bradford Spartans took them back to the top of the table ahead of Beeston. By the end of the season, that position had been maintained, and a play-off with south division winners Oulton St.Johns arranged. Keighley won the decider 2-1 and the players presented with silver medals by league officials  – certainly a bright start for the club in its first ever season.

The Keighley team that defeated Oulton was: AL Bairstow, A.Cain, G.Birch, W.Hobson, J.Walker, J.Wade, Corporal Wilks, W.Watson, K.Carlisle, A.Slattery & J.Donoghue.

The league’s senior division folded that summer, so  Keighley played in the same division (‘North’ division)  in the 1898-99 season, with one of the new teams being a certain Leeds United FC. This lot are in no way related to today’s’ team and in this instance failed to complete the season despite holding Keighley to a 2-2 draw on the opening day of the season.

This time Keighley found themselves at the wrong end of the table until a late surge saw them rise to third in the final standings, well adrift of champions Ossett who trounced them 9-0 early in the campaign. Over 1000 spectators witnessed the return game with the champions-elect at the Victoria Park ground, raising £11, more than the rest of Keighley’s home fixtures added together that season. However, the majority of spectators had not actually planned to be there in the first place. The cancellation of the Yorkshire v Cumberland rugby match at the adjacent Lawkholme Lane left hundreds of sports fans without a game, many of whom decided to stop off at the Keighley match  instead, thus giving the locals an attendance ten times higher than they would normally have expected.  It was argued at the time that the recent ‘split’ , which led to what we now know as rugby league (‘northern union’ in its early days) enabled rugby to maintain its dominance over the new ‘soccer’ code, largely because the handling code was now seen as far more interesting for the spectator than it had been before the split. How Keighley AFC would have loved to have encouraged those rugby fans down to Victoria Park week after week.

A permanent move to the better Lawkholme Lame enclosure was made by Keighley AFC in time for the 1899-1900 season, but the move did not herald the return of good fortune . Three key players moved upwards that summer, Caine and Walker to football league newcomers Middlesbrough, and Slattery to Accrington Stanley, who at the time resided in the North East Lancashire Combination.

An early 24-0 mauling of a depleted Yeadon, when Kenny Carlisle scored seven times, could have led to better things, but as the season progressed events transpired that would lead to the gradual death of the club. On October 21st 1899 a league match with Beeston Hill ended in a discreditable brawl, which resulted in the Keighley club, and its’ ground, being suspended pending an investigation into the matter. The club had already been in trouble that season when S.Black and linesman Wade had been found guilty of disputing the referee’s decision, using rather distasteful language at the same time, which resulted in a one month ban for the latter.

Despite the lifting of the suspension well before Christmas, the Keighley side never really recovered as those involved with the club, as well as the spectators, drifted away. Six players failed to appear for a Bradford Cup defeat at Bolton Church, leading to several ‘outsiders’ being called upon, and the local press reported that ‘association is evidently in a consumptive state in Keighley’.

It was something of a surprise that the club reappeared for the 1900-01 season. Now based on a ground at Stockbridge, a considerably altered team had dropped into the Bradford & District league, formed one year earlier. Any hopes that success would be found at this level were immediately dispelled with an opening day defeat at Clayton, where Keighley were described as ‘woefully lacking in match practice’. By Christmas, the team was placed ninth of 11 teams, enduring some heavy defeats and enjoying only one victory. That victory was actually awarded when Menston had failed to appear for a fixture in September. It was the Keighley side, however, who began to break their engagements – against league leaders Girlington (the first soccer team to play home games at Valley Parade) and Undercliffe-based Airedale,  leading to fears as to the continued existence of the club. These fears were well founded, and by February 1901 another short-lived Keighley club had bitten the dust.

Rob’s account of the original Keighley soccer club as told on VINCIT can be found through this link..

Cricket: the DNA of Bradford sport


The spirit of earlier generations of Bradfordians is legend. Their no-nonsense, get on with it, tell-it-as-it-is approach to life that the Victorians referred to as ‘pluck’. The Bradford of the nineteenth century was home to enterprise, innovation and industry so it is little surprise that its people brought the same attitude to sport as they did to business. This was the spirit of the town. Bradford people were purposeful: they worked hard and they played hard. Not surprisingly, sport played a big part in shaping and reinforcing a distinct Bradford psyche.

It was cricket that originally defined a sporting culture and established a sporting tradition. The game provided a noble cause and a means to uphold local pride. It provided a model that was later adopted by (rugby) football.

Until the final quarter of the nineteenth century the only organised sport in Bradford was cricket. The game both reflected and influenced the Bradford mindset. It was played for a purpose, to derive gainful benefit from recreation as well as to win. In the twentieth century the Bradford Cricket League provided expression to local pride and competition. In the nineteenth century Bradford Cricket Club provided respectability for the town and a demonstration that it could do better than its county rivals. Part of the Bradford instinct has come from a seeming insecurity to prove that the place is every bit as good, indeed better, than other towns in Yorkshire and there seems to have been a deep seated urge for outsiders to acknowledge what is good about Bradford. Cricket came to encapsulate that attitude, a chauvinist Bradford-first mentality and it became a means by which the townspeople could prove themselves in open competition. Bradford CC also assumed a paternal responsibility for providing entertainment for the citizens of the town and until twenty years ago the club hosted county cricket at its Park Avenue ground.

The story of Bradford rugby and soccer – ‘football’ – begins with a history of Bradford Cricket Club. There are various reasons for this, not least that Bradford CC was a constituent of The Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club that occupied Park Avenue from 1880 and it was originally the cricket club for whom the ground was built. The red, amber and black colours that were worn by Bradford (PA) AFC – and which are part of the modern identity of Bradford Bulls RLFC and Bradford & Bingley RUFC – were also inherited from Bradford CC. From its origins in 1863, Bradford FC was associated with the cricket club and shared its ground until 1870.

As the first sports organisation in Bradford, the cricket club provided a benchmark by which the football club would judge itself, aspiring to the same level of pre-eminence in the town that the ‘old cricket club’ enjoyed. Bradford CC soon became an institution that defined how sport should be promoted and ultimately it played an important role in helping to shape a Bradford sporting identity, transferring the same Bradford-first chauvinism to the playing field.

The origins of Bradford cricket

Although Bradford CC was formed in 1836 at the White Lion Hotel on Kirkgate in Bradford the gentlemen of the town were playing the game prior to that. Indeed, there is an earlier reference to a Bradford cricket club in the Bradford Observer of 21 October, 1830 in respect of a game against Otley at Apperley Bridge. Although this report appears to be the first reference to cricket in Bradford that is not to say that games were not played before then.

Typically, the respective teams would play for a wager and the losers also funded post-match refreshments. Press comment was restricted to the version of events submitted by those involved – a practice that continued with regards to (rugby) football matches in the 1870s – and it can be assumed that victorious players would have been more inclined to provide a narrative. The Bradford Observer included reports of games involving the Baildon, Fairweather Green / Bradford West   End (which appears to have been synonymous), Bradford Moor and Apperley Bridge clubs between 1834 and 1835 and the link with Apperley Bridge is particularly notable. There is a report in the Bradford Observer in September, 1834 of a game between ‘Bradford & Apperley Bridge’ CC against Leeds at Apperley Bridge. This may have been considered a select venue, a flat site in pleasant surroundings in the Aire valley, far removed from the smoke of the growing town (albeit not connected by railway until 1846). Another explanation is quite simply that the players lived there.

In 1836 a Bradford club was established on a more formal basis. Writing in 1973, Denis Maude (then secretary of Bradford CC and author of its history) referred to the existence of minute books dating back to formation which provided a wonderful snapshot of the club’s life and the minutes allude to early games being played for stakes. Sadly, those records have since been lost. The first mention of the newly formed Bradford CC in the Bradford Observer was in July, 1836 (to advertise a forthcoming game with the West End club at Fairweather Green) and it may be significant that it came only a fortnight after a famous victory by a northern representative side, ‘the North’ against ‘the South’ at Lords. It is surely more than coincidence that this game appears to have been the impetus to formation. An article entitled ‘Reminiscences of the Bradford Cricket Club’ written by ‘one of the earliest members’ of the club and published in the Bradford Observer of 18 September, 1875 recounted that the club had been established purely for amusement and exercise. As I explain in my book ‘Room at the Top’ (Bantamspast, 2016) the prime motive behind the formation of the club in 1836 was party political, specifically to secure support for the Tories.

The Bradford Observer recorded a couple of games between Bradford and Bradford West End at Fairweather Green (NB also referred to as the Fairweather Green which offers a different perspective of the place known today) during the first weeks following formation which is understood to have been the club’s original game. (Donald Maude wrote that this was played for a stake of 5s per man with the second game being a continuation of the first.) There was then a fixture against Halifax Clarence in September, 1836 which was played ‘in a field off Horton Lane’. This contest was subject to an exchange of correspondence between the clubs in the Halifax and Bradford press, essentially challenging the other. A week later the same fixture was repeated at Fairweather Green from which we might infer that the Horton field had been unsuitable, implying that ground sharing with Bradford West End was necessary. (The Fairweather Green venue was possibly the same as that at West Park, Four Lane Ends, Girlington adopted by Bradford FC between 1872 and 1874 and the Apperley Bridge connection may likewise provide a clue to explain how Bradford FC subsequently came to play there between 1874 and 1880.)

According to the same article, ‘Reminiscences of the Bradford Cricket Club’ as above from 1875, the Horton field was used for practice and the club operated from Fairweather Green as well as Apperley Bridge before adopting a field above Mannville in 1839 (exactly opposite their first ground) – the site of Claremont off Great Horton Road – and this remained the home of the club until 1851 when it succumbed to development. The stone built villas still stand on Claremont, an address that was home to a number of German wool merchants including that of the family of the composer Frederick Delius who was born in 1860.

The fact that the cricket club was called Bradford without any suffix demonstrates that the members considered it to be representative of the town and inclusive of the best players. It is unambiguous that in 1836 there was motivation among individuals for the town to have a principal cricket club much the same as other Yorkshire towns such as Huddersfield, Sheffield, Halifax, Knaresborough and Leeds (not to mention Yorkshire villages) who were already represented. Exactly the same imperative would later drive Bradford FC, consistent with the growing assertiveness of the town and its citizens and the desire for status and prestige, commensurate with rising prosperity.

Civic rivalry was a theme that dominated the nineteenth century, lingering well into the twentieth century and it was not confined to competition in fields of commerce, architecture or civic accomplishments. Indeed the pride of Bradford decision-makers to demonstrate that their town was every bit as good, if not better than neighbouring towns invariably impacted on behaviours whether in the design of a town hall, measures of prosperity, charitable giving or how things in general were done differently in Bradford. Cricket – and later football (rugby) – could hardly avoid becoming another dimension of civic rivalry. Bradford chauvinism – a Bradfordist or Bradford first agenda – was a dominant factor in the development of Bradford CC and was repeated in the case of Bradford FC. Both Bradford CC and Bradford FC would be assertive in claiming their room at the top and elbowing others when they got there.

The growth of Bradford CC

Bradford CC presented itself as being open to all classes and this represented tacit encouragement of spectators and gate taking, the basis of commercialising the game. Undoubtedly this would have turbocharged the development of the club which would have been well placed to take advantage of rising prosperity and population growth in the town. There is limited evidence about the size of crowds attending games which were reported to be as high as four thousand on occasions. People would have drifted in and out of the ground on the day of a fixture. At a meeting of Bradford Town Council in September, 1848 it was reported that policemen regularly attended games at the Claremont ground to detect pickpockets.

It is unlikely that the growth of Bradford CC could have been achieved without broad appeal across social groups and this is supported by what was written in ‘Reminiscences of the Bradford Cricket Club’ in 1875: ‘For well nigh a quarter of a century, associations of the most friendly character were formed between manufacturers, merchants, tradesmen and working men without a shade of disrespect or overbearing assumption. The principle adopted was to select and encourage the best players that could be found, no matter what their position was or to what locality they belonged.’ It was the same approach adopted in business: that to be successful dictated the choice of recruits.

In his article the writer mentioned ten former team mates who played for the club in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Of those, the average age of death was 35, the oldest being 39 years of age. The club had a couple of professional bowlers as early as 1840 and a professional player from Nottingham, John Hall was recruited in 1841. In May, 1850 a report in the Bradford Observer refers to a game at the club between 11 players and 22 amateurs (with the losers paying for the supper) which implies there were at least 11 professionals.

The number of professionals at the club attests firstly to a shift in composition of the playing membership as well as financial strength. Quite clearly if professionals could be paid the club was successful in generating gate receipts and/or forms of sponsorship. Bradford CC benefited from the rising population, and after 1850 from an increase in leisure hours but the popularity of the game was not simply about the spectacle. From the outset there was a close link with gambling and alcohol. In its preview of the season the Bradford Observer reported on 12 April, 1866 that the programme of fixtures ‘will induce the licensed victuallers of the town to direct their attention to the announcement that the refreshment rooms on the ground are to be let for the season.’ It was an arrangement that was later repeated at Park Avenue. Notable is that members of the Bradford CC at this time were J and T Spink because it was Messrs Spink & Son who later provided catering services at Park Avenue.

During its first few years, games were restricted to opposition within near distance of Bradford and in the main within the modern day boundaries of the West Yorkshire county. It was not until 1846 that Bradford was connected to the railway network with hourly trains to Leeds and it was the railway that facilitated fixtures with clubs from further afield. In particular it made possible the annual visit of the All England touring side between 1848 and 1864. Notwithstanding it would be another 25 years before the rail network became extensive and in the meantime club games continued to be primarily against teams from the West Riding or East Lancashire.

The growth of the club also demonstrates that there was a drive to succeed. In 1851 the club lost its Claremont ground as a result of property development, but at the time the talk was about the need for ‘pluck’ to secure a new home and achieve its aims. This was the same language as that of business. Needless to say the drive of the club’s leadership did not go unnoticed and according to Lillywhite’s Cricketers’ Companion in 1866 they had a ‘most energetic committee and a liberal subscription list.’ All of this was driven by a yearning for respectability and the recognition of outsiders. It was a classic arriviste, parvenu mindset. Bradford wanted recognition.

The Old Club’s new ground

A replacement ground was secured in 1852 that was occupied for the next 22 years – nearly double the period of occupation at the Claremont ground between 1839 and 1851. I refer to this as the Great Horton Road Ground although it was known at the time simply as the ‘Old Club’s ground’. This was situated almost adjacent to the original Claremont ground in the area bounded to the north-east by what is currently Back Ashgrove West, to the south-east by Easby Road, to the south-west by Laisteridge Lane and to the north-west by Great Horton Road. The cricket field occupied the first of two fields in the north-east area, which according to a map from 1871 represented about 60% of the total area. The second field, bounded by Laisteridge Lane was that later occupied by Bradford FC between 1864 and 1870 (and who played on the cricket field itself in 1863).

It was said that the club’s first ground ‘had no accommodation for the cricketing material’ whereas the second, at Claremont ‘had a ricketty old cow shed, which did duty as dressing room, warehouse, smoke divan, parlour and kitchen.’ Nevertheless, an account in the Bradford Observer of 1 June, 1843 attests to the fact that development work was undertaken at Claremont with mind given to the commercial return: ‘since last summer, extensive alterations and improvements have been effected in the Bradford ground—such as the erection of new sheds, railings, and a greatly-improved play-ground—at a very heavy expenditure. These necessary alterations have been made at the wish of an influential and respectable class of supporters, and there is little doubt but a fortunate season will well repay the outlay. Up to the present time, more members have been enrolled than at end of any previous season.  This is a good omen; and it is expected, that ere long, at least 120 genuine subscribers will be secured.’

The same edition of the paper also reported a ‘Dastardly Act’: ‘On Tuesday night, some persons entered the field in the occupation of the Bradford Cricket Club, Great Horton Lane, broke into the booth, and stole a quantity of joiners’ tools, which had been left there by some workmen at present employed on the spot, together with a quantity of spirits. They selected the best tools, casting the inferiors on one side; and not content with their booty they ransacked every hole and corner, threw every thing about the place, and finished up by collecting a number of cricketers’ jackets, shoes, &c into a heap, with the intention of making a comfortable fire, but it appears as if they had been alarmed, and the ‘illumination’ part was dispensed with on the large heap, though they succeeded in consuming a couple of jackets in another compartment of the building. The constables are on the alert to discover, if possible, the revengeful reptiles.’

In 1852, the club’s minutes recorded that £44 was spent levelling the new field at the Great Horton Ground and a further £17 fencing it off which was a not inconsiderable amount. The account in Maude’s history of the club suggests that the landlord of the first field was a Mr Booth (who may have also been the owner of Claremont) for which a £10 rent was paid. The facilities at Great Horton Road were basic, albeit considered an improvement on Claremont. In 1875 these were described as comprising ‘a brick built, covered-in pavilion, with separate divisions for players and spectators, a quoit ground and bowling green, and in late years a grand stand.  In addition to the field being used for athletic purposes it was a pleasant resort for children and families near’. The quoit ground would have had appeal to the wives of members and it may have served to attract women to the club – something which had been attempted previously. The Bradford Observer reported on 4 April, 1844 that an archery club was being established at Claremont for those ‘who have no relish for the more laborious game of cricket.’ In September, 1851 the same newspaper described archery as ‘a favourite pastime with the ladies,’ probably confirming that this is what encouraged archery to be introduced.

Room at the top

By 1843 Bradford had been able to secure a fixture with Dalton and the following year with their rivals, Sheffield Wednesday CC who were considered to be the dominant club in Yorkshire cricket. Following a heavy defeat in 1844, Bradford defeated Sheffield in June, 1845 and this result was considered significant as a measure of Bradford’s growing stature. Bradford won the first game at the Claremont ground and was then narrowly beaten in the return game at Hyde Park, Sheffield in July, 1845. That the Sheffield club was prepared to arrange a fixture with Bradford CC is significant and thus began a rivalry for influence and status within Yorkshire cricket (with implications for club finances) that endured for the best part of forty years. Subsequent meetings with Sheffield were particularly competitive and in July, 1860 the Bradford Observer was disturbed by the nature of defeat and the risk of Bradford ‘descending from its position as one of the first clubs in the North of England.’

In 1863 Yorkshire County Cricket Club had been formed from a nucleus of Sheffield clubs that included Sheffield United CC, established in 1854. This prompted further rivalry with Bradford CC which arranged its own ‘Yorkshire’ games at the Great Horton Road ground between 1863 and 1866 to rival the Yorkshire CCC games organised by Sheffield. In each of those years Bradford hosted Notts CCC at Great Horton Road.

A report in the Bradford Observer from 26 November, 1863 suggests that Bradford CC considered itself overlooked by the county club. There had been rumour of the cricket ground being enlarged with the addition of an adjoining field but the newspaper had been unable to confirm that ‘any steps had been taken in Bradford towards the attainment of this desirable object.’ It continued with the suggestion that ‘Perhaps the County Club, about which there was such a flourish or trumpets lately, will kindly purchase the field for us after they have laid down a new ground at York ‘for the use of the club’. It is surely quite as likely to extract this as that a ground should be provided in any other town or city, from funds subscribed for the purpose of playing matches in any town in the county suitable for the purpose.’

The opponents may have been deliberately selected to cause maximum pique to Sheffield on the basis that games with Notts CCC were considered an anchor fixture at Bramall Lane. Unfortunately, persistent rain is understood to have caused a significant financial loss in June, 1866 and ‘county’ games were never again repeated at Great Horton Road.

A further dispute arose with Sheffield in 1881 following accusations that the newly laid turf at Park Avenue was unsatisfactory for county cricket. This led to an acerbic meeting in Leeds in March, 1882 at which the Bradford delegates made the case for county fixtures and representation on the Yorkshire CCC committee. County fixtures were restored at Park Avenue in 1882 and the ground was used as a county venue until 1996. (Sheffield continued to exert disproportionate influence on the Yorkshire County committee that continued even when the voting structure was altered in 1891.)

Bradford FC later asserted itself in the affairs of Yorkshire rugby football and established a tight grip on the functioning of rugby football in Yorkshire in much the same way as Sheffield with regards to cricket. This conduct was criticised by other clubs as being too exclusive but the conduct of Bradford FC may have been based on the experience of Bradford CC which taught that Bradford could not rely upon the generosity of other towns for a share of spoils in county sport. The lesson was that to ensure financial prosperity, a club had to be assertive in looking after itself.

Financial difficulty and the roots of decline

The Bradford CC balance sheet for the 1865 season was reported in the Bradford Observer on 15 February, 1866 which disclosed a loss of £41 and from the basic information provided it is clear that the club was reliant upon donations, having received £42 in that regard. In the absence of donations therefore, the losses would have been double.

In 1865 annual subscriptions amounted to £158 and if we assume an annual subscription of 10s (NB £1 = 20s) it implies that there were at least 316 members of the club. Gate receipts amounted to £308 and on a conservative estimate that the average ticket price was 2d then it suggests aggregate attendances in the year of around 37,000 spectators. By any standard this was respectable and indicates that the organisation was a fairly significant concern as a business, let alone as a sports club. On the other hand, it was not sustainable if it could not make a profit or underwrite its losses. Based on a shortfall of £41, each member was theoretically liable for an amount equivalent to 26% of their annual subscription. In practice what this meant is that as a member you paid, let’s say 10s for your subscription but if the club lost money you were potentially liable for losses, in this case a further 2s 6d. Hardly the recipe to attract members who couldn’t afford, or didn’t want, the risk.

The additional loss from the Notts game in June, 1866 would have exacerbated this issue still further and potentially created a vicious circle. If the number of members had declined in the wake of the losses in 1865 then whatever losses were made in 1866 would have had to be made good by a smaller number of members. If the club had debts, then it was not an inducement for people to renew their membership and then be made liable for them. Nor would it encourage the remaining members to take the risk with staging future high profile games.

An editorial in the Bradford Observer in May, 1870 lamented that ‘losses due to unpropitious weather impacting on two or three games’ had deterred Bradford CC from staging county or All-England games. Later, in June, 1873 the Bradford Observer commented: ‘The prospect of seeing a county match on the Bradford ground, so long as affairs are left to be mismanaged by the Sheffield Committee, is no doubt as remote as it well can be.’ I find the reference to Sheffield significant and it may suggest that Sheffield had taken advantage of Bradford’s financial weakness, thereby compounding the financial problems further.

The loss of premium fixtures would have been keenly felt by Bradford CC for whilst they carried the risk of losses they offered the potential of profits. Big games also encouraged members to join the club. To this day county clubs typically rely upon a handful of fixtures to balance the books for which reliance upon secondary fixtures tends to be insufficient. In 1873 the three day match featuring United South had generated income of £284 and a surplus of £89 which offset losses from other cricket activities amounting to £54. However, Bradford CC faced potential competition to stage big games and in 1866 a fixture between the United South of England and Bradford & District was hosted at Quarry Gap (the choice of venue by the visitors may have been determined by Bradford CC being unwilling to agree financial terms).

There is evidence that the club responded to financial pressure by cutting costs and a report in the Bradford Observer in May, 1867 stated that Bradford CC had decided not to engage a professional that season for the purpose of ‘nurturing amateur talent.’ From 1869 the club turned to hosting annual athletic festivals as a means of generating extra income and in 1874 it hosted the Yorkshire v Lancashire rugby game (although made a loss of £80 from this game, attributed to poor weather).  No doubt for reasons of financial necessity, fixtures with the cricket touring side, the United South of England were introduced in 1871. (The ‘England’ side included WG Grace for the visit to Bradford in 1873 and he later played at Park Avenue in 1883.) It is notable however that these games featured a combined Bradford side rather than comprising members of Bradford CC alone.

The initiatives succeeded in increasing receipts which were reported at the club’s meeting in February, 1875 to have been £1,390 in 1874 (which generated a corresponding profit of £126 net of a loss arising from a county football game staged by the club). Revenues of this magnitude were considerable and reflected the scale of the club’s activity and status; it should be noted they were not matched by a football club in the town until 1883/84.

The limited financial information available from reports in the press show that the club had little focus on profit as opposed to how much cash was available at a point in time. In 1873 the club declared a profit of £185 but a net cash outflow of £25 after expenditure of £210 on a grandstand. The club’s profits would have been higher still if it had staged only two events, its athletics festival and the United South fixture. At the end of the season the club had responded to the cash deficit by seeking donations from members.

The financial circumstances of Bradford CC (and for that matter, its approach to financial management) explain the club’s fall from grace in the late 1860s with the disappearance of county games, a deterioration in playing strength as well as a shift in the social composition of club members. According to an editorial in the Bradford Observer, dated 27 August, 1869 ‘The chronicle of the doings of the Bradford Old Cricket Club for the year of our Lord 1869, will not add greatly either to the fame of the club or to the cricketing reputation of the town. It is a melancholy fact, that during the last few years the Club has fallen off very much.’ It mentioned a loss of leadership and the fact that it was no longer attracting the best players:

‘…a number of gentlemen, who used to take a great interest in the club, and were active supporters of it in every sense, such as – Colonel Hirst and Captain Bankart – have turned their attention a good deal to other matters of late years.

I fancy the decadence of the club has been, to some extent, parallel with the growth and prosperity of the Volunteer movement in Bradford… But it seems to me that of late years there has been a tendency to make the club too much of a ‘gentlemen’s’ association. From whatever cause, that lower order of society, which undeniably contains the best material for cricketers, seems to be absent from the club. This is not as it should be. The Bradford Cricket Club ought to include the very best cricketers of the district, whatever their social position. I should be very glad to see some fresh enthusiasm and public spirit infused into this matter.’

Reference to the Rifle Volunteers, established in Bradford in 1859 is noteworthy and it is understandable how it would have deprived Bradford CC of energy and leadership. At one stage it was even suggested that the Rifle Volunteers might form a rival cricket club. However, whilst various games were played between a Rifles XI and local clubs there is no reported evidence that the militia team became established as a regular competitor.

With regards to the social composition of the club, I would highlight the observation above that the club had become a more socially exclusive organisation. The inference is that the club had previously been fairly broad-based in its membership which is consistent with the reminiscences in 1875 of the former member quoted previously.

In 1851 there had been hopes about establishing a ‘People’s Park’ for the town and in 1869 there remained a yearning to develop a permanent ground: ‘…it would be a capital plan, if it were only realisable, to buy the ground, and secure it permanently for the purposes of the noblest of out-door games, to make the basis of the club wider and more democratic, and by these means to uplift once more the reputation of Bradford cricket. These suggestions may seem hopelessly visionary, but I am confident the town would be greatly benefited if they could be carried into effect.’

The threat of the ground being redeveloped had been rumoured in 1870 and indeed the same article in August, 1869 mentioned that the ground was only held on a yearly tenancy, despite the danger of it being converted into ‘highly eligible plots of building land’. Pre-emptive action was not taken to relocate which can only be interpreted as a major failing in leadership. According to a letter to the Bradford Observer, dated 11 September, 1875 the club was already suffering ‘the reduction in numbers in their Horton supporters.’ All the evidence is that the club had lost the vitality that it had possessed at the start of the 1860s and had failed to realise its original objectives.

There is further evidence about the club’s leadership from the appeal in the Leeds Times on 13 March, 1875 submitted by the committee of ‘the Old Cricket Club’ for funds to pay the sum of £2,000 that would be necessarily to level the land at an alternative site offered by Francis Sharp Powell of Horton Old Hall, a prominent Tory and Anglican in Bradford: ‘The sum is large and the members being young, and, consequently impecunious, the committee cannot carry out the serious responsibility they have undertaken without the earnest support of the public.

With the loss of its ground to property development at the end of the 1874 season, Bradford CC became dormant, described by the Bradford Observer in 1876 as being in an ‘enforced state of idleness caused by the loss of its ground.’  Its players were absorbed by Bradford Albion, Manningham and Leeds Clarence and the club was not reformed until 1879, in anticipation of the Park Avenue development. The manner in which the club collapsed had been a big disappointment and it made people all the more determined in 1879-80 to make the development of Park Avenue a success. Hence the enthusiasm and breadth of civic support that the project received. Furthermore, having been witness to the demise of the club, senior figures in the town probably felt obliged to get involved with what was described as its ‘resuscitation’ and to provide the direction that had previously been lacking. It was at this stage that Edward Briggs first became involved and he would play a major role in the subsequent history of cricket and football at Park Avenue along with his son, Harry Briggs.

Emergence of other cricket clubs in Bradford

The Ten Hours Act of 1847, subsequently redrafted as the Factory Act of 1850 was an indirect consequence of Richard Oastler’s lobbying that led to a reduction in working hours. A correspondent to the Bradford Observer on 5 May, 1870 recalled that previously the mills had been open from 5:30am until 8:30pm ‘without cessation for breakfast or tea.’ The consequence of the new legislation was that mills worked from 6:00am to 5:45pm with intervals for breakfast and dinner and until 2pm on a Saturday. (Some employers, Titus Salt among them had already granted a half day holiday on a Saturday. Salt’s motive had been to discourage a rush of workers into the pub on a Saturday evening.)

The Bradford Observer of 1 March, 1849 reported a meeting of the Weekly Half Holiday Association at which one speaker said ‘there were ways of spending the half-holiday not only unobjectionable, but very beneficial. He thought a good Cricket Club might be formed…In fact with sobriety and intelligence, it was difficult to fix a limit to the benefits which might result.’ Cricket was thus embraced by working men as a form of productive recreation, a purposeful way to enjoy one’s free time.

The Saturday afternoon leisure time would have impacted on Bradford CC in a number of ways, such as by making it possible for more people to attend as well as play cricket, thereby increasing the club’s potential catchment. Religious leaders supported the Saturday afternoon holiday on the basis that no excuse would exist for Sunday recreations and the non-observance of the Sabbath; in other words, Saturday became institutionalised for leisure activity.

In 1847 The Bradford and Wakefield Observer; and Halifax, Huddersfield & Keighley Reporter addressed the issue of Sabbath desecration in the Keighley area: ‘During several Sundays, a large number of young persons have almost incessantly amused themselves with football playing, shindying and gambling…The complainants of this annoyance (adjacent to a chapel occupied by a respectable congregation) have no wish to give unnecessary trouble; but now that the authorities have resolved to grapple with the grave matters of sewers and other sanatory improvements , it is hoped that it is only necessary to point out this Sabbatatical nuisance to ensure its immediate suppression.’ By drawing attention to child slavery in the mills Oastler and his followers were also drawing attention to the hypocrisy of Nonconformists and their relative values.

After 1850 cricket became more widespread, more often than not played by works teams and the game was promoted by employers with a paternalist instinct to provide recreation for their workforce. There were also notable examples of teams representing the firms of German merchants which was considered a means of social assimilation.

The encouragement of recreation by employers was not confined to Bradford and on his visit to Bingley in 1844, future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli cited the example of Lord Egerton who had founded a cricket team for his colliers (in Lancashire) who ‘enjoyed their pastime in the sunshine.’ No doubt it was also recognised as a means to enhance productivity through team bonding as well as offering an alternative to alcohol. The late Marxist history, E P Thompson wrote in The Making of the English Working Class in 1963 that: ‘The mistake, today, is to assume that paternalist feeling must be detached and condescending. It can be passionate and engaged.’ In the absence of further evidence, I am reluctant to be judgemental on the motives of employers.

It was a reflection of the growing demand for leisure opportunities that by the 1860s local clubs were fairly common in Bradford including Manningham CC, formed as Manningham United, the earliest mention of which was in 1861 (the original Mann United) and Bradford Albion CC, formed in 1855. By 1865 Bradford CC itself had three teams, its third XI adopting the identity of Bradford United. As a low intensity game and not demanding of high fitness levels cricket was accessible to a wide range of people. This, and its traditional popularity as a national sport explains the take up.

An article in the Bradford Observer on 28 April, 1877 provides a comment on how the playing of the game changed. ‘It is worthy of remark that almost all the clubs now existing in the neighbourhood were founded for, and are mainly supported by, Saturday afternoon matches only. Feast or holiday times are occasionally taken advantage of for arranging a game to last the whole day; but the old order of things, when contests of two or three days were the custom, seems to have passed away, so far as Bradford is concerned, with the Old Club. In the latter seasons of that club, even, one-day fixtures formed by far the larger proportion of the engagements. It is about twenty-five years since the rapid expansion of the half day holiday system gave rise to the formation of clubs for the practice of cricket on Saturday afternoons. Most of these were at first associated with particular business firms, but the best players gradually became drafted into clubs that grew up in various parts of the borough, and which, absorbing the best cricketing talent of the neighbourhood, developed into institutions of a more permanent and successful character than clubs drawing their members from a single mill or warehouse could, except in very special cases, ever become. The zeal with which these clubs are conducted seems to increase year by year.’

In terms of the hierarchy of Bradford cricket, Manningham and Bradford Albion were considered the strongest of the junior clubs but there were plenty more who could have taken their place. One such example included Eccleshill CC which dated from 1857. Eccleshill established a reputation for staging high profile games including one against the United All-England in 1864 (to celebrate the opening of their new ground) and in 1877 a fixture with a Yorkshire XI. In the 1870s it regularly hosted athletics festivals which attracted large crowds.


Similarly, clubs were reported to exist at Dudley Hill and Oakenshaw in 1846.  Possibly the longest surviving, Bowling Old Lane CC, was established in 1863. Saltaire CC was formed in June, 1865 with the blessing of Sir Titus Salt and had 140 founder members. (Keighley CC was re-formed in 1844 but I cannot say whether the current club is a direct descendant.) Others included Manningham Clarence (from around 1858) and Manningham Albion (originally formed as Manningham Young Albion in 1867), both of whom have relevance in the origins of Manningham FC. The formation of teams would have become a mutually reinforcing process driven by the popularity and respectability of cricket as a pastime. The spread of the game also reinforced a local identity and competition with neighbouring districts.

Manningham Clarence originally played its games on the Belle Vue field off Manningham Lane, adjacent to the tree lined Belle Vue terrace that dated from the 1840s. The ground was utilised by other teams including Belle Vue CC (1853), the Bradford Bowl ’em Out CC (1854) and later Manningham Amateurs (established 1866, initially advertising for fixtures within a ten mile radius of Bradford). In September, 1874 Manningham Amateurs CC was formally wound up having been evicted and the ground eventually becoming the site of Belle Vue School which opened in 1879. (The club ceased to play after the 1873 season and its players transferred to other clubs, in particular Lady Royd CC.) Indeed, the loss of the Belle Vue ground was keenly felt and was the start of a chain of events in the search for a replacement sports ground in Manningham, eventually leading to Valley Parade in 1886. Cricket games were regularly staged in Lister Park after its opening in 1873 (and this became home to the Bradford Rising Sun, Belgrave Albion, Manningham Clarence and Manningham Albion cricket clubs among others).

In May, 1874 The Bradford Cricketers’ Journal listed 45 cricket clubs in Bradford and its neighbourhood. Its issue of 9 May, 1874 highlighted that the Bradford Moor and Manningham Amateurs clubs had ceased to exist since the previous season and that the future of the Bradford and Bradford Albion cricket clubs was in doubt as a result of urban and railway development respectively. Between them, these clubs represented four of the leading sides in the town and it provides an illustration of how urban spread cast a shadow over the sport. In 1876, Great Horton CC was wound up as a result of losing its ground to development. The photo below shows the revived club in 1889.

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Manningham Cricket Club

Manningham CC was considered a wealthy club, reaping the economic benefit of location in a heavily populated district. The club also had the advantage of a relatively simple business model in that it did not incur the risk of staging high profile games. In 1876 it was reported to have 160 members. A letter to the Bradford Observer on 16 September, 1875 (encouraging Bradford CC to merge with Manningham CC) stated that ‘The Manningham Club has drawn away much of the best young blood of the Old Club, simply because the town has grown in a certain direction.’ Urban geography thereby dictated the strength of the club as well as its composition. On 4 May, 1878 the Bradford Observer commented that ‘from the circumstance of its being established in the chief residential quarter of the town, draws its members more exclusively from one class of the community than is the case with any other club in the neighbourhood.’

On 20 April, 1871 the Bradford Observer recorded that the Manningham club took a stance on selecting only bona fides members in its side, the inference being that other clubs relied upon ringers to gain an advantage. This can be taken as a reflection that club cricket was competitive with resort to whatever means was possible. In June, 1868 there had been a dispute between Manningham United and Windhill Educational CC in respect of the selection of a certain player who happened to be a professional. Manningham’s defence, as reported in the Bradford Observer, was that the individual resided in Manningham which gave the club ‘the right to his services as often as they can secure him.’ Equally it could have been a pointed reference to the club’s rivalry with Bradford CC and a suggestion that opponents of Manningham had sought unfair advantage.

Writing in Victorian Bradford, edited by D G Wright & J A Jowitt (pub 1982), Tony Jowitt comments on the lack of class antagonism in Bradford and the relative harmony between classes in the period from 1850 to the 1880s. My investigation of the social origins of cricketers and footballers at this time tends to support this assessment and as evidence of social interaction there was probably a higher degree of social integration in Bradford in the 1870s than might be the case today.

Although Manningham CC was regarded as a working class club one of its players in 1879 and 1880 was Horace Broughton, later the secretary of Bradford Rangers FC in 1880 who lived at Rose Mount Villa off Manningham Lane. One of his brothers, Charles Broughton had previously played for Bradford CC in 1866. (Their father was a textiles merchant and Horace was one of 14 children born over a 24 year period. He trained as an article clerk, later qualifiying as a solicitor.)

Other examples from 1873 are of C Lonsdale, W H Couslon and W Renton who played for Manningham CC as well as Bradford FC. Renton lived at Clifton Villas at which there were two house servants; his father was a wool stapler. The inescapable conclusion is that Manningham CC was not entirely working class in its membership and that it sought talented players who lived in the district, irrespective of background.

Newspaper accounts testify that there was keen competition between the Bradford and Manningham cricket clubs. A report in the Bradford Observer dated 2 July, 1863 featuring the game between the Bradford third XI and Manningham United CC commented: ‘An unusual degree of interest, considering the youth of the players, was excited in the game, which called out all the chivalrous spirit of the two ends of the town. There was a large attendance, including many gentry of Horton and Manningham, and not a few ladies.’ Rivalry existed between the two townships and at that time it was probably also a topic of conversation for the monied classes about which was the better place to live.

In April, 1874 the Bradford Observer reported that Bradford CC had declined to play Manningham CC that season (as was the norm) on account of a fall out between the clubs about limiting the number of professionals in the sides. Manningham had requested that this be limited to one which Bradford CC, with its three professionals refused. (NB Manningham’s professional at that time was a Derbyshire CCC player so hardly insignificant. Of note, the same individual, George Hay is recorded to have been a professor.) As a measure of progress, in 1863 the Manningham United XI was playing against the third team of Bradford CC, but by 1871 it was reported that the Bradford second XI provided regular opposition to Manningham CC and these games caused ‘much clannish feeling’ (Bradford Observer, 20 April, 1871).

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If a gulf in standards had existed between Manningham and Bradford at the beginning of the decade, by the end of the 1860s there is evidence that this was closing. Notwithstanding it is notable that Bradford CC first XI confined itself to games against ‘The District’ rather than against Manningham CC and Bradford Albion CC individually. This was undoubtedly a face-saving measure to avoid the possibility of the town’s principal club being defeated by a junior club and created a precedent that would be repeated in 1876 by Bradford FC in respect of up and coming football clubs in the town. In September, 1869 The District subjected Bradford CC to a heavy defeat by an innings and 31 runs which spoke for itself.

Finding somewhere to play

If there was a dominant theme common to most cricket clubs after 1850 it was the lack of security of tenure. In fact, the title ‘Finding somewhere to play’ would be apt for any history of Bradford sport. The loss of playing fields to property development had a major impact on cricket in Bradford and was the principal reason for clubs to be dissolved. It was an issue that would also determine the development of football in the town. Bradford CC lost its Claremont ground in 1851 and in 1874 it was forced to vacate its ground at Great Horton Road. The continuing danger of being made homeless and the lack of security of tenure constituted a threat to recreation and explains why the eventual development of Park Avenue was so significant, it represented the dream of a permanent sports venue.

So too Manningham CC led a relatively nomadic existence and occupied four grounds prior to eventual merger with Bradford CC at Park Avenue in 1896. The club originally occupied a field near what became Lister Park, moving in 1871 to an adjacent site at the junction of Victor Road and North Park Road. With the further ‘encroachment of bricks and mortar’ in 1872 it relocated to Heaton Road where it secured a ground on a rolling, twelve month lease. The construction of a Wesleyan Chapel on its ground in 1878 forced it to move again, relocating to Whetley Lane, off Thornton Road in Girlington where it secured a ten year lease. (This coincided with the Manningham Albion and Manningham Clarence clubs becoming inactive and their members may have transferred to Manningham CC at this time which would have strengthened the club further.)

Manningham CC and Bradford CC amalgamated with effect from 1 January, 1896. The reason for this appears to have been the looming expiry of the club’s lease and the need to repay financial liabilities. Bradford CC saw this as an opportunity to strengthen its squad and for that reason was relatively generous in the terms offered to Manningham, agreeing to repay half its liabilities (which amounted in total to £250) and £50 by way of consideration for assets. It also inherited the club’s obligations in respect of rent and player contracts. Manningham CC was then left with an outstanding debt of £75 which was eventually repaid through an appeal to members. Six members of the Manningham club were elected to the Bradford committee including Rawson Robertshaw, a member of one of Bradford’s most famous sporting families and one of three brothers who represented Bradford FC in the 1880s. In 1907 there was the suggestion that the site of the former cricket club on Whetley Lane be adopted by Bradford City as an alternative to Park Avenue if the club could not get security of tenure at Valley Parade.

On 13 April, 1874 the Bradford Observer reported that Bradford CC had been given notice to vacate the Great Horton Lane ground at the end of the season. The club was reported to have attempted to extend the lease and then to purchase the ground but the proposals were declined by Francis Powell.

In November, 1874 the club was offered a site on east side of Laistridge Lane near Horton Green. At its meeting in February, 1875 it was decided to make a public appeal to raise the £2,000 necessary to level the field. However, Powell would only offer a ten year lease and the members were averse to make a financial commitment without security of tenure and hence during the 1875 season they negotiated a monthly rolling tenancy at the Great Horton Road ground. Uncertainty about when building work would commence meant it was impossible to organise fixtures and so the field was used for practice only.

The Bradford Observer of 8 September, 1875 confirmed that discussions had taken place with Henry Illingworth for a ground at Lady Royd but these were aborted as a consequence of a £150 annual rent being demanded and the cost of development. By comparison, in 1865 the club had paid an annual rent of £27. Subsequent correspondence to the paper speculated about adopting a club ground but none were considered ideal whether in terms of tenure, convenience or standard.  With the failure to secure a replacement ground Bradford CC was forced into a dormant state until 1879 when it was revived.

Park cricket

Given the difficulty of Bradford cricket clubs to secure a permanent tenancy the obvious solution appeared to be the use of a municipal park. By 1875 football was already being played in Peel Park and Lister Park but it seems bizarre that cricket never became established in either and this appears to have been the result of deliberate policy by the park authorities. An editorial in the Bradford Observer, on 15 April, 1870 referred: ‘Peel Park has always had one great defect: it has no suitable piece of land devoted to cricket. The soil on the level near the Otley Road gate is so thin that a season’s cricket would effectively destroy the grass, and the ground hitherto used, below the battery, is on an awkward slope, besides standing very much in need of draining and surface-levelling.’

A subsequent report in the Bradford Observer on 4 May, 1878 referred to the fact that ‘many years ago the Corporation succeeded to a fine stretch of ground which had been levelled for cricket in Peel Park, but on which the wickets have never yet been allowed to be pitched. Perhaps we may then get to know why this should be, and if there is, why a ground has not been formed in some other portion of the Park… There is also, it may be remarked, a Park at Manningham, and the further portion of this estate would be none the worse for a little ‘development’ as a cricket arena…’  Although football was staged in Lister Park after it opened in 1873 until 1879, a formal cricket field was never developed. The Yorkshireman reported on 2 June, 1883 that ‘the Park Committee, or whoever it is who has the control of such matters, forbid the poor lads of the town from having a corner set aside for them… to play cricket.’ The suggestion was that cricket was banned at the behest of the ‘swells’ watching band performances who presumably considered the play to be a nuisance.

The Leeds Times of 7 July, 1877 reported that plans for Horton Park included a cricket ground ‘at the airiest part of the site, shut off from the park proper, so that the cricketers will be out of the way of the promenaders.’ Had the Park Avenue site not been secured it is possible that this could have been adopted as a home for Bradford CC. Elsewhere in the town, in 1880 the Corporation announced that it had acquired Bradford Moor for the intention of developing a recreation ground that included a cricket field which may have been an act of political expediency given the lack of playing fields in the district. For example, this followed the demise of Thornbury CC in 1877 and previously Bradford Moor United CC in 1874 as a consequence of urban development.

Bowling Park was opened in September, 1880 being 52 acres in size and slightly smaller than Peel Park and Lister Park. The original design for the park in 1878 included a cricket ground which was also referred to in a newspaper report of 1883. However, an 1893 map shows that it was removed which appears to be evidence that, from the experience of football in Peel Park and Lister Park, Bradford Corporation specifically discouraged organised sport in park grounds.

After Bradford Trinity FC vacated Peel Park in 1885 to share the ground of Undercliffe CC, organised football was no longer staged in Bradford parks. Although there is evidence of football continuing to be played, it tended to be at a low-level involving what might be described as junior feeder clubs and subsequently school teams. Although there is no detail to substantiate, I suspect that it was concern about attracting the wrong kind of spectators to the parks – those who might be inclined to gamble and get drunk – that determined the Corporation’s policy. So too, gate taking would have contravened park regulations.

The resuscitation of Bradford CC

Bradford CC had a finite capacity as to how many teams it could field so it was inevitable that new clubs would emerge within the town, potentially as competitors. Whilst the original pre-eminence of Bradford FC was later challenged by Manningham FC, as far as cricket was concerned no rival club emerged in Bradford to challenge the status of Bradford CC which remained the pre-eminent body and civic representative. Competition existed from Manningham CC and Bradford Albion CC but neither had the opportunity or means to challenge. One reason for this was that the competitive structures did not exist for Manningham or Albion to overtake Bradford CC.

In the absence of a league or cup competition, fixtures with other clubs were based on relationships, reputations and status and in that regard the ‘old’ club could not be challenged and would always attract premium opposition. Another reason is that neither Manningham CC nor Bradford Albion CC possessed a ground considered satisfactory as a civic arena (which is a likely reason why Bradford CC did not merge with Manningham CC in 1875 when it was made homeless). Both were vulnerable to urban development with Manningham being forced to relocate on three occasions and Albion losing part of its ground as a result of the Thornton railway being built. Nevertheless in 1878 both clubs were arguably much stronger than ever before and were obvious candidates to assume the mantle of civic club from Bradford CC which had been dormant since 1874.

An impetus for Bradford CC to be reformed may have been provided by the Bradford Observer in its feature on local cricket on 4 May, 1878 when it commented that ‘nothing had been heard in recent years of attempts to resuscitate the old Bradford CC’ and suggested that ‘Bradford Albion should assume the style and title of the Bradford Club. It has already drawn to itself a large share of the patronage, support, and ability that would have otherwise gone to the older club, and we think that the efforts which the committee have made to keep their undertaking on foot, often in very discouraging circumstances, entitle them to the further recognition and help which the change of name would bring.’ One of the individuals who had become involved at Bradford Albion CC was Edward Briggs along with his brother, Moses whose father owned the nearby Briggella Mills on Horton Lane.

Bradford Albion CC was reported to be one of the most spirited and prosperous of the minor clubs although in 1871 it was considered sufficiently junior to merit fixtures only with the Bradford CC reserves.

Bradford Albion CC looked upon itself as a working man’s club. The speeches at the club’s dinner held at the Old Red Lion Inn were reported in The Bradford Observer on 16 October, 1869 and the chairman spoke of the commitment to allow working men to play: ‘he did not think that it was necessary or desirable that in matches played on Saturday afternoons, professionals should be engaged, although it was very well for day matches, because it was well known that working men could not afford to play for a whole day without they had their wages paid.’

The Bradford Observer review of local cricket in May, 1878 would have served as a reminder to the former committee of Bradford CC that a decision had to be made for the future, whether to reform or whether to wind-up. Later that summer, in July, 1878 came news that plans were being made to re-establish Bradford CC, eventually leading to the development of Park Avenue and setting in process a series of events that redefined Bradford football.

A meeting was held at the Chamber of Commerce on 16 July, 1878 to progress the revival of the club and a call was made for ‘influential men’ to lobby Francis Sharp Powell to investigate options for a new ground (previous negotiations between Bradford CC and Powell in the search for a new ground having ended in frustration). At that time the club had £120 in hand and it was suggested that ‘a number of gentlemen ought to come forward and guarantee to raise or give stated sums – say £20 or £25’ and suggested that the search for a ground be deferred until between £500 and £1,000 was found. The majority of those present at that meeting – H Mitchell, J H Mitchell, S Ackroyd, J Ingle, W Fison, Colonel Hirst and Major Shepherd – would continue to be involved with the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club at Park Avenue after 1880. (I assume that the H Mitchell referred to was Henry Mitchell, later knighted and prominent industrialist and not the individual of the same name who had formerly represented Bradford Grammar School and Bradford FC between 1873 and 1875.)

Once Park Avenue was developed in 1880 neither Manningham nor Bradford Albion represented any threat and indeed Manningham eventually merged with Bradford CC in 1896. Bradford Albion, which played at Horton Green within five hundred yards of Park Avenue was eventually wound up in 1886, presumably subsumed by the impact of its new neighbour. (At the time it had outstanding debts and Manningham FC donated £40 to the club to help repay liabilities.)

The dormant status of Bradford CC – which didn’t compete between 1875 and 1880 – was a precedent for the example of Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC. That club was re-established in 1988, fourteen years after liquidation of the original in 1974.

Eclipsed by football

Bradford CC was originally the senior partner in the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club established at Park Avenue in 1880 and although it was eclipsed by Bradford FC by the mid-1880s in terms of prominence and reputation, the cricket members at Park Avenue remained influential in the decision-making of the umbrella organisation. Indeed, in 1907 they were among the constituency of members who sought a revival of rugby union at Park Avenue.

In 1879 there had been an almost arbitrary division of the site at Park Avenue for the new sporting enclosure with the cricket club allocated two-thirds of the land and the football section the remainder. The fact that cricket occupied the higher land – being better to drain – may have also been deliberate. However, the future of the Park Avenue ground was subsequently dictated by football finance. In 1892 the freehold of the site had been acquired by the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club and in 1893 ambitious plans had been announced that involved expansion of the footprint above the cricket field, the construction of a grandstand along Horton Park Avenue and the creation of a three-sided football arena along the lines of Bramall Lane. The financial difficulties of Bradford FC in 1896 put paid to those plans and the expansion of Park Avenue never happened which limited the future potential of the ground for either soccer or cricket. Later, the financial difficulties of Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC and the abandonment of the football ground in 1973 impacted on the prospects of Bradford CC with Park Avenue becoming increasingly prone to vandalism and no longer a prestige venue. Accordingly, in 1996 Bradford CC vacated Park Avenue altogether and merged with Bingley CC at Wagon Lane in Cottingley.

John Dewhirst

The story of Bradford cricket between 1880-1914 will be told in a future article on VINCIT. Other contributions about cricket in the district are most welcome for publication.

Other online articles about Bradford sport by the same author

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



You will find articles about a broad range of sports on VINCIT with new features published every two to three weeks. We welcome contributions about the sporting history of Bradford and are happy to feature any sport or club provided it has a Bradford heritage.

Planned articles in the next few months include features on the impact of the railways on Bradford sport; the continued story of Keighley AFC; Bradford soccer clubs in the 1880s and 1890s; the story of Shipley FC; and the impact of social networks on the early development of Bradford sport.









Bradford Park Avenue 1967-70: Part One – The Jack Rowley era by Ian Brown

  1. Introduction

I started following Avenue during the 1967/68 season when I got into football in a big way. Born & brought up in Southampton, I naturally supported the Saints, as did all my schoolmates. 1 of them suggested we should each support a Scottish team, so having just read in the football annual I’d got for Christmas about Berwick Rangers beating Glasgow Rangers in the Scottish Cup, I chose them & they remain my “Scottish” team to this day [I failed my Geography O level].

I then suggested that we should have a team at the wrong end of the Football League to support. The idea didn’t catch on but I followed Avenue – I first became intrigued by their name when I got some of those league ladders free in a comic & wondered what “P.A.” meant, not easy to find out in those pre-Google days.  Anyway, I followed them as best I could, mainly through reading “Soccer Star”, though once Avenue dropped out of the league and “Soccer Star” ceased publication at about the same time, information was scarce. Sadly I never saw a game at Park Avenue, money was tight & I’d only been to the Dell a couple of times.

My interest was reawakened in the 1980s – by now living in Northampton – when Graham Carr became manager of the Cobblers. After their promotion season of 1986/87 I read an article in which he recalled being on holiday in Cornwall with Terry Dolan when they discovered that Avenue hadn’t been re-elected. I thought it’d be a good idea one day to write about Avenue’s final season in the league when Carr won the player of the year award.

I discovered the British Newspaper Library, then at Colindale, where I spent some time poring over old copies of the Telegraph & Argus. 30 years & a lot of research later & I’ve finally got round to writing something down – although I decided to extend my ramblings to cover 1967 – 1970.

This is intended to be the first of 2 articles about Avenue’s last 3 seasons in the Football League. It isn’t a history of the club which has been [& is being] written about better elsewhere.

But to set the scene for those last 3 unsuccessful seasons, it’s worth looking back as far as 1960/61. At the beginning of that season Walter Galbraith, a Scot, was the manager & he’d assembled a successful side which included several Scottish players. He departed in mid-season to take over at Tranmere Rovers, leaving Avenue in a strong position, 4th in the Division 4 table.

Enter another Scot, Jimmy Scoular, appointed as player/manager, who finished what Galbraith had started. Avenue ended the season in 4th place, 9 points clear of 5th placed York City, & they were promoted along with Peterborough United, Crystal Palace & Northampton Town. Northampton’s top scorer with 22 goals in 33 appearances was a young North-easterner named Laurie Brown, of whom more in Part 2. For Avenue, Jock Buchanan top scored with 21 goals from 42 games.

1961/62 saw Avenue finish a respectable 11th in Division 3; top scorer this time was Tommy Spratt with 22 goals from 44 games.  But in 1962/63 they finished 21st – level on points with 20th placed Reading, but with a much inferior goal difference, scoring 79, but conceding 97 & they were relegated. This time the leading scorer with 19 was young striker Kevin Hector who’d been given his debut in August 1962, aged 17.

Back to Division 4 in 1963/64 & Hector top scored again with 17 out of 75 – but 81 were conceded this time around, leading to a disappointing 13th place finish.  One of the season’s highlights was a 7-3 home win over Bradford City in the 1st round of the League Cup. Scoular was dismissed in May 1964 & Jock Buchanan took over.

1964/65 saw Avenue much improved defensively, conceding 62 but scoring 86. The ever present Hector led the way with 29, with strong support from Jim Fryatt with 16 & Ronnie Bird with 15. The side finished 7th, only 4 points off a promotion place.

In 1965/66, Kevin Hector scored an amazing 44 goals in 46 league games, with Bobby Ham weighing in with 24 in 45. In total, Avenue scored 102 goals, more than any other team in the entire Football League except for Hull City, who scored 109 as champions of the Third Division. But the defensive frailties had returned – 92 goals conceded resulted in a disappointing 11th place finish.

Incredibly, Hector was still with Avenue at the start of 1966/67 – but 6 goals in as many games, 4 in the league & 2 in the League Cup saw him move to Derby County in September 1966 for a reported record fee of £34,000.  Peter Deakin, a £4000 buy from Peterborough & Bobby Waddell, £8000 from Blackpool were signed as replacements but neither came near to Hector’s goalscoring achievements.  As has been said many times, 1 player doesn’t make a team – but the loss of Hector really was a blow from which Avenue never recovered.

From a league position of 2nd in mid-September, Avenue slumped into the bottom 4 after Christmas – & stayed there. Against a background of shareholder unrest & talk of a merger with neighbours City, team manager Buchanan & Walter Galbraith, who’d returned as general manager both resigned in March 1967. Within a day, 50 applications had been received for the manager’s job, including 1 from a 15 year old boy, who said he “wasn’t kidding”!  But the board knew who they wanted & 2 weeks later, they announced that Wrexham boss Jack Rowley would be their next manager.

  1. Jack Rowley

46 year old Wolverhampton born Jack Rowley arrived with a good reputation. As a centre forward with Bournemouth, Manchester United, Plymouth Argyle & England he’d scored more than 200 goals.  As a manager he’d got Plymouth promoted to Division 2 in 1958/59 & Oldham Athletic to Division 3 in 1962/63. However, he’d been sacked by both clubs, in both cases after declining their requests that he should resign. His sacking at Plymouth was perhaps not unexpected, as they were close to the foot of Division 2 at the time – but the final announcement of his sacking at Oldham was made at virtually the same time that their promotion was confirmed!

He spent 1963/64 coaching at Ajax in Holland before returning to England. Wrexham, then struggling in Division 4, appointed him as their manager in January 1966 on a 2.5 year contract.  At the time he said “I am a strong one for discipline…I expect nothing less than 100% effort….I regard my appointment as a challenge…I did not want a job where I would have to be a yes-man. I shall be in sole charge of the playing side & the directors have told me there will be no interference.”  He went on to comment “I still don’t know why Plymouth & Oldham sacked me. Maybe it’s because I’m a straight-talker & there was a clash of personalities”

There was an improvement in Wrexham’s performances following Rowley’s appointment. Ron Chaloner in the Wrexham Leader attributed this to “the fact that Mr Rowley has the priceless asset of being able to get the best out of his men. He is a psychologist with the human touch….He is respected & liked by the players, who describe him as ‘firm but fair’….”

Rowley himself said that a manager “must treat players as individuals & with respect for their dignity.”  Of his sacking from Oldham he said “I believe it was because I disciplined certain players who were friends of some directors. There was a split on the board & the vote went against me”

He wasn’t able to halt Wrexham’s slide & they finished at the foot of the table in 1965/66, but in the following season he brought in several new faces & turned things around. They briefly topped the table in October 1966 & by March 1967 were in 8th place, with an outside chance of promotion.


Rowley’s assistant at Wrexham, Ken Roberts joined him at Avenue. The Wrexham Leader commented:

“Both have landed 3 year contracts at terms probably as good as any outside the 1st Division. Mr Rowley is understood to be getting £3000 a year with a house & car. Mr Roberts, who will be trainer-coach, will be getting a ‘fantastic’ salary – believed to be about twice as much as he was being paid at Wrexham”.

Wrexham chairman Bill Evans said “We tried our best to keep Mr Rowley, but we could not match the terms Bradford offered”. Rowley himself told it rather differently & perhaps mindful of his earlier dismissals, commented “Wrexham did not offer an increase to keep me & I must look to the future & think about my career”.  The comment about him getting a house appears inaccurate since he’d run a newsagents in Shaw for some years, where he continued to live during his time at Avenue.

Following his appointment, Dick Williamson wrote a glowing appraisal in Yorkshire Sports describing Rowley as “much of a modern Midas of the game, since well-nigh everything he has touched, as both player & manager, turns to goal(s), literally & metaphorically…..he is a forceful character who is nobody’s ‘yes-man’. Either he manages with a free hand or he won’t manage at all…..Wherever he has been it has been success all along the line. If the pattern is repeated in Bradford, Avenue stock will soar – & even the tiresome bleatings of the amalgamationists will die a more or less natural death.”

In the same publication Stanley Pearson sounded a note of caution: “The job is one of the most difficult any man could face in English football today. Gates are down, club spirit is not high; & the season long bickering between rival factions has only just subsided…The task facing Mr Rowley…is gigantic.”

For his first game in charge, at home to Newport County on 8 April 1967, Rowley switched formation from 4-3-3 to 4-2-4, omitting Findlay McGillivray, previously ever-present at right-back in favour of part-timer Trevor Peel, a Chemistry student newly arrived from Huddersfield Town. He also left out the season’s priciest player, Bobby Waddell.  Clearly the Avenue support weren’t as enthused by the new manager’s arrival as Dick Williamson had been. In front of a crowd of 2724, the lowest of the season, Avenue ran out 3-1 winners.  3 days later, the same team beat Lincoln City 2-1 at home, by which time the crowd had increased to 3713.

3 draws followed, 1-1 at Brentford, 0-0 at home to Luton Town & 2-2 away at Lincoln, where the Telegraph & Argus reported that Avenue could justifiably claim to have been robbed of victory by an offside decision. As against that, the 2-0 defeat at Hartlepools United on 29th April was described as “a lethargic end of season display”. In fact, there were 2 more games to play, both ending in draws, 2-2 at home to Exeter City including a goal from debutant Richard Sumpner, & 0-0 away to Halifax Town.

Stanley Pearson in Yorkshire Sports on 22nd April commented on the new Rowley-Roberts regime “what a change they have brought with them. Before….there was more of a ’family’ type of atmosphere about the place. Now it is as hectic as a stockbroker’s office on market day. Obviously these 2 make up a perfect pair….Each knows the other’s mind on soccer matters to such an extent that one can speak for the other if necessary…. Working out who does what between these 2 would make an exercise for anyone studying psychology…..Rowley appears to be the management ‘thinker’ with Roberts the human dynamo who buzzes between the administrative scene, the field & the outside world…..One leading member of the side said ‘You wouldn’t believe the difference in the dressing room now. Everyone is so keyed up & keen’…

Rowley’s record was therefore played 8, won 2, drawn 5, lost 1.  Avenue finished 23rd, on 35 points, 4 points ahead of bottom club Lincoln.  Bobby Ham top scored with 16, but no-one else managed double figures. Peter Deakin & Bobby Waddell managed 13 goals between them in a total of 59 league & cup appearances. The total scored in the league was a miserly 52, with 79 conceded.

At the Football League annual meeting on 3rd June, Avenue were re-elected to the league with 41 votes, together with Lincoln City [46], York City [45] & Rochdale [38].  Of the non-leaguers applying, Romford & Wigan Athletic fared best, with 5 votes each.

There were surprises amongst the 8 names on the free transfer list – they included experienced Republic of Ireland international & club captain Mick McGrath, the £8000 man Waddell, Findlay McGillivray & Peter Madden. Also released was Ken Taylor, who wished to concentrate on his other sporting career as a Yorkshire cricketer. The departing players had more than 1,000 senior games experience – McGrath, Madden & Taylor accounting for some 950 of them.

It was reported that Rowley wanted all of the players to be on a similar wage next season & so some of those re-signed would be taking a small cut in wages. One new signing had already been announced, Hull-born midfielder Alan Turner on a free transfer from Shrewsbury Town, who were managed by Arthur Rowley, brother of Jack. Defender Bill Barnes, who had played as a part-timer in 66/67 was offered & accepted full-time terms.


  1. 1967/68

2 more signings were announced in early July, both former Welsh amateur internationals from Rowley’s old club Wrexham. Geoff Lloyd, a 24 year old centre forward & winger Ian Hughes, 20. Hughes would play part-time whilst completing a physical education teacher training course at a college near Stoke.

Next up was Peter McBride, a 20 year old Scottish wing-half who after leaving school had spent 4 years at Manchester United without making a first team appearance.  He was another free transfer, this time from Southport, for whom he’d only made 3 appearances, 2 as substitute in his single season there.

Centre half Trevor Burgin & goalkeeper David Walters were both signed as amateurs from Wombwell, with Burgin soon making the step up to professional.  They were quickly joined by John Clancy [18], a winger who’d been with Spurs & Bristol City without making the first team; he was signed on an initial 3 month trial which was soon made permanent.  John Sykes [16] from Almondbury, John McTigue [15] St Bede’s & Bradford schoolboy, Gordon Town [15] from Bingley, Ken Spiby [16] from Bolton-on-Dearne & Max Taylor a 15 year old from Holmfirth were all signed as apprentices.

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Avenue faced Mick McGrath’s Bangor City in a pre-season friendly on 6th August, a Phil Robinson goal earning them a draw in a game in which they were “a shade the better side” in Stanley Pearson’s view. He thought Alan Turner the most impressive of the newcomers.

In contrast to the players freed in May, between them, the new signings had played fewer than 50 league games.  In search of experience, Rowley didn’t have to look far – Baildon based wing-half Peter Dinsdale, a 28 year old who’d made more than 200 appearances for his only previous club, Huddersfield Town. Dinsdale had recently been transferred to Vancouver Whitecaps, managed by Bobby Robson. He was due to emigrate to Canada with his family in January 1968 for the start of the new US league season & it suited all parties for him to be loaned to Avenue in the meantime. He signed on 8th August & Rowley announced that he would be his new team captain.

The following day Dinsdale made his debut at home in the second pre-season friendly. This time Arthur Rowley’s Shrewsbury Town were the visitors, with young trialist David Lawson in their goal. Shrewsbury ran out winners in a high scoring game, 4-5 after being 0-3 up at half-time.  For Avenue the goals came from Peter Deakin [2 – 1 a penalty], Phil Robinson again & Ian Hughes. Perhaps not surprisingly, Stanley Pearson’s headline was “Avenue’s defence must be tightened”.

In the 3rd & final pre-season friendly, Avenue, without Barnes, Ham & Lloyd through injury, travelled to face Midland Counties League champions Gainsborough Trinity, who beat them 3-0. Stanley Pearson reported a lack of method in midfield & “something missing in Avenue’s play & their too square defence needs tightening”.  Warning signs for the season to come.

Just days before the start of the season it was reported that Mansfield Town had approached Jack Rowley to be their manager, but that he had turned them down.  Out of the blue, the Welsh FA announced that Geoff Lloyd had been fined 10 guineas & suspended for a week because of comments made whilst watching his old team Llangollen in a Welsh amateur game the previous season. With Ham injured, midfielder Alan Turner wore the number 9 jersey for the opening game at Swansea Town. Other newcomers McBride, Dinsdale, Hughes & Clancy were also selected.

The game finished 1-1 with Turner scoring a late equaliser. Avenue were overrun in the first half – but at their best in the second, when the injured Dinsdale was replaced by Geoff Gould. The unfortunate Dinsdale was ruled out for several weeks with a groin injury.

A midweek League Cup match at Halifax Town followed. Ham was fit again & replaced Turner, with Bill Barnes coming in for Dinsdale at centre-half. Turner dropped to the bench in place of Gould who’d suffered a back injury. Stanley Pearson commented that Avenue were “second best in every aspect of the game” & “their defence…is not good enough”.

Following a youth match, Avenue announced the signings of forward Colin Penrose [17] & full-backs Garry White [17] & Gary Halliday [16] as amateurs. Also signing on amateur forms on a month’s trial was centre forward Trevor Codd, recently released by Scunthorpe.

For the first home game of the season against Hartlepools United, the axe fell on Paul I’Anson & Peter Deakin, who were replaced by Turner & Lloyd.  But Avenue went down 0-1 with Pearson contrasting the fact that United had “generals” in attack & defence – ex-Avenue man Albert Broadbent & John Gill respectively, whilst Avenue were aimless.

On 30th August came the surprise announcement that Peter Deakin’s contract had been cancelled. There was more surprise expressed when he later re-signed for his old club, Peterborough. On 1st September, a new trainer was appointed, Terry Oldfield, who had been at Wrexham with Rowley & Roberts.

For the next game at Newport County, Rowley switched winger Phil Robinson to right back & introduced John Rowley – his son, signed on amateur forms – at left back. Despite this, & some positional changes, County ran out 4-0 winners. Just 2 days later, Avenue drew 1-1 at home with Barnsley, with Lloyd off the mark. That scoreline was repeated in the 2 following games, home to York City [Turner] & away at Rochdale [Ham].

Off the field, Dinsdale was back in light training, but Gould was expected to be out for about 6 weeks with his back injury.  Director Leon Jackson resigned for personal reasons, after 5 years on the board & chief scout Arthur Lunn also resigned, citing commitments at his hotel business in North Wales – though he later reversed this decision. Goalkeeper Pat Liney moved across to Bradford City for a reported fee of £2500.  Wolves reserve full back Glen Andrews, a former Manchester United trainee with no first team experience signed for Avenue for a small fee.

In Yorkshire Sports, Stanley Pearson was critical of the Avenue wing halves, reiterating his view that the bite & experience provided by Mick McGrath was sadly missing. He was impressed by Alan Turner though, who he felt looked better than 4th Division material.

On 23rd September, a goal by Geoff Lloyd gave Bradford, for whom Andrews made his debut, their first win of the season at home to Brentford. The same side travelled to Barnsley the following Tuesday, but lost 2-0, with keeper John Hardie the hardest worked player on the field according to Pearson. Half back I’Anson, who had played only 4 games, asked for & was granted a transfer.  Avenue signed 20 year old half back Graham Tanner from Bristol City – another player with no league experience. In an unpopular move, the price of Avenue’s programme was doubled from 6d [2.5p] to 1s [5p]!

Avenue then signed a player with some league games under his belt – 24 year old Derek Draper cost around £4000 from Derby County & had previously played for Swansea Town & Wales at Under-23 level. He went straight into the team for the visit of Bradford City – but City won 1-2, with Robinson scoring Avenue’s goal.

Jack Rowley’s son John, after 8 games as an amateur, was signed on part-time professional forms, keeping his day job as an electrician. 2 new directors joined the board – dairy manager George Sutcliffe & restaurateur James Burkinshaw. Then came a new centre forward David “Dickie” Down, a 19 year old from Bristol City, who signed in time for a Monday night debut at Southend. Ham scored Avenue’s goal in a 2-1 defeat, which saw Dinsdale back in the side after his injury.

The following Saturday, Down limped off during the first half of a goal-less draw at Notts County. He was replaced by Peter McBride, making his final appearance being freed to join Morecambe. Next up Port Vale at home, with Graham Tanner making his debut. It finished another draw, 2-2 with goals from Ham & Turner from the penalty spot – the first time Avenue had scored more than 1 goal in a game this season.  Tanner made an early impression on Stanley Pearson, who said “he looked an accomplished performer in everything he did”

A 3rd consecutive draw followed away at Chester, 0-0 this time. 2 days later at home to Southend, Avenue undeservedly went down 0-1, with Turner subsequently injured. Pearson wrote that despite the spending of some £10,000 on Down & Draper, the attack “completely lacks punch or zip”. He questioned why one of the most skilful forwards, Geoff Gould was overlooked. The final game of October at home to Chesterfield brought a 2nd win of the season 2-1, Lloyd & Robinson scoring. The first half performance impressed Pearson – “quite breath-taking” with Hardie, Tanner, Lightowler & Draper the stand-out performers.

Winger Ian Hughes suffered a recurrence of a knee injury & was to see a specialist. Transfer-listed Richard Sumpner was loaned to Frickley Colliery for an indefinite period. Geoff Gould requested & was granted a transfer. Goalkeeper David Lawson was signed from Shrewsbury Town on a 2 month trial, later extended by a further month before being made permanent.

On 3rd November, Avenue were at their overnight stop in Bridgwater when they heard that next day’s game at Exeter City had been called off. Wasted costs were said to be around £200 for hotel bills, meals & travel.  Most of the first team were selected for a reserve game against City at Valley Parade the following Wednesday. Secretary George Brigg announced that OAPs would be admitted to the end stand for 3 shillings [15p] in league matches.

Phil Robinson gave Avenue a half-time lead at home to Darlington after a bright display, but the game ended in a 1-2 defeat. The following Monday, the lowest home crowd of the season, 2991, saw a 0-2 victory for Newport County. Many supporters walked out before the end & of those who remained, a large group gathered under the directors’ box chanting “we want our money back” & “we’re off to City” afterwards. Stanley Pearson commented “The most striking thing was the blanket of silence which covered the 90 minutes. There wasn’t a scrap of atmosphere…” In Yorkshire Sports, Pearson wondered for how long Rowley could continue to pick the same team, despite poor results.

There were changes as Burgin, Barnes, Lloyd & Gould came in for Lightowler, Dinsdale [at a Spanish training camp for British players moving to the US league], Down & Robinson for the trip to Aldershot. Lloyd scored the goal in a 1-1 draw, a much improved performance. Despite that, the next home crowd was even lower – 2745 to see an unchanged team draw 1-1 against Workington, with Lloyd netting again. Pearson felt that the talent was there, but needed “welding together into a team” with the players needing more self-belief. He singled out Lloyd & Tanner as players with a good on-field attitude.

Off the field the club published its balance sheet ahead of the AGM to be held on 21st December, showing a profit of £12,667 – mainly due to the sale of Hector. Worryingly though, expenses were up & gate receipts down.  Regardless, Rowley signed another new player, half-back Stephen Gibson [18] from Huddersfield Town, who had appeared in Avenue’s reserve side as an amateur. He went straight into the team to face Lincoln City at Sincil Bank due to injury to Graham Tanner.  Rowley could have selected Paul I’Anson, but as he was transfer listed & Cambridge United were said to be interested, chose not to.

For Gibson it was a debut to remember for the wrong reasons – Lloyd was on the scoresheet again but Lincoln were 4 up in the first quarter of an hour, eventually running out 5-1 winners. “Avenue’s worst display in a league match this term” was Pearson’s closing remark. Avenue sank to the bottom of the league.

There was off-field trouble too. Ian Hughes was fined for failing to turn up for a reserve game at Mansfield, & Geoff Gould was suspended for 2 weeks for what the club said was “disorderly conduct on the coach returning from Aldershot”. The Telegraph & Argus speculated that this would cost Gould between £40-60 in lost wages.  Gould appealed to the Football League against his ban [the appeal was rejected] & also made an unsuccessful attempt to sign on at the Labour Exchange. Pearson felt that Gould’s punishment was excessive compared to that given to Hughes.

With injury worries over Andrews [ankle], Hughes [flu], Down [gashed shin], Turner [pulled muscle] & Tanner [groin strain], Peter Dinsdale was recalled from his Spanish training camp to join the squad for the first round FA Cup tie at Grimsby Town, but wasn’t selected as Tanner was passed fit in time. The match resulted in a 1-1 draw with Down scoring for Avenue. In the replay at Park Avenue just 2 days later, a 5243 crowd saw a 4-1 win, with Down again, Ham & Lloyd [2] scoring to set up a home second round tie against Tranmere Rovers in January.

Avenue returned to league action on 16th December at home to Swansea Town.  Dickie Down scored again for Avenue, but former Welsh international Ivor Allchurch, on his 38th birthday, scored twice for the Swans, who won 1-2.  A Friday night trip to Hartlepools ended in a 2-0 defeat notable only for the debut of winger Andy Haddock – on a month’s trial after being released by Rotherham & the exclusion of senior pro Gerry Lightowler, though Lightowler at least had better news when his wife gave birth to their first child, a daughter.

Christmas cheer was thin on the ground at the club’s AGM on 21st December. Former chairman Gordon Phillips was critical of the standard of play, the results & most importantly in his view, the club’s financial position. He questioned whether any club, let alone one in Avenue’s position, needed 2 managers, 2 secretaries, a trainer, a physiotherapist, a full time scout & other part time trainers.  Current chairman Leonard Evans vigorously defended the position on the grounds that “you get what you pay for” & expressed full confidence in Jack Rowley & his staff, who he said would have to be given time.  He went as far as to say “in a matter of a few years we could have a First Division club. The only way to build this is to get professional people to do this”

Rowley himself responded to questions, saying “I go home at night & wake up worrying…If anyone could find a solution to this, no manager would ever get the sack.” His assistant Ken Roberts said he wished that fans would forget about Hector & look instead to the young players coming through the current youth set-up. A female shareholder responded “what about the first team? You are going lower & lower. Saturday after Saturday it is the same old tale.”

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The next game was on Boxing Day – a Tuesday – but it was the same old tale – though Avenue put up a courageous display in the 2-0 defeat at promotion chasing Luton Town in front of a crowd of nearly 17,000.  On the 30th, Luton came to Park Avenue & were beaten 2-1 in the return fixture, with Lloyd & Down scoring. Stanley Pearson described it as “Avenue’s best home display this season”.

Tranmere came to town for the FA Cup second round tie on 6th January, but there was no Happy New Year as they ran out 2-3 winners, Ham & an own goal for Avenue

Peter Dinsdale’s loan spell came to an end in January as he & his family emigrated to Canada. Injuries & the Spanish training camp had restricted him to just 9 starts in the league & 2 cup appearances, 1 as substitute. He had been due to play against York City on the Saturday before he left, but the match was postponed. Might things have been different had he been involved in all 23 games played prior to his departure?  Stanley Pearson reiterated his view that an experienced man [like McGrath!] was needed to hold things together on the field. He also queried why Alan Turner had been out of the side for so long, had this all been due to injuries?

There were few games in January due to bad weather; in a reserve match against Halifax, Geoff Lloyd scored 5 of 6 goals scored by Avenue.  Down sprang a surprise by asking for a transfer, just 3 months after signing, saying that he was unable to settle in Bradford. He eventually came to an agreement that he would live & train in Bristol, & travel to matches at his own expense; he took a £5 a week cut in wages as well. Meanwhile, already listed Geoff Gould & Paul I’Anson were rumoured to be interesting non-league clubs Hereford United & Bangor City respectively.

The York postponement was followed by 2 home games in a row – a goal-less draw with Rochdale & a 1-2 defeat by Crewe, with Lloyd scoring again & Alan Turner returning to action. The club remained rooted to the foot of the table.  Pearson was glowing in his praise for Graham Tanner saying “Some of his work is in a class way above this division while his coolness under pressure is a joy to see”

On 30th January came the shock announcement that assistant manager Ken Roberts had been dismissed, & physio Colin Kaye had resigned to start his own business. Chairman Evans described the moves as “normal business economy”, a significant shift from his position at the AGM a month earlier.  There was “no panic” he maintained. Roberts said that he could understand the club’s position “but it doesn’t help mine any. There is so much I could say. Such as why I didn’t sign my 3 year contract. But I don’t want to say anything while I still feel bitter about the matter”.

Evans went on to say that had Avenue progressed in the FA Cup, they could have carried on, but with the players on the books [27 including the full time, part time & apprentice professionals], they needed gates of 7000 just to break even. Perhaps his most extraordinary claim was that “in soccer it is 60% luck – & we have had very little this season” Pearson well understood the financial issues, but thought that the good work done by Roberts with the youth team would have reaped benefits in the future.

The club said that there would be no special celebration to mark its Diamond Jubilee this year – it had too many other things to think about.  A pity, thought Pearson, as an event such as a special match would have given the long-suffering fans something to look forward to.

On the pitch, despite a spirited performance, Avenue lost 2-1 at Brentford, with Down on the scoresheet again.  Geoff Gould was in the club’s bad books once more, being fined £5 for arriving late for the game at home to Crewe, even though he wasn’t due to play.  Shortly afterwards Paul I’Anson was fined £20 for being seen on licensed premises [The Old House At Home] within 48 hours of a game – for which he too wasn’t selected. Landlord Tom McGuinness defended him, saying that he was there to quote for electrical work [he was a trained electrician] & drank no alcohol.  Within days Gould was shipped out on a month’s loan to Lincoln City, & I’Anson was playing as a trialist for Corby Town.

At least things perked up on the pitch. Avenue travelled to Valley Parade & beat their promotion seeking neighbours 1-2, with Bobby Ham & Down scoring, though keeper John Hardie was the man of the match. Within the week, the recently married Ham had made the trip permanent, signing for City for a fee of around £2500.  The club also announced that Rowley had now signed a 3 year contract, dated from 1 March 1968. It remains unclear why he & Roberts didn’t sign the contracts originally offered in March 1967. Pearson thought the timing of the announcement, so soon after the sacking of Roberts, was insensitive. His view on the sale of Ham was that the club had effectively written off the rest of the current season.

2 players who hadn’t seen much first team action were in the news – Ian Hughes, who was declared fit again after injury, flu & jaundice, & Trevor Burgin, who needed 5 stitches in a head wound. Burgin was hit on the head by a hammer whilst playing with his 2 children at home in Monk Bretton! Glen Andrews, like Ham recently married, moved into Pat Liney’s old club house in Little Horton.

Dickie Down put Avenue ahead at home to Doncaster Rovers on 17th February, but Alick Jeffrey grabbed an equaliser. Stanley Pearson bemoaned that Avenue “threw away a precious league point – made the mistake of sitting back on a slender lead.” Keeper Hardie, who with his wife had recently opened a greengrocer’s shop at Horton Bank Top was “outstanding as usual”.  Home again the following week, & the same story, a 1-1 draw with Aldershot, Down netting for the 4th consecutive game. It was their 4th point out of the last 6, the best run since the previous September.

News of 2 wingers – Geoff Gould broke his leg playing for Lincoln in a reserve game at Halifax &  Andy Haddock rejected the offer of a further month’s trial, instead signing for Chester for the rest of the season.

Regardless of both current & earlier chairmen’s comments about the size of the playing staff, Jack Rowley signed up 2 more players from Bristol City – 19 year old midfielder John Giles on loan for the rest of the season, & shortly afterwards Chuck Drury, the experienced former West Bromwich Albion wing-half, who would live & train in the West Midlands. Stanley Pearson expressed surprise at the signing of Giles since “a goal scorer had been the crying need all season”. Meanwhile Gerry Lightowler, unhappy at losing his starting place, requested a transfer which Avenue granted. Young Gary Hudson went off to London to play in a trial game to decide on the English Catholic grammar schools side to visit France.

Only captain Barnes & sub Lightowler played “anywhere near his true form” in Stanley Pearson’s opinion in a 4-0 defeat at Port Vale, in which Giles made a “fairly effective” debut. John Rowley broke & chipped a toe bone & would be out for 3 weeks. The following week saw another 4-0 defeat, away at Crewe, with Ian Hughes back at number 7 for the first time since September & free transfer signing Drury making his debut as captain. Pearson praised Down & Tanner; he felt Avenue had played better than at Vale Park, but again pointed out that the introduction of Giles & Drury had no effect on the lack of a goalscorer.

Surprisingly there was only 1 change – Lloyd back for Hughes for the side at home to Chester, now managed by Ken Roberts & with Haddock in their forward line. The away side went home with the points, winning 0-2 & both Lloyd & Andrews picked up injuries; the latter’s ankle problem turned out to be a season ending one.  Stanley Pearson was scathing: “The message was loud & clear – the attack is not good enough & the defence cannot be relied on”. Fans left long before the end.

Lightowler brought his long association with the club to an end by signing for Los Angeles Wolves in the US soccer league on a 6 month contract with the option of a further 2 years, with Avenue receiving a small fee.  Avenue reportedly rejected an offer from Stoke City for centre forward Dickie Down, in whom Wolves were also rumoured to be interested. Down failed to score in his final 13 appearances though, and was still at Avenue the following season.

Rowley rang the changes for the next game at Chesterfield, introducing a trio of 17 year olds, right back Peter Hart & centre half Brian Lyons, both amateurs, & apprentice Kenny Hibbitt in the number 10 shirt. Hibbitt replaced Draper – still yet to score, who was moved to the right wing. Avenue failed to score for the 4th game in a row, losing 2-0.  According to Pearson, the performance was slightly improved; Hibbitt was the pick of the 3 newcomers but Lyons was “clearly some way off in the experience department”. Drury went close with a free kick & Hardie “gave his usual immaculate performance”.

The same team went to York for a rearranged fixture on Monday night & were beaten 6-2. The goals came from Tanner & Draper, off the mark at last from 40 yards with, said Pearson “one of the best shots I have seen anywhere this season” Skipper Drury was forced off injured at half time but Pearson thought that substitute Turner was Avenue’s best player in the second half, after Tanner & Hibbitt had looked outstanding in the first half.

The team that finished the York game started the next one, at home to Exeter City, with Turner starting in place of the hamstrung Drury. The crowd was the lowest ever league gate for a Saturday fixture – 1956 & they saw Avenue lose again, 0-1. Hardie was as competent as ever, but Pearson found no-one else worthy of praise. So a miserable March came to an end – played 6, lost 6, goals for 2, goals against 19.

The 6 match losing run ended with a goal-less draw at Darlington. Hart & Lyons, never to appear in the first team again, were replaced by Barnes & Drury; Lloyd replaced Draper. Pearson said that Tanner, Turner, Hibbitt, Draper [on as sub for the injured Hibbitt] & Down stood out.  But there was little that was good about the Good Friday trip to Wrexham. Manager Rowley & his son John were delayed in holiday traffic, so the game kicked off 6 minutes late. Skipper Drury limped off before half time with a recurrence of his hamstring injury & only another heroic performance by John Hardie kept the score down to 3-0.

For the home match with Notts County the following day Paul I’Anson reported unfit, so Trevor Burgin replaced Drury for his first start since the beginning of December.  Ian Hughes made another rare start. Geoff Lloyd scored & County had John Murphy sent off for a clash with Avenue’s stand-in captain Turner, but the game ended in a 1-4 defeat, with the unfortunate Burgin scoring an own goal.  Loanee Giles made his final appearance as his season was cut short by injury.

Wrexham came to Avenue for a Tuesday night game & went away with the points in a 0-1 win, Stephen Gibson coming into the team to replace Burgin.  In the next match, a hard won point was gained – & 2 goals scored for only the 6th time in the league that season at Workington. Draper & Turner, with a penalty, were on the scoresheet.

A Monday night game at home to local rivals Halifax ended in another defeat though, 0-1, with a debut for local amateur 18 year old David Blunt, the leading scorer for Bradford’s junior side in the Northern Intermediate League.  Phil Robinson was switched to left back in place of the injured John Rowley.  John Clancy was injured & detained overnight in Bradford Royal Infirmary with a cut to his face & concussion.

Avenue gained swift revenge by beating Halifax 1-2 at the Shay in the semi-final of the West Riding Senior Cup, Draper & Lloyd netting, to set up a final against Huddersfield Town. But back in the league, their final home game was a massive disappointment – beaten 1-5 by Lincoln City in a game which Stanley Pearson described as “one of their poorest displays of an unhappy campaign”. It was an eventful night for Geoff Lloyd, who scored Avenue’s goal then had to don the keeper’s jersey near the end, when Hardie went off with a hip injury. Graham Tanner also injured his back & ribs; both he & Hardie would miss the last 3 games.

It was a night for unwanted records – the 13th home league defeat; Lincoln were the 6th side to complete a double over Avenue; the biggest 2 match tally of goals against by the same team & Avenue’s 15th successive league game without a win. Finishing bottom of the division for the first time was now a certainty. Another blow came when Hardie, who’d just been voted Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, requested a transfer. His reasons weren’t made public & the request was later withdrawn.

With Hardie injured, young David Lawson came in for his debut at Exeter, who were also re-election candidates. Burgin replaced the injured Tanner, Drury returned after his injury & 17 year old Gary Hudson made his first league appearance at left back, after receiving his headmaster’s permission to play.  Stanley Pearson gave Lawson a glowing review: “the pressure was never off him, he remained cool & dealt with everything that came his way. Twice his brilliance stopped what looked like certain goals…”- Avenue hung on for a point in a 0-0 draw.

The same eleven took on Halifax at the Shay, losing 1-0. Pearson praised Turner’s hard work in trying to get the attack going, but said that Down & Lloyd were “far too slow to take advantage”.  Just 2 days later, Avenue went to Huddersfield for the West Riding Senior Cup final, with the superior Town side winning 4-1. Chuck Drury scored Avenue’s consolation goal. So on to the final game of the season, which brought another defeat, 2-0 at Doncaster, which Pearson called an “almost creditable performance”; Lawson was again singled out for praise, though he picked up an injury & spent much of the game limping.

So the 1967/68 league season came to an end with a run of 18 successive games without a win. The final tally was played 46, won 4, drawn 15, lost 27. Goals for only 30, goals against 82. A total of 23 points left the club firmly in 24th position, 8 points shy of 23rd placed Workington & needing to apply for re-election again. The Midas touch that Dick Williamson had referred to when Jack Rowley was appointed seemed to have deserted him. Years later, Gerry Lightowler when asked about Rowley, referred to him as being poor on tactics & communication – 2 of the most basic requirements for the job, you’d have thought.

Rowley released 10 players, 5 of them his own signings – leading scorer Geoff Lloyd, midfielder & sometime captain Alan Turner, Rowley’s son John, Trevor Burgin & Ian Hughes. Also leaving were Geoff Gould, Paul I’Anson, Bill Barnes, Trevor Peel & Jack Oliver.

The full list of retained players was Hardie, Lawson, Andrews, Drury, Tanner, Gibson, Clancy, Down, Draper & Robinson, with apprentices Hibbitt, McTigue, Spiby, Sykes & Taylor. In addition professional terms had been offered to young defenders Gary Hudson & Gary Halliday, & an apprenticeship to Michael Walker, all 3 of whom were signed up. In the event, Avenue had to retain Gould as he was recovering from injury when his contract expired & he signed a new 1 year deal. John Giles returned to Bristol City after his loan spell expired. 3 of the youngsters who’d made their debuts in 67/68, Blunt, Hart & Lyons were retained as amateurs, though Blunt departed to turn professional with Chester shortly afterwards.

At the Football League’s AGM, Avenue were re-elected with 44 votes, the same as Chester, with York [46] & Workington [38] also voted back. The 15 non-league applicants managed only 21 votes between them, Cheltenham Town with 3 being the highest.

  1. 1968/69 [Part 1]

The lack of experience in the 1967/68 squad had been a major factor in its failure. Surely then, Rowley would opt for some old heads in his summer recruitment? One of the first signings met that criteria, but he wasn’t signed as a player. Don McCalman came in as trainer to replace Terry Oldfield, who had resigned for personal reasons. McCalman was well known to Avenue fans, having made more than 300 appearances for the club between 1959 & 1966. Freed to join Barrow in the summer of 1966, he had been forced to retire after only 13 games due to a serious knee injury.

Meanwhile, Geoff Lloyd, who had been linked with moves to Halifax & Aldershot, returned to Wales to sign for Rhyl, who also signed Ian Hughes.  Bill Barnes reverted to part-time football with Arnold Town, as did Trevor Burgin with Frickley & John Rowley with Buxton. Avenue sought Crewe centre-forward John Regan in an exchange deal with Dickie Down – but it fell through.

On the playing front, there were 3 new arrivals, all from Barnsley – Mike Booker, a 20 year old full back & 2 part-timers, winger Keith Cockburn [19] & inside forward Brian Hemstock [18]. Between them they’d played 4 senior games.  An experienced centre half, Brian Purcell, available on a free transfer from Swansea had been to Bradford to look around but obviously didn’t like what he’d seen – he pocketed his expenses & disappeared to sign for non-league Hereford United. Tragically, he & team-mate Roy Evans were killed in a car crash in January 1969 on their way to a game.

Another one who got away was midfielder Joe Ashworth, who’d begun his professional career at Avenue. Available on a free from Southend he preferred to join Rochdale, who he helped to promotion in 1968/69. The next signing was 17 year old Leeds born midfielder Stuart Darfield, from Wolves. He had local connections – his parents ran the White Cross Hotel in Guiseley, but no senior experience. 2 defenders with more game time did come in – Tony Harris [22] from Shrewsbury Town & Tommy Singleton [27] from Chester, who’d previously been with Blackpool & Peterborough United.  The amateur ranks were swelled with 17 year old goalkeeper David Lockwood from Shipley Juniors, forwards Thomas Traynor [16, from Huddersfield], Robert Cuthbert [17, of Brighouse] & brothers Martin [17] & John Johnson [19] both from Doncaster. None of these amateurs progressed to the first team.

The side was back in training on 8th July 1968, except for the holidaying Geoff Gould, who later saw a specialist for checks on his broken leg, following which he started light training. Stephen Gibson must have been involved in some more robust training as he needed an operation on a splintered elbow bone. Kenny Hibbitt also needed a manipulative operation on an injured instep. Part-timers Cockburn & Hemstock, who normally only trained in the evenings, both used a week of their holidays to join in with full-time training. Down & Drury, based in Bristol & West Bromwich respectively, spent a month living in Bradford during pre-season training.

The first pre-season friendly saw Barrow visiting on 31st July. The T&A reported that the defence had been greatly strengthened by Singleton & Harris, but the attack was still lacking – though Cockburn looked useful as a second half substitute.  Another of the new signings, Mike Booker, had been due to play, but failed to arrive. The reasons for this were never made public & he was included in the side for the following friendly against neighbours City, which, despite good performances from Hardie & Harris ended in a 1-4 defeat, Derek Draper scoring for Avenue for whom “a sense of urgency & know-how were lacking” said Don Alred.

Avenue were reported to have been in touch with former City midfielder John Reid, available on a free transfer from Rochdale. He’d recently opened a newsagents shop in Thornbury though & didn’t want to commit to travelling to away matches. In Yorkshire Sports, Stanley Pearson highlighted the lack of firepower in the forward line – no major signings & last season’s top scorer Lloyd having been released being cause for concern.

For the first league game of 1968/69 at home to Swansea Town, there were 2 surprising omissions – second leading scorer Down & Graham Tanner. Rowley later released a statement to the effect that Tanner had been omitted because he was overweight & unfit.  Newcomers Harris, Singleton & Hemstock were included, along with youngsters Hudson & Hibbitt. The game finished 1-1 between “2 mediocre teams” [Stanley Pearson], Avenue’s goal came from stand-in centre forward Draper, who Pearson described as standing out like a beacon in the Avenue front line.

Down was restored to the side in place of Hemstock for the midweek League Cup first round tie at home to Darlington. Despite territorial advantage, Avenue couldn’t find the net – apart from Glen Andrews, but that was an early own goal. Defensive blunders let in Darlington for 2 late goals & it finished 0-3 to the Quakers.

Fans’ protests made the front page of the next day’s T&A, which reported “More than 200 fans kept up a ‘Rowley must go’ chant outside the club offices…The chanting went on for more than an hour. As players & their wives were leaving the clubhouse after the game, the crowd shouted at them as well”

The following Saturday brought another 3-0 defeat away at Wrexham, when Andrews, Hemstock & Hibbitt were omitted. Avenue’s only shot of note came from debutant Booker.  Tanner returned for this game, having impressed his manager with his attitude in training. Rumours were rife that Rowley would be sacked, following comments attributed to the chairman in both the Daily Mail & Goal magazine – but which Mr Evans said had been misrepresented.  2 lengthy board meetings ensued in quick succession, but there were no public announcements.

At home to Notts County, Hemstock & Hibbitt replaced Booker & Clancy; the first point of the season being gained in a 1-1 draw. Tommy Singleton got the goal & Stanley Pearson was impressed by him but bemoaned the fact that “his colleagues couldn’t match [his] consistency”. There was another home game the following Monday night, when Aldershot won 0-1, with Keith Cockburn introduced at number 11. Pearson thought he, Hardie, Singleton & Down played well but called it an “apathetic display” with Avenue lacking leadership in midfield.

A trip to Halifax Town on August Bank Holiday weekend resulted in the third 3-0 beating of the season. A foot injury kept Tanner out so Stuart Darfield was drafted in for his league bow. Hemstock made his 4th & final appearance in an Avenue shirt. Andrews made only his 3rd start of the season at right back; he was dropped again after this game, asked for a move & was placed on the transfer list.

Promising 17 year old forward John Sykes had scored a hat-trick for the juniors the previous Monday & was handed his first senior start at home to Grimsby. He showed further promise, before having to go off injured. Derek Draper put Avenue ahead & should have scored a second. Grimsby’s Doug Collins was sent off, but Avenue couldn’t make the man advantage pay, though Drury hit the post with a free kick. A late in-swinging corner went in off Hardie to give Grimsby a 1-1 draw.

2 days later, Exeter were the visitors, with another youngster, 18 year old Colin Penrose, making his debut in place of the injured Sykes.  Exeter went ahead after 35 minutes, following which Avenue [said Pearson] “began playing the attacking soccer everyone has wanted but no-one has seen from them. At times they were quite brilliant, with Draper a tireless worker up front.”  For once, Pearson found the defence in good form, with Singleton outstanding, despite needing 5 stitches in a gashed shin after the match – he’d ignored the club doctor’s advice not to play on in the second half. Draper got the equaliser after a Darfield shot had been blocked, & then set up Penrose for the winner. It finished 2-1, the first win of the season lifting Avenue out of the bottom to 4 to the heady heights of 18th place.

After the game Jack Rowley was quoted as saying “I’m glad for the boys’ sakes that they have broken the ice & I think they will now show the public that the sort of form displayed on Monday will be kept up”. Off the field, it was announced that Tanner had asked & been allowed to join Andrews on the transfer list, having been omitted from the side after recovering from injury.

Next up was a trip to Workington, Avenue’s near neighbours in the basement of the division last season, but then sitting in 7th place after only 1 defeat. Singleton’s injury kept him out, with Stephen Gibson coming in for his first start of the season. Draper was again on the scoresheet, putting Avenue ahead just before half-time. But the Cumbrians prevailed, beating Avenue 3-1 & had it not been for another outstanding performance by Hardie, it could have been a rout.

The biggest home crowd of the season, 3433, saw another Monday night game, a 1-1 draw against Lincoln City, with Dickie Down scoring his first of the season. Lincoln were second at the time & Pearson thought there was little between the 2 sides. If anything, Avenue were a shade better. Surely they could overcome their next visitors, 11th placed Newport County?  The answer was a resounding “no”. In a game which Pearson described as “Worst yet for Avenue” & “at all times interesting”, Avenue were thrashed 1-5, with Tony Buck scoring 4 for the Welshmen & Chuck Drury contributing both an own goal & a penalty. Unsurprisingly, Avenue slumped back into the bottom 4; they were to remain there for the rest of the campaign.

Off the field, the latest annual report for the year ended 31st May 1968 was published & the previous year’s profit of £12,667 had been transformed into a loss of £24,539, with ticket receipts dropping by £3000, & a net loss made on transfer fees. Board meetings were held on 2 successive nights to discuss the financial crisis. During the second meeting Jack Rowley advised that he had been offered the opportunity to take over as manager at one of his previous clubs, Oldham Athletic, who Chairman Evans had permitted to approach him. The board allowed his release following the away match at Darlington on Saturday 28th September 1968.

Rowley’s final selection showed several changes – there were recalls for Tanner & Cockburn, a debut for local amateur inside forward Peter Brannan [20] & a first appearance since the previous November for Geoff Gould.  The game was lost 2-0, but Stanley Pearson said it was a creditable performance – there was “a shred of hope…if the new manager can instil confidence into the players” Rowley would initially be replaced as manager by his assistant, Don McCalman.

Looking back on Rowley’s tenure, Pearson pointed out that his most successful spell had come during his first 2 months at the club. “What a pity” he said “that the team wasn’t added to instead of being broken up” At the time he wrote that, only Hardie, Gould & Robinson remained of the players on the books when Rowley arrived. During Rowley’s reign, Pearson reiterated his criticism of the decisions to release McGrath & later Lloyd, & to not give Gould an extended run in the side. He was critical too of Rowley’s transfer dealings, estimating that around £23,000 had been spent, with only about £5000 being received.

The whole of 1967/68 & 1968/89 to date had been a massive disappointment. With the financial situation as it was, the position of the club was desperate.  Within days of Rowley’s departure, 70 year old chairman Leonard Evans announced that he was resigning. He said that this was partly for health reasons but also because of “my own lack of understanding of the finer points of the game” He went on to express his disappointment that the club had experienced one of the worst seasons in its history during his time at the top, saying “This has been attributed by many supporters, & indeed by the board itself, to the present management…..As I was the prime mover in instigating this appointment which I did firmly believe would bring success, I have no alternative but to tender my resignation.” 

Commenting on the news, Rowley said “I have always worked well with Mr Evans & he is a good chairman for any manager to work with. I am very very sorry to see him having to resign in this way”

TA 68-09-27

  1. Jack Rowley – after Avenue

Jack Rowley had his most successful spell as a manager with Oldham Athletic between 1960 & 1963 – of 153 games played, 67 were won, 33 drawn & 53 lost – so nearly 44% of games had been won. Relegation threatened Oldham must have had this in mind when they re-appointed him in 1968 as they surely wouldn’t have given him a 2 year contract on the basis of his Avenue statistics – played 70, won 8, drawn 25, lost 37 – a very disappointing 11% of games won.

On his appointment, Jim Williams in the Oldham Evening Chronicle commented “If he achieves anything – & avoiding relegation this season will be quite an achievement – he will have done well” Rowley’s first signing, straight after his arrival, was Dickie Down from Avenue for a reported fee of £2000. 24th in Division 3 when Rowley arrived, Oldham rallied a little, but only got out of the bottom 4 once during the rest of the season. By game 46, they were back in 24th place & would start 1969/70 in Division 4. Down scored 1 in 10 appearances & was later given a free transfer.

Results didn’t improve as much as expected in 1969/70 either, despite several new signings. Without a win in 8 games & with the side in 22nd place, Rowley was sacked shortly after Christmas 1969. Ironically perhaps, one of the defeats that led to his dismissal was an FA Cup second round replay against non-league South Shields – who had seen off Avenue in round 1.

That was Rowley’s last managerial appointment. He was quoted as saying “I enjoyed it all, playing & managing, but all good things come to an end”.  He passed away in 1998 at the age of 77.

  1. Avenue – after Rowley & beyond

To be continued………

by Ian Brown


“All About Avenue”, “The Avenue” & “Up The Avenue”, all by Malcolm Hartley & Tim Clapham

“Bradford Park Avenue Who’s Who: The Football League Years” by Terry Frost

“Football Players’ Records 1946 – 1984” by Barry J Hugman

The English National Football Archive – www.enfa.co.uk

The late Neil Brown’s UK A-Z Transfers – www.neilbrown.newcastlefans.com

Bradford [Park Avenue] Remembered Facebook group

The “Telegraph & Argus” & “Yorkshire Sports” [viewed at the British Library] – special thanks to Stanley Pearson for his reports & commentary on Avenue in the last 3 league seasons without which this article couldn’t have been written.

“Soccer Star” magazine