Jimmy Speirs: The FA-cup winning warrior

The Emirates FA Cup

More than a decade before the FA-cup finals began to be played at the Wembley Stadium, Bradford City grabbed their first major title. It was the year of 1911 and the finals were still being played at the ground of Crystal Palace. This time almost 70-thousand people had crammed into the Stadium to watch Bradford City against Newcastle United. Newcastle had won the trophy the previous year after a replay against Barnsley.

This year forced another replay to take place. The first meeting at the ground of Crystal Palace ended goalless and the replay was schedule to take place four days later at Old Trafford in Manchester. In the 15th minute of the game, the captain Jimmy Speirs came up perfectly in the penalty area and headed home the winning goal for Bradford.

Jimmy was born in Glasgow 25 years earlier and started to play for Annandale while he worked as a clerk. He then played for three more teams in Glasgow; Maryhill, Rangers and Clyde. When he played for Clyde he attracted attention from England and Bradford City. Bradford was coached by a fellow countryman Peter O’Rourke at the time of Jimmy’s transfer. Bradford had been promoted to the First Division in 1908 and now made their second season in the top flight.

He made his debut on the opening day of the 1909/10 season against Manchester United. Bradford lost the game and Jimmy had to wait a couple of rounds before his first goal in the Bradford shirt came. It came in an away game against Sunderland which Bradford won with the clear numbers of 3-1. His first season was more than pleasant for him. He played in every game that season (38 games) and scored six times. Bradford ended on a seventh place.

The next season was going to be a memorable one for Jimmy and Bradford. As mentioned in the beginning of this text they won the FA-cup title after Jimmy’s nice header against Newcastle. But it was also a good season in the league since they finished on a very respectable fifth place – the best league position ever for Bradford City.

The following year he left for Leeds City which didn’t play in the First Division at the time but was instead housed in the Second Division. The club had just signed Herbert Chapman as their new manager and he made a couple of changes, including the transfer of Jimmy Speirs. Jimmy and Billy McLeod helped Chapman and Leeds City to a sixth place in the first season. Jimmy scored ten goals in his first season and showed that Chapman’s knowledge for talent was correct. The next season Leeds finished on a fourth place and missed the promotion again. The league continued even though the outbreak of the First World War was a fact. But in the end of the season 1914/15 it was suspended. Before that happened, Jimmy helped Leeds winning their only title in their history – The West Riding Cup. The team was expelled from the league in 1919 and later dissolved all together.

After the season ended in 1915, Jimmy returned to Glasgow to sign up voluntary for the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. Conscription was going to come in action in 1916 but since Jimmy was both married and had kids he would have been exempt from that. He was first stationed at the regiments headquarter in Inverness where he became a part of the 3rd Battalion. In 1916, he was posted overseas and was named Corporal. He got injured in the battle by what seemed to have been a gunshot. After a period at a local camp hospital he returned to the front in April 1917. There he was a part of the “Second Battle of Arras” which cost as many as 158-thousand lives. Jimmy saw horror on close range and had to bury his fellow soldiers when it was a pause in the fighting.

In May 1917, he was awarded the Military Medal for acts of bravery. That same July he went home for a brief period to spend some time with his family and friends. This was going to be the last time they saw him. When he returned to the front again he was caught up in the middle of the horror in Passchendaele.

The Battle of Passchendaele has after the war been described as one of the most important battles during the First World War. It took place outside of the Belgian city of Ypres. The Allies aim for the Battle was to cut of the Germans from the harbours in and around the English Channel, but also to break through their barriers. It also worked as a way to distract the German troops from area around Aisne since a large mutiny had broken out there. The battle cost over 600-thousand lives and some of the soldiers even drowned in the thick mud.

Jimmy died around the 20th of August 1917. Exactly how and when he died isn’t clear. But one story tells that he was hit by a bullet in his thigh and crawled down a shell-hole to wait for treatment. But since the advance continued forward, no one came back and helped him. In October that same year they found his body and buried it together with many other.

Jimmy will always be praised and honored for his accomplishments during his short but eventful life. He served his country and got plenty of medals. He played football on the highest level and won the FA-cup. But maybe most important of all, he was a loving father of two and a husband to a wonderful wife. He and thousand others lost their lives in the mud of Passchendaele. They will always be remembered.

In 2003 his family auctioned out his FA-cup medal from 1911 and his war medals. The FA-cup medal was sold for 26-thousand pounds to the Bradford supporter, and later chairman, Mark Lawn. Mark later allowed it to be showed at the club’s museum.

About the Author

Oskar Uneland
25 years old from Sweden. Love football.