My feature published in the Bradford City matchday programme vs Portsmouth, League One on 17th April, 2018
Nowadays we take it for granted that there is singing at football matches and whilst it tends to be associated with Liverpool in the 1960s, communal singing has in fact been a phenomenon at Valley Parade since the earliest years of Bradford City.
The practice was influenced in part by music halls where entertainers would invoke sporting rivalry as a means of engaging with audiences. In January, 1896 for example there is an account of a ‘Widow Twankey’ appearing in a pantomime in the claret and amber colours of Manningham FC (the rugby predecessor of Bradford City AFC). It was reported that it produced an effect similar to that produced by exhibiting a red rag to an infuriated bull. The audience, which evidently comprised a majority of Bradford FC supporters, only stopped booing when the performer re-appeared in red, amber and black.
On Boxing Day, 1903 the Bradford Daily Argus reported that ‘Bradford City is duly mentioned in the Theatre Royal panto. One of the comedians sings a jingle verse about the new club, and winds up with ‘McMillan and Graham, and all the boys will soon be at the top of the sheet.’ There is a chorus about City going in for the English Cup.’ In this way community singing was linked to football and it is quite possible that the same verse came to be sung at Valley Parade.
Earlier still, singing was actively encouraged. Writing in the Bradford Daily Telegraph in September, 1903, ‘Sportsman’ – a confessed rugbyite – remarked on a man with a cornet who led the ‘Pontoon Chorus’ at Blundell Park which was the Grimsby Town anthem. He declared ‘We should like to see such enthusiasm in connection with football in Bradford.’ The Grimsby supporters impressed the Bradfordians with their singing and in April, 1904 the Yorkshire Sports reported that the Valley Parade regulars were amused by the ‘Hello’ chorus sung by the Grimsby ‘Pontoon Choir’ during the return game. It explained that the origin of this had been the visit in 1901/02 for an FA Cup tie reply of Portsmouth supporters who sang the Cambridge chimes using the words ‘Hello, Hello’. The chorus was adopted in Cleethorpes and at the Boulevard (rugby) ground in Hull. The ‘Hello, Hello’ chorus was subsequently embraced at Valley Parade and became such a favourite that in 1946 it was even recorded on a 78rpm vinyl. It is a vivid illustration of how football singing was – and continues to be – spread by example and I recall that the same ‘Pompey Chimes’ inspired a City version shortly after we renewed fixtures with Portsmouth FC in 1977/78.
In April, 1905 2,000 City fans travelled to Blundell Park and the Bradford Daily Telegraph reported that ‘…a monotonous chant was kept up and when at last City did score the excitement found full vent. Bradfordians howled with delight. Trumpets, rattles and every other imaginable instrument of torture swelled in a Spanish fandango, and a crowd of spectators danced with glee upon the field.’
By 1905 there were numerous references to a musical hall song from the previous year having been adopted by supporters of a number of clubs. ‘Are we downhearted?’ was a song of cheery stoicism and became another Valley Parade anthem.
As I mention in my book, Life at the Top, comments in the press allude to the fact that the atmosphere at Valley Parade after the introduction of soccer was more vibrant and enthusiastic than that for rugby at Park Avenue. This was explained in part by the profile of supporters with crowds at Bradford City games comprising more younger people as well as more women. By contrast to Park Avenue there seems to have been much greater passion on display at Valley Parade. The introduction of soccer proved particularly popular in Bradford and one gets the impression that games were anticipated as novel, exciting events.
A feature in the Yorkshire Evening Post of 11 March, 1905 provides further observations about crowd behaviour which might suggest that those attending games at Valley Parade were particularly receptive to making noise. The paper reported the feedback of a Liverpool FC director to the effect that a crowd of the same size at Valley Parade was far more excitable and noisy than at Anfield. Journalist Alfred Pullin referred to similar comments from a Newcastle visitor. He suggested that ‘a huge crowd in an established Socker centre vents its enthusiasm by a lapping of the hands, while at Bradford nothing but a prolonged roar will anser the purpose. Possibly this method of showing enthusiasm is a legacy left by the Rugby game; what is more probable, however, is that it is a characteristic of the Yorkshireman’s temperament.’
By 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 – readers may be surprised at the extent to which they contradict many of the myths and superficial narratives that have circulated previously. Tweets @jpdewhirst
Links to other articles written by myself on the history of football and the origins of sport in Bradford HERE
On Saturday 19 May, 2018 I am giving a talk in the Bradford Local Studies Library on the origins of spectator sport in nineteenth century Bradford and the development of the city’s sporting culture and identity. This will cover principally cricket, rugby and football and include a Q&A session.