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It took a generation for football
to take more than a tenuous grip in the West Riding, but in
1904 Leeds finally threw up a club that was to enjoy more than
a transitory life. The men behind Leeds City Association Football
Club were committed to making their young organisation a major
power and, as they prepared their bid for election to the Football
League in early 1905, they were determined to recruit an individual
who could secure the necessary support from the League's decision
makers. Ideally, they sought someone who already had experience
of League football and could satisfy their longer-term ambitions
for success; they managed to find just such an individual when
they appointed Gilbert Gillies as the club's first manager.
Gillies was a dour Scot, born in Kilmichael Glassary, in the
Lorn district of Argyll and Bute, on 15 September 1869. Chesterfield-fc.co.uk:
"The son of an Argyllshire shepherd, Gillies was born on the shores
of Loch Ederline in 1869. By 1891 he'd been sent to live in Chesterfield
with an uncle, who kept a pub, the Square and Compasses, on West
Bars. Gillies had a sufficiently good education to get work as
a compositor for the Derbyshire Times." Printer's compositor was
the profession he cited in the Census of 1901.
Gillies, sporting a huge moustache and generally to be seen wearing
a sober three piece suit and high collar, was a typical example
of his breed in the early years of the new century, normally referred
to as secretary-manager. The role combined presiding over the
club's administration with responsibility for playing matters,
though it meant having to contend with the whims and fancies of
a Selection Committee, comprised chiefly of the club's directors.
After moving down to the East Midlands, Gillies became connected
with the Chesterfield club in 1894, while they were still a junior
organisation playing in the Sheffield League. He was appointed
secretary-manager in the summer of 1895.
Formed in 1866, Chesterfield is one of England's oldest clubs,
and won a number of local Cup competitions in the few years before
Gillies joined them.
Chesterfield-fc.co.uk: "The idea of having an individual in charge
of team affairs occurred to the folk of Chesterfield as early
as 1871, when the secretary was invested with 'full powers of
management' on match days. This might well be the first such reference
to the idea of management in football history, but Chesterfield
Town's earliest secretary-managers were not professionals; their
first Football League spell was very nearly over before they appointed
a 'football man', and it would be the late 1950s, and perhaps
even later, before Chesterfield FC trusted its manager enough
to let him pick the team!
"Until 1895 the position of secretary was an honorary one, and
it usually changed every season. The last of Chesterfield Town's
honorary secretaries was its finest; one Edwin Russell Timmeus.
Tavistock-born, Timmeus came to Chesterfield to work as an estate
manager for the Duke of Devonshire. He began playing for the Town
club in 1887 but was no great shakes, and usually served as a
stand in goalie. He was a
better cricketer, though, and played for Chesterfield against
an All England side that included W G Grace at the Recreation
Ground in 1890.
"Timmeus served around five years as secretary and guided the
club through its first seasons of competitive football in the
Sheffield League. His meticulous approach established a good reputation
for the club that enabled it to make many friends on its way up.
As the club grew, though, the demands that it placed on Timmeus'
time proved too great, and he voluntarily stood aside in favour
"Gillies became the Town club's secretary at the age of 26, in
1895. Quite how he made the leap to football secretary is a mystery,
but the very fact that he could do probably casts light on the
nature of the role at that time. Like Timmeus, most of Gillies'
good work was done off the field, spreading the Town club's good
"As secretary-manager, Gillies would have been concerned with
the minutiae of running the club on a day to day basis. There
was some involvement on the playing side; he would have scouted,
signed and paid the players, although board members would usually
go to watch a player before signing him; the board decided who
played each week and the trainer usually had match day responsibility
for tactics, especially at away games, which were not always attended
by the secretary-manager. In summary, perhaps, the secretary-manager
might have run things in the way that a modern Director of Football
Gillies supervised Chesterfield's successful application to the
Midland League in 1896 and was a leading light in their battle
to earn admission to the Football League's Second Division during
the summer of 1899. Earlier that year, a limited liability company
had been formed to manage the club's affairs, clearing the existing
debts in the process.
Gillies, accompanied by Chesterfield vice-president W H Eyre,
was in attendance at the century's final Football League annual
general meeting to plead the Saltergate club's case. He managed
to persuade the men who ran the League to admit the club at the
first time of asking. They joined Middlesbrough as replacements
for Blackpool and Darwen.
The club had a successful debut season, finishing 7th out of
18, one place above Woolwich Arsenal, but slumped to 14th in 1901.
Gillies had used his contacts in his homeland to identify promising
Scottish talent for Chesterfield, but many of them were dismal
failures. Despite little obvious criticism of the job he was doing,
Gillies relinquished the reins of office over the Christmas period
of 1900, before his final Scottish signing, Jimmy Haig, made his
debut for the club. Haig would go on to become a mainstay of Chesterfield
for most of the next decade.
Gillies' resignation allowed Edmund F Hind to take charge of
the club. The new man was not a success, and presided lamely over
a disastrous 1901/02 season.
Gillies continued to live and work in Chesterfield and took up
refereeing, reaching a decent standard. He was asked to lend the
club a helping hand in its time of need. According to the Leeds
Mercury, "after an absence of eighteen months, he returned to
their assistance, at
the request of the directors of the club. At this time the organisation
was in a very bad position, being at the bottom of the Second
League. He canvassed for votes on its behalf, and spoke for its
re-election at the annual meeting of the League, and it was largely
owing to his efforts that the full number of votes were polled."
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A successful outcome ensured, Gilbert Gillies gave way again,
allowing Jack Hoskin to take over as secretary-manager at Saltergate,
although he continued to attend meetings of the League, now earning
his living as a journalist.
The Scot's interest was piqued when the emerging Leeds City club
ran an advertisement for a new manager in the Leeds Mercury on
Monday, February 13, 1905: "WANTED, energetic and efficient MANAGER.
Application, stating age, qualifications, salary expected, and
accompanied by copies of two testimonials, should be forwarded
before the 22nd inst, and marked 'Manager,' to J Wilson, Solicitor
to the Club, Trinity Chambers, 71 Boar Lane, Leeds."
Gillies was one of more than 100 applicants for the job, but
impressed the City directors with his credentials. On Tuesday,
7 March, the Leeds Mercury carried the news of his appointment:
"Another step towards the completion of the arrangements for
the establishment of the Leeds City as a club of first-rate standing
was made last night, when the recommendation of the sub-committee
for the appointment of a manager was approved by the General Committee
at a meeting held at the Griffin Hotel, under the presidency of
Mr T Furness. There were over a hundred applicants for the position,
and, after reducing the number to five, the sub-committee decided
that Mr G Gillies, of
Chesterfield, was the most suitable candidate.
"He has attended the meetings of the League for the past six
years, and is well appointed with club secretaries, whilst his
knowledge of players and the arrangements to be made for securing
admission to the competition will be of great service to the Leeds
"His testimonials were of the highest character. Amongst those
who supported his application were Mr H S Radford, member of the
League Management Committee and the Football Council; Mr A Kingscott,
divisional representative of the Football Association; Mr A G
Hines, hon. Treasurer of the Nottingham Association; and Mr J
Nicholson, manager of the Sheffield United Club."
His status and references persuaded the Leeds City sub-committee
to offer him the post, and he accepted a three-year contract worth
£156 per annum.
The Football League had decided to increase its membership from
36 to 40 clubs for the 1905/06
season and Leeds City were duly elected, having come top of
the voting with 25 votes. They were accepted into the newly extended
Second Division alongside Chelsea, Hull City, Clapton Orient and
Stockport County, with Doncaster dropping out of the League.
In those days much of the responsibility for onfield affairs
was left to trainers, and Gillies was lucky to have alongside
him in that role one George
Swift, a former Loughborough left-back who had represented
the Football League in 1895 against the Irish League (and who
was to actually turn out for City once in an emergency). The secretary-manager's
normal sphere of influence was best evidenced in a Yorkshire Post
note of July 1905, which stated: "Applications for season tickets,
which will be ready in the course of a week or so, should be made
to the Club secretary, Mr G Gillies, of 28, Cross Flatts Place,
Beeston, Leeds, up to August 10."
Working in tandem with Swift, Gillies assembled a squad for the
new season in double quick time by pulling together players from
the length and breadth of the country. Seeking to secure a suitable
first team captain, Gillies returned to his former Chesterfield
club and signed full-back Dick Ray, an experienced and dour veteran.
It was understandable in the circumstances that the collection
of strangers should kick off their League career on 2
September 1905 with a 1-0 defeat at neighbouring Bradford City,
unaccustomed as they were to each other's play.
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Leeds went on to enjoy a reasonably impressive debut season,
finishing a promising sixth, with the manager bolstering their
attack by signing Hull City's powerful striker David
Wilson, who had impressed him when scoring against City in
an early season tussle.
A year later, following Wilson's
untimely death during a game, Gillies replaced him with the
even more productive Billy McLeod, but the
club slumped to mid-table obscurity, prompting some fierce
criticism of the management in the Leeds Mercury.
Among the harshest letters received by the paper was this one
"Is the club efficiently managed? Now that we have seen the practice
matches and the opening match with Bradford City, and have been
mercifully spared the blight at West Bromwich, and carefully marked
and digested the efforts of the club's players, such as they are,
it raises the above question in our minds.
"We take, for instance, Bradford City, who
have as manager a tried and approved player, who has this season
put in the field a team that is a credit to him and his club -
a team that can practically do as it likes with the Leeds team
- and who have sold a player for £1,000. We dare not allude to
the eight goals' smashing the Reserves gave the Leeds Second Team
at Bradford. The majority of his players are smart young athletic
fellows gathered from various smaller clubs and so on.
"We take Hull City with its manager, Ambrose Langley, the old
Sheffield Wednesday player, a man who can spot young talent when
he sees it, and is capable of selling at a fancy price to the
Leeds City Club David Wilson, a man who has had his day, and Ambrose
Langley knew it, if the Leeds City management did not. Hull City
Club's players are, like Bradford City, for the greater part rising
young players secured from smaller clubs, at small prices.
"Why not have secured as manager a man like Fred Spiksley, the
old Sheffield Wednesday internationalist. Leeds City had him here
in Leeds two seasons ago. What Fred Spiksley does not understand
about football and young talent, surely, should not be worth knowing."
Gillies was stung by the attack, and the Mercury gave space to
his angry retort:
"I am rather surprised that the columns of your valuable paper
should be open to letters such as the one written under the nom
de plume of 'Pitchfork'. When consideration is given to the short
period which Leeds City has been in existence, I think the success
it has attained is sufficient reply to the scurrilous attack.
"Comparisons are drawn between myself and other managers, but
Pitchfork seems to have forgotten that two of those named had
teams and grounds when they were engaged. The City ground was
covered with Pitchforks - weeds - when the club was formed into
a company, and the team was not even a skeleton of a West Yorkshire
team, as reference to your files will show.
"The third party referred to has, I think, had an appointment
as playing manager since he left Leeds, but was transferred to
another club as a player.
"In reply to Pitchfork's attack on the players and myself, perhaps
Nimrod's report in today's issue of the Mercury will be enough
for him; but if he will only have the courage to sign his own
name and address, he will receive a reply to that address which
should remove his accumulation of bile and spleen since he found
himself on the wrong end of the fork.
"As far as the players and myself know - and we have the best
of grounds for saying so - we have only one enemy in Leeds. That
enemy adopted several nom de plumes last season, and spent his
Sundays in writing letters to the Press when we had struck a bad
patch, and Pitchfork's letter was in the same old strain. Perhaps
he is a disappointed man, as his letters are all very much alike.
Inquiries were made at one place last season, but no one knew
the name of the writer, who had given a certain address.
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"Having had some experience of Press work, and having on many
occasions read the postscripts, 'Whatever you do, you must not
publish my name,' etc, I may say that I have the greatest contempt
for the man, if such he can be called, who attempts to injure
others through the medium of the Press under a nom de plume.
"Considering the difficulties under which the season has been
started, I think the team ought to be at least given a chance
until they are fully represented, as it is early yet to pass,
or to be a party to passing, any such sweeping condemnations as
used by Pitchfork.
"For True Peacock's information I beg to state
that at the time of writing, Henderson,
Morris, Wilson and Bromage
are all on the injured list; and to add to these misfortunes,
Jefferson's services have
not been available up to the present."
Gillies had his supporters, and Armley offered the following:
"I sympathise with Mr Gillies in the disgraceful attack made upon
him by Pitchfork, as I know that Mr Gillies is quite capable of
getting together a first class team if he only had a free hand
and good purse. I would like to point out to the directorate that
good men can only be got by paying for them, as in every other
business or profession, and even if they increased the capital
by £5,000, it would take only £250 to pay the interest, and that
could be got out of a couple of gates with the extra support a
successful team could command."
Gillies sought to strengthen the City side in 1907, recruiting
Scottish centre-half Tom Hynds
from Woolwich Arsenal as his new skipper along with the exciting
Sheffield United winger Fred Croot. Initially, the
new men sparked a tremendous revival, firing City to the top
of the table, but the team soon stumbled back into mediocrity
and slumped into a dire battle against re-election. Even the manager's
acquisition of goalkeeper Tom
Naisby from Sunderland and Jimmy
Gemmell from Stoke could not halt the slide, and it was perhaps
unsurprising that Gillies chose to tender his resignation in February
1908, suspecting that the directors would be unwilling to renew
his three year contract.
He signed off on the best possible note, choosing to resign in
the week following City's 5-1 defeat of table topping Derby County
on February 15 - their best performance of a trying season.
Of Gillies' departure, Flaneur commented thus in the Leeds Mercury:
"Our announcement yesterday that Mr G Gillies had resigned his
position as secretary and manager of the Leeds City club will
no doubt have caused considerable surprise to the general public,
though some of us have been quite prepared for the step for a
few weeks past. It was hinted to me some little time ago by a
gentleman who has considerable knowledge of the inner workings
of the club that Mr Gillies would probably retire from his position
at the end of the season, and the name of a probable successor
"The in-and-out play of the team this season and last has led
to discussions among the governing authorities, and the resignation
of Mr Gillies is the result. Mr Gillies has not been altogether
comfortable this season, and he has at length felt that he has
no alternative but to resign his position. As one who has had
the pleasure of meeting Mr Gillies, and occasionally worrying
him with queries from correspondents, I have always found him
a most courteous and kindly official and a gentleman, moreover,
with a sound, practical knowledge of the management of an Association
club. Mr Gillies put the club on its feet, so to speak, by getting
together a really good team in the first season, and for that
he deserves the thanks of the Associationists in Leeds. His resignation
will be much regretted by a large circle of friends and acquaintances."
Gillies was not out of work long; within three months he re-emerged
as the new man at the helm of the up and coming Bradford Park
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Park Avenue had been formed a year earlier in the wake of the
successful entry to the Football League of a host of Yorkshire
neighbours, including their local rivals, Bradford City. They
sprang out of a Rugby League club, Bradford FC, who were Northern
Union champions in 1904 and Challenge Cup winners in 1906. Simon
Inglis from Engineering Archie: Archibald Leitch - Football Ground
Designer: "For the club's benefactor, Harry Briggs, the owner
of the Brigella Mills at nearby Little Horton and much else in
the wool business besides (with interests in Russia and Poland
as well as Yorkshire), honours in the parochial world of northern
Rugby were not enough. First Briggs tried to persuade Bradford
City to merge with his club and make Park Avenue the new base
for football. This made some sense. Park Avenue offered more potential
than Valley Parade while Briggs was wealthier and better connected
than any of the City
directors. But City's members voted against the deal ... leaving
Briggs more determined than ever to bring professional football
to Park Avenue. Funding this seemingly reckless move ... cost
Briggs at least £10,000 in 1907 alone."
In May 1907 Bradford unsuccessfully applied for membership of
the Football League, but were then admitted to the Southern League,
where they enjoyed a nondescript debut season, trailing in 13th.
They were undaunted by this setback, and, like Chesterfield and
Leeds City before them, enlisted Gilbert Gillies to spearhead
their application for League status, which was successful in May
Bradford Park Avenue website: "In February (1908) Tottenham announced
they were quitting the (Southern) League at the end of the season
and Queens Park Rangers and Bradford followed. The result was
a bitter battle between the clubs and the League. The AGMs of
the Football League and the Southern League were the same day,
27th May. Bradford resigned from the Southern League and the other
two clubs were expelled. Fortunately the Football League accepted
Bradford into the Second Division while QPR withdrew at the last
minute and were accepted back into the Southern set-up but made
to play most of their games midweek. Spurs were rejected by the
Football League and remained in limbo until mid June when Stoke
had second thoughts about Division Two and resigned."
Their new status crowned the astonishing progress made since
the club's formation. In 1907, the ambitious Briggs had enlisted
the eminent engineer Archibald Leitch, who had designed the stands
at many grounds, including Rangers, Liverpool, Fulham, Chelsea,
and Sheffield United, to rebuild Park Avenue's ground. Leitch
designed the Main Stand, with its distinctive three gables, and
the adjacent 'Dolls House', which housed the changing and committee
rooms. According to the Yorkshire Daily Observer: "A sum of over
£6,000 is at present being expended in order to make Park Avenue
one of the most convenient and commodious grounds for Association
in the country." The ground, with its capacity now increased to
37,000, reopened in September 1907 to widespread acclaim.
Having once again worked his magic on the men who mattered at
the Football League, Gillies then steered Park Avenue through
a challenging first season in the Second Division. They had to
struggle fiercely the entire campaign to avoid re-election and
limped in 16th, just two points clear of Chesterfield, Gillies'
old club, who returned to the Midland League; Leeds City finished
That narrow escape provided the springboard for a pleasing 10th
spot in 1910, seven places above Leeds, who flirted with the bottom
reaches of the table. Bradford slipped back to 12th a year later,
level on points with Leeds. Gillies wasn't there to see the season
out, having departed the club in February. By 1914 he was out
of full-time football altogether and running a hotel in the Derbyshire
town of Matlock, later becoming a licensed victualler.
He died in Sheffield on 8 October 1957.
Gilbert Gillies was a man of exceptional organisational and administrative
abilities, who was never reluctant to ring the changes, but he
never achieved the success he sought with any of the clubs he
managed. However, his presence at the helm was a key factor in
getting Leeds City's life off to a good
start and he managed to attract a host of decent players to Elland
Road. That they never successfully gelled as a cohesive unit for
any sustainable period was the rub, but Gillies deserves recognition
for thoroughly cracking the secret of securing Football League
Flaneur of the Leeds Mercury was a loyal supporter of Gillies
and deserves the last word with his tribute to him as he quit
"Mr Gillies showed … that it was possible for an association
manager of experience to build up a good side. Perhaps if the
purchase of players had throughout been left entirely to him Leeds
City would have had an equally good side today.
"In the first year of the existence of the Leeds City club Mr
Gillies … built up a really good team, a team that played clever
football and achieved good results. The fact that many subsequent
importations have not been up to the standard set at the outset
of the club's career is not the fault of Mr Gillies, who, after
working hard and successfully to secure a place for Leeds City
in the Second Division of the League, has been largely engaged
in superintending the great improvements in the ground, while
less experienced officials have undertaken the task of team building."
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