Bradford Park Avenue can now reveal arrangements for our special match to remember football’s greatest war hero on Sunday July 10.
More than 30 members of the family of First World War hero Donald Simpson Bell will cheer on his old clubs, Bradford Park Avenue and Newcastle United, during their friendly tie on Sunday July 10 to mark the 100th anniversary of his death.
The match will kick off at 3pm. But on-field tributes will start from 2.30pm so supporters are advised to be in their seats by then.
The match will also be attended by members of the military, by representatives of the Harrogate schools where Donald Bell was a pupil and a teacher, by the Football Association and by Bradford dignitaries including the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Bradford.
The occasion will, fittingly, be the first outing for Avenue’s new home strip, designed to honour the team’s gallant predecessor.
The day also provides a rare chance to glimpse his actual Victoria Cross, owned by the Professional Footballers’ Association, which is normally housed at the Football Museum in Manchester. They bought it at auction for a record price in 2010.
The club hopes for a strong turn out from supporters of both sides and from the local community, with admission prices reduced to £5 for adults and just £2 for under 18s.
With a marching band and much more, it promises to be a fantastic family day out as well as a fitting way to honour Bell and all those who fell in the Great War.
Donald Bell was the country’s first professional footballer to enlist in the Great War and remains the only one ever to be awarded the Victoria Cross, which recognised his exceptional valour during service in the trenches in northern France on 5 July 1916. Just five days later, without even knowing he was to receive the nation’s highest military honour, he was fatally shot in the head during a similar brave attack that saved the day for his comrades.
Full-back Bell played with Bradford Park Avenue from 1912 until November 1914 when he enlisted with the 9th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment (The Green Howards) and went to serve on the front line in the Battle of the Somme. He had previously played as an amateur with Newcastle United and Crystal Palace, as well as donning the jersey for a string of smaller clubs in earlier years.
Avenue chairman John Dean said: “We want to make it a very proud day for Donald Bell’s family, for his regiment and for some of the institutions he was associated with during his all-too-short life.”
Donald Bell, 25, was an outstanding athlete and this played an important part in his act of bravery on 5 July 1916. He was second in command of his bombing unit and, as his senior officer was knocked out, he took command. His unit was under heavy fire from a German machine gun post and Donald ran out, bullets whining around his head, in to No Man’s Land with an armful of Mill’s Bombs, the forerunners of today’s hand grenades.
He attacked the machine gun, killing the firer with his revolver and blowing up the gun and other soldiers with a well-aimed grenade thrown from about 20 yards out. His brave act – which he modestly brushed off as a “fluke” – saved many British lives and ensured the success of the attack.
The story is told in detail in the book “The Breed Apart”, whose author Richard Leake, along with companions from the Friends of the Green Howards Museum, will be a guest on the day.
Also next week, the club will honour Bell by sending representatives to take part in a dedication service on the centenary of his brave deed, when Harrogate’s Mayor will unveil a memorial stone in the town.
You can add yourself to our official Facebook event for all the latest updates regarding the day by clicking here.