Late in 1919 the Town club was on the verge of collapse. Lack of funds and directorial in-fighting was about to see the club fold and be transferred “lock, stock, and barrel” to near neighbours Leeds United, the league’s newest club and ever since then Town’s fiercest rivals. More detailed versions of the story of this crisis can be found all over the internet so it will suffice here for me to use the account written by journalist Steven Chicken in the Huddersfield Examiner on 3rd/4th December 2019 to celebrate the centenary of Town’s survival in anticipation of the clash between the two Championship clubs at the JSS on Saturday 7th.
Imagine how you would feel if you clicked on the Examiner website, as we’re sure you do every day, and were presented with this headline:
Huddersfield Town board considering moving club to Leeds
That is what the Huddersfield Town faithful were presented with when they opened their copies of the Examiner on November 6th 1919. The story began as follows:
TOWN CLUB’S FUTURE
Prospect of the Transfer of the Entire Club to Leeds.
A FOOTBALL SENSATION
A football sensation of the first magnitude is impending in Huddersfield. It is nothing less than a proposal to transfer the Huddersfield Town Club, lock, stock, and barrel, to Leeds to take the place of the defunct Leeds City Club.
The proposal is shortly that a permanent home should be found for the Town club in Leeds, and that implies the taking over by the Leeds authorities of all the Huddersfield Town players, possibly the whole or some part of the management, and all the league rights and privileges which Huddersfield Town now possess. This proposal will probably come before a meeting arranged by the supporters of the new Leeds United Club to be held in Leeds to-morrow night.
The reaction from the Examiner writer is somewhat less shocked than you might imagine. The article notes that “the known facts of the situation certainly lend colour to any such proposal”.
Those facts, to go all Rafa Benitez, were that “certain gentlemen” had invested “something like £40,000 in order to foster Association football in Huddersfield” since the club’s inception in 1908 – something like £2m in today’s money – in return for some disappointing attendances at Leeds Road, “probably about 4,000” on average. Huddersfield was still very much a rugby league hotbed, and the relatively young game was struggling to get a foothold in the town.
The article in full reads like a regurgitation of the shareholders’ view of things. What they certainly weren’t expecting was the public backlash that was to follow when Leeds United’s board came out unanimously in favour of the proposal – Leeds City having been expelled from the league the previous month. Town fans protested vociferously at the club’s game two days later, chanting “bring out the directors” until one poor soul marched out to settle the press down sufficiently to allow the game to continue. Delightfully, some fans even shouted “come on Leeds”. The protest – and the fundraiser that followed – have been claimed as perhaps the first example of fan activism in the English game.
Football administration apparently worked a hell of a lot faster back then because just two days later The Football League met to discuss the proposed move. They gave the club a month’s grace to raise £25,000 to buy out John Hilton Crowther – about £1.25m in modern terms – otherwise the move to Leeds would be ratified.
In scenes that would be revisited in 2003, an army of volunteers shook loose every penny they could from the Town faithful, who had suddenly doubled in number down at Leeds Road, but by the New Year’s Eve deadline, the fans had raised just £9,000 – an incredible effort, no doubt, but still £16,000 short. The Football League therefore went ahead with giving their assent to the Leeds move – only to call it off at an emergency meeting at the George Hotel on 16th January 1920. Joseph Barlow, Wilfred Dawson, and Roland Mitchell had stepped in to buy a whopping £2,000 shares in the club, reinvigorating the fan campaign and resulting in a final negotiation for the fan-led group to buy a majority of the shares in the club for £17,500. Crowther would go on to invest that money into building up Leeds United, while Town would end the season by getting promoted to the first tier for the first time in their history as well as competing in their first-ever FA Cup final, which they lost 1-0 to Aston Villa after extra time. The trophy itself would follow in 1922, and the famous back-to-back-to-back title victories would be clinched in 1926. But had it not been for a group of dedicated fans in 1919, none of it would ever have happened.
So when Leeds United come to the John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday lunchtime, spare a thought for those dedicated Town fans who saved the club from doing a Milton Keynes a century ago. Not Leeds, are we?
* The original article can be seen HERE.
LATE 1919 NEWSPAPER ARTICLE
And here is a newspaper item (from my VIRTUAL MUSEUM section) featuring pictures of both players and officials involved in the crisis. The text at the bottom reads “Huddersfield Town have come prominently into the limelight over their proposed amalgamation with Leeds. Some of the Huddersfield stalwarts are here given: – 1. Bullock, 2. Parton*, 3. Richardson, 4. Shields, 5. Mann, 6. Slade, 7. Reid, 8. Baker, 9. Mutch and 10. Linley”.
* Town historian John Ward tells me “Parton was a right-back who played for Town during WWI. He made 25 appearances in season 1917-1918, then a further 5 appearances in season 1918-1919. He never played in the Football League for Town and may have left before the start of the 1919-1920 season. Not sure where he came from, or where he went.” This item, however, suggests that he WAS still at Town at the end of 1919.
On the 25th November an appeal was out to raise a cash injection of £25,000 to “carry on the game” and club Captain Fred Bullock (right) took to the streets and the public houses to appeal to fans to show up in numbers and to donate to the cause in order to save the club from this dreadful fate. Shares were rush-released so that supporters could buy to help raise the necessary capital, and here is one such share (which I don’t personally own). This is a really rare item and was clearly very quickly and simply printed in order to get them out to potential investors as soon as possible; compare it to the one from exactly one year later in 1920 in the second part of my VIRTUAL MUSEUM.
By 20th December the Receivers were “put in on behalf of the debenture holders”. Then, on January 20th 1920, the local paper ran the banner headline “TOWN CLUB STILL ALIVE” with a sharp rise in attendances and thereby income. The climb to safety was on!