Book Review: Reinventing Bradford City by Jason McKeown

Reinventing Bradford City is the second part of a four volume series under the banner of History Revisited from Bantamspast. The first book was the well received, A History of Bradford City AFC in Objects, by John Dewhirst published in 2014.

This second offering written by Jason McKeown is described as, “the story of how Bradford City emerged from the dark shadows of May 11, 1985 (the date of the Bradford City Fire), and how they have evolved in these modern times. How they have continued to re-invent themselves, in both good ways and bad.”

McKeown’s central device for doing this is to look at thirteen fixtures which span the 1986/87 season through to the 2015/16 campaign. The author’s point of reference for selecting the particular games is not always that they were fixtures that the Bantams excelled in, rather than they had a significance or relevance to the club at that point in time. So whilst you will find included the games in which City were promoted to the Premier League at Wolves and the FA Cup win at Chelsea where the Bantams came back from 2-0 to triumph 4-2, equally the reader will find the 1987/88 play-off loss to Ipswich Town.

What McKeown does well is ensure that the games featured aren’t isolated as in mere match report format, instead the context for them is provided and their overall significance at that moment in time, with if relevant, the link and impact to future events at Valley Parade. The author’s writing is supported by good research and plenty of material through interviews with players, managers (past and present), fans and the like, for their take on the events of the period between 1986 and 2016.

The book is a wonderful reflection of a thirty year period and the incredible highs and lows of this club from West Yorkshire. The spells in administration, the years spent in the basement division of the Football League, the Play-Off triumphs, the brief sojourn in the Premier League, the League Cup appearance at Wembley, the win at Chelsea in the FA Cup are all here – all dealt with in a pragmatic manner that typifies Bradford City AFC.

This is a story of a club that emerged from a disaster to write another incredible chapter in its history. However, as McKeown quite rightly points out, as he reflects on the last game featured in the book against Oldham Athletic at Valley Parade in January 2016, the thirty year period detailed in the book are merely a point in time. In essence, Bradford City had a history before 1986 and will have a history after 2016, with twists and turns and ups and downs aplenty.

To make the point, for that 2016 Oldham game, the Bantams were still managed by Phil Parkinson, with Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes at the helm. By May 2016 the German pair of Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp owned the club and a month later the Parkinson era was over as he moved to Bolton Wanderers. Stuart McCall returned once again to answer the call of his beloved Bradford City and so another chapter had begun.


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Book Review: Glorious 1911 and Bradford City’s Golden Age 1908-1915 by David Pendleton

This labour of love from David Pendleton was written to commemorate the centenary of Bradford City’s FA Cup triumph in 1911 and compliment the exhibition, When the FA Cup Came Home, which ran at the Bradford Industrial Museum from 19 March – 12 June 2011.

The first thing to say about this publication is that this 104 page hardback book is wonderfully researched and illustrated and is a credit to all the writers involved – David Pendleton, David Markham and John Dewhirst. History can be a pretty dry subject, but the use of team pictures, match action and player portraits help to enliven the details of Bradford City’s Golden Age.

In format terms, the book flows chronologically from City’s entry to the Football League in 1903, through season by season chapters from, A First Great Escape: 1908/09 to The Beginning of the Fall: 1914/15. As the title of the book suggests the focus of this publication is the FA Cup triumph in 1911 which is dealt with in Chapter 3 – Glorious 1911: 1910/11.

There are some real gems throughout the book. The first, explains the current exhibition title (When the FA Cup Came Home), as it details how in 1910 the FA required a new design for the FA Cup trophy, as the previous cup,

“…was being retired and being presented to Lord Kinnaird in recognition of his services to the sport. The Bradford jewellers Fattorini’s submitted the winning design. However whilst the new trophy was designed in Bradford a shortage of skilled silversmiths meant the manufacturing of the trophy was sub-contracted to a Sheffield firm…”.

Secondly, there is the player profile of Richard “Dickie” Bond in the Chapter – The Cup Winners, who is described as “…one of City’s greatest, albeit most controversial, players…”. We might think that players’ misdemeanours are confined to the era of modern day players. However, Bond missed out on playing in the 1911 FA Cup Final “…following a suspension after using ‘improper language’ to the crowd at Arsenal…”. His suspension caused him to miss the Quarter and Semi-Finals and despite regaining his place in the League team he was just a travelling reserve for the Final. It wasn’t Bond’s first indiscretion at the club, as he was also. “…suspended following a ‘wild night out’ in Otley during December 1910 (with fellow players) Jimmy McDonald and Robert Campbell…”. Bond later joined the Bradford Pals in the First World War and after returned to City before transferring to Blackburn Rovers in 1922.

There is an honesty about this book which is evident in the Conclusion, as Pendleton acknowledges that Bradford City’s history has been a chequered one and he ponders what might have been if in the early days that City and rivals Park Avenue has joined forces to create one club in Bradford. The book highlights that prior to the First World War, City were a leading light in the (old) First Division and that with the 1911 FA Cup win this was indeed the clubs Golden Age.

Fellow writer David Markham wraps up the book with Postscript – More pain that glory, which summarises events at Bradford City from 1915-2011 to the point at which Peter Taylor was appointed.

This book is essentially aimed at Bradford City fans and will provide so much about the clubs early years and of course the FA Cup win. However, I do believe it has a wider appeal and not just to football fans in general, as the book provides a glimpse into Edwardian life – football and social history and the impact of the First World War. This is a celebratory book about Bradford City’s finest hour, but does so with a pride that is balanced by the history of more downs and ups over its 108 year history.

Book details

Glorious 1911 and Bradford City’s Golden Age 1908-1915

David Pendleton

Bantamsport Publication

ISBN: 9780956698407

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