In July it was announced that Bradford City AFC will adopt a predominantly white shirt as the club’s away choice in the 2019/20 season…
In 1974, club chairman Bob Martin was anxious to launch a fresh start for Bradford City for the beginning of his first full season in charge. Having been relegated from the third division in 1972, the Paraders had failed to challenge for promotion. With public interest waning, Martin knew that change was necessary.
Earlier in the year it had been confirmed that Bradford Park Avenue would be wound-up at the end of the 1973/74 season. The club had ground-shared at Valley Parade after vacating Park Avenue in 1973 but its own attendances had plummeted. Sensing an opportunity presented by there being only one senior club in the district, Martin had proposed a controversial change of name [More from this link: The story of when it was proposed to rename Bradford City AFC as Bradford Metro] which was emphatically opposed by City supporters, led by former chairman Stafford Heginbotham (a man with no love for Bob Martin).
As part of the new identity, Martin had proposed introducing new club colours of amber and brown, the same as those adopted by the new metropolitan authority. It is unknown whether the new colours were to be worn as stripes – a style traditionally associated with City, as opposed to Avenue – or in some other configuration. With the rejection of the new colours, claret and amber were retained as the primary colours of Bradford City which had originally been adopted by the former Manningham FC in 1884 [More from this link:The military heritage of Bradford City AFC].
Nevertheless Martin was still able to introduce radical changes to the club identity with a new club crest and a predominantly white strip supplied by Litesome of Keighley. The design of the shirt was not dissimilar to a style previously worn by Crystal Palace in 1972/73. Yet whilst the new shirt was promoted as a new modern identity, in reality it restored the club’s traditional third colour – white – to the strip.
For a start, the club’s shorts had traditionally always been white. Furthermore, under Football League regulations every club had been required to have white shirts in the event that a colour clash arose. To that extent white was the club’s de facto away shirt. On certain occasions before World War One, the team even wore a plain white shirt at Valley Parade, presumably for practical reasons of the other shirts not being available at the time.
Pictured below the Bradford City squad at the beginning of the 1909/10 season. Both the yoke and white shirts were worn with the city’s coat of arms which was the club’s crest.
Besides, in 1974 it was not the first time that the club had opted for a predominantly white shirt as first option. As long ago as 1923 the club had introduced a new predominantly white shirt as its first choice. In all likelihood the change at that time had been a matter of expediency based on economy rather than branding and similarly it has to be remembered that the shirts were not sold as consumer items for supporters to purchase. From the evidence of old team photographs this distinctive white strip with claret/amber ‘V’ was retained for at least three seasons until it wore out but the traditional claret and amber yoke strip design was retained as the alternative (and the club reverted to this).
Pictured wearing the new shirt in 1974 is Keighley-born, Welsh international Trevor Hockey who became Martin’s celebrity signing in the 1974 close season when he re-signed for the club having previously been on the books in 1960/61. Hockey, who was 31 at the time of returning to Valley Parade spent two final seasons with Bradford City.
The new strip did not create an immediate uplift in fortunes in 1974/75 and the following season the club found itself struggling near the bottom of the fourth division with finances dictating its fate.
However it was the FA Cup run of 1975/76 that rescued the club from financial disaster and also encouraged a revival in public interest. By this stage there had been a subtle change to the design of the shirt with changes to the collar as well as the width and position of the stripes. A new version altogether was introduced for the FA Cup Quarter Final tie against Southampton at Valley Parade (pictured). Even at that time however it was uncommon for supporters to purchase replica shirts and they tended to be available only in schoolboy sizings.
With the momentum provided by the FA Cup run, in 1976/77 Bradford City achieved promotion from Division Four whilst wearing the new white strip. Don Hutchins is pictured wearing the promotion strip – note the lack of a club crest, only the Litesome motif.
Back in Division Three, white was abandoned in 1977/78 but restored in 1978/79 when the club secured a supply arrangement with Admiral and adopted a style of kit more commonly associated with Leeds United that was based on a standard template. The Admiral strip was the first to be made available through active merchandising. In 1981/82 came a new predominantly white strip, albeit with claret shorts that bore an uncanny resemblance to the style then being worn by Derby County – presumably more than a coincidence given that the club’s player-manager was Roy McFarland, formerly of Derby.
Once more, in 1981/82 a white strip became associated with a successful promotion season, in this case from Division Four. Maybe there was a degree of superstition that the predominantly claret and amber strip of 1977/78 had been linked with relegation. That kit had been supplied by Litesome but in 1983 the club secured a supply arrangement with Patrick based around a predominantly white strip and a second that featured claret and amber stripes. The white strip was that commonly associated with the 1984/85 championship success.
In 1985 Stafford Heginbotham restored claret and amber stripes. At the time it was the focus of a campaign by The City Gent for a stripes revival but it was very much a case of kicking an open door because Heginbotham was firmly a man in favour of the stripes as well as the traditional boar’s head crest [Background about the boar’s head crest from this link]. Since then, claret and amber has remained the primary colours of the home shirt. Nonetheless there has been a revival of a white away strip based around the style introduced by Bob Martin in 1974. Both were introduced by Geoffrey Richmond, a man with an eye to commercial opportunity in 1996 (Beaver) and then in 1999 (Asics), the latter being closely associated with our Premier League promotion success.
The new away shirt differs to the classic style by virtue of the central stripes but this has much to do with the fact that the shirt has been designed for sale as leisure wear. It was recognised that two individual stripes in the style worn by the team in the late 1970s would not necessarily be flattering on contemporary supporters with less than athletic physiques.
I think it’s great that the club’s heritage is being revived in this way and I hope that in future we’ll see a return of white shorts with a traditional claret and amber shirt.
For what it’s worth my preference is a claret and amber striped shirt but given that this isn’t everyone’s favourite and mindful of the commercial pressure for change, I’d like to see the club rotate its home shirt design between the three generic styles that have been worn since 1903. That is: (i) a striped shirt; (ii) a predominantly claret body with amber collar or yoke; and (iii) a predominantly white shirt with claret and amber stripes / detail. Either way, after the disappointment of last year’s home strip – with the final design understood to have been dictated by Edin Rahic against the advice of club staff who had recommended a style similar to that of 1907/08 – in 2019/20 we will have a combination of shirts likely to be well received.
Thanks for visiting my blog. You will find links from the menu above to other features I have published online about the history of football in Bradford and Bradford City in particular.I contribute to the BCAFC match day programme and you can also find archive images as well as a number of book reviews. The links provide free, accessible history about BCAFC based on substance rather than soundbites.
Author of books about professional football in Bradford (Yorkshire), its origins and historical development; publisher of the Bantamspast History Revisited series. Big fan of The Stranglers and various esoteric interests sufficient to embarrass my daughters. Tweets: @jpdewhirst - DM to contact
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