Promotion season: 1968/69


Published in the match day programme: Bradford City v Doncaster Rovers 6th April, 2019

Thank you to Sean O’Grady for sharing his copy of the Bradford City promotion handbook, published in August, 1969 to commemorate the club’s success the previous season. It had been 40 years since Bradford City had previously been promoted and the solitary club honour since 1911 had been the Division Three (North) championship in 1929.

promotion brochure 1969

Unlike previous promotion seasons in 1928/29 and 1907/08 – when the club had finished top of its division – on this occasion it was fourth place in the fourth division that was celebrated. Whilst it might seem a modest achievement, it was far from being insignificant. For a start it was promotion and an escape from the basement division occupied since 1961. Crucially it also confirmed the ascendancy of the club over Bradford Park Avenue, by this time adrift at the foot of the Football League having finished 91st in 1966/67 and then bottom in in 1967/68 and 1968/69. In the desperate rivalry between the two and the struggle for financial survival, it was a massive victory to achieve promotion. And indeed, it was celebrated by City supporters as though their team had won the League Championship.

The 1960s had been a difficult decade for both Bradford clubs. In 1963 and 1966 City had finished 91st in the Football League and 87th in 1965. After surviving a financial crisis in 1966 the club had made progress under the leadership of its new chairman, Stafford Heginbotham but the death of manager, Grenville Hair in March, 1968 had been a major setback. His replacement was the 34 year old former Reading striker, Jimmy Wheeler who was appointed as manager in June, 1968. Finances dictated recruitment and City began the 1968/69 season with only three new signings – Peter Middleton from Sheffield Wednesday, Ron Bayliss from Reading and goalkeeper John Roberts, a triallist from Australia.

During the first half of the season the Paraders managed just seven wins and by mid-January, 1969 were 13th. It was the signing of centre forward Norman Corner from Lincoln City in January, 1969 that transformed the team. Corner made his debut at Park Avenue in the last ever League derby (a 0-0 draw) and he scored 8 times in 21 consecutive appearances in 1968/69.

Bradford City were undefeated in 21 games before a 1-2 reverse in the penultimate game of the season at Brentford which meant that victory was necessary in the last match of the season at Darlington to guarantee promotion. That game on Friday 9th May, 1969 was one of the most memorable in the club’s post-war history and a bumper 11,851 crowd witnessed a thrilling 3-1 win by City. Today’s visitors Doncaster Rovers finished as champions and the two other promoted clubs were Halifax Town and Rochdale.

In addition to an own goal, it was notable that Bobby Ham and Bruce Bannister both scored that night. Ham, an ever-present in 1968/69 was top scorer with 18 and he formed an excellent partnership with Bannister (7 goals from 30 League games). However, there were other regular goalscorers in the team including John Hall (9 goals), Tony Leighton (8 goals) and Charlie Rackstraw (7).

Promotion was secured on the basis of strong home form with only two defeats at Valley Parade in 1968/69. The Paraders remained undefeated at home throughout 1969 and there was a sequence of 23 undefeated games between January, 1969 and January, 1970. Sadly, the momentum of promotion success was not sustained and the failure – or inability – to strengthen the team led to eventual relegation in 1972. However at least the club didn’t have to wait another 40 years for its next promotion success and in the last fifty seasons it has been achieved on no less than six occasions.

John Dewhirst

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