Leicester City In The Second World War: The Reinstatement Of The FA Cup: 1945/46
In some ways, there are parallels between the 1945/46 season and the current 2020/21 season. Both saw the tentative beginnings of a return to some sort of normality following a global crisis.
Just as the reduced-capacity crowd at Leicester City’s FA Cup Final triumph at Wembley earlier this month was a cautious and exploratory step towards a brighter future post-pandemic, so too was the reinstatement of the FA Cup for the 1945/46 season a preliminary first move towards a post-war vision of a brighter future when football would be free of wartime restrictions.
Although league football was in no way ready to resume its pre-war pattern until the following 1946/47 season, soccer starved fans were delighted to see the FA Cup resume for its 65th season after a seven-year break.
A feature of the 1945/46 transition season was the return of crowds in greater numbers than had been the case during the war. To cater for this demand and to help improve Club finances all cup ties up to the semi-final were to be played over two legs.
Leicester City 1945/46 Squad
City's players prepare to depart from London Road train station for their third round first leg tie away at Chelsea.
Entering the competition in the third round in January 1946, Tom Mather’s Leicester City side was drawn against Chelsea, managed by Billy Birrell.
In the last full season before the War, Leicester had been relegated to the Second Division, while Chelsea had just managed to avoid the drop, finishing two places ahead of City.
In 1945/46, both teams were competing in the Wartime Football League South. Chelsea were in a mid-table position while Leicester City were struggling towards the foot of the table, having won only three of their previous 13 games.
The first leg was played at Stamford Bridge. A photograph in the Club’s archives shows the Leicester City players at London Road station waiting to catch the train to the capital. They are accompanied by a mascot whose top hat and painted walking stick are on display in King Power Stadium’s Reception area.
England international Tommy Lawton opened the scoring for Chelsea in the first leg at Stamford Bridge.
Missing from the group on the platform was the recently signed England international Frank Soo who, because he was in dispute with the Club, travelled to the game separately. Nearly 40,000 fans turned up at Stamford Bridge, keen to see the resumption of FA Cup football.
The first leg ended in a 1-1 draw with England star Tommy Lawton opening the scoring for Chelsea. Charlie Adam, who three seasons later was a member of Leicester City’s 1949 FA Cup Final side, scored a late equaliser largely due to the efforts the England internationals Sep Smith and Soo.
In those days before substitutes, Leicester were hampered by having to play for much of the first half with ten men while the injured Jim Campbell received stitches for a cut eye. Their recently departed wartime manager Tom Bromilow, who had discovered Lawton while managing Burnley before the War, and who had used him as a guest player for Leicester in 1939, was a spectator in the crowd.
It was a poor game, partly due to the state of the pitch. A report of the match described the playing area as being: ‘soggy to several inches deep and churned up almost like a tank track'. It also noted that ‘the ball was like a lump of lead in the closing stages'.
Joe Calvert was Leicester's shot-stopper for the cup tie.
With no floodlights, the second leg at Filbert Street kicked off at 2pm the following Thursday afternoon and City fans were encouraged to arrive early. Due to war damage, several turnstiles were out of commission and bomb damage had limited seating in the Main Stand to 2,000. These were to be filled on a first-come-first-served basis. This later caused some overcrowding problems in the 25,000 crowd.
Chelsea took the lead after 23 minutes with a fluke goal when a loose ball, whipped into the goalmouth, surprised City goalkeeper Joe Calvert and went into the net. Soo left the field before half time, later returning with a heavily bandaged knee and an eye patch.
Despite some City pressure, Chelsea hit the post or the crossbar at least half a dozen times before Williams scored the visitors' second goal, to secure a 2-0 victory for the visitors, enabling them to win the tie 3-1 on aggregate. Chelsea went on to the fifth round before being knocked out by West Ham United.
The popularity of the FA Cup in this transition season led to a huge tragedy. An estimated 85,000 fans crowded into Burnden Park for a sixth round second leg tie between Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City. This overcrowding led to a crush which resulted in 33 deaths. Incredibly, the game continued, with those who had died still laid out along the touchline, covered in coats.
Bert Johnson was part of the Charlton Athletic side that reached the 1946 FA Cup Final and would go on to assist Matt Gillies at Leicester City.
In the FA Cup Final, played at Wembley in front of a crowd of 98,215, Derby County beat Charlton Athletic 4-1. Both sides were riding high in the Wartime Football League South. The Charlton side contained Bert Johnson who later became the highly respected and innovative assistant manager to Matt Gillies at Filbert Street in the 1960s.
Meanwhile, back at Filbert Street, the Directors were drawing up a long term plan as part of their vision for the Club in the post-war era.
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