Gary McAllister

Former Player Remembers: Gary McAllister

Gary McAllister, who made a combined total of over 300 appearances for Leicester City and Liverpool, recently spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his spells at Filbert Street and Anfield.
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Gary was a title winner at Leeds United, later becoming their manager, captained Scotland, and spent four years at Coventry City, returning to become player-manager after his treble-winning spell at Liverpool.

He began by recalling his early career at hometown club Motherwell: “I’d played for my local boys' club from about eight or nine years of age. There weren’t any academies then but there was an affiliation between the boys' club and the senior club, so I was well known at Motherwell. Way back then, Scottish schoolboys were not allowed to sign for English clubs. That was one of the reasons I signed for my hometown club.

“Motherwell’s manager was Scottish international David Hay, who had made his career at Celtic and Chelsea, so I was signing for somebody I had a lot of respect for. I was in the first team when I was 17. When David was whisked away to manage Celtic, Jock Wallace came in from Leicester City (in 1983), so for my first two years at Motherwell, I had two very big names as managers. They laid the foundations for my career.”

Gary was a key member of the Motherwell side that won the Scottish First Division title in 1985, as well as reaching the Scottish Cup Semi-Finals. His performances that season, along with those of his team-mate Ali Mauchlen alerted manager Gordon Milne at Leicester City.

He continued: “I became aware of Leicester’s interest in 1984/85. We had done pretty well. There was also a lot of speculation around Ali and I was being linked to a few clubs as well. After a Lanarkshire Cup tie against Hamilton Accies, in a little pre-season tournament, we heard that Milne had watched the game from the terraces.”

The game was against Everton, with the newly-signed Gary Lineker in their side. Mark Bright was playing for Leicester as his replacement. He scored twice and Leicester won 3-1.

Gary McAllister

Milne signed Gary and Ali in August 1985 for a combined total of £350,000 using money generated by the sale of Gary Lineker to league champions Everton.

At that point, McAllister was seen as the makeweight in the deal, but he very soon made his mark.

“Before signing for Leicester, we had played the season’s opening game for Motherwell,” he added. “The opening game in England was the following week. We had come down midweek and had spent a couple of days training. Obviously we weren’t involved in the first game of the English season. I sat in the stands with Ali. The game was against Everton, with the newly-signed Gary Lineker in their side. Mark Bright was playing for Leicester as his replacement. He scored twice and Leicester won 3-1.”  

Gary soon became an established Leicester City player, adapting quickly to the English game. He rose to prominence by creating chances for a team which included Steve Lynex and Alan Smith.

“There were good players in Scotland in the '80s but the quality was there in England. You had to adapt to the speed and to the physicality of the game. The stadiums were better. The facilities were on another level.

“Alan Smith (who went on eventually to play for Arsenal and England) was one of those strikers who always put himself forward for the pass, making angles and making himself available. He wasn’t just a goalscorer. He was a skilful player for a big guy.”

In Gary’s second season at Filbert Street, Milne became general manager and Bryan Hamilton took over as team manager. At the end of the season, Leicester were relegated.

Gary explained: “He (Hamilton) played me off the front man and played me on the sides. It was an unsettled time at the Club. A few senior players wanted to leave. It was a transition period. The calmness had left the dressing room a wee bit.”

Leicester made a disappointing start to their first season back in the second tier, sinking to the foot of the table by the New Year. Hamilton was sacked in December and was replaced by David Pleat.

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Gary McAllister
Gary McAllister

Gary was a popular figure at Filbert Street.

“When David came there was a definite change,” said Gary. “He brought a few players in and the style changed. He had come from Spurs and he had worked there with some of my favourite players like [Glenn] Hoddle, [Osvaldo] Ardiles and [Chris] Waddle. He brought that experience to Filbert Street and Belvoir Drive. I enjoyed my time playing under Pleat. He had massive football knowledge. He is like a walking encyclopaedia.”

Following Pleat’s appointment, the Club had a great run, rising to mid-table by the end of the season with Gary as top scorer: “Our improvement has something to do with the style of Pleat. We scored goals. We perhaps neglected the other part of our game, defending our goal. He was very offensive in his thinking. It was all about getting the ball forward into good areas and playing football on the deck.”

The next two seasons (1988/89 and 1989/90) did not build on this good start under Pleat, with the Club finishing 15th and 13th. Gary, however, was playing very impressively. There was constant transfer speculation about him moving back to a top flight club. He was twice selected for in the PFA Second Division Team of the Season and became a full Scotland international in April 1990.

“It was very rare for a player in England from the Second Division to get into the Scotland side, especially back then. I very much wanted to help Leicester back up into the top division but after a couple of seasons of not getting back up, I wanted to get back into the First Division. Nottingham Forest came in for me a couple of times. I watched Forest a lot as they were near neighbours and I was a fan of Brian Clough but my meeting with him just didn’t go well. It was sad because I think, looking back, I would have loved to have played under Clough.”

In June 1990, Gary signed for newly-promoted Leeds United in a £1M transfer, a record incoming fee for Leicester City.

Gary added: “Leeds, after several seasons in the old Second Division, had just won promotion. I went to meet their chief executive and Howard Wilkinson, their manager. You could tell in their voices that they were excited about the prospect of being back in the big league. I had scored quite a few goals against Leeds and that was one of the attractions for Howard Wilkinson.”

To be part of winning the league, as Leicester know, was amazing. The whole city was buzzing, just like Leicester was in 2016.

Gary McAllister

Leeds United became league champions in 1992, in their second season back in the top flight.

He continued: “After Gordon Strachan started going into coaching and wasn’t playing as many games, I became captain. Leeds is a big city club. Our midfield that won the league was Strachan, [Davod] Batty, [Gary] Speed and myself. We also had Lee Chapman. To be part of winning the league, as Leicester know, was amazing. The whole city was buzzing, just like Leicester was in 2016.”

However, Leeds United, like Leicester City, found it difficult to defend their title the following season: “There are big similarities between what happened to Leeds and to Leicester. Both teams had done well in the seasons before their title. Both clubs had got into the habit of winning games. I suppose the problem was that once you started losing, and Leeds had a problem with away fixtures, it’s difficult to get out of it.

“Leeds just stayed up and the following season pulled it back again (finishing fifth) and my thinking is that after this dip, Leicester can pull it back too.”

After six seasons at Elland Road, Strachan’s Coventry City paid £3M for Gary. He stayed at Highfield Road for the next four years. During this time he captained Scotland to the 1998 World Cup finals, which he missed out on due to injury.

Explaining why he moved from Elland Road, Gary said: “It was the first time I’d moved for financial reasons. I was offered a deal that I just couldn’t turn down. I thought this might be my last contract. Sky’s influence was becoming greater. Footballers’ salaries were rising.”

It wasn’t Gary’s last contract though. In July 2000, he moved to Liverpool on a free Bosman transfer: “Gerard Houllier wanted to bring in an experienced player to help their very exciting young players like [Michael] Owen, [Steven] Gerrard, [Jamie] Carragher and [Robbie] Fowler. He wanted a senior player around them during the week to prepare them. The job entails Monday to Friday, not just a matchday. The remit wasn’t for me to play every game but I was involved in more games than people thought I would be. It was a dream come true. The connection I made with the Club, with the fans and with my team-mates was something which made me pinch myself.

“In my two seasons there, we did well in the league and in my first season, we won the treble (the League Cup, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup).

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Gary McAllister and Matt Elliott
Gary McAllister and Matt Elliott

McAllister in action for Liverpool against the Foxes.

“To be part of Liverpool’s wonderful history, and to win the treble was pretty special. I embraced Liverpool’s history and achievements. Also over the years, Liverpool always had a Scotsman around their big victories right back to Bill Shankly and Ian St John. The other thing was that I always felt that, even at 35, the fear of failing was there. I have always been inspired by that.”

Gary was Man of the Match in the UEFA Cup Final against Deportivo Alaves, scoring a penalty and making two assists for Markus Babbel and Robbie Fowler to score. He also took the free-kick which resulted in Alaves scoring in their own net in extra time, a goal which secured a 5-4 victory for the Reds on the golden goal rule.

Gary recalled: “That was a bizarre game! It should have been five or six but it was 4-4 at full-time. We won the game with a golden goal which happened when I took a free-kick which skimmed the head of the Alaves player who put through his own net. I had also scored in the semi-final against Barcelona. That game was finely poised at 0-0, when there was a bizarre decision by Patrick Kluivert to handball in his own box from one of our corners. I scored the penalty. The game after the final was also crucial. We had to jump straight on a plane the following morning and head to London to play Charlton, who we had to beat to finish in the top four. We did win and that rounded off the season brilliantly.

“Being awarded the MBE for services to football was a huge honour. The day at Buckingham Palace was a wonderful experience. The profile of winning the treble at Liverpool helped. It never ceases to amaze me how big and how global Liverpool is. You don’t realise until you are involved with the club. My role as Liverpool Ambassador meant that I represented the club right across the world. I was very privileged and honoured to do this work.

“Brendan [Rodgers] brought me back in 2015 to coach at Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp came in and it was fantastic to watch some of the performances.”

Currently the assistant manager at Glasgow Rangers, Gary concluded: “I have a genuine fondness for Leicester. They gave me a big break as a 19-year-old when I first came down to England. I am very positive about the Club and want Leicester City to do well.”

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