The Leeds City Story
14 Oct 2019 08:44 pm, by YorkshireSquare
Leeds gained its first ever professional football club when Leeds City were elected to the Football League in May 1905. Leeds City also had a permanent home, Elland Road, thanks to the contributions of Norris Hepworth who was also elected Chairman. Lack of a permanent home had led to the demise of Hunslet FC three years earlier, the same mistake would not be made again. A new grandstand is built on the Elland Road side of the pitch, banked terraces erected surrounding the other sides of the pitch with a capacity of 22,000. The team word the blue and gold, the cities sporting colours, the team become known as the Peacocks due to the proximity of the two pubs, The Old Peacock and the New Peacock Inn.
Things didn’t start well for Leeds City as they kicked off their Football League career on 2nd September 1905 at Valley Parade in a 'local derby' with Bradford City. They lost 1-0 in front of a crowd of 15,000. Their first game at Elland Road came against West Bromwich where a crowd of 6,800 saw their team fail to score again, losing 2-0. City again failed to take a point and languished at the bottom of the league. Half that number came to City’s next home game two days later but centre forward Tom Drain, recently bought from Bradford City, scored twice in a 2-2 draw with Lincoln City. A Harry Singleton goal saw Leeds beat Leicester Fosse at Filbert Street 1-0 in their first league victory.
The New Peacock Inn, one of the two pubs sharing the Peacock name which gave Leeds City their nickname. Owned by Bentley’s Brewery, the original owners of the ‘Peacock Ground’ on Elland Road.
Of Citiy’s first victory the Yorkshire Post said, “They have progressed by stages and fully justified their right to be in the Second Division” and at their next home game against Hull City 13,600 spectators turned out to watch a 3-1 victory. Leeds were gaining a significant following as they finished sixth in Division Two in their first season in the Football League. They had nine gates topping the 10,000 mark and 22,000 people turned out to watch the return match against Bradford City at Elland Road. More impressively attendances north of the river to watch Leeds RL at Headingley had nosedived from 9,000 to 5,600. Finally, the monopoly held over Leeds by the oval ball game had been broken.
Their first season had not been unsuccessful but the board were ambitious and set about building a club capable of winning the ‘highest honours’. The Elland Road pitch was rotated with a new grandstand build on the west side of the ground and the remaining earth terraces expanded further. The new stadium would be ready for the 1906 season, with a new manager, Gilbert Gillies, at the helm. One of the success stories of their first season was David ‘Soldier’ Wilson, a Boer War veteran signed from Hull City in December who had scored 13 goals in 15 games. Wilson would remain the focal point of the team for the 1906 season.
The season did not start so well for Wilson who didn’t score in the first two games and then missing the next four through injury, his return against Burton inspired the team to three straight victories. Against Burnley on 27 October 1906, Wilson left the pitch during the second half after suffering chest pains. When hearing Harry Singleton and John Lavery had come passengers in the game due to injury Wilson returned to the pitch despite protests from the medical staff. He left the pitch again after three minutes, the pains having become worse. As he made his way down the tunnel to the dressing rooms, he collapsed and was carried to the treatment room, where efforts were made to revive him. The battle was in vain and 'Soldier' lost his brief fight for life at just 23 years old.
City never recovered from the tragedy and saw a run of five losses, not scoring in four games. They managed only a couple of wins before the new year and started 1907 in 17th place. The team rallied in the new year but would finish 10th overall. The highlight was the arrival of Billy McLeod from Lincoln City who scored 15 goals in 23 games. The board were growing restless and the changes were rung, Gilbert Gillies moved to an administration role and Frank Scott-Walford became secretary manager. Results did not improve though with City finishing 12th in 1907-08 and 1908-1909, 17th in 1909-1910, 11th in 1910-11 and a lowly 19th in 1911-1912.
Incidentally during this period the name Leeds United was to emerge for the first time. A club with the name had been formed, based at Kirkstall they played in the Yorkshire Combination League. No relation to todays club bearing the same name they soon folded.
The cost of running a football club was rising and the Leeds City board had to dig deep in their pockets in 1910 in the form of debentures to fund the club. 1912 was set to be a bit of an annus horribilis for City, Scott-Walford quit due to failing health and a low point was hit when the bank announced they were to call in £7,000 of the clubs debt. Things were so desperate that receivers were called in and the club had to apply to be re-elected to the League. Once again Norris Hepworth stepped in with more cash, his total investment now standing at £15,000. Leeds Cricket, Football and Athletic Club offered to take over the club and move the team to Headingley but nothing came of the proposal.
New manager Herbert Chapman, who would go on to have great success with Arsenal, was vital in campaigning for Cities successful re-election to the League and the 1912-13 season started with renewed optimism. Chapman proved an inspirational figure, guiding the club to a 6th place finish I his first season with star striker McLeod scoring 27 league goals out of a club record 70 that season. The next season, 1913-14, City were to come within two points of promotion, finishing 4th and notching up their record victory with an 8-0 thrashing of Nottingham Forest.
Despite having failed on his promise to get the team promoted within two years, City's rising attendances and resulting better profits for the club kept the directors happy, and the club were confident of promotion in 1914-15. However, the declaration of World War I disrupted Leeds City's season, with attendances down as men signed up to fight. Leeds City lost six of their last eight games of the season to finish just fifteenth. League football was suspended for the rest of the war, with Leeds City playing in regional competitions. City relied heavily on guest players during these matches whilst Chapman, took up a managerial position at Barnbow munitions factory near Cross Gates.
Following the cessation of hostilities, the League restarted in 1919. City started brightly with 10 points from eight games but then disaster struck as Leeds City were suspended and eventually expelled from the League in a scandal involving illegal payments made to guest players during wartime matches. Allegations had been made to the Football League by former player Charlie Copeland who well out with the club over a pay rise. Payments to players during the war, though illegal, were widespread but once Copeland had made his allegations the League could not ignore them.
Despite a lack of concrete evidence an FA order closed the club and club officials banned for life. The entire playing staff of the club along with the nets and goal posts were auctioned off at the Metropole Hotel in Leeds on 17th October 1919. After the auction a group of more than 1,000 loyal Leeds City supporters held a meeting at the Salem Hall in Hunslet where Leeds United AFC were formed. The new club were elected to the Midland League on 31st October 1919 taking the place vacated by the Leeds City reserves. Leeds United joined the Football League on 31st May 1920.
Leeds City 1910-1911, Including Billy McLeod (2nd row, far left) and Frank Scott-Walford (2nd row, far right)