Newly-promoted Leeds United made a blistering start to the 1928/29 First Division season: their opening four games brought three wins, one draw and 14 goals. Their fifth game was the eagerly-awaited derby away to local rivals Huddersfield Town, the previous season’s runners-up, who were fancied by some to go one better in ‘28/’29 but whose season had got off to a poor start.
The mass exodus of Leeds fans from the city centre began late morning on Saturday 15th September 1928 by rail, car, coach and bus. The 1.20pm special train departure from Leeds New Station (as it was then still known) was made up of 13 carriages and was dangerously crammed with the heaviest load of passengers ever witnessed by station staff.
The 1.50pm departure was similarly full but hundreds of Leeds fans still thronged the platforms and hundreds more were queuing for tickets at the booking office – many of them having failed to find a place on board the charabancs that were similarly struggling to cope with demand. Some relief was provided by the announcement of a hastily-arranged additional service but it was clear that even this would not be sufficient to carry everyone to Huddersfield.
At around 2pm, and in desperation, a crowd of around 1,000 fans boarded the train bound for Scarborough and demanded that it be diverted to Huddersfield instead. After a short stand-off and some fraught negotiations, station officials sent for a further train to be moved from the sidings. When this additional train had backed into the station, it was soon packed with fans from the Scarborough service and departed for Huddersfield.
Meanwhile, a similar story was unfolding on the roads: by around 2pm every scheduled and specially-chartered bus service had departed, groaning under the weight of their passengers. More and more coaches were summoned and each one left as full as the last.
By 2.30pm, the final 2½ miles of the approach to Huddersfield’s Leeds Road ground contained a procession of vehicles moving bumper to bumper at a snail’s pace.
By shortly after the 3pm kick off, there were an estimated 15,000 Leeds fans among the 40,000-strong crowd.
However, every modern-day Leeds fan will empathise with what happened next: after all the excitement and hype, “United entered the battle like lions [but] finished like lambs at the slaughter” (Leeds Mercury), subsiding to a humiliating six-one defeat at the hands of their Yorkshire rivals.
Although Leeds recovered well from that defeat, a disappointing end to the season (three wins out of the last 17 games) resulted in a 13th-place finish.
Newspaper headline courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive