A memorable year
The previous two seasons had been promising ones for Arthur Fairclough and his Leeds United team, and there was a great deal of optimism around Elland Road as their fourth season in the Second Division dawned. They had been just four points off promotion the previous season.
The resignation of assistant manager Dick Ray during the summer was shrugged off as Fairclough enlisted the support of Dick Norman, the Blackpool manager, to replace him. The two had worked together previously when Fairclough had been at Barnsley before the First World War and knew each other well.
In the summer there had been something of a clear out of fringe players, with half-backs Alf Dark and Jimmy Walton, forwards Len Armitage and George Mason and full-back Joe Potts all leaving while former Leeds City winger Ivan Sharpe retired.
The only recruits were forward Bob Fullam, centre-half Lawrie Baker, keeper Bill Johnson and left-back George Speak. Of these, only Speak played any real part in the team in 1923/24, filling the left-ack position in around half the games. Bill Menzies captured the shirt for much of the run in, however, and became a fixture at No 3 for the next few years.
Much of the previous year's promising side was still around, but now Billy Down had regained the goalkeeper's jersey from Fred Whalley and young Joe Richmond secured the No 9 shirt for most of the season. The stalwarts Bert Duffield, Ernie Hart and skipper Jim Baker ensured the defensive stability continued as the goals against total achieved a record low for a third successive season, but now the forward line had become equally effective. Alan Noble and Joe Harris were the providers from the wings, but the real strength lay in the other three, Richmond, Percy Whipp and Jack Swan, who between them hit 44 of United's 61 goals in the league.
At last Fairclough had finally brought together an outfit that were uniformly good and that he could be satisfied with. Despite an inauspicious start, with just one win from the first six games, by November Leeds had surged to the top of the table with a dazzling streak of results that included seven successive victories. They faltered in December, losing twice to promotion rivals Bury, but on Boxing Day recovered enough to thrash Oldham 5-0 at Elland Road with goals from Swan (2), Richmond and Whipp(2). The Yorkshire Post celebrated 'a fine exhibition of aggressive play ... Leeds would not have been flattered if they'd doubled the score. They had a very effective left wing in Armand and Swan whose perfect combinations went a very long way to securing this victory.'
Two early defeats had come at the hands of Leicester City. The Midlands club had been unlucky to miss out on promotion the previous season when they had finished third but only on the basis of an inferior goal average to runners up West Ham. They were still a strong test for any team, although they slumped badly to a final position in the middle of the table.
After their shaky spell during December, Leeds United came back strongly. Six straight wins from January to March kept Leeds buoyant. Yet, despite being on the threshold of the first division, home attendances were dispiritingly low: only 11,000 saw the 3-1 home victory over Coventry on 9 February; just 8,000 the midweek 2-1 win against South Shields on 27 February. Leeds United were about to make history, but Elland Road, when only a quarter full, was a downbeat arena; its pulse rate low. The team, however, was full of fight and fire.
Leeds were now sitting pretty at the top of the division and even the customary Cup exit, 3-0 at the hands of First Division giants Aston Villa in front of nearly 52,000 fans in Birmingham, could not deter them.
That match was in the third round, which was as far as either City or United had ever got, and matched their progress the previous year.
They faltered quite badly in the last couple of months of the season, winning just twice in the last eight games and it looked like they might have shot their bolt when four straight draws were followed by a 2-0 defeat at promotion rivals Derby. However, on 21 April the football team of Leeds finally achieved their long cherished goal of promotion to Division One by beating Stockport 4-0 at Elland Road and for once there was a sense of occasion. 'The holiday crowd, officially returned at 22,145, was more demonstrative than perhaps any that has been assembled in this ground since the War,' reported the Yorkshire Post. 'Though cleverer teams have won promotion, no set of players has tried harder or trained more conscientiously. The extraordinary tenacity of the home players and their effective tackling was too much for Stockport in the second half.' Jack Swan struck two of the goals.
That set things up nicely for the home game with Nelson Town on 26 April. A 1-0 victory secured the Second Division title and the crowd poured onto the pitch at the final whistle to celebrate their success. Leeds lost the return game at Nelson a week later by 3-1, but it was too late to make a difference and they won the title with 54 points, going up with second placed Bury who finished level on 51 points with Derby.
Manager Arthur Fairclough and his players were branded miracle workers in the city of Leeds and feted wherever they went. The unofficial championship win during the year had been important, but now official glory was conferred upon Leeds United and the Yorkshire public revelled in the triumph.
Other Football Highlights from 1923/24