A HISTORY OF BRADFORD CITY AFC IN OBJECTS
Published in the match day programme: Bradford City v Blackpool, 23rd March, 2019
Stafford Heginbotham and George Ide had assumed control of BCAFC in October, 1965 at a time when the club was bottom of the fourth division. Anxious to promote the club and signal a fresh start, the board launched a new identity in conjunction with a programme redesign mid-season. The immediate impact was limited given that the club finished the 1965/66 season in second to bottom position and Heginbotham acknowledged his frustration in an open letter to supporters published in the Aldershot programme on 30th April, 1966. Twelve days later the Wrexham fixture attracted a then record low crowd of only 1,353.
Nevertheless, a momentum for change had been established with a modernisation programme at Valley Parade that would include changes to the ground itself. During the next four seasons Heginbotham achieved a doubling of the average attendance from just over four thousand in 1965/66.
Commercial opportunism has inevitably impacted on the evolution of football club crests and the 1966 FIFA World Cup tournament in particular had a major impact in the emergence of new identities among English clubs. The World Cup Willy character inspired the City Gent at Valley Parade. Reputedly a caricature of the then chairman, Stafford Heginbotham, it was introduced to Valley Parade in November, 1965 (the month after Stafford Heginbotham and George Ide had taken control of the club) where it was used on posters advertising forthcoming games. The character later appeared on the cover of the club programme on 16th March, 1966. At the time Heginbotham was only 33 years old which explains the fresh face of the City Gent.
Given that Heginbotham had made his name as the creator of cuddly characters in his Tebro Toys business it is surprising that he didn’t make more of the City Gent character beyond its application on the programme, pennants or badges. However that was the full extent of merchandising at most lower division clubs for another decade. At Valley Parade the impact of the City Gent was in promoting a fresh start and Heginbotham could claim success, not least with the club’s first promotion in 40 years in the 1968/69 season.
Poor Workington AFC who left the Football League in 1977 are now forgotten, if not confused with Workington Town (the RL club). The demise of the Workington Reds and the growing dominance of southern clubs in the lower divisions of the Football League speaks volumes about economic change in England in the last 40 years.
Beyond any doubt the City Gent character proved popular with supporters and it was the unanimous choice of title for the supporters’ magazine when we launched it in 1984. The City Gent was a common choice for a tattoo design among a good number of fans but there was an alarming inconsistency as to how the character was depicted. In the 1970s and 1980s I saw some disastrous City Gent tattoos displayed on the terraces which would have been better covered up.
In 1966 the City Gent character symbolised a more modern alternative to the bantam and the portrayal of a character with bowler hat and briefcase also implied that Bradford meant business (a slogan later adopted by the local chamber of commerce in conjunction with Bradford Corporation, to promote the city). It is quite possible that Stafford Heginbotham saw himself as the personification of a modern entrepreneur and hence the City Gent was also a narcissistic expression. Even Geoffrey Richmond did nothing similar.
In contrast, although Avenue ‘Arry was introduced at Park Avenue shortly after the City Gent at Valley Parade, the character was never applied to the same extent and was confined principally to the inside of that club’s programme where it was used to accompany fund raising news of the Avenue Supporters’ Club. Interestingly – or fittingly – the character was pictured in different moods to the original rattle waving version.
I have not seen a coloured version of Avenue ‘Arry from the 1960s. In his original incarnation in 1966 he would have worn a green and white scarf whereas in 1967/67 Bradford Park Avenue reverted to the traditional red / amber / black colours incorporated into a predominantly white strip.
There are a number of explanations that could be advanced for the failure of Bradford to exploit Avenue ‘Arry. First and foremost it surely reflected the absence of marketing nous at Park Avenue but because the City Gent was so closely associated with Stafford Heginbotham (who was a controversial figure with longstanding supporters at Valley Parade), there may have been a reluctance to have a similar character at Park Avenue. Thus whereas the City Gent became a de facto club crest for Bradford City, Avenue ‘Arry never achieved prominence.
The City Gent was retired at the end of the 1973/74 season by Bob Martin who had succeeded Stafford Heginbotham as chairman. Martin wanted to signal a new era but given that his relationship with Heginbotham was caustic there was little chance of the character being retained to remind him of his critic. Shortly after we launched The City Gent publication in 1984 I interviewed Stafford Heginbotham and asked whether the character might be readopted by the club itself. In response I got the distinct impression that Heginbotham wanted to leave it in the past and that quite possibly he was embarrassed at the suggestion of it being used once more. It may have been a reminder to him that he was not as fresh faced as twenty years before but equally he may have considered that it was dated with limited commercial potential. After all, Heginbtham was never a man bound by sentimentality.
The subsequent prominence of The City Gent as a supporters’ publication might have also compomised how the club could apply the identity. And so its revival was confined to being the identity of a club mascot, albeit not seen in the last decade.
For younger generations of supporters I suspect he is now an anachronism and the opportunity for a reincarnation of the City Gent in a new guise may have been lost. I hope not.
The drop down menu above provides links to previous programme articles, archive images, book reviews and features on the history of Bradford sport that I have written. The links provide free, accessible history about BCAFC based on substance rather than soundbites.
My book A HISTORY OF BCAFC IN OBJECTS (vol 1 in the BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED series) provides background about City memorabilia. The book includes further detail about the City Gent and the tensions that existed between Stafford Heginbotham and older members of the Bradford City Shareholders’ & Supporters’ Association . What is particularly amusing is that the BCSSA sold City Gent badges to raise funds for the club, notwithstanding that certain members were irritated about the promotion of Heginbotham’s ego.
In issues of The Parader I feature objects that tell the history of the club. If you have a City artefact in your possession that you would like me to feature in the programme contact me at johnpdewhirst at gmail dot com or tweets @jpdewhirst
I have written widely about the history of sport in Bradford: Links to my features on the history of Bradford sport
Other features on the history of the BCAFC identity:
The BSA Bantam character
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
Details here about the bantamspast History Revisited book series: BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED BOOKS
Discover more about Bradford football history at www.bradfordsporthistory.com