Because many footballers signed up for the armed forces, depleted football teams found it necessary to use the guest player system. During the seven wartime seasons, a host of guests made well over 600 appearances between them for Leicester City.
Some guest players were from local teams, others were international stars from top clubs. In the first wartime season, (1939/40), City used a total of 17 guest players.
The Club’s first notable guest was 20-year-old England centre-forward Tommy Lawton, who had been the previous season’s top scorer in the First Division, as his goals helped Everton to become champions.
Tommy Lawton joined the Club with a prolific goalscoring record in the top tier.
In the Club’s archives is a letter Tommy wrote to the Leicester City secretary only 10 days after war had been declared. He expressed an interest in playing for the Filbert Street club, subject to being paid acceptable wages, and on condition his uncle could live with him in Leicester for company.
Tommy’s connection with Leicester was the Club’s manager, Tom Bromilow, who, at Burnley between 1932 and 1935, had discovered him as a 15-year-old.
Lawton played three games for City in November and December 1939, scoring five goals. He went on to play in 23 wartime internationals, scoring 24 goals. These games were in addition to his 23 peacetime England international appearances, when he scored a further 22 times.
Harry Eastham starred on six occasions for Leicester.
After the war, he transferred to Chelsea, and then to Notts County for a British record fee of £20,000, before switching to Brentford and then Arsenal. He was numbered among the greatest footballers of the 20th century, with all the attributes of headwork, footwork, distribution and awareness.
Another early guest player at Filbert Street was Liverpool’s inside-forward, Harry Eastham, who played six games for Leicester in the winter of 1939/40.
He went onto win the league title with Liverpool in the first post-war season. He was the uncle of the future England star and 1966 World Cup squad member, George Eastham, who, in 1963, played a key role in establishing the right of players to move between clubs.
Andy Beattie, another guest player at Filbert Street, was a former team-mate of Bill Shankly.
This came when he successfully contested Newcastle United’s refusal to let him transfer to Arsenal.
Another star to guest, who played four games in the winter of 1939/40, was Scotland international left-back, Andy Beattie. Before the war, Beattie had played for Preston North End in two FA Cup Finals alongside Bill Shankly and won seven caps.
The following season, he was in the Preston side which won the War Cup Final by defeating Arsenal, who had defeated Leicester City in the semi-final. He was to win a further four wartime caps and later became the first manager of the Scotland national team in 1954.
Eric Houghton was renowned for his ability to hit shots with almighty power.
One more international, who guested 15 times for Leicester in the first wartime season, was Aston Villa’s England star, Eric Houghton, a winger who reputedly had the hardest shot of his era.
Later, he was the Villa manager when they won the FA Cup in 1957.
Manchester City’s England youth international winger Jack Pritchard, who had played for Bromilow when he had been manager of Crystal Place in 1936/37, also made 10 guest appearances for City that season.
The 105 caps eventually earned by Billy Wright was an England record at the time.
During the following season (1940/41), Leicester City played 23 guest players.
Two were the promising teenagers from Wolverhampton Wanders, the future England stars, Billy Wright (who won 105 caps, a record at the time), and Jimmy Mullen (in the top image). After the war, they both went on to win the FA Cup (beating Leicester in the final) and three league titles for the Molineux Club.
Another guest was Scotland international left-half, George Paterson. He had lifted two league championships and the Scottish Cup with Celtic. Enlisted into the RAF, he played 10 games for Leicester City in 1940/41, adding another 20 outings between 1941/42 and 1944/45.
George Paterson had enjoyed plenty of success in Scotland before joining City.
A fine passer of the ball, he had played for Scotland against Ireland in 1938 and he went on to be selected for his home country in three Victory Internationals at the end of the war.
There were three other stars who guested for Leicester City in 1940/41.
Willie Fagan had won the Scottish league with Celtic in 1936 and had been an FA Cup Finalist with Preston North End in 1937. He was also a regular goalscorer for Liverpool before the war and then captained the Anfield side to the league title in 1947.
Title success was secured at Liverpool by Willie Fagan before signing for Leicester.
Blackpool’s future England international defender, Harry Johnston, also guested for the Club. After the war, as captain, he played in three FA Cup Finals for Blackpool, including the famous 1953 Matthews Final.
Finally, Stoke City’s prolific goalscorer Freddie Steele, who had won six England caps before the conflict, played the first seven of his 18 guest appearances for Leicester, which saw him score 18 goals.
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