When the Corinthians came to Bradford

My feature in the BCAFC match day programme from 30th December, 2017 (Oxford United, League One)

One of the most prestigious fixtures in the history of Bradford soccer took place on this day in 1897 when the Corinthians visited Park Avenue to play Bradford AFC in an exhibition friendly game.

By this stage English football was dominated by northern professional clubs and the Football League was already in its ninth season. Nevertheless the Corinthians club was still considered one of the leading sides and although it never competed in the FA Cup on grounds on principle, could boast a number of celebrated victories over professional sides. Its players were regularly selected for England and during the 1880s the majority of England players were Corinthians. Even in 1897 the team that played Bradford AFC included three internationals.

Formed in 1882 the Corinthians had a strong amateur ethos with talk of the ‘Corinthian spirit’. Although based in London the club organised tours much in the same way as the Barbarians rugby club who had been frequent visitors to Park Avenue prior to the secession of Bradford FC from the Rugby Union in 1895.

Bradford AFC was the soccer section of the Bradford Cricket, Athletic & Football Club whose principal sport remained that of rugby as members of the Northern Union (forerunner to the Rugby League). The section had been established in 1895 when the parent club looked to soccer as a possible contingency option in the midst of the uncertainty surrounding the split in English rugby.

During 1897/98 Bradford AFC finished second to bottom of the ten strong inaugural Yorkshire League and was defeated in the first qualifying round of the FA Cup. Its league rivals included local West Yorkshire sides from Hunslet, Halifax, Huddersfield and Leeds (the last three also sponsored by the respective rugby clubs) as well as the reserve teams of five South Yorkshire clubs: Sheffield United, The Wednesday, Doncaster Rovers, Mexborough and Barnsley St Peters. The West Yorkshire clubs were very much the weaker and the standard of the Bradford team was poor as judged by its league position that season. Average crowds were unlikely to have exceeded one thousand

The match with the Corinthians was considered a means of promoting soccer in the district as well as providing competitive experience for the Bradford players. However, neither the 1-6 result nor the attendance of only five hundred was particularly encouraging. With regards the gate, it probably didn’t help that the game was staged on a Thursday afternoon but it was symptomatic of the lukewarm attitude towards soccer at Park Avenue that the fixture was not afforded a prime date in the calendar. Enthusiasm within the BCA&FC for the rival football code was on the wane and in 1899 funding support for the loss-making soccer section was finally abandoned which led to the dissolution of Bradford AFC.

The visit to Bradford of the Corinthians in December, 1897 was not the only one made by the club. During the 1903/04 season attempts were made by the committee of the newly formed Bradford City to secure a fixture at Valley Parade. Whilst this proved impossible, the Corinthians came to Manningham in February, 1932 and a crowd of 4,662 witnessed a 1-0 home victory. It was however the last occasion and in 1939 the Corinthians disappeared, merging with the Casuals to become the Corinthian-Casuals club.

  • Read more about the early history of Bradford soccer in my books ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP.
    • Thanks for visiting my blog. Apart from publishing my BCAFC programme articles I also upload occasional articles of historical interest and next month will be publishing a feature on the various schemes that have been proposed for a cross-Bradford rail link – a topical theme given the possibility that such a scheme could be revived as part of the northern high-speed rail project.
    • 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. You won’t get fancy art school graphics but you will find substance and historical accuracy in the content. Of course if you prefer an abundance of pictures accompanied by text written for a Year 5 schoolchild you’ll find them ball-achingly boring. Tweets @jpdewhirst

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

PS Happy new year!

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