Small Heath, Birmingham born centre half Alex Leake began his football career in junior football with works team Hoskins & Sewell in 1887, King’s Heath Albion in 1888, Saltley Gas Company in 1889, Singer’s in 1890, turning professional with Old Hill Wanderers in 1892 from whom he joined First Division Small Heath (now Birmingham City) in 1894. He made his Football League debut at Preston North End in October 1895 although Small Heath suffered relegation in his debut season, when he made 14 appearances, after which he rarely missed a game. He was soon appointed club captain. He was still a mainstay of the team as they won promotion as Second Division runners up in 1900-01, but once back in the First Division they were immediately relegated in 1902. During this season he played in an England trial match and with clubmate Sid Wharton played for an England XI in an unofficial international against Germany.
In a 1901 profile of the Small Heath club and players in the Daily Express, C.B. Fry wrote:
“Leake is one of the best half-backs of the day; he is a character, and very popular. Fast, with exceptional stamina, he is on the go all the game through; yet never tires. He has been a faithful friend to his club, which owes – and knows it owes – him much. He captains his team with ability and a tact that may almost be called inspiration, He makes – he does not wait for – success. And what he gets he deserves.”
After 23 goals in 221 appearances for Small Heath he joined Aston Villa in July 1902, already 31 years old, and stayed five years. In his first season the club were runners up in the First Division, and in 1905 he won the FA Cup when played in their 1905 FA Cup Final team which beat Newcastle United 2-0. While with Aston Villa Leake won five caps for England, making his international debut at the age of 32 on 12th March 1904 in a 3-1 win against Ireland in Belfast. He played against Scotland in a 1-0 win at Celtic Park the next month, and in all 3 Home Internationals the following season. He also played once for The Football League.
Leake found himself unwittingly at the centre of one of the great scandals of English football. In the last League game of the 1904-05 season, Manchester City needed to beat Aston Villa to win the title. It was a spiteful game, and he had been involved in confrontations, both physical and verbal, with opponents. Afterwards Leake, who had captained the side, claimed that City’s Billy Meredith had offered him a bribe of £10 for his team to throw the match. Meredith was found guilty by the Football Association, fined, and suspended from all football for 18 months. Because his club refused to help him financially, Meredith made public the illegal payments Manchester City were making to their players. An FA investigation resulted in life bans for directors, long suspensions for players, and the club being forced to sell its playing staff.
An Aston Villa match programme of 1906 described him as:
“A good-tempered, honest worker; safe rather than showy. Hard to beat in a tackle, and good at spoiling an opponent’s pass. Alert, keeps his head, and never tires in the hardest matches. His unfailing good humor has made him a general favourite.”
Having scored 9 goals in 140 appearances for The Villains, Burnley manager Spen Whittaker took him to the club in December 1907, by which time he was 36 years old. He stayed with them a further two and a half years, playing a significant part in building a team for the future. His arrival has been described thus:
“By this time Leake was 36 years old, but he still possessed the panache of a class player. His authority on the pitch led to his appointment as team captain, and the faithful on the terraces at Turf Moor purred their appreciation, taking an instant shine to their new centre-half. One should not underestimate the psychological benefits of having a man there who had been at the top of his profession, a natural leader who could counsel and advise the youngsters from a position of experience.” He scored twice in 90 appearances for The Clarets.
In 1910 he returned to the Midlands and played for one season with non league Wednesbury Old Athletic, newly elected to the Birmingham & District League. He then took up posts as trainer with Crystal Palace, Merthyr Town, and Walsall, and also coached at school level.
He was a cousin of fellow Small Heath and England forward Jimmy Windridge.
NB Taken outside St Enoch’s Hotel, Glasgow, after the match at Celtic Park, Glasgow on 9th April 1904, which England had won 1-0 with a Steve Bloomer goal, this image includes the following players:
From top left:
Steve Bloomer – Derby County
Abraham Jones – Middlesbrough (reserve)
Bernard Wilkinson – Sheffield United
Alex Leake – Aston Villa
Alf Common – Middlesbrough (reserve)
Fred Blackburn – Blackburn Rovers
Jock Rutherford – Newcastle United
Vivian Woodward – Tottenham Hotspur
Herbert Burgess – Manchester City
Samuel Wolstenholme -Everton
Bob Crompton – Blackburn Rovers (Captain)
Stanley Harris – Old Westminsters & Cambridge University, Corinthians
Tom Baddeley played in goal, but isn’t in the photograph due probably to 2 broken fingers, apparently he needed brandy to help revive him (kill the pain) after the match. Who is the face in the window? We shall never know!