Leicester City In The Second World War: Horse Shows At Filbert Street & A Link With Middlesbrough Swifts
By the time the 1943/44 season started, the Red Army had begun its push back westwards following the Axis defeat at Stalingrad (now Volgograd) six months earlier, in a campaign which had cost a total of 1M casualties.
Meanwhile, following the Anglo-American landings in north west Africa (Operation Torch), the Allies encircled several hundred thousand German and Italian forces in Tunisia, finally forcing their surrender in May 1943. During the campaign, the Germans and Italians suffered 620,000 casualties, and the British Commonwealth forces lost 220,000 men.
The Allied victory in North Africa neutralised 900,000 German and Italian troops and provided the springboard for the invasion of Sicily and Italy in July and August 1943.
Following bitter fighting at Anzio and Monte Cassino in February 1944, the Allies entered Rome in June 1944, the day before the D-Day landings in Normandy opened up the long awaited Allied Second Front.
The Allies entered Rome in June 1944.
Against this background of world shattering events, life at Filbert Street struggled on during the 1943/44 season. One feature was the use of Filbert Street for horse shows, which were intended to raise money for good causes and to provide income for the cash-strapped Club.
There had already been a successful horse show at Filbert Street in September 1942. The ground had been hired out for £50 plus 10 per cent of the gate money over £750 on condition that the pitch was restored to a good playing condition in time for the upcoming Wartime League North fixtures against West Bromwich Albion and Coventry City.
A Mr. Barron of Birstall had entertained spectators before and, after the show, by broadcasting musical records, (plus any necessary announcements,) over the loudspeakers. He was paid £2. The show organisers also paid £5 to the Performing Rights Society in London for permission to play the records.
Presumably inspired by the success of this venture, the directors also granted a request from the Lord Mayor to stage another gymkhana on 12 June, 1943. This time they charged 5 per cent of the gross takings in excess of £500. They once again stipulated that the ground be left in good condition.
Even before this horse show had taken place, the Lord Mayor then applied for another gymkhana, the Midland Horse Show. This was to be staged at Filbert Street on 3 August, 1943, which was during ‘Holidays At Home Week.’ In view of this show being in aid of the Duke for Gloucester’s Red Cross and St. John Fund, the directors agreed not to charge a fee for the use of the ground.
However, the directors were concerned. The season’s first home fixture of the Wartime Football League North against Mansfield Town was to take place later in August. They therefore insisted that certain parts of the ground couldn’t be used by the horses except when walking and that the layouts of the jumps and courses were to be submitted in advance.
The directors were also concerned that these requests for Gymkhanas to be held at Filbert Street were becoming too frequent. Consequently, they agreed to levy a reasonable charge in future ‘as Leicester City Football Club is a trading concern with responsibilities to its shareholders’.
This decision resulted in the directors, on 4 October, 1943, rejecting a Midland Horse Show application for a free-of-charge event.
In May 1944, however, they did agree in principle to allow Filbert Street to stage two shows on the same day, each of two hours, for a display of Cossack horsemanship. The £25 charge for the event would be given to the 'Home for the Incurables' in Danes Hill in Leicester.
The 1943/44 season also saw the fruition of an idea initially put forward by Thomas S. Bloor, a director since 1941 and a future Chairman of the Club.
During the previous season, he had suggested that Leicester City adopted a nursery club, ‘in a suitable locality, preferably in the coal-mining districts of Durham’.
The Club signed future City and England star Don Revie for Middlesbrough Swifts.
A key figure in this plan was George Carr, who had been a member of the Leicester City side which had finished second in the old First Division in 1929. He was living in Middlesbrough, the city of his birth.
Working with the Leicester City manager Tom Bromilow, George Carr was asked to recommend a suitable nursery club in the area. He recommended Middlesbrough Swifts, saying that the players were of Leicestershire Senior League standard and that the general conduct of the club was good.
After studying the constitution, past records and policies of the Swifts, the Leicester City directors adopted them as their nursery club and donated £25 to their club funds. The plan was for Carr to coach the boys, in conjunction with the Swifts’ Secretary, Mr. Sanderson.
As we shall see, this arrangement unearthed the future Leicester City and England star, Don Revie.
Before that happened though, Leicester City faced an existential threat. There were plans afoot for the owners of Filbert Street, Leicester Corporation, to demolish the ground, potentially leaving the Club homeless.
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