He managed Bradford City #5: Peter O’Rourke


By Ian Hemmens

After last season’s momentous achievements, Phil Parkinson is now assured of a place in City’s history. But in this series of Bradford City managers, I’d like to put forward the man I still consider the No 1 and the man everyone else has to look up to – Peter O’Rourke.

Peter came to the club from Chesterfield after a moderately decent career which included Celtic and Burnley amongst others. A decent ball playing centre half, when that position was more of a midfield schemer type, he was a deep thinker about the game and was a member of the club from its very beginning in 1903.

By 1906 he was still playing and also coaching the reserves. Later that season, and after a calamitous run of form, the ambitious directors turned to Peter as a caretaker after dispensing with Robert Campbell’s services. Such was his success, which included an impressive 5-0 FA Cup win over 1st Division Wolves, O’Rourke was offered the job full time.

He set about building a squad to win promotion by using his extensive knowledge of Scottish Junior Football, as well as picking up promising players. Several youngsters came south and the names of McDonald, Logan, Devine, Torrance etc all entered into City folklore.

The Paraders won promotion to the big time and after, a struggle, O’Rourke strengthened the squad yet again by bringing the likes of Jimmy Speirs, Frank Thompson and Dickie Bond to the club. Only eight years after formation, City were amazingly an established 1st Division club. As we all know, in 1911 the club reached its pinnacle by winning the FA Cup and finishing 5th in the league. They actually led the league at Christmas, but in those days the Cup was the prize trophy.

After this, O’Rourke faithfully kept with his players and gradually replaced them as they aged. George Robinson and Bob Campbell making way for the likes of Torrance and Boocock. With youngsters ready to push through, all plans were halted by the carnage of World War One. Players made the ultimate sacrifice and others had their careers stolen from them. Boocock and Oscar Fox would surely have gained England caps but for the War.

With the club in a mess financially and playing wise, another rebuild was necessary. But personal tragedy struck when O’Rourke’s son Francis died in Newfoundland after an illness. It affected him badly enough to resign his position in 1921 to his assistant.

After frankly pottering around in several jobs in the 20s, without doing much, O’Rourke answered the call of City again in their time of need during the financial crisis of 1928. A few astute signings and City swept to the Division 3 North title scoring a record 128 goals in the process.

Peter then established the club in the second tier and was pushing for a return to the First Division; when a combination of finances and bad board decisions ripped the heart from his squad, losing stars like Sam Barkas, Charlie Bicknell and Harold Peel.

Peter O’Rourke decided to retire from the game but still lived on Burlington Terrace, next to Valley Parade, until his death in 1956.

A huge chunk of the club’s early history, and much of its reputation and standing was down to O’Rourke. He was a progressive manager, letting players train with the ball when the idea of the time was to starve players of it so they would want it more on matchday. He and trainer Charlie Harper were very forward-thinking and both hugely popular with players and fans alike.

A massive presence to follow and truly a Bradford City ‘Great’ – Mr Peter O’Rourke.

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