Book Review – Wool City Rivals: A History in Colour by George Chilvers & John Dewhirst

Wool City Rivals: A History in Colour, is the seventh book from bantamspast, who as a publisher continue to create, “a collection of complementary books to provide a definitive history of Bradford soccer from the beginnings until the present day.” To date the six other titles are as follows:

Book 1: A History of Bradford City AFC in Objects by John Dewhirst (2014)

Book 2: Reinventing Bradford City: The Extraordinary Story of Bradford City’s Modern History, 1985-2016 by Jason McKeown (2016)

Book 3: Room at the Top – The Origins of Professional Football in Bradford and the Rivalry of Bradford FC and Manningham FC by John Dewhirst (2016)

Book 4: Life at the Top – The Rivalry of Manningham FC and Bradford FC and their Conversion from Rugby to Soccer by John Dewhirst (2016)

Book 5: Who We Are: Exploring the DNA of Bradford City AFC by Jason McKeown (2018)

Book 6: Late to the Game: The origins of association football in Bradford and the story of its pioneering clubs by Rob Grillo (2019)

This latest addition to the collection, Wool City Rivals: A History in Colour, is a collaboration between the driving force of bantamspast, John Dewhirst and George Chilvers, one of the leading colourisers of archive football photography.

The book is essentially made up of four chapters, which through over 170 colourised pictures chart the history of Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue, with images stretching from as far back as 1895/96 through to 1972/73. It is a history that saw the two clubs play each other in each of the top four divisions of the English game, as well as highs such as Bradford City winning the FA Cup in 1910/11, through to the lows of Bradford Park Avenue dropping out of the Football League in 1969/70 after not being re-elected.

Besides the main four chapters, Chilvers provides a useful and interesting introduction in the book about colourisation and the process used on the old black and white images.  His meticulous work brings to life the pictures of ‘derby’ games past between the Bradford clubs, as well as so many other fixtures, team line-ups and crowd scenes, with Dewhirst providing his usual informative and well researched knowledge to the accompanying text.

Whilst the changing fortunes of the rivals is clearly the central premise of the book, the images also tell the story of so much more, in terms of social history through the period covered, as fashions changed, and the country emerged through the two World Wars.

Indeed, readers will want to revisit the book time and again as they notice different things in the background of the images, and marvel at a game from a very different era which like the Park Avenue ground is lost forever but is thankfully captured in this wonderfully atmospheric book.


(bantamspast. November 2020. Paperback 304 pages)


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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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