Leeds United Change

Leeds United John Cave

Everybody Loves a Promotion Race – Part 1

Season 1955-56 Revisited


Every football fan loves a promotion race and we at Leeds are no exception. The seasons we have been promoted have always been both exciting and dramatic, indeed our last two promotions have gone down to the last game of the season and the matches against Bournemouth and Bristol Rovers are now firmly ensconced in Leeds United folk lore. The promotion season of 1955-56 was no different, with an amazing run-in and must win finale at Boothberry Park, Hull.

Following their relegation from Division 1 in 1947, with a then record low points score, Leeds United and their supporters had had a fairly miserable time of it, as each subsequent league campaign promised much and delivered little. Indeed relegation to the 3rd Division at times seemed a more likely outcome rather than the much hoped for promotion back to the top flight. This, despite having at their disposal a player of the stature of John Charles who, in the 1953-54, season was the country’s highest scorer with some 42 league goals – a club record that remains until this day

1955-56 seemed to be going the way of those previously, as a healthy New Year league position of just 1 point off the top spot was frittered away, a run of only 1 win in the next 8 games left the club in 9th place, adrift of a consistent Sheffield Wednesday side by some 7 points. Although that one win had been against The Owls, who were established promotion favourites, in front of a 43,000+ crowd at Elland Road.

This dreadful run of form had seen confidence amongst the home support dwindle away with attendances plummeting as low as 12,000. Fortunately all the clubs above Leeds were also having their own crises of confidence with the likes of Liverpool losing both of its Easter games against a lowly Doncaster Rovers. This meant that a second place finish remained tantalisingly within reach, providing manager ‘Raich Carter could reverse the form and get the team achieving some sort of consistency. Carter did way better than that. From that low point of 9th place at the middle of March, the team embarked on a run of form that has probably rarely been equalled by the club. In the last 9 games of the season we won 8 of them scoring an amazing 26 goals and conceding only 9.


The reasons for the superb end of season form are not hard to find.

- Analysis shows that United only used 19 players throughout the season, and that Royden Wood, Jimmy Dunn and Eric Kerfoot were each ever-present in a mean and settled defence.

- Finally the club found a solution for the most advantageous position to play John Charles. The emergence of a young and raw Jack Charlton at number 5 had, initially, not seemed the required solution, but Carter thankfully persevered and Big Jacks burgeoning abilities then allowed Charles to play either centre or inside forward, where his goals would eventually prove decisive.

- The Leeds home form throughout the season had been nothing short of sensational extending to a 34 match unbeaten run and only 1 defeat. However by late March, United had only won 2 games away from home all season but they were to really overcome their away day blues with 4 wins out of the last 5 games.

- Finally, the support from the fans was instrumental in building the momentum. The attendance for the Plymouth game at the start of the run was a lowly 12,000 but 4 games later, for the key must win game against fellow promotion hopefuls Bristol Rovers, over 49,000 crammed themselves into a packed Elland Road for the last home match of the season. Additionally the amount of support for the team at away games grew significantly; particularly in the last week of the season where the last 2 games were local Yorkshire derby’s at Rotherham and Hull. Indeed the journey to the night match at Rotherham was just one stream of Leeds United Supporters cars all the way south from Leeds to Millmoor.

Having Leeds United-supporting parents meant that I was fortunate enough to see 8 of those 9 games in that run-in because all of the away games with the exception of Fulham were within our compass to get to easily, either by car or the Wallace Arnold soccer specials.

My memories of the critical last 3 games are still very vivid. Against closest rivals Bristol Rovers for the last home game of the season, a win (and results elsewhere going our way) would mean United finally occupying the second of the promotion places available. Over 49,000 packed into an expectant Elland Road including a decent contingent from the West Country. I quickly managed to sell all of my match day programmes (my only source of schoolboy income!), cash in at the office under the West Stand and be in place in the Paddock before kickoff - a rare occurrence that season. Rovers had some very experienced players including English International Geoff Bradford at centre forward (who remains their record goal scorer) and it was they that took an early lead but United quickly hit back before half time with goals from Charles and a rare goal from the brilliant and underrated left winger Jacky Overfield. This proved to be the winner as Leeds held on to take the 2 points and move into that coveted promotion place. Elland Road had never been louder with the ‘Yelland Road Roar’ driving the team towards a famous win.

United were fortunate that the 2 away games in the last week of the season were against teams at the lower end of the table rather than against any of the long list of rivals immediately below them in the standings. In the previous season Rotherham had just missed out on promotion themselves, finishing 3rd in the league but they had struggled throughout this year and were just above the drop zone. The thousands of United fans trying to get to Rotherham from Leeds meant that the journey for the rearranged mid week game was horrendous and my Dad had to park a couple of miles from the ground. With Kick off approaching fans started to run as rumours begin to spread that the gates were about to be closed as the ground was full. I managed to find a children-only turnstile still operating and ended up sitting on the pitch behind the goal. Obviously Health and Safety was just a distant thought in 1956 especially as fans were allowed to clamber up the huge crane jib in the scrap yard next to the ground in order to get a view!!! It was a jittery first half as Leeds realising for the first time that they were the ones the others were looking at to slip up kept it goalless. The second half however saw our experienced and charismatic inside forward, Albert Nightingale, play his best ever 45 minutes for us as he scored a brace of goals in a 2-0 win that meant a win at Hull on the coming Saturday would ensure top flight football in Leeds for the first time in 9 years.

Raich Carter took his unchanged Leeds side to Boothberry Park to take on his, already relegated former club, a club where he was idolised, both as both player and as a manager. Leeds fans made up around half of the 31,000 gate and they were still streaming into the ground from the railway station, which was immediately behind a main stand, after the start of the game. John Charles quickly settled United’s early nerves with a stunning left foot shot that left ‘keeper Fisher helpless. Despite that early setback the Tigers lived up to their nickname and made life difficult for Leeds, quickly equalising shortly afterwards which remained the score at half time. The breakthrough came in the 62nd minute when Leeds were awarded a penalty when diminutive Scottish right winger Georgie Meek was fouled in the box. Now over the years we have seen some great penalty takers for Leeds but in 1956 we had the finest of them all in big John Charles. He had little technique other than to hit it as hard has he could which was very, very hard indeed. I once had a photograph of this penalty taken from almost behind the goal and it shows the ball where Fisher – the City Keeper- head should be. Only in an act of self preservation he had ducked to get out of the way. From then the Hull resistance crumbled away and a further 2 goals from veteran inside forward Harold Brook, set up by Meek, left United with an emphatic 4-1 win. Cue my first (and only!) pitch invasion as I joined thousands of Leeds fans in celebration, dreaming of First Division football in the forthcoming August.

It is said that as you get older it is easier to remember things that happened in the distant past rather than recent memory and those 3 games remain as fresh as ever in my mind – far more so than in any 3 games of this current mishmash of a season.

Over the 42 games we achieved automatic promotion with only a total of 52 points and with the next 11 clubs lined up behind us blanketed by just 4 points. Had we performed in a similar fashion over 46 games under the 3 points for a win format then we would only have achieved something like 82 points. Clubs have been promoted with that amount – but rarely.

John Cave

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



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