By Keith Brookman
Thus were the words of Rovers’ longest serving professional era manager, Bert Tann, after the tragic early death of former Rovers defender Harry Bamford.
Harry was born 100 years ago today, 8th February 1920 and is one of the Rovers players of the 1950’s who achieved legendary status.
Supporters of that Bert Tann side, my grandfather among them, could reel off the names of all of the players without even thinking. Changes in personnel were few, and there were no substitutes back then. In any case they were a successful side, so why make unnecessary changes?
One of the first names on the team sheet would have been that of Bamford on whom manager Tann relied on so much and who, according to ‘Josser’ Watling, was one of a so called Players Committee who would often discuss tactics with the manager and even, on occasions, help him pick the team!
Born in St Philip’s Marsh, young Henry Charles Bamford was a talented footballer and was a Woodcock Shield winner with St Silas School in 1932, 1933 and 1934. He was also in the Bristol and South Gloucestershire Schools side that were League Shield winners in 1933 and represented Bristol Boys for three consecutive seasons, from 1931/32.
Although he signed amateur forms for Ipswich, he never ventured anywhere near Portman Road and signed as an amateur with Bristol City and made appearances for their Colts team in 1938/39.
The Second World War halted his progress as a footballer, and he was enlisted in the First Battalion of the Gloucestershire regiment which was sent out to Burma and later deployed in India.
He was 25 years old when he finally returned home after the War and appeared in 19 games for Rovers in the 1945/46 campaign when the club competed in the Football League Division Three (South) and the Division Three (South) Cup.
League football, as we know it, didn’t recommence until 1946/47 and Harry made his official League debut on the opening day of that campaign, a 2-2 draw against Reading at Eastville, on 31st August.
It was the first of 486 league games for the club and he came close to winning a full England Cap though the nearest he got was to be selected for the Football Association tour to Australia in 1951 for which he was awarded an England ‘B’ cap.
He appeared in all 11 FA Cup ties during the club’s remarkable run to the quarter finals of that competition in 1950/51 and was an ever present in the side that won promotion, as Division Three (South) Champions in 1952/53.
He also appeared in nine Gloucestershire Senior Cup Finals and was on the winning side on four occasions.
Those are the facts, presented very briefly, of the playing career of one of the greats of Bristol football. We will never know what he might have achieved as coach, or manager, once he finished playing because he died, following injuries sustained in a road traffic accident, on 31st October. He was 38 years old and left a widow who was expecting the couple’s second child and a three year old daughter, Hilary.
Hilary, in collaboration with Joyce Woolridge, wrote a book about her father’s remarkable career, with the title; ‘Harry Bamford – Bristol Rovers’ First Gentleman of Football’ and so there is nothing new I can add to the story.
However, soon after I took on the role of programme editor at Bristol Rovers, I was privileged to speak to Hilary, her mother Violet and her uncle Alan and his wife Mavis.
Violet, who also grew up in St Philip’s Marsh, had known the Bamford family well (as well as Harry, there were two younger brothers). She had married in 1947 but was widowed in 1951 and she recalled the first time that Harry had asked her out; ‘I was going home from work one day, along Victoria Street, and Harry, who had been talking to a newspaper seller, walked me home.
‘He asked me out then, but it wasn’t until some six months later, just before the promotion dinner in 1953, that we began seeing each other.’
Alan told of his brother’s hobby as a pigeon fancier; ‘We always kept racing pigeons,’ he said and there is proof of that amongst the many newspaper articles of the time, one of which revealed that whilst in Australia in 1951 Harry’s pigeons took the first three places in the Barnt Green race hosted by the St Philip’s Flying Club.
Alan also felt that Harry might have gained further international recognition and wondered what might have happened, career wise, had he lived; ‘I think, had he played for a club in a higher division he would have won international recognition. I believe Rovers were approached by a number of clubs interested in signing him and I know that Cardiff were very keen to take him to Wales, but he was happy where he was.
‘I’m not sure what he would have done when he finished playing. He had taken his coaching badges, but he had also considered running a shop and a sub Post Office and had qualified as a bricklayer.’
Harry was heading to Clark’s Grammar School in Clifton, where he coached the boys along with his team mate Howard Radford, when the Vespa scooter he was riding was involved in a collision with a lorry as he turned into Apsley Road.
The date was 28th October, a Tuesday, and he was taken to the BRI initially before being transferred to Frenchay hospital. Sadly, he never regained consciousness and passed away on Friday afternoon (31st October).
His manager, Bert Tann, said; ‘That he will never again don the blue and white of the Rovers through such tragic circumstances is unbearable. I cannot find words to express the tribute due to Harry Bamford. It is true to say that my personal debt to him is immeasurable.’
‘He was part of all that was best in Bristol Rovers and the club grew in stature with him. A part of Bristol Rovers has died with him.’
The league game scheduled for the day following Harry’s death, against Bristol City at Eastville went ahead as planned. The two sides formed two lines on the pitch after arriving from the dressing rooms and listened to a tribute read by Rovers’ director John Hare.
Both teams wore black armbands and crowd of 32,104 observed a minute’s silence before kick off. City won the game 2-1 but on that particular day the result hardly mattered as fans in blue, and in red, remembered a Bristol footballing legend.
Harry’s funeral took place at St Mary Redcliffe on 6th November with a congregation of over a thousand inside the church and many more stood outside in the churchyard and lined the streets surrounding it.
A Memorial Fund was established for Harry’s dependants and when the proceeds of a memorial match against Arsenal, played at Eastville on 8th May 1959, more than £6,000 had been raised.
The biggest legacy was, perhaps, the Harry Bamford Trophy which was awarded to; ‘the outstanding Player of the Year from the point of view of good sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct both on and off the field.’
The winner was selected, each year, from nominations from within the professional and amateur ranks and the first winner was Geoff Bradford.
The Trophy seemed to disappear without trace in 1974 but resurfaced 40 years later and local sportsman and author Steve Sutor, along with Harry’s daughter Hilary, went back over those 40 years and made retrospective presentations back to 1974.
Once again, the Trophy is now presented on an annual basis and is a much treasured Award amongst Bristol footballers.
Harry Bamford might have played football in a different era, but he was a player revered by those who saw him play and whose place in the Bristol Rovers history is guaranteed.