When Jimmy Speirs joined Bradford City from Clyde shortly before the start of the 1909-10 season, City were about to start their second season as a First Division club, having been Champions of the Second Division in 1907-08. This was just four years after their formation and their immediate entry into the Football League.
The 1908-09 season had seen City survive in the First Division – just!
Level on points with Manchester City, their goals record of 47 for, 47 against, produced a marginally better goal average than the Manchester club’s 67 for, 69 against.
Consequently, the Mancunians were relegated to Division Two of the Football League.
Jimmy’s League debut came at Manchester United on 1 September 1909 (a 1-0 defeat), with his home debut at Valley Parade on 4 September in a 3-1 victory against Bristol City. Jimmy was ever-present in that season, scoring 6 goals in his 38 League appearances. He also played in both City’s FA Cup ties, scoring once. Bradford City finished a respectable 7th in the Division of 20 Clubs, with 42 points from their 38 games.
This article, from an unknown publication, describes Bradford City as having more "humorists in its ranks than any other team in the country". Jimmy ("one of a noble quartette") has an "abundant store of humour".
The story talks of Jimmy spotting Bradford Corporation employees at work close to Valley Parade and the "exchange" which ensues.
Perhaps Jimmy was not as "quiet" as first thought!
On 2 December 1907, the inaugural meeting of the "Association of Football Players' and Trainers' Union" was held at the Imperial Hotel in Manchester.
One concern of the players was the fact that a maximum wage of £4 per week had been imposed since 1901, and whilst this was approximately double the average working man's weekly income, players had a very "uncertain career", said Billy Meredith, who chaired that first meeting.
In addition the "retain and transfer" system meant that players were still tied to a Club, even after their contract had expired - and they could not play for another team without their previous Club's consent.
Initially the Football Association and Football League did not oppose the new Union but when the latter challenged the wage and transfer issues in 1909 (and threatened to join the Federation of Trades Union, later the Trades Union Congress) recognition was withdrawn. A threatened strike by the players was averted in exchange for recognition of the Union and the allowing of bonus payments.
One hundred years later, the Union is now the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) and players' rights (and income) have improved somewhat.
Jimmy Speirs was a member of what the Press called "The Players' Union" and his membership book is still in the possession of his family.
The 1910-11 season was to prove to be Bradford City’s pinnacle, in over 100 years of Football League membership.
Jimmy Speirs scored 7 goals in his 25 League appearances and helped City to finish 5th, just seven points behind Champions Manchester United – their highest-ever finish in the Football League. However, even this was overshadowed by Bradford City’s exploits in the English (FA) Cup that season.
After disposing of New Brompton (later Gillingham) and Norwich City of the Southern League, City overcame Midland League Champions-elect Grimsby Town in the third round.
This set up a fourth round tie at home to Burnley, of the Second Division. The game attracted what remains Valley Parade’s record attendance of 39,146, and produced gate receipts of £1,641.
The local press reported that "Speirs skippered the team with fine judgement".
Jimmy was involved in the move that produced the winning goal, scored by Irish International Frank Thompson.
Four successive single-goal victories had taken Bradford City to a semi-final against Blackburn Rovers, at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. Rovers were not the force they had been a few years previously, and were only mid-table in Division One – although they became League Champions a year later. Still, they were favourites for the tie, but were soundly beaten by City by three goals to nil.
As the referee blew the final whistle, the Press reported that Jimmy Speirs and several other City players were involved in a wild scramble for the match ball, which had been grabbed by a linesman.
This did not go down well with the Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary of the Football Association who were all present but, it was reported, "…it is difficult to believe that the City Captain (Speirs) could have done anything which was not excusable in the exceptional circumstances".
Nevertheless, Jimmy Speirs, Frank Thompson and George Robinson were subsequently censured by the Football Association for their part in the proceedings!
Players, officials and guests gathered at the Grand Hotel, Sheffield after the game and Jimmy Speirs, as Captain, proposed a toast on behalf of the players.
Jimmy pictured during training at Valley Parade, Bradford in the winter of 1910-11 (click to enlarge)
The Final took place at the Crystal Palace on 22 April 1911, and again City went into the game as underdogs, against the Cup holders, Newcastle United.
In the build up to the game, the press analysed the strengths of each team and described the 25-years old Jimmy Speirs as "a clever and versatile player, and a right down good captain".
By all accounts the Final was a disappointing affair, the defences took the honours and the game ended goalless.
The Crystal Palace - reproduced by kind permission of the Telegraph & Argus, Bradford (click to enlarge)
In the evening, Sir William Priestley MP hosted the Bradford City party to Dinner at the Trocadero Restaurant, Piccadilly Circus. Jimmy's family still has his Place Card and Menu from the evening - see below, click on number to view.
Four days later, on Wednesday 26 April 1911, the replay took place at Old Trafford, Manchester before an attendance of 66,646, with an estimated 30,000 locked out. Gate receipts totalled £4,478. History was made - Jimmy Speirs’ headed goal won the Cup for Bradford City, in only their eighth year in existence.
Initially there was debate over whether Frank O'Rourke had got a touch to Jimmy's header - he later confirmed that he had not - it was Jimmy Speirs' goal which won the Cup.
Jimmy (one of eight Scots in the side) led the team up the stairs of the Old Trafford stand to receive the new trophy – which served until 1991 – from Mr C Crump, Vice-President of the Football Association.
The new trophy had been produced by the Bradford-based firm of Fattorini & Sons, so it was appropriate that the first winners should be Bradford City.
Upon being presented with the Cup, Jimmy Speirs is reported to have given a brief speech in which he remarked that the team had gained their great ambition in winning. It would do a lot for football in Yorkshire, and he was sure that Newcastle, who had already been successful, would not grudge the victory. It was the ambition of every footballer to appear in the Final for the English Cup, he said, and he was very pleased indeed that his side succeeded. In conclusion, he called for three cheers for Newcastle United.
Jimmy's FA Cup Winners Medal 1911 (click on number to enlarge)
The team, and Jimmy in particular, were front page news - literally. "Glorious 1911", and Jimmy Speirs’ part in it, thereby entered the annals of Bradford City FC.
"The Daily Mirror", Friday 28 April 1911- click to enlarge. (By kind permission of Trinity Mirror plc)
There were joyous scenes in Bradford when the team returned after the victory, to be met by the Lord Mayor and 100,000 Bradfordians. It seems that the Lord Mayor carried out his promise of a Civic Reception upon the team's return to Bradford. Official speeches followed, with Jimmy, as Captain, responding.
On 2 May 1911, the Supporters of the Bradford City club hosted a Dinner for the Officials and Players at the Victoria Hotel, Bradford.
By now, Jimmy must have been used to giving speeches on behalf of the players - as he did again on this occasion.
To view Jimmy's Menu Card (left) from the Dinnerclick:
FL - Football League Division One FAC - FA Cup *Bramall Lane, Sheffield **Crystal Palace ***Old Trafford
Season 1911-12 saw Bradford City finish in mid-table. They made a creditable defence of the FA Cup, going out of the competition in a fourth round (quarter-final) second replay against the eventual winners, Barnsley, with Jimmy on the scoresheet in a 2-3 defeat. There had been a notable game in the Third Round, when City travelled across Bradford to meet neighbours Park Avenue, from the Second Division – the first time the two Bradford rivals had met in Cup competition. A crowd of 24,833 saw City win through by a goal to nil.
Jimmy Speirs started the season, and played in three of the first four games. However, he was then absent due to injury from late-September until March.
Nevertheless, despite playing only 10 League games, he scored 7 goals, including only his second-ever hat-trick in senior football (versus Sheffield Wednesday, 30 March 1912) – the first had come six years earlier, for Rangers in a Scottish Cup tie at Arthurlie.
Football League Division One
Goals scored by Jimmy
1911 2 Sep
1912 4 Mar
FAC Rd 4
FAC Rd 4 Rep
FL - Football League Division One FAC - FA Cup *Bramall Lane, Sheffield
The 1912-13 season was one of significant change for Jimmy.
The season started well for Jimmy and he played in 13 of the first 15 games, scoring 9 times before, in late-December 1912, Jimmy left Bradford City having played his last game for "the Bantams" on 14 December at Valley Parade in a 2-3 defeat by Derby County.
After 96 League and Cup games for the Bantams, Jimmy was on the move – just 10 miles to the East - to Elland Road, the home of Leeds City FC.
The transfer fee was reported to be £1,400 – a huge amount, when the national average weekly wage of the day was just £2, and top players were earning only £4 per week.
Jimmy showing his ball skills at Valley Parade in 1912 - his autograph betrays his Scottish roots - "Yours aye - James H Speirs" (click to enlarge)
Bradford City maintained a mid-table position for the rest of the 1912-13 season – remaining difficult to beat at Valley Parade (just 4 defeats) but failing to win again away from home after Jimmy’s departure.