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 and in Keighley on successive days 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.

The following caption from May, 1920 provides clues as to the perceived sexualisation of football and the concern that this may have caused the FA.

1921 England v France Stamford Bridge

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, there was infrequent photographic coverage of women’s football in the Yorkshire Sports during spring 1921 which happened to be when the paper was expanding photo content and was in parallel to occasional photographic coverage of women’s hockey, tennis and cricket teams . 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.

TA 67-07-17a

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 –

The late Neil Brown’s UK A-Z Transfers –

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

Bradford Cricket Club: a Tory creation, 1836

By John Dewhirst

Despite Bradford Cricket Club having been the focus of academic research, I find it surprising that until the publication of Room at the Top nothing had ever been written to acknowledge the fact that the formation of the club in 1836 was a product of party politics. Indeed, the role of Tories in the promotion of Bradford sport has been virtually overlooked despite the senior sports clubs of the district having been firmly Conservative in their political sympathies and association. The following is an extract from Room at the Top and narrates the origins of the political connection in respect of the town’s cricket club.

Bfd CC

Bradford Cricket Club – politics by other means

Bradford CC was the product of a turbulent era when many people feared that Bradford would be a centre of revolution. Cricket was a traditional game and its attraction during the midst of social turbulence is hardly surprising. It provided a degree of solace and predictability at a time of great change and that is why I believe it proved so popular in Bradford in the mid nineteenth century. The narrative of tradition, stability and the participation of all classes complemented political ideals and made the sport appealing to those anxious to curtail radical change. Bradford CC was a political creation, deliberately intended to derive populist appeal and provide a united identity. Yet the club can hardly be described as a political entity other than acting as a flag bearer for the town.

The Conservative Party was active in securing working class support in northern towns through the formation of Conservative Operative Associations, one of which was formed in Leeds in November, 1835. A letter to the Bradford Observer of 21 April, 1836 (from a correspondent whose political sympathy was revealed by his pen name of ‘Republican‘) goaded Bradford Tories for their failure to establish a similar Operative Association in the town and it was not until 1837 that a Bradford Conservative Operative Association (BCOA) was launched. In the meantime, the efforts of Bradford Tories were focused elsewhere to encourage working class sympathies and Bradford Cricket Club was formed with this specific goal in mind.

The man behind the BCOA was James Wade, landlord of the New Inn who coincidentally was a founder member of Bradford CC in 1836. Wade is later known to have been a woolstapler and an active member of the Anglican Church, involved after 1843 with the Church Literary Institute in Bradford which had been formed by Revd Scoresby. The fact that the cricket club was formed in the White Lion Hotel – which was the headquarters of the Bradford Tories – gives further reason to highlight the context and timing of the club’s formation. In the circumstances of Bradford politics, it seems a remarkable coincidence that a club which appears to have previously existed on an informal, impromptu basis should all of a sudden be relaunched in the town instead of remaining at Apperley Bridge.

From his examination of the Bradford CC minute books Denis Maude refers in his book (Bradford Cricket Club: A centenary of Yorkshire County Cricket at Park Avenue, 1881-1981) to mention that membership fell away in 1838, seemingly due to poor weather. However, it might have also reflected a diminution of enthusiasm in the wake of election defeat of the Tory candidates. The minutes also revealed how tickets were sold in public houses and how pubs were thus integral to its functioning. Bradford was considered a citadel of religious dissent and any organisation with a strong disposition towards alcohol and gambling was hardly likely to favour the killjoy temperance instincts of Nonconformists. Besides, many of those with a Nonconformist background would have been less inclined towards self-indulgent leisure as an alternative to wealth creation. For such people the chapel would have offered comparable networking opportunities.

Although we can assume that members of Bradford CC would have been generally like-minded it would be wrong to say that they were entirely homogeneous or shared the same political affiliations. One individual connected with the club who was a founder member, John Flintiff stands out. In February, 1838 it was reported that he had held a supper in commemoration of the birthday of the republican Thomas Paine with 42 others of similar political opinion. Two months prior to that he had hosted the Bradford CC annual dinner. Flintiff was landlord of the Hope & Anchor Inn, later taking control of other pubs in the area prior to being declared bankrupt in 1843. It was recorded that in August, 1837 he had attended a fixture at Wakefield in particularly flamboyant dress.

Cricket represented a pre-industrial, historic sport – oft referred to as the ‘noble game’ – and it was claimed that it offered participation without regard to class or social status (albeit without upset to the established order). In many ways therefore the cricket club embodied the political sentiments of the Tory Radicals and a projection of what they stood for. As a representative of the town the club was likely to enjoy high profile status and by association, the Conservatives stood to benefit from reflected glory. In this way, patronage of the town’s cricket club would have been seen as a means of encouraging support.

Symbolically Bradford CC was ‘for the town and for the people’ and before long it was being referred to as a long established institution within Bradford – by 1851 it was described as the ‘Old Club’ which reveals the degree of prestige that it enjoyed. In many ways it thus represented and symbolised an antidote to the urban and industrial transformation of Bradford. For the next 150 years it became part of the identity of Bradford, commanding considerable goodwill albeit through being reformed on various occasions.

Judged from its membership the club also stood for the maintenance of social order and the protection of property. Prominent members included magistrates and the club was also closely associated with Bradford’s Yeomanry Cavalry which provided further respectability and status in the town.

Bradford CC and the Young England movement

After his defeat in 1837, John Hardy was finally re-elected as an MP in 1841 and represented Bradford until 1847. The defining political event was repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 by Robert Peel, Conservative Prime Minister in an act that split his party. Although certain members of the Conservative Party had supported the repeal of laws which had been designed to keep grain prices high since 1815, others had opposed abolition. The Whigs adopted equally emotive language referring to ‘the murdered victims of the corn monopolists at Peterloo.’ In the final event the Liberals derived the electoral benefit of support for free trade although the 1847 election in Bradford was again defined by religious disagreements. Between 1847 and 1880 Bradford became a predominantly Liberal town but other than for matters of religion and education, there remained a broad political consensus, encouraged by the fact that Bradford had a common cross-party interest in the prosperity of its worsted trade.

During the 1840s a more self-confident mood can be detected in Bradford which might be explained by revolution having been avoided. With the quelling of the Chartist riots in 1848 and the recovery in trade there was no further threat to civil order. The 1840s was the decade in which a Bradford identity started to be defined and the three most obvious ingredients were a commitment to free trade, the incorporation of the town in 1847 and the sheer economic success of Bradford businesses. I also believe that there was a fourth. If Bradford worked hard, so too it played hard and in my opinion Bradford CC was particularly influential in encouraging a local patriotism that was inherited by football in the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century. What distinguishes Bradford CC and later, Bradford FC after 1880 was the single-minded focus on bringing sporting glory to the town. Specifically, I believe that the ideals and self-image of the cricket club were shaped by exposure to the so-called Young England movement in 1844 that provided it with a quasi-romantic vision inspiring a sense of purpose.

The Conservative and Liberal parties both attempted to demonstrate their concern for the working class. Although the electoral franchise was restricted to (male) property owners, the prevailing attitude was that the ruling party had to demonstrate that it was acting in the broader interest of the nation which translated as a paternal attitude towards the working classes. The Tories derived local support from the campaigning of Richard Oastler  –  a man who described himself as ‘a Church-and-King Tory of the old school’ – who is credited with factory reform and curbing child labour, but what is remarkable is that Bradford CC was at the forefront of a unique political initiative by a faction of the Conservative Party to appeal to all classes.

The Young England movement was more of an ideal than a cohesive political faction but it incapsulated lofty, romantic ideals of a supposedly carefree society where class tensions had been absent in a mythical feudal past. It was admittedly a woolly escapist fantasy and Liberals dismissed the notions as an irrelevant snobbery. The significance however is that provided expression to the discomfort that many people felt about the impact of industrialisation and provided a vision that many could identify with at a superficial level.

Disraeli’s speech at the Oddfellows Hall in Bingley on 11 October, 1844 is considered to have been seminal in terms of the Young England movement and its objectives. He spoke of his recent visit to Manchester at which people had subscribed £21,000 to form parks for the people and praised William Busfeild Ferrand’s initiative of providing allotments for workers and the establishment of the Bingley Allotment Society the previous year. Disraeli praised the members of Bingley Cricket Club for their revival of ‘native sports’ and told them to be proud of taking a lead in that revival, ‘because you were foremost to set an example to your fellow countrymen.’ It was similarly claimed in another speech at the same banquet that the Bingley Cricket Club was ‘founded on a right principle – no-one was excluded because of his station or opinions.

Shortly after, on 21st October, 1844 the Bradford Cricket Club staged a ‘revival of old English sports’ at its ground that featured a number of races for which generous cash prizes were at stake. The event was reported to have had a good attendance and it seems likely that part of the attraction was gambling. Nonetheless, it allowed the cricket club to promote itself as a sponsor of recreation. Buoyed by the success of the initiative and the momentum created by the earlier gathering at the Oddfellows Hall, Bradford CC announced plans in the Bradford Observer of 24 October, 1844 for its inaugural grand ball:

‘At all times we have placed ourselves in the foremost ranks as advocates of amusements which render men cheerful and contented, enliven the existence of the laborious, and blend together for a while at least, the too frequently discordant elements of station, opinion and party. More particularly, perhaps, is it an incumbent duty, at the present time. To foster and encourage recreative amusements, when so many noble efforts are being made to establish societies, provide parks, &c. for the especial advantage of those who delight to participate in sports generally. Second to none in our good town, is the Bradford Cricket Club, as originators and patrons of all amusements. It numbers about 150 ‘good and true’ members, possesses an extensive influence, and is in a prosperous position. Out and indoor entertainments have alike their benefits and sweet recollections; but as outdoor enjoyments are incompatible at this season of the year, the members of the Bradford Club intend giving a series of Grand Balls annually, the first of which will take place during the second week in November, at the Exchange Buildings. Many influential patrons have been obtained, and extensive preparations are in progress.’

It gave Bradford the same missionary zeal that existed in the town for the making of money. As evidence of the club’s mission statement the following extract from the Bradford Observer of 28 November, 1844 confirms that the club existed for a noble purpose. It was not simply a cricket club:

‘It will be seen by reference to our advertising columns, that this body appears in a new though not inconsistent scene. The club was formed in 1836. Its numbers were then few, and mostly composed of young men just entering into the world; nearly all the original founders, however, still continue to be its chief supporters. Since its commencement, its members have invariably kept these objects in view – amusement to all classes, alike to those zealously performing in them, and the passive spectators; the creation of a spirit of emulation in other clubs, by selecting the best men in the neighbourhood to practice with and take part in matches; and lastly, the encouragement to young men generally to engage in the exhilarating exercise of cricket, in preference to a lax method of otherwise spending their leisure hours. By this system of management and incitement, the Bradford cricket club has thus witnessed springing up around them a large number of clubs, with bountiful patronage. The parent club may now be considered second to none in Yorkshire. The club numbers around 150 subscribers, including the elite of our gentry. It is gratifying to be able to trace the establishment, growth, and history of such a society which appears to have kept pace with the wants of the times, and when mills and manufacturers are making such rapid growth, participation in healthy amusements tend generally to improve the physical and moral condition of society.’

As an example of the ‘amusements’ hosted by Bradford CC, the Bradford Observer also reported on 24 October, 1844 that earlier in the week there had been a pedestrian event and hurdle race at the cricket ground attended by ‘an immense crowd of people of all sorts, with a pretty considerable sprinkling of the vagabond portion of young England.’ That final comment was a thinly veiled taunt at Benjamin Disraeli’s supporters. The Bradford Observer was happy to indulge in partisan politics within its editorial but other than the above I have seen no particularly barbed comments about the cricket club, most likely because the editor, Robert Byles knew that he would not have been on safe ground to do so. Whilst the Bradford Observer had no hesitation to indulge in partisan editorials there was never any criticism of the cricket club or its activities, a demonstration that it was a safe political investment for the Tories.

After the Plug Riots in the summer of 1842, peace had been restored to the town and in the months preceding the ball there had been a series of trials with those found guilty of rioting sent to Australia. On the basis of order having been reimposed, the event captured a mood that combined feelings of congratulation, thanksgiving and relief among elements of Bradford society that the political status quo had been upheld. Indeed, it represented a much different outlook to that in 1843 when apprehension about civil unrest had led to the formation of 2nd WYVC, a volunteer force.

Adverts in the Bradford Observer listed those attending the Bradford Cricket Club ball which was held at the Exchange Building on 6 December, 1844. The roll call included prominent Conservatives such as Lord John Manners, MP for Newark who, along with William Busfeild Ferrand, MP for Knaresborough (although resident in Bingley), was prominent in the Young England group. Like John Hardy, Ferrand had failed to gain election as an MP for Bradford in 1837 and was the target of invective by the Liberal supporting Bradford Observer who criticised his opposition of Corn Law reform. In December, 1842 Manners had published a pamphlet A Plea for National Holy-Days, encouraging the revival of ancient sports and relief from work.

Others included Joshua Pollard, a Justice of the Peace and councillor and Charles Lees, district judge and later a councillor in the town. Another solicitor was Joseph Morris, a churchwarden of Christ Church who was advertised to attend as a steward. Representatives of the textile businesses included Joseph Wade, in 1845 a woolstapler of Edmund Street in Little Horton and by 1849 a gentleman. Like Joseph Clayton (the son of a magistrate) who died in 1854 at the age of only 35, Wade had been a founder member of the cricket club. Representatives of the textile trade included Joshua Mann, a stuff merchant who lived at Mannville House adjacent to the Claremont ground and his brother John Mann who were both listed as patrons. Another steward was Jonathan Barraclough, the son of a stuff merchant who married in the (Anglican) parish church the year later. The sixth patron was Captain Thomas Horsfall of Mount St Johns, Thirsk a member of the 2nd WYYC.

The ball took place in an era of considerable tension, dominated by the Chartist demonstrations for political change, the background to which was an economic downturn and enforced wage cuts. The event itself was not an unqualified success and a letter to the Bradford Observer on 12 December, 1844 complained about a ‘lack of due observance of etiquette of the Ball room.’ This may explain why a second dress ball at the Exchange Rooms was arranged in February, 1845. There is no evidence of subsequent events organised by Bradford CC but an annual yeomanry ball became institutionalised with regular events held by the Bradford Troop in Bradford and full regimental balls in Halifax.

A noble cause

The extent to which Bradford CC subscribed to the sort of outlook espoused by Young England is confirmed by its adoption of the same language – as recorded in newspaper reports – that continued long after the movement’s collapse in 1846. The Bradford ball was significant in the history of Bradford CC but probably no less in the history of the Young England movement, coming so soon after headline visits to Manchester and Bingley. Admittedly Disraeli did not attend but the presence of Lord Manners suggests the political importance attached to the event. In his book Young England (1987), Richard Faber recounts how Manners had previously turned down invitations to attend other functions at Wakefield and Manchester but Manners must have regarded Bradford as worth the investment of his time. Maybe it was Ferrand who convinced him to do so.

To my knowledge the Young England leadership did not patronise other cricket clubs despite their endorsement of the game. The identification of Bradford CC with Young England shows that the club had a strong sense of purpose and defined values. Indeed, this is what was meant by the comment in Lillywhite’s Cricketers’ Companion in 1866 that the club’s committee was ‘very active’. Bradford CC consistently promoted itself as a ‘town club’ open to people of all classes in what was the spirit of the original Young England movement before 1846 – and later given expression as ‘One Nation’ Conservatism under Disraeli two decades later. The outlook of Bradford CC might be similarly described as that of ‘One Bradford’.

This was a romantic vision of an imaginary pre-industrial age, espousing the participation of all classes in a traditional English game, attaching value to recreation and the means for recreation through leisure time and dedicated grounds. In an era of urban and economic transformation it is understandable how it would have captured the imagination and been popular with the club’s traditional members – precisely because it was based on preservation of the status quo. Given the fear of rebellion it was also an aspirational vision for those with property. It thus prescribed a timeless form of recreation by attaching value to cricket as a means for mental invigoration and social improvement. Irrespective of political outlook I doubt very much that many cricket lovers would have contested this image of the game. Thereagain, one author, A N Wilson has suggested that Disraeli’s expression of the Young England vision in his novel, Sybil (published in 1845 and supposedly inspired by St. Ives, Bingley) was tinged with homo-eroticism, a subtlety that presumably bypassed the members of Bradford CC.

The Young England message was emotional and idealistic rather than intellectual and Bradford was well suited to embrace it. In his book Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford, published in 1889, the local historian William Scruton wrote ‘for a long time the social, intellectual and municipal wants of the town failed to keep pace with its increasing wealth and commercial importance.’ Bradford was a town with a reputation as a cultural backwater, dedicated solely to manufacturing and with it the population suffered a combination of pollution and poor sanitation. The emerging middle class of Bradford was acutely sensitive about this and its subsequent efforts to launch artistic, literary, philosophical societies was essentially an act of over-compensation.

Bradford appears to have craved approval from outside, a basis of insecurity about what other provincial centres had achieved in comparison. Leading members of the intelligentsia were feted and yet Bradfordians were inevitably disappointed at what they had to say about their town. On his visit to the Mechanics Institute in Bradford in March, 1859 John Ruskin touched local sensibilities with the rhetorical question ‘did they want nothing but more mills?’ Cricket in Bradford provided an industrial frontier town with tradition and an idealised past. Arguably it became another expression of Victorian Romanticism in the district, complementary to examples as diverse as gothic revival architecture and the fashion for Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Cricket offered a form of respectability and a noble cause. For Bradford Cricket Club this combined recreation with local patriotism and the interaction of people from different social backgrounds. Crucially all of this would have shaped the organisational culture of Bradford CC and influenced the sporting culture of Bradford. Combined with its role as the foremost sporting representative of the town you can understand how certain people would have been attracted to the club for the prestige that it conveyed. In particular, it would have had an appeal to the parvenu, nouveau riche of which there was plenty in Bradford. The same ingredients were also a recipe for arrogance and self-importance. Was it this mindset that led to antagonisms with Sheffield or for that matter Manningham CC? When Bradford FC was later accused of a sanctimonious or supercilious high and mighty attitude in the late 1880s, it was evidence that the DNA was inherited from Bradford CC.

Prior to the opening of the first park in Bradford at Peel Park in 1853, the cricket field at Great Horton Road was the only formal arena in the town and the club possessed a near monopoly for the staging of various events. The field provided a shared resource hosting games for other cricket clubs including Bradford Grammar School (any pecuniary arrangements for which being unclear). When the club had vacated its original ground at Claremont in 1851 the talk had been of developing a ‘People’s Park’, an illustration that the club saw itself as central to recreational provision in Bradford. Little wonder that Bradford CC would later be described as a public, rather than private body, implying that it existed for the wider good of the town.

However as with any sports club the vibrancy of its activities depended upon the contribution of its membership and the energy of its leadership. Without new members any club can become a clique and equally, other organisations can become more fashionable. This is not a unique historical phenomenon and I have seen something similar with local cycling clubs in the last thirty years.

The decline of Bradford CC in the late 1860s coincided with the emergence of other clubs as well as other athletic activities. Working men would have had the option of other clubs to play for such as Manningham CC or Bradford Albion CC with the attraction that they enjoyed financial stability and could offer the advantage of geographical convenience to new members.

Spectators likewise could watch cricket elsewhere in Bradford or seek different forms of entertainment. Peel Park had become extremely popular with Bradford people as a recreational venue, hosting events on a much bigger scale than at Great Horton Road. Furthermore, by the late 1860s high profile games were no longer staged at Great Horton Road.

Combined with the financial problems incurred after 1865 it was hardly surprising that Bradford CC lost much of its earlier momentum and sense of purpose. However it was the opportunity to develop Park Avenue that provided the kick-start to revive the club in 1880.

By John Dewhirst

From his book Room at the Top 

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 origins of cricket in Bradford; the story of Shipley FC; the meltdown of Bradford PA in the 1960s; and the impact of social networks on the early development of Bradford sport.




George Chaplin – A story of destiny, despair and disgrace

by Ian Hemmens

George Chaplin should have been one of the greats of the Edwardian era of football. In the history of Bradford City FC he should have been one of the 11 immortal names every Bantam fan should be able to remember, the 1911 FA Cup Winners. Despite 10 years service to the club he is hardly known or remembered but for a few die hard historians of the club.

Internationally he could and possibly should have been mentioned in the same breath as other great full backs of the era like Bob Crompton or Jesse Pennington.

As a full back, he had everything, speed, strength, intelligence, instinct and the pure athleticism to overcome most problems wingers of the day could pose him. Indeed, City legend & England International Dickie Bond was quoted as saying he was lucky he didn’t have to face George in matchplay as it was difficult enough in training. So where did it all go wrong and what happened?

George Chaplin pictured back row to the right of Goalkeeper Jock Ewart

We need to go back to the beginning. George Duncan Chaplin was born in Dundee in 1888 to a sporting family. Indeed, 2 of his brothers were also to become professional footballers of repute.
A star in local schools football and then junior football with Dundee Arnott, he was spotted by the Dundee FC club and swiftly found his place in the first team. A speedy full back, his performances soon brought him to the attention
Of the Scottish selectors who rewarded him with a full Cap for the match against Wales on the 7th of March 1908. He was only 19 years old. A report of the match says he was steady if a little overwhelmed by the occasion but he had shown his promise for the future as he saw the season out with Dundee for a 4th place finish.

City and in particular, wily Manager Peter O’Rourke had noticed the young Scot and with the team looking to establish itself at the top of English football following promotion, City took the plunge and laid out a £600 fee for his services in the October of 1908, a large amount at that time for a player so young. Equally adept on either flank, he took time to settle and deputised for both Robert Campbell & Fred Farren, the established pair of full backs before finally ousting Farren for the No. 3 shirt.

Over the next couple of seasons, Campbell & Chaplin, along with City came to be amongst the best in the country, City being renowned for their tough, uncompromising defence and such was Chaplins form that he was called up for Scottish Trials games in both 1910 and 1911. In 1910 he was actually selected to play for Scotland again but had to pull out due to illness. An ominous sign of what was to come. Also the Scots selectors decided to start picking players who only played in the Scottish League much to the detriment of Citys Scottish legion, Frank O’Rourke, Jimmy Speirs, Archie Devine & George Chaplin, all internationals. Bob Torrance and Jock Ewart also suffered until the policy was reversed later on.

As City started the 1910-11 season, Chaplin was at the peak of his career as City embarked on a run of form that saw them both top the table at one point and make a run to the final of the FA Cup. Chaplin played the first 2 rounds of the Cup and had missed only 2 league games when he was struck down by a severe bout of Tuberculosis (TB) which in Edwardian England more than often in working class proved fatal. Probably the fact that George was a healthy and fit athlete saved him. After treatment he was sent to a Sanatorium near Bournemouth on the South Coast as it was thought that the fresh sea air aided recovery.

The illness was severe and laid him low and he missed the rest of the season as well as the biggest day in the clubs history, the 1911 FA Cup Final. He would almost certainly have been selected for the final having been the 1st choice for over 2 years. His misfortune opened the door for Dave Taylor to go down in history as a member of the victorious team.

He missed the whole of the next season as well and although he tried a comeback in the very last game of the 1911-12 season and found his body couldn’t withstand the pressure. For the next 2 seasons, he struggled manfully to regain his fitness and former place in the team and it wasn’t until late 1914 that he finally managed a run in the first team. He had lost a little pace but still kept his place although he was now being challenged by up & coming young full backs Irvine Boocock & Freddie Potts.

1915 saw everyones life turned upside down as the World went to war with his previous health issues, George was deemed unfit for Service but did his bit by being a driver for the Army whilst being able to turn out regularly in Wartime football for both City & Hull City.

At the end of the war, with the years catching up on him and with both Boocock & Potts being preferred to him, he decided to finally leave Valley Parade after over a decade of service to join the fledgling Coventry City who had been elected to the newly formed 3rd Division.

coventry city

He soon became Captain but Coventry struggled to make their mark in League football and flirted regularly with re-election. Certain people who had invested heavily in the club couldn’t afford to see the club relegated from the league. In May 1920 things were looking with Coventry running out of games to save themselves. Bury were sitting 5th with nothing to play for. Against all odds and form, Coventry came from 0-1 down to win 2-1 leaving Lincoln bottom and voted out of the league. So unexpected was the result that there was a national ‘whispering campaign’ which wouldn’t go away. Finally with their usual speed, the Football League said it would investigate, 3 years later!!
The result was that several Coventry directors and club Captain George Chaplin all received life bans along with a couple of Bury players. All denied the charges and George Chaplin never set foot in Highfield Road again going on to be landlord of a public house in the City.

A full 18 years passed before Chaplin finally came forward and admitted that after discussions with Coventry chairman David Cooke, He met a couple of the Bury players privately with ‘£200’ in his pocket and when he left he had a feeling Coventry would gain the points needed for survival. It nearly went wrong as Coventry were so bad that Bury were leading at half time and one of the Bury players mentioned to Chaplin that it was impossible to lose against such a bad side but in the end Coventry managed somehow to score twice.

George Chaplin

For George Chaplin, such a career was brought to an end in disgrace when it had started with so much promise. He should have been an all time great but circumstances such as injury, severe illness, wartime, and finally shame saw him miss out on several Scottish Caps, an FA Cup Winners medal and probable legendary status.

George Chaplin died in Coventry on 14th May 1963


You will find articles about a broad range of sports on VINCIT with new features published every three to four 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 origins of cricket in Bradford; the story of Shipley FC; the meltdown of Bradford PA in the 1960s; and the impact of social networks on the early development of Bradford sport.

The Wool City Rivalry: Class tensions?

Bradford football history has been dominated by myths, one of which has been the suggestion that the rivalry of Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue was based on social class.

Its origin has been derived from a superficial understanding of the preceding rivalry of Manningham FC and Bradford FC as rugby clubs. Whilst the claim lends itself to convenient soundbites and a romantic interpretation of history, it is both simplistic and misleading, failing to recognise the historic context and background of specific events. Indeed it reveals more about the political sympathies of those who have propagated such a claim. (One individual in particular has been guilty of the invention and the false history.)

This article sets out my findings and the reasons why it is wrong to say that the rivalry was class based. We begin by examining the differences between the two rugby clubs at Valley Parade and Park Avenue respectively.

Rugby heritage

When looking at Manningham FC and Bradford FC there is a danger of seeing them as complete opposites despite the fact that they had a lot in common – even if partisan supporters chose to believe otherwise. Above all, Manningham FC saw itself as a Bradford club and sought the acclaim of Bradford people; its name should not be cited as evidence of a secessionist instinct.

There has been a temptation to interpret the history of the senior Bradford clubs as binary, much the same as Glasgow Rangers is differentiated from Celtic in political or religious terms. The personalities of the Manningham and Bradford clubs came to be defined in the 1880s, the decade in which Manningham FC emerged as a challenger to the Park Avenue side. Bradford FC saw itself as an aristocrat of Yorkshire rugby by virtue of its heritage and its commercial success in the late 1880s fostered a distinct arrogance, described as a ‘high and mighty’ attitude. The club was quick to boast of its achievements in a manner that could be compared to that of a brash, self-made man. By the end of the decade the club’s annual tours had become infamous, said to be done in regal style with questions of cost a mere detail. According to Alfred Pullin in The Athletic News of 18 November, 1889 they were characteristic of the club.

Within Bradford the Park Avenue organisation jealously guarded its status as the senior ‘town club’, that is to say its principal representative. Manningham FC existed as an alternative to Bradford FC and it would be naive to pretend otherwise that Bradford’s high and mighty blustering was to everyone’s taste. Nonetheless, it is dangerous to generalise why people chose which club to support. For many – but not exclusively – it came down to nothing more than the most obvious reason, which side of the district someone lived and force of habit. It is equally simplistic to label the rivalry as that of ‘establishment against working class’ to provide a romantic, class-obsessed narrative. Both clubs were equally part of the ‘establishment’ and Manningham was hardly a revolutionary construct. As far as political affiliations were concerned, as I outline in my books Room at the Top and Life at the Top, both organisations had a predominance of Conservative Party activists in their leadership.

A more meaningful contrast between Bradford FC and Manningham FC was that between a high church and a chapel. The grandeur and pomp of Park Avenue contrasted with the functional, non-pretentious and ordinary character of Valley Parade.

The rivalry of the two clubs was intense and defined by grudges on both sides. Manningham FC perceived bullying by Bradford FC as a much larger club seeking to maximise its advantage at its expense. (In this regard there was a number of episodes that had caused bitterness including attempts to exclude Manningham from the top table of Yorkshire rugby in 1883; the controversy over a postponed cup tie at Park Avenue in 1887 that Manningham considered had been calculated to avoid home defeat; the attempt to exclude Manningham FC from a new league in 1892; and the poaching of players. For the record, such behaviour was not unique to Bradford FC even if it was considered the arch-proponent and it is recognisable to us nowadays in the conduct of so-called ‘big’ soccer clubs in relation to smaller brethren.) Bradford FC considered Manningham FC an economic threat to the viability of its Park Avenue investment, considered tantamount to treachery from the perspective of Bradford sport.

The players

Manningham FC’s raison d’etre from its formation in 1880 was its geographic catchment and its original development can be attributed to the fact that it provided an opportunity for a team to play in Manningham, tapping into the latent demand. By definition those who played for Manningham would have done so because they were unable to play elsewhere, possibly as a result of constraints of travel time or the fact that opportunities or vacancies to play for another side did not exist. This provided a further distinction with Bradford FC in that Manningham FC was more embedded within the local community than Bradford FC. With regards to the latter, many of the players lived out of town and spectators were drawn from across Bradford as well as outlying places. It is recorded that high profile fixtures at Park Avenue often attracted enthusiasts from across Yorkshire. The traditional basis of supporting Bradford FC was as the town club whereas the basis of support for Manningham FC was the proximity of the ground.

Prior to 1879 the Bradford FC team had comprised mainly middle class players and its location at Apperley Bridge, outside the town centre, was a factor that led to the social exclusivity. This changed with the move to Park Avenue and between 1880-83 the majority of players came from artisan backgrounds.

Between 1883-92 Bradford FC established a reputation for itself as a team of celebrities including leading players poached from other Bradford clubs, Manningham FC included. The players became known for their partying and the middle class background of the majority led to the description of a ‘cuff and collar’ brigade. The social transformation of the team in this period arose because it became fashionable to play at Park Avenue and the club was able to attract a number of university graduates who were skilful rugby players. Once more, after 1892 the team comprised largely working class players, to all intents quasi-professionals.

It was not unique to Park Avenue for there to have been favouritism in team selection and this served to alienate other players, a number of whom transferred across to Manningham FC. Personal bitterness was thus an ingredient in the rivalry, best illustrated by the ill-feeling of club stalwart and future Manningham FC captain William Fawcett. However, to suggest that this was exclusively a matter of class identity would be a simplification.

During the first decade after formation in 1880 the Manningham FC players were predominantly working men, typically with skilled backgrounds. Yet they were not exclusively working class with occupations including a reverend, teacher, jeweller, salesman, surveyor and lawyer. As at Park Avenue, after 1892 players tended to be quasi-professionals from ordinary working class backgrounds.

There was far greater change in the social composition of the team at Park Avenue than within Manningham FC between 1880-1903. A crucial change at Valley Parade was that by the late 1890s Manningham FC was forced to look outside the club and its historic membership to secure the expertise and business acumen necessary to survive. In general it could be said that the influx of new people from different backgrounds at Park Avenue tended to be players whereas as Valley Parade they tended to be administrators.

Socially-homogeneous supporters?

Both rugby clubs relied upon working class communities for their mass support and this continued with soccer. In the case of Bradford FC, Park Avenue was a far more convenient venue for people living to the south of the Town Hall along the Manchester Road / Bowling corridor where the terraced housing confirmed a predominantly working class population from which a mass of support was derived. The followers of both clubs sought to exaggerate their differences for fear of losing their identity (a phenomenon known as the ‘narcissism of differences’) and it is incorrect to suggest that Bradford and Manningham were the equal opposites of each other – to do so is to ignore that they had much in common.

Just as it is wrong to suggest that somehow Bradford FC was supported exclusively by middle class followers, it is incorrect to suggest that Manningham FC’s support was exclusively working class. Take for example the club’s tour to Paris in 1894 and the 145 people who travelled, paying £4 for the privilege (the equivalent of three to four months’ pay for a working man). This was hardly within the reach of unskilled working men.

There has been a temptation to assume that the two clubs were socially homogeneous, monolithic bodies and to believe that the members of each were representative of spectators at large. It needs to be remembered that the activists who made the decisions constituted a small proportion of the total spectators at either ground.

There would similarly have been spectators who opted to follow both clubs, picking and choosing according to the fixture and these people would have classified themselves as football enthusiasts rather than partisan supporters. Manningham provided an alternative option to Bradford and if you were able to attend games at either ground, it was a great opportunity to have the choice.

Working class Conservatism

Despite statements about Manningham FC / Bradford City AFC having been a working man’s club, by the end of the nineteenth century it was certainly not led by working men. It suited the leadership at Valley Parade to promote the club’s populist credentials in this way. In doing so, it benefited the club commercially to emphasise links with the local community and this fitted into the ‘One Nation’ political creed that was prevalent among Conservatives. To assume that because the Manningham or Bradford City leadership spoke of the club as a working man’s club it meant a labourist affiliation aligned to class struggle is widely adrift.

Working class conservatism had been ingrained at both Valley Parade and Park Avenue from the beginning. The links with the Volunteer movement fostered support for the military and imperial conquest, demonstrated in 1884 – at the time of the Sudan crisis – by the adoption of claret and amber regimental colours by Manningham FC. Another illustration was Joseph Burrow, a founder member of Manningham FC in 1880 who was later the chairman of Bradford East Division Men’s Conservative Association.

The championing of recreation and rest from work was surely a major factor explaining the strength of working class Tory sympathies in industrial Yorkshire. However, the original link between Bradford Cricket Club and Benjamin Disraeli’s Young England movement has not, to my knowledge, been previously identified in histories of Conservatism in the north during the Victorian age.

The Manningham Mills myth

Two key events in the 1890s have been seized upon to link Manningham FC with class struggle. The first of those relates to the Manningham Mills strike, the second to the formation of the Northern Union in 1895.

The strike at Manningham Mills of 1890/91 was a particularly bitter affair and there has been the suggestion that Manningham FC became entangled in the strike by offering support. As I outline in Life at the Top, it is a contrived connection that doesn’t bear scrutiny. Indeed, the club president James Freeman was head of the City of Bradford Watch Committee that supervised the policing of the strike. To suggest that Manningham FC was at the forefront of class politics is therefore utter fantasy.

The Rugby League myth

The status of Manningham FC as a founder of the Northern Union in 1895 has also been highlighted to suggest that it seceded from the Rugby Union as a champion of working class players. Again, it is a fanciful myth. The traditional narrative about Rugby League gives considerable emphasis to class politics and this has been cited as the underlying cause of the 1895 split. As I argue in Life at the Top, finances had more to do with the breakaway and the principal driver of change was the basic need of all (rugby) football clubs to pay their way (make a profit) and service their debts (generate sufficient cash). Whilst the language about class undoubtedly reflected cultural prejudices of the time – and on occasions was raw – the reason why the Manningham and Bradford clubs opted for the Northern Union in 1895 (and then association football in the decade following) was not as part of a crusade to safeguard the interests of the working class, rather they wanted to protect their own balance sheets.

It is notable how myths have evolved about 1895. Indeed, the broken-time initiative was essentially an instinctive capitalist response by football administrators to protect profits and curb the bargaining power of players. The cynic can argue that the myths were encouraged precisely because the split was driven by economic interests at the expense of smaller clubs and that it was not universally popular.

Both Manningham FC and Bradford FC were among the 22 founder members of the Northern Union. When the latter eventually converted to association football in 1907 – and at one stage there was even discussion about re-joining the Rugby Union as an amateur club – the accusation was made that the Park Avenue club had never been committed to the Northern Union. Whilst this was coloured by the politics within the Northern Union and the opposition of Bradford FC to reforms of the game in preceding years, the argument was based on the circumstances relating to the establishment of the Northern Union in 1895 and the apparent reluctance of Bradford FC to commit to the initiative.

Whereas Manningham FC had expressed enthusiasm for a Northern League based on the payment of broken-time from when it was first discussed in March, 1895, Bradford FC only confirmed its involvement at the last moment in late August, 1895 when it faced the risk of the remaining clubs going it alone. However, this overlooks the fact that Bradford FC was far from being a passive agent in the formation of the Northern Union. The club should be credited with having had a realistic assessment of the likely risks that would arise from embarking on what was an enormous leap in the dark. To infer from its muted enthusiasm for the Northern Union that Bradford FC was de facto a ‘middle class club’ and Manningham FC was the ‘working class club’ is completely wide of the mark and is another baseless myth.

Democrats and Plutocrats

Manningham FC was proud of the fact that the club had not been beholden to public donations but it was no less a capitalist affair than Bradford FC and nor should it be perceived as a minor club in terms of its revenue generating capabilities. Unlike Bradford FC however, it was debt averse as an organisation.

The story of the rivalry was that of two commercial organisations, each with an imperative to survive. By the end of the nineteenth century the business competition between them also mirrored the social competition and one-upmanship between different groups of Bradford’s ruling classes. By 1900 this amounted to an educated, cultured merchant class involved at Valley Parade and industrialists at Park Avenue who had the wealth but were generally considered to lack refinement.

Across at Park Avenue it was the conduct of chairman Harry Briggs after 1896 that helped shaped the identity of the Valley Parade club, again by exaggerating the differences. Harry’s father, Edward had guaranteed the borrowings of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club and this afforded Harry Briggs unique authority. By 1905 Briggs was actively scheming to introduce soccer to Park Avenue and he became known as the ‘Little Napoleon’. Dislike and fear of Briggs was a big factor in the decision of Bradford City members to reject amalgamation in 1907 and allowed the Valley Paraders to claim that in contrast their club was a model of democracy and good governance.

Partisan City supporters had opposed the election of Bradford Park Avenue to the Football League, fearing that the wealth of Harry Briggs would result in his club becoming dominant. The rivalry between the two organisations was described in The Athletic News and the comments of its editor, James Catton, writing as ‘Tityrus’ are incisive. On 23 March, 1908 he commented that Bradford City was ‘blessed with the ambition to mingle with the aristocracy of football. Now, aristocracy simply means the best in the land. Bradford City can only elect themselves into the community by pure merit.’ His article continued: ‘having spent a pleasant hour surveying the splendid estate of Park Avenue, the home of the Plutocrats, with their coat of arms richly deight with gilt, I wandered down to The Valley. Those who dwell in The Valley are The Democrats. The City pride themselves on being the working man’s club – the men who have done the spade work of making the Association game popular in part of the West Riding county.’

Catton’s article was embedded with the sentiment that the honest toil of Bradford City contrasted with the privilege, wealth and entitlement of Bradford Park Avenue. It was pejorative to suggest that Park Avenue was the home of plutocrats and his description of City as democrats was derived as the polar opposite. The language was aligned with how partisan supporters at Valley Parade defined the two clubs. It painted a struggle of ‘good against bad’, or ‘light against dark’ and offered a romantic vision of Bradford City whilst overlooking the fact that the club had been neither a model of harmony nor of good governance. So too it conveniently ignored the fact that in 1903 the Manningham FC chairman, Alfred Ayrton had managed conversion from rugby to soccer by stealth and had been careful not to make himself accountable to a democratic vote of all members until the stage that it was a fait accompli.

The Bradford City inheritance

In 1879-80, when subscriptions were raised for the original development of Park Avenue, civic notables jumped at the chance to be patrons of the new Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club. Local MPs, dignatories and industrialists were anxious to be associated with the club. If we go full circle to 1908, Bradford City AFC could boast among its patrons the Lord Mayor; serving and former MPs – Sir Ernest Flower (Con); Percy Illingworth (Liberal, Shipley, 1906); Sir George Scott Robertson (Liberal, Bradford Central, 1906); William Edward Briggs Priestley MP (Liberal, Bradford East, 1906) and three councillors – Wade, Hill and Ayrton. (NB Of Bradford’s three MPs elected in 1906 only Fred Jowett (Labour) who defeated Ernest Flower in the Bradford West constituency had no formal connection with Bradford City in 1908 which might seem surprising given the location of Valley Parade.)

Another previously overlooked theme is that freemasons were heavily represented within the Bradford City leadership prior to the outbreak of World War One. If the Park Avenue club had originally considered itself to be at the heart of the Bradford establishment as the ‘town club’ it is fair to say that its Manningham rival had within thirty years inherited that honour. To suggest that Bradford City AFC as an institution stood aloof from the establishment by virtue of class identity is therefore ludicrous.

By the time of its promotion to the First Division in 1908 Bradford City AFC was able to position itself as the civic club in Bradford but there was a subtle shift in its expression of local patriotism. Historically a large element of sporting pride had been derived from the prominence of local players in a team, whether at cricket in the mid-nineteenth century or rugby in the last quarter. The proportion of outsiders or aliens had increased after the launch of the Yorkshire Senior Competition league in 1892 and the trend was well-established by the time of the Northern Union in 1895. In fact, the incidence of foreigners was considered to go hand in hand with professionalism and not surprisingly it was a common feature of Football League clubs. The dearth of local soccer talent meant that both of the Bradford clubs came to rely upon imported players, exemplified famously by the fact that the team that won the FA Cup in 1911 comprised eight Scotsmen, one Irishmen and two Englishmen from Nottingham. By contrast the players who represented the Bradford Northern club formed in 1907 and Bradford RFC, formed in 1919 tended to be locals.

Bradford Northern

The Bradford Northern club actively exploited class identity as a means of securing support, much in the same way that the Rugby League sought to portray itself as a working class sport. My research into Bradford football (rugby and association) identified that issues of class and social mores only became a feature in the controversy leading up to the abandonment of rugby at Park Avenue in 1907. With regards to comments and letters in the Bradford press, overt references to class emerged only in 1905 which served to emphasise the popular credentials of Northern Union rugby as opposed to those of Rugby Union. Notable was the absence of such in 1895.

The amateur Rugby Union code was not extinguished in Bradford in 1895 although like elsewhere in West Yorkshire, by the end of the decade it had virtually disappeared. Post-split, junior clubs struggled to survive and a number converted to Northern Union. However, the amateur teams remained strongly working class in composition. The likes of Shipley FC, Bowling FC or Bowling Old Lane FC chose to remain within the Rugby Union because they opposed the breakaway of the senior clubs which they considered to be at their economic expense.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Rugby Union in Bradford was a minority sport, played at Bradford Grammar School and by the Bradford Wanderers side formed in 1899. It also became distinctly middle class and hence by 1907, when there was the suggestion of reviving Rugby Union at Park Avenue, there was a clear social distinction between the two rugby codes.

Northern Union followers emphasised class identity in the face of the potential threat from Union as well as the competition with soccer. The Northern followers tended to emphasise the credentials of their code in preference to soccer as the traditional winter sport of Bradford. Notable is that in accounts describing the respective crowds at soccer and (Northern Union) rugby in the first decade of the twentieth century, the former was said to be generally younger and included more women. By virtue of numbers attending, the experience in Bradford was that before World War One, rugby appealed to narrow segments of the population whereas soccer was far more representative and broader based.

In the inter-war years, first Rugby Union and then Rugby League enjoyed greater prominence in Bradford in preference to soccer and it is a reminder that different sports have come in and out of fashion. Likewise the social profile of people attending games at Valley Parade has continued to change with the proportion of families in today’s crowds contrasting to that in earlier decades.


I have seen no evidence to suggest that the two senior clubs were defined by sectarian division unlike in other British cities where divisions have been based around relations with those of Irish (catholic) descent. Certainly, there is no mention of Irishmen having been prominent decision-makers at either Park Avenue or Valley Parade. If anything, the leadership of both clubs was likely to have been distinctly unsympathetic to Irish Home Rule and the Irish as a distinct community. Within Bradford as a whole there tended to be negative attitudes and prejudice towards the Irish and public opinion was probably shaped by the Goitside slum, considered to be a haven of crime and depravity.

In 1911 Tom Maley was appointed manager at Park Avenue and shortly after the club adopted green and white hooped shirts, something which may have been promised to him as a gesture to secure his services. Of course, the colours were those of Glasgow Celtic with whom Maley had been closely involved. Whether those colours were successful in attracting Irish support is hard to say. It has been suggested that in the immediate post-war period, Bradford Park Avenue secured a following among the Irish population of Bradford but I believe that this had more to do with the development of nearby housing schemes. (Until 1936, Park Avenue had been surrounded by green fields and the development of the Canterbury Avenue estate in that year led to the resettlement of people from the Goitside area.)

With regards religion, whilst the doctrine of Muscular Christianity was a factor encouraging athleticism in Bradford I do not believe that it can be claimed to have been a dominant influence. The cultural spirit of Manningham FC was attuned with Wesleyanism whilst at Park Avenue it could be said to be nearer to Anglicanism. Edward Briggs for example had been a convert from non-conformism to the Church of England, interpreted for motives of social status. The Bradford Cricket, Athletic & football Club was also situated within the parish of St John’s Anglican church and its curate, Rev James Leighton was actively involved with the club between 1890 and 1911. Across at Valley Parade, longstanding committee member Tony Fattorini was a prominent Catholic. However, whilst religious backgrounds may have shaped behaviours it could not be said that religious identity per se determined the rivalry between Manningham FC and Bradford FC.

The Fall from the Top

The story of Bradford football in the twentieth century was the struggle of co-existence. The two clubs were disadvantaged by competing for support in a city that in truth was not large enough to support two successful, leading sides. A good proportion of followers regularly watched both and floated between them. Like any other British football clubs, they relied upon working class people for the bulk of their support. However I have seen no evidence to suggest that the social profile of support differed between Park Avenue and Valley Parade. To apply broad generalisations is dangerous and whilst it is valid to claim that the vast majority of Bradford City support continues to be derived from lower income earning groups, it is ludicrous to suggest that crowds are homogeneous in terms of social background. The social profile of supporters continues to be dynamic and ever-changing.

Bradford Park Avenue saw itself as the town club by virtue of its historical pedigree and the grandeur of its ground. Bradford City saw itself as the senior soccer club by virtue of its name, of having been a pioneer in West Yorkshire in 1903, its success in 1911 and the fact that it traditionally enjoyed better gates. The Manningham club had even claimed itself to be the city’s principal representative because Valley Parade was marginally closer to the town hall than Park Avenue.

The rivalry of the two became more akin to two bald men fighting over a comb, exaggerating their differences to uphold their identity. Manningham FC and later Bradford City AFC had traditionally been an underdog club that achieved against the odds. Indeed, this was the essence of the bantam nickname introduced in 1908. For Bradford City followers to describe their club as that of the working man became a badge of honour, a form of credentials consistent with the city’s own motto, ‘labor omnia vincit’. It was thus a powerful message in 1907 that melded a litany of historical grievances about Bradford FC when the possibility of merger and relocation to Park Avenue became a distinct possibility. Nevertheless, to take the claim literally is wholly misleading and represents a fundamental error of firstly failing to recognise the context and secondly, wrongly politicising the club’s history.

To have described Bradford City as a working man’s club was to emphasise its down-to-earth, no-nonsense character and its reliance upon honest graft rather than a silver spoon. It did not mean that Bradford City was exclusively a club for the working class. Nor did it mean that its point of difference with Bradford Park Avenue and its rivalry was based on social class. Even more ludicrous is the inference that the club and its supporters subscribed to the equivalent of what we would recognise today as a labourist or left wing political agenda.

By John Dewhirst

John is the author of ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP which tell the story of the origins of sport in Bradford and the rivalry between the Valley Parade and Park Avenue clubs leading up to conversion to soccer. He is currently working on another book that will narrate the history of the City-Avenue rivalry between 1908-74.

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


Forthcoming features scheduled to be published on VINCIT: George Chaplin of BCAFC; the formation of Bradford Cricket Club and the origins of cricket in Bradford; Bradford Park Avenue, 1967-70; Cricket – the DNA of Bradford sport; Keighley AFC 1896-1901; the impact of the railways on Bradford football; the earliest Bradford football clubs and the story of Bradford’s long forgotten junior rugby clubs.

YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS are welcome! We seek to feature the history of sport in the Bradford district irrespective of club or code.




Bradford City: My Memories of supporting the Bantams

by Stephen Whitrick

The first football match I ever saw was , I believe, in the 1957/58 season when my father took me to Valley Parade, and I think the opponents at that game were Bury. I was taken to a few games, but at Christmas 1957, I was taken to Park Avenue, as previously mentioned, because City were playing away, and that is when I became an Avenue fan.
Moving on, now, to the latter days of watching Avenue, I became more involved with playing football, rather than watching. I was playing Sunday league football for the Royal (Girlington) and then the Upper Globe, and on a Saturday I started playing for Grange old boys, through an invitation from a friend, but then moved on to Belle Vue old boys, my old school, where I was captain of the third eleven, but played many times for the first and second teams.

I also had other interests which took me away from watching football, getting married for one, but I was also getting quite well known as a local deejay, having done stints at the Bradford Ice Arena, assisting and old friend Steve Dalton, at the Penny Farthing, and as a mobile DJ. This work took me to a full time job as DJ/Lighting technician at the Blue Angel night club in Leeds, and it was at this venue that I was offered work in Spain. Along with my (first) wife, I went to work in Lloret de Mar for the seasons 1975 and 1976, and at this time all thoughts of Avenue and City were very remote.

On returning from Spain, in December 1976, my brother Chris asked me to join him and some friends to watch City play Workington, on a bitterly cold night just before Christmas. I actually enjoyed, not only the match, but the fact I was in the company of new friends who made me welcome into their company. I was hooked, and so I became a City fan.

I witnessed the joy of promotion of the 76/77 season, when we finished 4th. Stars of that side were the ageless Peter Downsborough in goals,Don Hutchins on the wing, big Bernie Wright with his 20 goals that season, and “ninety miles an hour” Terry Dolan. Then there was the sadness of relegation the following season. Would we ever get promoted again, we thought ?? The best was yet to come.

I continued to watch City, and was fortunate to find a job with a good company, Ducos, who were office equipment and stationery suppliers, and who supplied me with my first ever season ticket for the centre stand. This only lasted for the one season, as I left the company, only to rejoin it a year later, but that’s a different story.

In 1979, I moved out of Bradford and went to live in Eastburn, which is situated between Skipton and Keighley. There I started playing football for the Airedale Hospital Social Club, as my wife got a job as an auxilliary nurse. Some of the lads in the team were also City supporters, and we used to go and watch the games from the Bradford End. And regularly went to away matches at places like Rochdale, Bury, Sheffield Mansfield etc.

We witnessed many a great game at Valley Parade, and those which stick in the memory have to be the 1-0 defeat of Liverpool (watched from the Kop), the 0-0 draw with Manchester United (Also watched from the Kop), and that fantastic game against Brentford when we were 4-1 down, and made a remarkable turn around to win 5-4
Season 81/82 proved to be a big turning point for City when Roy McFarland was appointed manager. The season did’t start off too well, but in September/October City won 9 games on the trot which put them at the top of the league, and they eventually finished runners-up to Sheffield United. The final game of that season, a 2-2 draw at home to Bournemouth, was recorded by Yorkshire television, and a game in which our hero Bobby Campbell, scored two cracking goals. He finished that season on 24 goals.

The following season had it’s ups and downs. Despite consolidation in a mid table finish, the club was shattered by Roy McFarland and his assistant Mick Jones walking out on the club to join Derby County. This led to the appointment of Trevor Cherry, who brought in Terry Yorath, a move that was later to bring great rewards to the club.

Bad luck followed in February ‘83 when severe gales blew down one of the floodlight pylons, and left a second one so unsafe it had to be dismantled.

However, the clubs finances were so severe that they were heading for extinction., but thanks to Stafford Heginbotham and Jack Tordoff, the club were saved. During this period, the emergence of Stuart MaCall was a bright spot.

City started 83/84 without Bobby Campbell, who had gone to Derby, and with poor results were next to the bottom of the league in November. Bobby Campbell returned, and results improved and City won ten on the bounce. They finished 7th that season, and the signs were there that things were only going to get better.

The 84/85 season brought promotion and tragedy .It brings back so many sad memories. I was in the Bradford end on that fateful day with my friends from Airedale, one of whom, Kevin Green, was a male nurse, who tried to revive one of the victims in the goal area. City though, went from strength to strength after that.

I never watched City play again until the Re-opening of Valley Parade, against an England X1, and hardly ever missed a home game until relegation to the (Championship) after 2 great years in the Premiership.

I became a season ticket holder for the “nearly” season of 87/88, and was proud to be watching one of the best City sides in it’s history.So near yet so far.

In the season 90/91, I became the secretary of the Bradford City 100 club, and was able to rub shoulders with the players at that time, and more importantly, I became well known to the then Club Secretary, Terry Newman, Alan Gilliver, the stadium manager, and Stewart Thornton, the P.A. Announcer. I was still a season ticket holder, and because of the club’s policy on season tickets for kids, my two sons, Stephen and Daniel, also had one.

When Stewart Thornton stepped down as P.A. Announcer, I approached Alan Gilliver and offered to do the job myself, as I was a DJ, and not microphone shy. He asked me to come down to the next home reserve match for a trial, and he offered me the position. I gladly took up this role, and didn’t even want paying, as watching the game and meeting the players was a big honour for me. With my sons watching in the stand, and me making the announcements, I was in football heaven. On one occasion, the mascot for the day failed to turn up, and I suggested my eldest son, Stephen, was keen to be a mascot, and he was asked to stand in for the day. Very Proud.

One of my memories as the announcer was during a game against Fulham, where Jimmy Hill was chairman, City were hoping to go top of the league if results went their way. A score came through that Brentford were losing, and with City ahead at that time it meant we would be top if the results stayed the same. I asked Alan Gilliver if I could give out the score, something I hadn’t done before, and he said it was up to me, but be prepared to face the consequences. I did make the announcement, and it lifted the crowd. We went on to win the match, but Jimmy Hill complained to the City chairman Dave Simpson, and I got a “tongue in cheek” rollocking for making the announcement.

During the period 1989/1991 I was a partner in an envelope manufacturing company/Office supplies company, and we sponsored the City by providing free envelopes, and on two occasions we were match ball sponsors.

Personal problems from 1993 and throughout the mid nineties meant I lost my appetite for watching the game, but all that changed when I was at Wembley for the play-off final win over Notts County, and I was back being a season ticket holder again. Seeing the club rise to the premiership was absolutely fantastic for the club, and for the city of Bradford, and I can only hope that these times return.

In 2001, I took up a position as steward of the Wilsden Conservative club, which meant working every Saturday afternoon, so my days of watching the City were over.

In 2002 I re-kindled my love for Avenue by going to a match at Horsfall, however, at the same time I met my future 2nd wife, and in 2003 we moved to Bridlington, which made watching any football in Bradford an expensive affair.

We were able to watch Avenue in their games at Whitby, Goole,North Ferriby and Gainsborough, but, City’s only opponents in this area were York. I still come over to Bradford, as my two sons still live in the area, and usually take in a match at Horsfall.

I have had many great memories watching both clubs, and I can only wish them both well for the future, hoping that Avenue can regain their former place in the football league, and that City can reach at least the Championship.

Onwards and upwards. UTA & CTID.


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 origins of cricket in Bradford; the story of Shipley FC; the meltdown of Bradford PA in the 1960s; the impact of social networks on the early development of Bradford sport; and the early politics of Bradford CC.

VINCIT readers may be interested in attending a talk by John Dewhirst on 19 May, 2018 in Bradford Local Studies Library on the Sporting Heritage of Bradford, featuring the origins and development of sport in the district in the nineteenth century. 

JD Sporting Heritage of Bradford 19-May-18

Bradford Park Avenue: The Beginning of the End

By Peter Barker

The 1960s began with Avenue winning promotion to the 3rd Division, while at the same time neighbours Bradford City were relegated to the 4th division. Meanwhile Leeds Utd finished a lowly 14th in Division 2. My team Avenue were on the up but no one would have dreamt just nine seasons later Avenue would be out of the Football League and Leeds would be a major force in English football. After winning promotion in the 1960-61 season Avenue began the following 1961-62 season with everything on and off the field looking very good. This was to be my first season standing at the “Horton Park End” with a few of my mates. My Dad reckoned at nearly 12 years old it would be ok, he always stood on the halfway line in the little stand on Park Avenue and woe betide anyone who stood in his place. We still met up after the game for the ritual stroll into town where we would head for the back entrance of the Telegraph & Argus offices where the Pink Yorkshire Sports would be just coming off the press as we arrived. Attendances during the promotion season for home games against Aldershot in January (12,718), Crystal Palace in March (17,017), Peterborough in April (20,461), Millwall in April (12,339), showed that given a successful team the Bradford public would support it.


The 1961-62 season was unique both on and off the field. Avenue won their opening league game v Lincoln 2-0 in front of 10,844, followed 3 days later by another victory v Notts County 3-2, in front of another healthy crowd of 11,476. Things continued to look bright with more impressive home wins in front of five figure crowds, including an impressive 6-2 win over Peterborough. September came to an end and after 11 games
ex-Busby Babe Tommy Spratt had 9 goals to his name, Avenue were well placed in the league and home crowds were averaging over 10,000.

October 3rd saw the grand opening of Avenue’s new floodlights. The Czechoslovakia international world cup side were the team chosen to be Avenue’s first opponents on this historic night. What a great performance Avenue put on in front of a crowd of 17,422, just going down 3 goals to two. To show how good a performance that was, only nine months later seven of the Czech team that played that evening were playing in the World Cup final for Czechoslovakia v Brazil. 18 year old Ian Gibson was Avenue’s star performer that evening and with many big club’s scouts watching that evening Avenue knew it would be only a matter of time before he would be moving on.


The previous Saturday to the Czech match, 30th September, Avenue were away at Torquay and made another piece of history by flying to a Football League match. Instead of the usual wearying rail trip Avenue stepped onto a Heron aircraft at Yeadon Airport and flew to Exeter where a coach was waiting to take them to their Torquay hotel. Good trip it was as Avenue arrived back to Yeadon at 7-30 that same evening with a 3-1 win thanks to goals from Atkinson, Spratt and Gibson.


Bristol City 1961

23rd. September 1961


Halifax Town pink
21st. October 1961

Just four days after the Czech game Avenue were brought back down to earth with a 2-1 home defeat to Northampton in front of another healthy crowd of 10,738, however two good home derby wins against Halifax & Barnsley in front of 12,000 crowds took Avenue up to Christmas in a respectable mid table position, which would have been better but for their poor away form.

No one could have prophesied what was about to occur over the coming weeks after Christmas. It really started on the 16th December when the home game with Southend was abandoned after 8 minutes because of fog, quite a rare occurrence. The home game with Brentford on Saturday 30th December was called off because of snow, nothing unusual about that in December. The following Saturday the weather improved and Avenue played Chesterfield in a friendly due to both sides being out of the FA Cup. On the 13th January Avenue played Shrewsbury Town at home and drew 1-1 Tommy Spratt getting the Avenue goal. Little did anyone know this was to be Avenue’s last league outing for several weeks.

Tommy Spratt

Tommy Spratt

Two days before Avenue’s game with Shrewsbury a two year old boy was diagnosed with Smallpox in Bradford Children’s Hospital and on being transferred to Oakwell Hospital in Birstall had died on Friday night 12th January. On the Saturday the first vaccination centre was opened at the Edmund Street Clinic and later a second centre was opened at City Hall. Over that weekend 30,000 people were vaccinated,1,400 suspected contacts were traced and vaccinated and kept under surveillance, putting a severe strain on local resources. In all 285,000 people in Bradford were vaccinated over the next 5 days.

Smallpox Boy

Because of the smallpox outbreak Bradford’s Medical Officer of Health Dr John Douglas requested that both Avenue’s away game at Peterborough and City’s home game with Oldham on Saturday 20th January be called off as a precaution. Rather reluctantly as can be seen from the statements taken from the Telegraph & Argus both clubs along with the football league’s permission agreed to postpone their games. On Monday January 22nd
Dr Douglas requested the postponement of Avenue’s home game on Wednesday 24th January against Southend United and the away game at QPR on Saturday 27th January, along with City’s game at home to Wrexham. Also called off that weekend was Bradford Northern’s home game with Hull KR. It seems that Northern were not too happy, with Chairman Mr J S Barritt quoting in the Telegraph & Argus on the 24th January “The Directors reluctantly decided to ask Hull KR if they were prepared to have the match postponed and they also reluctantly agreed to abide by the medical officer’s advice”.

Small Pox Soccer off

However, Bradford’s soccer starved public did not go without football that weekend. After long negotiations between Avenue and City they agreed to meet each other in their West Riding FA Senior Cup Tie at Park Avenue. Meanwhile the reserves would meet at Valley Parade and the juniors at East Bierley, so for the first time in history Bradford had three derby games on the same day. The Football League sanctioned it, secretary Alan Hardaker saying it was OK providing it got the blessing of the local health authorities, which it did. What a cracking game it was too, watched by a crowd of 10,358, probably three times over what they would have usually got for a West Riding Cup game. After 33 minutes the score was 2-2, Avenue scored through Gibson and Buchanan while City replied back with goals from Webb and Hoyland. Despite an end to end thriller no more goals were scored and the game went to a replay at Valley Parade which Avenue won 3-1, going on to beat Huddersfield in the Semi-Final before losing 1-0 to Halifax in the final.

Ian Gibson

Ian Gibson

On the 31st January it was announced that Sport could return back to normal, but it was not until 13th February that the smallpox outbreak was officially declared over. It could have been much worse but with 14 indigenous cases of whom 6 died it was the general consensus of opinion that everyone concerned had done a remarkable job.

Avenue returned to action on Saturday February 3rd with a home game against Port Vale winning 2-1 in front of a good crowd of 9,294, scorers were Spratt and Buchanan.

Just when it looked everything was getting back to normal the season took yet another fateful turn. It really started on Saturday February 10th with a 6-1 thumping at high-flying Bristol City in front of a crowd of 15,977. On the following night of February 11th what the Telegraph & Argus described as “The Night of the Terror Tornado” hit Bradford. Three of the four 120 ft floodlight pylons at the Avenue ground crashed to the ground as the “Tornado” swept relentlessly on, a thousand council houses were damaged, trees were down, tiles ripped off roofs, greenhouses collapsed and garage roofs blown completely away. It claimed the life of a woman in Queensbury who was hit by a falling chimney pot.

Tornado Headline


Tornado Pic1 One of the three floodlight pylons which were wrecked


Tornado Pic2

Another of the pylons now a mass of tangled girders, in the background is the last remaining pylon which it is feared may collapse at any moment


Tornado Pic3Horton Park end pylon that tumbled into the road

Avenue were due to play a floodlit friendly on the Monday Night against Swiss Side F.C.Lugano. Of course this had to be postponed. Avenue had given the Swiss team a £550 guarantee plus arranging that the takings would be shared equally (don’t forget this was 1962 and £500 was a lot of money then) however thanks to a fantastic gesture from neighbours City the game went ahead at Valley Parade the following night, Avenue recording a 2-0 victory with goals from Bleanch and Ashworth. A 6,044 crowd meant Avenue broke even and they had cause to feel thankful for the co-operation of their City neighbours in holding the match at Valley Parade. Thankfully the Football Club had insured the pylons but the latest disaster would mean a loss of revenue for the remaining rearranged home fixtures which were more than usual what with the smallpox outbreak and the usual matches off for the weather.


With all four floodlight pylons having been demolished, the club offices and low stand damaged, it was a gale battered Park Avenue which Avenue returned to play Torquay United just four days later, well done to everyone involved in getting the game on. Goals from Bird 2 and Atkinson gave Avenue a welcome victory in front of a respectable crowd of 7,804.

It was around the middle of February that Ian Gibson put in a transfer request. Ian was a great player – he must have been because my Dad often sang his praises, something not often heard about the majority of Avenue players. To be fair to Dad he started watching Avenue as a 10 year old boy in 1926 and the following season they were 3rd Division North Champions, and for the next six seasons never lower than 8th in the 2nd Division. Avenue were an established 2nd division side and when war broke out in 1939 Avenue had completed eleven unbroken seasons in Division 2 and when football started again in 1946 Avenue would come 14th in Division 2.

During the War Dad was in the Army serving four years in India. He often told me about the famous Victories at Arsenal and Man City just after the War, and how good the likes of Len Shackleton, Billy Elliott and Johnny Downie were. So to be fair to my Dad until the year before I was born (1950) he had never seen Avenue struggle. Meanwhile Avenue turned down Gibson’s request but said they would look at it again before the transfer deadline day of March 16th. As it was, an offer had come in from Middlesborough, Avenue accepted the offer – some reports suggested that a fee of £30,000 was paid but I would rather more believe E. Foster Avenue Supporters Club Secretary who stated in his column in the following match day Programme that it was nearer £20,000. Avenue did not have much option apart from the fact that it was unfair on Gibson, don’t forget the unlimited wage structure had just come into play so he was not only going to get higher Grade football which his talent deserved but also a substantially higher wage than Avenue could ever afford, This new wage structure was going to create many problems for lower league clubs. It was a well known fact that Avenue had a debt of £35,000, along with the loss of revenue due to the floodlight disaster.

Home games against Crystal Palace and Southend had to be played on a Wednesday afternoon with a 2.45pm kick off time. Although Avenue won both games 2-0 and 4-0 respectively, crowds of just 3,606 and 2,818 were recorded. The next Wednesday game against Brentford was slightly better attended (4,812) only because the clocks had altered and the kick off was 6.15 pm. To highlight what effect the smallpox outbreak and floodlight disaster had on revenue is shown by the fact that Avenue had played 13 home games up to February 3rd and crowds were averaging just over 10,000, so by my reckoning Avenue missed out on at least 20,000 paying customers (a lot of money to a club like Avenue) on just those three games alone. The Gibson fee therefore went towards bringing the debt down and offsetting the loss of revenue caused by the loss of the floodlights. In the middle of that spell Avenue played a home game against runaway leaders the Third Division “aristocrats” Portsmouth and put on a superb performance winning 2-1 in front of a crowd of 10,154. This is a game I remember well, not only for the feeling that we are a really good team even without Ian Gibson but the fact that before the game I managed to get a Portsmouth team photo personally autographed apart from one player. This was a great passion of mine and I still have many autographed photos from the sixties.

After the Portsmouth win Avenue stood in very good 10th position with 10 games to go and 2 or 3 games in hand on most of their rivals. As it was, Avenue’s season faded and due to off the field goings on since Christmas, Avenue ended up playing their last 10 games in 29 days! Unsurprisingly Avenue lost their last four games. It was still a respectable 11th position that Avenue finished and we all looked forward to the next season with great enthusiasm and expectation – I still have a cutting from one of the Sunday newspapers from around the time of the floodlights opening night. It has a massive headline THEY’RE AIMING FOR THE STARS! It goes on to say the stage at Park Avenue is set for the Second Division. The producer, the cast and the glittering new floodlights are ready. All that is missing is the date. So the question was asked of Player Manager Jimmy Scoular, WHEN ARE AVENUE GOING UP? Scoular diplomatically answered sooner or later, that Bradford deserved higher class football and that Avenue were an ambitious and go-ahead club geared up for the Second Division and beyond. As a 12-year old boy next season could not come soon enough!

Aiming for the Stars

Grimsby Town Easter Tuesday 24 April 1962

Easter Tuesday 24th. April 1962

Interestingly Leeds United finished that season 19th in Division 2, meaning that Avenue were only 14 places behind them on the football ladder. Who would have believed that just seven seasons later Avenue would be 92 places behind them!

1962-63 SEASON

With much optimism about at Park Avenue it was a slow start to the season with four of the first five games ending in draws. Avenue’s first two away games were on the Wednesday at Bournemouth and the Saturday at Southend. A decision was made to stay down south after the Bournemouth game and travel back after the game at Southend. This was not without mishap, they had a hectic dash to the Southend ground owing to a train cancellation of which Avenue had not been made aware of. In the squad that Avenue took down south was an eighteen year old Kevin Hector yet to play in the Senior side.

He made his debut in the Bournemouth game a 2-2 draw. The Telegraph & Argus report said that he had gone close to scoring and had a promising introduction to League Football. He kept his place for the Southend game a 3-1 defeat. He missed the next two games but, with regular winger Hannigan injured he was chosen for the away game at Shrewsbury and scored what was to be the first of his 268 Football League goals. The Telegraph & Argus report of the match stated that a piece of quick thinking by Hector brought Bradford’s equaliser, Shrewsbury fullback Skeech let the ball slip by him and Hector was round him in a flash to score. Avenue went on to win 2-1 Rodney Green getting the winner.

Kevin Hector

Over the next 16 games Kevin was to appear in 7 of them, Manager Jimmy Scoular looking after him, obviously aware of what a talent was among the ranks. During this time a reserve game of which my dad and I attended really brought to our attention how good he was. Avenue were playing Sunderland and I remember vividly my Dad raving about the boy Hector, although Avenue lost 3-2, Kevin getting both goals it was his all round play that also caught the eye. I still have the team sheet from that game. It was only a matter of time before he would become a regular and sure enough just two weeks later he made the first of his 166 consecutive appearances, the rest is history. My Dad who had seen all the past masters put him up there and even went to watch him play at Derby several times during the season he left, high praise indeed if you knew my Dad.

Maxwell v Colchester 1962

We watched a lot of the reserves over these two seasons. In the 62-63 season Avenue Reserves finished 3rd in the table behind Middlesbrough and Rotherham scoring 88 goals!.The team was usually, depending on injuries, the ideal mix of youth and experience, the likes of Ken Jones and Geoff Gould mixed with the experience of Buchanan and Dick. All teams had a reserve team playing in a league system on a Saturday afternoon. I firmly believe that not having this or a similar reserve team system is the reason why our national team has done so badly since 1966. Going to the reserve matches also was a way of finding out the half time score of the first team where ever they were playing, and after the game if you hung around for a few minutes outside the club offices news would filter through how the Avenue had gone on (don’t forget no mobile phones or the like back then). After that a nice gentle walk into town for the Pink (Yorks Sports) with all the results and reports.

Sunderland Reserves

First team away matches for me were quite rare at this time due to being too young but mainly while Avenue were in the 3rd division the teams were predominantly down south, Bournemouth, Southend, the two Bristol clubs, Torquay, Portsmouth, Newport, Crystal Palace, QPR, Reading, Swindon, Watford, Peterborough, Brentford, Northampton, Millwall, Brighton, Colchester, all of these not exactly just down the road! The previous season we had been to watch Avenue at Hull, Notts County, Barnsley and Halifax. We went in my dad’s mate’s Thames Trader Van, myself and his son who was about the same age sat in the back, from what I can remember it was not the most comfortable of rides to say the
least. This would change for the 1963-64 season when my friend and I joined the Supporters Club who also happened to have a travel section enabling us to be able to go to away games. With Avenue back in the 4th division many of the games were nearer home that season. Over the next four seasons there were very few 4th division grounds I did not visit watching Avenue. I still have the membership card for the Travel Section 1966-67 which lists the fares to various games – Exeter on December 10th was £2.00!, Luton £1/15s/0d (£1.75) , while Barnsley would cost you 6 shillings (30p). Those were the days!

A member of the supporters club committee, a great character called Jim Geraghty organised the travel section, he sometimes had his hands full with a few of us younger element (sneaking alcohol on-board etc.) but Jim was brilliant at handling any situation and was well liked and respected. It was great to meet up with him again 40 years later at Clayton Golf Club where we were both members. We would often reminisce about our trips. Jim used to get to know the players pretty well through his position on the Avenue committee and it was nice to hear he was still getting a Christmas card every year from Jim Fryatt who at the end of his career had emigrated to the USA.

In mid December striker Rodney Green moved to neighbours Bradford City. Hector was brought back into the side and on the 15th December for the away game at Colchester where he scored in a 4-1 win, this was to be the first game of his 166 consecutive games run.

No one was to know that this would be Avenue’s last away game for nine weeks. The Big Freeze of 1963 was about to take hold. Avenue’s match programme notes for the Halifax game on Friday January 4th makes interesting reading. ”The atrocious weather of the last two months has plunged many soccer clubs into financial trouble and Avenue had been worse hit than most, in nine weeks of November & December we have had three home games all of which because of the weather affected attendances, and the money it has brought in leaves hardly the equivalent of two weeks wage bill”. I remember the Boxing Day fixture against Swindon was played in appalling conditions as was the Halifax game. It had been moved to a Friday night because of neighbours City playing an FA Cup 3rd round tie against Newcastle United at Valley Parade the following day, which was unsurprisingly postponed.

If Avenue thought it was bad now it soon became much worse. The next game played at Park Avenue would be almost 9 weeks later on 6 March. In fact, only one game was played in this spell, an away game at Bristol City where Avenue were defeated 4–2. A slight thaw in the south-west of the country had set in for a few days. This did not last long and the weather soon hit hard again. Bradford City’s FA Cup Tie with Newcastle was postponed an amazing 13 times but this was not the record – the Lincoln/Coventry tie was called off 14 times. For the record City lost 6-1 when the match was finally played on
7th March.

With no money coming in to the Clubs, neighbours Halifax came up with a great idea. They opened their ground up as a public ice rink and charged admission. Rumour had it they got bigger crowds for this than for the football. It was during this time that the Pools Panel emerged as the football pools companies were also losing a lot of money. It was not until the beginning of March that the weather relented and Avenue’s first home game for 9 weeks went ahead against Peterborough. The Avenue programme notes for this game stated that Avenue, like the vast majority of clubs, had the headache of paying wage bills and other expenditure without any income from games. It would have been nigh impossible to survive this period without help of the supporters clubs. What it also meant was that it was going to be an enormous effort to get the backlog of fixtures sorted. In Avenue’s case it meant that they would have 12 games in the last 5 1/2 weeks of the season in which 8 would be away and just 4 at home. Such was the disparity for some teams in the rearrangement of fixtures. This was to prove a big blow to Avenue in the final reckoning.

First Saturday game for 9 weeksFirst Saturday game at Park Avenue for 9 weeks – March 9th. 1963

With 9 games remaining Avenue required just 8 points to reach the magic mark of 40 points. This was because no team had ever gone down with 40 points. Even though only 3 of them were at home (note it was only 2 points for a win back then) the Avenue camp were confident. After a thrilling 4-4 draw at Halifax, best remembered by me for the brilliant displays of Kevin Hector and Halifax’s Willie Carlin. They would both later team up together at Derby County and were instrumental in them winning the second division title in 1968-69. After thumping Notts County 5-0 on Easter Tuesday just 5 points from 7 games were needed to reach the magic 40 points.

Next up was Bristol Rovers at Park Avenue in the now infamous Bribery Scandal game. The programme notes for this game make interesting reading: “After the high standard of play in the 5-0 defeat of Notts County all relegation thought can be put behind us”.
Despite Bristol Rovers’ goalkeeper Esmond Million and inside forward Keith Williams both taking bribes to lose the game Avenue could only manage a 2-2 draw (only Avenue could draw a game they were meant to win!).

The Sunday People Newspaper uncovered the bribery scandal and disclosed that footballer Jimmy Gauld had for several years systematically interfered with matches in the football league enticing players into betting on the outcome of fixed matches. In 1965 he received a sentence of 4 years imprisonment while nine others received prison sentences including ex-Bradford City player David Bronco Layne. The highest profile players, both England internationals, Tony Kay and Peter Swan received four month prison sentences. Meanwhile Esmond Million and Keith Williams were fined and banned for life.

Bribery MatchThe Infamous Bribery Game – April 20th. 1963 – Esmond Million taking a clean cross as Kevin Hector watches on

Avenue’s last home game of the season was against fellow strugglers Reading, a 3-2 win got Avenue up to the magic 40 points mark with just 2 away games to play at Port Vale and Millwall. Avenue lost at Port Vale on the Monday so went into their final match on Saturday May 11th at Millwall with the last relegation spot being a battle between Avenue, Reading and Bristol Rovers. As it was, Avenue lost at Millwall, Bristol Rovers drew at home to Wrexham which left them 3 points short of the magic 40. Reading won 2-1 at Halifax to reach the magic 40 points but they had a superior goal average. Rovers got to 1 point behind Avenue with a mid-week victory over Colchester. Therefore, Avenue were counting on Halifax for the second consecutive Saturday. Due to the big freeze by now it was May 18th and the season had been scheduled to finish on Saturday 27tth April.

Quite a few Avenue fans attended the match at the Shay more in hope than expectation, several left before half time. Bristol Rovers were two up in 12 minutes, however just 11 minutes into the second half Halifax equalized through Denis Fidler – game on! Sadly with just fourteen minutes remaining Jones scored for Rovers when Halifax keeper Downsborough missed a cross to give Rovers a 3-2 victory and survival.

So it is to this day, as you can imagine, old Avenue supporters from that day have never had much love for Halifax. They had lost the previous week to Reading (who only stayed up by having a superior goal difference to Avenue). In Halifax’s away game earlier in the season at Reading one of the most memorable feats of the season came from Reading goalkeeper Arthur Wilkie, he was injured in the game and those being the days before substitutes, had to soldier on as an outfield player, with Maurice Evans taking over between the sticks. Remarkably, he scored twice as Reading ran out 4-2 winners. Once again a big thank you to Halifax!

So Avenue were relegated losing out on goal average with the highest points total by any relegated club in football history. One bright spot was Avenue winning the West Riding Cup that season. Avenue’s opponents in the final were, yes you’ve guessed, Halifax. The game played on May 30th. resulting in a 3-0 win for the Avenue.

After just two seasons in Division 3, Avenue were relegated and would never return, in fact just 7 seasons later they would be out of the football league. I know there are a million ifs and buts, more so in this case because of extenuating circumstances i.e. smallpox outbreak, floodlight disaster, big freeze, but in my opinion if Avenue had stayed up I think they would have gone on and been a steady second or third division club.

What with the emergence of a certain Kevin Hector and a couple of shrewd signings the makings of a good side were certainly there. Also don’t forget neighbours Bradford City finished Avenue’s relegation season in 23rd position in the fourth division. Alas, as I said, a million ifs and buts but as I have documented the two seasons in division three were hardly run of the mill and without doubt Avenue took the brunt of circumstances more than most.


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 origins of cricket in Bradford; the story of Shipley FC; the meltdown of Bradford PA in the 1960s; the impact of social networks on the early development of Bradford sport; and the early politics of Bradford CC.

VINCIT readers may be interested in attending a talk by John Dewhirst on 19 May, 2018 in Bradford Local Studies Library on the Sporting Heritage of Bradford, featuring the origins and development of sport in the district in the nineteenth century. 

JD Sporting Heritage of Bradford 19-May-18

The Bayliss Affair

By Ian Hemmens

In my last piece for VINCIT, I explained the emotional and tempestuous birth of Bradford Northern RLFC from the Great Betrayal of 1907, their formation and initial season at Greenfield Stadium at Dudley Hill. I ended with their move to a new ground and hopefully a new future at Birch Lane.. With its location nearer the City centre and on a busier transport route it was hoped the potential was there for bigger crowds following a successful side. Although the facilities were basic and Spartan, it was thought the possibilities for expansion were greater. I’m left wondering , with the adjoining Cricket field of Bowling Old Lane, there was an underlying hankering still for the days of the Park Avenue enclosure albeit at the present on a far less grander scale?

The club made the move with hopes of better days and hopefully the glories of the past once again. Instead, the immediate future held the trauma and chaos caused by the Great War, many fallow years on the pitch and running the club on a hand-to-mouth existence with an almost perennial threat of closure hanging over it. It was not to be until the move to Odsal Stadium and the arrival of Harry Hornby onto the Board that the Glory years would return.

If they thought things would start looking up, it wouldn’t be long before they were knocked back once more. February 1908 saw the club replace the Secretary at the clubs foundation, a Mr R. Hinchcliffe, with a new man called William Bayliss. 9 months later in the November of 1908, Bayliss suddenly informed 2 of the clubs best players, club Captain Tommy Surman and International forward Alf Mann that without any notice they were to be transferred from the club for reasons of a potential financial chasm if possible extinction if they didn’t raise some quick money to satisfy their debts.

With no reason to disbelieve the club official, the 2 players travelled with Bayliss firstly to the Leeds club where he proceeded to offer the 2 players to the Loiners for a combined fee of £150 . Although the club wanted the 2 players of obvious talent in their side, they were not prepared to be held to ransom. They tried to negotiate but Bayliss was adamant that the price was £150 so the move broke down.

Seemingly undeterred the trio travelled next to Humberside where the players were now offered to the Hull Kingston Rovers club. Bayliss now said the asking price for the 2 was £120 in cash all upfront. Although slightly suspicious, the Hull KR officials wanted the players and put it down to the inexperience of the Bradford Secretary in the accepted ways of buying & selling players so they paid the fee to Bayliss there and then.

Bayliss then gave Surman £25 and Mann £20 in lieu of their loyal service to the Bradford club. This was in fact an illegal practice within the rules of the Northern Union as the only payments allowed were from contracted wages.

2 days later the affair blew up when the committee met to select the team for the upcoming fixture with St Helens. When they asked why the 2 players were missing from training, the other players told them about their transfer to a collective disbelief.
They immediately contacted the Hull KR club to explain they had no knowledge or indeed had given any permission for the moves and also contacted the Northern Union governing body to ask them not to ratify the transfer.

Bayliss was summoned to appear and explain his actions but with £75 in his pocket he had vanished without trace. An investigation found that nobody had seen or heard from him since the day he told the players of the prospective move.

Despite the conversations between the 2 clubs, Rovers protested they had accepted with good faith and paid the fee asked for by an official of the Bradford Northern club as they produced papers with the Northern Secretaries name and signature of them.

A special meeting was convened in Manchester to investigate the matter. Bradford Northern produced papers from the club that showed that Bayliss had been communicating with a Mr Johnson of the Hull KR club since the June of 1908 with a view to transferring the players. Hull KR didn’t dispute this but Mr Johnson had acted within the rules at every opportunity and the never had an inkling that Bayliss was in fact selling the players for his own gain. They had paid good money and acted in good faith so the players were theirs.

The committee decided that Mann & Surman must pay back the monies given to them by Bayliss to the Hull KR club. Although technically the players were the property of Hull KR with all the relevant paperwork being signed by an official of the Bradford club, if the Northern club paid the outstanding amount back to Hull KR, plus administration fees to cover the transfer back to Birch Lane, the players could return to Bradford.

Reluctantly the club agreed to this even though they said they were actually buying back their own players and were now out of pocket at a time when finances were of paramount importance at the fledgling club.

The whole affair led to a change in the rules so that in future, a senior figure like a Chairman or Director of a club must also sign any necessary documentation, not just the serving Secretary. Bayliss was immediately removed from office and all investigations into his whereabouts drew a blank. He was never heard of again and never apprehended for his crime even though the police were asked to investigate.

The final twist in the whole affair came in the June of 1909 when Bradford Northern, still desperate for money to see them through the close season approached the Hull KR club to see if they were still interested in Mann & Surman. They were and a transfer was arranged and agreed and a fee of £50 each for the two saw them finally move to Humberside..

The move to Birch Lane was supposed to see a new dawn for the club but burdened by financial problems and rank bad decision making by the inexperienced committee saw the club bounce along the bottom for many years but that is another story.


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 origins of cricket in Bradford; the story of Shipley FC; the meltdown of Bradford PA in the 1960s; the impact of social networks on the early development of Bradford sport; and the early politics of Bradford CC.

VINCIT readers may be interested in attending a talk by John Dewhirst on 19 May, 2018 in Bradford Local Studies Library on the Sporting Heritage of Bradford, featuring the origins and development of sport in the district in the nineteenth century. 

JD Sporting Heritage of Bradford 19-May-18