Sports historians will discover that the city of Bradford in northern England offers a number of unique themes for study. Sport played a major role in defining the self-identity and spirit of what was an industrial frontier town. As a centre of sporting activity, Bradford is worthy of investigation to understand the evolution of sport as an entertainment industry.
Bradford was one of the fastest growing centres in Europe during the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century and it was also the centre of a sporting revolution and the commercial transformation of rugby. In 1890 its leading side, Bradford FC at Park Avenue was reputedly the wealthiest sports club in England.
Bradford was the only town where both of its senior clubs changed football codes twice from Rugby Union to the Northern Union in 1895 and then converted to professional soccer. Bradford City, formed out of the rugby club Manningham FC in 1903 won the FA Cup eight years later in 1911. Despite its status as a proud rugby club, Bradford FC also converted to soccer in 1907 and was promoted to Division One in 1914.
The decline of Bradford football was as dramatic as its rise. From being members of the English first division in 1920/21, thirty years later Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue were rivals in the basement of the league. Bradford football established a toxic reputation for failure, and in 1985, for tragedy – the fire at Valley Parade being the consequence of under-investment. Each club struggled financially and Bradford Park Avenue FC was liquidated in 1974 after losing its membership of the Football League in 1970.
Having secured monopoly status in the district Bradford City has enjoyed a turnaround as members of the Premier League 1999-2001 and then finalists in the FL Cup in 2013. In 2016 it became the first English league club to come under German ownership (although it was not the first time that Bradford City had had a chairman of German extraction).
The story of Bradford sport presents an interesting case study in the co-existence and viability of rival clubs and codes as businesses. The city’s Rugby League club was a pioneer of the Super League yet has struggled with competition from soccer. A constant theme has been that of financial difficulty, most recently with the demise of Bradford Bulls, World Rugby League Champions during the first decade of this century.
The VINCIT online journal is dedicated to features about the history of Bradford sport and is not confined solely to coverage of soccer. The focus of sports historians has tended to be at a national level whereas VINCIT encourages understanding of local circumstances. Readers will discover an eclectic mix of articles including detailed features about the nineteenth century origins of sport in the city, articles about local sporting personalities and coverage of non-mainstream sports.
I am the editor of VINCIT. I’m a longstanding supporter of my local club, Bradford City, and have an extensive collection of football memorabilia. I am also the author of books about the history of football and the origin of sport in Bradford, some of which, I am told, will be reviewed on idrottsforum.org in the near future. Read more about me here. And visit VINCIT here!