Colin Appleton

Former Player Remembers: Colin Appleton

Following his sad passing on 31 May, 2021, we revisit an interview with the late Colin Appleton - a left-half who was captain of Leicester City's famous 1963 ‘Ice Kings’ side and also appeared in two FA Cup Finals and two League Cup Finals during his 12-year spell at Filbert Street between 1954 and 1966.
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He also represented the Army and the FA. Later he managed, with considerable success, four Football League teams and two non-league teams before retiring to live near his native Scarborough where, on two separate occasions, he spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his life in football.

Sitting in his living room in 2011, Colin began by describing how, while playing in his hometown as a schoolboy, he impressed Scarborough Town’s player-manager, an ex-Leicester City player called Reg Halton.   

“When I got home after playing  for Scarborough Town one day”, Colin recalled, “George Hardwick, who was manager at Oldham Athletic, was at home with my parents trying to sign me. When I next saw Reg, he said: ‘You are not going there. I am taking you to Leicester. Just like that!

“I went to Leicester as a trialist and then I was asked to go again. My parents were brilliant. They backed me all the way. The decision was mine. I had never been out of Scarborough or on a train before! I changed at York and at Sheffield and was met at Leicester by a super fellow called Channy (the Club's record goalscorer, Arthur Chandler). He took me to my lodgings at 155 Upperton Road, near the ground.

“My joinery apprenticeship was transferred to a firm in Leicester called Chithams, which was opposite the prison and which had connections with a Leicester director, Mr Sharp.

“I left Scarborough in March 1954 and I made my debut in September, against Manchester City. I lived for football. Don Walker, Frank McLintock (a painter and decorator), Eddie Russell and Ron Jackson (who were both teachers) and me were all part-timers. We were First Division footballers and only trained on Tuesday and Thursday nights!

“Channy was a good age when we were there, a lively fellow. His advice to me was: ‘Get yourself married. There will always be someone to go home to!’ He was right. There were only two things for me: football and family.

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Gordon Banks & Colin Appleton
Gordon Banks & Colin Appleton

Colin Appleton leads out the Foxes, with goalkeeper Gordon Banks behind him.

“I finished my apprenticeship when I was 21 and then I joined the army for my National Service. It was either that or go down the pits, which is what (Leicester City centre-half) Ian King did. He worked at Desford Colliery. I got a letter to report to the Derbyshire Regiment, but someone got me transferred to the Royal Leicester at Glen Parva Barracks. (City winger) Howard Riley was there. I was called up on the Monday and on Thursday I was on the way to Singapore to play for the Army. Howard and I were playing with top players in the Army like John White and Bobby Charlton. 

Playing alongside the likes of Rowley and ex-England internationals Johnny Morris and Jack Froggatt, Colin was part of City’s 1957 Promotion-winning side.

Reflecting on this, Colin said: “The best way to improve is to play with better players as I did as a youngster at Leicester.”

Colin left the Army in 1959. In 1961, he played in his first FA Cup Final against league champions Tottenham Hotspur. Colin remembers the occasion vividly. 

He continued: “We had beaten Spurs at White Hart Lane in the league but in the final, (full-back) Len Chalmers got injured early on and there were no substitutes in those days. We were effectively down to 10 men. Len hobbled on the wing in front of me. We also missed (Wales international centre-forward) Ken Leek who was dropped just before the game. He had scored in every round and always scored against Tottenham and (their centre-half) Maurice Norman. He had been reluctant to play after the semi-final due to an injury. Hughie McIlmoyle had been playing in his place, was scoring goals and was picked for the final. It was an opportunity for him.

“Bill Nicholson, the Spurs manager, was from Scarborough, like me. He wasn’t a talkative guy, but his judgement of football players was superb. After we lost the cup final, me, Albert Cheesebrough and Ken Keyworth were in an ordinary sized bath and Bill Nicholson came in with the cup and gave us a drink from it.”

A week later, Colin was half a world away on the FA Tour to the Far East and New Zealand in a squad captained by Tom Finney.

He explained: “The whole experience was brilliant. We went to Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand. One disappointing thing is that I have written to the FA for information about the tour and they haven’t got any. I played alongside Bobby Moore! He was a lovely fellow.”

In 1962/63, Colin was captain of the famous ‘Ice Kings’ Leicester team which had a realistic chance of winning the league and FA Cup double. Their opponents in the final were Manchester United, looking for their first trophy since the Munich Air disaster five years earlier.

As the teams were lining up, the Duke of Edinburgh came towards me and had to remind me that I had to introduce the players!

Colin Appleton

Colin said: “I was very honoured to be Leicester City’s captain. I was helped as captain by the quality of players we had but what does a captain do? Captains today are expected to have more influence in the dressing room. My approach as a captain was that all the players should do is get out there and play to the best of their ability. On the other hand, as time has gone on, I have looked back and wondered if they would have expected more of me off the pitch.

“Building up to the cup finals as captain made me wonder, am I an agent, am I a promoter? Also, how can a captain have a go at someone in the dressing room and expect them to go out and play better, because to do that you have to be in a good frame of mind.

“Before the cup final, we were moving house prior to the birth of our daughter. I had to go to Wembley for the press people on the Wednesday before the game. Because we had been to the final two years earlier, the TV producer said: ‘Talk us through coming from the hotel and going down Wembley Way’. They had me walking up the steps with the cup. This was tempting fate! Bearing in mind what happened, I should have said: ‘I’m not doing that!’

“I also remember that on the day, as the teams were lining up, the Duke of Edinburgh came towards me and had to remind me that I had to introduce the players!

“Leicester were red-hot favourites to beat Manchester United. They were at the bottom of the league. Quality counts, no matter how good your team work is. They had [Albert] Quixall, Charlton, [Johnny] Giles and [Denis] Law. There’s always one individual who can beat you on the day if you are not careful. On that day it was Law. He was special. They were too good. I can recall how I would tackle him and he would say: 'Do you want to play in the next game?'

The following season, Colin became the first City captain to lift a national trophy, when his team beat Stoke City in the two-leg League Cup final. Mention of Stoke prompted Colin to recall Stanley Matthews.

He said: “Whenever we played Stoke (left full-back) Richie Norman and I always thought about what was going to happen with Stanley Matthews (although he didn’t play in that final). He would drift over to the other side of the field so Richie had to decide whether to go with him. They had a right full-back called Calvin Palmer. A big tall lad. He would cause havoc coming down that side when Matthews had gone away.

“Actually I don’t remember too much about the final against Stoke. We never had in-depth team talks. It was good picking up the cup but when that was happening I was just thinking about the game. That’s me. I was always very single-minded and focused, always thinking about the game.

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Colin Appleton
Colin Appleton

Representing Leicester at Wembley Stadium.

“It was the same when I was presented with a gift when we played Atletico Madrid in the European Cup Winners' Cup a couple of years earlier. I would have been happier if someone had made me aware of my off-the-field club side of my duties as captain. If I was always thinking about football, or thinking ahead, I was not always thinking of the effects it had on me or on the team.”

Later that season, Colin was awarded a well-deserved testimonial with Leicester facing an All Star XI. Promising City youngster Bobby Svarc scored five goals in a 7-3 victory for Colin’s side.

Having been a virtual ever-present in the side for over five seasons, Colin then recalled being injured in the 1964/65 season: “On 19 September, 1964, at about 4pm, in a game against Arsenal, this player, who was like a barn door, went in on my standing leg. It just went. He didn’t even get booked! I ended up going on a stretcher to the dressing room and all I could think of was getting back on the pitch and they let me! There were no substitutes then. I played again within four weeks but in the next eight months of that playing season I had two operations on both sides of my knee. I think I also did my cruciate a bit. Matt [Gillies] got me back as soon as he could. I think he thought I was his lucky mascot. Even today there is a difference in size between my two knees. There are big scars and it gives me pain.”

After the injury, Colin had to adjust his style of play, as he explained: “Because it was my right leg and I was a left pegger, I had to use my right leg more to kick the ball, because if I stood on my right leg to kick with my left it would give way.”

Colin once again captained Leicester in the 1965 League Cup final, this time against Chelsea, who won the cup in another two-legged final. City lost 3-2 on aggregate.  Colin’s final season at Filbert Street was in 1965/66, the season that Derek Dougan joined the Club.

Remembering this, he laughed: “When Derek found out that I was a joiner, he got me to fit his kitchen whilst he was away on Northern Ireland duty!”

He then went on to explain why, after 12 years at Filbert Street, he moved to Second Division side Charlton Athletic at the end of that season: “Charlton’s manager was Bob Stokoe who had a very good reputation. He wanted to sign me as captain and I needed to secure my future. My ex-Leicester team-mate Ian King had moved there a couple of months earlier. He lived three doors down from us.”

Moving to the Valley was a bit of a culture shock for Colin: “Charlton’s game preparations were totally different from what I was used to. At Leicester, our routine was to be ready at 9:45am for training and out you would go. At Charlton we started at 11am, because some of the players lived two-and-a-half hours away and had to get across London. The only stamina work we did was on the terraces. I’d never come across this before. It didn’t do my knee much good!”

After a year at the Valley, Colin became player-manager at Barrow, who were then a Football League side in the old Third Division. This was followed by a player-manager spell at his home town club, Scarborough Town, where he was an FA Trophy winner three times in the 1970s.

He then went on to manage Football League clubs Hull City (winning promotion from the old Fourth Division), Swansea City, and Exeter City as well as having a spell at Bridlington Town.

Leicester City's thoughts are with Colin's friends and family at this sad time.

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