the story of leeds football from 1904 to 1920

Leeds United started life in 1919 arising from the ashes of the unfortunate but controversial affair that brought about the demise of Leeds City. This is a concise history of Leeds United with a brief look at the early days of football in our wonderful city. We all know a little about the history of Super Leeds and here you can find the key points of where and when it all began. This first page deals with Leeds City AFC focusing on their birth, seasons and the controversial end. Leeds City was the biggest city in England without a football team and the town was hungry for football. Around 16 years after the football league started saw the eventual start of association football league in Leeds. The memorable year was 1905 and this was where it all started, this if you like is the twinkle in the eye of Leeds United, coming from a meeting in the Griffin Hotel, Leeds.


WAFLL Main | History Index | Period 1919 ~ 1950

  The Beginning
Way back in 1897 Holbeck Rugby Club failed to renew their lease on the Holbeck Recreation Ground and instead decided to opt to buy a ground for themselves. For 1,100 they bought a ground called the Old Peacock Ground situated on Elland Road. The ground at the time was also used for association football, the first soccer match seeing Hunslet beat Harrogate 1-0 to win the West Yorkshire Cup on 23 April 1898. Leeds at this time didn't have an association football league team but Leeds Woodville of the Leeds League shared the ground with Holbeck until 1904 when Holbeck went under after failing to secure a place in divison one of the Northern Union. The ground now popularly known as simply Elland Road was put on the market.

Although the Leeds people traditionally loved their rugby and cricket, association football had proved popular in the past with gates of around 7,000 watching Leeds play Hunslet in the Leeds Workpeople's Hospital Cup in 1897. Interest in the game such as this proved there could be a future for an association football league team in Leeds and now that a ground was available there was no better time to get down to the business of the creation of such a team.

Supporters of the idea and also men who were previously behind the now disbanded Hunslet Football Club held a meeting at the Griffin Hotel in Boar Lane to chalk up plans for the new Leeds football team. Probably after many a pint was swallowed and spilled the final outcome was that Leeds City Association Football Club should be formed and agreed that Elland Road should be rented for the season to come. Leeds City were born in 1904 paying 75 a year for the privilege of playing at Elland Road, they had an option to buy the ground for 4,500 the following year. The emerging Leeds City club placed an ad for a new manager in the Leeds Mercury on Monday, February 13, 1905 and amongst many others the Scot Gilbert Gillies applied for the job. Gillies got the job on account of his impressive credentials. A team of players were swiftly signed up and the new Leeds City joined the West Yorkshire League. Their first game ever ending in a 2-2 draw with Morley. Their first game at Elland Road was a friendly against Hull City which saw the team lose 2-0. The management of the club had big designs on a future in the football league and to try and encourage inclusion arranged a lot of high profile friendlies against league opposition. West Yorkshire League fixtures were not respected and games were called off because of the headline grabbing friendlies.

Now it was 16 years after the formation of the Football League and Leeds was the biggest city in England not to have a league club. The Leeds City officials however were confident that this would change when they decided to float Leeds City as a limited company in 1905. Interest was growing and Leeds City could boast regular attendances of 2,000. Finally on 29 May 1905 Leeds City were admitted to the football league along with Chelsea, Hull City, Clapton Orient and Stockport County they joined the expanded second division. Leeds City AFC had at last brought big time football to our great city of Leeds.

  1905-06 ~ 1919-20
Leeds City joined the second division in time for the 1905/06 season and didn't do half bad finishing in 6th spot. The league had 20 teams in it at that time so the Leeds City officials were delighted with the progress. What would prove more heartening for them though is the fact that Leeds RL's gates had fallen by nearly 50% and with that the domination of the game of rugby in Leeds was failing. Confidence was high and the Leeds City officials backed up their aplomb with building a brand new stand at Elland Road called The Scratching Shed. 1906-07 and it was the second season of football for the city of Leeds. Beginners luck maybe, as the team could only manage 10th spot in a season where Gillies and his team recieved undue criticism. 1907-08 saw the end for Gillies as he quit the job. The team managed to top the second division for a period but after a woeful collapse Leeds finished in 12th position their worst finish so far.

  1905-06 First Season Ever And Leeds City 'Didn't Do half Bad.'
  1906-07 Undue Criticism for Leeds Manager Gillies As City Finish 10th.
  1907-08 City Manager Gilbert Gillies Quits With 12 Games To Play.

On 16th March 1908 Frank Scott-Walford was appointed manager, ironically on the day the contract of Gilbert Gillies should have expired. The 1908-09 season saw Leeds finish in 12th position. Walford at this time was relying mainly on the players he brought with him from Brighton. In 1909-10 his search for the winning fomula failed badly, with a record 7-0 defeat at the hands of Barnsley being the major lowlight in a season where Leeds finished 17th. Leeds again failed to shine in 1910-11 finishing 11th and their away form was only just an improvement on the previous two seasons. With the team finishing in the bottom half of the table at the end of the season in 1911-12 conceding 78 goals, Leeds City had to apply for re-election after their most dismal season to date. Frank Scott-Walford stood down as manager and Herbert Chapman was appointed the new manager of Leeds City.

  1908-09 Frank Scott-Walford Takes Charge, City Finish In 12th.
  1909-10 The Winning Formula Escapes Walford Has City End In 17th.
  1910-11 A Slight Improvement But Not Good Enough With City In 11th.
  1911-12 A 19th Position Finish Forces Leeds City To Apply For Re-Election.

After the arrival of Herbert Chapman in 1912 there was much optimism for the 1912-13 season. It was he that campaigned to keep Leeds City in the league and also predicted he would take Leeds City into the first division. Chapman inspired the team to 6th position in that season and in the following 1913-14 season they come within two points of promotion finishing fourth. They also managed a league record that year beating Nottingham Forest 8-0. Things were improving for Leeds City, they managed to make a profit of 400 and there was regularly 20,000 people cheering the team on that season with 30,000 when they hosted Fulham. Disappointingly though the following 1914-15 season saw Leeds finish 15th before the suspension of the official league down to The Great War. During the war Leeds City did well winning the unofficial League Championship against the champions of the Lancashire League, Leeds also had a great number of guest players play for them in that period including a lot of internationals. War time stretched four years and Leeds seemed rejuvenated when the league started again in 1919-20. Chapmans lads started well gaining ten points from eight games with Mcleod netting 9 goals. Then.... then it went all wrong. Leeds City Football Club was suspended and then expelled from the football league because of an unbelievable scandal.

  1912-13 Herbert Chapman Takes Over And Drives Leeds To 6th.
  1913-14 So Close To Promotion With City Pushing To 4th.
  1914-15 City Slump To 15th Before The League Is Suspended For The Great War.

  The War Years

  1915-16 City Win The Northern Division Of The Midlands Section.
  1916-17 City Win The Midlands Section Principal Tournament
  1917-18 Champions Of England As City Top Both The Principal And Subsidiary Divisions.
  1918-19 City Lose Form Finishing With A 4th Position Finish In The Principal.

  Controversial End
Leeds City did start the 1919-20 season but were not to finish it. Charlie Copeland who had been with Leeds City since 1912 had fallen out with the club over the issue of a pay rise. As a result of this Copeland made allegations about illegal payments made to guest players during the wartime period. Indeed this practice was widespread but the FA nor the Football League could ignore this because an allegation had been brought to their attention. Following Copelands allegation Leeds City were summoned to Manchester on 26 September 1919. Leeds City were ordered to offer their books before the Commission which was chaired by the FA Chairman JC Clegg. The Commission however were stunned when Leeds City replied they were not in a power to do so. They were ordered to produce the documents by 6 October or face the consequences.

  1919-20 War Over And City Start The League Campaign, But Don't Finish.

In the face of this Leeds City were still doing well on the park and no one had a clue what was to come as they set off for Wolves two days before the Commissions deadline. Leeds City won that game 4-2 and ironically on the way back the Leeds City coach gave a lift to none other than Charlie Copeland. The trip to Wolves proved to be Leeds City's last game, the documents failed to be produced and the following fixture against South Shields was suspended.The enquiry team later met at the Russell Hotel in London and Leeds City were expelled from the football league. There was no firm evidence that Leeds City had actually done anything wrong but it is believed that with the club failing to produce the documents then this was an admission of guilt. League football had been brought to a grinding halt in the City of Leeds. Port Vale replaced Leeds City in the league and some believed that Port Vale put undue pressure on the enquiry team to get Leeds City kicked out. Port Vale went on to finish in 13th position after inheriting Leeds City's seasons points.

This of course is not the end of the story. Almost instantly after Leeds City were controversially brought to an end a new dawn of hope rose on the Leeds horizon. People were talking about a new club. A new club that maybe could take the place of Leeds City. People were talking about Leeds United.

WAFLL Main | History Index | Period 1919 ~ 1950

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