Room at the Top & Life at the Top

Thanks for your interest in the two latest volumes in the BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED series, both of which have been written by John Dewhirst who authored A HISTORY OF BRADFORD CITY AFC IN OBJECTS which had great reviews when published in 2014:

Hunter Davies: ‘Lucky old Bradford City – this is the best illustrated history of any club I have ever read. I am so envious of all John’s football treasures and memorabilia, which will  appeal to and interest and amuse and fascinate all real football fans, not just those of Bradford City’

The two new books look back at the genesis of sport and professional football in Bradford:

ROOM AT THE TOP: The origins of professional football in Bradford and the rivalry of Bradford FC and Manningham FC.

LIFE AT THE TOP: The rivalry of Manningham FC and Bradford FC and their conversion from rugby to soccer

Much has been written about the industrial transformation of Bradford of the nineteenth century but the history of organised sport in the town has been virtually overlooked and in particular, the commercialisation of football. From today’s vantage it seems difficult to believe that in the second half of the nineteenth century Bradford became known as a centre of sporting excellence. Indeed, Bradford was at the leading edge of how sport came to be transformed by money.

The origins of Bradford FC can be traced back to 1863 but 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the club being established on a formal basis and games started to be organised with other sides in the 1866/67 season. Bradford FC can thus be credited as one of the first (rugby) football clubs in the country.

Bradford Cricket Club had been established in 1836, launched as a political instrument to encourage support for the Conservatives. However it was not until the 1860s that participation in other sports activities became more widespread. During that decade various new pursuits were taken up by people in the town, from gymnastics and athletics to cycling and rowing. Indeed, Bradford Rowing Club at Saltaire marks its own 150th anniversary in 2017. Many of the people involved in football participated more widely in other activities as a new cult of athleticism became embedded in Bradford. By the 1880s, following the reduction in working hours, that culture was entrenched.

The military heritage of Bradford has been all but forgotten yet it was an important factor in sporting activities becoming established in the town. Gymnastics and assault at arms had been encouraged to remedy perceived military weaknesses in the Crimean War and became popular as both a form of exercise as well as entertainment. Bradford men were also enthusiastic recruits to the volunteer movement, renewing a tradition from the Napoleonic era of a citizen militia and the claret & amber and red, gold & black colours of the town’s principal football clubs bear witness to those military connections.

ROOM AT THE TOP explores the early influences on Bradford sport and examines the role played by urban development and railway expansion on where football came to be played. Even the aborted cross town rail schemes had an impact, indirectly leading to Valley Parade becoming adopted as a venue for football in 1886. Detail is provided of all the leading clubs in Bradford – from Wibsey to Bingley, Shipley to Wyke, the different Manningham sides as well as Heaton – and there is detail of where they played.

The history of Park Avenue – opened in 1880 – is also told. The ground should be seen in the context of the municipal parks that were developed in Bradford. Park Avenue fulfilled an earlier call for a ‘Peoples Park’ to provide for the recreation and entertainment of Bradfordians. It offered a permanent home for cricket and football in the town, protected from property speculation and housing construction.

ROOM AT THE TOP tells of how Bradford FC became the richest sports club in England by 1890 and of the rivalry that arose with Manningham FC. The relationship between the two clubs became akin to a blood feud that continued into the twentieth century. LIFE AT THE TOP continues the story from the formation of the Northern Union through to abandoning rugby at Valley Parade and Park Avenue. Between them they debunk the myths that have been claimed about that relationship, in particular the simplistic and erroneous suggestion that it was dictated by social class.

LIFE AT THE TOP provides a fresh interpretation of the formation of the Northern Union, at odds with the official version of Rugby League history. The two Bradford clubs were founder members in 1895 and other clubs in the Bradford district were also at the forefront of events in that year.

Bradford FC at Park Avenue and Manningham FC at Valley Parade became business, as well as sporting, rivals. Both clubs were founder members of the Northern Union in 1895 and joined the Football League in the first decade of the twentieth century. The intense competition between the two proved mutually damaging and it became apparent that there was not room for both in Bradford. However in 1907 emotion overruled economic logic and the opportunity of merger was rejected by the Bradford City membership who inherited the prejudices of their Manningham forebears.

By any standard, the nineteenth century history of the Bradford rivals was eventful and sport had a unique role in helping to define a Bradford identity. Indeed, Bradford people became known for applying the same ‘pluck’ to sport as they did to industry. Through their coverage ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP provides an alternative narrative of Victorian Bradford, its urban geography and its recreation. Whilst this is first and foremost a sports history, they tell the story of how a football entertainment industry was pioneered in the town and how sport both unified and divided its people. The fate of the local Bradford clubs is also told, of the emergence of sides in the mid 1880s through to their demise by the end of the nineteenth century.

The two books are both 320 pages in size of which 32 each full colour illustrations. Originally it had been intended to produce a single publication but the sheer size of the project has not made this possible and hence the production of two complementary volumes. They will both be produced in a similar format as the acclaimed A HISTORY OF BRADFORD CITY AFC IN OBJECTS by the same author, John Dewhirst (a book described by Hunter Davies as ‘the best illustrated history of any football club he had ever read’). ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP will appeal to rugby and soccer fans but hopefully also to those with an interest in the social history of Victorian Bradford.

Further information can be requested from the author at johnpdewhirst at gmail dot com

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