Leicester City & The Second World War: Rebellion In The Football League
The 1941/42 season was played out against a background of a world engulfed in the turmoil of the Second World War.
During the summer preceding the start of the season, Germany unleashed Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941. By the end of 1941, the invasion force of 3M men along a 1,800-mile front had reached the outskirts of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and Moscow, as well as reaching Rostov in the Caucasus, before pushing on towards Stalingrad (now Volgograd) during 1942.
In December 1941, the USA entered the war after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. The subsequent Japanese expansion into South East Asia led to the defeat of the British army and fall of Singapore in February 1942.
On the home front, civilian clothing was rationed, rail travel was restricted, fuel was made unavailable to private car owners, all men and women between 18 and 60 years old were made liable for some form of National Service, the first US army troops landed in the UK and the Baedeker Raids took place, when provincial cities of historic importance such as Lincoln, York, Canterbury and Bath were bombed.
The Club's directors’ minutes for the season indicate that Leicester City had to make some drastic adjustments. Petrol for taking players to away games was not approved by the government.
Tom Bromilow and Sep Smith South League Championship Cup
Tom Bromilow and Sep Smith with the South League Championship cup.
Paper control regulations banned the sale of programmes and notices advertising matches. The names of teams and details of the next fixture were written onto a blackboard carried round the ground before kick-off and at half-time.
Food control regulations prevented refreshments being sold at the ground. Directors had to bring in their own tea and sugar to provide hospitality for visiting directors and a bottle of whisky was kept in the office for the same purpose.
For the third season running, the wartime leagues were reorganised. This was due to the Football League cancelling the membership of 15 London and southern clubs.
These included Arsenal, Chelsea, Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United. The complaint of these clubs was that the official Northern and Southern sections of the league involved too much travelling, particularly as clubs had to rely on the rail network due to petrol restrictions. These rebel clubs, later joined by Portsmouth, formed a breakaway London League.
The rift wasn’t healed until April 1942, when the clubs were admitted back into the Football League.
For the other clubs, the season was split into two halves. A Southern and a Northern Section comprising a total of 51 clubs ran until Christmas.
Denis Cheney was the team’s top scorer with 15 goals.
Twenty-two teams, drawn from both sections, qualified for the Wartime Football League Championship for the second half of the season.
Despite the young Wolverhampton Wanderers stars Billy Wright and Jimmy Mullen returning to Molineux after their guest season at Filbert Street in 1940/41, the Leicester City team for 1941/42 was strengthened by Sep Smith’s return to the side after a year’s absence.
On Christmas Day, 1941, following a run of eight wins in nine games, a 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest secured the Southern Section title for Leicester City, managed by Tom Bromilow and captained by Sep Smith.
The trophy is still proudly displayed in the Club’s trophy cabinet. The second half of the season, which ran from 27 December, 1941 until 30 May, 1942 was not as successful for Leicester City.
They finished 17th in the 22-club Wartime Football League Championship, which was won by Manchester United.
Ted Drake followed a short Leicester career with success at Fulham.
The stalwarts of the Leicester City side that season were the ever-present full-backs Billy Frame and Bert Howe, along with the experienced Sep Smith. The stars of the season were two locally-born teenagers.
Seventeen-year-old Denis Cheney, from Coalville, was the team’s top scorer with 15 goals in 24 games. England schoolboy international Gordon Jayes, 18, who was born in Leicester, also scored 14 goals in 32 games.
Playing alongside these talented teenagers for the game against Walsall on 8 November, 1941 was the Arsenal and England star Ted Drake, making his only appearance as a guest player for Leicester City.
Drake, who was in the RAF, had won two league titles and an FA Cup with Arsenal in the 1930s. His seven goals against Aston Villa in 1935 is still a top-flight record.
In the early 1960s, Drake was the reserve team manager for Fulham. In later years, he became Fulham’s chief scout before becoming a director and then life president at Craven Cottage.
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