After the long and dark days of the First
World War, the resumption of official football activity was
eagerly anticipated and the new Football League season kicked
off on 30 August 1919. Leeds City started along with all the others,
but were not to see the season out. What
was to become infamously known as The Leeds City Scandal had been
rumbling on for years and it was about to become public knowledge.
Charlie Copeland was a full-back who had first played for City
on November 9 1912 in a 4-0 win over Glossop after being signed
by Herbert Chapman. Copeland
was in and out of the side over those few seasons before World
War I, but was a regular during the war years. He fell out with
the club over a pay rise and as a result made allegations about
illegal payments being made to wartime guest players. He raised
the issue with the football authorities in July 1919, and even
though the practice had been widespread, neither the FA nor the
Football League could ignore such allegations once formally brought
to their attention.
But Copeland's actions were only one factor in the wartime problems
which hastened City's demise.
The club's troubles began when Herbert Chapman vacated his post
as manager to assist the war effort by taking charge of the Barnbow
munitions factory in East Leeds. Chapman recommended that his
assistant, George Cripps, took control of the club's administration
while he was away. Playing matters became the responsibility of
new chairman Joseph Connor and another director.
Chapman had been a charasmatic and successful manager over the
previous three years and had bound the club together as a team
on and off the field, but the void he left allowed tension and
personality clashes to rise to the surface.
The most problematic conflict was that between Connor and Cripps.
The chairman simply did not rate Cripps and made no secret of
the fact. In fact, he felt so strongly about matters that he threatened
to resign if no action was taken - he maintained that Cripps was
mishandling the club's business affairs and getting things into
a mess. The Board sided with Connor and enlisted the help of an
accountant's clerk to look after the club's books. This happened
in 1917. However, despite Cripps having some health problems,
he was made responsible for correspondence and managing the team.
That perverse decision was a mistake, because it only served to
make matters worse.
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The internal politics continued throughout 1917-18 and it became
apparent that the in-fighting was having a serious impact on the
club's well-being. Indeed, matters had reached such a poor state
that the Board was seriously considering whether there was any
real alternative but to pull the plug on the club. The assets
they owned were dwindling fast and they doubted the wisdom of
continuing to throw good money after bad. If the chairman of the
Football League, John McKenna, had
not intervened to urge the directors to battle on, it is likely
that Leeds City would have folded there and then. It might have
been better if they had, but it is unlikely that Leeds United
would have ever then come into being.
Cripps was as disliked by the club's playing staff as he was
by Connor. Things became so bad at one stage that the club captain
John Hampson wrote to the directors before one match at Nottingham
to the effect that if Cripps were to travel with the team, the
players would go on strike. The crisis was postponed by Connor
successfully pleading with Hampson to avert the strike, arguing
that it would spell the end of the club and bring them all down.
But again, it was only a temporary reprieve.
Herbert Chapman returned as manager in 1918 and the Board thought
that this might put an end to the internal strife, but this was
not to be the case. They tried to demote Cripps to his former
position of assistant, but he fought the decision bitterly. He
felt very badly done by and threatened to sue the club for wrongful
dismissal. Cripps' solicitor was James Bromley, a former director
of the club. Cripps made a claim against the club of £400 and
told Bromley that the club had made illegal payments to players
during the war years.
Bromley took speedy action and negotiated a deal between Cripps
and the Board in January 1919. According to Connor, Cripps provided
a written undertaking not to disclose any information relating
to the club's affairs and also promised to pass over all relevant
documents in his possession, including cheque books, pass books
and correspondence. He handed all these documents over to Connor
in the presence of the Leeds City's solicitor, Alderman William
Clarke. Clarke sealed all the papers away in a strongbox in his
city centre office. Again according to Connor, Bromley gave his
word of honour that he would not reveal his knowledge of the documents.
In return for all this, Cripps would be given £55, rather less
than the £400 he had sought.
Bromley had a different version of events. He maintained that
he handed over a parcel of documents which he had been given by
Cripps into the trust of Clarke, but that the parcel would only
be given up if this were to be agreed by both Connor and himself.
He also said that one of the conditions for the handing over of
the parcel was that the Board made a donation of £50 to Leeds
Infirmary. Bromley said that he later asked to see a receipt for
the donation, but Clarke told him that Connor was unwilling to
enter into any further discussion with him regarding the club's
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It looked like things had reached an impasse, but matters were
shortly to get very much worse.
As City began to assemble their playing staff ready for the 1919-20
season, the first post-war League campaign, the renewal of
Charlie Copeland's contract was considered. Before the war, Copeland
received £3 a week with a £1 weekly increase when he played in
the first team. The board had now offered Copeland £3 10s (£3.50)
for playing in the reserves, and considerably more if he played
for the first team, or they would release him on a free transfer.
The disgruntled Copeland demanded £6 a week and rocked the club
by stating that if he did not get the cash, then he would report
City to the Football Association and the Football League for making
illegal payments to players during the war. City's directors felt
they were being blackmailed. At the risk of forcing Copeland's
hand, they ignored his demands and gave him a free transfer to
Coventry. Copeland, who had got hold of certain documents or at
least knew of their contents, carried out his threat in July 1919
and revealed the alleged irregularities to the authorities.
Bromley was also Copeland's solicitor and, though he strenuously
denied it, the club's directors had strong suspicions that it
was he who was feeding Copeland the information which proved so
Following Copeland's allegations, the Football Association and
the Football League set up a joint inquiry into the matter. The
by FA chairman, J C Clegg, summoned the club to Manchester on
26 September 1919, to answer the charges. City were represented
by Alderman Clarke, who was asked to present the club books before
which included a dozen members of the Football Association and
the Football League, as well as members of the international selection
committee, were stunned when City replied that it was not in their
power to do so. Immediately, the inquiry ordered City to produce
the documents by 6 October or face the consequences.
Despite all this off-field controversy, Leeds City had made a
solid start to their new campaign and not even the players could
have guessed what was in store as they set off to play Wolverhampton
two days before the deadline. Because of a rail strike the team
went to Molineux by charabanc and won 4-2, with ace marksman Billy
McLeod netting a hat-trick. On the way home, the City coach gave
several stranded people a lift back to the North and among them
was none other than Charlie Copeland.
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The trip to Wolves was to be City's last game. The Commission's
deadline came and went with no sign of the documents, so the following
Saturday's fixture against South Shields was suspended and after
a meeting of the inquiry team at the Russell Hotel in London,
City were expelled from the Football League and disbanded.
League chairman John McKenna announced: "The authorities of the
game intend to keep it absolutely clean. We will have no nonsense.
The football stable must be cleaned and further breakages of the
law regarding payments will be dealt with in such a severe manner
that I now give warning that clubs and players must not expect
the slightest leniency."
An FA order formally closed the club, leaving everyone associated
with Leeds City shocked and uncomprehending, the unfortunate players
out of a job and City officials to face further punishment.
Although there had been no concrete evidence of the alleged illegal
payments, City's silence - whether to protect themselves or a
misguided move to shield players - was deemed to be admission
Not even the personal intervention of the Lord Mayor of Leeds,
Alderman Joseph Henry, who offered to take over the club from
the directors, could persuade the inquiry to reconsider and League
football came to a halt in Leeds after just eight games of the
Five City officials were banned for life - Connor, Whiteman,
fellow directors Mr S Glover and Mr G Sykes and, rather surprisingly,
manager Herbert Chapman. The board promptly resigned, but Chapman
a reprieve after evidence was later given that he was working
at the munitions factory when the illegal payments were allegedly
Connor complained that City were not given a fair hearing by
the inquiry and Alderman Henry also believed that Burslem Port
Vale - the club who had replaced City in the Football League -
had brought undue pressure to bear on the inquiry team, in an
effort to get City thrown out, so they could take their place.
Port Vale inherited City's playing record of Played 8, Won 4,
Drawn 2, Lost 2, Goals For 17, Goals Against 10, Points 10. They
completed City's remaining fixtures and finished in 13th place.
Bob Hewison, a guest player with City during the war, was asked
by the inquiry to act as secretary during the winding up of the
club, a job he tackled while recovering from a broken leg sustained
in 1918-19. Also helping to sort out the tattered remnants of
the club were Alderman Henry and Leeds accountant W H Platts.
Hewison later became Bristol City manager, and became embroiled
in another illegal payments scandal. On 15 October 1938, another
joint Football Association and Football League inquiry into payments
made to amateur players fined Bristol City 100 guineas and suspended
Hewison until the end of the season.
Biggest victims of the Leeds closure were the players. The Football
League promised to pay their wages until they could get fixed
up with new clubs and the best way to find them new employers
was considered to be by auction, which was duly held at the Metropole
Hotel in Leeds on 17 October. Representatives from 30 League clubs
turned up to haggle over Leeds City's erstwhile assets.
It was a humiliating experience for the players as they were
sold off along with the club's nets, goal-posts, boots, kit and
physiotherapy equipment. The entire squad fetched less than £10,150,
with fees fixed at between £1,250 (for star player McLeod) and
£100 after would-be purchasers complained that the original prices
were set too high. The Football League, who were responsible for
organising the sale, said that no player should be made to join
any club he did not want to but, with the players anxious to get
back into the action as quickly as possible, the other clubs clearly
held the whip hand.
Looking back on the entire shabby episode some years later, John
McKenna revealed he had some sympathy with the plight in which
Leeds City found themselves trapped: "Perhaps others have escaped
being found guilty of malpractices, but if they are found out
now we shall not stand on ceremony or sentiment."
However, just as the history of Leeds City came to an abrupt
and infamous conclusion, things took a new twist. Moves were under
way to create Leeds United, a new club which would (eventually)
rise triumphantly from the ashes of this whole sorry affair.
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