Leicester City In The Second World War: Winning A Trophy
The Battle of Britain was raging and in November 1940, Filbert Street was bombed by the Luftwaffe.
The Football League was entering its second wartime season. The regional league arrangements of the previous season were discontinued. The 10 small regional leagues of the 1939/40 season were reorganised into three regional leagues. Thirty-six teams were placed in the North Regional Section, another 34, including Leicester City, were placed in the South Regional Section. Eight more clubs were placed in the League South.
Across the nation, many players were unavailable due to being called up to the armed forces or being required for war work. In Leicester City’s case, the situation was exacerbated by the suspension for a year, following the financial scandal, of senior players such as ex-internationals Sep Smith, Jack Bowers (pictured above) and Dai Jones (pictured below).
Despite these unsettled times, the Club’s minutes indicate that the Directors were beginning to look towards a brighter future. A Supporters’ Club was established with Johnny Duncan, a former Club captain from the halcyon days of the 1920s, taking a leading role. He was now the landlord of the Turk’s Head opposite Leicester Prison. In addition, the Club set up a Colts’ scheme, aimed at mixing coaching with civilian work of national importance for 15 to 17-year-olds.
The club which had the most developed youth policy before the war was Wolverhampton Wanderers and the circumstances of 1940/41 enabled Leicester City to exploit this situation at Molineux Stadium to their advantage.
The Wolverhampton Wanderers manager, Frank Buckley, had a reputation for developing young players. Stan Cullis was captain at 19. The average age of a Wolves side in March 1940 was only 19 years and seven months. Future England international Jimmy Mullen (pictured above) and future England captain Billy Wright both made their first team debuts as 16-year-olds.
When Wolverhampton Wanderers decided not to compete in the regional wartime league for the 1940/41 season, they allowed the teenagers Wright and Mullen to spend the season as guest players for Leicester City. At this point both players were wingers, although Wright went on in later years to become England’s captain as a centre-half and the first England player to win 100 caps.
The contributions of these Molineux teenagers did much to improve Leicester City’s performances on the pitch that season. Mullen scored 15 goals and Wright, who turned professional for Wolverhampton Wanderers while at Filbert Street, scored another 12.
Press release concerning Mullen & Wright
It was an odd season, though. Play was suspended whenever the air raid sirens sounded. Referees were allowed to wear spectacles. Leicester City played two matches on Christmas Day, losing 5-2 away to Northampton Town in the morning before defeating them 7-2 at Filbert Street in the afternoon. Teams sometimes had to play with reduced numbers due to the shortage of available players. In a match at Grimsby, the game had to be abandoned because the referee was called away for military duties.
A typed press release (pictured above) discovered in the Leicester City archives indicates that the arrangements concerning Mullen and Wright broke down temporarily in February 1941. Having played in almost every game that season the teenagers were very popular with the Leicester fans, but in February their home club withdrew their permission for them to play for Leicester City again.
This was in retaliation for Leicester signing a Wolves player Arthur Smith (pictured above). Leicester City successfully appealed to the Football League and Wright and Mullen did continue to play for Leicester City again until towards the end of the season.
In April 1941, Leicester City came very close to their first ever appearance at Wembley in the League War Cup Final. However, they were defeated across two legs in the semi-final by Arsenal. They lost the first leg 1-0 at White Hart Lane, which was Arsenal’s home during the War. Seven days later they lost 2-1 in front of a record wartime Filbert Street crowd of 26,500.
A letter concerning City's Wartime Midland Cup triumph
A week later, Leicester City won the Wartime Midland Cup (pictured below) which is still in the trophy cabinet at King Power Stadium. A letter in the archives (pictured above) refers to photographs (which no longer exist) taken to mark this occasion. Their opponents on the way to the final were Stoke City, Nottingham Forest and Lincoln City. The final was a 2-0 victory over Walsall at Filbert Street (pictured below). These cup opponents were all in the South Regional League along with Leicester City and bizarrely, these cup results also doubled up as league matches.
Wartime Midland Cup
Leicester City finished the season in 14th position out of 34 in the South Regional League. For this season only, goal average (the number of goals scored divided by the number of goals conceded) rather than points determined the final positions. This was because teams weren’t able to play the same number of games. Hence Coventry City played only 10 games and finished third with a goal average of 1.75 whereas Leicester City, finishing 14th, played 33 games, but with a goal average of 1.191.
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