The attraction of the FA Cup

My feature in the match day programme, Bradford City vs Chesterfield FA Cup Round One, 4th November, 2017

Attendances for games in the early rounds of the FA Cup are nowadays a fraction of league gates, a phenomenon that is not unique to Bradford City. And yet, prior to the 1980s at least, the FA Cup was always certain of attracting decent crowds to Valley Parade even for first round contests. In fact, the FA Cup was invariably a highlight of the season and the draws eagerly awaited. From a financial perspective, success or otherwise in the FA Cup could dictate profit or loss over a season.

Cup campaigns feature prominently in the history of Bradford City AFC, most notably triumph in the FA Cup Final of 1911 and celebrated giant-killings including that of Chelsea in 2015. In this context it is disappointing that our game with Chesterfield will be attended by so few, particularly given bumper average league attendances.

The predecessor club at Valley Parade, Manningham FC also had a strong cup-fighting tradition and its original rise to prominence was derived from performances in the Yorkshire Challenge Cup (rugby union competition) during the 1880s. The most celebrated cup achievement of Manningham FC was when the club reached the final in 1885 only to be defeated by Batley.

Manningham FC were defeated by Bradford FC at Park Avenue in the Yorkshire Cup in March, 1884 and again two years later. When the clubs were drawn together in March, 1887 it had all the makings of an ultimate grudge confrontation. The night before that game was due to take place there was a heavy snowfall in West Yorkshire and the match at Park Avenue was called off. However it subsequently transpired that Bradford FC officials had made no effort to clear the pitch and despite the weather, other games had taken place elsewhere in the county. It was alleged that the Bradford club had deliberately sought to get the tie re-arranged knowing that the Manningham FC players would be unable to play mid-week. Bradford FC was censured by the Yorkshire RU and the controversy ended in the high court with the club withdrawing from the Yorkshire Cup competition for the next two seasons in protest.

The event became enshrined in Bradford sporting legend and helped define the subsequent rivalry of the successor soccer clubs. The historic allure of the FA Cup in Bradford was enhanced by the prospect that City might be drawn against its Park Avenue rivals. Indeed, I confess that I held out hope that there could have been a meeting between Bradford City and the reformed side at either Valley Parade or Horsfall in the first round.

City and Avenue met in the FA Cup on three occasions (all at Park Avenue) with City being victorious twice. In March, 1920 both City and Avenue were defeated in the quarter-finals, the nearest that the city ever came to its sides meeting in the final stages of the competition.

Chesterfield FC have previously been drawn against Bradford City in the FA Cup three times and only once have City been winners. In November, 1903 they were in fact the first club to defeat Bradford City in the competition, winning 2-1 at Saltergate in the fourth qualifying round.

In January, 1938 second division Chesterfield defeated City in a second replay of the third round tie. It was a result that caused considerable disappointment in Bradford because having been relegated to Division Three (North) in 1937, the City club had hoped that the FA Cup could provide an opportunity for glory and financial relief. Non-League Walker Celtic had caused a shock by drawing at Valley Parade in the first round but the 11-3 victory in the replay set a club record in the competition. Victory at Wrexham in the second round then led to the tie with Chesterfield. The first game at Valley Parade attracted a crowd of thirteen thousand but the second replay at Bramall Lane was watched by 21,061.

The last time Chesterfield played Bradford City in the FA Cup was in November, 1975 when the visitors were defeated 1-0 at Valley Parade in the first round. The attendance on that occasion was 4,352 and it is sobering to note that there were only two league games that season which attracted a higher crowd. The defeat of third division Chesterfield by Bradford City (who were then members of Division Four) proved the start of a memorable cup run and the club progressed to the quarter finals and eventual defeat by Cup winners Southampton. Few of us expected that feat to ever be repeated and yet in 2014/15 City once again reached the last eight of the competition, reason enough as far as I am concerned that the FA Cup does not deserve to be overlooked.



John Dewhirst

  • Thanks for visiting my blog. Scroll down for details about my books in the BANTAMSPAST History Revisited series which tell the history of sport in Bradford – and in particular football. The books seek to explain why things happened as they did instead of simply recording what occurred and readers may be surprised at the extent to which they contradict many of the myths and superficial narratives that have circulated previously.
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