When Chelsea and Portsmouth came to town…

On 3rd February, 1912 Bradford hosted two Second Round FA Cup ties. Bradford City faced Chelsea at Valley Parade and Portsmouth were the visitors to Bradford Park Avenue.

At the time Bradford City was an established Division One side whilst Bradford was in the division below. Both Bradford clubs could rightly claim to be favourites to progress based on league status: Chelsea was in the second division of the Football League and Portsmouth in the second division of the Southern League. Notwithstanding, City and Avenue faced clubs who would be successful in their respective promotion campaigns that season and both came to Bradford with a confidence derived from a recent record of good form.

As was the norm, FA Cup contests attracted particular interest and higher than average away followings. On that day an estimated four hundred visited from the south coast and a further three hundred from the capital. A feature in the Yorkshire Sports provides a fascinating account of the invasion of Bradford that day and describes the party atmosphere among the away followers. It is another illustration of how railway travel became a big part of the football experience but equally it reveals that railway excursions took different forms, from the all-inclusive dining package to the cheap and cheerful carriages with open windows. There might not have been luxury facilities in the grounds but there were definitely premium ways of getting there.

The following is the extract from the paper:

Pompey & Pensioner Football Invasion

Pompey‘ and ‘Pensioner‘ are the pet names by which the Portsmouth and Chelsea football clubs are known within the range of what may be termed the metropolitan influence. How a black sailor boy became symbolical of the one is a matter of history which need not worry one. The figure of a pensioner readily associates itself with thoughts of Chelsea.

Bradford was today invaded by the joint forces of ‘Pompey‘ and ‘Pensioner‘, the naval crew arriving early in the forenoon and the Cockneys coming later in the day.

The Portsmouth 400, who reached Bradford at a quarter to nine this morning, were a brave and hardy lot. They had departed from their port at a quarter to midnight, and all the intervening hours (nine!) they had been on the way, across a country that resembled a huge napkin just home from the laundry.

Cold,’ said one of them, when the suggestion was put to him; ‘I should think we were cold. Why the windows were frozen out of the carriages in which some of us were.’

They came in respectably quiet and well-behaved,’ remarked a Midland Station official, ‘not like ours go away and come back.’ Which sounded like an indictment of Bradfordians. It seems that the trip north from Portsmouth started with 700 people, but three hundred had alighted at other Northern places. The gallant 400 made a raid upon the Bradford restaurants and eating-houses, and having been refreshed they proceeded to give a ‘black and white‘ complexion to the city.

They wandered about the streets, gazing wonderingly at the surroundings, and wearing huge rosettes with streamers attached. Some had black and white umbrellas, and similarly decked top hats. Others had bells and rattles, with which they hoped to celebrate Portsmouth goals. They were a hearty crew, who tested their lung power and sang football songs.

The Portsmouth team, which had been staying overnight at Harrogate, was due to arrive in Bradford at noon and take lunch at the Talbot Hotel, so it was at that hostelry that a sort of headquarters was established, especially as time wore on towards the hour of the kick-off.

Wearing favours of every conceivable shape and size, the motley crowd formed a procession along Market Street, and proceeded by way of Ivegate to Godwin Street. Here they held a council of war, the subsequent outcome of which was to procure a further supply of favours, tin trumpets, drums, rattles, etc from Kirkgate Market.

One excited follower even went so far as to purchase a full-sized mandolin from a dealer in musical instruments. About thirty young fellows of disputable sobriety invaded a well-known cafe. Then the fun began with a race for vociferous supremacy between the cafe orchestra and the Portsmouth serenaders.

An amusing incident was witnessed by several people at the junction of Sunbridge Road with Godwin Street.

A crowd of Portsmouth men encountered a few Bradford followers, one of whom was wearing the local club’s favour.

Immediately he was set on to by the opposition and humiliated by a vigorous rubbing with snow. The incident excited the patriotism of the locals, who unceremoniously laid hands on the ringleader and proceeded, with the aid of a barber’s automatic hair-cutter to relieve the Portsmouth desperado of a large bulk of his hair.

The operation convulsed the small but undemonstrative audience, and particularly so when the Portsmouthite regained his feet with a broad bald patch from the crown to the forehead.

The order of the day for the inner man was ‘Yawkshi duff‘ or nothing, and no doubt the restaurant proprietors found their efforts taxed to the utmost to keep the supply in line with the demand.

My Gal’s a Yawkshi Gal‘ is the password of the Southerners. A juvenile satirist has supplemented this with an insensible ditty, which sounds to the ear like ‘My gal sups port from Portsmouth, poor port from poor Portsmouth is what my poor sport sups.’

It may be added in regard to the Portsmouth excursion that it will be due to leave Bradford at seven o’clock tonight.

The Chelsea trippers, who were estimated at about 300, came in a style which contrasted with the Portsmouth excursion. Their trip was a trip de luxe, with corridor cars and refreshment arrangements.

By a club system the trippers had booked ‘all in’. They were carried, fed, and delivered upon the football field at an inclusive price. Their train was due to arrive in Bradford at 1:38pm, and the return journey was timed for half-past five, so that the excursion was a very smart piece of football interest.

The inclusive charge for the Chelsea trip was 19s, and the Great Northern Railway Company had laid themselves out to make it a thorough success. It may be added that the Chelsea team had their headquarters at the Great Northern Victoria Hotel.

Apropos of the Portsmouth people a battalion of them took charge of the large room of a Manningham Lane hostelry, and passed the time in a ‘sing song‘, two banjoists, whose instruments were decked with the club favours, acting as accompanists.

So merry about the city were these heroes of nine hours’ travel, that one was led to speculate that they will be very tired indeed when they get home, some time tomorrow morning.

What happened next?

Both City and Avenue secured home wins, each by the same 2-0 scoreline and were drawn against each other in the Third Round at Park Avenue. City won that tie 1-0 to meet another second division side, Barnsley FC at Oakwell in the quarter final. The City supporters may have considered themselves fortunate as they had yet to face a Division One team in their defence of the FA Cup (having defeated Southern League champions elect, Queens Park Rangers in the First Round). However Barnsley defeated City to win the FA Cup that season although the tie was only decided in the third replay after the first three games had finished goalless. In the end, City succumbed 2-3 after extra time in front of 38,264 spectators at Bramall Lane.

The contest with Barnsley commanded much coverage in the regional press and the attendances of the second replay at Elland Road and that at Bramall Lane bear witness to the interest that was generated. Indeed, the crowd of 31,910 represented a new record for a game hosted by the then Leeds City club. Equally, the attendance at Bramall Lane was not far off the 39,146 record at Valley Parade set the previous year for the quarter-final tie with Burnley. Between them the City and Barnsley supporters must surely have made up the largest proportion of those crowds and would inevitably have relied upon railway transport to/from the neutral venues. Similarly in 1911 it is estimated that 15,000 Bradfordians attended the FA Cup Final at the Crystal Palace and then 10,000 travelled to Old Trafford for the replay, again thanks to the railways. [Refer to this link about FA Cup Final excursion trains.]

The importance of the railways

The above account is an illustration of how the country’s railway network was vital in allowing football supporters to watch their teams away from home. In so doing, the railways helped promote the development of football supporting culture. (A recently published feature on VINCIT provides further examples of this theme and outlines the importance of railways for Bradford football: LINK HERE)

Travelling Portsmouth fans had played their part in the introduction of singing at Valley Parade in 1903. The so-called Hello chorus – that was probably still being sung in 1912 – had been inspired indirectly by the Grimsby Town Pontoon choir. On their part, the Grimsby supporters were reported to have imitated the Pompey chimes which had been sung by the Portsmouth followers at Blundell Park in an FA Cup replay in 1902. It was thus the railways that facilitated the viral spread of songs and imitation of behaviours. (More detail on the origins of the Hello chorus from THIS LINK.)

by John Dewhirst

Elsewhere on this blog you can find my programme articles from earlier games this season and last as well as archive images of Valley Parade.

Links to my features on the history of Bradford sport including recent articles published on VINCIT that tell the long forgotten story of Shipley FC and The Origins of Women’s Football in Bradford.
Published on PLAYING PASTS in Feb-19: Football clubs and how they fail. (I am presenting a paper on the same theme at the International Football History Conference in Manchester in June, 2019.)

Updates to this site are tweeted: @jpdewhirst