The military connection

The following was published in the Bradford City AFC matchday programme on 11th November, 2017 (Plymouth Argyle):

When I undertook my research on the origins of football in Bradford, it became apparent that the historic links between sport and the military in Bradford had long since been forgotten. This is ironic given the constant reminder provided by the traditional club colours of City and Avenue / Northern having been derived from military connections. My belief is that after the carnage of the Great War the military heritage tended to be overlooked, not necessarily for ideological reasons but because it was probably seen as outdated, if not irrelevant as people looked to the future. Nonetheless it is unforgivable that the military links have been forgotten and surprisingly overlooked by aspiring academics.

The early history of Manningham FC – established in 1880 and the predecessor of Bradford City AFC in 1903 – had strong links with the citizen soldiers of Bradford. The generation of men involved with establishing ‘football’ clubs in Bradford during the second half of the 1870’s was typically connected with the Volunteer – or territorial – army units in the town and ‘athleticism’ in the widest sense was considered to be a form of military training by virtue of its health benefits.

The Volunteers had been established in 1859 to provide a home defence force to protect the UK from invasion and in Bradford the principal units were the 3rd Yorkshire (West Riding) Rifle Volunteer Corps and the 2nd Yorkshire (West Riding) Artillery Volunteers Corps.

One reason for the popularity of the Volunteers was that they provided recreational opportunities and in particular access to new sporting activities such as gymnastics and ‘football’ (which in Bradford meant rugby). There was even a dedicated side, Bradford Rifles FC established in 1875 which comprised of a high proportion of Bradford Caledonian FC players (one of the oldest clubs, established in 1873 and also the biggest), a number of whom became associated with Manningham FC in leadership roles.

This connection encouraged a natural sympathy towards the military but so too did the proximity of Valley Parade to Belle Vue barracks where the 3rd YWRRVC was based. The facilities were used on various occasions (in addition to the former artillery barracks on Valley Parade) for meetings as well as changing and training facilities by Manningham FC and the infant Bradford City club.

The dominant political culture at Valley Parade and Park Avenue prior to World War One was unquestionably Conservatism and it was second nature for the two clubs and their membership to espouse patriotism. A good example of this was the decision to adopt claret and amber in 1884. These were the regimental colours of the West Yorkshire Regiment which had been established in 1881 from the 14th Regiment of Foot as part of a reorganisation of the military to assign a fixed recruiting area. Accordingly the regiment had a close connection with Bradford and the local Volunteer units. The occasion of Manningham FC adopting claret and amber  came at a time of patriotic fervour associated with the Sudan crisis and the excitement that Bradford men might actually go to war. Arguably it was the same enthusiasm thirty years later with spectators at Valley Parade being actively encouraged to enlist to fight on the western front.

The traditional sporting colours of Bradford were red, amber and black whose origin can be traced to the original Bradford Volunteers of the Napoleonic era.

Further detail of Bradford’s military history and the circumstances surrounding the adoption of claret and amber is told my book ROOM AT THE TOP, available from 

This feature published on VINCIT tells the story of the Bradford Rifles

John Dewhirst

Bury FC has a similar military link to claret and amber (link to Bury blog)

  • 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.
  • If you are interested in Bradford sport history visit VINCIT:

A sporting jacket in the regimental colours of the West Yorkshire Regiment from c1900 on display at York Army Museum.

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