Older than the Bantams: Celebrating 112 years of black footballers in Bradford

Saturday 22 October 2011, 1.15pm. Admission free. Bantamspast museum, Valley Parade

Over a century of black footballers will be celebrated at Valley Parade on Saturday as the bantamspast museum plays host to a Black History Month event which will reveal the long history of black football in Bradford.

In 1899 a team of black players from South Africa played a Bradford & District team at Park Avenue four years before the Bantams were formed.

Two years later, in 1901, the spectacular show Savage South Africa was staged at Valley Parade in a three week run that played to over twenty thousand people. The show, complete with 500 hundred actors and 120 horses, also featured, what the Bradford Daily Argus termed ‘real African darkies’. Today the show is often criticised as being a human zoo, but for a working class family, perhaps living in a cramped terrace house, in days long before radio and television, the show must have been simply fabulous entertainment.

In 1905, only four years after the staging of Savage South Africa, Bradford City signed their first black player, the mixed race winger Billy Clarke, from Aston Villa. He had already become the first ever black player to score a goal in the first division of English football whilst with Villa. At Valley Parade he would win a second division championship medal in and score Bradford City’s first ever goal in top flight football in 1908. A hugely popular player with the Valley Parade crowds, it is interesting that, during his near 100 games for the Bantams, the newspapers barely mention his race. It seems that he was accepted almost without comment into the Bradford City family.

In the 1970s Bradford City welcomed the pioneering modern day black players Ces Podd and Joe Cooke to Valley Parade. The two men became immensely popular with the supporters and Ces is still the club’s record appearance holder, playing 565 games for the club between 1970 and 1984. Arguably, the presence of both men in Bradford City’s team, during an era that defined race relations in Britain, helped shape the culture of the club. Being a racist and a Bradford City supporter was simply incompatible. Today, the club still enjoys a reputation for openness and tolerance. Ces and Joe’s role in establishing that culture will be one aspect of Bradford City’s celebration of Black History Month.

The bantamspast museum curator, David Pendleton, will give a presentation about the visit of the black South African team to Bradford in 1899; the arrival of the show Savage South Africa at Valley Parade in 1901; and Bradford City’s first black player, Billy Clarke, who joined the club in 1905.

Professor Matt Taylor, of De Montfort University, Leicester, will speak about the pioneering black footballers of the 1970s, including Bradford City’s own Ces Podd and Joe Cooke.

The director of the International Centre for Sports History and Culture, De Montfort University, Leicester, Professor Tony Collins, will talk of the contribution of black sportsmen and women to the culture of the north of England.

We hope that our guests of honour will include, Joe Cooke and Des Hamilton, scorer of Bradford City’s opening goal during the Wembley 1996 play-off final when the Bantams secured promotion to the Championship.

The bantamspast museum event is part of Bradford City’s One Game, One Community day, which is dedicated to the Kick Racism out of Football initiative. It takes place when the Bantams play Northampton Town on 22 October.

The friends of Bradford City welcome back that rarest of thing

Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall will return to Valley Parade on Thursday 22nd September at 20:00 as the Friends of Bradford City host a forum with the former players and coaches of the club.

Both Wetherall and Jacobs put in sterling service for Bradford City with the pair of them clocking up around thirty years combined service. For Jacobs the service was on the way up the leagues starting as a free transfer from Rotherham United recovering from a season long injury and going on to be a Premier League player. For Wetherall – who scored the famous headed goal which kept City in the top flight – the only way was down and as City slipped down the leagues the former captain’s contribution was to slow that decline.

Jacobs put in 318 games for City, Wetherall 304 which dwarfs anyone in the current set up and leads one to wonder who – in ten years time – will be being invited back for functions such as this? Who are are heroes of the future when the current player with most appearances for the club – Luke O’Brien – is persona non grata at Valley Parade. Injury to Robbie Threlfall (21 apps) may see O’Brien add to his 122 appearances for City this weekend.

O’Brien and Lee Bullock (120 apps) are the only players at the club in triple figures – a long way behind Ces Podd‘s 502 – but neither seem to be set to add many to that list. Bullock was unwanted by Mark Lawn but kept by Peter Jackson while O’Brien is frozen out of the first team for reasons unknown, or at least unsaid.

Not that O’Brien has ever enjoyed great popularity at Valley Parade. As a player he is better regarded on the bench than he is on the pitch. On the bench he is the world beating Roberto Carlos ready to turn things around but, when on the field, one might wonder if one were hearing the same crowd describe the player where his efforts are met with grumbles and only quiet support.

Often the same can be said for third on the list James Hanson (79 appearances, 21 goals) who proves that he can score when given service but is subject to a level of criticism which would suggest he had picked selected members of the support and punched their dogs.

Hanson’s return is under a goal every 3.76 games – around the same strike rate as Robbie Blake (153, 40) – which puts him above a good few well respected Bantams of the past. Joe Cooke (3.99) played 271 time and scored 68 although he played central defence at times. Ask men of a certain age about Don Hutchins and they go weak at the knee and his return of a goal every 5.5 games (286 appearances, 52 goals) was a good return and secondary to his overall contribution. The lauded Paul Jewell (269 appearances, 56 goals) banged in one every 4.8 games although most of them were before Christmas.

To paraphrase the problem is not in the stars but with ourselves. A mentality has grasped most of football – having taken hold a good many years ago – which suggests that supporters are blissfully happy to be unaware of what they have until it is gone. Sean McCarthy banged in a goal every two games for City – more or less – but was nicknamed “Scud” as a reference to his perceived inaccuracy.

McCarthy won the hearts of City fans when he exited Valley Parade for Oldham on deadline day and turned up wearing a ludicrously high squad number on Match of the Day a few days later playing at Old Trafford. Players who leave the club are well regarded. Wetherall and Jacobs’ defensive team mate Andrew O’Brien was – according to one voice in earshot – “On his way to Halifax Town, if they will have him” following City’s promotion. Two years later and he was “being sold too cheap.”

An exit infers a kind of status on a player, a respect because someone else has recognised the ability, and without that status our own players are generally disregarded. No player racks up hundreds of appearances because they either are snapped up by someone higher or they are slapped down and leave of their own volition.

A Catch 22 situation then. If a player never leave it is – in the eyes of some – because he is not good enough for anyone including City so should not be suffered to be in the side. It is no coincidence that the greats of Bradford City history: Stuart McCall, Bobby Campbell, Peter Beagrie; left the club before coming back.

Not Jacobs or Wetherall though. Both stayed with the club as players and became part of the coaching set up at later Valley Parade. Wetherall left for a development job with the Football League while Jacobs was unceremoniously launched from the club after Peter Taylor’s sacking. There was a verbalised question mark over Jacobs coaching ability and the former number two probably has too much class to point at the current state at the club – the so called “worst team in Bradford City history” – and ask how his departure improved things at Valley Parade.

One wonders if Wetherall and Jacobs are a rare thing. Only fourteen players who topped three hundred games for City and to add to that list Luke O’Brien would have to play pretty much every game for the next four season for a club where he is the only player who has been here for more than four seasons.

Rare things, and worth see. The forum is free to Friends of Bradford City members or a single shiny pound for non-members.

Celebrating 106 Years of Black Footballers at Valley Parade

In the popular imagination pioneering black footballers are epitomised by Cyril Regis and Viv Anderson, at Valley Parade thoughts turn to those icons of the 1970s Ces Podd and Joe Cooke. However, they were far from being Bradford City’s first black players, over sixty years earlier the Bantams signed the mixed race winger Billy Clarke from Aston Villa.

In 1901 Billy Clarke had already become the first ever black player to score a goal in the first division whilst at Villa. After moving to Valley Parade in 1905 he helped Bradford City win the second division championship and in September 1908 he scored Bradford City’s first ever goal in the top flight of English football.

At Valley Parade on 22 October 2011 this forgotten piece of the Bantams’ history will be celebrated, along with the contribution black footballers have made to the history of Bradford City in the ensuing 106 years.

Our visitors on 22 October, Northampton Town, had another pioneering black footballer Walter Tull in their team prior to the Great War. He signed from Tottenham Hotspur in 1911 and when war broke out he was the first Northampton player to enlist. Tull eventually became the first ever black combat officer in the British Army. Sadly, he was killed during the conflict. The home match against Northampton is the perfect occasion to celebrate 106 years of black footballers at Valley Parade.

Several events are being lined up for the day, but at the moment we can confirm the attendance of Joe Cooke. Join the big man himself in the bantamspast museum from 1.30pm where you will hear of the exploits of Billy Clarke and the experiences of the more recent black footballers at Valley Parade.

We have invited the great Ces Podd and are endeavouring to contact Bradford City’s Wembley hero Des Hamilton. Which other former black Bradford City players would BfB readers like to see at Valley Parade on 22 October? Here’s your chance to suggest the players we should invite and why? Jamie Lawrence? Darren Moore? Stan Collymore?

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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