Football in a Stubborn Yorkshire Rose
Football came late to the city of Leeds, indeed to the county of West Yorkshire as a whole. There was a great deal of suspicion about the round ball game in the industrial city of Leeds, it’s inhabitants much preferred the tougher, more skilful code of rugby football. The first game of rugby in Leeds was recorded in 1864 and Leeds had grown to play host to an abundance of rugby football clubs who were members of the Yorkshire Rugby Football Union. Indeed Holbeck Rugby Club were the first occupants of Leeds United’s Elland Road stadium.
The stubbornness of the Leeds character meant the city was slow to adopt new things, especially the soft southern game of Association Football. Even a delegation from the soccer obsessed city of Sheffield, who staged an exhibition match during the Christmas of 1877 couldn’t prize the Loiners away from their oval ball. Football eventually got a toehold in the city when Sheffield born captain of Hunslet Cricket Club founded Hunslet AFC, but the venture wasn’t to last long as the club was abolished within five years.
Next came Leeds FC (1885-90 in various incarnations), Leeds Albion (1885-92) until eventually in 1894 a new West Yorkshire League was formed with Leeds AFC and Hunslet FC the standout teams. Leeds AFC didn’t last long, a move to Headingley and purchase by Leeds Cricket, Football and Athletic Company saw them fold in 1889. Their place at Headlingley taken by, you guessed it, a rugby team, Leeds St John in fact who would later go on to become Leeds Rugby League Football Club. Hunslet FCs origins lay in the Leeds Steelworks team which had been formed five years earlier.
Leeds Steelworks once dominated Hunslet and can lay claim to the origins of Association Football in Leeds
Despite West Yorkshire Cup victories and reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Amateur Cup the club were nomads, unable to find a permanent pitch. The great split of rugby football and formation of the Northern Union in 1895 meant there were more rugby teams and with a proliferation of new smaller association football teams competition for pitches was fierece. Unable to find a permanent home with proper facilities Hunslet FC, Leeds first great hope of a professional football team, folded. But Hunslet FC were to rise again in 1904, this time under a different name, Leeds City Association Club.
The tide was changing for one of the cities rugby clubs, Holbeck, and failure to win promotion to the top division saw Hunslet in the south and Leeds St John to the north steal their crowds. At a meeting at the Griffin Hotel in August 1904 some of the cities great and good including representatives of the Hepworths and Burton empires came together. Leeds City was born from the ashes of Hunslet Association Football Club and Holbeck Rugby Club. What’s more Leeds City were now free to play at Holbeck’s old ground, Elland Road. Perhaps the first time association football had got one over on rugby football in the city of Leeds?
Leeds City would find themselves elected to the Football League on 29th May 1905, the first club from Leeds to take up a place in the professional league.
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