Tom Coombs never actually served as chairman of Leeds City, though
when Norris Hepworth died in February
1914, in all but formality the accountant fulfilled the role.
He kept the club ticking over until a syndicate headed by Joseph
Connor assumed control in August 1915.
Thomas Coombs was born in Bury, Lancashire, in 1848. After qualifying
as a chartered accountant, Coombs founded the firm, Thomas Coombs
and Son, in 1878 in Bramley and later opened a second office in
Among other business services, the firm acted as liquidator and
receiver for organisations and it was in this role that Coombs
became involved with Leeds City in 1912.
The club had always struggled to make ends meet financially and
had reached a point of no return.
On 27 March 1912, the club's solicitors issued this notice: "We
beg to inform you that this morning Mr Norris Rhodes Hepworth
has appointed Mr Tom Coombs, of 14 King Street, Leeds, accountant,
as receiver on behalf of the debenture holders of the Leeds City
Association Football Club Company Limited. The appointment was
served this morning on the club by Mr R Agar Chadwick, solicitor,
on behalf of Mr Hepworth and Mr Coombs. Under the appointment
all the assets of the club will now belong to Mr Coombs, on behalf
of the debenture holders, to whom all moneys must be paid and
without whose authority no money belonging to the club can be
The Yorkshire Post reported: "The appointment of a receiver does
not mean that the club will be wound up. In a playing sense the
position of the club is deplorably low, and there is at present
a grave danger that it may be necessary to apply for re-election
to the Second Division of the Football League. No doubt is held
that in such an event re-election would be forthcoming, but apart
altogether from this aspect of the situation it is felt by the
responsible directors of the club that the financial affairs of
the company should be straightened out and
a fresh start made. At the commencement of the present football
season it was stated that the indebtedness of the club to Mr Norris
Hepworth, the chairman, was £10,733, and that the club's total
indebtedness to all sources at that date was £13,297.
"Mr Hepworth is still the principal creditor of the club, and
holds the bulk of the debentures. It is understood that a scheme
of reconstruction is in contemplation, and that the ultimate result
will be to give the club a fresh and more prosperous lease of
Coombs' remit was to bring strict discipline to Leeds City's
financial dealings while the accountant and others sought a more
fundamental solution. He had the required impact.
In 1911/12 the club sustained
a loss of £1,803; though the loss for 1912/13
was a near record £1,865, that figure resulted mainly from Coombs
providing new manager Herbert
Chapman with the funding to sign four international players.
These included Bradford City captain and FA Cup winner Jimmy Speirs,
who cost the Peacocks a club record £1,400. In 1913/14,
the club returned a profit of £383, their first surplus since
One of the most proactive of those seeking an escape route for
the club was Alf Masser, elected to the board of directors following
a protest by shareholders in 1910. In April 1912, Masser brought
forward refinancing proposals which involved the issue of new
share capital. These were welcomed by Coombs, who moved that "This
meeting heartily endorses the scheme of reconstruction put forward
by Mr Masser and pledges itself by all means in its power to assist
in raising the necessary funds to place the club in a sound financial
back to top
On 20 August 1912, the club held an Extraordinary General Meeting
at the Salem Hall in the city to consider a resolution to wind
up the company.
Coombs presented a statement of assets and liabilities to the
shareholders. The total liabilities, including share capital,
were £15,782 5s 10d. The assets consisted chiefly of ground improvements,
amounting to £7,000. The position of the company was such that
if the assets were good, there would still be a deficiency of
£8,364. If the company ceased to exist altogether the £7,000 expenditure
on the ground would be useless as an asset and there would then
be a deficiency of £15,400.
The meeting was called with the object of asking the shareholders
to pass a resolution, a first step towards terminating the receivership
and placing the club in voluntary liquidation. This would allow
a new start, with the reconstruction of the company on such lines
as would satisfy the creditors, the Football Association and the
It was proposed that a new company would be formed with a nominal
capital of £7,000, 1,000 of which were preference shares and the
balance being 6,000 ordinary shares of £1 each. The new company
would purchase the whole of the old company's assets. As the £1,000
of preference shares would be the only cash at once forthcoming,
it was proposed to issue £9,000 worth of debentures to cover the
balance of their liabilities.
During the course of the meeting, Alf Masser emphasised how much
they were all indebted to Coombs for the "businesslike way in
which he had tackled the affairs of the club". In issuing a thousand
preference shares, he did not think they were asking
for enough money, seeing that the new company would start with
a liability of something like £2,500 incurred during the previous
few months. Masser moved that the company be voluntarily would
up, and that Coombs be appointed liquidator to preside over the
The resolution, seconded by outgoing manager Frank
Scott-Walford, was carried, but it didn't provide a lasting
solution to the club's financial difficulties and they tottered
on, continuing to live a hand to mouth existence.
Things became even grimmer when Chairman Norris Hepworth died
in February 1914. That left Coombs in full control of running
the club's affairs and desperately seeking to find a way forward.
The cause was not helped by the onset of war a few weeks prior
to the 1914/15 season.
The club limped through that campaign, generating a loss of £1,568,
and it was clear that, deprived of the ongoing financial backing
of Hepworth, they could not survive much longer without dramatic
Coombs negotiated a radical arrangement which he believed would
save the club.
On 2 August 1915, the Leeds Mercury reported: "Sensational rumours
are current in connection with the Leeds City and Leeds Northern
Union clubs. The Leeds City organisation, as is well known, is
in the hands of an official liquidator, who has run the club since
the death of Mr Norris Hepworth, and in effect rumour suggests
that the Northern Union club are contemplating a change from Rugby
to soccer, and are considering the question of purchasing the
Leeds City Club lock, stock and barrel, and transferring to Headingley."
Tom Coombs denied the reports, but the following day the Mercury
continued with its story. "The rumour of a proposed transference
of the Leeds City Association Football Club from the Elland Road
ground to Headingley … has caused a sensation in Leeds soccer
and Northern Union circles.
"The management of the City Club, of course, has for a long time
been in the hands of Mr Herbert Chapman and Mr Tom Coombs, the
Official Liquidator. It must be acknowledged that membership of
the Second Division of the League is not so great an asset as
it was. When the war is over, and professional football is resumed,
however, the League membership will be valuable again, and the
players will be an asset, although not so great as asset as they
"The position so far as the Headingley people are concerned is
that they may buy Leeds City's fixtures at Elland Road, stands,
etc, if they care to take them, and they would get the League
rights in the players on Leeds City's books, plus, of course,
the position in the Second Division of the League - if the League
sanctioned the transfer.
"Given that necessary sanction, the Northern Union game would
be banished from Headingley and soccer would be played instead.
The Elland Road ground would become wasteland for the time being,
and its future would be a matter of doubt.
"People may ask, 'What about the Leeds City shareholders?' The
answer is that in the circumstances the Leeds City shareholders
do not exist. They have lost their money, and they have no legal
right to say a word concerning the future of the club. Fortunately
for them there is a distinct chance that the Management Committee
of the League would take the view that the Leeds City shareholders
have some moral right in the matter, and they may ask the Liquidator
to call a meeting of the old shareholders and ask for their views
before disposing of the club to anyone.
back to top
"The Liquidator need not call such a meeting unless he chooses,
but his refusal to do so might be followed by the refusal of the
Management Committee of the League to sanction the transfer of
the club. In that case the Leeds City Club would still exist,
but its membership of the League would be gone, and it would have
no claim to transfer rights in the players.
"It appears that, apart from the Headingley suggestions, there
is another scheme afoot to save the Leeds City Club. Several Leeds
sportsmen, who desire to see the club take its place eventually
in the First Division, have offered to buy the Liquidator out
at the assessed value of the team and the position in the League.
They have offered, it is said, to lease the Elland Road ground
with an option to purchase the ground outright at any time during
the next ten years. Compulsory purchase of the ground at the end
of ten years has been suggested to them by the Liquidator, but
they are not prepared to bind themselves to that in the present
unsettled state of affairs. So far the offer of these Leeds sportsmen
has not been accepted.
"Apparently, in view of the attitude of the Management Committee
of the League, the old shareholders of the club can play a very
large part in settling the future of the club. It should be understood
that the Management Committee can refuse to allow the Leeds City
headquarters to be removed from Elland Road to Headingley so long
as Leeds City remain members of their body. The question last
cropped up in League football when Woolwich Arsenal removed from
Woolwich to North London, and it was pointed out then that there
was nothing to prevent Woolwich moving to Manchester if they cared,
and continuing their membership of the League there.
"To prevent the obviously possible abuse of such a state of affairs
it was decided that the Management Committee have power in future
to veto any proposed transfer of which they did not approve. If
the shareholders say that they do not like the suggested Headingley
deal, then it is extremely probable that the Management Committee
will insist that if Leeds City want to play Second Division football
when the war is over it must be played at Elland Road.
"Out of all this arises the question of the views of two sets
of supporters, the soccer enthusiasts, who with their sixpences
have helped to build up Leeds City and the Elland Road ground,
and the rugby followers, who have kept the Northern Union flag
flying at Headingley. Given a transfer to Headingley, the Leeds
City supporters would doubtless be inconvenienced to a considerable
extent, while the Northern Union people would be forced to become
converts to soccer, something that a great number would refuse
Joseph Connor, president of the West Riding FA, criticised the
scheme, which he considered unfair to supporters of both clubs.
He wanted "to see Leeds City and Leeds Northern Union clubs make
progress in their respective codes. It would be detrimental to
sport to allow one club to sink, simply to bolster up the rival
code. It would be ridiculous to have only one first class club
running in Leeds when football comes to its own again."
A week later, there was a startling change of direction: the
original offer was withdrawn, only for an alternative deal to
be agreed. Coombs sold the club to a syndicate of local businessman,
headed by Connor, who would become the new chairman. The other
members of the syndicate were J C Whiteman, S Glover, George Sykes
and accountant W H Platts, who accepted positions as directors.
A special meeting was held and the 400 shareholders of the Leeds
City Club, representing a capital of about £5,000, were invited.
Those who attended expressed their approval of the action taken
by the syndicate and the general feeling was that continuing to
play football on the Elland Road ground would be instrumental
in furthering the Association game in Leeds.
Coombs said the purpose of the meeting was to place the position
of affairs before the shareholders. For some
time past he had been acting as receiver, manager and liquidator.
Twelve months earlier the position had seemed promising but the
onset of war had thrown plans into disarray. Following the completion
of the previous season's programme, he stated that he could not
continue any longer to act in the capacity of receiver and manager
and to continue the club as a business.
back to top
He had been endeavouring to dispose of the assets of the club
on behalf of the debenture holders and yesterday had entered into
an agreement for the disposal of those assets.
The shareholders could take on the club on the same terms as
syndicate if they wished and could pay the same price. The undertaking
which the syndicate had entered into was that the management and
other current expenses should be taken over immediately.
Coombs confirmed that under the terms agreed, an unconditional
payment of £1,000 was due with immediate effect with a further
payment of £250 to follow which was conditional on the receipt
by the syndicate of the transfer fees of players who were at
the present time on the retain or transfer list of the club. The
syndicate would cover all management expenses from the date of
the purchase and any existing agreements between the club and
the secretary manager, or between the club and any other clubs
in reference to provisional transfers. They would also lease the
Elland Road ground for a minimum of five years with an option
of a further five years, at a rental of £250 a year, and give
personal guarantees for the payment of the rent for the first
period of five years, with an option to purchase at a price of
Alf Masser appealed to shareholders to come forward and help
the City club, which, he stated, had suffered from its initiation
owing to being governed by an aristocratic body instead of a democratic
one. It would have been a calamity had the Association code been
allowed to go to Headingley. He was glad that the League Management
Committee had insisted that the existing shareholders be consulted
before any transfer could take place, an action which was approved
by all sportsmen. He was prepared to go to £50 or even more towards
the raising of £3,000. He was a lone voice.
Joseph Connor, who was loudly cheered, said that when he and
his colleagues approached Coombs, they did so for the good of
football and had no intention of making money out of the deal.
He thought football ought to take a back seat at the present time,
but hoped that when the war was over Leeds City would be a successful
A resolution was passed to confirm the sale to the syndicate
and thanks were given to Connor and his colleagues for the timely
steps they had taken in saving the Leeds City Club.
And with that decision the deal was done. Ownership of the club
passed to Connor and his compatriots, allowing Coombs to silently
take his leave of the spotlight.
Coombs' son, also named Tom, joined his father in the family
business as a partner in 1891 and served as Lord Mayor of Leeds
in 1936. Both men were leading lights in a local Freemasons' Lodge.
The younger man was a vice president of Headingley Rugby Union
Football Club and was in later years involved with Leeds United,
the successors of the City Club.
back to top