Gordon Milne on Life as Leicester Boss

Extract from an Interview with Gordon Milne from The FOX Summer Special 2007 

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FOX: You became manager of Leicester City in the Summer of 1982, how did that come about?

GM: I’d finished at Coventry. I had nine years as manager there and then I had a year upstairs when Dave Sexton came. Although he is actually older than me it was like the young coach coming in who doesn’t want to be concerned with contracts and stuff. Dave just wanted to be out there and he would even take a full session with the kids, he was good like that. Anyway, I did it for a year but I didn’t really enjoy it. I was too young to do that role and I thought this is me getting farmed out here. I wasn’t ready for that.
Leicester were interviewing for a new manager then and Terry Shipman rang me, so I went along. Three or four days later I got a phonecall saying I had got the job. Instead of driving to the end of the road and going thirteen miles that way I was going thirteen miles the other way!
I was lucky that it came up at the right time for me, and it wasn’t somewhere at the other end of the country.

FOX: What were your first impressions?

GM: Well, obviously I knew plenty about Leicester, living in Barwell and it being the local derby. They had quite a good squad at the time. Coventry had a lot of promising young kids then, but at Leicester they were moved on that little bit, a bit more mature and experienced. When I first went to Coventry there was a bit of a heavy mob there, Willie Carr, Roy Barry, Ernie Hunt… a lot of old soldiers that had to be sorted out!There was a little bit of that at Leicester when I arrived. Obviously Jock Wallace had been very popular and there were a lot of his own men in there who were in the ’Jock Mould’. Which is all credit to him, but I needed to do things differently. There was a bit to go at there.

FOX: Which players did you need to ‘go at’?

GM: Remember this thing with Tom English and Jim Melrose? I really had no problem with Jim, except perhaps he was a bit of a scatterbrain as a player, but there would be a day when you could sell him to anybody because he had just scored three; and there was a day when nobody would want him because he had gone missing. And Eddie Kelly, he was a good midfielder, but definitely his own man. I thought his legs were going, but as a player that is very hard to admit. When I was playing for England I thought, well I’m better than Alan Ball, but somebody thought differently and they were probably right.
There was Alan Young the big centre-forward. Bobby Smith, who actually turned out good for me. I can’t remember the details but there was a group there and something had to change. Sometimes it is necessary when a new manager arrives. Big Sam has just gone to Newcastle and some players, their feet haven’t touched the ground on the way out. There are things that have to be done. But you can’t do it all straight away and you have to be careful. There was a group of experience there that you couldn’t just cast aside.  

FOX: Obviously it was a big change from Jock Wallace, how would you describe your own style of management?

GM: I’m certainly not a tea cup thrower. I did my work during the week, I liked to be out there on the pitch with Gerry Summers when I could. I tried to get a collective team spirit going and I liked players to balance each other so that they felt comfortable in what they were doing. I liked to put square pegs in square holes. Without me shouting and screaming I think they knew when to tow the line and when they could get away with a bit. I wanted them to believe in what we were doing, and I think in the end we had a pretty good side there.

FOX: Who do you consider to be your best signing for Leicester?

GM: Errm… should I say Tommy English?!

FOX: We were going to ask you about him later… do you realise how controversial that was at the time?

GM: No, I didn’t really. Coming back to Jim, I knew he was popular but I swapped him. My thinking was that Tom was young, while Jim was getting on. I think Dave Sexton sold him to Celtic and got quite a bit of money for him so there must have been more to Jim than I saw in him. Whereas Tom turned out to be a disaster and we got nothing for him. I probably didn’t anticipate how much pressure it put on Tom English. It put pressure on me as well with Jim being such a favourite.
I remember Tom scoring a hat-trick against Leicester at Highfield Road and we were very excited about this 18-19 year old who could produce goals out of nothing.
How Tom was, he was quite dozy. He’d always be saying “Oh what time’s training, is it 10 o’clock?”
But on the field I liked the way he used to glide about, quick and good at getting into position, but no. He let me down at Leicester. It didn’t mean enough to him, that was Tom’s problem. He was still very boyish and after a poor start he wasn’t strong enough to handle the criticism, and consequently he never performed.
I think my best signing was probably Gary McAllister and Ali Mauchlen on the same day, especially when you consider what we paid for them. Gary went on to become a world class player. Ali was the makeweight in the deal but he did just as well in a different way. 
Bob Hazell was a good signing – a good example of putting a square peg in a square hole. Bob was Bob. He did a steady job as a centre-half but he also gave us good mileage as a personality. The crowd loved him. He would frighten you to death but he was a gentle giant really.  

FOX: The arrival of Bob Hazell coincided with an up turn in fortunes in 83-84 after we had got off to a terrible start….

GM: Yes it did, not bad considering we couldn’t even get a pair of shorts to fit him!
Gerry Daly, I’m struggling to remember the details of signing Gerry, but he did very well for us. He was the impetus for that run that saw us get promoted. You know at that time with Gary Lineker and Alan Smith and Stevie Lynex we never had a problem scoring goals. You’d think at the start of the season well Gary will get 25 and Smudger will be good for 20 and Stevie Lynex could get 12 so you had almost 60 goals before you’d started! You knew you’d be at the right end of the table, but it was Gerry who pulled it altogether.

 FOX: Can you remember why he didn’t sign permanently for us that Summer?

GM: I think he got a very good offer from somewhere, I can’t recall where he went.
When you look at players today I don’t think there is anyone in this league better than Gerry. 

FOX: We just mentioned the 1983-84 season back in the First Division when the side got two points out of the first 30. How do you keep the players going during times like that, because it then turned round spectacularly…

GM: I remember it wasn’t easy. The knives were out for me and everyone was thinking it was time for a change. I remember being at Villa Park where we had just lost and I was in the car park and a load of fans were having a go at me thorough those big railings they used to have there. I went over and spoke to them about the situation, explaining what we were trying to do. But it was rocky for a while.
Once the supporters start to lose the belief that can affect the players and it gets where you can’t see a way out. But they just dug in, you know, and we saved the situation. Maybe it was something like signing Bob when we did. Who knows what turns it round sometimes.
I remember Ronnie Allen at Coventry saying: “You’ve got to give the fans hope.” Big Tommy Hutchinson was the sort of player who did that. He would beat four players then decide not to cross it, then lose it, then get it back and beat four again. It must have been frustrating for the strikers who played with him, but the fans loved him.
I still think that is true to this day. As a fan going to the game, you have to have somebody that you like to watch, especially if the team aren’t too good. Someone who can do something to make your trip worthwhile.  
But at that time it was strange because we went from losing all the bloody time to a great run where I really couldn’t see anyone beating us. I didn’t want that season to end.

FOX: There was a 3-3 draw at home to Liverpool late on in that season and Bob Paisley was very complimentary about us… 

GM: Yes, it was a fantastic game, I remember. We were going into those games against the top sides thinking that we were going to get a result.

FOX: If we could just go back to the promotion the year before, what do you remember of the delay when Fulham decided to appeal because of the pitch invasion at Derby?

GM: I can remember everyone celebrating in the dressing room and then suddenly somebody coming in and saying the game at Derby is still going on. Then it came through that the Fulham manager Malcolm MacDonald was going to protest to the League. I remember thinking: “Oh Christ Almighty!” We took the team off to Majorca I think, and it we were out there when the news broke that they’d given up their appeal.
What had really worried me was that if the League decided to replay the game it was then out of our hands. We couldn’t beat Burnley on the last game of the season, talk about not having a problem scoring goals, but we couldn’t get one that day. I felt like that was one of the days when they froze a little bit.

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 FOX: 29,000 turned out for that one when earlier in the season we got just over 6,000 for a league game…

GM: Yes, I remember walking through the car park before the game at around half eleven and there was a huge queue that went past the player’s entrance. As I excused myself through the queue I said to this chap: “This is a bit more like it isn’t it?” and he said: “I don’t know I’ve never been here before.”
But that’s what happens. 

FOX: You had a very special striker at the club at that time in Gary Lineker, did you see the signs then of what he would go on to achieve?

GM: Well he was just beginning really. The thing that first struck me about him was that he used to fall over a lot. Every time he turned his legs would get tangled up and over he’d go. It was a case of working on his control, because that was a bit loose and a ball played into him could pop off him. In his make up then that world class player was in there, but we had to work on making him a part of a team. Smudger was better at keeping the ball and holding it up, he had a good touch for a big feller.
There was no point really trying to turn Gary into an Alan Shearer type who could hold the ball up and shield it, instead we had to work on players getting the ball into areas where he wanted it. Gary was always very focussed on what he wanted to do. Even as a young lad he’d say: “No, I don’t want to do that.” I think Graham Taylor had a bit of a problem with him for England like that. You had to give him his head and come up with a system that suited him, without making it look as though you were doing him a favour in front of the other players. You had to provide the ammunition and the decoys for him. But I thought Gary and Smudger were a great partnership. Of course Gary went to Everton and Smudger went to Arsenal, but with Gary it was touch and go. I think if there had been a bit more cash around and I could have sat him down and said, “Right, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that…” I think we might have been able to keep him for another year or two. Obviously he wouldn’t have stayed forever. I thought that if I had been the manager of Liverpool or a club like that I would have taken the two of them together. They had such a good understanding I think they could have taken it to a higher level. People didn’t realise quite how good they were, because Gary was only a year at Everton and then he moved on to Barcelona. The two of them were a fantastic combination. They were good characters and they respected one another.  

FOX: Was it frustrating being the manager of what was undoubtedly a selling club at that time?

GM: Well, I was used to it because we had the same thing at Coventry where we were producing a lot of good young players and every year we were losing one. But that was the nature of the business then. I had Jimmy Hill as chairman then and I think he was one of the best chairmen you could ever hope to work for. He would say to me in the summer: “Look, this is what we’re doing, it might affect the team, but this is what we’re doing.” In a way that was him admitting that it was hard for me to lose good players and keep coming up with the results which took a little bit of pressure off from above.
At Leicester it was more of the same. You had a good relationship with players and what are you going to do? Tell Gary Lineker he can’t move to Everton or Alan Smith he can’t go to Arsenal? As an ex-player myself I would have made those kind of moves because you want the best for your career. We were getting very low gates and it was difficult to say to them, “We’re going places.”
That is why surviving that 83-84 season was so vital to us because if we had gone back down again we would have lost them. You can keep them if they know they will be playing Liverpool and Manchester United and we are up with the big boys.
But you know it was inevitable that we would lose them at some stage. It is even worse now with freedom of contract.
At least if we stayed up I could build something over two or three seasons. Work out a plan. I don’t think you can do that as a manager now, I think you just have to plan for the coming season and you can’t look any further than that.
I used to think at the end of the season: “Right, if we can hold on to our best players and maybe get a couple more key players in then we’ll really be competing.” But in the end we couldn’t do that and it was a bit disappointing.

Photos: Neville Chadwick Photography – enquires: info@chadwicksphoto.co.uk

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1 Comment

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One response to “Gordon Milne on Life as Leicester Boss

  1. LE9 Fox

    I liked Milne and the wheels really started to come off when he was ‘moved upstairs’ to make way for Bryan Hamilton. Didn’t Milne then go off and win loads of trophies with Turkish club sides??

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