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Season 1919/20
Disaster strikes

Three players involved in the Leeds City auction.  Billy Kirton (left) went to Aston Villa and finished the season with an FA Cup Winner’s medal.  Billy Ashurst (centre) and George Stevenson (right) went on to play for EnglandAfter the long and dark days of the First World War, the new Football League season was eagerly awaited and commenced on 30 August 1919. Leeds City kicked off along with all the others, but were in the midst of some fairly sensational problems as what became infamously known as The Leeds City Scandal began to unfold.

The bulk of the pre-war squad was still around, including goalkeeper Willis Walker, full backs George Affleck and Jack Hampson, half backs Tommy Lamph and Mick Foley and forwards Arthur Price, Billy McLeod, Simpson Bainbridge, Ivan Sharpe, John Edmondson and Ernie Goodwin, as was the esteemed manager Herbert Chapman. The club had also brought in new players, forwards Billy Kirton, William Short and Herbert Lounds, centre half William Hopkins and full back Harry Millership, so there were high hopes among the supporters.

As City began to assemble their playing staff ready for the 1919/20 season, the renewal of Charlie Copeland's contract was considered. Before the war, Copeland received 3 a week with a 1 weekly increase when he played in the first team. The board had now offered Copeland 3 10s (3.50) for playing in the reserves, and considerably more if he played for the first team, or they would release him on a free transfer.

The disgruntled Copeland demanded 6 a week and rocked the club by stating that if he did not get the cash, then he would report City to the Football Association and the Football League for making illegal payments to players during the war. City's directors felt they were being blackmailed. At the risk of forcing Copeland's hand, they ignored his demands and gave him a free transfer to Coventry. Copeland, who had got hold of certain documents or at least knew of their contents, carried out his threat in July 1919 and revealed the alleged irregularities to the authorities.

Bromley was also Copeland's solicitor and, though he strenuously denied it, the club's directors had strong suspicions that it was he who was feeding Copeland the information which proved so sensitive.

Following Copeland's allegations, the Football Association and the Football League set up a joint inquiry into the matter. The Commission, chaired by FA chairman, J C Clegg, summoned the club to Manchester on 26 September 1919, to answer the charges. City were represented by Alderman Clarke, who was asked to present the club books before the inquiry.

The Commission, which included a dozen members of the Football Association and the Football League, as well as members of the international selection committee, were stunned when City replied that it was not in their power to do so. Immediately, the inquiry ordered City to produce the documents by 6 October or face the consequences.

Despite all this off-field controversy, Leeds City had made a solid start to their new campaign and not even the players could have guessed what was in store as they set off to play Wolverhampton two days before the deadline. Because of a rail strike the team went to Molineux by charabanc and won 4-2, with ace marksman Billy McLeod netting a hat-trick. On the way home, the City coach gave several stranded people a lift back to the North and among them was none other than Charlie Copeland.

The trip to Wolves was to be City's last game. The Commission's deadline came and went with no sign of the documents, so the following Saturday's fixture against South Shields was suspended and after a meeting of the inquiry team at the Russell Hotel in London, City were expelled from the Football League and disbanded.

League chairman John McKenna announced: "The authorities of the game intend to keep it absolutely clean. We will have no nonsense. The football stable must be cleaned and further breakages of the law regarding payments will be dealt with in such a severe manner that I now give warning that clubs and players must not expect the slightest leniency."

An FA order formally closed the club, leaving everyone associated with Leeds City shocked and uncomprehending, the unfortunate players out of a job and City officials to face further punishment.

Although there had been no concrete evidence of the alleged illegal payments, City's silence - whether to protect themselves or a misguided move to shield players - was deemed to be admission of guilt.

Not even the personal intervention of the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Alderman Joseph Henry, who offered to take over the club from the directors, could persuade the inquiry to reconsider and League football came to a halt in Leeds after just eight games of the 1919/20 season.

Five City officials were banned for life - Connor, Whiteman, fellow directors Mr S Glover and Mr G Sykes and, rather surprisingly, manager Herbert Chapman. The board promptly resigned, but Chapman earned a reprieve after evidence was later given that he was working at the munitions factory when the illegal payments were allegedly made.

Connor complained that City were not given a fair hearing by the inquiry and Alderman Henry also believed that Burslem Port Vale - the club who had replaced City in the Football League - had brought undue pressure to bear on the inquiry team, in an effort to get City thrown out, so they could take their place.

Port Vale inherited City's playing record of Played 8, Won 4, Drawn 2, Lost 2, Goals For 17, Goals Against 10, Points 10. They completed City's remaining fixtures and finished in 13th place.

Bob Hewison, a guest player with City during the war, was asked by the inquiry to act as secretary during the Star striker Billy McLeod was the 'big money man' in the Leeds City auction, snapped up by Notts County for £1,250winding up of the club, a job he tackled while recovering from a broken leg sustained in 1918/19. Also helping to sort out the tattered remnants of the club were Alderman Henry and Leeds accountant W H Platts.

Hewison later became Bristol City manager, and became embroiled in another illegal payments scandal. On 15 October 1938, another joint Football Association and Football League inquiry into payments made to amateur players fined Bristol City 100 guineas and suspended Hewison until the end of the season.

Biggest victims of the Leeds closure were the players. The Football League promised to pay their wages until they could get fixed up with new clubs and the best way to find them new employers was considered to be by auction, which was duly held at the Metropole Hotel in Leeds on 17 October. Representatives from 30 League clubs turned up to haggle over Leeds City's erstwhile assets.

It was a humiliating experience for the players as they were sold off along with the club's nets, goal-posts, boots, kit and physiotherapy equipment. The entire squad fetched less than 10,150, with fees fixed at figures from 1,250 (for star player McLeod) to 100 after would-be purchasers complained that the original prices were set too high. The Football League, who were responsible for organising the sale, said that no player should be made to join any club he did not want to but, with the players anxious to get back into the action as quickly as possible, the other clubs clearly held the whip hand.

'A melancholy spectacle' was the Yorkshire Post description, reporting the prices as if it were some livestock auction: Billy McLeod (to Notts County) raised £1,250; Harry Millership (Rotherham) and Jack Hampson (Aston Villa) each for 1,000; Willis Walker (South Shields), Tommy Lamph (Manchester City) and John Edmondson (Sheffield Wednesday) went for 800; William Hopkins (South Shields) for 600; George Affleck (Grimsby), Ernest Goodwin (Manchester City), Billy Kirton (Aston Villa), William Ashurst (Lincoln City) for 500; Fred Linfoot (Lincoln City) and Herbert Lounds (Rotherham) for 250; Arthur Wainwright (Grimsby) and William Short (Hartlepool United) for 200; Francis Chipperfield (Lincoln City) 100.

Looking back on the entire shabby episode some years later, John McKenna revealed he had some sympathy with the plight in which Leeds City found themselves trapped: "Perhaps others have escaped being found guilty of malpractices, but if they are found out now we shall not stand on ceremony or sentiment."

However, just as the history of Leeds City came to an abrupt and infamous conclusion, things took a new twist. Moves were under way to create Leeds United, a new club which would (eventually) rise triumphantly from the ashes of this whole sorry affair.

Other Football Highlights from 1919/20

  • With 42 matches instead of 38, it was not surprising that the points records for both divisions of the Football League were broken, West Bromwich Albion winning the league title with 60 points and Spurs the Second Division with a massive 70. Both scored over 100 goals and West Brom's 104 is a record for the top division
  • Aston Villa won the FA Cup for a record sixth time. At its new venue, Stamford Bridge, the match went to extra time before Villa beat Huddersfield 1-0 with a goal scored by inside-right Billy Kirton, a converted full-back whom Villa had picked up for £250 in the auction of Leeds City players in October
  • England came back from 4-2 down at half time to beat Scotland 5-4 at Hillsborough, but in so doing they handed the Home International Championship to Wales

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