Johnny Duncan

Leicester City In The Second World War: The 1945/46 Transition Season

The 1944/45 season ended on 12 May, 1945, four days after VE Day. Leicester City, playing in the Wartime Football League North, finished 34th in a league of 60 teams.
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Japan finally surrendered on 15 August, following the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima on 6 August, 1945 and on Nagasaki three days later. As the 1945/46 season started only 10 days after V-J Day, it was planned as a transition season with many of the features of wartime football still in place.

Despite the strongly felt national desire to start afresh after the war, which resulted in Winston Churchill being replaced as Prime Minister by Clement Attlee, with his plans to establish the welfare state and to nationalise industries, the Football league Management Committee was more resistant to change.

Ideas it rejected for the transition season of 1945/46 included increasing the number of promoted and relegated clubs from two to four in each division, establishing a British League, creating a League Cup, and increasing the maximum wage for players.

The Football League did, however, agree to scrap the War Cup, re-instating the FA Cup (to be played on a home and away basis until the semi-finals during the transition season) and making it mandatory for referees to wear an all-black strip.

They also completely restructured the Wartime Football League for 1945/46. The pre-war Third Division North and Third Division South were each split into two regional sections.

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V-J Day celebrations
V-J Day celebrations

V-J Day sparked enormous celebrations around the world, including in the United Kingdom.

The pre-war First and Second Divisions were, in effect, amalgamated into a group of 44 clubs which was then split into the Football League North and Football League South, each with 22 clubs. Leicester City were placed in the Wartime Football League South.  

As the Club’s directors’ minutes reveal, this final season under wartime arrangements proved to be Leicester City's worst-ever wartime season on the field.

Things started promisingly, though. The Club’s new manager was the experienced Tom Mather, who took over from Tom Bromilow in July 1945. He had previously managed Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers, Southend United, Stoke City and Newcastle United.

Also, in September, the directors agreed to sign, at Mather’s suggestion, Stoke City’s England international wing-half Frank Soo for a fee of £4,600, which was Leicester City’s second highest-ever transfer fee.

Another positive step was the appointment of George Ritchie, a Leicester City star in the 1920s and 30s, as second team trainer.

However, things started to go wrong. Not only were results disappointing, the Club suffered a significant blow in November 1945 when Leicester City’s nursery club Middlesbrough Swifts closed down due to financial difficulties.

Luckily, this wasn’t before one of their players, the future Leicester City and England star Don Revie had arrived at Filbert Street.

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07. Don Revie 2
07. Don Revie 2

Don Revie joined the Club from Middlesbrough Swifts, Leicester City's nursery club.

Meanwhile, Leicester City’s expensive signing Soo was creating problems which caused the directors to hold an emergency meeting on the train to London while travelling to the first leg of the FA Cup Third Round tie against Chelsea in January 1946.

They were concerned about national press reports alleging that Soo was involved in transfer negotiations with another club, and they wanted to clarify the position. The directors were also annoyed that Soo was travelling to the cup tie at Chelsea privately and by a different route instead of travelling with the official party on the train.

This was considered to be a breach of discipline but it was left to the manager and trainer to decide whether or not Soo played at Stamford Bridge, which he did.

Later that month, Soo was placed on the transfer list for a fee of £6,000. He didn’t in fact leave Filbert Street until July 1945, but only played twice more for the Club, due to RAF commitments.

Further instability was caused when, eight weeks after placing Soo on the transfer list, Mather left the Club after only nine months.

Poor results were a big factor. In the 14 matches leading up to his departure, his team had lost 12, won one and drawn one. At what must have been a very uncomfortable board meeting on 19 March, 1946, the directors, with Mather present, discussed the team’s performances and prospects.

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Frank Soo
Frank Soo

Frank Soo's arrival was an exciting move by the Club, but it soon became problematic.

As a result, Mather resigned with immediate effect, accepting a settlement of £800 to compensate for loss of office.

Two days later, the directors appointed Johnny Duncan as the new manager, initially until the end of the season. Duncan, who was landlord of the Turks Head, opposite the prison gates, had been the Club’s star captain in the halcyon days of the 1920s.  

The directors described him as ‘one of the most capable and experienced players the Club has ever had.’ There were 10 matches to go before the end of the season, and Duncan’s team lost seven of them, winning one and drawing one.

This all meant that Leicester City’s final position in this transition season was 20th out of 22, with only Newport County and Plymouth Argyle beneath them.

Although this was the last season played under wartime conditions, the conflict had created many unresolved issues that the Club needed to face. The challenges caused by the conflict were by no means over.

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