Having shared the West Yorkshire League championship with Hunslet in 1895/96, and won the Leeds Workpeople’s Hospital Cup outright, Bradford FC’s new association section had hoped to build on this success in season 1896/97. However football politics intervened, leading to one of the most bizarre seasons in Bradford football history.
The West Riding FA, formed in the early months of 1896, decided to organize a new knock out competition, the West Yorkshire Cup, but decreed that no league competition would be run. This left local clubs with a sparse and amorphous mixture of cup ties and friendlies.
Hoping to make further progress on the field and provide players and spectators with a more attractive fixture list, Bradford entered the prestigious FA Amateur Cup. The FA Amateur Cup was the most famous of all cup competitions for non-league clubs. The first winners were Old Carthusians in 1894 and the last Bishop’s Stortford in 1974. Other famous winners included Bishop Auckland, Middlesbrough, Wimbledon and Skelmersdale United.
Bradford were drawn at home to Derby Amateurs in the first qualifying round to be played on 10th October 1896. However the game had to be switched from Park Avenue to Lidget Green as Bradford’s Northern Union fifteen were at home to Bramley in the Yorkshire Senior Competition that day. The location was described as “the grounds of the Bradford club at Lidget Green”, but it is unclear whether this was the old Bradford RUFC ground at Scholemoor, the former Lidget Green cricket ground, or somewhere else. The ground was described as “very rough” and “it was a pity something better could not be got”.
As the local press tended to announce the teams before matches but not afterwards, we can only surmise that our line up may have been
Lemoine; Wells, Smith; N. Thorne, R. Thorne, Henderson; Eckford, Menzies, Collinson, Ingham, Matthews.
Even that is ambiguous as the Thornes were just one of several pairs of brothers at the club at the time. A large crowd saw Collinson open the scoring after 10 minutes with Menzies and an Eckford brace giving Bradford a 4-0 lead at the interval. The rout continued after the break with further goals by Ingham, Menzies, Ingham again and two more from Collinson. Bradford thus emerged with a 9-0 victory.
Goalkeeper H.M. Lemoine was one of the very few players from the original Bradford FC to go on to play for Bradford (Park Avenue) after the club embraced the association game more wholeheartedly in 1907. Then aged 31, the shot stopper made a solitary appearance at Portsmouth in the Southern League on April 4th 1908, but was beaten four times as Avenue lost 4-2.
The second qualifying round saw Bradford drawn away to Sheffield on 7th November. On a very wet Ecclesall Road pitch, Thompson gave Bradford the lead with a header. Menzies then doubled the advantage when his free kick was deflected in by Benson, the home right back. The homesters reduced the lead after the interval with a goal by Blake, but Bradford held on for victory.
In fact this was the second of three victories in five weeks over the Sheffielders. The clubs met again in 1898/99 in the Yorkshire League, but did not cross swords again at first team level until October 2007 when the South Yorkshiremen got their revenge at Horsfall in the FA Trophy. Is there any other case of 108 years elapsing between fixtures between teams from the same county?
The third qualifying round saw Bradford drawn against Hunslet on 28th November. This match had a special edge as the clubs had shared the West Yorkshire League title the previous year. The game again had to be switched to Lidget Green due to a clash with the rugby. Bradford started the game with 10 men as Thorne was late. A brace of goals from Taylor gave the Twinklers a 2-0 lead which they held until the end.
This was to be Bradford’s last ever game in the Amateur Cup with the club progressing to the FA Cup itself in 1897/98. However the reformed club did compete in the competition’s successor, the FA Vase, for four seasons between 1991/92 and 1994/95, but without any great success.
Bradford entered two other cup competitions in 1896/97. Avenue’s forbears defeated Altofts 2-0 and Fryston 5-2 at home in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the West Yorkshire Cup before losing 2-1 to Hunslet in the semi-final at Huddersfield (it is unclear whether this was at Milnsbridge, Fartown or elsewhere).
As holders, Bradford were expected to do well in the Leeds Workpeople’s Hospital Cup. Altofts were duly dispatched 5-0 at home, but the semi-final at Headingley was a disaster as Bradford were stuffed 4-0 by Halifax.
Most of the clubs friendly fixtures were played against Yorkshire or Manchester clubs, several of the former having competed in the West Yorkshire League the previous year. However the season ended with an attractive fixture against the famous London club Clapham Rovers, who had won the FA Cup in 1880. Indeed Jarvis Kenrick had scored the first ever goal in the world’s oldest football competition away to Upton Park in November 1871. However Rovers were not the force they once were and Bradford prevailed by three goals to two.
The curtailed season thus ended with 18 wins, 2 draws and 7 defeats from 27 games.