Frederick Arnold Levitt
The formation of Hull City in June 1904 was reported in the local Press the day after the event, with details of the location and occasion. The announcement was welcome and overdue for many in the city, who felt that Hull was not represented adequately in the local and national sporting landscape. The reasons for this sporting vacuum were complex and varied. Most commonly cited explanations were the city’s isolation from other towns and cities where football took place, the lack of a suitable enclosed sporting venue and the established presence of rugby.
Football was becoming increasing popular in Hull, but this mostly took the form of more young men playing the game in the local junior leagues. For many, the pleasure of playing competitive team sport against other local sides each Saturday was rewarding enough in itself. But for some young players who had been playing against the best opponents the city could offer for a few years (and usually beating them), this was not sufficient. They had loftier ambitions and sights set further afield.
Having re-named themselves ‘Hull City’ in the summer of 1902, a nucleus of friends and players from the Beverley Road / Newland Avenue area signalled their aspirations for a football club to represent the city – not just a district team, or a works or church side, but a club that was indisputably the best in Hull, and one capable of taking on similar teams from other towns or cities.
This vision of a local XI to represent the city and compete at a higher level, was an ambitious new target for a local football club. A Victorian sporting ethos had prevailed in earlier decades with clubs such as Albany and Hull Town. Well-to-do gentlemen turned out for ‘sport’ and a love of the game in line with prevailing notions of muscular Christianity, and there seemed little desire or intention to graduate to a higher and more challenging level of football.
The core of players who turned out for Hull City in 1902 had different ideals. In keeping with football clubs all over the country, the fledgling Hull City looked to the expanding professional Football League with its numerous local derbies, large crowds and civic rivalries for inspiration. No doubt aware of Hull’s absence from a national competition in which smaller towns were represented and whose teams thrived, the ambitious young men looked at what was going on far from the city boundaries. The very title ‘Hull City’ echoed the names of nationally established clubs from large conurbations, such as Manchester City, rather than the parochial or quaint outfits which had hitherto characterised local football. Hull’s elevation from town to city status in 1897 was a new source of local civic pride, and this may also have boosted the drive to establish a football club of a more notable calibre.
At the nucleus of Hull City in 1902, among others, was Frederick Arnold Levitt, a goalkeeper, captain and club secretary with a history of starting new local football clubs. Restless and energetic, Levitt was associated with several local clubs from the Beverley Road area at the turn of the twentieth century. They were characterised by their success and their ability to recruit talent, and the presence of a knot of individuals who had grown up together in the same neighbourhood. Levitt’s name cropped up more than any other member of this loose and fluid grouping, as it appeared in numerous newspaper articles and notices for the arrangement of fixtures and meetings of all types.
Frederick Arnold Levitt had been born on the 4th October 1877, the son of Fredrick Arnold Levitt, a Hull wallpaper hanger, decorator and antique dealer. Levitt senior had his premises at 83 Beverley Road. His son was to follow him into the family business as a furnisher and decorator.
Few indications of his determined football aspirations were given in his early years. One early mention of him came in March 1892 a Hull Daily Mail newspaper article recounts the successful visit by the United Kingdom Band of Hope and Union to the Beverley Road Board School (situated a few yards away from the Bull Inn) in which their lecture “Alcohol and the Human Body” was given to the boys, who then were tasked with writing an essay on the virtues of temperance. Numerous scholars excelled in this exercise and were awarded certificates in recognition of this. The long list of boys includes Frederick Arnold Levitt. Among the other names there appears that of Henry Mason Hay, one of the two brothers whose goalscoring talents would become a feature of the teams with which Levitt is associated. An early alliance is formed. (The father of the two Hay boys, William Hay, would also become a founder of Hull City in June 1904).
Three years later, in May 1895 a Friday edition of the Hull Daily Mail prints the fixtures and players for the following day’s cricket games. One match sees St Augustine’s Choir playing Cranbourne on their Newland Avenue ground. Featuring among the St Augustine players are ‘H. Hay’ and ‘F. Levitt’, and ‘Frost’ is also named in the side. St Augustine’s church was on the corner of Queen’s Road at Prince’s Road, near the Hay family home. The church also had a football team and Hay had been a standby for the reserve side in the 1894/5 season.
In October 1896, Victoria (late Excelsior United) Cricket Club elect their officials for the following season. Henry Hay is vice-captain of the first eleven, Lawrence Traynor is captain of the second eleven and the hon. secretary is Fred Levitt. Despite this, Levitt plays the following summer for another local cricket club- the Rovers. Batting well down the order at no 10, he finds the runs hard to come by, to use cricketing parlance, whether in the first team or the second XI. Rovers play their home games on the Bull Field at the end of Stepney Lane. A new club mate at Rovers is Mark Andrews, whose father, like Levitt’s, is a skilled woodworker. Nelson Andrews is a coachbuilder on Newland Avenue, Fred Levitt senior has a furniture/decorating business on Beverley Road.
For the 1897/8 football season, a new club appears among the names of local clubs arranging games for the winter months. The name of Harlequins crops up regularly, as the local sides seek to establish the schedules for the coming months. Harlequins have managed to put together 3 teams. F.A. Levitt of Leonard Street, Beverley Road is the person to contact fixtures for the 2nd and 3rd teams. At the start of the season, Levitt would be 19 years old. One of his counterparts among the local clubs would be Hull Brunswick’s honorary secretary, Ben Crompton, also 19 years old. Like Levitt, Crompton was placing adverts in the ‘Do you want a match?’ section in the local press.
Whether Crompton and Levitt knew each other before this time is unknown, but their paths crossed in the early stages of the 1897/8 as secretaries of their respective clubs. Crompton’s Hull Brunswick played on the Newland Park Estate off Cottingham Road and Levitt’s Harlequins used a pitch on Stoneferry Road for their home matches. As both clubs fielded three sides, there were plenty of fixtures to co-ordinate between them.
There were transfers between the two clubs, which increased the contact between the two secretaries. Lawrence Traynor was one such player, leaving Brunswick for Harlequins in December 1897. He was to appear in many local teams connected with Levitt and Crompton, often as a reliable full back partner for Mark Andrews. Both Levitt and Crompton either enjoyed or were highly competent in their roles as fixture arrangers, club membership clerks and unofficial PR men for their teams.
In 1898, Levitt’s name appears in team line-ups and occasional match reports as a goalkeeper for the Harlequins second string. He also plays in that position for Hull Central Thursday, but does not appear to be part of that club’s administration, and continues to play for Harlequins on Saturdays.
The ‘Quins home ground now is the Newland Park Estate, the same venue used by local rivals Hull Brunswick.
The following cricket season, on 8 May 1899, Rovers second XI (featuring Levitt) played Ramblers (featuring Crompton) on the Stepney Lane/Bull Lane ground. A comfortable win for the visitors ensued with Levitt again failing to trouble the scorers. Lawrence Traynor is a Rovers team mate of Levitt. In the first eleven, Mark Andrews makes regular appearances. The trio all play for Tillotson’s XI in a charity game against Hull Publicans on the Rovers’ Stepney Lane pitch to raise money or the National League for the Blind. The links between the three friends and sportsmen are by now firmly established, and the rented Bull Lane field is becoming their stronghold.
On July 291899, a small paragraph appeared in the Eastern Morning News to the effect that members of the “Comet” Cycling Club had held a general meeting and decided to form a football club “Comet” AFC. A list of committee members was printed, and this included some by now familiar names: Henry Hay and Mark Andrews were committee members, vice-captain of the first team was F.A Levitt, vice-captain 2nd team E. Frost, secretary B. Crompton. No president was elected.
The following summer on July 12th at the annual meeting of the Hull and District Football Association in the Foresters Hall, Alf Spring presided over proceedings. Dr G.W. Lilley was vice-president, and Jack Bielby was treasurer. Newly elected officers were Fred Levitt as assistant secretary and Ben Crompton as an auditor. Important connections were being made.
This was a new departure for Levitt (and Crompton): the running, organising and overseeing of their own football club was one thing, but being part of a regional body with regular meetings, fixed responsibilities and administrative tasks was something else. Crompton, with his secretarial and financial experience may well have found the work easy, but Levitt, who worked for his father’s furniture and decorating business, may have found the work more challenging. This begs the questions surrounding the circumstances of their election: what were their motives, and could it be that they were invited to apply for their roles, as two young dynamic football enthusiasts coming to the fore locally?
Whatever the background to these events, it enabled Levitt to gain an insight into the workings of the local football association and get to know the leading lights (and vice versa)
In late August 1900, Fred Levitt presides over Comet’s annual meeting held at the Bull Hotel, on the corner of Stepney Lane, Beverley Road. F.N. Preston is the President, even if Levitt chairs the event. A report of the evening reveals the names of elected officials, amongst whom Levitt himself and William Hay are vice-presidents. Levitt is now also captain of the first team. W.E. Hay (son of William) is captain of the second team. His brother Henry Mason Hay is treasurer. Honorary secretary is Ben Crompton. Lawrence Traynor once again is part of the committee. Comet enjoy a spectacularly successful season winning the Senior League and the second XI doing the same in the division below.
In August 1901 Levitt and Mark Andrews have a trial with Doncaster Rovers, and the following month Comet have become Hull Association FC, playing their games at Bull Lane. At the end of another successful season, the club holds a celebratory dinner at the Arts and Sports club (then situated on the corner of Grimston Street and George Street) in early July 1902. The beginning of the event is marked by an announcement that with immediate effect, the name has been changed to Hull City (and green remains the club colour). For this momentous meeting, William Hay is in the chair, and Mark Andrews is club captain with Lawrence Traynor his deputy. Other names mentioned in the local press in their accounts of the evening include William Hay’s two sons Willie (who becomes club secretary c/o the Arts and Sports) and Harry. Levitt is goalkeeper for the team. The old Bull Lane stronghold down the road from The Bull Inn is no more, as the land is sold for housing, and the following season sees a switch to Dairycoates. A change of name, a change of ground, and the club of friends is no longer just a local Stepney team, but one which holds its meetings in the centre of town and plays on the leading sports field available to local ‘junior’ sides.
The 1902/3 season sees a continuation of the upward advance of the Hull City team, with a glorious climax at the Boulevard (the venue for the Final of the Hull Times Cup) where the City team are victorious against Grimsby St Johns who were regarded as a formidable opponent. In a game officiated by referee Jack Bielby, Levitt is both captain and goalkeeper, even if it is team mate and vice-captain Mark Andrews who collects the Cup and addresses the happy crowd in front of the Grandstand at the end of the game.
At the end of the season, another annual dinner attended by fifty members and guests from the local FA and the political world, including Sir Henry Seymour King, an MP and football enthusiast. Messrs Bielby and Spring as guests, make speeches and further strengthen ties with key members of the Hull City club.
Following the sudden and unexpected demise of the original Hull City in the summer of 1903 due to unspecified financial problems, several of the leading players then switched to Hessle AFC with whom Ben Saunders Frost had strong connections. Along with captain Frost and Levitt, Mark Andrews, the Hay brothers and Lawrence Traynor all turned out for the already- established village club. Given the experience and talent of this nucleus of players, it was no surprise that the team won several cups in the 1903/4 season. Levitt appears to take no role within the running of the already well-established club. The Admiral Hawk Hotel in Hessle Square is the venue for a celebratory meal and smoking concert in late April 1904, with the Reverend A.W. Savory presiding.
Despite this successful season , the nucleus of former Hull City players did not stay long in the Hessle colours Just two months after the end of the 1903/4 season , the formation of a new Hull City club was being announced at the meeting of the ERFA on June 28th , even if no mention was made of the identity of the promoters of the scheme. This was the next step up for Levitt and his friends, and by far the biggest. The finance, the quality of the opposition and the management of all aspects of a football club employing professionals, were to provide a formidable challenge for all those involved in its founding. It was, nevertheless, something of a triumph for the group of friends who had conquered the world of local football and who sought to test themselves at the next level.
Levitt is mentioned in the Prospectus published on the 29th August 1904 in the local press (a few days before the opening game) as a Director the Hull City Association Football Club Company, Limited, and his address is given as 17 Washington Street, Beverley Road. Fellow director Ben Crompton is listed as living a few doors away at 29 Washington Street. Their friend and colleague Mark Andrews lives in nearby Vermont Street.
The photograph taken before the inaugural game against Notts County on 1st September shows not only the team but most of the directors too. The boyish Levitt is pictured standing at the back of the group alongside experienced trainer Bill Leach (engaged by Levitt) and fellow founder Jack Bielby. Volatile times were ahead however, as the club started to find its feet.
Ben Crompton’s departure from the club is announced after just two matches of the new club on the 13th September, due to ‘pressure of private business’ and his replacement was J.F. Haller- a well- known figure in local football, who was, to quote Ernest Morison, ‘the pioneer of the opposition scheme’ a few months earlier. Crompton had been associated with Levitt for the last few years, and his sudden early exit from the new project must have disappointed both of them
The following April, after a busy winter schedule of games and stormy conflicts with rugby league administrators who sought to impede the popularity of football in Hull, the club had to abandon its rented home at the Boulevard and re-locate to the nearby Hull Cricket Club ground on Anlaby Road. This move came at a cost- the departure of some founding directors from the board to accommodate some the cricket club’s wealthy directors – but the collective hope was that it was a sacrifice worth making, if it ensured financial stability and a prosperous future at a well- appointed venue.
A short article in the Athletic News on 4th April expands on the boardroom changes. Wealthy middle class cricket and hunting enthusiasts come in to provide financial backing, with younger football-loving less affluent founders eased out.
‘After much negotiating and a considerable amount of work, the Hull City A.F.C., Limited, has announced its plan of campaign whether elected into the Second Division or not. In the first place, Sir Henry Seymour King, member for Central Hull and an old “soccer” player, has confirmed his oft practically expressed interest in the game locally by consenting to accept the office of president , and, in addition, sending a handsome contribution to the club funds. The directorate has been remodelled and considerably strengthened by the addition of Mr. Alwyn D. Smith, a former player with the Old Etonians, the Casuals, and his College, Trinity Hall, Cambridge, who has been elected chairman; Mr. J.B. Bainton, chairman and president of the Hull Cricket Club; Mr. H. Ostler, representative on the Yorkshire County Cricket Club Committee; and Mr. Kenneth Wilson, a prominent follower of the Holderness Hounds. From this it will be gathered there will be no lack of funds when called for, and at an early date a further issue of shares will be made and it is quite evident the management will see the game go forward in East Yorkshire at all costs.’
Reporting the changes in the Hull Daily Mail, ‘Athleo’ comments that ‘all along it has been the spirit of the promoters of the code in Hull that they were bent upon serving the game, and if they could be replaced by men who would be able to do more than themselves in office, or if they could be placed in other and more useful positions, then these changes were to be made.’ Whether this is a realistic representation of the opinions of all the founders is both unknown and unknowable.
After a successful campaign of Friendly games, a brief paragraph in the Hull Daily Mail, tucked away in a preview of the forthcoming match against Sheffield United on April 1st ,1905, states that ‘the two directors, Messrs Levitt and Hay, who have retired from the Hull City Board and Directors, have, I understand, been elected life members of the club.’
In May 1905, the club (represented by Crompton’s replacement J.F. Haller) successfully applied for admission to the Second Division at a Football League meeting in London. Another huge step is taken, and the club found itself operating at a higher level of expectation and scrutiny. This required an appropriate level of boardroom expertise and experience.
The following month, in June 1905, a notice appeared in the local press giving details of the agenda for an EGM for shareholders. One item listed was a resolution to amend the club’s Articles of Association, deleting the words “Except in the case of Frederick Arnold Levitt, who being one of the promoters of the Company, shall be a permanent director.”
Thus Levitt’s permanent position at the centre of the club he had helped form, no longer existed and this clause, no doubt put in place to safeguard his role, was specifically removed. Levitt’s thoughts on this development are not recorded. Whether he acquiesced willingly for the perceived collective good, or whether he regarded it as a hostile move to favour the newer and wealthier (and non football) elements on the board, is unknown.
In a few short months, Levitt’s position had been dramatically diminished by a series of events beyond his control. From protagonist, director and prominent young founder, he had become marginalised and now found himself on the periphery of the club’s affairs. The transformational process undergone by the club continued, as the status of being associated with Hull City attracted yet more newcomers. An incident involving more boardroom re-organisation confirms Levitt’s further estrangement from the running of Hull City.
In February 1906, he writes to the Hull Daly Mail following the election of builder George Kennington to the board of directors. This seemingly minor event (at least, in the eyes of the wider sporting public) is a significant turning point in the early history of the club. George Kennington had no football background and is elected to the board, of which his local political ally and fellow East Hull Conservative George Lilley is already a member. Levitt favoured the candidature of Cyd Smurthwaite, whom he saw as a fellow traveller and kindred spirit. (Perhaps the two had met in a work context given Smurthwaite’s trade as a ‘fancy goods’ seller of household furnishings and Levitt’s decorating activities?) Levitt himself was also a candidate for the vacant place on the board, as was William Hay. The board backed their candidate Kennington, who received 31 votes, against Smurthwaite’s 28 and Levitt’s 7 (Hay had withdrawn to favour the chances of the other two). This prompted the following letter:
TO THE EDITOR OF THE “DAILY MAIL”
I write to express my disapproval that in the meeting of the shareholders of the Hull City Club, on Saturday night, a gentleman whose only fault is his outspoken criticisms and his ardent support of what he considers right, should be outvoted by his former colleagues. I am not alone in thinking that a thorough sportsman as he is, and one who has done a great deal for the club in its early stages (as I as one of the original promoters can testify), should not be put in the back ground for an unknown quantity. I hold no brief for Mr. Smurthwaite, but at future meetings, I trust to see fairer play.
I am, Sir, etc
Hull, February 11th, 1906.
Levitt sent the same letter – also published -to the Editor of the Hull Daily News. Several other people also wrote in to both papers to deplore the boardroom chicanery which saw the unknown Kennington elected over the preferred candidate(s) of Levitt and his associates. It was a further blow for Levitt’s continued links with Hull City, and he was never again voted onto the board of directors of the club he was instrumental in founding. He was proposed by Ben Crompton as a candidate for five vacant places on the board in June 1907.Kennington was again elected, as were Messrs Spring, Dickinson, Locking and Smurthwaite.
He was a candidate again in June 1909 when he was up against Mark Swift, T.W. Shaw, William Hay and George Westmorland. For the third time, he was unsuccessful in getting back onto the board. His relative lack of wealth, his youth or his lack of connections, or all three…..whatever the reason, Levitt found the door shut to his re-entry.
His post Hull City football interests saw him playing in goal in the Hull Thursday League for Hotspurs (1906), but he appeared to have no involvement in the running, fixture-arranging and general management of the club. He had maintained his City connections by playing Whist as the partner of Andrew Raisbeck (City’s Scottish left-sided midfield player) for the Art and Sports Club (subsequently and confusingly renamed the City Club) in competitive games. By now he was playing cricket for St Paul’s and was captaining their first XI
The death of his father Frederick in August 1910 meant that Levitt took on his father’s business. At his funeral, six employees bore the coffin, giving an indication of the size of the business. This increased demand on his time for business reasons, coupled with the needs of his young family (Frederick Arnold junior aged 6 and Eric aged 4) would severely restrict any playing opportunities available to him, and his documented participation dwindled to nothing.
Levitt started a new company Fred. A. Levitt Ltd., in April 1910 to take over his late father’s business as ‘ a house furnisher, painter, decorator, antique furniture dealer and cabinet maker.’
Within two years the business appears to fail as a newspaper advert announces an auction to sell ‘to painters, paperhangers and others’ the stock-in –trade of Levitt’s business at Clarence House, 83 Beverley Road .
Levitt’s death in 1953 went almost unnoticed -a short announcement in the Deaths section of the Hull Daily Mail was the only public notification of his passing. Two world wars and over 40 years had passed since Levitt was a familiar name in local football circles. A heavily-bombed city was still being rebuilt and Raich Carter’s team had generated more enthusiasm in the early 1950s than any previous Hull City side, erasing many memories of earlier less successful decades.
It is therefore unsurprising that the name of Fred Levitt remains virtually forgotten in the history of the club and the city. He was unremembered in his death, and had been quietly but firmly sidelined from the club some 45 years earlier. There is nothing in any official or authoritative history of the club that singles him out or identifies him as perhaps the most important founder of the 16 original directors -that would do a disservice to the other 15 whose various contributions were needed to make the joint endeavour work – but without Levitt’s drive, his ambition, his restless determination to start and run football teams, to arrange games, to captain the sides he played in, to forge alliances with the cream of local talent and to seek new football challenges outside the local leagues, there would have probably been no Hull City in 1904 . None of the other founders appeared as driven or ambitious as Levitt was to create a club to represent the city.
Without him, in time a Hull club would have emerged, maybe even one called Hull City, but it would have been a different one and would have emerged later.
His name in the club’s history is as anonymous as it is important, and of all the founders, his contribution to the formation of the club was probably the most important of all. The reasons for the lack of historic recognition for Levitt remain a curious mystery, but a reading of Ernest Morison’s account of the formation of the club gives some clue as to the motives. All subsequent versions of the club’s formation faithfully replicate the Morison perspective, which was written when he was still a serving director and very mindful of prevailing sensibilities. The apportioning of credit among his fellow-board members for the successful foundation of a Second Division club needed to be spread ‘appropriately’ to take account of this.
Events in 1909, including a very well-publicised court case involving original secretary Ben Crompton, were reported in many newspapers and generated negative publicity for the club. His close association with Levitt would give Morison a motive for reducing their roles in the story of the formation to anonymity, despite Morison clearly knowing their identities by referring to ‘three highly enthusiastic but certainly indiscreet young men’. This was doubly advantageous for Morison, as he avoided mentioning Crompton by name (but nevertheless recounted an accurate version of events) and managed to present a picture of a happy and harmonious local football collaboration.
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