Bantams back in life of ‘Avenue man’ Ham

CONSIDERING the significant role Bradford City have played in the sporting life of Bobby Ham, his initial response to a possible move to Valley Parade is perhaps surprising.

Bobby Ham pictured at The Shay, Halifax

“I don’t want to go, I am happy where I am,” revealed the smiling 72-year-old, now a director of FC Halifax Town, when asked by The Yorkshire Post what he said when informed of that first approach from the Bantams in February, 1968.

Ham was 25 at the time and just two days earlier had scored at Valley Parade in what proved to be the final away win by Bradford (Park Avenue) as a Football League club.

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The rivalry between the Wool City’s two senior clubs ran deep back then, hence why the striker, born just half-a-mile from Avenue’s ground and a lifelong fan, was so unimpressed by the thought of moving across Bradford.

In the end, though, Ham went after being bluntly told by the Avenue hierarchy that not only did the club badly need the £2,750 transfer fee but that, for the good of his own career, he would be “better off leaving”.

So started an association that would see Ham enjoy two spells as a City player, clocking up 208 appearances and 70 goals, and then return during one of the club’s darkest times as it looked to pull through a second administration in as many years early in the new Millennium.

Tomorrow, the Bantams will again be a central figure in Ham’s sporting life when his old club travels to The Shay in the FA Cup first round.

“It is a great tie,” says the former footballer, who together with chairman David Bosomworth formed FC Halifax in 2008 from the ruins of the old club that had gone under amid ruinous debts.

“I was sitting at home watching the draw and had noticed City were ball number ‘4’. So, when we came out as the home team and then number ‘4’ popped out straight after, I let out a big cheer. It was exactly the tie we wanted.”

Ham’s joy at drawing Bradford a week last Monday was tempered by knowing Halifax still had to negotiate a tricky replay against Chorley 24 hours later. Once that was done, however, courtesy of a 5-0 triumph, the excitement could truly begin.

“I had some very good times at Bradford City,” he recalls when talking to The Yorkshire Post in the sitting room of his beautifully appointed home on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. “Even if, when City came in for me, I didn’t want to sign at first.

“I was an Avenue man and had been on the groundstaff since I was a kid. I ate, slept and drank Park Avenue. But then the chairman explained a few things and I signed.”

Ham’s first stint at City started, as it did at every club he joined in a career that spanned 13 seasons, with a goal on his debut. A week or so later, though, tragedy struck when manager Grenville Hair suddenly collapsed and died while supervising a training session.

“I was the last person Grenville spoke to,” he recalls. “We were doing circuit training under the old stand, sprinting and so on. Grenville blew the whistle for my turn and then halfway through he shouted, ‘C’mon, Bobby lad, a bit quicker’.

“I said, ‘Right, boss’, put the effort in and then there was a thud as Grenville fell off the wall he had been sitting on. His main artery had snapped. Dead as a doornail. The condition was hereditary and had happened to his mum but it was an awful shock.”

The manager’s duties were split between senior players in the immediate aftermath of Hair’s death. Jimmy Wheeler was then appointed in the summer and a year later, promotion from Division Four had been secured with Ham finishing the season as the club’s top goal-scorer.

City would stay up for three years but Ham lasted just one of those before being prised away by Preston North End, whom he would help win the Third Division championship before then moving to Rotherham United.

A return to Valley Parade came in 1973 and, fittingly, his final season ended with Ham again sitting on top of the club’s goal-scoring charts.

“I enjoyed both spells but the club was very different to the others I played at,” he said. “At Bradford, we got one set of training gear and it was only washed once a week. I took mine home to wash but a lot of the lads didn’t and would just hang their jockstraps up on the peg. The dressing room stunk to high heaven.

“Everywhere else, the kit was washed daily but not Bradford, who just didn’t have the money. It was the same with long away trips. We’d rarely stay overnight. For places like Bournemouth, we would get the train down on the morning of the match and then get the sleeper home from King’s Cross at midnight. We would get into Leeds at 6am and get picked up there.”

Smelly kit and long trips aside, Ham looks back fondly on his time at Bradford – even if one of the club’s chairmen cost him a possible move to the big time.

“Tottenham Hotspur wanted to sign me after I’d played against them in the Cup,” he says. “I was told the chairman was negotiating the transfer but then, all of a sudden, it was off.

“Bill Nicholson later told my best mate Tony Leighton the real tale at a managers’ meeting. Spurs originally bid £20,000 but Stafford (Heginbotham, chairman) said, ‘No, we want 25’.

“Spurs bid that much but, again, he said no and upped the price to £30,000. Same with that and again at £35,000 before eventually Spurs walked away. Bill just called everything off.

“I was sick when I heard that. Just one game for Spurs would have been amazing. Pat Jennings was in goal, Cyril Knowles at right-back. Dave McKay, Danny Blanchflower, Jimmy Greaves were all in the team. To play in that team, well... ”

Ham’s voice tails off so we move on to happier times and FC Halifax.

“We got the idea of taking over Halifax after helping Julian (Rhodes) out at Bradford. The club was in dire straits and five of us got together to help out. It was 2004 and I worked on sponsorships, the catering side etcetera.

“We all then became directors after the club came out of administration but, in the end, things got a bit stale. Julian had all his money in the club and, quite rightly, wanted to do his thing.

“So, David said to me in about 2006, ‘Do you fancy having a go ourselves as Halifax Town are in trouble?’ And the rest is history. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and we should have let the old club go under. Instead, we tried to save it and couldn’t.

“Things didn’t start great for the new club but then Neil (Aspin, manager) arrived and here we are, things are going well and we can’t wait to take on City.”