Leicester City In The Second World War: The War Cup Replaces The FA Cup
Wartime regional leagues were introduced and, in an attempt to fill the gap left by the cancellation of the FA Cup, the War Cup was introduced. As was the case with the wartime regional leagues, the format of the War Cup evolved during the conflict.
In its first season, 1939/40, War Cup matches were condensed into a nine-week period between April and June, with the final held at Wembley. The 1940 trophy was an off-the-shelf cup from the Birmingham firm of Vaughtons.
Each round had a home and an away leg. Leicester City beat Clapton Orient in the first round. In the second round, they lost 4-1 on aggregate to West Ham United, who went on to win the inaugural War Cup by beating Blackburn Rovers 1-0 in the final in front of a crowd of 42,399.
Instead of medals, the winning players were awarded savings certificates.
The following season’s competition, 1940/41, with a different trophy, was organised on similar lines. This time, Leicester came very close indeed to reaching Wembley for the very first time in the Club’s history.
In the season when they also won the Midland Cup, Tom Bromilow’s City defeated Birmingham City, Nottingham Forest, Mansfield Town and Queens Park Rangers before facing Arsenal in the semi-final.
Arsenal's Leslie Compton helped inflict defeat upon Leicester in the semi-finals of the 1940/41 War Cup.
Because Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium had been converted into an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Centre, the first leg was at White Hart Lane. Arsenal’s side contained the Compton brothers, both of whom also played first-class cricket.
Leslie played for England’s football team and Dennis played for the country's cricket team. The Arsenal team also included three of their pre-war stars. These were England internationals Eddie Hapgood, Clive Bastin and Jack Crayston.
City fielded some of their pre-war players too, namely Joe Calvert (pictured at the top of this article), Billy Frame, Bert Howe, Roger Heywood, George Dewis and Danny Liddle.
Also appearing for Leicester were the recently signed Jack Lee and the young loan player from Wolverhampton Wanderers Billy Wright, both of whom became future England internationals.
Although Arsenal won this first leg 1-0 with Jack Crayston scoring the only goal in the 67th minute, the national press praised City for ‘surprising their critics by a great display’ concluding that ‘Leicester have a fine chance of entering the final.’
Unfortunately, a week later, on 26 April, 1941, a wartime record Filbert Street crowd of 26,500, saw City lose the second leg 2-1.
Jack Lee scored for the home side, but Leslie Compton and Jack Crayston scored for Arsenal to take them to the War Cup final at Wembley, where they drew 1-1 with Preston North End. The 60,000 crowd was undeterred by the fact that London had already suffered 127 large scale night bombing raids.
Preston North End won the replay at Ewood Park three weeks later.
This was the peak of City’s War Cup experience. In subsequent seasons, they never got further than the first round.
In the War Cup’s third season, 1941/42, there were two significant alterations to the competition’s format which pertained for that season only.
Firstly, as a result of 16 London and southern clubs rebelling against the Football League that season, they weren’t eligible for the War Cup. Secondly, the final wasn’t played at Wembley, as it was switched to a two leg home and away format.
George Dewis starred for the Club during the Second World War.
Between December 1941 and March 1942, the Club played nine War Cup qualifying matches (which doubled up as league matches) but were defeated over two legs in the first round proper by Norwich City. Wolverhampton Wanderers won the cup that season, beating Sunderland over two legs.
In its final three years, the War Cup competition was split into north and south sections with the winners of each section competing in the final. In all three of these seasons, City competed in the War Cup’s north section.
In the first year of this revised format, 1942/43, Leicester played 10 qualifying matches (which again doubled up as league matches in the Wartime Football League North), before losing 2-1 on aggregate to Nottingham Forest in the first round proper.
In the final at Stamford Bridge, in front of a crowd of 55,195, the northern winners, Blackpool, defeated southern winners Arsenal by four goals to one.
In each of the final two War Cup seasons, 1943/44 and 1944/45, City again played 10 qualifying matches, which doubled up as league matches, only to be knocked out in the first round two-leg ties once again by Birmingham City in 1944 and by Derby County in 1945.
In the 1944 War Cup final at Wembley, three weeks before D-Day, 85,000 fans watched Aston Villa draw 1-1 with Charlton Athletic. Wartime transport restrictions and bombing threats prevented a replay taking place so the trophy was shared.
The final winners of the War Cup, on 2 June, 1945, 25 days after VE day, were Bolton Wanderers, who defeated Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. The following season, the FA Cup was restored after a seven-year absence.
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