A manager breaking a director’s jaw and a very Leeds history - author of 100 Years of Leeds United on the untold tales he uncovered
The history of Leeds United is full of stories that are very Leeds United.
Daniel Chapman, author of new book 100 Years of Leeds United and new YEP columnist, has unearthed the politics, in-fighting and financial problems that surrounded the club’s early years, issues he feels have shaped the club he loves.
Although he didn’t start regularly attending matches at Elland Road until his mid-teens, Chapman’s love affair with the Whites began in earnest at the age of eight.
At 11, he stumbled upon a copy of fanzine The Square Ball, which introduced him to some new words and a “completely different idea of what supporting a football club looked like.”
Before long, Chapman was contributing to TSB’s online forum and Teletext pages, then co-editing the fanzine and, from January 2010, co-presenting their podcast.
When Icon Books asked him to write a book about the club, the initial idea wasn’t a comprehensive history.
But the history, its lesser known characters and previously unheard quirks essentially wrote themselves into the book.
“It didn’t start out to be a history book, it was going to be my version of what all the stuff that’s happened to Leeds means,” he said.
“I didn’t think there was a lot to know before Don Revie came along and everything after that everyone knew really well.
“But when I started researching the early years I realised actually there was lots of stuff no-one really knows and to get them into a format that worked it’d have to be the whole history from start to finish, it couldn’t be this detailed in the first half then switch off.
“So it doubled in length, the deadline didn’t double in length, but I got there, trying to triangulate all the different versions to find a path that says this is, I hate the word definitive, but until someone else writes another one [it is].”
Chapman’s painstaking research, most of it completed from the comfort of home thanks to online archives, wasn’t conducive to a healthy work-life balance.
He still enjoyed it.
“It was a fun way of ruining my health and life.
“To be finding out some of the little bits, like a late titbit I managed to get in about Jimmy Armfield who was going to be sacked, the YEP had already written their story on it.
“He was a lay preacher on the side and he did a service for a congregation of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, talking about the loneliness of a football manager and told them that the letters LUFC also stand for ‘let us face challenges’ and when you find out something like that, that’s not been anywhere else, that suits his character down to the ground, it makes it all worth it.”
As he delved into the past, even the club’s earliest years, Chapman discovered themes that were familiar to a modern day fan: “Most of the years before Revie are like the years after Revie – it’s very Leeds.
“The years we know less about, it’s still a very Leeds history.
“A couple of years after Leeds City formed you’ve got a manager breaking a director’s jaw in a fight over money.
“The big question before Revie was why were we such a rubbish team, why were we never at the top of the First Division?
“The answer I’ve found is that we saddled ourselves with the modern day equivalent of £2m worth of debt on New Year’s Day 1925 and it took us 25 years to pay it back.
“What was wrong with Leeds before Revie came along? Money and debt.
“I don’t know if it’s reassuring to know that we had those problems since even before it was Leeds United, or if it’s upsetting that we seem to be doomed in ways other clubs seem to have escaped.
“You wonder if you ever really recover, does what happened in 1925 have a knock on effect, that history has been written in the shadow of that ever since.”
Mercifully, for both book sales and Chapman’s sanity, it’s not a depressing read.
And nor has it diminished his love for his club.
“The more I’ve found out, the more I’ve loved the club.
“In 1956 when the West Stand burnt down, every record from 1904 onward went up with it, so we’ve almost not had a proper account of our history up to that point.
“Being able to put a lot of that back and spending time with the names of managers like Dick Ray, who very much like Revie wanted to build from a youth policy and wouldn’t sign players, the whole story with Hilton Crowther’s ownership, Norris Hepworth at Leeds City, putting so much money in and then dying just after we signed Fred Blackman, Willis Edwards who was part of the club from the first season until Don Revie became manager – finding out more about those people gives you more people to love.”