As the eleven men of Leeds City lined up on 2 September 1905
along with all the other hopeful teams, ready for the challenge
of a new Football League season, the men behind the fledgling
club could reflect on a startling twelve months of progress. A
little more than a year previously, Leeds City Association Football
Club had been formed at a meeting in the Griffin Hotel on
Boar Lane, and had appointed Gilbert
Gillies its first manager in March, a few short weeks before
being elected into the newly expanded Second Division. Gillies,
fresh from setting his former club Chesterfield on their way to
a best ever fifth place finish in Division Two, had spent the
spring and summer building up a playing squad, and hopes were
high for a good debut in first class football.
Their big time debut saw Leeds pitched against West Yorkshire
neighbours, Bradford City, who had been trailblazers of Association
football in the West Riding, and had already spent two seasons
in the Second Division, finishing tenth and eighth. The Bantams,
under manager Robert Campbell, had finished the previous season
strongly, dropping just a single point from their last six matches.
Their experience at the top level was expected to give them the
upper hand over the novices of the Peacocks, as the Leeds Mercury
noted: "To be candid, even those in the best position to appraise
the capabilities of the eleven men who have been drawn from the
four corners of the country to constitute the side, did not go
so far as to anticipate victory - the advantages of Bradford City
were so very pronounced. When it is remembered that Bradford have
already experienced two years of strenuous League football, and
that they were able to place in the field the strongest team they
have yet possessed, with the additional advantage of playing on
their own ground, the difficulties which confronted the Leeds
men will be fully appreciated."
Nevertheless, locals flocked to see whether the newcomers could
possibly spring a shock and the gate of 15,000 was well up on
Bradford's normal attendance. The Valley Parade stadium, which
had been hewn from a bare hillside in 1886, made an atmospheric
venue, despite having a capacity of just 18,000.
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Leeds lined up as expected with left-half James
Henderson playing against the club he had left at the end
of the previous season. Former Burton United goalkeeper Harry
Bromage had built up a good reputation as a first-class custodian,
while Welsh international Dickie
Morris (Liverpool) and
Bob Watson (Woolwich Arsenal)
were noted inside-forwards with decent Football League experience.
Outside-right Fred Parnell
had been a prolific provider of crosses to England international
Steve Bloomer at Derby before losing his place there and Gillies
had gone back to his former club Chesterfield to sign full-back
Dick Ray, whom he appointed captain.
The same eleven had played the previous weekend in a practice
match against the reserve XI, and had impressed local reporters.
The Leeds Mercury had commented: "The first team had the best
of matters, and the players had ample opportunities for displaying
their skill. Morris, the Liverpool international, was much in
evidence, and his trickiness and deft passing to Singleton,
his partner on the left wing, pleased the crowd. Watson and Parnell,
too, showed promising form, and Hargraves,
who operated as centre in the first half, was responsible for
opening out some good movements. The halves and backs also did
well, and Bromage, in goal, brought off some clever saves."
Bradford City, however, were a formidable side and represented
a significant step up for a team that had enjoyed so little time
getting to know each other's style. Their ranks were packed with
experienced and charismatic individuals who would test the Peacocks
to the limit.
The no-nonsense approach of right-half George 'Geordie' Robinson
had made him a firm favourite with the Valley Parade faithful.
He had played in Bradford's first League game after joining from
Nottingham Forest in June 1903 and was associated with the club
for nineteen years.
Scottish centre-half Peter O'Rourke was another who had appeared
in the Bantams' first League game, signing from Chesterfield that
summer. He was shortly after to become manager at Valley Parade,
leading them to a Second Division championship in 1908 and an
FA Cup triumph in 1911, returning to the club in 1928 and securing
the Third Division North title a year later.
However, the real star of the show was tricky left winger Jimmy
a colourful and controversial forward who enjoyed the double distinction
of being Bradford's first England international and their first
player to be sent off. Born in County Durham in 1881, he started
his career in Scottish football and moved from Albion Rovers to
Bradford City for £175 in September 1904. He went on to become
only the second player in the world to figure in a £1,000 transfer
when he moved to Manchester City in July 1906.
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There was an atmosphere of high anticipation as the sides lined
up before an excited and packed Valley Parade crowd, with Bradford's
claret and amber and the blue and old gold of Leeds presenting
a vivid wash of colour.
Early season rustiness was much in evidence in the opening exchanges
from both sides, and Leeds had also to contend with having only
rarely played together previously. The Peacocks understandably
took some time to settle, with the Yorkshire Post noting, "The
display of the Leeds men was especially creditable, taking into
consideration the fact that the players were practically strangers
to each other's tactics in serious football."
After an opening fifteen minutes when the Bantams pressed Leeds
City back, play was open and fast in the first half, with the
advantage switching rapidly between the sides. Leeds hit the crossbar
after a free kick by centre-half Harry
Stringfellow, and might easily have broken the deadlock, although
Bromage was the busier of the two keepers. The two teams reached
the interval without a goal between them, with most of the action
being confined to midfield sparring.
Play was more frenetic after the break, and the fitness of the
Bradford men began to tell as time went on. It had seemed that
the match was destined to finish scoreless, but the Valley Parade
side finally managed to force home their advantage with fifteen
minutes to go. The Bantams had been pressing Leeds hard for some
time and had them penned back. The passage of play was untidy,
but John McMillan provoked a real panic as he dribbled across
the area, before feeding outside-right William Clarke. The winger's
centre reached Conlin on the opposite flank, before being turned
in again. There was a mad scramble in the goalmouth, ending when
centre-forward Wallace Smith charged Harry Bromage, knocking the
ball from his grasp to register a goal on his debut appearance
It should have been 2-0 shortly afterwards, but the Bradford
forwards were too slow to capitalise when the ball passed right
across in front of goal and the Peacocks were sweating.
Leeds City broke away in the closing minutes to exert some pressure
on the home defence, without ever going particularly close and
the Bradford backs withstood all of their opponents' attacks to
ensure that it was their team that emerged victorious from the
contest. The Leeds Mercury: "It was the first appearance of Easton
for Bradford, and he must be said to be one of Mr Campbell's most
notable captures. An extremely strong kicker, both off the ground
and in the air, he plays with most disconcerting dash, and time
and time again he cleared in a most brilliant fashion."
It had been a fascinating contest, even if not of a particularly
high quality, with an enthusiastic crowd kept on the edge of their
seats throughout. The Peacocks had put up a strong showing and
come close to a share of the points, prompting the Leeds Mercury
to comment: "Leeds City have undergone their baptism with flying
colours … The directors of the Elland Road organisation were more
than pleased with the display of their men. Every
confidence has been placed in the manager of the club, Mr G Gillies,
and that he has been able to achieve so much in building up the
team must have strengthened his position materially. Taking everything
into consideration, he has gained a great triumph."
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The Yorkshire Post were similarly taken with events and said
"the general play of the team was full of promise, and lack of
experience of each other's play rather than any defect in ability
was responsible for the defeat. Leeds City have no reason to feel
disappointed with the first performance of their men. Their greatest
fault was to finish in front of goal. Had they taken advantage
of the chances that came their way, a very different story would
have to be told. Bromage more than once proved himself a capable
defender of goal."
Yorkshire Evening Post: "Truth to tell, the Leeds City were fully
entitled to share the honours. They played the better game, and
it was only a certain lack of finish in front of goal which prevented
Leeds Mercury: "Ray, the captain of the Leeds team, … played
a sterling game, being cool and collected, and overcoming many
difficulties by his sound judgement … There could be no two minds
as to the strength of the half-back line, the Leeds trio holding
an advantage throughout. In Stringfellow, the Leeds club have
got a highly skilled centre, who fully appreciates his duties,
both as to attack and defence, whilst Morgan
and Henderson hungered after the ball in a manner calculated to
put any wing man off his game. It was rather a trying experience
for Henderson appearing against his old club for the first time,
and though he undoubtedly put a good deal of spirit into his play,
the attitude of a certain section of the crowd towards him was
"With regard to the Leeds forwards, whilst the inside men did
their work creditably, the ball did not come smartly enough from
the wings. Singleton did not appear to get into his right stride,
and Parnell was not entirely happy with Watson, his partner. Accustomed
to the go-ahead methods of Bloomer, whose great aim is to make
straight for goal after receiving the ball from the wing, he was
not always prepared for a return pass, and thus often appeared
at a disadvantage. This defect, however, can be readily rectified,
and taking the line as a whole, it gives promise of developing
into a powerful force."
The talent of the City forwards had been much in evidence and
they had put together some decent combinations. Clearly, there
was much to learn for this new young club, but they had quickly
managed to build some good team spirit and understanding of each
other's play. Their debut in top-class football had gone as well
as their supporters could have hoped, apart from the result, and
a decent start had been made to their first season in top class
football. There was every reason to look forward with confidence
to the challenges to come.
Leeds City were very much up and running.
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