The Bantams Flat Caps – 30th Anniversary of the Bradford City Fire
At the start of December 2014, I got a phone call from Jeremy White from Bradford City Badges. I first met Jeremy a few years ago when I became a subscriber to his range of City badges and, in the subsequent years, we have had many meetings during which we have become friends. So his phone call to me on that cold December morning was not a surprise at all. However, the subject of the conversation was a little different to our usual chats about the happenings at Valley Parade and was, to me, rather intriguing.
Jeremy had an idea to produce a flat cap that would be sold in aid of the Burns Unit (now known as PSBRU – The Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit). He wondered if I, as a recognised “cap wearer” had any input and thoughts on the matter and would I like to come on board and help him get the caps from his initial idea into a tangible, real item that would be a respectful tribute in this, the thirtieth anniversary of the Bradford City fire. Jeremy had already sought the views and comments from both the PSBRU and Bradford City FC; their support for the idea was crucial to us both as, without their full backing, we felt the project would not be viable.
My first thoughts were, “Crickey! People associate me with wearing caps?” My second thoughts were that Jeremy’s project sounded interesting, certainly very worthwhile, and was something that I would be interesting in assisting him with. So, as I have a good relationship with Alex of Laird of London, the great shop where I buy my caps from, I contacted Alex to ask his advice and help in how we needed to proceed. Alex gave us some terrific help, offered to produce the caps for us and pointed us in the direction of several northern firms where we could go to see about fabrics.
Being two complete amateurs in the art of millinery, we soon learned that producing caps is not as simple as it sounds! Firstly, we needed someone to manufacture the fabric for the caps and secondly, someone to make the actual caps.
The Cap Badge
We both wanted to produce a bespoke “one off” cloth especially for the caps. We wanted something that would be immediately recognisable as Bradford City in colour but we were very keen that the claret and amber colour not be too “loud” but, instead, be muted and respectful.
During many conversations in planning the caps ,we decided that, where possible, we wanted to use as many local, or northern based, firms as possible. Partly this was a nod towards the woollen industry that was instrumental in the history and building of the city of Bradford and, also partly to avoid unnecessary transportation costs and to enable us to see the firms involved and ensure they were up to the task!
The Cap Box Label
Jeremy did the leg work and committed an enormous amount of time and effort to researching companies that could handle the project: emailing and calling to discuss cost estimates, production lead times, checking how flexible fabric designs were, crunching the numbers to see if the caps would be affordable and still raise funds for the Burns Unit. Jeremy reported back to me at regular intervals and, during December and early January 2015, we both became adept at chatting about yarns, weaves and all facts woollen.
After considering various alternatives, we decided on the firms best suited to assist us. The fabric would be woven by Mallalieus of Delph Ltd (www.mallalieus.com) and Lawrence & Foster (www.lawrenceandfoster.co.uk), of Castleford, would make the caps.
So, early January saw us both take a short trip along the M62 and over the Pennines to visit Mallalieus of Delph. Don’t worry though, we are reliably informed that, until the county boundaries changed, Delph was on the correct side of the Lancashire/Yorkshire divide and was officially a Yorkshire town. In fact, so we were told, many residents still celebrate Yorkshire Day. That small fact steeled and reassured both Jeremy and I as we ventured into Red Rose territory.
The Cap Certificate
The folk at Mallalieus could not have been more helpful to us as we met with Clive Walsh and his design team. We expressed our aims about the colours and our desire to create a fabric that would be individual, stylish, respectful and that would be something City fans, and many more, would feel comfortable wearing. We were shown a huge array of fabric designs and patterns and spent several hours deciding upon which elements we felt would work best. Clive then showed us the various yarns that were suitable for manufacturing caps in and we spent yet more time in deciding which were best matches to the claret and amber shirt and scarves we had taken with us. He then hit us with the different choices regarding fabric weight – Jeremy and I were amazed that so many choices were available but, according to Clive, he hadn’t even scratched the surface of the many choices available. After several hours of intense discussion and deliberation, Jeremy and I had made our selections and decided on a “British” tweed fabric for the caps. We were both very confident that Clive and his excellent team at Mallalieus would do us, and our club, proud. We left with the promise of sample designs and yarn swatches to be sent shortly.
Our conversation as we made the drive back across Saddleworth Moor must have been a peculiar one to witness; two middle aged men, with absolutely no idea about what they had let themselves in for, excitedly talking about fabric, cloth weights, cap styles, looms, weaving and the style and sizes of checked patterns.
The samples took a little longer than anticipated to arrive and we got our first look at them on Friday 23rd January via email. Jeremy was enroute to London for the Chelsea cup tie when they pinged into his email inbox. He kept pulling into service stations to forward them into me and to call me to discuss his initial thoughts. There were around ten alternative pattern designs to consider; we both had similar views and dismissed most of them as not being “Bradford” enough. Three or four designs hit us as nearly, not quite, but nearly perfect. We decided to wait to see the printed copies that would be waiting on Jeremy’s doormat when he got back from Stamford Bridge. The wait was almost unbearable to endure.
Of course, the shenanigans on the Kings Road by a sea of claret and amber and their footballing heroes put our caps project to the back of our minds for the rest of that weekend!
Early Monday morning and Jeremy was on the phone again. Ten minutes, maybe longer, was spent recounting the previous 48 hours of “FA Cup magic” before we turned to the caps. Once again we both still firmly favouring the same few designs and it was left to Jeremy to contact Clive to request a few changes that we felt would make the fabric spot on. We even cheekily asked for a new “pinstripe” version just to see if that would work.
Conscious of various production schedules, Mallalieus got the revamped designs to us very quickly and Jeremy and I met again on Wednesday 28th January to settle on the final fabric design. The location for our meeting was the very glamorous Ferrybridge Services. Over a coffee the choice was agonised and debated. Then, the decision was made. The Bantams Flat Caps now had a striking, subtly checked and muted, claret, amber and black pattern. Next step was to launch the website and promote the project.
The Cap Fabric
Jeremy had already put together a simple website with all the information about the caps on it and this went live immediately. Simon Parker of the T&A and the webmaster at Bradford City AFC had already been primed and the caps story appeared on them both on the Thursday.
The press coverage advised that we would be in the One In A Million cafe to take pre-orders before that weekends home match against Colchester.
At this stage we both had no idea if the caps would be a success and how many, if any at all, we would sell. As this was basically a “pick a figure” exercise, we decided that selling 150-200 caps would be a success and the profits from this number of sales would generate a good donation to the Burns Unit. To give us the best chance of selling any caps, Jeremy had decided to include a specially commissioned 30th Anniversary enamel badge that would come with the initial 250 caps. We hoped this would be an incentive for people to support the project.
By late on Friday the website had generated over 70 pre-orders. Jeremy and I were a little taken aback and were quietly confident that we would be able to get near the magic 250 target.
The scenes that met us when we set up in the cafe were reminiscent of Beatlemania – for those of you under 25, they were a little like One Direction, with the obvious exception in my opinion that each of the four Beatles were talented musicians and showmen and responsible for songs that still resonate over 50 years later.
I digress. (For some reason, OD annoy the heck out of me).
We were staggered by the enthusiastic response from City fans that day. Lots of people came to pre-order and Liz and David, Jeremy’s wife and son, were hard pushed to keep up with the demand. My daughter, Bethany, had only come to say a quick hello before the match but was pressed into service showing people the sample design and yarn samples. Meanwhile Jeremy and I did our best to answer questions and explain the project. I had brought a few of my own caps along to help show the three styles of caps we had available. Since its inception the cap project had grown and we had decided to offer two mens cap, a flat cap and an eight-panelled cap, for men and an eight-panelled version for women. James Mason, the City CEO had been an enthusiastic supporter of the caps since Jeremy had first approached the club with the idea and James visited us to express his delight at the project and to choose his cap style. (Keep it under your cap, but he went for the eight panel). It was shortly before half time when I got a text from Jeremy saying James and the directors had just ordered a dozen caps!
The Cap Lining Label
It was quite funny watching Jeremy do his best “Mr Humphrey’s” impression as he set to measuring peoples heads for cap sizes. Are you free, Jeremy?
Such was the frantic activity at our little table that we very nearly missed kick-off.
It was late on Sunday by the time we next spoke together. Jeremy and Liz had spent all that day collating the orders taken at the cafe and those from online. During Sunday, orders were coming in at around six an hour. It may not sound like a lot but, for us, this was beyond our expectations and we soon had to revise our original estimate of how much material we would need to satisfy demand. That phone call was a lengthy one as we uhmmed and aahed and fretted over how much fabric we needed. As the weave is an “one off”, we had to get it right.
So, after much number crunching and too-ing and fro-ing, we decided. Then, early Monday morning , we called Clive, placed our order and the exclusive Bradford City fire 30th anniversary claret, amber and black fabric was born.
The fabric will be ready at the end of February (or early March) and it then goes to the cap makers. In the meantime, we have been busy sourcing packaging for each cap. What else? Oh yes, designing labels – for the caps and the packaging, liaising with the Burns Unit, speaking to printers and packaging firms. We may also be in a position to have some of the caps on sale in the club shop.
Some caps have been earmarked for use in a special photograph with PP and his squad. They will all wear a cap for this photo – a little like an old fashioned squad photo from those long ago days – before signing their cap. These have already been auctioned off to further raise funds.
The Cap Leaflet
Jeremy and I would like to express our heartfelt thanks to everyone at PSBRU and Bradford City AFC for the support they have offered. Thanks, too, must go to the T&A for their help in promoting them. Special thanks to Mallalieus for their expertise and advice and for their very generous offer of producing the fabric at cost only; this is a terrific gesture from Clive, especially as he is a Huddersfield Town fan! All the other suppliers have also been very supportive with their advice and help, particularly when we asked for even better prices.
Additional caps are available to order right now from bantamsflatcaps.co.uk
***Throughout this whole project the aim of both Jeremy and I has been to create a cap that is a tasteful and respectful tribute to the events of 11th May 1985. And to create a cap that is the best quality item two complete amateurs can achieve. We want them to be well received and to sell as many as possible so that we can donate every single penny of profit to the Burns Unit. Our aim has never been to sensationalise or otherwise degrade the events of that terrible day. We hope these caps and our reasons for creating them are viewed in the way we intend them. So far, we have been overwhelmed by the response we have received.
We were both at Valley Parade that day and, like all fans of City, both Bradford and Lincoln, carry our memories with us every day. I often find myself shedding a tear and reflecting on that day when memories suddenly come back unbidden; I cannot speak for Jeremy but I suspect he is the same.