The formation of Bradford City

The following is my column published in the Bradford City matchday programme on 30 September, 2017 (v Doncaster):

Doncaster Rovers FC was formed in 1879 and was first elected to the Football League in 1901. What is quite unique for the club is that it has had no less than four distinct periods as members of the Football League: 1901-03; 1904/05; 1923-98; and 2003 to date.

In May 1903 Bradford City AFC gained election to the Football League alongside Stockport and Burnley at the expense of Doncaster. City led the ballot of applicants securing 30 votes, followed by Stockport County 20; Burnley 19; Doncaster Rovers 14; Crewe Alexandra 7; West Hartlepool 7; Southport Central 4; and Willington Athletic 1.

It was an unprecedented outcome that a club which had not even played a game should be allowed to join the League and, needless to say, the Doncaster officials and supporters were aggrieved. The complaint was made that ‘Bradford was a paper club without players’ and that undue influence had been brought to bear on the delegates to procure votes. Indeed, the Football League was anxious to get representation in West Yorkshire and Doncaster Rovers were sacrificed accordingly.

Ironically it was the example of Doncaster Rovers that had enabled Bradford City AFC to be formed in the first place. Faced with losses and the declining popularity of Northern Union rugby, Manningham FC had sought to introduce professional soccer to Valley Parade. The principal obstacle however was the lack of funds to raise a team and it was Doncaster who provided the idea of how best to do so.

Doncaster Rovers had regularly staged an archery contest which to my knowledge dated back to at least 1891. In essence it was a lottery, but was promoted as a contest of skill to avoid running foul of legislation on gambling. It thus exploited a legal loophole and chairman Alfred Ayrton identified it as the obvious solution to the needs of Manningham FC.

The event took place at Valley Parade on New Year’s Day, 1903. There were prizes with a total value of £500, the first prize being £85 of furniture, the second a grand piano and the 150th for 5s. A total of 115,000 tickets were sold in blocks of 30, 40 and 50 at 6d apiece which raised £2,875 and one individual was reported to have bought 120, equivalent to £3. The ticket stubs were attached to a 16 ft revolving target and from a platform, independent archers fired arrows until all 150 prizes were claimed.

A subsequent version of events was that the Chief Constable had plotted a raid to arrest the participants but the mayor of Bradford was invited by Ayrton to shoot the first arrow and in so doing averted police action.

The success of the archery contest gave stimulus to the association project. It meant that Manningham FC could secure its short term survival by paying off its debts and the remaining funds allowed Manningham FC to recruit professional soccer players and stake its claim for membership of the Football League.


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