Bradford Football Club was founded in 1863 and played the amateur Rugby Union code before somewhat reluctantly adopting professional Northern Union (Rugby League) in the “Great Split” of 1895.
The hard-nosed businessmen who ran sport in the 1890’s had also noticed the success of the Association code in Lancashire and the Midlands. To test the water, the Bradford club formed an Association section in 1895. Rugby League and soccer were staged at Park Avenue on alternate Saturdays. The football team was formed by the wholesale recruitment of Buckstone Park FC from Apperley Bridge plus other amateur players from that area. Bradford joined the fledgling West Yorkshire League, formed a year earlier.
Terry Frost’s “The Bradford City Story” records that “Its officials were local business and professional men and its players, all amateurs, comprised bank clerks, colliery agents, clerical gents and former University and public-school boys with a leavening of workmen whose trades had called them from Scotland, Lancashire and the Midlands to work in Bradford and its surrounding districts. Numbered amongst its players, and later to figure prominently in Bradford City’s early days, were Colonel H.R. Armitage, David Menzies and Everitt Moore whilst others of note were goalkeeper Harker, right-back Gray, who came from Nottingham to live in the district, and Maurice Healey, a bank clerk who operated at wing-half with his partner Duncan Menzies.”
Rob Grillo’s “100 Years On – The first Bradford City FC, the early years of Bradford (Park Avenue) and other stories” describes Bradford’s inaugural season in some detail and is highly recommended. A brief synopsis follows.
The first game for the new Park Avenueites was a friendly away to Swinton, from the Rotherham area, on 7th September 1895 which we lost 3-0 (match report). A week later Bradford beat Moss Side 4-1 at Park Avenue.
Bradford’s first foray into competitive football then had a glamorous curtain raiser involving Football League giants Bolton Wanderers. It is believed that the “home” team may have been a West Yorkshire League XI rather than an unmingled Bradford line-up. Well over 3,000 fans saw the Yorkshiremen hammered 7-2. However four days later, Bradford made a successful start to their league programme with a 4-2 win at home to Featherstone (match report).
Early results were very variable. The side lost 7-1 at Hunslet but hammered Harrogate St Peters 8-1 in the Leeds Workpeople’s Hospital Cup, the strongest knockout competition in the county. Crowds were very variable and would often fall below 1,000 if the rugby side had an attractive fixture in the near vicinity, such as a local derby at Manningham.
In the 1890’s, most players and spectators had to go to work on Saturday mornings, hence the call for “lost-time” payments which led to the split between the two codes of rugby. Public transport was not what it is today; there were no cars or motor coaches, just trains and the beginnings of trams. So, in amateur football, players of both sides would often arrive late, particularly in the winter months when early kick offs were required. When Bradford played Leeds in late November, the match had to be switched to Apperley Bridge as Park Avenue was unavailable. Bradford won 6-2 but the result was declared void as the kick off had been delayed meaning that a “short-time” game had to be played. Similar curtailments happened against Scarborough, who missed a train connection, and Pontefract Garrison, but these were only friendlies.
By Christmas, Bradford were stuck in mid-table but managed a memorable 7-4 home win against league leaders Hunslet in the Hospital Cup. In the semi-final, Bradford drew 2-2 with Leeds at Hanson Lane, Halifax after leading 2-0. The replay was played at the home of the Manningham rugby club, meaning that Bradford played a game of association football at Valley Parade seven years before Bradford City did!
Bradford achieved a club record 13-0 victory against ten-man Rothwell on 28th March 1896, with Reginald Thorne scoring six and David Menzies four. This record had not been surpassed by any of the subsequent reincarnations of the Park Avenue club.
The club was now on a roll, going unbeaten in competitive football from 4th January, when they lost 5-4 at Halifax, to the season’s end. The side drew 1-1 with Featherstone in the Hospital Cup final at Parkside, Hunslet and then romped to a 4-1 victory in the replay at the same venue in front of 1,500 spectators (match report). On their return to Bradford, a large crowd of “football enthusiasts” turned up to meet the victorious team at the station.
With Bradford prospering in 1896 and long-time leaders Hunslet floundering, the two clubs eventually finished level on 31 points from 20 games at the end of the season. This meant a championship play-off as, fortunately for Bradford, goal average and goal difference had yet to be invented. The game was played at Park Avenue straight after a rugby game, so a large crowd was in attendance. Bradford once again threw away a two goal lead so a replay was required on the last day of the season, a Thursday night. Bradford took 500 supporters to neutral Kirkstall to see their heroes throw away yet another 2-0 lead. Extra time had been planned but could not take place due to bad light. With no penalty shootouts, the championship was decreed to have been shared (match report).
The association game had well and truly taken off in Bradford.