Dennis Rofe

Former Player Remembers: Dennis Rofe

Dennis Rofe, who captained both Leicester City and Chelsea in the 1970s and 1980s, recently caught up with Club Historian John Hutchinson about his lifetime in football.
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A key member of Jimmy Bloomfield’s entertaining Leicester sides, he also played for Frank McLintock and Jock Wallace at Filbert Street.

He made 324 starts for the Foxes before being signed by Chelsea manager Geoff Hurst in February 1980.

Dennis started his football career at Leyton Orient, who had spotted him while playing for East London Boys in a cup final at the club's Brisbane Road ground.

Dennis explained: “After the game, four of us were asked to join the club for schoolboy training. Three of us, myself, Paul Went and Terry Brisley went on to have lengthy football league careers. Dave Sexton was the manager at the time, followed by Dick Graham and Jimmy Bloomfield.

“Whilst I was playing in the youth team, I was named on the teamsheet for a night game at Bristol Rovers. I thought I was just going to put the kit out but I was on the bench. When our left-back was injured, I went on and within 20 minutes I’d scored! In those days there was no M4 so it took us a long time to get back from Bristol. When I got home my father, a London bus driver who always gave me great support, asked how the team had got on, and when I told him we had won 2-0 and that I had scored he jumped out of bed! He didn’t even know I had played! The next day he bought every daily paper!”

Dennis kept his place in the team, won the Third Division title under Bloomfield in 1970 and two years later was in the Orient side which reached the FA Cup Quarter-Finals, beating Bloomfield’s Leicester in the process.

Remembering that match, Dennis recalled: “Fortunately for us, Peter Shilton was injured. We won 2-0. Jimmy came into our dressing room afterwards and shook everybody’s hand. although he was obviously very disappointed that Leicester had been beaten, even though the Orient side was largely his old team.”

In August 1972, Dennis followed Bloomfield to Leicester.

It was the first time I’d come across Frank. I was 22. After three months in the Holiday Inn with Frank I felt like I was 38! Frank was a marvellous man, a very charismatic person. It was a great time.

Dennis Rofe

He added: “Jim had come in for me earlier but the Orient chairman didn’t want to let me go because the club was struggling. Unbeknown to Orient though, Jim had rung me to assure me that one day the transfer would happen and it did. At the start of the 1972/73 season, Orient accepted a bid of £112,000 for me. This was the record fee for a full-back until Leicester sold David Nish to Derby County 24 hours later!

“I was earning £30-a-week at Leyton Orient. Before signing for Leicester, (Orient players) Terry Mancini and Peter Brabrook both said I needed to double my money and that whatever I did I wasn’t to accept Leicester’s first offer. Driving up the M1 in my white Vauxhall Viva I decided to ask for £70.

“I arrived at Filbert Street. I thought I was going to the industrial north! I was shown into the oak panelled board room with a lovely big table in the middle. I thought that this is where I wanted to be! Jim came in. He was the smartest man I ever saw in football with collar, tie and suit. I was just thinking: ‘Don’t take his first offer’. Then he said: ‘Den, I’m not going to beat about the bush. You want to come here. I want you here. I will give you £100-a-week’. I thought: ‘Quick. Give me a pen!’”

Dennis hardly missed a game for the next seven-and-a-half years.

“I settled in very quickly,” he said. “There were Londoners at the Club, like Birch (Alan Birchenall), Jon Sammels, Keith Weller and Len Glover and I felt at home instantly. I signed the day after Frank Worthington. Jim put me in the Holiday Inn along with Frank and said that I could stay there as long as I wanted to until I got a house. It was the first time I’d come across Frank. I was 22. After three months in the Holiday Inn with Frank I felt like I was 38! Frank was a marvellous man, a very charismatic person. It was a great time.

 “I got married on 5 November, 1972 after joining the Club in August. My wife Sue was also from Essex. We played Manchester United on the Saturday. The next day, we got married in London, by special permission, and then drove back to Leicester. We played Norwich in the Texaco Cup on the Tuesday. We moved into a new four bedroomed detached house in Narborough before Christmas.”

Dennis enjoyed playing for Bloomfield and progressed well: “Jim wasn’t the greatest defensive coach in the world, but he could get players playing. He instilled confidence in you. In my first season at Leicester, I got picked for an FA XI to play Gibraltar. Then at the end of the season, I went on the England Under-23s tour to Holland, Denmark and Czechoslovakia and I played against Czechoslovakia. The irony of that was that the Club had arranged to go to Barbados for 19 days. The boys disappeared to Barbados and I had to go to Czechoslovakia! But I wouldn’t part with my Under-23s cap for the world.”

“One of the big things at Leicester was team spirit. On a Saturday night, about half a dozen of us and our wives would go to the Costa Brava restaurant. The little man in charge was called Ramon Fernandes, who had a cigar which was bigger than him! We would stay there until about four in the morning. There was also a wonderful night club at the top of London Road called Granny’s. When we got back after an away game we would go to the pubs. Some of used to stay for half a shandy and some, like Frank, would stay out a bit longer. We also had tables in Baileys, where we got friendly with Showaddywaddy.”

Dennis scored some memorable goals for Leicester City. One was a solo run from the half-way line to clinch a win at against Birmingham City at St. Andrews. 

He continued: “For some reason in that game, Jimmy elected to play with a back three. I started the game as a left-wing-back. We’d had a few words in the dressing room at half-time about this back three. I wasn’t very happy. Near the end, Jon Sammels hit a lovely through ball. The Birmingham back four pushed up, I got through, took off like a scolded cat, went round the 'keeper and slotted it in. 

“I also got both goals at Swansea in a 2-0 win. Alan Curtis told me later that their goalkeeper’s hands were still tingling from trying to stop those shots! I also scored against QPR’s Phil Parkes from a free-kick in my own half! I scored 13 goals in my career and I could run you through all of them!”

Despite City finishing the season in a creditable mid-table position, Bloomfield resigned in May 1977.

Dennis’s views are clear: “I couldn’t see the sense in getting rid of Jim. Frank McLintock was a popular replacement as he had been such a good player at Leicester but it was a disastrous season. One the problems was that Frank commuted from London and was sometimes a little bit late getting to Leicester because of being stuck on the M1. He made me his captain. He was good with the players. He was fair. But when things go wrong you need experience to guide you to safety and he didn’t have that. For Leicester to go down after what had been achieved in the previous half a dozen years was difficult.”

Wallace replaced McLintock in June 1978.

Dennis remembered: “On pre-season training he had us running up sand dunes at Wanlip and in Scotland! It was good for team building but I don’t think sports scientists would allow it this these days!

Looking back, Leicester has a real tug at my heart strings. I had great times there. It was a great part of my life.

Dennis Rofe

“It was hard to understand Jock’s Scottish accent. I was captain of the team and very early on in his reign, he pulled me in the office on a Monday morning. I walked through the door and he pinned me up against the wall! He said: ‘You’re my captain. Don’t pull a deaf’un at me during the game when I shout at you’. I said: ‘Boss! You’ve got to understand this. When I’m speaking to you now, I can just about understand what you are saying. On the pitch, when you and 30,000 others are shouting, I can’t understand what you say!’

“He said: ‘Okay wee man, as long as we’ve straightened that out!’ When we were on away trips he would say to me: ‘Skipper, get the boys together for a wee blether or a wee gander!’ I would say: ‘What does that mean?’ Blether meant talk, gander meant walk. I told him I needed subtitles! Jock was a marvellous man though. If you put in a shift for him, he would fight the world for you. His man management was first-class and he knew the game.”

Wallace looked to Dennis, as team captain, to guide the youngsters being introduced to the team, like Gary Lineker, Andy Peake and Larry May but then, in February 1980, Denis signed for promotion rivals Chelsea.

Dennis explained: “I was over 30 and I wanted to get back to the First Division. I’d spoken to Jock about this. When Geoff Hurst came in for me, they were top of the league and Leicester were about fourth. I thought Chelsea were going to go up, so I joined them. If ever I’m betting on anything, don’t listen because I am hopeless! Leicester went up as champions and Chelsea missed out on promotion on goal difference!”

Reflecting on his two seasons with the Blues, Dennis recalled: “Chelsea had some good players, like Micky Droy, Ian Britton, and Peter Borota, a goalkeeper who would never get in his goal in the warm-up. This infuriated the likes of Colin Lee, Clive Walker and Tommy Langley.

“Chelsea was going through a transition period. Ken Bates took over from the Mears people. At Stamford Bridge, whenever the ball went behind the goal, the greyhound track around the pitch meant that it took ages to get the ball back.

“I was captain at Chelsea. I left after two seasons. I had been injured towards the end and to help me, John Neill, who was then the manager, gave me a free transfer. I was living near Guilford and my next door neighbour, who is still a good friend, suggested that I rang (Southampton manager) Lawrie McMenemy! So I rang him on a Friday and on the Monday he offered three months at the start of the next season to show what I could do.”

Dennis spent two years as a player for First Division Southampton before becoming their reserve team coach and then first team coach. He had three spells with the Saints, totalling 18 years, which included the 2003 FA Cup Final. Dennis also managed Bristol Rovers, worked for the Football League assessing academies and was tempted back to coaching in 2012 at Bournemouth by their manager (the ex-Leicester City player) Paul Groves.

Dennis concluded: “Unfortunately Paul got the sack. I took over for a couple of games and that was my last full-time job in football. I tell people though that I’ve never worked, because all my life people have given me money for playing, coaching and managing football! That’s not work is it?

“Looking back, Leicester has a real tug at my heart strings. I had great times there. It was a great part of my life.”

Leicester City Crest

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