Seasons 1915-19 Part 3
1917/18 An astonishing success
The Leeds City side that began the 1917/18 campaign, the third organised under wartime conditions, showed few changes from that which ended the previous season. Their five guests from the North East, Billy Hampson, Harry Sherwin, Bob Hewison, Jack Peart and Clem Stephenson, continued to form the core of the side and the Northampton Town outside-right, Corporal P J Barrett, was the only genuine newcomer.
Tommy Lamph had returned from a season spent assisting Rotherham, Willis Walker was making his first appearance in goal since January and Jack Hampson his first since March. Tom Cawley and Stan Robinson completed the eleven, having played a handful of games between them in the closing weeks of the previous season. Inside-left Arthur Price, on holiday in Lincolnshire, was the one notable absentee on the opening day.
The first game of the season, on 1 September, was against The Wednesday in Sheffield, but the normal enthusiasm for the start of a new season was somewhat muted, as noted in the match day programme. 'The strain on football organisations is severe, and the loyal and whole hearted support of followers of the game is required more than ever. The decision to keep football going has been justified, although it has entailed endless worry, hard work and, in the majority of cases, financial loss. But it has provided a wholesome recreation for thousands of munition workers and soldiers, raised big sums for charity; and contributed to the cost of the war through the entertainment tax.'
The City directors had originally announced that they would not be competing at all because of the travelling expenses involved and had only confirmed their agreement to continue operations in the Midland Principal Tournament three weeks earlier after strenuous appeals from the League Management Committee. Understandably, the players were a little rusty when the game commenced, City enjoying what benefit there was to be derived from the strong wind.
The Peacocks had the one dangerous effort in the first half hour with Robinson's shot being diverted by Wednesday keeper Cooper. The same player shot into the keeper's hands when he led three forwards in an assault on the Sheffield goal and the game remained scoreless at the break.
Two minutes after the resumption, City opened the scoring with their third attack of the half. Peart drove in fiercely from close range and Cooper could only slow the pace of the ball as it bounced on into the net. Robinson nearly doubled the advantage a minute later, but City had some defending to do, surviving a penalty appeal, before ending victors by a single goal.
Clem Stephenson was the best man on show, steering the course of the game and exhibiting great control of the ball, with admirable support from Cawley, Jack Hampson and Hewison.
The Football League had opted this season to arrange fixtures such that the same clubs would face each other on successive Saturdays, and City thus hosted Wednesday at Elland Road on 8 September.
Though Tom Cawley had signed professional forms for City in 1914, he had spent most of the war assisting Wednesday; he switched allegiances for the game, added to the Sheffield ranks in a bid to strengthen an attack which had been weak at Hillsborough. Arthur Price replaced him in the City eleven, which was otherwise unchanged.
It was Price who scored the first goal after ten minutes. After referee Coward dismissed a penalty claim, the inside-left worked a decent position for himself and fired home left footed. The goal settled City, and they had an effort disallowed when Peart drove into the net after an indirect free kick was given against the goalkeeper for taking too many steps. However, it was the fortieth minute before they added to their total, Robinson setting up Stephenson for the second goal. Robinson also made the third, playing in Price who made it 3-0 at the interval.
City had things much their own way in the second half: Robinson was again the architect when Leeds claimed the fourth goal, centring for Peart to head home five minutes from the end and then Barrett completed a 5-0 victory. The Leeds Mercury reported: 'There could be no disputing the merit of the points which were the outcome of artistic passing and forceful shooting… The City always played like a team confident of victory. The forwards, well-supported by the half-backs, dominated the situation practically all through. Peart's distribution was well-nigh perfect, and the whole time outplayed with rapidity and ease.'
With Willis Walker absent on naval duties the following week, Blackburn keeper Alf Robinson stepped up for City's visit to Bradford City, the only change in the Leeds eleven.
City were outstanding in the first half and after twenty minutes were two up. Billy Hampson drove home low from a corner kick and when Bradford keeper Suter dropped a Robinson centre, Clem Stephenson promptly slipped the ball home. The home side pulled a goal back just before the break when centre-forward Cooper, a guest from Newcastle United, ran through to score.
Early in the second half, referee Shallcross had to warn players from both sides after there was a display of ill feeling. The official's intervention had little impact: on the hour, Bradford's George Wild was sent off after kicking an opponent. Nonetheless, the ten men of Bradford rallied strongly. Cooper equalised a quarter of an hour from the end and then Fox scored for the ten men to end Leeds' unbeaten start.
That was a rare setback in the opening weeks and seven days later later the Peacocks beat Bradford 4-0 in the return fixture at Elland Road, thanks to a hat trick from Arthur Price after Jack Peart had opened the scoring.
They won a further four games on the bounce, scoring sixteen goals and conceding none, with Peart responsible for five of the scores. Best victory was the 6-0 trouncing of Rotherham County on 6 October.
Price opened the scoring on the half hour with a fierce drive, and Peart quickly added a second from an Ernie Goodwin cross. It was left winger Goodwin's first appearance of the season and just before the break he added the third goal following a dribble through the County defence.
City took their foot off the gas at that stage, and Rotherham left winger Billy Hibbert, who would play for City a few months later, came close to a goal. Hewison was the next goalscorer, driving home from more than thirty yards. Price got his second three minutes from time and Peart completed his own brace a couple of minutes later.
Leeds' 4-0 victory at Lincoln City a fortnight later took the Elland Road men second in the table, a point behind leaders Sheffield United.
By now Bob Hewison had moved up to half-back with Jack Hampson injured, and Leeds-born Fred Baines established himself as Billy Hampson's partner at full-back, while Billy's younger brother Tommy took over in goal. Later in the campaign, the number of Hampsons in City's ranks would swell to five with the appearances of Walker Hampson, brother to Billy and Tommy, and Jack's brother E Hampson, who had played with him at Northampton.
City's impressive advance was stayed on 27 October when they were held to a 2-2 draw at home by bottom club Grimsby Town. Leeds gave debuts on their right flank to Corporal Walter Grant of the Gordon Highlanders and young Billy Kirton.
Grimsby had attained just one point from their previous six games and had been expected to be mere cannon fodder, but they played above themselves, taking a two-goal lead through Goodfellow and Hollings. According to the Mercury, 'The Leeds City's forwards entirely lacked their usual power and judgement until near the interval, when Peart scored from a shot which Sutcliffe had no chance of stopping. Leeds City also forced two corners which, although well placed, were smartly checked by the Grimsby backs.
'Grant of Aberdeen and Kirton, a North Eastern League player, who played on the right, were given few opportunities in the first half, but in the second half they were prominent in all the Leeds City attacks. It was from a fine pass by Grant that Peart was able to equalise, and although Kirton made several praiseworthy efforts to score the Grimsby defence proved too good for him.'
A week later, Leeds had their revenge, earning a 4-0 victory at Grimsby, with Arthur Price getting two of the goals to take his tally to nine from nine appearances.
The Yorkshire Post: 'Leeds City made ample amends at Grimsby for the surprise draw which the Town team recorded the previous week at Elland Road. It was a well-merited success, too, though the score was perhaps more emphatic than the run of play warranted. The City were unquestionably the better balanced and more polished side, but Grimsby played so strongly that they could not score, and there was every prospect of the game finishing goalless when, in the course of an exciting struggle beneath the home crossbar, Robinson found a loophole in the defence and drove the ball home. The Town never recovered from this reverse.
'On the other hand it acted like a tonic on the City raiders, who attacked with such skill and vigour that three other goals were piled on in four minutes. City's defence was excellent all through, but most of the credit of the success must be given to the intermediate men, who alike in attack and defence were fine. Lamph played brilliantly, and Hewison and Sherwin were in good form. The forwards were fast and kept play open, with long, accurate passes, which harassed the home defenders sorely. Sutcliffe was the most prominent man in the home ranks, his goal keeping up to the time of the collapse being superb.'
Elsewhere that afternoon, Birmingham defeated Sheffield United, leaving Leeds City topping the table by virtue of a superior goal average.
On 10 November, Elland Road welcomed that same Birmingham side. Jack Hampson returned for his first appearance in eight games and exhibited his versatility by playing at outside-right, partnering Clem Stephenson, himself playing his first game in three weeks.
Jack Peart opened the scoring for Leeds in the tenth minute, hooking home a volley after Hewison had chipped the ball into the Birmingham area. Hampson had a goal disallowed in the second half for offside and then Price struck the post with Birmingham down to ten men after losing Claude Jephcott. The Midlanders put up a strong rearguard action and City were glad to secure the two points.
They could not repeat the success the following week and went down 3-1 at St Andrews before a crowd of 26,000.
Again, though, City showed their resilience by setting off on a run of seven straight victories, commencing against Notts County on 24 November. The Yorkshire Post: 'Leeds City achieved their victory of 2-0 over Notts County much more easily than the score would appear to indicate. As a matter of fact, they were attacking three parts of the game, and, in defence, the steadiness of their backs, W Hampson and Baines, was sufficient to cope with any chance development to which the high wind gave rise.
'The City were manifestly superior in all departments and it was only the tricks of the gale which prevented them winning by a much more decisive margin. Combination was discounted to a large extent by the wind, which blew the ball about in eccentric fashion, but the individual cleverness and resource of such players as Stephenson, Peart and Hewison gave the home team a commanding advantage, and proved the deciding factor. Corporal Grant, an Aberdonian from a Yorkshire military camp, made his second appearance in the City forward line - this time on the left wing - and whilst his judgement left something to be desired, he showed dashing qualities which put the visitors' defence in many a tight corner.'
City completed the double over County by beating them 4-2 on their own ground on 1 December, the points taking them level with Sheffield United at the top of the table as the Blades lost 3-1 at Huddersfield. The two teams had opened out a clear five-point lead over the chasing pack with half the games played, and City moved two clear of their rivals a week later. With four Hampsons in their team on 8 December, they won 4-3 at Barnsley while Sheffield lost 2-0 at Bradford Park Avenue.
City had dropped just five points from fifteen games played and boasted a goals record of 46-13. Jack Peart scored twice at Barnsley to take his season's tally to 16, while Arthur Price had ten to his credit. For City loyalists, this was beyond their wildest dreams; nothing seemed beyond their favourites, with their brand of free-flowing, attacking football.
On 15 December, Barnsley put up a remarkably good fight in the Elland Road return, given that they were without three of their best players in Wigmore, Donkin and Keenlyside and had to rely on three substitutes picked up locally. Nevertheless, City were the better side, adapting well to the heavy conditions. They went close several times before Barnsley snatched a shock goal to open the scoring on the half hour, Roe scoring from a perfect centre by Birks. City levelled within five minutes through Peart and then went ahead when Hewison followed up after an unsuccessful effort by Stephenson. There were no further goals with City dominating to secure the 2-1 victory in semi-darkness.
City's Christmas Day game with Huddersfield Town at Elland Road was even for the first quarter of an hour; then Price put Leeds ahead and Sherwin doubled their lead from the penalty spot. Hewison completed the 3-0 victory in the second half.
City won 3-1 in the Boxing Day return to retain their leadership of the division.
Sheffield United beat Barnsley 3-0 on 29 December to draw level on points with City, who had the day off and now had two games in hand on their rivals. They faced Hull at Anlaby Road on 5 January, the home side undefeated on their own enclosure since 22 September.
Welsh full-back Harry Millership of Blackpool, had made his City debut on Christmas Day, and was recalled for the game; following a sound performance against the Tigers he would miss just three games in the rest of the campaign.
Half-beck Edelston deputised in goal for Hull and the handicap was crucial, the stand in making no effort to stop the first goal, scored by Price after twelve minutes. He improved thereafter but was unable to prevent Clem Stephenson completing a 2-0 victory in the second half.
Even when Hull managed a 3-1 victory at Elland Road on 12 January, Leeds remained a couple of points clear of Sheffield United, though they had exhausted their games in hand. It was City's first home reverse, but they completed the ninth victory on their travels when they secured a 4-2 victory against Leicester Fosse a week later, with two goals from Tom Cawley and other efforts from Harry Sherwin and Clem Stephenson. The victory ensured they maintained their place at the head of the table.
The Peacocks went even better the following week against Fosse at Elland Road, running out 4-0 victors, as reported by the Leeds Mercury: 'The first half was keen and fast, and Leicester Fosse put up a remarkably good fight until Price scored from a corner kick taken by Cawley. Leeds City deserved the goal, which came as a reward of admirable perseverance. For thirty minutes they practically kept Leicester Fosse on the defensive, but it was in front of their own goal that Leicester were seen at their best.
'The entire Fosse defence held out magnificently for half an hour against a clever, formidable vanguard. The half-backs seemed thoroughly conversant with the methods of the Leeds City forwards, and intercepted many passes. Draycott and Gettins, behind, tackled fearlessly and cleared with power. They could not, however, altogether cope with the individual smartness of Leeds City forwards, who got several good shots, only to find Bown consistent with the rest of the defence. Leeds City, however, pursued their task with skill and confidence, and scored again through Peart before the interval, following a movement in which excellent understanding was a prime feature.
'Play in the second half slackened down and there were times when the Leicester Fosse forwards - who altogether gave a very moderate display - did as well as those of Leeds City. The Leicester defence, however, showed signs of their earlier strain, and gradually lost their grip on the game. After a tricky piece of work on the part of Hewison, Goodwin added a third goal, and after Peart had missed an open goal, Clem Stephenson scored the fourth goal, following a cleverly engineered movement in which the half-backs combined effectively.'
With Sheffield United losing by a single goal at home to Hull, the victory served to extend City's leadership of the division to four points.
When City hosted Nottingham Forest on 2 February, they were able to field the celebrated Sunderland and England forward Charlie Buchan on the right wing.
Forest were not so blessed, and at one time it seemed their side would consist of seven men and a substitute drawn from the crowd. In the end, they managed to scrape together a full eleven, including City winger E Hampson. The mist was so dense that it seemed the game might not even commence and play was limited to seventy minutes.
The first half ended without a goal but immediately upon the resumption, Forest defender Wightman deflected an Ernie Goodwin cross past his own keeper.
Buchan wrapped up the points near the end, capitalising on good play by Arthur Price to break down the right and fire left footed past keeper Johnson. The Mercury described Buchan as 'certainly the best of the Leeds City forwards, and it was his skilful touches and expert command in the City raids, that turned the failing power of the City attack'.
City were hopeful that Buchan would continue to assist their cause but that was his only appearance for the club; he would go on to enjoy huge success under Herbert Chapman at Arsenal.
Jack Peart scored the only goal of the game when the two sides met a week later at the City Ground. The Leeds Mercury: 'Both sides exhibited pace and enthusiasm, and while the wind made the ball difficult to control, some brilliant football was displayed. The winning of the toss made all the difference to Leeds; they had the wind behind them, and at the end of eleven minutes J Hampson made a brilliant solo run to finish with a centre which left C Stephenson in possession half a dozen yards from Johnson. Finding himself covered, however, by Jones, the inside-right deftly touched the ball back to Peart, who found the mark with an irresistible shot.
'Twice later Peart had possible openings, but he was carefully shadowed by Wightman. Once, however, he was only inches wide with a flying header. Forest had more of the game towards the interval, but the City defence allowed them no room. Forest had to fight every inch of the ground, and the only time T Hampson was troubled was as the result of a sparkling shot from Burton.
'Peart led the attack wonderfully well, and Stephenson was a great assistant. Both wingers were difficult to hold, but the City's real strength was at half-back and full-back. Both defences, in fact, were magnificent. Leeds, however, always held a distinct advantage because of their superior attack. Towards the end Forest rallied with vigour, and it was then that Hewison and Co were seen at their best. Hewison was only just checked in time by Millership on one occasion and while Forest's appeal for a penalty was in vain, the honours were worthily won by a fine side.'
City's preparations for the game had been disrupted by off field disputes involving acting manager George Cripps.
When Cripps took responsibility for secretarial duties and then assumed control of team selection after the temporary departure of Herbert Chapman, it led to disagreements behind the scenes.
Chairman Joseph Connor and another director, J C Whiteman, had heretofore selected the team and resented their authority being usurped. Connor was also less than enamoured with the way that Cripps handled the club's finances. In 1917, the book-keeping duties were handed over to an accountants' clerk, but Cripps remained in charge of the team and correspondence.
The disharmony between Connor and Cripps caused friction with the players, who had a low opinion of Cripps. Before the match at the City Ground, Jack Hampson wrote to the directors threatening that the players would go on strike if Cripps travelled with the team. Fearful of the consequences of the action, Connor was able to quell the dispute, but the tense atmosphere continued.
It was surprising that the players could keep their act together so resolutely while such unrest simmered in the background.
City's only rivals for the title were Sheffield United, 2-1 victors at Leicester, but City were now four points clear with four games remaining.
On 16 February, Leeds beat Bradford Park Avenue 2-1 with goals from Tom Cawley and Clem Stephenson. The Yorkshire Post was ecstatic: 'Their performance on their own ground was worthy of the reputation which they established for themselves in the last two seasons. Indeed, the result … by no means represents the extent of the winners' superiority. Actually, the City goalkeeper was only called upon to handle the ball three times in the course of the match, and the goal which Bradford scored near the finish was a palpable fluke. For the rest, Leeds City absolutely dominated the play.
'Their inside-forwards - Stephenson, Peart and Price - completely overran the Bradford half-backs, and it was only the stout defence of Blackham and Dickenson, backed by brilliant goalkeeping on the part of Howling that saved Bradford from an overwhelming defeat. Hewison, as ever, was a clever organiser of most of the attacks, and the much-improved Cawley at right wing was concerned in both the City goals, scoring the first himself, giving Stephenson the chance of the other. J Hampson demonstrated his versatility by playing a serviceable game at left wing, his display in that position being much ahead of one or two performances which on an emergency he has given on the City ground.'
That same afternoon at Bramall Lane, Sheffield United were beaten 1-0 by Forest; it would now take a miracle for the Blades to overtake City, though the two sides were pitted against each other in the final two games of the season.
City made sure there would be no photo finish, beating Park Avenue 2-0 in Bradford on 23 February. They were somewhat fortunate to secure the victory, having been outplayed in the first half and could have been two or three down. But Harry Sherwin opened the scoring from the penalty spot before the break and five minutes after the restart Jack Peart scored his twentieth goal of the season to secure both the points and the title.
On 2 March, Leeds faced Sheffield United at Bramall Lane before a crowd of 18,000. For once City were second best, losing for the first time in seven games to an outstanding Blades side.
Jack Hampson had been due to play on the left wing, but failed to turn up and City had to enlist the services of Blades winger Spratt, who was in the stadium, and had been featuring for Rotherham County.
The newcomer laid on an opening for Cawley after nine minutes and when the first shot was partly cleared, Hewison hammered home the rebound to put City ahead.
Sheffield equalised three minutes into the second half in a bizarre fashion. City keeper Tommy Hampson came out to meet Blades centre-forward Johnson as he ran through and when he blocked the shot it rebounded off the hapless Hewison and into the net.
Seventeen minutes from the end, Sheffield won the game when Shearman drove home a loose ball.
The Elland Road return kicked off half an hour late in front of a crowd of 18,000. City found their form and won by way of first half goals from Tom Cawley and Clem Stephenson. It was a keenly-fought contest with Harry Millership and Blades half-back Pantling both sent off.
The victory left City six points clear of Sheffield United and confirmed them as the finest side in the section.
For this particular season, the Football League decided that the winners of the Lancashire and Midland sections should meet each other on a home and away basis for the privilege of being crowned League champions. This was first suggested the previous October, when the Emergency Committee of the Football Association also proposed a modification of the rule prohibiting the award of cups and medals during wartime. The decision was confirmed in February with the proceeds earmarked for the National Football War Fund.
In the Lancashire section, Stoke came through in the closing stages of the campaign to overtake long time leaders Liverpool and would be City's opponents in the two-legged play off.
Before then, Leeds had to complete six games in the Subsidiary Tournament against Huddersfield Town and the two Bradford clubs.
Often there was an air of anti-climax about these end of season affairs, but for once City carried their form through into the Subsidiary games.
They lost their first fixture, 4-2 at Huddersfield on 16 March, but then quickly clicked back into gear. With Jack Peart unavailable, Jack Hampson filled in at centre-forward at Leeds Road, but in the Elland Road return, City had Newcastle United centre-forward Rutherford leading the line. The player missed two chances in the first half but played well and City should really have been ahead long before Clem Stephenson scored the only goal with ten minutes remaining.
Jack Hampson took up the centre-forward role again on 30 March when City faced Bradford at Elland Road. Arthur Price scored twice and Stephenson once as Leeds won 3-1.
When the teams met a week later at Bradford, City had another new centre-forward, Andy Wilson of Middlesbrough, who had been playing North of the Border with Hearts and who would later win full caps for Scotland. Also in the side at full-back was Walker Hampson, brother to Tommy and Billy.
In a game played in incessant rain, Wilson had a goal disallowed for offside in the first half and five minutes after the restart he scored after being played in by Tom Cawley. Wilson quickly added a second to secure the points.
Wilson led the line again, at home to Bradford City on 13 April, but the game finished without a goal, as did the return a week later at Valley Parade, with Jack Peart restored up front.
It was a drab finish to the tournament, but enough to see City head the four-club table, a point clear of runners up Huddersfield.
With the play off games with Stoke scheduled for May, City kept their hands in with a charity match against a combined Manchester City and Manchester United team on 27 April. There was a crowd of over 12,000 to witness the game which the Yorkshire Post described as 'fast and exciting'.
City acquitted themselves well early doors, but the celebrated Welsh international Billy Meredith gave the Mancunians a first half lead and they went on to complete a 3-0 victory after the break.
On 4 May, City faced Stoke in their first play off game at Elland Road. They had to take the field without Clem Stephenson, called away by the military and based now at Crystal Palace. Tom Cawley took Stephenson's place at inside-right and England international Billy Hibbert of Newcastle United and Rotherham County came in on the left wing.
In a well-contested game between two gifted sides, City took the initiative in the first half with goals from Hibbert and Peart. The Peacocks had to withstand some fierce second half pressure from the Potters, but did so resolutely to preserve their advantage.
The same City eleven took the field at the Victoria Ground on 11 May, but Bob Hewison limped out of the action in the first half. The Peacocks consequently had to fight a strong rearguard action as Stoke went onto all-out attack. They withstood all that was thrown at them until twelve minutes from the end, when they conceded a penalty which Parker converted to set up a tense and exciting conclusion.
City were resolute, refusing to be breached a second time, and saw out the game to earn a 2-1 aggregate victory which ensured that they would carry off the crown of unofficial League champions.
It was a heart-warming climax to a season of phenomenal achievement for Leeds City, confirming the newly-established status of a club that had only been in existence for 14 years. The triumph would go unmarked in the official records of the Football League, but in the spring of 1918, City could congratulate themselves on having reached the very pinnacle of the English game.
There were signs at the time that the First World War was drifting to a conclusion. After remaining neutral until April 1917, the United States finally threw themselves fully into support of the Allies in the spring of 1918. The American contribution was decisive in advancing the end of the conflict.
President Woodrow Wilson made his 'Fourteen Points' speech to the US Congress on 8 January 1918. The address was intended to reassure the American public that the Great War was being fought for a moral cause and for post-war peace in Europe. Wilson followed with the 'Four Principles' speech on 11 February.
On 25 May, German U-boats appeared in US waters for the first time and three days later American forces were victorious in their first major action, at the Battle of Cantigny.
The Second Battle of the Marne, the last major German offensive, began on 15 July. It failed when an Allied counter attack overwhelmed the Germans, inflicting severe casualties, and this marked the start of the Allied advance which ended with the Armistice in November.
Anticipating the coming of peace, the Football League held its annual general meeting at the Grand Hotel in Manchester on 15 July. John McKenna, President of the League, opened proceedings by making special reference to the defeat of the "vile conspiracy that was running rampant all last season", ending in the successful prosecution of a player for bribery. The Management Committee made no recommendation as to the grouping of clubs for the new season.
Future Leeds City manager, Arthur Fairclough, then secretary-manager of Huddersfield Town, suggested that the Lancashire and Midlands Sections should be divided into three for convenience of travelling, and that competitions should be arranged up to Christmas, these to be duplicated if the war continued after that period.
In the end, however, arrangements would remain as before for 1918/19, with City in a Midland Section of sixteen clubs, followed by a Subsidiary Tournament of four clubs from the West Riding.