Bradford City 1978-2004


By Jim Greenhalf

LONG before the 1985 Valley Parade death blaze, visiting supporters in the end facing the steep open-air  terracing of the  Kop would be assailed with the chant: “This is the valley, the valley of death!” If nothing else the fire proved how closely triumph and tragedy are allied.

Standing in the covered cowshed that was the Midland Road standing area in 1977 – the year I first ventured down the hill from Bradford College’s halls of residence to watch Bradford City – I wondered about the purpose of this chant.

Were the Koppites out to air their literary knowledge by paraphrasing the Charge of the Light Brigade poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, putting rival fans in fear of a verbal bombardment? Or was there scarcely concealed irony in the fact that City fans often chanted it when their team was on the receiving end of a hiding? The valley of death, for them in those days, often turned out to be the death of the hope of victory.

Several lifetimes later, or so it seems now looking back, I was having a conversation with Geoffrey Richmond, Bradford City’s chairman, about how successful clubs are built and sustained.  It occurred either after City’s successful play-off match against Notts County at the old Wembley or after City’s promotion to the Premier League. “Of course, City will never be as big as Manchester United,” I said airly, or words to that effect.  “Why can’t Bradford City be like Manchester United?” came the Nero-like reply. This was a rhetorical question. If Geoffrey Richmond believed that his club could in its own way be as big of Alex Ferguson’s Lancashire outfit, I wasn’t inclined to make him grumpy by comparing and contrasting the two clubs’ trophy-winning traditions.

My personal transition from a supporting reporter to a reporting supporter took place in the early 1980s. In those days I had a weekly column called Fifth Column. My brief was to say the unsayable on behalf of the public, within the laws of libel and decency. Prior to City’s 1979 FA cup match away to Durham amateurs Brandon United I wrote a less-than-flattering piece about the team’s style of play. It wasn’t long before I got a less-than-delighted telephone call from City’s then-manager, George Mulhall. To rephrase an old saying: Laugh and the world laughs with you: cause a stir and you stand alone. I survived, however. George went the way of all managers as did most of the players he brought in.

As a supporting reporter, watching a club yoyo from Division Four to Division Three and back again, I found myself becoming attached to City’s struggles embodied by  dependable regular first-teamers such as John Middleton, Peter Downsborough, Hughie Martinez, Ces Podd, big Joe Cooke and an inside forward, Bernie Wright, whom  I nicknamed The Stoker because he seemed to be as tough and indefatigable as an old ship’s boiler – a human template for Bobby Campbell, who was to come. I was especially pleased when Bernie barged his way through to batter in a scoring shot. I used to feel that way about Malcolm McDonald in 1973/74 when for six months I lived in Newcastle and stood in the corner Paddock of St James’ Park.

As a reporting supporter I tried to get inside the story of the club’s financial collapse in the summer of 1983. In spite of a reasonable weekly income from the club’s lottery, Bradford City Football Club (1908) Ltd wound up in the hands of the Official Receiver with debts of £374,000. The commonly-held view among City supporters was that the lottery had been plundered by some of its board members. Thirty-two years later and the story of that slide to near oblivion has still to be explained by those in the know. Perhaps it never will. The summer of 1983 been surpassed, of course, by the more costly collapse into administration that followed City’s relegation from the Premier League in 2001. And who can say with any certainty how much fans’ natural scepticism became muted by protective loyalty following the inexplicable fire disaster on the afternoon of Saturday, May 11, 1985?

All that season and the season before it, I had watched City as a paying customer in the Midland Road, occasionally writing colour pieces for the paper. I had started to discover what a homely little club it was under the dual control of Stafford Heginbotham and Jack Tordoff in the boardroom and Trevor Cherry and Terry Yorath on the pitch. “You have to smell the roses along the way,” Stafford used to tell me, as though trying to infiltrate my defensive scepticism with his Lancashire optimism. There was nothing about the team’s zestful attacking play, however, that encouraged dolefulness. Stuart McCall, John Hendrie, Bobby Campbell, Dave Evans, Greg Abbott, Mark Ellis, Chris Withe and fellow Bantams stormed to the top of the table by sinking doughty Millwall 2-0 in November, 1984, and never looked back. Warmed by the spirit of victory I’d often run part of the way home down Manningham Lane and Keighley Road – a 35-year-old man body-swerving between clusters of happy City supporters on their way home.


On that chilly May afternoon in 1985, an irritating scudding breeze was blowing haphazardly from the west. There were several of us from the T&A newsroom among the 11,000 at Valley Parade: reporter Peter Carroll, who had been assigned the job of spending several months with the City players behind-the-scenes; and Barry MacSweeney , the Geordie poet who was the paper’s abrasive news editor.

In a departure to my normal routine I had planned to sit in the main stand with my friend Tony O’Callaghan and his mum; but they cried off a day or two before the match and so, in another break from my usual routine, I drove to the T&A offices in Hall Ings, parked up round the back and walked to the Midland Road stand and took up my usual position near the halfway line. I witnessed the start of the fire from there. I saw the end of it on the pitch amid scraps of discarded newspaper pages, programmes and pale-as-paper human beings lying between the bits of debris. I saw grown men weeping in rage and anguish at the sight of fate’s latest thunder-bolt.

The sight made me understand what City meant to people from Bradford’s recession-hit roads and streets. One of their few redeeming, life-affirming, public  attachments was being destroyed before their eyes, on the very afternoon  of the Third Division Championship. “This is a world exclusive,” Barry MacSweeney said as we surveyed the smoking, smouldering wreckage of the main stand. Neither of us thought that anybody had died in that blackened tangle of stanchions. We assumed the stand had emptied either through the gates at the back or over the wall to the heat-battered pitch.

Only when we returned to the T&A newsroom later that evening and the telephones started ringing in the rising death toll did we realise. Thirty years ago the T&A newsroom was a square pale yellow room clacking with an assortment of typewriters and wreathed with cigarette and cigar smoke.  As Denis Flatt’s rolls of film were processed in the photography department on the fourth floor, T&A editor Terry Quinn was hurrying back to Bradford from Scotland. Back in his office I saw the graphic pictures he rejected for publication. News agencies from all over the world were ringing up asking for pictures. The paper agreed to sell them.  All the money would be contributed to whatever fund was set up in the wake of the disaster. It was journalism with no-nonsense compassion. We had to tell the story but we were also part of the community and wanted to help. We worked through the night.

I drove MacSweeney home to Fairweather Green early on Sunday morning and returned to my top-floor studio flat in Selborne Terrace, Heaton. The pre-match records I had played the previous morning lay strewn over the green carpet. Through the window I could saw a pale blue glow over Valley Parade from a floodlight near the main stand that had been left on. I didn’t start shaking until later, however, when the road outside the main stand was a sea of wreaths and I watched young reporters being sent out of the newsroom to knock on the doors of bereaved families. The occasionally irascible MacSweeney took them under his protective wing, encouraged them and praised them. The Newsdesk did not receive a single complaint from any of the afflicted families.

My transition from supporting reporter to reporting supporter took me from the terraces into the press box in the new main stand for the match between Bradford City and an England XI on Sunday, December 14, 1986. Ten years later, on Sunday, May 26, 1996, I was in the press box at Wembley for the Endsleigh Division Two play-off. After City’s 2-1 victory, thanks to goals from Des Hamilton and Mark Stallard, I walked across part of the pitch (impressive) to the dressing rooms (not at all impressive) for post-match interviews.

Along hospitality refreshments came a bit more behind-the-scenes recognition. Passing the time of day with Bryan Edwards, the club’s physiotherapist in the 1980s, I learned that he was in the Bolton Wanderers team which played Matt Busby’s Manchester United before and after the Munich Air Crash. Bolton lost the first match in 1957/58 7-2 but the following season beat United 6-3. Bolton also beat United 2-0 in the 1958 FA Cup Final. Other behind-the-scenes faces who became familiar tome were stadium manager Allan Gilliver, club secretary Terry Newman and groundsman Jonathan Smith. That was in the days when there were 70 staff and players on City’s £1.5m payroll.

One of the many things Geoffrey Richmond did during his ten years as chairman was install an inclusive banqueting suite in the main stand, replacing the exclusive executive suite. I liked to go there for lunch on days off – paying my way of course – and look out over the pitch. One sunny day in the mid-1990s I went in and Kris Kamara, who was manager at the time, was at a table talking to a foreign player he was keen on signing.  It could have been Marco Sas, Erik Regtop, Ole Bjorn Sundgot  or Robert Steiner. Exciting times were in the air. The ‘valley of death’ of 1977/78 had been transformed. The Midland Road cowshed was now a 4,500-seat stand opened by the Queen in 1997, the year after City had beaten Notts County at Wembley to win promotion to the Championship.


One of the unwritten rules of the press box is that journalists should restrain their partisanship and emulate the spirit of Kipling’s poem If – treating triumph and disaster alike as imposters. In December 1988 City played a midweek cup match against Everton. Among the Toffees was Stuart McCall – one of the casualties of City’s failure to win promotion to the First Division the previous season. I was sent to do a colour piece for the paper. The spirit of Kipling’s If was not with me that night, as the following extract shows:-

Did the spectator who left his car lights on actually leave the ground to switch them off? If he did he missed the second goal by Ian Banks a few moments later. The crowd went crackers.

And so did in the second half when Leigh Palin zonked in goal number three. I hugged the bloke on my left – T&A sports editor Alan Birkinshaw – and pummelled the shoulder of the bloke on my right – freelance journalist Terry Frost.

Behind me the bloke doing the live radio commentary was roaring away like Peter O’Sullevan.

Within weeks of that result City’s likable and not unsuccessful manager and coach, Terry Dolan and Stan Ternant, were fired. Dolan, whose midfield play and penalty taking had been a feature of City’s team when I was a paying customer, had worked on a community football scheme at Scholemoor after his playing career ended, before he graduated as a qualified coach. I always found him considerate and even-tempered, but his reputation took a knock when City failed by two points to get out of Division Two. Had they beaten Ipswich Town at Valley Parade instead of losing 2-3 the story might have been different.

That Saturday afternoon the ground was pack. So was the press box. Aliens from the national press were among the regulars. I felt especially irked when one of them, the esteemed Ian Woolridge I think it was, stood by the side of chairman Jack Tordoff. “All this,” he said, gesturing somewhat grandly towards the far distant industrial sites along Canal Road – still visible in those days because the roofline of the Midland Road cowshed was much lower – “All these…cotton mills.” Cotton mills? In Yorkshire? Dear me. I was a bloody southerner but at least I knew that cotton was Lancashire and wool was Yorkshire, unlike this famed scribe who had reported from around the world. That seemed to set the tone for the game. Stuart McCall’s midfield burst and 20-yard net-buster for City’s second goal wasn’t enough. I probably wasn’t body-swerving my way home down Manningham Lane that evening. It felt like the end of an era. It was.

Geoffrey Richmond’s arrival at Valley Parade in January 1994 turned out to be a terrible shock, for here was a man of bold public statements like the one he gave me when I went to see him at Valley Parade:  “I believe Bradford City can become a very big club; I can see Bradford City as a Premier League club. I don’t see any reason why this city wouldn’t support a Premier League club.”  Those who expected a comfortable life at the club didn’t last long in his employ. For six years of his ten years as chairman he upset a few people but won over a lot more because everything he promised he delivered.

He wanted to build a big multi-sports academy on the site of the old Manningham Middle school. But for a bit of double-dealing by Bradford Council, which handed over the site to a Muslim madrassa, Richmond would have delivered that too. He had the support of Sports Minister Richard Cabourn and Yorkshire West MEP Barry Seal. Bradford’s rulers, it seemed to me, were happier dealing with talkers rather than doers, hence the six years wasted over John Garside’s preposterous proposal to build a covered superdome at Odsal. Garside was a member of the board of directors of City’s 1908 club which went into the valley of death in the summer of 1983.

1939-40 – The lost season


George Hinsley
George Hinsley

By Ian Hemmens

By 1939 the dark clouds gathering over Europe had become almost storm-like. The year before had seen Nazi Germany annexe neighbour Austria, the ‘Anschluss’ and by deception of protecting ethnic Germans in the Czech ruled Sudetenland secured more land. Czechoslovakia & Polish held Silesia were next and when British Prime Minister came back from his meeting with Adolf Hitler waving his piece of paper proclaiming ‘Peace in our time’, even the most optimistic were having doubts about a forthcoming conflict.

Even as early as April 1939, the FA had released a circular to clubs asking all professionals to join the Territorial Army to encourage the youth of the land to do likewise. Mindful of the furore in 1914-15 when football carried on despite the protests of class ridden parsimonious rantings of various branches of the establishment.

Football’s hands were tied by the contract system and in fact proved positive as recruitment vehicles for the forces. Wary of being attacked again, the FA were in fact proactive by negotiating with the War office for players to take part in military training. Although voluntary, several clubs signed up en bloc to the Territorials or potentially vital industries. The Football League also pronounced that the clubs didn’t have to pay any player who was involved in military training so as to minimise the financial strain on clubs.

The new season saw all teams re-elected to the regional 3rd Divisions, Hartlepools & Accrington Stanley in the North and Bristol Rovers & Walsall in the South being the fortunate clubs. Another new innovation was uniform numbering on shirts for specific positions. As the new season drew close, clubs took part in Jubilee Fund matches. This was a project set up the year before to celebrate the Football League’s half century and was to help raise funds for ex-players who had fallen on hard times or had to give up due to injury. It mainly featured local ‘Derby’ matches where possible and in the 1938 series, City once more succumbed to neighbours Bradford Park Avenue by a 1-4 scoreline at Valley Parade in front of a 6000 crowd.

One interesting note of this match was that it was the only senior appearance for City of Malcolm Comrie, the nephew of former City Centre Half Jimmy Comrie who had perished in the Great War.

Bradford City travelled the short distance to Park Avenue for a match which ended in a 3-2 victory for the home side in front of a crowd just short of 5000. City fielded new signings in keeper Billy McPhillips the ex-Newcastle United custodian, former Spurs schemer Almer Hall, Jimmy Lovery & Duncan Colquhoun, a forward from Southport.

These players complemented the established players like Charlie McDermott, Spud Murphy, Charlie Moore, Archie Hastie & Alf Whittingham, Hastie & debutant Colquhoun scored the goals.

Fred Westgarth
Fred Westgarth

The season before, 1938-39, City had finished a promising 3rd in the table although they never really threatened the eventual winners Barnsley who finished a full 15 points better off. City had a prolific goalscorer in Jack Deakin who had finished with 23 goals in just 28 games ably supported by Jimmy Smailes and Archie Hastie. The team had a good solid core of players with a couple of promising youngsters like George Hinsley, Joe Harvey & the aforementioned Whittingham in their ranks. Confidence was high for a concerted push for a return to 2nd tier football after a 4 year gap. Manager Fred Westgarth, despite losing promising players like Gordon Pallister to Barnsley & future stars George Swindin & Laurie Scott to Arsenal was quietly building a solid squad of experience and youth for the forthcoming campaign.

The season began on August 26th 1939 at Valley Parade against the previous seasons bottom club Accrington Stanley in front of a 7000 crowd. The 4 newcomers again lined up for City who selected the following: McPhillips, Murphy, McDermott, Molloy, Beardshaw, Moore, Lovery, Hall, Deakin, Hastie & Colquhoun. The game didn’t go to plan as Stanley managed a shock 2-0 win and took the points back to East Lancashire.

Only the previous year, Runner-up Doncaster Rovers managed a 5 figure crowd in the division. The days largest attendance was at Molineux for the 1st Division clash between Wolves and Arsenal with 47000 turning up. Opening day highlights included 4-0 wins for Manchester United against Grimsby Town! Yes, Grimsby back then were in the 1st Division and today, sadly, they are no longer in the Football League. Stoke City also recorded a 4-0 victory over Charlton Athletic, the Stoke side having a precocious winger named Stanley Matthews in their line up.

In Division 2, Bradford Park Avenue made it a sorry day for Bradford football going down to a 2-0 defeat at Saltergate against Chesterfield, whilst the result of the day was Crystal Palace’s 5-4 victory away at Mansfield in the 3rd Division (S). There were also several names other than Grimsby Town who are no longer Football League teams; Barrow, Southport, Wrexham, Chester, New Brighton, Aldershot, Torquay United, Darlington, Stockport County, Lincoln City & finally Gateshead.

The second round of matches started almost immediately 2 days later on the 28th August. A day later, Bradford Park Avenue, this time on home turf once again lost, a 3-0 reversal to Luton Town before 7000 supporters. A day later City travelled to the Wirral to face New Brighton at Sandheys Park. 5 changes were made by Manager Westgarth, 3 due to injury and 2 for selection changes. Charlie McDermott, Duncan Colquhoun & Jack Deakin were injured and City lined up with McPhillips, Murphy, Brown, Molloy, Hinsley, Moore, Lovery, Beresford, Whittingham, Hastie & Smailes.

The return of Jimmy Smailes added to the attacking prowess but again, City went down to a 2-1 defeat, Alf Whittingham opening his account for the season. 2 games & 2 defeats, not the start the club wanted after the hopes of pre-season.

September 2nd, the day before War was declared saw round 3 of the leagues programme. Ted Drake scored 4 of Arsenals 5 against Sunderland in front of only 17000 fans. The growing fears and uncertainty of the national situation was clearly having an effect on crowd participation as not one crowd in the 1st Division reached 20000. Tommy Lawton hit his 3rd goal for Everton. The surprise package with maximum points and sitting proudly at the top of the 1st division table were Blackpool.

In Division 2, Bradford Park Avenue finally got off the mark with 2-2 home draw with Millwall although this result left them bottom and propping up the table. Newcastle United had the result of the day with an 8-1 thrashing of Swindon at St. James’ Park, all 5 of their forwards contributing to the scoreline.

City travelled to Holker Park to face Barrow in their 3rd game and came away with a 2-2 draw to claim their 1st point. Stan Scrimshaw came in for Frank Beresford in the only change and goals from Hinsley & Hastie secured the point. After 3 games, City were next to bottom with only pointless Stockport County below them. The loss of ace goalgetter Jack Deakin was posing a problem. Apart from the odd Wartime game, he never played for City again leaving a very impressive record including FA Cup games of 51 Goals in only 68 games.

The next day, Sunday 3rd September 1939 at 11am came the announcement that everyone was expecting and fearing. Football was the last thing on people’s minds as it was announced that once again, the country was at war with Germany.

An immediate ban on all crowds was announced and a day later, mindful of the situation in 1915, the League Management Committee declared the season was officially over. On September 8th, all players contracts were ended though the clubs retained their registrations. Players who hadn’t already signed up or were committed to vital jobs had to find alternative employment until they were called to arms.

Six clubs immediately decided to close down for the duration of the conflict and Arsenals Highbury was taken over by the local ARP. By the 14th September it was announced that friendly games could go ahead but only in certain areas as long as police approval was given but restrictions on attendances were still in place. This time around, the Government realised that football was a release and a benefit to morale to the millions of workers aiding the War effort.

On the 25th the War Committee announced plans to start 8 regional leagues on the 21st October. Professional players would receive £1.50 a week but no bonuses. The guest system as used in the Great War would again operate. The obvious restrictions on travel were in place and because of the national blackout, long journeys by coach were not possible.

The ongoing situation once again meant that clubs had to use whoever was available with veterans, local promising youths and servicemen stationed nearby could all be called upon to fulfil fixtures. Obviously, the clubs in naval ports and garrison towns benefitted best with clubs like Aldershot able to field an almost full international side from top players stationed in the town.

From a Bradford City point of view, the club settled into the Wartime regional structure trying to get by week by week. The departure of Fred Westgarth to his old club Hartlepools in 1943 was a blow to the club but Board member Cllr. Bob Sharp stepped in to steady the ship through uncertain times with very few highlights to mention. George ‘Spud’ Murphy was selected to play for Wales in several wartime international games, although not Official games, he was the first City player to gain International honours since Irishman Sam Russell in 1930. The club managed to keep going without any real success or failures until the War finally ended in 1945.

The length of the conflict, apart from casualties, saw the end of many players careers being too old to carry on playing or unable to medically due to wounds.

Only 4 players from Citys last pre-war squad started the new full season in 1946. Stan Scrimshaw, George Murphy, George Hinsley & Alf Whittingham. A 5th place finish was an excellent finish for the club after the long dark days just gone by. The War had taken its toll on all aspects of life and from footballs point of view some players were on the cusp of a career but never played again whilst others who were given a chance were discovered almost by accident and became almost overnight heroes.

The 3 games of the 1939-40 season were officially wiped from the records as the Declaration of War overtook all aspects of any normality of lifestyle and it became known as the season that never existed.

For reference, thanks to:

  • ‘Bradford City – A Complete Record’ by Terry Frost
  • ‘The Men Who Never were’ by Jack Rollin & Mike Brown
  • Charles Buchan Football Monthly – Various
  • Various Internet Sources