|Leeds City expelled from the Football League.|
|It may not come as a surprise to any fan to
learn that clubs facing financial problems are not exclusive to the modern
game. What might come as a surprise, though, given in the modern world
money seems no object as far as players' wages are concerned, is that for
most of the existence of the Football League there have been
strictly-enforced rules concerning maximum wages payable to players. Leeds
City FC learnt that you broke those rules at your peril.
Leeds City were founded in 1904. They spent one unspectacular season in the West Yorkshire League before applying for membership of the Football League. As representatives of the largest English city without a League club - and from a stronghold of the rugby code of football - they were welcomed into the League, topping the vote for League places for the 1905/06 season. Their first season saw them finish sixth in the Second Division of the Football League but then for a number of years their fortunes declined on the playing side. Off the field Leeds had a constant battle to keep afloat financially. On one occasion their bank came close to calling in their overdraft, which would probably have put them out of business. The sum concerned - £7000 - not even a large Barclaycard limit nowadays but then a massive sum. In 1912, when they had to seek re-election to the League, it was stated that their liabilities were £15,782 while assets stood at just £7,084.
It was at this point that Leeds City appointed as their new secretary-manager, one Herbert Chapman. Having successfully served his managerial apprenticeship at Northampton Town the ambitious Chapman made the move to Leeds and made an immediate impact with the club finishing sixth in his first season and narrowly missing out on promotion in the second. However his transfer dealings did see Leeds City fall foul of the Football League with three players earning more than the maximum permitted wage of £4 per week. The club was fined £125 plus costs and the players had to refund the excess payments.
The First World War put a stop to League football and despite considering closing down the club for the duration of the conflict Leeds City continued playing in war-time competitions. To help the war effort Herbert Chapman became a manager in a local munitions factory for the duration, leaving a somewhat chaotic and ineffective management structure at the club. Many guest players turned out for the club during this period and illegal payments were made to them. Although these payments were fairly widespread in the game they were also a major breach of the rules.
In contractual negotiations prior to the first post-war League season 1919/20 one of their players Charlie Copeland demanded £6 a week saying that if that amount was not forthcoming he would report the club to the Football League and Football Association for making the illegal payments. Leeds ignored his demands, he was given a free transfer to Coventry and carried out his threat to report Leeds City to the footballing authorities.
A joint FA-Football League Commission was held to look into the allegations but their demands to see the club books was refused by Leeds City and as a result City were expelled from the Football League, and disbanded.
League chairman John McKenna said - "The authorities of the game intend to keep it absolutely clean. We will have no nonsense. The football stable must be cleansed 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."
The consequences of the decision were far-reaching. Leeds City were no more with all their assets - including their players - being auctioned off. Port Vale, who narrowly missed out on a League place at the most recent League election meeting - were uniquely invited to take over the fixtures of Leeds City and have been a member of the Football League ever since. Five Leeds City officials were banned from football for life. One of those five was Herbert Chapman who had his ban overturned when he argued that he wasn't at the club when the payments were made. He went on to manager Huddersfield Town and Arsenal, clubs where he attained immortal status.
The city of Leeds was once again left without a club in the Football League. Leeds United were soon formed and they took over the place of Leeds City Reserves in the Midland League. At the end of their first season they were voted into the Football League, ironically playing their first League match against Port Vale, on 28th August 1920. The rest, as they say, is history!