Leeds United F.C. History
Leeds United F.C. History : Foreword
1919-29 - The Twenties
1930-39 - The Thirties
1939-46 - The War Years
1947-49 - Post War Depression
1949-57 - The Reign of King John
1957-63 - From Charles to Revie
1961-75 - The Revie Years
1975-82 - The Downward Spiral
1982-88 - The Dark Years
1988-96 - The Wilko Years
1996-04 - The Rollercoaster Ride
2004-16 - Down Among The Deadmen
100 Greatest LUFC Players Ever
Greatest Leeds United Games
Players' Profiles
Managers' Profiles
Leeds City F.C. History
Leeds City F.C. Player and Manager Profiles
Leeds United/City Statistics
Leeds United/City Captains
Leeds United/City Friendlies and Other Games

Sproston: Bert

1933-1938 (Player Details)

Right Back

Born: Elsworth Nr Sandbach: 22-06-1914

Debut v Chelsea (a): 23-12-1934

5’7 1/2” 11st 10lb (1938)

Elegant Right-back Sproston emerged from Non-League football to become one of England’s most cultured defenders of the 1930s. He was rejected by Huddersfield Town after trials and went to Sandbach Ramblers, where he ousted his brother from the first team. Leeds signed him as a seventeen-year-old from Sandbach in May 1933. Seven months later he made his League debut and played five games as deputy for the injured George Milburn in the 1933-34 season before he established himself in the United team in the following season, when he made twenty-five League and three F.A. Cup appearances. It was in the 1935-36 season, when he missed only two League games, that he became on of the best full backs in the country as Leeds finished eleventh on the ladder and he gained his first England cap at the age of twenty-one at Ninian Park on 17th October 1936 in a 1-2 defeat by Wales. It was not an auspicious beginning as Wales had not previously beaten England for more than fifty years. It would be a year before he would make his second appearance at international level. He was fast, hard tackling, remained cool under pressure, and his excellent distribution put him in a class above the usual rotund club defender. Unfortunately for him Leeds were considered an unfashionable club, and had struggled to avoid relegation with a nineteenth finish in the 1936-37 season, a season which saw Sproston twice miss several games after injuries, firstly in the first game of the season and then sustaining a leg injury at Everton on 3rd March 1937, which limited him to twenty-three League appearances and made him unavailable for some internationals. However, despite all this, Leeds had some excellent players as they sought to establish themselves in the 1930s. Willis Edwards, Ernie Hart and Wilf Copping had all had England international recognition and Sproston followed them into the England team, ousting Arsenal's George Male from the right back position. He was given a chance to redeem himself when chosen by the Football League to represent them against the Scottish League at Ibrox Park, Glasgow, on 22nd September 1937 and, although the Scots triumphed 1-0, he was also selected for the League team to face the Irish League at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool, on 6th October 1937, in a game which they won by 3-0. He followed those two games by being selected for the Probables against the possibles in an England trial a week later at Goodison Park, Liverpool, and performed well in a 1-1 draw. Those three games, in which he was outstanding, paved the way for his recall to the England team, which came on 23rd October 1937, when a debut hat-trick by Chelsea's George Mills helped beat Ireland 5-1 at Windsor Park, Belfast. He retained his position for his third cap as England took on Wales again at Ayresome Park, Middlebrough, on 17th November 1937. From a time in that game it looked as if the Welsh would again inflict another defeat as Eddie Perry put them ahead. However, England fought back to win with goals from Stanley Matthews and Willie Hall. A fourth cap soon followed in an exciting match with Czechoslovakia at White Hart Lane on 1st December 1937, in which England finally triumphed 5-4, thanks to a hat-trick from Stanley Matthews, which were all struck with his left-foot.For his fifth cap, on 9th April 1938, Sproston was joined in the England side by Leeds teammate Eric Stephenson for the game against Scotland at Wembley. England were hoping to get a win to their credit ahead of their forthcoming European tour, but Scotland held them goalless for the first time at Wembley and won 1-0 after Tommy Walker had scored an early goal. In the absence of Sproston and Stephenson, Leeds lost by the same score to Arsenal, who were also affected by international calls, at Elland Road. United finished the season in a lofty ninth position, just nine points behind the champions, Arsenal. Sproston had missed just five games for Leeds, mostly through international and representative call ups. There was to be no let up, as England went on their short trip to Europe to take on Germany, Switzerland and France as he took his caps to eight. The England party left by boat for the Hook of Holland and then travelled overland to Berlin, a journey that took two days. Meanwhile the Germans had been together for ten days in the Black Forest sharpening up for the big game. The England team were used as a political football in this game as they faced Germany at the Olympic Stadium, Berlin, on 14th May 1938. Europe was teetering on the brink of war, with German dictator, Adolf Hitler, making provocative speeches which left the rest of Europe in fear of imminent threat of invasion. In this atmosphere the game, the game took on a symbolic look of the German dictatorship and English democracy. It was into that atmosphere that the English team sat in their dressing room waiting to play. A F.A. official came in and gave instructions that the team would be required to give the Nazi salute during the playing of the National Anthem. The order was at the instruction of Sir Neville Henderson, the British ambassador to Berlin, who was anxious to avoid inflaming any German sensitivities, who saw it as a courtesy to the host country. Despite initial protests, the players reluctantly agreed to the diplomat's request. Therefore, Sproston and his teammates gave the salute in front of 105,000 swastika-flag waving fans and then proceeded to utterly outplay the Germans, winning 6-3 with goals from Jackie Robinson (2), Cliff Bastin, Frank Broome, Len Goulden and Stanley Matthews. Having beaten Germany, England were expected win convincingly when they took on Switzerland at the Hardturm Stadium in Zurich a week later, but they underestimated their opponents, and were beaten 1-2 with Andre Abegglen scoring the winner with a controversial penalty seventeen minutes from the end after German referee Dr Peco Bauwens ruled that Huddersfield's Alf Young had handled. Probably more to the point, Eddie Hapgood and Stanley Matthews both had suffered serious injuries during the early part of the game and with only nine fit men lost the game. Sproston played his seventh England game of a busy season as France were beaten 4-2, on 26th May 1938 at Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir, Colombes, Paris when a late Bastin penalty eased the nerves. It was to be his final International appearance as a Leeds player. Leeds, who over the years had never been financially sound, found they could not turn down the offer of £9,500 for their star full-back, when ambitious Second Division side Tottenham Hotspur came asking. The record fee at that time stood at almost £10,900 for David Jack, when he moved from Bolton Wanderers to Arsenal as far back as in October 1928, so it was understandable, when they accepted the fee on 15th June 1938. He was still the England first choice right back and after gaining his third selection for the Football League in an 8-2 thrashing of the Irish League at Windsor Park, Belfast, on 21st September 1938, he collected his ninth England Cap in a 2-4 defeat by Wales at Ninian Park, Cardiff on 22nd October 1938 and soon making it ten just four days later when he played at Highbury in a 3-0 win over the Rest of Europe in a game held to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the F.A., before making his fourth appearance for the Football League in a 3-1 win over the Scottish League at Molineux, Wolverhampton on 2nd November 1938. Unfortunately for Spurs, Sproston did not settle in London and after just nine League games the less than five months he had been at White Hart Lane they entered into negotiations with fellow Second Division club, Manchester City. Various reasons were put forward ranging from the thought of imminent war and his absence from his family in Sandbach, to his dislike of club supplied lodgings and the fact that he had gone into a building business with his brother. No matter what, City had offered to allow him to live in Sandbach with his family, and commute the twenty-five miles, and the proof of his homesickness was his keenness to get back home came when he asked Spurs for special leave after the Inter-League match on the Wednesday. He came from home to sign for Manchester City. So it was that the Yorkshire Post of 5th November 1938 said "Just before the Tottenham Hotspur players were preparing to travel North yesterday for their match against Manchester City at Maine Road to-day, Bert Sproston, the England and former Leeds United full back, was transferred to the opposition. Consequently, instead of playing for Tottenham, Sproston will appear in the Manchester City colours against his former colleagues. Sproston has had a stay of less than five months in London. The South did not suit him, and as his health was suffering, Tottenham reluctantly acceded to his request to return to the North. It was on 15th June last that Tottenham startled the football world by paying £8,000 to Leeds for Sproston's signature. Manchester City must have paid fully that sum yesterday for the England player's services." It then went on to give a summation of honours and abilities. On 18th October 1936, Sproston played in his first international, and last season he figured in every representative match possible. He played in the Trial match, all the Inter-League matches, and also appeared against Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Czechoslovakia, besides playing on the Continent against Germany, Switzerland and France. This season Sproston has again been England's choice for right back. He played against Wales and the Rest of Europe, and he is in the side picked to meet Norway at Newcastle next Wednesday. Sproston, who is twenty-four, attracted the attention of Leeds United when assisting Sandbach Ramblers, and he made his first appearance in the First Division when nineteen. Manchester City can consider they have secured the best right back in the game. Very quick to the tackle, and in recovering, Sproston is also extremely valuable to his side by virtue of his splendidly judged clearances to his forwards." So it was that after being selected by Spurs in their team, and appearing as such in the official programme for the game, Sproston travelled north, signed for Manchester City and turned out against his former teammates on 5th November 1938 as he made his debut for Manchester City at Maine Road in a 2-0 win over his former team. He went on to make twenty-one League and One F.A. Cup appearances for City in the 1938-39 season and scored twice. Ironically those two goals came as he returned to White Hart Lane for the reverse fixture on 11th March 1939 and scored twice in a 3-2 win for City. He gained his eleventh and final England Cap in England's 4-0 win over Norway at St James' Park, Newcastle, just four days after making his City debut. He was selected for the Home Championship clash with Ireland at Old Trafford just a week later but had to withdraw due to injury and so missed the 7-0 rout. His presence at Maine Road certainly did make an impact as City won their next five games, but were pipped for promotion by just five points, finishing fifth on forty-nine points, just three places and two points above Tottenham Hotspur. He played all three games for Manchester City in the 1939-40 season before it was aborted due to the Second World War. During the Second World War Sproston, apart from playing as regularly as duties allowed for his registered club, also guested for Millwall, Aldershot and Wrexham and he saw active service with the Army in India. He also represented the F.A. and Combined Services and played for England in War-time Internationals. With City he made thirteen appearances in 1939-40, scored twice in eighteen games in 1940-41, made six appearances in 1941-42 and seven in 1943-44, scored twice in nine games in 1944-45 and once in twenty-two games during 1945-46. In 1939-40 he played once for Wrexham and once also for Aldershot. The British Army invited some of the best footballers to became Physical Training instructors at Aldershot. Those who accepted the offer included Joe Mercer, Cliff Britton, Tommy Lawton, Matt Busby, Stan Cullis, Don Welsh, Billy Cook, Arthur Cunliffe, Billy Wright, Archie Macaulay, Norman Corbett, Bert Sproston and Eric Stephenson. He also guested with Millwall, scoring once in three games in 1941-42 and playing seven games in 1942-43 and one in 1943-44, without scoring. On 18th November 1939 he was selected to play for England against Wales at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, along with his two teammates Frank Swift and Eric Brooks. He managed to finally be on a winning England side against Wales as they won 3-2. This was followed by a 1-1 draw with Scotland which was played at Hampden Park, Glasgow, on 11th May 1940, with fighter pilots circling overhead in case of a German attack. He did play a third War-time International, but it was for "An F.A. XI" against Belgium at the Stade du Daring in Brussels on 25th March 1945 in a which a Tommy Lawton hat-trick sealed a 3-2 win, in a side that included Aubrey Powell of Leeds and Wales at outside right. He was in a strong British Army team that drew with France at the Colombes Stadium, Paris on 11th February 1940. He also played for the F.A. another two times in March 1945 as they beat Belgium 8-1 in Bruges and as a Combined Services XI drew with them at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. But it was not all football, he spent a year in a troopship. He returned to City after the War and won a Second Division Championship medal with them in 1946-47, to add to his eleven England caps and two war-time International appearances and Football League representative honours. He scored twice in forty appearances in that campaign and also played twice in the F.A. Cup. He did not score any further goals for City but was still a regular in 1947-48 when he played forty times in the League and three times in the F.A. Cup but 1948-49 saw him start to miss games and finish with twenty-five in the League, while in his final season there were just five League appearances as he played his final game against Newcastle United at Maine Road on 21st January 1950 in a 1-1 draw. After scoring five goals in one hundred and twenty-five League appearances (Excluding the three games in the aborted 1939-40 season) and six F.A. Cup ties, he left City, in August 1950. In July 1951 he was appointed Trainer at Bolton Wanderers and later scouted for the Burnden Park club. He enjoyed a long association with the Trotters before retiring. He died in Bolton on 27th January 2000.

League 1301
F.A. Cup 100


Bert Sproston obituary: Brian Glanville Friday 4th February 2000

Bert Sproston, footballer, born June 22 1915; died January 27 2000.

The footballer Bert Sproston, who has died aged 84, was, for several years before the last war, acknowledged as one of the best defenders in England, a blonde, fast, strongly built (5ft 8in, 12st), hard-tackling right-back.

He forged his way into the national team at the expense of as accomplished a player as Arsenal's George Male, who for years had partnered his clubmate and captain, the left-back Eddie Hapgood, and would regain his place from Sproston in 1939. Curiously, however, neither Male nor Sproston would be chosen for England in their unofficial internationals against Wales and Scotland during the war years.

Born in Sandbach, Cheshire, Sproston made his name with Leeds United, and won the first of his 11 international caps against Wales in Cardiff, in October 1936, a game that England lost 2-1. He was capped seven times the following season, 1937-8, when he became the regular England choice at right-back. Perhaps the most memorable of these games took place in Berlin in May 1938, against Germany; the Nazi regime very much wanted a home win. Before the game, a reluctant England team, at the behest of Sir Neville Henderson, the appeasing British ambassador, gave the Nazi salute. They then proceeded to play the Germans off the park, winning 6-3. That season, Sproston had also played all three games in the British international championship. At the end of it, he moved south to Tottenham Hotspur, retaining his place in the England team and appearing against Wales and the Rest of Europe XI, beaten 3-0 at Highbury. He was unhappy in London, however, and stayed at Tottenham for only a few months before moving back north - this time to Manchester City, a club that had just been relegated to the second division - a single season after winning at the league championship. Sproston's last international cap came in November 1938, at Newcastle, where England beat Norway 4-0. During the war, he served in the army, eventually playing for Combined Services XIs on the continent, and turning out as a guest player for Millwall, who sometimes used him in the unaccustomed position of inside-right.

The transitional 1945-46 season saw him back with Manchester City, though neither he nor the then England goalkeeper, the celebrated Frank Swift, could save the club from a remarkable humiliation in the FA Cup, revived in 1946 as a two-legged affair. On their home ground at Maine Road, City were thrashed by a Bradford Park Avenue team which scored eight goals, four of them by A H (Jackie) Gibbons, once Tottenham's amateur centre-forward, and by then a professional. The next season, when league football started, Sproston was a regular member of the Manchester City team which comfortably won the second division championship, and thus returned to the first division. He played on as the regular right-back for a couple of seasons, his last with the club being 1949-50, when he made just five first division appearances. Subsequently, he coached Bolton Wanderers.