The abandonment of "socker" by Bradford in 1899 did not herald a decline in the popularity of the round ball game in the city.  Far from it. 

The game had begun to take off in the mid 1890's and the city's first league, the Bradford & District Junior League started in season 1898/99.  The Bradford & District Football Association came into being in March 1899 and formed the subsequent Bradford & District League which had expanded to four divisions by 1901/02.  It also inaugurated the Bradford & District FA Cup.  The Bradford & District FA assembled a representative team to play the touring South African Kaffir team at Park Avenue on 7th November 1899.  In a high scoring game, the side drawn from Bradford and the West Riding defeated the Orange Free State visitors by 8 goals to 6.

Locals schools played a big part in the growing popularity of the round ball code. The Bradford & District Schools Football Association was formed in 1892 and switched its emphasis from rugby to association in 1895.  Soccer was considered less expensive, better suited to cramped hard playgrounds, and less likely to lead to serious injuries.  As schoolboys reached adulthood, the number of amateur soccer clubs in the area inevitably increased with many local rugby clubs folding.

As its name suggests, The Incorporated Bradford Cricket, Football and Athletic Club was more than a football club. It served a higher purpose. Bradford saw itself as the "Town" club and custodian of Park Avenue, one of the best grounds in Yorkshire and the pride of the city.  Moreover the club existed not only to promote first-class sport and safeguard its home, but also to raise money for local charities, a noble cause indeed in an age when there was no National Health Service.

The club was once one of the richest in the country and had purchased a 999-year lease on the Park Avenue ground in 1892 by paying a deposit of £6,500 and committing to 13 six-monthly instalments of £500 to the previous owner Sir Francis Sharp Powell.  This put a serious financial burden on the club in subsequent years. By 1896 debt threatened its very existence as the club defaulted on its early payments and built up an overdraft at the bank. So much so that finance became more important than the code which was played.  Bradford were the most reluctant of converts to Northern Union (Rugby League) in the great split of 1895 but were left with little choice but to follow their Yorkshire neighbours or else lose attractive local derbies.

Northern Union rugby was not hugely popular at Park Avenue but Bradford eventually reasserted its ascendancy over local rivals Manningham (see Rugby League).  As twice Yorkshire Senior Competition champions in 1899/00 and 1900/01,  Bradford became founder members of the new breakaway  Northern Rugby League in 1901, leaving struggling Manningham cast adrift in the tier below.  Now seriously worried about their own finances, and seeing which way the wind was blowing, Manningham scrapped their reserve team and allowed local association champions Girlington to ground share at Valley Parade as a one-year trial.

Despite abandoning soccer in 1899, Bradford retained its membership of the Football Association, thus protecting its ownership of the "Bradford" name. It cleared its debt to Francis Powell in the early 1900's and even found sufficient finds to terrace and cover the low side of the rugby ground and extend the cricket ground.

Manningham soldiered on in the NRU but were denied entry to the elite league in 1902 after finishing runners up in the second tier.  They carried on half-heartedly for one more year while preparing to convert to soccer in 1903, plans which apparently were an open secret. 

The Football League had been formed in 1888 and had been a great success, but was struggling to be recognized as a national competition.  All 36 clubs were based in the North and Midlands with the solitary exception of Woolwich Arsenal.  But strangely there wasn't a single club in West Yorkshire.

Keen to extend it base, the Football League let it be known that an application from this area would be welcomed and the question simply was would it be Bradford or Leeds.  Manningham took up the mantle and were duly elected to Division Two at the 1903 AGM, taking the place of Doncaster Rovers.  Resistance from rugby aficionados was relatively modest and an earlier decision to play both codes at the ground was overturned subsequently at the Manningham AGM. 

While elected and playing under the name of Bradford City from the outset, Manningham did not legally change its name until 1906.  The town of Bradford had be granted city status in 1897.  In "Life at the Top", John Dewhirst describes City as football's first franchise, the Paraders having been elected to the Football League, like Chelsea two years later, without ever kicking a round ball.

Bradford City enjoyed excellent crowds in its early years to the detriment of rugby crowds at Park Avenue.  Bradford won the RL Cup in 1906 but, after a poor league season, only 15,834 were present at the final against Salford at Headingley.  8,000 were at Valley Parade that day to see City play Barnsley. 

Bradford was falling out of love with rugby, and in particular with the Northern Union version. The game was reduced from 15 to 13-a-side in summer 1906 and the play-the-ball was introduced after a tackle. Under the new rules things suddenly started to go downhill at Park Avenue. By late December, the club had slid to 24th place out of 27 and had lost £500 on the season. Gates were several thousand lower than those being enjoyed by Bradford City FC.  In desperation, the Bradford club applied for readmission to the Rugby Union which was granted in March 1907.

A meeting of Bradford's life and guinea members was held in the bowling green pavilion on 15th April 1907 to consider whether to continue in the Northern Union (i.e. RL), go back to amateur Rugby Union, or adopt association as recommended by the committee. In the first vote, the meeting voted for "rugby of any kind" and in a second vote, opted for rugby union.

This decision took the committee, and the club's main benefactor and debt  guarantor Harry Briggs who had not been present, rather by surprise. Indeed plans had already been commissioned for the conversion and upgrade of the ground to make it ready for association.  Convinced that neither code of rugby would pay, Harry Briggs and the club's solicitor had the meeting deemed "ultra vires" as the resolution had not been formally seconded. Only 300 had attended the meeting, which only lasted an hour, and its outcome was set aside within a week.  Indeed it was suggested that the meeting was simply to consider policy and not to decide it.   On the 6th May, the Finance & Property Committee formally decided to introduce soccer at Park Avenue the following season.

Having decided that a change to association offered the best prospects, Bradford opened talks with Manningham to explore the possibility of City relocating to Park Avenue. Valley Parade was an inferior ground and they were hindered by a limited lease.  Realizing the writing was on the wall, Northern Union (Rugby League) aficionados started to speak of a "Great Betrayal" and went off to form the new Bradford Northern club at Greenfield and then Birch Lane. But Northern was unsuccessful in its early years with attendances typically lower than those of Bradford's Rugby union club at Lidget Green.

After years of bitter rivalry between Bradford and Manningham in both codes of rugby, the amalgamation proposals went down like a lead balloon with both sets of fans. The proposal was formally rejected by City members on 27th May 1907.

Keeping its options open, Bradford had also applied for membership of the Football League in its own right as early as February, feeling that its status and facilities would be sufficient to secure admission. Unfortunately movements were afoot to prevent two clubs from the same town becoming members. Bradford received just 11 votes, losing out to Southern League champions Fulham (28) and also Lincoln City (28) and Chesterfield (23) who were re-elected.  Oldham Athletic (17) also outpolled Bradford and were elected two weeks later when Burslem Port Vale resigned.

Bradford were thus victims of Football League politics which had so benefitted Manningham four years earlier.  However the club had a plan B.  A political struggle was in progress between the strong Southern League and the Football League as the former fought for national recognition with a view to eventual merger.  Bradford and Oldham were thus coveted for membership to replace departing champions Fulham.  Bradford won this contest by offering upfront travelling subsidies of £20 to £30 to visiting clubs, guaranteed for three years.

Bradford added "(Park Avenue)" in brackets to its name while retaining the "Bradford FC" identity, which it had re-registered with the FA in 1905.  In December 1907, Bradford City tried unsuccessfully to prevent Park Avenue from using the Bradford name.

Major improvements were made to Park Avenue under the guidance of the eminent sports ground architect Archibald Leitch.  The letters "BFC" were proudly displayed in gold alongside the Bradford civic shield on the gables of his fine double-decker two-sided slate-roofed stand.  This conveyed the message that Bradford still considered itself the town club. The club would be rewarded two years later when it was selected to host the full England vs Ireland international on 13th February 1909 in the British Home Championship, 12 years before Irish partition.  England won 4-0.

Bradford only finished a moderate 13th in the Southern League. Nevertheless the club resigned in April 1908 and re-applied for admission to the Football League.  Bradford City's promotion to Division One had increased Avenue's chances as the two clubs would no longer be in the same division.  Bradford went to great lengths to lobby other Football League clubs while Bradford City were quietly lobbying against the election of their rivals.  Grimsby Town (32 votes) and Chesterfield (23) were re-elected and Bradford (20) just snuck in taking the place of Lincoln City (18).  The big surprise was that Avenue outpolled Tottenham Hotspur (14), who had been the last ever non-league FA Cup winners in 1901.

Bradford City briefly enjoyed their higher status, winning the FA Cup in 1911, but parity was restored when Avenue were promoted to the First Division in 1914, finishing above their rivals in their first season up.  As the Bradford committee man the Revd James Leighton had said at the Football League AGM

"We laid the egg which has been hatched by other bodies and has brought forth a cockerel that has done a great deal of crowing" 

Ninth in the First Division, Bradford were now in their rightful place.

(This article is based almost entirely on the information in the books "Life at the Top" by John Dewhirst and  "Late to the Game" by Rob Grillo)