Bruce Stowell, an amateur turned professional

Two years ago Stuart McCall was debating whether Bradford City could offer James Hanson enough of a weekly wage to improve on his combined income from Guiseley and the Idle Co-op. Fifty years earlier Bradford City were saved from an identical dilemma when Bruce Stowell, who had initially signed as an amateur, turned professional. But Stowell was from another era.

When I was a lad, there were two certainties at Valley Parade – three, if you count the occasionally threatened prospect of Fourth Division football. One was that City would play in amber shirts with claret pinstripes, the sort you could see from the Kop, not the 2011 version. The other was that Bruce Stowell would always be in the team, usually wearing a number 4 shirt. Neither was quite as certain as a young fan might have liked, but Stowell saw me through my youth and left only when I was 21.

Bradford born and leaving school at 15, Stowell followed so many of his generation into the mills. He was still working there when he signed professional terms at the end of 1958 and he stayed in the mill until 1967. For the best part of a decade one of City’s most consistent performers played part-time and did a proper job the rest of the week. And, to borrow the old cliché, I bet he did come to games on the bus.

When Stowell won a regular first team place, he was a wing half. Only when Alf Ramsey’s wingless wonders won the World Cup did Stowell become a midfield player. He was maybe more of a defensive minded player than another number 4 who followed him, via the same brief and mistaken route as a Leeds United schoolboy. But Bruce had played for Bradford Boys and would become, to all intents and purposes, a one club man.

As soon as he became a full time professional, he was the obvious choice to captain the team. In his first two seasons as a full time player he hardly missed a game. At the end of the second season, 1968-9, City secured their first promotion for exactly forty years. The captain, still with the same hair cut that he had sported as a mill hand, led the way. However deep the Valley Parade mud became, Stowell covered every inch of the pitch game after game after game. He tackled, he passed and he cajoled the younger players in a team where the Bradford accent predominated. Ian Cooper, Bruce Bannister and Bobby Ham were all regulars in that promoted side and maybe we could forgive John Hall for being born just over the boundary in Bramley.

The record books will tell you that Stowell’s most significant game was played in October 1970. It was his 344th league game for City and it broke the club appearance record. There is a nice mathematical symmetry about that game. The new record holder was wearing his familiar shirt. The number three shirt that day was Ian Cooper’s and in the number two shirt it just had to be Ces Podd. Each in turn would hold that appearance record. Bruce went on to play 437 games in a variety of claret and amber strips, scoring 18 goals.

So much for the record books. But those of us who saw him play on 3rd January 1970 witnessed his finest hour. The match was in the third round of the F.A. Cup and the opponents were Tottenham Hotspur. Jimmy Greaves had whacked the ball against the post after four seconds. Pat Liney never even saw the rebound. The usual Valley Parade mud had iced over. The Southern Softies clearly didn’t fancy it. (OK, so not all of them were southerners. Out of interest, the starting eleven were: Jennings, Kinnear, Knowles, Mullery, England, Beal, Johnson, Greaves, Gilzean, Perryman, Morgan. Not a bad side, I suppose.) But the Bradford lads (with Denis Atkins at right back, five Bradford born players faced Spurs) were proper footballers, who played in all weathers for their team. One of those 18 career goals from Bruce Stowell secured a 2-2 draw against the super stars and cup specialists.

In 1972 he left Valley Parade and played just 16 games for Rotherham before emigrating to Australia. There he continued to play for another three seasons before embarking on a coaching career in Queensland and Malaysia.

Maybe Bruce Stowell really was just one of those players ‘from another era’. But maybe that
‘other era’ is not too distant after all. Bruce played in City teams that struggled to keep their League status. He knew how lucky he was to make a living out of the game. And he gave his all every week. Not quite a fully fledged hero, but Bruce Stowell and what he brought to the teams of my youth deserves to be fondly remembered and, by someone at least, to be imitated.

Never Forget

About a year ago, John Dewhirst, David Pendleton and John Ashton (apologies if I’ve missed other people out) started to hatch a plan to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Bradford City winning the FA Cup. All of their hard work came to fruition on the exact date 100 years after our most famous victory over Newcastle United in an FA Cup final replay at Old Trafford. Over 200 people packed one of the many function rooms at the Midland Hotel to come together as one. John Dewhirst stressed that this was a supporters evening and the organisers were very aware of the difficult financial pressures faced by many of Bradford City’s supporters today and that they had tried to offer tickets at an affordable price of £25 for the evening which included a three course meal. In my opinion, the evening was worth every penny.

The presentation of the room was classy yet professional with claret and amber very prominent colours throughout the room. The Gawthorpe Brass Band played their instruments to great effect to generate an emotional atmosphere on an emotional night. Apart from the many supporters in the room (many of whom could probably remember games from the 70s and even further back), others present included past players such as Ian Cooper and Joe Cooke, former player and manager Terry Dolan, members of our existing Board and even a descendant of Peter Logan who formed part of the 1911 winning team.

In his opening speech, you could hear the pride in John Dewhirst’s voice as he thanked everyone for attending. He did however pass on apologies from Stuart McCall and Greg Abbott who at the last minute couldn’t attend. However, this didn’t takeaway the gloss from a wonderful evening. It was noticeable however that there were none of the existing team present or interim manager Peter Jackson which I thought was disappointing. A friend of mine who attended the dinner had managed to see the Bradford City juniors draw 2-2 on the same afternoon over in Hull. (Apparently we were 2-0 down with 15 minutes to go but we salvaged a draw through some inspired play from up and coming winger Dominic Rowe.) My friend asked David Wetherall if he had inspired our junior team with a half time team talk highlighting the fact the it was 100 years to the day that our club won the FA Cup.

Unfortunately, Wetherall replied “no” and said that he would have liked to have attended the evening if he’d been aware of it. This says to me that our existing team and management were unaware of the the importance of 26 April 1911 and the event taking place at the Midland Hotel. This notion saddened me and highlighted the poor communication that exists between the players and supporters today.

However, not to paint a gloomy picture of a fabulous evening, we tucked into our three course meal with many of us enjoying the fine Glorious1911 Ale brewed by the Saltaire brewery with sales from the ale being donated to the Bradford Burns Unit. During the meal it was great to talk to fellow Bradford City supporters about all things City related. A couple on our table now lived in Kendal but still have season tickets to attend games at Valley Parade and also told tales of their away game experiences. I got the feeling that those of us who were fortunate enough to pay for a ticket all hold Bradford City close to our hearts and wanted to ensure that our FA Cup victory should not be forgotten. History is important. It was great to see die hards like Mike Harrison, Mark Neale and Board members of the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust in attendance.

The meal over and David Pendleton, author of the superb book Glorious 1911 explained some of the tales behind our famous victory like how the replay was played only four days after the final at Crystal Palace so only about 10,000 Bradford City supporters travelled to Manchester for the replay owing to financial constraints placed on supporters (sound familiar?). Also, owing to the fact that there were no floodlights meant that the replay kicked off mid-afternoon. The victorious team, thanks to Jimmy Speirs goal after 15 minutes, arrived back into Bradford in the evening to be greeted by about 100,000 Bradfordians. This represented about a third of the City’s population and it took the team about 45 minutes to cross the city and finally end up at the Midland Hotel. John Ashton replicated speeches that were made on that evening of 100 years ago and you could hear the sportsmanship that existed in the speeches that by and large is no longer in our game.

John Dewhirst then presented a cheque for £5,000 to Professor Sharpe who has been so instrumental in the development of the Bradford Burns Unit. This money had come from the sales of historical memorabilia including scarfs and badges. Ian Cooper then made a toast to suitably round off a wonderful evening.

Following the formalities, this young(-ish) supporter who only witnessed his first Bradford City game at Valley Parade in 1988 approached some of the former players to sign his copy of Glorious 1911. All who I approached were more than happy to sign and came across as genuine people who still have an affinity with Bradford City Football Club. Many posed for photographs and chatted to supporters which was lovely to see. Once again, a personal thank you from me to all those who put so much unpaid time and effort into a memorable night. We must never forget where this football club has come from.

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