11 May 1918 - Stoke 1 Leeds City 0
|Unofficial League Championship Play Off Second Leg - Victoria Ground - 15,000|
|Stoke: Peers; Maddock, Twemlow; Jones, Parker, Smith; Harrison, Whittingham, Howell, Herbert, Tempest|
|Leeds City: T Hampson; Millership, W Hampson; Hewison, Sherwin, Lamph; Goodwin, Cawley, Peart, Price, Hibbert|
The first few years in the history of Leeds City Football Club had brought mediocrity and inconsistency for the most part. But after the appointment of Herbert Chapman as manager in 1912, City had gone through a convincing revival and during the First World War had grown into one of the outstanding teams in England, attracting some great talent to the club. They did so by pushing hard at the boundaries of the financial regulations and their indiscretions would lead to catastrophic consequences after the resumption of official football following the Armistice of November 1918.
But six months earlier, the club had the opportunity to mark their ascent to the top of the game by assuming the title of unofficial league champions.
The Football League Management Committee had decided that the 1917/18 season would be climaxed by a two-legged play off between the winners of the Midland and Lancashire Section tournaments, with the winners to be crowned England's champion club.
When the dust had settled, the two sides who were pitched together in that showpiece pairing were Leeds City, who had dominated the Midland competition, and Stoke, who had come up on the rails to pip Liverpool on goal average in the Lancashire tournament.
The first leg, played at Elland Road on 4 May, had seen City secure a hard-earned 2-0 victory thanks to goals by Billy Hibbert and Jack Peart. They had needed to show great defensive fortitude in the face of some fierce second half attacks by the visitors after taking what had seemed to be a unchallengeable lead.
City went with the same eleven players for the return at the Victoria Ground on 11 May. Stoke chose to ring the changes, however, dropping left winger Bridgett and right-back Milne, replacing them with Billy Tempest and Jack Maddock respectively. The Potteries team, managed by Joe Schofield, a former Stoke winger who won three England caps between 1892 and 1895, were confident they could overhaul the deficit, buoyed by the way they had overtaken Liverpool to secure the Lancashire Section title.
According to the Yorkshire Evening Post, 'The weather was beautifully fine, suitable both for cricket and for football. A prompt start was made at three o'clock, Stoke winning the toss and playing against a slight breeze… Some local enthusiasts had expected a gate of 30,000, but that was a very extravagant estimate and I question if the attendance reached one third of that figure, at least when play started.'
City took the early initiative with winger Ernie Goodwin making a break down their right flank, but the assault was quickly repulsed and Stoke countered to threaten a goal themselves. City goalkeeper Tommy Hampson had to show great alertness to get to the ball and clear downfield.
Stoke had the opportunity to threaten more danger when they were awarded a free kick near the City area, but they frittered away the chance, allowing the Peacocks to go down the other end where Goodwin drove narrowly wide of the upright.
It was breathless end to end stuff in this opening spell; Hibbert was blocked deep inside the Stoke penalty area when he tried to create a chance and then Bob Whittingham and Billy Harrison pushed hard at the other end, only to be thwarted by some smart work from City full-back Harry Millership.
Back came City with a fine long drive from skipper Bob Hewison, only for right-back Maddock to deflect the ball over the bar, with nothing coming from the resultant corner.
Leeds centre-forward Jack Peart sustained an injury to his knee which initially looked quite serious. There was considerable relief in the away ranks when he was fit to continue after he resumed following treatment.
City were gradually getting the upper hand, continuing to have the better of the play. They were next to show with Hewison combining well with Arthur Price to manufacture an opportunity. Stoke custodian Teddy Peers had to leave his station to nullify the threat, but his team were starting to creak.
Harrison, though, showed good close control to work his way deep into City territory moments afterwards and goalkeeper Hampson needed all his splendid powers of anticipation to gather the winger's shot at goal.
Hewison fired a City free kick over the top of the Stoke goal and then Peers was called on again to keep City at bay. The Leeds Mercury: 'Peers, the Stoke goalkeeper, was responsible in the first half for a save but for which his team's position would have been hopeless. Price was able to take an opening to such purpose that he dribbled by himself right up to the goal itself, but Peers came out a yard or so and narrowed his angle, with the result that the shot itself was extremely well parried.'
The pattern of the entire game changed, though, around the half hour mark, when Leeds suffered a grievous blow which blunted their attacking threat. The Yorkshire Post: 'Hewison, their right half-back, and the strongest half on the ground, on taking a kick at goal, was accidentally jabbed by an opponent's boot, just above the ankle. The click of the blow as Hewison fell could be heard all over the ground and it was the general impression that the limb was broken. The damage was not as bad as that, but the limb was so severely bruised that the player could not walk, and after being carried off the ground could take no further part in the match.'
It was later confirmed that Hewison had, in fact, fractured the leg. He would make a brief comeback the following season, but the injury effectively ended his playing career. In his absence, Arthur Price dropped in to the right-half slot.
The loss of their captain was a great impediment for City and the initiative they had seized evaporated. Stoke pushed hard in search of a goal and Whittingham pressed forward strongly but then shot yards wide. Somehow Leeds managed to reach the break with their aggregate advantage intact.
According to the Evening Post, 'It had been anything but a good exhibition of football in the first half, more especially after the first quarter of an hour, but certainly the best combined movements had come from Leeds City, whose endurance had now to be tested owing to the fact that they were a man short. Still, they had kept their first match lead of two goals, which was a good asset.'
After the resumption, Stoke poured all their energies into concerted attacks on the Leeds goal. The City players were forced onto desperate last ditch defence and were understandably relieved when the referee decided one particular infringement was just outside the City area.
The home forwards were guilty of wasting a number of opportunities with 'far too much high and aimless kicking' according to the Evening Post as they allowed the urgency of their plight to affect their judgement. 'Whittingham and Herbert in succession made strong bids for the Leeds goal, neither of which came off. Stoke made a lot of play on their Whittingham-Harrison right wing, but the pair found their movements well parried, save when they spoiled themselves by lack of finish. The City more or less concentrated on defence, and had plenty to do in this direction.'
Leeds City could not withstand the pressure for ever and in the end it told. After seventy-eight minutes, they conceded a penalty. The Yorkshire Post: 'Their defence held out until a breach was caused in an unfortunate, if avoidable, way. Whittingham was seen to fall in the Leeds penalty area, but as he fell he was seen to knock the ball forward. The stoppage of play suggested a free kick for Leeds for handling, but the referee, Mr Howcroft, who kept a tight hand on the game throughout, had evidently noticed something not apparent from the stand, for his ruling was a penalty kick to Stoke. The kick was entrusted to Parker, who placed the ball in the left hand corner of the net.'
The goal brought the home side to within a single goal of City, and heralded an anxious final period for Leeds. A further goal would have taken the game to a replay the following week, scheduled for Hyde Road, home of Manchester City, but the Peacocks' defenders kept their heads to the end, stubbornly resisting their opponents' advances. Indeed, City came near to scoring a goal of their own in the closing stages, but were more than satisfied to finish with a narrow defeat that left them winners by an aggregate score of 2-1.
The Yorkshire Post: 'The game was never a good one, in the football sense, certainly nothing like the standard of the first match at Elland Road, but in such as it was, Leeds could fairly claim to be the better side, as they distinctly were in the previous engagement. The retirement of Hewison, however, altered the aspect of affairs considerably and imposed the necessity of defence upon the City team to a degree that would not have been thought of under normal conditions. Their own attacks, if fewer, were more dangerous than those of the home side.'
The Leeds Mercury: 'All credit for Saturday's performance goes to the defence, for the forwards were somewhat erratic when they had their full complement of players, and after their numbers had been reduced they played little further part in the game. Thus for an hour the City's defence had an uphill fight, but they never wavered under the series of keen attacks which the Stoke forwards levelled on their goal. So resolutely did the City meet all these efforts that Stoke were too fatigued to derive material benefit from their belated goal.
'W Hampson, Millership, Sherwin and Lamph stood out rarely in the resistance, and although Price rendered useful service as an emergency half-back, his success was somewhat marred by the fact that early in the game he missed a glorious opportunity of scoring, and thus of giving his side a lead of sufficient margin to save them a deal of hard work.'
Following the final whistle and joyous celebration on the part of Leeds, they were presented with the League Cup by Miss Harrison, of Nare Hall, Staffordshire. John McKenna, Football League president, congratulated the Leeds City directors and players on the crowning achievement of a season's strenuous and successful football. The unfortunate Hewison said that he and his men had travelled to the Potteries with the firm determination of taking the cup back with them to Yorkshire.
City had played remarkably well to defy the odds after losing their captain and had shown that they had defensive fortitude to complement their outstanding attacking abilities. They had enjoyed a remarkable season and their resilience in adversity had seen them round off their campaign by claiming the unofficial crown as England's champion club.