Long distance football

From the matchday programme, Bradford City v Plymouth Argyle FAC R2 2nd December, 2017:

This is the first time that Bradford City and Plymouth Argyle have met in the FA Cup. Games between our sides have been relatively few in number but on this occasion, there is a certain familiarity about the encounter given the League fixture only three weeks ago. Credit is due to those visiting supporters who have repeated the 660 mile round trek to Bradford today.

Long distance travel is part and parcel of being a Plymouth supporter although it probably helps that the products of the club’s local sponsor are sold in most motorway service stations. The furthest that Bradford City have ever had to travel for an FA Cup game was in December, 1947 when we were drawn away at Bournemouth & Boscombe in the second round (a 0-1 defeat). By road, Bournemouth is 275 miles distant but seventy years ago the journey was made by train and it appears to have been a particularly enjoyable occasion notwithstanding the result. In fact, there is surviving film of the trip which shows the Bradford City players accompanied by the directors and a small number of supporters.

The film was commissioned by former chairman, Bob Sharp whose fund-raising efforts (and personal contribution) during the war years kept the club solvent. Twenty years ago, the footage was shown at Pictureville in Bradford but can nowadays be accessed via the Yorkshire Film Archive website.

Older supporters have their own stories about trips to Plymouth and one in particular stands out. In February, 1978 we were due to play Argyle in a third division fixture. City were rooted at the bottom of the table and the game with Plymouth who were a few places above us was something of a four pointer (there being two points for a win). Despite poor away form the game was eagerly anticipated because the City team had been strengthened by a couple of record signings, Mick Wood and David McNiven whose transfers from Blackburn (£15,000) and Leeds (£25,000) respectively had been funded by the club’s lottery proceeds.

Sadly the game was abandoned – the consequence of a major snow storm – with City leading 1-0. The fun began shortly after when the City Travel Club bus got stranded in the snow. Ian Hemmens was one of the fans there that day and recalls that ‘we were accommodated in the Royal Marines barracks at Devonport until the Wednesday following. Before mobile phones we made the headlines on BBC Look North to confirm our safety… all in all, an eventful few days!’ The rearranged game took place at the beginning of May, 1978 by which time we were already relegated and the 0-6 defeat is best forgotten.

I first travelled to Plymouth in February, 1983 and having made my way to the town from London arrived much sooner than the other City supporters travelling with the CTC’73 coach. I bought a programme in the Home Park shop and was greeted by the Argyle club secretary who gave me a tour of the ground. I will never forget the friendliness of the people and confess that I have always had a soft spot for Plymouth – as well as a liking for Ginster cornish pasties.

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.

If you are interested in Bradford sport history visit VINCIT: http://www.bradfordsporthistory.wordpress.com

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