Soccer was a late starter in the city of Leeds, where the game of rugby was the dominant force in the late 19th century and early efforts to form a soccer base met with little success. In 1877 members of the local FA in Sheffield played an exhibition match at Recreation Ground, home of Holbeck Rugby Club, with no lasting impression on the Leeds public. In 1897 Holbeck moved to an empty sports ground at the foot of Beeston Hill on the main road to the neighbouring town of Elland, owned by Bentley’s Brewery. It was known as the Old Peacock Ground, named after a local pub standing opposite the playing field. Holbeck Rugby Club disbanded in 1904 after losing a promotion play-off against St Helens.
Meanwhile, Hunslet, the forerunners of Leeds City, one of the city’s successful rugby clubs spawned a football-playing section in the 1899, formed by men working in the city’s steelworks. The Twinklers, as they were called, struggled to find a regular home and they finally folded in 1902. Their directors however were convinced that the city of Leeds could support a Football League team. When Holbeck disbanded, the former Hunslet men saw their chance, took over the lease of Elland Road and formed a new club by the name of Leeds City. They played in blue and white striped shirts, and entered the West Yorkshire League for the 1904/05 season. Leeds City, by then a Football League club, folded at a meeting in London’s Russell Hotel in October 1919. City were alleged to have made illegal payments to players during the war.
The players were sold off at an auction at the Metropole Hotel in Leeds. It must have been a traumatic experience for City’s supporters, 1,000 of them going straight from The Metropole to Leeds’ Salem Hall for a meeting aimed at forming another professional club. This was the birth of Leeds United in 1919.
Today, Leeds United are known as simply ‘United’ or ‘Whites’, after their present club colours. The club took its previous nickname of the ‘Peacocks’ from the public house that once stood opposite Elland Road, after having been known as the Citizens during the days of Leeds City. Rumour has it though that the ‘Peacock’ name was inspired by the first club colours of royal blue with yellow edgings, also the livery of the borough. Maybe the town’s colours, who knows, also inspired the landlord of The Peacock….
Anyway, after blue and yellow (still worn by Leeds United’s ladies football team) an all-white outfit came with the arrival of Don Revie in 1962 in an attempt to encourage players and fans to believe that the club could be as successful as Real Madrid. Ten years later the blue and gold revived as trim colours.
The Leeds shirts have seen a wide variety of crests and logos. The club originally used the City of Leeds coat of arms. In 1626 a Royal Charter of Charles I incorporated the Borough of Leeds when the wealthy Sir John Savile, MP for Yorkshire, was elected the first council member of the Borough. The coat of arms displayed a fleece, supported by silver owls on a blue field.
The fleece represented the staple trade of the town whilst the supporting owls came from the arms of the first Alderman, Sir John Saville. Sir John had recently become a landowner in Leeds and he gave some land in Headingley for building a church, which became the first St.Michael’s in Headingley. Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1662 the chief inhabitants of the town petitioned Charles II for a new charter. The charter was granted on the 2nd November that year. With this charter the chief citizen became the mayor of the town. The first mayor of the town was Thomas Danby whose arms included three mullets argent, or three silver five-pointed stars to you and me.
In his honour a chief sable bearing the three mullets argent were added to the arms. The arms were not settled until 1836 when the Leeds Corporation was reconstituted under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 and the Borough Seal now comprised the full complement of a blue shield, owl supporters, the crest and the motto, ‘Pro rege et lege’, meaning ‘For king and law’.
Following the first emblem came the owl, perched on a tree branch, set in a circle and used as the badge on most shirts. The owl was depicted in more than one pose. It was still being used in 1972, although a very classy, curly LUFC script logo was also introduced and worn for the FA Cup Final in 1972. Although only used for a relatively short time, it was to re-appear a couple of times later. Eventually the owl was dropped at the instigation of Revie, who was a very superstitious man, and he had been told that owls were unlucky.
In 1973, the ‘smiley badge’ was created around the same time as Don Revie was persuaded by a marketing man called Paul Trevillion to revolutionise the image of the club. In came sock tags, names on tracksuit tops, lining up in the centre-circle and waving to all four stands in turn, autographed footballs kicked into the crowd and all manner of tricks. In some cases, the smiley, a ‘U’ tucked inside an ‘L”, was rotated 45 degrees and the colours were reversed. Of course, the smiley was confusing for some as it was not clear that it denoted Leeds United. The club therefore enclosed it in a border, stating the name of the club. The smiley is still very much loved by Leeds fans as being a unique treasure from an era when the club were at their peak.
In 1981, Umbro began manufacturing the shirts and changed the smiley to a peacock, reflecting the early nickname of the club, the ‘Peacocks’. In 1984, the familiar football set in a Yorkshire white rose was introduced. Designed by a fan that won a “design a new badge” competition, it was with Leeds United for years.
The present badge contains a Yorkshire Rose and the curly LUFC script as an appropriate homage to the past. You may want to know why the rose is white. Well, the red rose of the House of Lancaster was their emblem long before the Wars of The Roses. Originally the white rose was a Mortimer badge, and when Richard Plantagenet claimed the throne by virtue of his Mortimer descent, the white rose was doubly appropriate as an emblem to oppose to the red rose of the Lancastrian Henry VI.