Harry would be in class of his own if he was still playing in today’s game



The name of Harry Bamford is renowned throughout Bristol football, not only for his ability as a player, but also for his qualities as a man.

To win the trophy named in his honour, following his tragic death in a motor cycle accident in 1958 at the age of just 38, the recipient, professional or amateur, must have served the game locally in a manner that commanded similar respect.

But how much do even the majority of Bristol Rovers fans know about the man whose tally of first team appearances for the club has only been bettered by Stuart Taylor?

harry_bamford_book
The cover of the new book, which wil be launched ahead of the visit of Oxford United to the Memorial Stadium on Saturday

My guess is relatively little. Now a new book on Bamford, to be launched before Saturday’s League One match with Oxford United at the Memorial Stadium, will cast new light on a player, whose sportsmanship more than matched his skills.

It has been written by local freelance journalist Joyce Woolridge, at the request of Harry’s daughter Hilary Lewis, while Rovers’ historian Mike Jay has provided many of the statistics.

Hilary was just three-years-old when her father was killed and wanted his fascinating story told in detail. She has financed the project and the resulting book will engross any supporter with an interest in Rovers’ past.

Book launch

Among those invited to the launch, which will take place between 12.30 pm and 2.30 pm on Saturday in the Bristol Room at the Memorial Stadium, are former Pirates heroes Howard Radford, the goalkeeper in the side Bamford played in; Josser Watling and Harold Jarman.

I am able to provide a taster to the book from information compiled by the author, which in itself tells a remarkable story.

She writes: “The importance of Harry Bamford as a man and as a footballer was perfectly summarised by manager Bert Tann at Bamford’s memorial service at St Mary Redcliffe Church, when he commented that ‘a part of Bristol Rovers died with him.’

“Harry Bamford’s influence on the spirit and performance of Rovers sides during the halcyon days of the 1920s was an essential ingredient in the success enjoyed.

“The eldest of three sons, he scored 13 goals in one school match, appeared in Bristol City’s Western League side as a teenager and played in three consecutive seasons for Bristol Boys.

“Described as a shy, but perfect gentleman and sportsman, Bamford was an inside-forward who, after three-and-a-half war-time years in Burma and India with the First Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment, was converted into a cultured and reliable full-back.

“Popular with his team-mates and a huge favourite with the supporters, he once dribbled the ball into his own net against Exeter City in March 1948, rather than lose possession.

International cap

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Bristol Rovers’ Harry Bamford was capped by the Football Asociation

“As his reputation grew, he was selected to tour Australia with the Football Association in 1951, playing in the unofficial 17-0 win against Australia in June of that year, and contrived to score three goals on that tour.

“Goal-scoring was not his forte, although he did score against Fulham in August 1953 in Rovers’ first ever game in Division Two. His first goal for the side had been the result of a 30-yard solo run ten minutes from the end of a comfortable home victory over Ipswich Town the previous March.

“One of six ever-presents in Rovers’ Third Division (South) championship side of 1952-53, Harry was one of many Bristol-born players who represented the side for long careers during this successful period.

“Despite hitting the veteran stage of his career, the responsible full-back was also an ever-present in 1955-56 and 1957-58 and continued to enjoy his passions of pigeon-racing and motor-cycling.

“The latter, sadly, played a rôle in Bamford’s tragically early death. Heading off for an afternoon coaching session with schoolboys at Clark’s Grammar School in Clifton, he was involved in a collision with a lorry and died three days later of his injuries.

“Just 38-years-old, he left a pregnant widow, his second daughter Julie being born that December. A testimonial game drew a crowd of 28,347 to Eastville to see a combined Rovers/City XI defeat Arsenal 5-4.

The Harry Bamford Trophy

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The Harry Bamford Trophy
“Bamford’s career was honoured with the annual award of a memorial trophy to commemorate sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct on the field. Presented by his wife Violet, this memorial was a true reflection of the heritage left behind by one of the most gifted players to have worn the blue-and-white quarters.

“The Harry Bamford Trophy, lost for 40 years, was recovered in 2014 and presented by Harry’s surviving daughter Hilary to the son of Doug Hillard, the nominal winner for 1974.”

By then a replica had been made and the award was handed out, sometimes posthumously, to winners thought to have deserved it while it was lost.

A fitting tribute to a man who will always rate among the greatest Bristol Rovers have known.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.