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Review of 1905/06 - Part 2
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This newspaper clipping from the Yorkshire Evening Post on the day of Leeds City's League debut was not too forthcoming about the event

Part 1 - Results and table - printer friendly version

More than a quarter of a century of waiting finally came to an end for the city of Leeds at the beginning of September 1905. The local Association Football Club got its first-class history off the ground, by debuting in the Football League with a Second Division derby away to West Yorkshire rivals Bradford City.

The first match to have taken place in Leeds is reputed to be a game between two representative sides from Sheffield over Christmas 1877, and there were many false starts before Leeds City AFC eventually emerged to become the latest Football League member club hailing from Yorkshire.

Former Chesterfield manager Gilbert Gillies had assembled a playing squad in double quick time, supported by trainer George Swift, with virtually all of them imports from outside the area - only centre-half Jack Morris was a local product. Clearly, pulling together a host of individuals was not the ideal method of building a unit and it took a while for the players to settle down as a team.

They kicked off life in the big time wearing a kit consisting of dark blue shirts with old-gold trim, white shorts and blue socks. It was partly to do with their colours, but mainly because of the association with the Old Peacock Inn, located close to the club's Elland Road ground, that the club acquired the nickname of the Peacocks, although they were as popularly referred to as the Citizens.

Their opening match against Bradford City, on 2 September 1905, which Leeds lost 1-0, drew 15,000 to Valley Parade. "Leeds City have no reason to feel disappointed with the first performance of their men," wrote the Yorkshire Post soccer correspondent. "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."

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For the record, Leeds City lined up in classic 2-3-5 formation as follows: Harry Bromage (signed from Burton United); Jock Macdonald (Blackburn Rovers), Dick Ray (Chesterfield, captain); Charlie Morgan (Tottenham), Harry Stringfellow (Swindon Town), James Henderson (Bradford City); Fred Parnell (Derby County), Bob Watson (Woolwich Arsenal), Fred Hargraves (Burton United), Dickie Morris (Liverpool), Harry Singleton (Queens Park Rangers).

A week after the Bradford City defeat, West Bromwich Albion came to Elland Road and won 2-0 before a crowd of 6,802, with the Yorkshire Post summarising thus: "Although Leeds City lost the match, they certainly carried off the honours of the game, except in the matter of League points. For quite three fourths of the time they monopolised the attack, and ought to have scored, but the forwards showed a lamentable want of dash when at close quarters."

Two days later, on a Monday afternoon, just 3,000 turned up to watch City gain their first League point in a 2-2 draw against Lincoln City. Reserve centre-forward Tommy Drain scored both of City's first two goals in the League, after coming in to replace Fred Hargraves. 'Linesman' reported in the Leeds Mercury: "Whilst Leeds are undoubtedly a strong team, one weakness has characterised their work, namely, their inability to find the net. In midfield their combination has been excellent, but when the time arrived for the pace to be forced, and extra pressure put on the opposition, they have failed to carry out their mission. Though an improvement in this respect was noticeable yesterday, the inside men still dallied with the ball too long, and but for this defect there can be little doubt that they would have won by a considerable margin. They had innumerable opportunities in the first half to open their account, and instead of being on level terms at the interval they ought certainly to have possessed a lead of three clear goals - a lead which would have removed all danger."

The marked misfiring in front of goal was probably down to the players' nervousness and an eagerness to please their new masters. Their play was hurried and frenetic and that of individuals rather than a team, but soon started to improve as they settled down.

The following Saturday, 16 September, Gillies' team won 1-0 at Leicester Fosse with Singleton getting the decider. "It was a somewhat lucky goal that gave them victory, but no less than they deserved. They had throughout the better of the argument," claimed the Yorkshire Post report.

The 1905-06 team Back row: R Younger (director), R S Kirk (director), Morgan, Whittaker (director), Dooley, Macdonald, Austin, Walker, Singleton, R M Dow (director), G Swift (trainer).Middle row: Gilbert Gillies (secretary-manager), Parnell, Watson, Hargraves, Ray, Morris, Clay, O Tordorf (director).  Front row: Roy the City Dog, Stringfellow, Drain, Henderson

Buoyed by this success, City managed to draw a crowd of 13,654 for their 3-1 home win against Hull City a week later. The upbeat mood was recorded by the Yorkshire Post: "The struggle to establish the dribbling code on a sound and attractive footing in Leeds has been an uphill one, but there were many smiling faces around the pioneers at the old Holbeck rugby enclosure. The game itself was full of incident and excitement … four goals were scored during the afternoon and all were brilliantly worked for. Singleton got through a tremendous amount of work … Leeds were clever and spirited throughout the game."

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Dickie Morris got two of the goals and the reinstated Hargraves the other as City turned in their most impressive performance to date, although it was not until the closing seconds that the final goal came from Morris. The display prompted the Leeds Mercury to offer: "Hull, indeed, received a rude shock. In all departments except at back they were completely outplayed, the weakness of the forwards and half-backs being very conspicuous, compared with the corresponding lines of the opposition. With regard to the Leeds forwards, they were thoroughly alive, taking possession of the ball very smartly, and the readiness with which they embraced their opportunities was very gratifying. In contrast to some of their previous exhibitions, one felt they had capabilities of scoring; they shot with more vigour, and altogether played with much more devil."

After being Dickie Morris was already a Welsh international when he joined Leeds City and brought skill to the forward linemarooned at the bottom of the Second Division table early on, City were now working their way steadily up the ranks, with the Hull win boosting them to an encouraging eighth placing. The 2-2 draw with Lincoln in the third match kicked off a fruitful run during which City lost only once in nine games, gaining 13 points out of a possible 18. The team had knitted together quickly and were now playing some decent attacking football. The crowds were flocking to see these new local heroes and an attendance of 20,000 was recorded for the goalless draw at home to Chelsea on 25 November. The strong run, though, did not quite get City in contention with the leading clubs. They were struggling with the fixtures list and had played fewer games than any other team in the division.

The team had started to establish some cohesion and were getting a reputation for making some "pretty combinations", although they had to contend with some atrocious playing conditions. The autumn and winter that year were all wind, rain, snow and sleet and Elland Road was continually churned up and ankle deep in mud. The City forwards adapted their approach play cleverly for the conditions and they had the best of many games.

Full-backs Jock Macdonald and captain Dick Ray came in for some criticism from the Leeds supporters, while centre-forward Fred Hargraves also suffered some barracking, prompting Gilbert Gillies to add some attacking punch during December when he agreed to pay Hull City £120 for their robust 22-year-old centre-forward David 'Soldier' Wilson. The crack goalscorer was born in Tyneside, on July 23, 1883, and in 1896 he enlisted in the Cameron Highlanders, with whom he went to Gibraltar, where his interest in football began. He was transferred to the 1st Battalion Black Watch and served in India and South Africa, fighting in the Boer War, whence came his military nickname.

Wilson looked considerably older than his real age because of his heavy moustache and would have passed for 30. He was not the fastest or most nimble of players, but he read the game well enough to always seem to be in the right place at the right time, and used his burly frame adroitly in unsettling defenders.

When he returned to the United Kingdom, Wilson was bought out of the army by Dundee Football Club, playing for them for a couple of years as centre-forward before joining Heart of Midlothian, near his birthplace.

Wilson had scored against City when they beat the Tigers earlier in the season at Elland Road and had given the Peacocks backs a hard time as Hull ended Leeds' interest in the FA Cup in November. His performances had marked him as a player to watch. Wilson quickly became a firm favourite with the City fans after bringing a rush of goals and a marked increase in the urgency of the entire forward line. The Leeds Mercury was particularly enthusiastic about the newcomer, even in his absence, after a 4-1 win over Leicester Fosse on 20 January, writing thus:

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"The most pleasing feature of the home team's work was the way in which the forwards went for goal, and the determination with which they sent in shots. This is an improvement which I attribute largely to the influence of Wilson. As I have previously mentioned, the old Hull City centre has put a lot of life into the Leeds front rank, and although he was unable to turn out against Leicester owing to an injury he sustained at Manchester, the example he has set his new colleagues in shooting with all his strength on every possible occasion, and more especially the efforts which were made to follow it, were clearly apparent throughout the game.

"At last there are signs that the Leeds City forwards have discovered the knack of scoring. The way in which they made for goal, and the incisive shots which were fired at the net, were certainly the most pleasing features of their decisive triumph over Leicester Fosse."

The pick of Wilson's displays came on March 3 in an extraordinary 6-1 thrashing of Clapton Orient at Elland Road, a victory which moved City up to sixth in the table. The visitors were adrift at the bottom of the division, but nevertheless it was a remarkable win.

The Leeds Mercury: "It will be taken for granted that the victors were unmistakably the superior side. This was so in a very marked manner, the City, after scoring their first goal at the end of seven mnutes, being complete master of the situation. The ground was again in a wretched condition, and this was undoubtedly a severe handicap; but no matter what the state of the turf - or mud - had been, on the day's form it is difficult to conceive that the home men could possibly have lost even a single point.

"Though the City are naturally a fair weather team, so to speak - the short passing they indulge in requires a good surface to be successful - they have, by force of circumstances, become skilful in the mud; and, apart from other matters, they hold, one might almost say, a winning advantage over visitors to Elland Road on this account. Thus are they extremely fortunate.

"But it was due to no stroke of luck that success attended their efforts The prominent footballer ... goalkeeper Harry Bromageagainst the Orient. Each of their six goals was the result of a carefully planned attack. The defence, it is true, was not very powerful, but it will be appreciated that a good deal of skill is required to find the net as many as six times in ninety minutes, even against mediocre players; and thus the City front rank are entitled to a good share of the credit for their fine performance. Murray and Macdonald, with Bromage in goal, played their part well; but they did not figure quite so conspicuously in the contest as the forwards. They were seldom in danger of being beaten.

"Four out of the six goals fell to Wilson, the centre-forward, who again showed what a dangerous man he is when within range of the net. His assumed indifference seemed to have a disconcerting effect on the opposition; and then, suddenly, without manoeuvring for a position, he drives the ball clean and hard. The number of times he deceives the opposition in this way is really remarkable.

"It was not only as a marksman that the City centre was seen to advantage. He led the front rank splendidly. He has a fine knack of drawing his opponents, and then passing out to the wings, and in this way the opposition were frequently beaten. The other goals were secured by Hargraves and Parnell. The former again played splendidly, and it is difficult to see how he can be kept out of the team, notwithstanding that R Morris, whose place he has taken, is considered good enough to play for Wales."

Wilson had a fifth goal disallowed and also hit the bar - he was proving himself one of the most lethal forwards in the League. He ended the season as City's top scorer, despite only figuring in 15 games, during which he made the highly impressive return of 13 goals. His record would doubtless have been even better had he not sustained an injury in a match at Grimsby on 17 March, which ruled him out of the next eight games.

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'Nimrod' of the Leeds Mercury wrote: "Grimsby Town were determined to avenge the defeat sustained from Leeds City last November, and in order to do so they had recourse to methods which, to say the least, were of a decidedly vigorous character, so much so indeed that half a dozen members of the Leeds City eleven who appeared at Blundell Park were more or less seriously injured. In the very first minute the Elland Road men discovered that the fates were unkind to them, for Wilson, their crack centre-forward, was brought down heavily by McConnell as he was making tracks for the Grimsby goal. The Leeds man rolled on the ground in agony, and after being attended on the touchline for a few minutes he had to be chaired off suffering from a torn ligament in the leg. At first it was thought that the injury was to the same limb that caused the Hull City man trouble last season, but happily this proved not to be the case."

The difficulties did not end there and Dickie Morris, Walker, Hargraves, Morgan and Ray all suffered injuries as the aggressive Grimsby eleven meted out the punishment. Somehow, City escaped with a 1-1 draw thanks to a goal from former Glasgow Rangers full-back David Murray, who had displaced Jock Macdonald following a £150 move from Liverpool in December.

The Grimsby ordeal left Leeds ill equipped to sustain their late Leeds City half-back John (or James according to the Mercury) George who joined the club from Tottenhampromotion push. Nimrod wrote of the consequences, "It was a strange sight to see the team of cripples arrive in Leeds on Saturday night. They were met at the Great Northern station by a sympathetic crowd of supporters, and when the men got out of the train - R Morris and Wilson had practically to be lifted out - they had become quite stiff owing to the long ride. Both Wilson and Morris were placed on a luggage waggon, and were trundled to the cab rank, where they were placed in a cab, and thence conveyed home."

With so many players laid low, Gilbert Gillies was forced to ring the changes. Centre-half John George arrived from Tottenham and former Denaby United inside-left Jack Lavery joined him as new mainstays of the City side. As the team travelled to meet third-placed Chelsea at the end of March, things had reached a low with only nine fit players arriving in London. Bob Watson had broken down in Burnley on his way to the capital, and the City party sent a telegram to Elland Road summoning reserves. Unfortunately, the second XI had already set off for a fixture in the North East and only Harry Stringfellow was available to join the squad. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the only option was to draft in trainer George Swift for the day. Swift was still registered as a player and filled in on the left wing, although it was three years since he had played any first-team football and he did little to suggest there would be a long term revival of his playing career.

Gillies had already had to rejig his formation with Singleton playing for the first time as a centre-forward, and early on Dick Ray sprained his knee. He had to be withdrawn, requiring Swift to revert to the full-back role he had been accustomed to.

City fought bravely to keep the scoreline blank for the first twenty minutes until Ray suffered his injury in the move which led to Chelsea breaking the deadlock. The Londoners eventually ran out easy 4-0 winners, although matters would have been worse had they not "passed themselves to death" and their shooting had only been a little more accurate.

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The result effectively ended any faint hopes Leeds still harboured of gaining promotion. Chelsea joined Bristol City and Manchester United in breaking clear for a three way battle at the top of the table, with the Peacocks then sitting thirteen points shy of promotion in sixth place. Leeds City still had a part to play in the outcome, however, as they had to face both Bristol and Manchester during the run in.

Leeds lost 2-0 at Bristol on April 14, formalising the West Country club's promotion, while United's 3-1 victory at Elland Road a week later meant that the Lancashire club went up as second placed side. The latter game was better remembered, though, for a very early case of football hooliganism.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and in retrospect there was every reason to fear that there would be some controversy. Manchester United were desperate to secure the single point that would guarantee their safe passage back to the First Division they had last adorned in 1894. They had come very close in each of the previous three seasons and were in no mood to miss out again.

More ominous, however, was the choice of referee for the game. Mr T P Campbell of Blackburn was appointed to officiate and he had been involved in a heated game involving Manchester United just ten weeks before.

The match in question saw Bradford City hosting United. The Bantams had come into the game buoyed by the excitement of thrashing First Division Wolves 5-0 in the FA Cup the previous week - they were utterly convinced they were going to despatch United with much the same ease. However, the Lancashire club triumphed at Valley Parade by five goals to one. During the game United’s burly Bob Bonthron repeatedly clashed with City's infamous left winger Jimmy Conlin. The crowd - angered by their man’s treatment - got completely out of hand. After the game the visiting team were pelted with missiles as they made their way up Holywell Ash Lane and Bonthron was attacked. The incident dominated the newspaper headlines and the Football League held a commission of enquiry and duly closed Valley Parade for a fortnight in March, with several Bradford supporters facing criminal charges.The partisan home supporters were outraged at the result, irritated by the tactical superiority of the opposition and convinced that the referee had favoured the visitors.

Mr Campbell's reappearance in West Yorkshire stirred the memory and the ire of Bradford supporters, many of whom were in attendance whilst their first loves played away to Burslem Port Vale. The mood was anything but convivial as the game kicked off and there were repeated shouts at the referee to "put a red jersey on." The ill feeling would probably have dissipated and come to nought, but the referee awarded Manchester United a dubious penalty. Even though England international Charles Sagar missed from the spot, the crowd's mood became ugly and tension grew. The game ended 3-1 to the visitors and the home fans were in a mood for vengeance.

'Flaneur' of the Leeds Mercury takes up the story: "The fact that Leeds were handsomely beaten on the play had the reverse of a soothing influence on the crowd, but it seemed at the close that hooting would be the extent of the trouble, for the referee had only a few yards to go to reach his dressing room, and there were a number of policemen, officials and players around him. However, some person who was not detected put in a well directed shot with a sharp piece of cement, and struck the referee on the nose, inflicting a slight wound.

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"One or two more missiles were thrown without damage, and for a time a crowd of lads and young men hung about outside the ground. The police were nearly as strong numerically as the knot of hangers on, and the latter were cleared away from the vicinity of the club premises. So the incident ended. More will be heard of it, no doubt, when the referee makes his report. It is unfortunate that the Leeds Club should have to suffer for the misdeeds of a few larrikins, for if a large section of the crowd amused itself by hooting, the dangerous hostility to the referee was the work of only two or three."

The Yorkshire Post deplored such "cowardly reprisals", saying, "All the season, the spectators have been remarkably well behaved … but on Saturday, owing to the blackguardly conduct of some half a dozen, this good character was sadly besmirched. The suspension of the Bradford ground … has apparently not acted as deterrent to the few hooligans who infest all football grounds."

No action was taken against City, thankfully, and the disappointment of the defeat was eased somewhat the following week. David Wilson's return to the attack helped Leeds pull off a decent 2-1 win at Glossop to cement an extremely encouraging sixth place finish to the club's debut season.

Earlier in the season, City had managed an impressive 3-0 win away to Manchester United and had trounced lowly Morley 11-0 in the FA Cup with Fred Hargraves and Dickie Morris bagging four goals apiece. The fledgling club had proven themselves worthy members of the Second Division and inspired some wonderful memories for the Yorkshire public. "An old Rugby enthusiast" wrote in the Yorkshire Post: "I consider that the team the city authorities have got together are a credit both to the town they represent and to the club. Their play in home matches has been in advance of any visiting combination up to date; they have a fine goalkeeper, full-backs (whose only fault is playing too close up to their forwards instead of falling back upon their goal), and half-backs, and a forward line second to none in the Second League, and the equal of a few First League clubs."

  Top of Division Two - final placings
 
Pos
P
W
D
L
F
A
Pts
 
1st
Bristol City
38
30
6
2
83
28
66
 
2nd
Manchester United
38
28
6
4
90
28
62
 
3rd
Chelsea
38
22
9
7
90
37
53
 
4th
WBA
38
22
8
8
79
36
52
 
5th
Hull City
38
19
6
13
67
54
44
 
6th
Leeds City
38
17
9
12
59
47
43
 
7th
Leicester Fosse
38
15
12
11
53
48
42
 
8th
Grimsby Town
38
15
10
13
46
46
40
 
9th
Burnley
38
15
8
15
42
53
38
               

David Wilson's status as the club's leading light was without question, but the Elland Road faithful could cheer other heroes: Harry Bromage had proven himself a fine goalkeeper, while the combination of Fred Parnell and Bob Watson on the right flank offered constant threat up front. John Lavery arrived late on as a skilful if lightweight inside-left and John George brought some steadiness at centre-half after his arrival from Tottenham. He unfortunately dislocated his elbow in the ill-tempered game with Manchester United in April and missed the closing day out at Glossop, but altogether the team had developed as a confident and classy outfit, boding well for the future.

The rise to prominence of Leeds City had a significant effect on attendances at Headingley where Leeds Rugby League Club's average gate nosedived from 9,022 to 5,632. At last rugby's invincible monopoly of the local sporting affections had been broken - City's average home attendance that year was in excess of 9,000 - and they pulled in 22,000 for the visit of Bradford City on December 30 and 20,000 against Chelsea in November. The size of the attendances at Elland Road were sufficient to help the club to generate a profit of £122 in its first year in the Football League - good news, indeed!

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The folk of Leeds had taken their first taste of big time 'Socker' and decided they really rather enjoyed it. Their boys had done them proud and hinted at significantly better things to come.

As the curtain came down on their debut season, things looked rosy indeed for the future of Leeds City AFC.

Other Football Highlights from 1905/06

  • Liverpool won the League Championship for the second time after winning promotion in 1904/05. It was the first time that any team had won the title in the season following promotion. They finished four points clear of second placed Preston North End
  • Everton beat Newcastle 1-0 in the FA Cup Final with a goal from Sandy Young to make it a Merseyside double
  • England joined FIFA, which was formed on May 21 1904
  • The English record transfer fee was still the £1,000 which Middlesbrough had paid to Sunderland for England international inside forward Alf Common in February 1905
  • The England team beat Northern Ireland 5-0 and Wales 1-0, but lost 2-1 at Hampden to Scotland and the Home International Championships finished in a tie between England and Scotland. The England-Scotland match was the first time the attendance for an international had exceeded 100,000

Part 1 - Results and table - printer friendly version