Sep Smith

Leicester City In The Second World War: Tensions At Filbert Street & A Dramatic Ultimatum

The 1944/45 season started as the Allies were advancing into Europe following the D-Day landings in June 1944 and ended with the Allied Victory on the continent in May 1945.
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During this campaign, Leicester City struggled badly in Wartime Football League North, finishing 52nd out of 54 teams in the first competition, which ended in December 1944. Only Tranmere Rovers and Notts County finished below them.  

There was a moderate improvement in the second competition, which ran from 30 December, 1944 until 12 May, 1945, when the City finished 34th out of 60 sides, although they were knocked out in the first round of the War Cup.

The problem of poor results in 1944/45 was largely due to the shortage of players following the D-Day landings.

Although City’s professional players, like Billy Frame, Bert Howe, Les Major, Frank Sheard and Sep Smith - and, to a lesser extent, Danny Liddle and Johnny King - formed the core of the team, Leicester manager Tom Bromilow struggled to find players on any consistent basis to make up his teams.

That season, he had to resort to using 62 guest players, and of these, 32 of them played only three games or less. Twelve of the guests played only one single game. Plainly, this inability to field a consistent side impacted on results.

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D-Day landings
D-Day landings

While there was drama at Filbert Street, far more consequential events were taking place with the D-Day landings.

The directors’ minutes in the Club’s archive clearly reveal that Bromilow was put under severe pressure from the board, who were concerned about the bad results. On 8 December, 1944, the board, agreed that certain guest players had badly affected the team’s morale.  

The directors also agreed that it was necessary to appoint a capable captain for the first team. Matters reached a crisis point in the directors’ meeting on 19 December, 1944, with the team having lost five and drawn one of their previous six games.

Bromilow was asked to leave the meeting ‘for a period,’ while the directors discussed his performance. Thirty five minutes later, Bromilow was recalled.

The directors told him that the team’s performances were causing great concern and that if the position didn’t improve by the end of the season, the board would have ‘to consider the advisability of offering the manager a further contract.’

They suggested that Bromilow ‘lacked drive’ and that ‘players who might have been ours had been allowed to slip by.’

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1940s minutes book
1940s minutes book

Tales from the past are told in minutes' books used during directors meetings at Filbert Street.

In his defence, the Leicester manager responded to this ultimatum by asking which player had slipped through the net and when told it was McDowall of Port Vale, he explained that due to technical reasons which he then outlined, the Club would have been out of order if it had approached the player.

He went on to say that the Club’s players who were in the armed forces had been unavailable to play. He concluded by saying that it was ‘impossible to make bricks without straw.’ The tension between the board and the manager continued at the next meeting on 2 January, 1945.

In his report to the directors, Bromilow made the following points. He reminded them that he had managed Burnley, Crystal Palace and Leicester, that he had taken over each club when their fortunes had been at a very low ebb and that, in his second year at each club, honours had been gained.

He then recalled his success in 1941, when City won the Midland Cup and the Wartime League Southern Section title. He emphasised this had been achieved through much spade work. He went on to say that he had overcome almost insurmountable difficulties to bring in ‘the right type of player’. 

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Midland Cup & Wartime League Southern Section
Midland Cup & Wartime League Southern Section

Leicester City won the Midland Cup and the Wartime League Southern Section title in 1941.

He pointed out that, whereas in 1941, there had been a much freer choice of guest players, in the present 1944/45 season, there was a great scarcity of guest players. His was tied ‘hand and foot.’ He, therefore, considered the board’s attitude towards him as being grossly unfair.

He then asked for either a vote of confidence or that the criticisms from the previous meeting be rescinded. The board asked him to retire while they considered this but, when he was recalled, Bromilow was told that no decision had been reached.

With tension between the manager and the directors still simmering, the board meeting of 6 February, 1945 attempted to clarify the directors’ position. With results for the second competition showing a moderate improvement, the directors softened their tone towards Bromilow.

They said that the term ‘ultimatum’ used in the 19 December, 1944 meeting was too strong and that the directors would renew Bromilow’s contract at the end of the present season ‘provided they are satisfied at the time with the management of the Club’.

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V-E Day
V-E Day

British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill joins crowds to celebrate V-E Day.

Although Bromilow accepted this, it was hardly a ringing endorsement and, by the end of April, he resigned. He agreed to stay until 14 days after his successor arrived. He would then be paid his salary for the next six months.

In the two weeks following his resignation, world events eclipsed the unfolding dramas at Filbert Street. German Führer Adolf Hitler committed suicide, Nazi Germany surrendered and the Allied victory in Europe was declared on 8 May, 1945, V-E Day.

However, the conflict against Japan in the Far East continued.

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