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

Bradford Park Avenue: In My Life

by Stephen Whitrick

It all started when I was just 6 years old. I lived in Sowden Rd, Heaton. My father had a friend who lived in Haworth Rd, and he used to take me and my dad to Valley Parade to watch the City. I remember back in those days City playing in their claret shirts with the amber V Neck. Tom Flockett, George Mulholland, and the Jackson twins.

City 58=59

Then, in the October of 1957, my parents became Steward/Stewardess of the Girlington Liberal Club, and Dad found a new friend to take him to the matches. At Christmas, 1957, I was invited to join them to watch a game, but when we got down to Valley Parade, much to their dismay, they were playing away. However, Ronnie England, my dad’s friend said if City were away, then Avenue would beat home, so we ended up watching Avenue play Southport. I can remember it well, sitting high up in the main stand, and being able to see the game from a perfect viewing point. That was it, it was Avenue for me, but being 7 years old, I could hardly go to the matches on my own, and Dad wouldn’t want to go regularly, as he was a City fan. I was able to recently get hold of a copy of the match programme on Ebay.

BPA vs Southport

My next involvement at Park Avenue came a couple of years later whilst attending St.Philips junior school in Girlington. The head teacher came round one day and asked who supported Avenue. Immediately my hand went up, and to my surprise I was handed a complimentary ticket for a game that Saturday. I went to the match with great expectations, but on arriving, I discovered it was a reserve game vs Sunderland. However, I remember vividly Sunderland’s red and white stripes, and Avenue in green and white stripes, collar and long sleeved shirts, white shorts and hooped socks. Don’t ask me who won, but in the end I was happy to be at Avenue, and that started my love affair with the club.

Back at St. Philips, I had a classmate, Colin Blackett, who went regularly with his dad to Avenue, and I was able to join them on a regular basis. We would get in the back of his Austin A35 van, and head up to Avenue nearly every home game. We used to stand on the Horton Park End, and because Colin and I were small, his dad made us a “swing”, a piece of wood attached to some strong rope, which we hung over the railings, and stood on the wooden seat, so that we could see over the heads of the people in front of us.

This is now a time when I got into scarves,rattles,programmes, and even started a scrapbook. My favourite players at this time were Tommy Spratt, Ian Gibson and Jimmy Scoular, and we were fortunate to see an Avenue side win promotion to the third division.

Avenue 60-61

I passed my 11 plus exam in 1961, and I moved on from St.Philips to Belle Vue Grammar school.Colin, my friend from St.Philips went to Drummond Road, but we still kept in touch and went to Avenue together. Belle Vue school was on Manningham Lane, just opposite Valley Parade, and most of the football supporters there were either L**ds United, or Bradford City. I remember going down to the ground in my dinner time, to get a few autographs, and cadge some old programmes, but I could never be a City fan at that time.

Over the next three seasons I was a regular at the Avenue, hardly missing a home match, and it was during this period that my scrapbook and programme collection started to expand. I would stand outside the Doll’s house waiting to collect autographs, and would even go up to the ground during school holidays to watch the players training. There were plenty of memorable games played at Avenue during that time, none more so than the inauguration of the floodlights, when Avenue lost to a strong Czechoslavakian side 3-2.


I was also there when Jimmy Fryatt scored his 4 second wonder goal in the game against Tranmere Rovers, which we won 4-2. This was also the period that Kevin Hector blossomed in the side, and, as we all now, he eventually became a cult hero at Avenue, and went on to greater things, including representing his country. More on Kevin later on.

When Jimmy Scoular left after the 63/64 season, he left behind an entertaining side who could score goals, unfortunately, despite having a great keeper in John Hardie, also let in quite a few goals, and this was the main reason promotion was never again achieved.

The highlight of the 63/64 season must have been the walloping of City, 7-3, in the league cup. What a fantastic game that was, it lives long in the memory.

***Also in 63/64, Avenue introduced a unique away kit, which comprised of red, amber and black striped shirts, black shorts and black socks with a red and amber top.

bpa 1963-64

Glossy photographs were given out to supporters prior to the 1st round of the F.A.Cup, when Avenue were drawn at home to Heanor Town..After this match, I was approached by a Heanor supporter, who turned out to be the secretary of their supporters club. We kept in touch by letter for a couple of years, sending each other programmes and autograph sheets.

Avenue wore this kit in the 2nd round of the cup that season, when we lost away to Oldham. I was at that game, and remember Jimmy Scoular scoring an own goal. They also wore this kit when they lost to Leeds United 4-0 in the final of the West Riding Senior Cup at Elland Road.

The 64/65 season was a very special one for me, because I enquired at the club if they needed any ballboys for the coming season, and I was totally gobsmacked when I was told I could join the team of ballboys (actually, there were only 2 at the time, David Stabb, the son on George Stabb, a former player who also the current trainer, and another, whose name I cannot remember) Wow !! I was watching my favourite team for free, got paid half a crown and a free cup of coffee, and got to meet my heroes at the same time. I have to say this, the players were fantastic with the ballboys, and I was able to chat with them. Ronnie Bird and Kevin Hector were brilliant. They would get me programmes from away games, take my scrapbook into the visitors changing rooms and get me their autographs.

Speaking of Ronnie Bird, Avenue were away to York on a Saturday night, 24th October 1964, and the reserves were home that afternoon. After the game I managed to get a place on the coach to York, where we won 1-0, and Ronnie Bird scored with a penalty, struck with such awesome power that the York goalie had no chance. He was a great winger, and a really nice bloke, and it was sad to hear of his death a few years ago.

**One Saturday, March the 20th 1965, Avenue were at home to Brighton, who at the time were one of the top sides in the division. What a day that was, the snow came down in buckets, but the game was played. At half-time, we were asked to sweep the lines of snow, so we went out into the near blizzard conditions and swept the snow off the touchlines, the halfway line and the edge of the penalty area. We deserved our free coffee that day. Avenue went on to win the game 2-0, and I remember on the back page of Sunday’s People newspaper, a photo of John Hardie making a mid air flying save, with the snow falling.

I remember that season as being the “nearly” season, as we were never far away from top spot, but faded in the run in,losing 2 and drawing 3 of our last 5 games. Who knows what would have become of Avenue, had we gained promotion that year. I was at the Tranmere game at Easter, when we could only draw 0-0, and I think we knew then that we had blown it.

Watching the reserves every other week also had it’s great moments. One Saturday,Avenue reserves were at home to Oldham reserves,and in their side was the great Albert Quixhall, who had recently left Old Trafford. He was one of the players signed by United in the wake of the tragic Munich Air Disaster. Manchester United was my other favourite club at that time, and, to be honest, they still are.

The following season, 65/66, I was kept on as a ballboy, whilst David Stabb and the other lad didn’t return, so the club asked me if I knew any lads who could join me as a ballboy. I contacted 3 of my closest mates at the time,
Michael Thomas, Jimmy Crooke, and Brian Stead, and we became the new team. Brian still watches the Avenue to this day, and I met up with him at the recent pre-season friendly against FC Halifax, when Kevin Hector was introduced to the fans.

The highlights of that season have to be the trouncing of Barnsley, when Kevin scored 5, and for me personally,was that at Christmas, Kevin Hector gave me a complimentary ticket for the centre stand for the away game at Chesterfield, on December 27th, a game which we won 3-0, Kevin scoring twice. Once again, I was able to obtain a copy of the programme on Ebay, one which Kevin signed for me at the FC Halifax game.

** Being a ballboy had its advantages, because the players knew me, they let me join in their practise sessions when I went up in the school holidays. I have played in practice matches on the Canterbury end gravel car park, and, on one occasion,joined in a training session on the playing pitch. At the end of the session,( My favourite position at that time was a goalkeeper) Colin Kaye put me in goals at the Horton Park End, and told the players they had to score a penalty past me before they could go in for a shower. Well, they all scored apart from one player. I hope you don’t read this Geoff, but I saved a penalty from Geoff Thomas, much to the amazement and laughter of the other players. He re-took it, scored, and then went in for a shower with the rest of the squad.

** On other occasions, after a match, if the pitch wasn’t churned up with mud, we ballboys would have a kick around in the nets, either until we were called off, or the floodlights were switched off. I would have loved to have been good enough to have become a professional player, but that was never to be. I did, however, train with the juniors on a Tuesday and Thursday nights. This was when John Dine was at the club, and I used to play in goals for Thornton Scouts, a team that John used to run. Sometimes training was tough, especially when we had to run up and down the Horton Park end terracing. On one occasion, we were running round the track, doing leap frog. I was just about to leap over Peter Brannan’s back when he crouched down, and I went flying over the top of him and into the cinder track. Happy days.

The following season, after the first home game, when we beat Notts County 4-1, my services as a ballboy were no longer required, so it was back to the Horton Park end to watch the games. This was also at a time when I started to play football for Campion (Edmund Campion youth club as they were then known), and I got to see less and less of the matches. But I was there when we played Fulham in the FA Cup. That was a great game, with a fabulous atmosphere at the ground, and Fulham with their array of International players (present and future).

Eventually, I got to see very few games Occasionally, when I wasn’t playing I would go and watch a game, but it was all so different for me. The players had changed, and the clubs fortunes dipped to an all time low. It was sad to see what was happening to this once great club. I did get to a few games when Avenue were in the Northern Premier League, and I went to Barnsley when they got to the 1st round of the FA Cup, but I think that was probably the last game I saw them in action until the pre-season friendly at Bramley, when Kevin Hector made an appearance.

My interest was re-kindled many years later when I went to watch them play at Horsfall in October 2002 against Accrington Stanley. However, I moved away to live in Bridlington in March 2003, but I try and get over to Bradford to watch a game as often as I can. It’s much nearer now for me to see them play at Gainsborough and North Ferriby and I have also seen them play at Whitby and Goole.

I sincerely hope that this current set-up at Horsfall can take Avenue back up the ladder, and eventually to the Holy Grail of league football. We can only hope. But I have some wonderful memories of watching and supporting Bradford Park Avenue, and will do so for as long as I am able.


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.

The Pioneers: The story of Keighley AFC, 1886-89

By Rob Grillo

On October 1st 1886 the Keighley Herald newspaper reported that an association team had existed in the town the previous season, but that it had ‘winked up in a short time’. One can assume, therefore, that the side never got as far as playing any competitive fixtures. It was said that local board school teachers ‘not patronised as they ought to have been’ were behind the failed venture.

However, on October 6th of that year, a meeting at the Acorn Coffee House in Keighley led to the formation of a new club in town. Thus the first properly organised ‘Keighley AFC’ was born. The newly formed club managed to procure a field on Highfield Lane, adopting blue & white as their colours and making use of the Oddfellows Arms as their headquarters. A Mr.Loftus was appointed as secretary, and it was announced that several players already had experience at the game, having played in Lancashire, already an association hotspot at the time. Experience at which sport is debatable, as practice matches were marred by those same players unable to resist the temptation of handling the ball!

What was probably the club’s first ever competitive match was a 1-4 defeat at Meanwood (Leeds). Other defeats followed against Oulton and Meanwood (again), with only one victory reported – against their own second team. The second team did play other sides such as Murton & Varley Employees, and a number of one-off scratch sides were starting to experiment with the game too. A ‘Keighley Britannia’ team is reported to have defeated Newtown Free Wanderers to the tune of 23-1, although Newtown also played informal rugby games in and about town too.

The Keighley AFC first team defeated Earby 7-1 in February 1887, displaying improved form for the rest of the season. Whyte scored four in that game, with Town, Tempest and Drabble also on the scoresheet.

The line up against Earby was: J.Bowker (goal), J.Hodgson, T.Sexton – captain, (backs), F.Stott, A.Morris, E.Britton (half backs), JS Tempest,, JT Whyte, FA Drabble & J.Williamson (forwards).

The side rarely reported their defeats to the local press, and the next reported game was a 7-1 rout of Barrowford. Other victories over East Lancashire opposition followed, but a measure of their improvement during the season was a narrow 0-1 defeat at home to Burnley reserves in what was seen as a prestigious match for the town.

Lancashire clubs provided much of the opposition the following season. This is not surprising given the radid development of the game in that region, and the ease of access given that there was a direct rail link between Skipton and Colne at the time.

The 1887-88 season opened with a good 3-3 draw against future football league side Nelson FC, then considered one of the top ‘junior’ (in status, not age) clubs in Lancashire. Goalkeeper Bowker was reported as having a poor game against Nelson, this is the day when goalkeeping was a dangerous occupation! Meanwhile, the side had moved a short distance to a ground on West Lane, and had reportedly secured the services of Terry from Darlington and Foxall from Aston Villa.

On October 1887, Keighley travelled to Barnsley Charity Cup holders Ardsley, and went down to a single goal, although they were said to have objected to the fact that the ball was the wrong shape (‘elliptical’). A return fixture with Burnley fell foul of the weather before a match at York City before the end of October where Foxall is known to have broken his arm (result unknown).

The club’s second team also played regular fixtures against East Lancashire opponents as the club gradually raised its status and attendances increased. A fixture at Nelson late in October was cancelled when Keighley could not raise a team, but all worries were dispelled the following month when Leeds AFC travelled to West Lane and was roundly defeated to the tune of 5-0. The game had not really taken off in Leeds yet, and this particular Leeds AFC did not last long.

Travelling was obviously becoming a problem, only nine men made the journey to Staincross, near Barnsley late in November (0-1), and then one week later Leeds Clergy brought the same number to Keighley and went home without their prayers unanswered, defeated 3-1. The following week Keighley arrived late at Robin Hood Swifts (Colne) and as a result the game was shortened. Further games included a win and defeat against Earby (Whyte scored a hat-trick in the 4-1 win), a victory at Kirkstall against a poor Leeds AFC team, and a draw against Ardsley. Burnley reserves defeated Keighley 2-0 at home. Other games again went unreported.

Keighley AFC briefly found itself without a field to play on at the start of the 1888-89 season. Reports suggested that attendances were now on the wane as rugby continued as the ‘boom’ sport in town, and that many potential supporters avoided paying the entrance fee to the West Lane ground – once they had finally managed to secure the field again – by standing on a patch of land on Devonshire Street, which obviously overlooked the ground. A home game was played on the Keighley Parish Church rugby ground, which resulted in a single goal reverse to Morecambe. Morecambe to Keighley was a not inconsiderable distance to travel for a friendly fixture, so it must have been a happy journey home for the Lancastrians.

After a 1-4 reverse at Colne, Keighley returned to winning ways and defeated a newly formed Bradford AFC at Thornbury by 2 goals to nil, enjoying 5-1 victories over Burnley Druids and Burnley Rovers before Christmas, and Leeds Albion later in the season. Again, despite fixtures being played most week, many games were not reported to the local press, although one defeat that did make the pages of local newspapers was a 0-8 defeat at the Blue House ground of Sunderland Albion. Albion was a break-away club from the professional Sunderland FC and in due course went on to become one of the strongest non-league teams in the North East. That the Keighley players were prepared to travel that far, and indeed claim a fixture against such a strong club, is a reflection of the strength of the locals, who must surely have made a weekend of their journey northwards. It was claimed in the press at this time that Keighley AFC was equal to any other in Yorkshire, although this claim is probably not too far from the truth as the ‘association’ game had yet to take off in the county, lagging well behind the progress made in Lancashire and the North East.

One week after the Sunderland game, an improved Bradford AFC left West Lane with a 1-0 defeat, Whyte scoring possibly the last ever goal for the Keighley club.

On April 13th 1889 a West Riding County team took on their East Riding counterparts at the Recreation ground, Scarborough in front of 2000 spectators. The West Riding team consisted of players from just three clubs – Leeds, Leeds Albion and Keighley. In fact, no less than five of the team that won 3-2 played for Keighley: Hodgson, Sexton, Driver (who scored the opening goal), Drabble and Whyte.

Keighley’s claims to be the best in the county can therefore be borne out to be true. That the club suddenly disappeared is therefore disappointing, but perhaps not surprising given that attendances were often meagre compared to the four figure crowds expected at important local rugby games. The public had yet to catch on fully, and the first Keighley AFC died a quiet death in the summer of 1889, ironically just as organised league football was taking off. One wonders what would have happened if the club had thrived, the history of soccer in Keighley and district could have been very, very different.

It was another seven years before another attempt to form a soccer team in the town, and it was not until the early 1900s that Keighley’s public were prepared to accept the sport in anything like the numbers that were sufficient to sustain momentum. By then, the town had missed the boat.

Rob Grillo continues the story of Keighley soccer also on VINCIT


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

A planned future article on VINCIT will feature the story of Bradford soccer in the 1880s and 1890s.

Forgotten and forlorn: The Belle Vue Hotel

It is nearly 25 years since the Belle Vue Hotel opposite Valley Parade was a part of the pre-match routine of supporters. By the time it closed as a pub in 1994 it had long since fallen out of fashion. Certainly it would not have appealed to a family audience having resorted to female strippers and a topless DJ in the 1970s as a means of attracting custom. Neither was its reputation enhanced by the proximity of the red light area of Lumb Lane and Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper is understood to have been a regular drinker in the pub.

Despite its disrepute of the modern era and the numerous urban legends about what went on behind its doors, the Belle Vue Hotel deserves recognition for having played a big part in the history of Manningham FC and the early existence of Bradford City AFC. This is where club dinners were held and where Manningham FC members celebrated the achievements of their team. In 1903 it is where club officials discussed the conversion to soccer. It is also remembered for the fact that on 11 May, 1985 it was a gathering point for survivors and relatives in the aftermath of the Valley Parade fire.

The building was listed in 1983, described by the website as ‘Circa 1870-80 public house of slightly French Chateau design, possibly by Milnes & France in view of corner treatment comparable with Bavaria Place Police Station. Two storeys, fine quality sandstone ashlar with mansard slate attic. The south corner forms a circular tower carried up into the mansard attic with a conical slate roof. A first floor balustered balcony is carried round the tower and over porch with florid Composite columns. Canted bay to north end of ground floor. Dormers in attic.’ (NB According to the Leeds Times of 27 May, 1876, the architects were Andrews & Pepper.)

Another claim to fame of the building is that it features a cut mark for mapping purposes and this can be seen on the second course of stone blocks to the right of the cellar beer chute on Drill Parade. The modern day garage on the opposite side of Drill Parade was probably the stabling block for the hotel. As the advert below from 1911 shows, this was converted to a garage before World War One.

It was boasted that the bay windows of the hotel afforded an unprecedented view along Manningham Lane down to North Parade and hence the opportunity to watch the comings and goings along Bradford’s northward boulevard. The building was constructed over a quarry that gave it deep cellars. However this proved problematic in 1882 when there was a serious issue with subsidence of the foundations at the rear of the building; this forced the licensing authorities to withdraw a music licence on account of it being unsafe.

The Belle Vue Hotel took its name from the nearby terrace (that dates from around 1840) which was said to enjoy an excellent panorama of Bradford and surrounding countryside from its raised elevation. On the site of neighbouring school was once the Belle Vue cricket pitch. In 1855 there is mention in the local press of an earlier Belle Vue Hotel on Manningham Lane although investigation of maps does not suggest that it was in the same location.

Belle Vue Hotel 1

Whilst few supporters would have remembered the Belle Vue as a respectable venue, when it was opened in May, 1876 it was considered one of Bradford’s premier hotels and restaurants, advertising itself as a venue catering for commercial and family guests. In its prime as a Victorian establishment, the Belle Vue Hotel would probably have been better described as a public house that had large function rooms and dining provision with overnight accommodation being a secondary offer. Indeed, in 1880 the proprietor, Robert Breuer was on record that the bedrooms were rarely fully booked. Furthermore, the second floor attic rooms on the south side of the building appear never to have been plastered, suggesting only occasional use in their time.

1881-11-12 advert for Belle Vue Hotel

The architecture of the building in the style of a French chateau and the carving of grapes on the vine over the front entrance offers clues about the original commercial strategy for the venture. Indeed, early adverts boasted about the choice of wines available and it seems a fair bet that it had similar culinary standards supported by its large basement kitchen. On the first floor of the building were two large function rooms that would have allowed for the likes of private dining parties, smoking concerts, business meetings and/or club committee meetings. On the ground floor was a billiard room.

The Belle Vue Hotel hosted an extensive range of gatherings. Other than social events it hosted commercial auctions, formal meetings of creditors and also political assemblies. On match days at Valley Parade the same function rooms were probably used by journalists and match day officials.

The Belle Vue Hotel was also well situated to meet the social needs of the officers of the Rifle Volunteers at the nearby barracks. (Background about the Bradford Rifles from this link) For others it may have served as a private gentlemens club and by virtue of being within walking distance of Manningham’s middle class villas, it was well situated to attract wealthier customers.
For those requiring accommodation, it was claimed that there were twenty bedrooms across the second floor and in the rear of the building. Those at the front overlook Valley Parade and would have provided vantage of the pitch. Press reports confirm that the hotel was utilised by touring sides playing at Valley Parade.

In January, 1882 the proprietor Robert Breuer was declared bankrupt. This resulted from the foreclosure by a building society of a mortgage on the Prince’s Theatre on Morley Street, Bradford in respect of which Breuer was a part-guarantor. His problems had been compounded by the subsidence issue mentioned above that required rectification. Hence it is possible that looming financial difficulties encouraged him to be more entrepreneurial, something which was probably continued by his successors who embraced Manningham FC.

A good example of such initiative and opportunism was the advertising of balcony rooms overlooking Manningham Lane for those seeking a view of the Royal visit parade in June, 1882. However it probably meant that the Belle Vue Hotel never attained the social exclusivity that its original owner had probably aspired to. For example the dram shop which operated in 1882 adjacent to the side door of the building and the tap room was a distinctly down-market venture. In February, 1894 neither would perceptions of the Belle Vue have been enhanced by a drunk being found in possession of a firearm on the premises. Even so, JB Priestley is understood to have named the Belle Vue as one of his favourite pubs in Bradford.

Even before the opening of Valley Parade in 1886, the Belle Vue Hotel was popular with Bradford sportsmen – not only rugby players but athletes, harriers (runners), cyclists, cricketers and rowers – and it was used by a good number of clubs for meetings and dinners. The Belle Vue also came to be adopted in 1894 by the Bradford & District Junior Football League for its meetings and later the Bradford & District FA. Its proximity with the adjacent barracks reinforced its links with local sportsmen given that many of them were also involved with the Rifle Volunteers based at the drill hall. The status of the Belle Vue in the Bradford sporting community was further illustrated by it being the destination of the popular cyclists’ lantern parade from the Branch Hotel, Shipley in October, 1889.

The hotel’s proximity to the new football ground ensured that links with Manningham FC would be strengthened. Newspaper reports infer that Manningham FC kept club records and paperwork at the hotel from which we can assume that there was a room dedicated for use as an office. I believe that this was probably on the ground floor near the side entrance which would have been convenient on match days. Tickets for games at Valley Parade were also sold at the Belle Vue.

BV Football House

Advert from BCAFC Handbook, 1911

In his history of Bradford City published in 1927 William Sawyer referred to the (Manningham FC) players changing in the outbuildings at the rear of the Belle Vue Hotel. Quite likely these would have been in what is now the car park, bordering the barracks. Thus for Manningham FC and later Bradford City AFC, the Belle Vue Hotel would have served extremely well as a headquarters and it was a venue distinct from most other town pubs. In terms of the pecking order that existed among Bradford hotels it was a credible, if not functional alternative to the more prestigious Talbot Hotel on Kirkgate or the Alexander Hotel, Morley Street which were favoured by Bradford FC.
It was a convenient arrangement for Manningham FC to take advantage of the facilities provided by the Belle Vue Hotel that allowed the club to avoid the expense of developing its own meeting areas and offices at Valley Parade. Prior to relocation Manningham FC had used the Carlisle Hotel on Carlisle Road as its headquarters and dressing facilities. In 1886, changing rooms (which were said to have included baths and lavatories) had been incorporated under the grandstand at Valley Parade but these were likely to have been fairly basic and of questionable adequacy.
Manningham FC had previously had an arrangement with the Thorncliffe Hotel at 148 Manningham Lane and in December, 1884, the club opened its own rooms there. The Thorncliffe Hotel was a fairly large establishment with 14 bedrooms, a large billiard room, sitting rooms, stabling for 24 horses and carriage accommodation for 12 vehicles. In April, 1882 however its owner had been refused (for a second time) a licence to sell alcohol. The refusal was on account of the proximity of the Belle Vue, 210 yards away on the opposite side of the road. Other local pubs included The Spotted House, 880 yards distant and The Standard which was 814 yards away in the direction of town.
By modern standards Bradford already had a considerable number of pubs and hotels and in March, 1899 the Bradford Daily Telegraph claimed there to have been 538 hotels and beerhouses in Bradford in 1875, equivalent to one per 313 people in the town. This number undoubtedly fostered keen competition among publicans and the owner of the Thorncliffe had presumably turned to Manningham FC as an alternative source of income. In 1884, the Thorncliffe Hotel was already being used by the Bradford Harriers and from the perspective of Manningham FC it offered a means of gaining facilities at limited cost to enhance its respectability and status. The same club rooms were later used by Airedale Harriers and Manningham Cycling Club, reinforcing links between the respective sporting organisations.
The initiative by Manningham FC had been intended to attract new members and it reflects the spirit of the club that at the time it considered itself a recreational body catering to the needs of its members. Although Manningham FC boasted that it was the only football club with its own reading rooms, the comments of a member at the club’s AGM in May, 1887 suggests that the same rooms were used for other entertainments: ‘A member said he thought there was a great deal of harm done by card-playing at the club. He had been several times and had been sorry to see young men sitting at card tables with heaps of money beside them. He thought if parents knew that their sons went to the club to do such things they would forbid them being members.The Yorkshireman of 26 May, 1887 reported that ‘I am assured that when gambling did occur the stakes were so trifling that a modest threepenny bit would cover a night’s run of hard luck. However, it has been decided that in future halfpenny naps and other allurements shall be summarily suppressed.

Nevertheless, the cost of the club rooms became onerous as a result of declining patronage and four years after opening, the club was forced to renegotiate terms. At the club’s AGM in May, 1887 the cost of the room was stated as £56 which was more than double the rent that the club ended up paying at Valley Parade. Although Manningham FC and later Bradford City AFC staged social events at the Belle Vue Hotel there is no record that reading rooms for members were again secured but this reflected how Manningham FC had matured. By the late 1880s for instance, the club was much less a recreational body as an emergent business that was channelling resources into the upkeep of Valley Parade.

Thus the Belle Vue enjoyed an ascendancy over the Thorncliffe Hotel by virtue of its alcohol licence. Had the Thorncliffe Hotel thrived there is a chance that Manningham FC might never have moved to Valley Parade. Faced with eviction from its Carlisle Road ground in 1886 the Manningham FC officials identified Valley Parade as an alternative site which had been virtually abandoned by the Midland Railway who owned the land. The Midland had originally planned to develop a consignment warehouse but the trade depression in Bradford after the imposition of French tariffs in 1873 forced a rethink. By 1876 the cost of the recently completed St Pancras Hotel as well as the construction of the Settle & Carlisle Railway had impacted on the company’s finances and the railway company was forced to revisit its plans. The collapse in the Bradford property market for example meant that the Midland was unlikely to benefit from its real estate ambitions along an extended Midland Road through Manningham and Frizinghall towards Shipley (which would have cross-subsidised the building of the new warehouse).

Prior to occupation by Manningham FC the Valley Parade site had been let for temporary, ad hoc uses. For example it had been used for grazing horses by the proprietor of Thorncliffe Hotel and in May, 1886 it had even staged a travelling circus. Had the Thorncliffe been able to secure an alcohol licence it is quite possible that Valley Parade would have continued to be used for stabling by the hotel but it was the popularity of the Belle Vue and the proximity of other local hostelries that forced the licensing authority to reject the application. Likewise the proprietor of the Belle Vue Hotel had lobbied for such a decision to optimise his commercial position.

The redevelopment of Valley Parade in 1908 and the opening of club offices and dressing rooms on Burlington Terrace meant that Bradford City AFC finally became self-sufficient. However the formal links between the club and the Belle Vue Hotel were effectively severed in 1906. A Football League Management Committee enquiry into the riot at Valley Parade in the February of that year ruled that Bradford City could not have its offices in a licensed premises.


The economics of the Belle Vue Hotel business would have suffered from the flight of middle classes out of Manningham, a trend that was ironically beginning just as it opened and one that accelerated with the improved tram connections to Frizinghall, Heaton and beyond as well as the growing attraction of a house in Ilkley, accessible by train. The Belle Vue found itself isolated, an urban pub on the edge of the central town area and increasingly reliant upon custom from the football and the territorial barracks to survive.

With each decade the downward slide of the once proud Belle Vue Hotel continued and by the end of 1960s its viability was becoming threatened. With the influx of muslim immigrants, the demise of Manningham as an attractive residential district and for that matter the drop in spectators at Valley Parade, it had to resort to other ways of attracting drinkers. The reliance upon female strippers in the 1970s was an act of commercial desperation but one that also condemned the reputation of the pub for the rest of its existence.

Its listing as a building of architectural importance probably also represented a financial burden. Therefore in 1994 it was hardly surprising that the owners of the Belle Vue should decide that it no longer had a future – of all the tied houses it was one of the least likely to survive.


Until the last couple of years the former Belle Vue Hotel has been used as a muslim ‘educational’ centre. Retrospective planning permission was granted in 1998 out of an enforcement action taken in the same year for it being used as a community centre without consent.

In the rooms where once there had been meetings of Manningham and Bradford City club officials, and in the main bar where strippers used to do their thing, there are finely woven islamic carpets for community praying. The building itself is in a poor state of repair and attic rooms are infested with pigeons and bird lime. The former Belle Vue Hotel has thus become a metaphor for Bradford and poor Robert Breuer would turn in his grave if he knew what had happened to his proud hotel.

Above, programme advert 1929

At the time of writing (February, 2018) the Belle Vue stands empty awaiting a new use and a buyer with £0.5m to buy the freehold and yet more to fund renovations. If money was no object I can’t think of a better place for a Bradford City club museum and heritage bar / diner. For that matter it could become a museum of Manningham to tell the fascinating history of the area and allow BCAFC to reconnect with its roots in the neighbourhood. The agents are Starkeys on Manor Row, Bradford 01274 307910

By John Dewhirst

John has contributed to and written a number of books about Bradford City, the origins of sport in Bradford and the rivalry of the Park Avenue and Valley Parade clubs. His most recent titles are ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP, both published as part of the BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED series. He is currently working on a new book about the twentieth century rivalry of Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue. His blog can be found from this link:

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

On Saturday 19 May, 2018 John is giving a talk in the Bradford Local Studies Library on the origins of spectator sport in nineteenth century Bradford and the development of the city’s sporting culture and identity. This will cover principally cricket, rugby and football and include a Q&A session.

Further details tbc.

Tweets @jpdewhirst




Photo gallery:

Turret bedroom and rooms on upper floor overlooking Belle Vue (Tesco); former ground floor bars; former basement function room; toilets and exterior view.