back to The organising of the game
- forward to the Leeds City years
The Victorian gentlemen of London and the Home Counties laid
many foundations for the future during the second half of the
Nineteenth Century. Among their greatest achievements
was to bring organisation and order to sport, and in particular
They formed the Football Association in 1863, defined the first
popularly accepted rules of the game and invented the FA Cup.
It was a different time when a business
cash advance was not required as a part of the football economy.
In a jealously guarded amateur era for the game, the Corinthian
spirit of these footballing pioneers was a catalyst for an approach
that the game badly needed to encourage its progress.
After the sudden rush of initial development
and the advent of firstly shamateurism and then true professionalism,
however, the power base of the game shifted. The universities
and schools of the Home Counties became anachronisms and the focus
fell instead on the industries and working men of the North, with
Lancashire clubs coming to prominence and inspiring many young
men to careers in the game, despite the many financial restrictions
still in place.
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The story was not so positive in the dark, satanic mills of Yorkshire.
Most of the public and potential players in the Broad Acres were
more interested in rugby or cricket; soccer was a game for toffs
and a bit of a Nancy Boy Southerner's pastime in the eyes of the
typical, hard-bitten Yorkshireman and early efforts by some pioneers
to get a football scene going had limited success. There were
small oases of popularity and genuinely pioneering spirit in places
such as Sheffield, but for the most part, Yorkshire was immune
to the beauties of 'Socker'. Leeds in particular, and West Yorkshire
in general, were centres for cynicism and stereotypical denunciation
of the 'Southern jessies'.
According to the Bantams
Past website, "In the late 1800s working men began to discover
leisure. The Factory Act of 1850 stopped work in textile mills
after 2pm on a Saturday. The legislation was primarily aimed at
restricting the working hours of women and children, but adult
males benefited, as it was uneconomic to keep the mills open without
the labour of women and children who formed a large proportion
of the workforce. By the early 1870s Bradford workers were given
all Saturday afternoon off, it allowed time for sports to be played
as an escape from the rigours of work. Cricket and rugby were
the main pastimes, in fact a good proportion of rugby clubs were
by members of cricket clubs who wished to have some sport in the
winter months. Although football - or the association game as
it was known - had a toehold, it was the oval ball game that ruled
the roost once bat and pad had been put into hibernation."
The menfolk of West Yorkshire had plenty of time and enthusiasm
for sport, but their preoccupation was cricket in the summer and
rugby in the winter months. Association football got barely a
look in between these two preserves and was frowned upon by the
establishment. Yorkshire County Cricket Club were formed on 8th
January, 1863 at the Adelphi Hotel in Sheffield, while the first
record of a rugby club in Leeds dates back to 1864 when H I Jenkinson
placed an advert in the Leeds Mercury inviting players to meet
up at Woodhouse Moor a few days a week from 7 to 8am. That advert
attracted over 500 members. From this initial interest several
clubs were formed including Leeds St Johns who went on to become
the professional rugby league club based at Headingley, known
today as Leeds Rhinos.
There were those in the area who tried to promote the merits
of soccer, but they faced an uphill struggle to convince their
fellows. The main conurbations of the West Riding, Leeds and Bradford,
lacked any professional teams, in stark contrast to even small
towns like Burton, Gainsborough and Glossop, which could point
to their own local football club. In fact, Burton enjoyed the
presence of two, United and Wanderers, both of whom were in the
Football League during the 1890's.
Other towns and cities in Yorkshire were more receptive to the
delights of the association game, and Sheffield, in particular,
was a beacon of pioneering spirit. Sheffield FC are recognised
as the oldest club in the world, having been formed in 1857, and
took part in the FA Cup for the first time in 1874. The club failed
to gain admittance to the London-based Football Association when
it was formed in 1863, because of irreconcilable differences between
the interpretation of the rules between the two, and the Sheffield
Football Association was formed as a consequence in 1867. Sheffield
Wednesday followed, initially styled simply The Wednesday, their
birth coinciding with that of the Sheffield FA.
Wednesday lost 6-1 in the 1890 Cup Final to Blackburn, but came
back in 1896 to beat Wolves 2-1 and take the Cup back to Yorkshire
for the first time. Their two-goal match-winner that day was England
international Fred Spiksley, a left-winger who was to play a small
part in the story of Leeds City.
Sheffield United were another major
club from the area and became Yorkshire's first League champions
when they won the title in 1899. They also won the Cup in 1898.
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Representatives from the Sheffield area strove to spread the
gospel of the new dribbling game among their neighbours and were
responsible for what is generally acknowledged to be the first
soccer match ever played in Leeds in 1877.
Martin Jarred and Malcolm Macdonald: "It was arranged by Fred
Sanderson, president of the Sheffield Association, who took two
teams from Sheffield to play an exhibition match at Holbeck Recreation
Ground on Boxing Day 1877. They turned up with all their kit,
a ball, umpires and even a set of posts, like missionaries spreading
the soccer gospel.
"Despite a bitterly cold wind the game attracted a good crowd
and the Sheffield visitors reckoned they had covered their expenses
- until they discovered that most of the spectators were Holbeck
Rugby Club season ticket holders who had got in without playing.
With so many rugby folk at the ground it was not surprising that
soccer was given a lukewarm reception by people who 'reckoned
nowt to it'."
Some areas within the city of Leeds did take to soccer - teams
like Rothwell, Oulton, Hunslet Wesleyans and Meanwood sprang up
around 1880, and in 1885 Leeds FC were formed. The latter played
its home games on the Star and Garter ground at Kirkstall, but
struggled to build a following. The club disbanded in 1887, but
another club by the same name was founded in 1888, the year the
Football League was formed, before again folding in 1890. Another
club, Leeds Albion was set up in 1888, but lasted only four years
before also fading into oblivion. It seemed soccer in Leeds was
dead in its tracks.
Things started to pick up, however, as the end of the century
drew near and in
February 1894 there were two significant events: the forming of
yet another Leeds AFC and, on the 26th of the month, the establishment
of the West Yorkshire League, which Leeds duly won by eight points
that first season.
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On January 29 1896, there came the first recorded instance of
a serious interest from the Huddersfield area in soccer. Sporting
interests in the town were represented at a meeting at the White
Swan Hotel, Halifax, when Messrs William Hirst and James Spittle
assessed the continued growth of the game in the region. On 12
February, at the Green Dragon Hotel, Leeds, another meeting was
held with the intention of applying to the Football Association
for permission to form a West Yorkshire Association. An all Huddersfield
board was elected to handle its affairs. Spittle, who presided
over the proceedings, was nominated as its divisional representative
with Hirst and Mr W H Shaw filling the posts of president and
vice president respectively.
Leeds had to move around a bit in the club's early years, variously
housing themselves at Roundhay, Headingley (shared with the Rugby
Club and next door to the international cricket ground), Meanwood
and Headingley again. The club folded in 1898, when Headingley's
owners, the Leeds Cricket, Football and Athletic Club, asked them
to increase attendances to pay their way. Only three members of
the football club turned up at its annual meeting on 22 June 1898
to discuss the problem and the lack of interest effectively sealed
the club's fate.
However, there was another set of challengers on the way.
Sheffield-born Sam Gilbert, the cricket professional at Hunslet
cricket club, shared with many other of the Steel City's sons
a desire to widen the popularity of the new game, and acted as
a kind of footballing missionary to the West Riding. It was he
who founded the first Hunslet Association Football Club in 1878
and his enthusiasm and commitment kept the club going for five
challenging seasons, though regular fixtures were hard to come
by. The lack of local interest and money led to Hunslet AFC fading
away in 1883.
Gilbert's vision of a successful club was given fresh impetus,
however, in 1889 when employees of
Leeds Steelworks formed a club, eventually to be rechristened
as Hunslet FC when they joined the West Yorkshire League in 1894.
Hunslet, known locally as 'The Twinklers', became a formidable
outfit, winning the West Yorkshire Cup four times and reaching
the FA Amateur Cup quarter-finals twice, including one celebrated
victory over the mighty Old Etonians, who had won the Cup in 1879
and 1882, and were runners-up in 1875, 1876, 1881 and 1883.
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The match came during a wonderful Cup run which saw Hunslet defeating
West Hartlepool, Loftus and Buxton to earn a home tie with Old
Etonians in the second round proper on 15 February 1896. There
were few who gave Hunslet any chance of progressing, and when
they fell 2-0 behind within seven minutes it looked like a heavy
defeat would follow. However, the Yorkshiremen fought back with
an inspiring display to earn a shock 3-2 victory, one of the goals
coming from 'Tipper' Heffron, a winger who went on to play for
Leeds City. Hunslet sadly lost to Darlington in the next round
and ended the season with a loss of £35, demonstrating the size
of the financial challenge facing football in Yorkshire.
In 1897, Hunslet was among the leading local clubs which formed
the Yorkshire League. Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Halifax,
Mexborough, Barnsley St Peter's, Doncaster Rovers Reserves, Sheffield
United Reserves and Sheffield Wednesday Reserves completed the
That season saw Hunslet beat Leeds in a replay to win the Leeds
Workpeople's Hospital Cup. The original match had attracted 7,000
spectators. The same month, Hunslet
also secured the West Yorkshire Cup, beating Harrogate with the
only goal of the game before a crowd of 3,400. The attendances
gave some evidence of the increasing interest in association football
among the West Yorkshire public.
As the new century dawned, Hunslet were the local game's leading
force: in 1900, they won the West Yorkshire Cup for the fourth
successive year, also winning the Leeds Workpeople's Hospital
Cup for a fourth time. They had a formidable team, good enough
to hold mighty Blackburn Rovers to a 1-1 draw on Easter Tuesday
1900. Amongst their ranks was Harold Lemoine, who became one of
the best goalkeepers in the country, going on to play for Shepherd's
Bush and Clapton and winning three amateur caps for England between
1908 and 1910.
As powerful an outfit as Hunslet were, however, they had no ground
of their own and were constantly in danger of going out of existence.
They had moved from the Wellington Ground in Low Road to the Laburnum
Ground at Parkside, only a narrow strip of land separating it
from the Hunslet Rugby Ground, and then on to their final home
at the Nelson Ground in Low Road. The club were all ready to join
the reformed West Yorkshire League in 1902, but lost the lease
on their ground. They could not find an alternative base in time
and disbanded, with many of their supporters vowing to raise the
necessary capital to get a new club off the ground. The men behind
the club remained convinced that Leeds could sustain a Football
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Just round the turn of the century, some of the West Riding's
rugby clubs were in dire straits. A couple of them decided to
call it a day, leading to unexpected opportunities for association
football in the area.
Bradford's Manningham and Holbeck of Leeds were both disbanded,
and their descent into oblivion gave rise to the birth of the
Bradford City and Leeds City Football Clubs.
In 1880, Manningham Rugby Club was formed after the Manningham
Albion Club was disbanded. They originally played at a field in
Whetley Hill, known as Carlisle Road, but in 1886 they relocated
to Valley Parade, a ground that was hacked out of a hillside over
a few months. Manningham were one of a number of leading clubs
that formed the Northern Union in 1895 and a year later were the
inaugural winners of the championship of what became the Rugby
League. However, the club fell upon hard times after being relegated,
and in 1903 only the successful staging of an archery tournament
kept the club going.
At the same time a number of locals were doing their best to
get an association football club off the ground, with the Bradford
Observer's sub-editor James Whyte one of the driving forces. In
March 1903, the committee of Manningham Rugby Club indicated they
were prepared to share Valley Parade with a professional football
team, with the two organisations playing on alternate Saturdays.
They later decided to suspend the activities of the Rugby club
for twelve months, paving the way for the newly established Bradford
City Football Club to successfully apply to join the Football
League that summer. According to the
Bantams Past website, "A delegation travelled to London on
25th May to apply for admission. The infant club was accepted
with open arms and the delegation returned to Bradford in triumph.
At the Belle Vue public house they celebrated what was described
as 'the greatest football scoop ever known'. City were the only
side to have joined the League without having played a single
"The fateful meeting was held in St Paul's Schoolroom, Manningham
on 29th May. For two hours a furious debate raged. No one was
deceived - this was about making an irreversible decision to completely
abandon rugby in favour of - in the now famous words of Manningham
President Alfred Ayrton - 'a game that would pay'. Although a
call for rugby to be retained was 'met with great cheers', the
adoption of professional football was passed by 75 votes to 34.
Bradford City was born."
Meanwhile, the demise of Holbeck Rugby Club in 1904 left their
Elland Road ground up for grabs. The availability of regular headquarters
and markedly superior facilities was among the main factors that
improved the odds of a football club succeeding in Leeds.
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In 1896 Holbeck had joined the Northern Union
(the forerunner of the Rugby League), and enjoyed some decent
facilities. Bentley's Brewery owned a large plot of land at the
foot of Beeston Hill on the main road to Elland. It was known
as the Old Peacock Ground, taking its name from a local pub, the
Peacock Inn, which stood opposite. This was the source of the
Peacocks nickname associated in the years to come with both Leeds
City and United.
Holbeck Rugby Club had originally played further down Elland
Road at Holbeck Recreation Ground, but in 1897 when the lease
was not renewed, Holbeck bought the Old Peacock Ground in 1897
for £1,100. Bentley's sold on condition that it should remain
as a football ground for seven years and that they should hold
the catering rights. Holbeck built a new stand ready for the following
season and the ground soon became popularly known as Elland Road.
The location was also used for association football, with the
first competitive soccer match seeing Hunslet beat Harrogate 1-0
to win the West Yorkshire Cup on 23 April 1898.
Leeds Woodville of the Leeds League shared the ground with Holbeck
during 1902-03, but in 1904 Holbeck folded after losing a play
off against St Helens for the honour of a place in division one
of the Northern Union. The Elland Road ground was put on the market.
That August, a number of interested parties gathered at a meeting
in the Griffin Hotel in Boar Lane to discuss the creation of a
'good association club in Leeds'. A number of the men behind the
disbanded Hunslet Football Club were among the participants and
the outcome of the meeting was that a new club, to be named Leeds
City Association Football Club, should be formed. It was agreed
that the Elland Road ground should
be rented for use by Leeds City in the season to come.
Officials of the new club gave instructions to sign the lease
on 13 October 1904, for an annual rent of £75 with an option to
buy for not more than £5,000 the following March. When the lease
was finally signed, in November, the purchase figure was reduced
A group of players was quickly enlisted and the club joined the
reformed West Yorkshire League. Their first competitive game was
at Morley's Scratcherd Lane on 1 September when City struggled
to a 2-2 draw.
Two days after the all-clear to sign the lease, Leeds City played
their first game at Elland Road on 15th Octomber, a friendly against
Hull City, which they lost 2-0.
The management of the club had their sights set firmly on a future
in the Football League and their strategy was to arrange a series
of high profile friendly games against Football League opponents.
West Yorkshire League fixtures were treated with scant respect
and several games were called off as City entertained top sides
like Sheffield United, Preston and Derby. Many players were invited
to Elland Road to play for City, but very few were kept on. Some
famous names appeared for the club in the bigger friendlies, including
Tom Morren (Sheffield United) and Fred Spiksley (Sheffield Wednesday's
FA Cup-winner), both England internationals, but City were unable
to retain either player.
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At that time, some 16 years after the formation of the Football
League, Leeds was the biggest city in England without a League
club. City officials, however, were convinced that was about to
change as the League Management Committee was keen on increasing
membership. Their confidence led them to float Leeds City as a
limited company in April 1905 with 15 directors and an initial
capital of 10,000 £1 shares, mainly held by three local businessmen:
Norris Hepworth, a noted wholesale
clothier, the club's first chairman; Mr Ralph Younger landlord
of the Old Peacock Inn; and Mr A W Pullin, better known as 'Old
Ebor', a Yorkshire Evening Post sports journalist.
The ground regularly enjoyed attendances of 2,000 and there was
potential for even greater numbers. The new chairman recognised
the advantage of a ground 'in the centre of the working classes'
and did all he could to encourage support from the local populace.
Leeds City's financial stability and potential support
were the key considerations for the Football League when assessing
the club's application, rather than their modest results in the
West Yorkshire League. On 29 May 1905, 25 votes saw City, along
with Chelsea, Hull City, Clapton Orient and Stockport County,
elected into an expanded Second Division.
The admission of City and Hull increased the growing band of
Yorkshire clubs in the new competition. Both Sheffield United
and Sheffield Wednesday had been elected when the Second Division
was formed in 1892. Rotherham Town were admitted a year later,
but only lasted three seasons, while Barnsley (1898), Doncaster
Rovers (1901) and Bradford City (1903) had also joined them. Hull
and Leeds were followed by Bradford Park Avenue in 1908 and Huddersfield
Town in 1910.
After more than a quarter of a century of hesitant stumbles and
stop-go interludes, Leeds City AFC had finally brought big time
football to the city, although it would not be easy to make a
success of life in this exciting and challenging new world.
back to The organising of the game
- forward to the Leeds City years