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Leeds United John Cave

Floodlight Football Comes to Elland Road

On the face of it a score-line of Leeds United 4 Hibernian 1 would not provide much reason for fans to pause and consider, as it would be assumed it was yet another meaningless pre-season friendly. However the details of the game, which was played on Monday 9th November 1953 kick off 7.30, provide a clue as to its significance in the history of Leeds United. It was the first game ever to be played under floodlights at Elland Road.

Post War England, in the middle of winter, was a cheerless place. It would take 9 years after 1945 before the hated rationing of goods was finally ended and the promise that had been so tantalisingly glimpsed at the Festival of Britain in 1951 would begin to come to fruition.

In the core winter months football matches had to kick off at 2pm on a Saturday in order to get games finished before it became too dark. However a more reliable technology now allowed that certain games could be played under floodlights, although the Football League would not allow league games to be played under ‘lights until 1956. Showing quite remarkable foresight, the Leeds United Board installed floodlights at Elland Road in 1953 at a cost of £7000, probably in the first batch of league clubs to do so.

The club chosen to play United was the Scottish League side Hibernian. In 1953 this was a real coup as Hibs were THE premier side in Scotland in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. In between 1949 and 1953 they were Champions twice and Runners up twice and their attack known as the ‘Famous Five’ was probably the best know in these islands. Talk to Hibs fans of a certain age today and their eyes will go misty at the thought of wingers Gordon Smith and Drew Turnbull, centre forward Laurie Reilly and inside forwards Bobby Johnston and Willy Ormond – Internationals all, this in an era when being a Scottish International really meant something. Each of those players scored more than 100 goals for the club.

For a Leeds based football mad 10 year old, used to the second division delights that regular fixtures against the likes of Bury and Lincoln City provided, this fixture was exciting enough without the added allure of a first floodlit game. It is difficult to describe how grown up one felt being allowed to go the match, in the pitch black of a Leeds November night, along with your mates, to stand behind the goal in the boys pen.

It was a very strange experience, walking to Elland Road (I lived in Lower Wortley) in the pitch black of night. As we approached the ground all of the normal Saturday afternoon sensations were multiplied a thousand fold by the darkness. From outside, the floodlights themselves did not seem particularly spectacular and indeed once inside we could see well enough but frankly it was a bit of a let-down. However as the teams came up the tunnel the floodlights were all turned on full power and it was amazing, the 31,500 crowd gasped as night time was turned into day. The pitch was greener, the white lines stood out like chapel hat pegs, our blue and old gold kit was bloody magnificent and those famous green Hibs shirts with white sleeves made the occasion so memorable. And we played with a white washed ball of all things.

As to the game itself I can recall little, history tells me won 4-1 through 2 goals from John Charles and 2 from our manager ‘Raich Carter. This latter fact should not be a surprise as either side of WW2 Carter was an icon of English soccer and loved to play whenever the opportunity presented itself. We played several games that season under lights, usually against Scottish opposition but those do not compare to that first night when 2nd Division Leeds United beat the mighty Hibernians 4-1.

I am indebted to my fellow Lower Wortley mate Ozwhite (fountain of all knowledge with regard to all things Leeds United) who provided me with details of the Leeds team for the match. It was:

Wood, Dunn, Hair, Kerfoot, Marsden, Burden, Williams, Nightingale, Charles (Iggleden), Carter and Tyrer

John Cave


Our thanks to John Cave & The Square Ball, where this article first appeared

thesquareball.net

 

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