Major Frank Buckley knew
the new season
was going to be challenging for Leeds United. They had just finished
5th in Division Two, but for the first
half of 1951-52, his star defender John
Charles was due to be away on National Service. The good showing
in the previous year had not fooled him and he sought to add to
his squad by combing non-League football for new players. Leeds'
financial position meant that he had little money to buy ready
made stars and had to either shop in football's bargain basement
and hope to unearth gems, or sell one of his established stars
if he wanted to pay out big money.
During the spring and summer he had enlisted a number of players
from junior football, goalkeeper Brian Taylor, forwards Bobby
Webb, Ron Barritt, John Finlay and Billy Hudson and half back
Archie Gibson. However, when he forked out £12,000 for Cardiff's
popular midfield player Don Mills in September, he had to balance
the books by offloading proven goalscorer Len Browning to Sheffield
United for the same sum in November. Browning had been the club's
top scorer in 1949 and 1951 and he was sorely missed. The chosen
replacement was Frank Fidler, who had previously hit 179 goals
for non League Witton Albion after the war and had then moved
on to Wrexham. He was rushed into the side on October 27, 12 hours
after arriving at the club.
The financial constraints were a severe frustration for Buckley,
but he coped well in the circumstances, although his mood was
not helped by Leeds' early performances. Their first two games
were both 1-1 draws, against Birmingham and Brentford and for
the third match, Buckley dropped Browning who had by now been
transfer listed. He tried Barritt up front for a couple of games,
but wasn't impressed. Leeds lost 2-0 at Doncaster and then drew
at home with Birmingham. He had been forced to call goalkeeper
Taylor back from National Service to replace the injured John
Scott after the first game and was also now without Ernie Stevenson
up front. He tried centre half Roy Kirk as his No 9 in the next
game, a 2-1 home defeat by Everton, but then brought back Browning
as he had little choice.
Leeds managed to get a goalless draw at Southampton on September
8, but had got just four points and no wins after six games. The
return of Browning sparked an improvement, however, and Leeds
won 8 of their next 12 games, ending November in much better heart.
Fidler had now taken over from Browning and scored on his debut,
going on to hit four goals in his first five games. Even more
impressive, however, was the haul of inside forward Ray Iggleden.
He missed scoring just once in a run of 9 games and totalled 10
goals in that period, making him easily the club's leading scorer.
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The club were also buoyed at the end of November by the return
of John Charles, and he was back in the side for a 1-1 draw at
home to struggling
Swansea on December 1. By then Don Mills had become a regular
in the team and Eric Kerfoot had returned to the side. The most
notable change, however, had seen 19 year old Grenville Hair oust
long serving Jimmy Milburn from the left back position. Hair now
became a fixture in the side, going virtually unchallenged for
12 years. Milburn came back into the side during the spring, but
more normally as emergency cover for the No 9 shirt. He was one
of 6 players to fill the problem position that season.
Leeds had started climbing the table and had moved up from a
lowly 16th spot on October 20 to be 7th by December 1. They were
now just five points behind leaders Rotherham United and poised,
it seemed, to make a real push for a promotion spot.
Strangely, Charles' return coincided with a dip in form and Leeds
didn't win again until the 2-1 victory at Leicester on Christmas
Day. A day later, however, they beat Leicester 2-1 at Elland Road
and were handily placed in the League around the turn of the year.
After losing at Everton on December 29, they remained unbeaten
for a further 6 matches, two of which were in the Cup as Leeds
saw off Rochdale and Bradford. That gave then a fifth round draw
with First Division strugglers Chelsea and Leeds played out two
1-1 draws with the Stamford Bridge club before getting thrashed
5-1 in a second replay at Villa Park.
The distractions in the Cup led to a loss of consistency in the
League and they started losing as often as they were winning.
They were also struggling with injuries to forwards and Roy Kirk
and Milburn wore the No 9 shirt during the run in, along with
Charles, who played there three times, although he didn't manage
a goal. The struggle to score in those late stages of the season
had a disastrous impact.
On March 15, after a 1-0 win at Elland Road against Blackburn,
Leeds had moved up to sixth with nine games still to play. Nottingham
Forest led the table with 42 points, with Sheffield Wednesday,
Leicester City and Birmingham all on 40 points. Cardiff and Leeds
were tied on 38 points, but both had a game in hand on the other
four. It was all extremely tight. Major Buckley started to believe
that this would be their year. Leeds had yet to play leaders Forest
home and away and had a last day match at Cardiff which looked
crucial. They also had the advantage that all their other games
were against teams in the lower half of the table.
Unfortunately, Leeds only drew 0-0 on March 22 at bottom club
Queens Park Rangers, but when they beat Notts County 1-0 at Elland
Road a week later they had advanced to fourth spot, two points
behind new leaders Birmingham, but still with a priceless game
in hand. Things were now even tighter at the top and just four
points covered the top eight. Birmingham had played 36 games and
led on 43 points. Forest were second with 42 points from 36 games,
but Leeds were tied with Sheffield Wednesday on 41 points and
both sides had a game in hand on the top two. Leicester and Rotherham
had 40 points and Sheffield United and Cardiff had 39, but the
Welsh side now had a game in hand on Leeds, and two on most of
the other teams. Leeds were knocked off course by a 2-1 defeat
at Luton on April 5 and the tension was unbearable as the season
approached its crucial Easter period.
Over the holiday period, Leeds had a win against Bury and drew
twice with Forest. After the games on Easter Monday, the table
read as follows: 1st Sheffield Wednesday Played 40 Points 50,
2nd Birmingham 40 49, 3rd Forest 40 47, 4th Leicester 40 46, 5th
Leeds 39 45, 6th Cardiff 38 44. The promotion places were now
down to these six teams. Wednesday were almost home and dry, but
any of the other five could still finish above them. The points
dropped against Luton and Forest had left Leeds outsiders, and
they were now dependent on other sides dropping points if they
were to squeeze through.
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Then, on April 19 disaster struck. Leaders Wednesday won at Coventry,
who thus dropped into the relegation zone, but Birmingham, Forest
and Leicester all lost away from home. Cardiff dropped a point
at Luton and if Leeds could have won at Swansea, battling with
Coventry to avoid relegation, they would have put themselves right
back in it. As it turned out, they saved their worst performance
of the season for when they could least afford it and crashed
4-1, allowing Swansea to move out of the relegation zone. It was
still mathematically possible for Leeds to gain promotion, but
the odds were against them. Wednesday could not be caught and
were confirmed as champions, but Leeds were one of five clubs
still in with a chance of the runners up spot.
Leeds' only chance was to win their last two games and hope the
other sides would slip up. They managed to win the first of those
games, 3-1 against Coventry at Elland Road, sentencing the Midlands
relegation, but Birmingham beat Luton to end United's hopes. Leeds
could still decide who took the runners up spot, however. Birmingham
had 51 points but had finished all their matches. Leeds still
had to travel to third placed Cardiff, and the Welshmen needed
to win to pip Birmingham on goal average. Again, Leeds capitulated
in Wales, going down 3-1 before 45,925 fans who cheered the Welsh
club to promotion in one of the tightest finishes in years.
Leeds had to be content with sixth place, four points below Cardiff.
A closing run of six points from the last seven games had done
the damage and left them rueing their loss of form and destined
for another year at least in Division Two. It was a sad and disappointing
end to what had been an exciting season.
Frank Buckley was devastated and grew steadily more frustrated
with the inability of some good players to really fulfil their
potential. His lack of funds made radical action impossible. Buckley's
scouting and youth programmes were bringing talent through, but
it was taking too long.
Other Football Highlights from 1951-52
- Austria were widely regarded as the best team in Europe but
could only draw with England at Wembley early in the season.
Six months later Bolton centre forward Nat Lofthouse won the
nickname the "Lion of Vienna" for his formidable performance
in the return match in Austria which England won 3-2
- Billy Wright passed Bob Crompton's long standing record when
he won his 42nd cap for England in Vienna
- Six different teams led the First Division at various times
throughout the season, but with two matches to go it was down
to just Arsenal and Manchester United, who were level on points,
with the mouth watering prospect of the two clubs meeting in
the final game of the season. But an ever increasing injury
list forced Arsenal to play six reserves in their next match,
which they lost 3-1 to West Bromwich Albion. That left them
needing to win 7-0 at Old Trafford to take the title, which
was well beyond them. In fact, United centre forward Arthur
Rowley hit a hat trick as the Red Devils won 6-1 to take their
first title in more than 40 years
- Arsenal's valiant attempt to do the Double ended with a second
disappointment when Newcastle became the first club to retain
the FA Cup since 1891. The Geordies won with a single goal from
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