SHERIDAN DICTATES

ERIC STEPHENSON - LEEDS' FALLEN HERO

In March 1925 the Leeds United manager, Arthur Fairclough pulled off a masterstroke when he bought centre-forward, Thomas Hamilton Oliver Jennings from Raith Rovers who were competing in Scotland's top flight.

Jennings was born on 8 March 1902 in Strathaven, a historic market town in South Lanarkshire and began to make his name playing for Cadzow St Anne's in junior football. With Cadzow he won a Juvenile Cup winners' medal. His progress was not unnoticed and in 1919 he was invited down to London for a trial with Tottenham Hotspur.

Unfortunately for the striker nothing materialised at White Hart Lane but a move to Raith, where his brother Charlie was on the books, came about in January 1921 where he went on to play his part in a free scoring front line. During his time in Kirkcaldy, Jennings rattled in 73 league goals in 134 games and he was part of the Raith side that were shipwrecked in the summer of 1923.

The club had visited Copenhagen the previous summer and decided to embark on a journey to the Canary Islands where they would play four games. Players, management and club officials boarded the ship, the Highland Loch, which was stopping off at the Canaries on its way to Buenos Aires, unaware of the drama that would unfold.

Upon reaching northern Spain, the ship ran aground in extremely violent weather conditions. The contingent from Raith and other passengers were rescued by local fishermen and taken to the village of Villagarcia where they were picked up the following day by a passing liner. They reached their destination a few days later. Incidentally, the sobering experience had no adverse impact on the players as they won all four games of the tour.

Despite the goals flowing, Jennings requested a move away from the club and upon placing him on the transfer list at the end of February 1925, the Raith Rovers Directors made it clear that any suitable offers would be considered. Arthur Fairclough soon made his move. 

The Yorkshire Evening Post (YEP) claimed, on 12 March 1925, that the Elland Road outfit were in talks to sign a "well known player" and the following day, a deal to recruit Jennings was done. 

"LEEDS UNITED SECURE A CRACK CENTRE - ONE OF THE BEST IN THE SCOTTISH LEAGUE", was how the YEP headlined the report of the signing of Jennings. Fairclough had travelled to Glasgow to get his man, for a club record fee of £3,000, and the transfer created excitement among the Leeds followers. 

A correspondent in Glasgow sent a telegram to the Leeds based newspaper in which he claimed Jennings was regarded as one of the cleverest centre-forwards in Scotland and his wonderful knowledge of the game and everything he did made him a master craftsman.

Although there were several Scotsmen on the books at Elland Road, Tom Jennings was the first player to sign for Leeds directly from Scotland and the new man was thrust straight into first team action. 

The ink had barely dried on the paperwork when he stepped out for his debut within 24 hours of completing his move. Leeds had gone seven games without a win and faced a Yorkshire derby at home to Sheffield United. Jennings made a decent impression in a game of few chances. Joe Harris' equalising goal in the 21st minute earned the hosts a 1-1 draw after they fell behind to a Tommy Boyle strike inside two minutes.

Leeds were desperate to end the win-less run but it would continue a week later when they were well beaten, 4-1, by a Newcastle United side who were reduced to ten men after a hour when Stan Seymour left the field injured. The Leeds goal that day was scored by debutant Russell Wainscoat with whom Jennings would go on to a form a lethal partnership.

The moment everyone had waited for came on 28 March 1925 when United thrashed Liverpool at Elland Road. Despite falling behind to an early goal, Leeds bounced back and were leading 3-1 (Wainscoat had scored again) when Jennings scored his first for the club, a fine solo effort in the 72nd minute of a rousing performance. He was warmly congratulated by his team mates and the Elland Road crowd doffed their caps to the highly rated striker.

By the end of a campaign, in which Leeds largely struggled, Tom Jennings had scored three goals in ten games whilst his partner in crime, Russell Wainscoat bagged four in nine. Those goals went a long way in executing any relegation fears as the club finished the season in 18th place.

With the prospect of the strike partnership blossoming, optimism was high for the new term. However, despite the goals of Jennings and Wainscoat, Leeds sailed the murky waters at the foot of the First Division and escaped relegation by a single point. In an extremely disappointing season, Wainscoat was restricted to 25 league games, which returned eight goals but Jennings was firing on all cylinders as he played every game and scored a superb total of 26 goals. 

The personal highlight for the Scotsman came on 6 February 1926 when title-chasing Arsenal visited West Yorkshire looking for two vital points in their quest for English footballs main prize. Leeds, and Jennings, had other ideas and after an incredible first half, the home side were leading 4-0 with the star man grabbing his first hat-trick in United colours.

The game was stalemate until the 24th minute when Jennings opened the scoring. On the half hour mark, Wilf Chadwick doubled the lead before the deadly marksman completed his treble with two strikes in a minute just before the interval. Arsenal rallied in the second half with two goals but the points belonged to United and the match-ball (had that tradition been born back then) belonged to Jennings.

Unfortunately, the win over the London outfit failed to bring any sort of consistency and Fairclough's charges went into the final two games staring relegation in the face. A defeat at Maine Road (despite another Jennings goal) against Manchester City, who were right in the thick of the fight against the drop, did Leeds no favours at all. 

Bottom of the table Notts County were already down with Burnley occupying the other relegation place, level on 34 points with Leeds. Only goal difference separated the two sides. Manchester City had a point more and despite beating Leeds just days before, were not out of the woods. Only a win over Tottenham, at home, on the last day of the season would prevent United relying on others

Jennings scored two against the side that had rejected him before his move to Raith as Leeds turned on the style and won 4-1. Burnley also won at home to Cardiff City whilst in the north-east, Manchester City were losing at Newcastle and heading for the Second Division.

The 1926-27 season was remarkable. Not so much that after two seasons battling relegation, Leeds finally succumbed and fell through the trap door out of the top flight. What was remarkable was the continued goal scoring exploits of Tom Jennings in a struggling team.

The Scottish goal machine only missed one league and managed to find the back of the net 35 times. He also scored two in the FA Cup. Jennings was rewriting the Elland Road record books, helped by a devastating spell between 4 September and 20 November 1926. In that period, Leeds played 14 games and the fans' favourite scored an incredible total of 22 goals.

After failing to find the net in the opening two games, Jennings scored in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford. He got the winner at home to Derby County and scored again as Aston Villa were beaten at Elland Road, then not for the first time, Arsenal felt the full force of his scoring powers as a truly unbelievable spell began.

Like the previous season, Jennings scored a hat-trick against Arsenal in front of his adoring public and  week later he went one better by scoring four at Anfield in a fine win over Liverpool. Another four goal haul followed when Blackburn Rovers were thrashed at Elland Road, making it three hat-tricks in three games. This was the first time in the history of top flight football, in England, that this magnificent feat had been achieved.

United then suffered three consecutive defeats despite Jennings scoring in all three games and yet another treble followed when Bury came to Yorkshire and were hammered 4-1.

In today's football, there would be no way Leeds would have been able to keep hold of their deadly marksman following relegation but the love affair was not about to end. Jennings and Wainscoat remained at the club and fired Leeds back into the top flight at the first attempt.

Despite only playing six games after Christmas, Tom Jennings scored 21 times over a season in which he suffered from blood poisoning. Had he not contracted the unfortunate illness, it leaves you pondering how many times he would have found the net that term.

Over the next three seasons Jennings was restricted to 51 games in which he found the net 30 times. Quite simply, when fit he would score more often than not.

His final Leeds' goal came in his 170th appearance, at home to Sheffield Wednesday. It was the 117th time that he had put the ball in the net in a Leeds shirt. 

Tom Jennings left Elland Road in June 1931 to join Chester City, where he scored 33 league goals in just 48 appearances. 

Incredibly, the master craftsman never received international recognition during his career but despite that, the man signed from Raith was box-office. His exploits of 117 goals in 174 games makes him the fourth highest Leeds goal scorer of all time, behind Peter Lorimer, John Charles and Allan Clarke.

On the 2nd July 1973, two days before I was born, Tom Jennings passed away.

The hardest thing to do on a football field is to put the ball in the net. the Scotsman did it with ease, at every level he played. What would he be worth in today's market?

Tom Jennings, the name every kid would have had on the back of their replica shirts, remains a legend and is forever embedded in the unbelievable history of Leeds United Football Club.

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