Jim Melrose

Former Player Remembers: Jim Melrose

Partick Thistle striker Jim Melrose signed for Jock Wallace’s Leicester City in July 1980. A Club-record signing at the time, he went on to make 86 appearances and score 26 goals in just over two years at Filbert Street.
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Earlier this season he spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his 16 years in first team football, and how, after a spell as a football agent, he subsequently returned to Filbert Street as Martin O’Neill’s Chief Scout before pursuing a career in banking.  

“I’d played for Glasgow Schoolboys at Primary School level,” Jim began. “I started training with Partick Thistle when I was about 11. In 1971, when I was 13, I signed an associated form with them just after they had beaten Celtic in the League Cup Final.

“At the time I played for an amateur club called Eastercraigs. I got my schoolboy caps and I turned pro when I was 15-and-a-half in 1975. When I left school I was lucky enough to get into the first team when I was 16.

“The manager was very progressive so I got my chance early on. There were more opportunities at small clubs. I stayed at Partick for five really good years. It was a part-time club and my dad made me take a trade and I served my time as an electrical engineer. As soon as my time was out, Jock Wallace signed me for Leicester City in June 1980. He had already tried to sign me a couple of times when he was manager at Glasgow Rangers and being a Rangers fan that would have been ideal.

“While I was at Thistle I played for Scotland under-18s. In 1976 we won the initial World Cup which was in the south of France. Then I got 10 Under-21s caps and also represented the Scottish League.”

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Leicester City 1981/82

Back: Lineker, Peake, Williams, O’Neill, MacDonald, Henderson, Gibson; Middle: Ramsey, Scott, Young, May, Walker, Wallington, Leet, Welsh, Hamill; Front: MacFarlane (Asst Manager), Grewcock, Buchanan, Lynex, Melrose, Wilson, Smith, Friar, Wallace (Manager).

When Jim moved to Filbert Street in the summer of 1980, Wallace’s young Leicester City side had just been promoted to the old First Division as Second Division title holders.

“This happened in the days before there were agents,” Jim continued. “Jock phoned my dad and said he wanted to sign me. Celtic were also trying to sign me. The Leicester City chairman Dennis Sharp and the Secretary Alan Bennett came up to meet me in Glasgow. It was the first year in Scotland of freedom of contract. A tribunal was avoided and Leicester agreed to pay £250,000. It was all done very simply.

 “Going to Leicester is what I wanted to do. I never suffered from homesickness but it helped that there were 14 other Scots on Leicester’s books! I wanted to immerse myself in Leicestershire life.”

“The difference playing in England was more physical than technical,” Jim reflected. “It took a long time to adjust to full time training. At Partick Thistle we would train on Monday and Tuesday nights, rest on Wednesday, have light training on Thursday night, rest on Friday and play on Saturday. The full time training at Leicester was all about learning to rest up and recharge your batteries. That was difficult. It shouldn’t have been because in Glasgow I’d worked an eight-hour day as an electrical engineer before training. It wasn’t light work. We were carrying a lot of machinery about. I think the difference was psychological if the ruth be told.”

 At Leicester, Jim found himself in a side which was relegated at the end of his first season, despite manager Wallace’s optimistic predictions  for achieving success.

Thinking back, Jim remembered some of the highlights from that year: “We beat Liverpool 2-0 at Filbert Street early in the season. Andy Peake scored a hell of a goal that day. It was a great strike from 30 yards out. Martin Henderson also scored. We also beat Liverpool at Anfield. That was a funny few days. We were knocked out of the FA Cup by Exeter on the Wednesday night and then went to Anfield on the Saturday. Liverpool hadn’t lost at home for 85 matches, we were bottom of the table and we won 2-1! Liverpool went ahead when Alan Young scored an early own goal, Paddy Byrne scored an equaliser and I was lucky enough to score the winning goal.

The great thing about Jock [Wallace] was when you were playing well, he never spoke to you. He used to ignore you. When you didn’t play well, that's when he would talk to you and he would try and turn you around. That was just brilliant.

Jim Melrose

“The following week we beat Manchester United 1-0 at Filbert Street and I scored the goal. A couple of weeks later we went Tottenham. I got knocked out in the second half and to this day I still don’t remember starting the game let alone anything else. We won 2-1 that day as well and Paddy Byrne got the winner.”

Jim also mentioned scoring a hat-trick in a 3-2 victory in the last match of the season at Norwich City, before going on to reflect on the reasons for Leicester City’s relegation.

“There’s a bit of a myth about that hat-trick,” Jim said. “A lot of people say that Norwich were relegated because of it, but like us, they were already down.

“We had a young side. We were all about 21 and the trouble with young players is that you are either really up or really down. We found it difficult to be consistent. We could play against the best teams, no problem, but we were bad against the worst teams and they are the ones we had to beat.”

Back in the Second Division Jim’s performances in the 1981/82 season made him popular with the Filbert Street crowd. However, the emergence of Gary Lineker meant that despite making 28 starting appearances in League and Cup competitions, he often had to fulfil the role of a super-sub, most memorably when he scored twice in the 5-2 victory over Shrewsbury Town in the FA cup quarter-final when Leicester had to play three goalkeepers following an injury to Mark Wallington.

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Jim Melrose

Jim Melrose scored twice in a 5-2 win for the Foxes against Shrewsbury.

“At the start of the season, Gary [Lineker] and I were playing together and then I got injured against Orient and that kept me out for quite a while. Youngy (Alan Young) and Gary sort of took over, but I was lucky enough to come on as a sub and score a few goals. I came on in the FA Cup Semi-Final when we lost to Spurs at Villa Park. I remember [Leicester City midfielder] Ian Wilson scoring. He chipped Wally (Mark Wallington). What a great finish! Unfortunately it was an own goal! Later Tommy Williams broke his leg."

Three months later, Jim was sorry to see Wallace leave Filbert Street for Motherwell.

“Jock for me was the best man manager that I have ever played for,” he stated. “Tactically, he may have been a little bit suspect, but in terms of winding me up and getting me going, he was different class. People say he was a big gruff giant but all he wanted was for you to do the very best you could. The great thing about Jock was when you were playing well, he never spoke to you. He used to ignore you. When you didn’t play well, that's when he would talk to you and he would try and turn you around. That was just brilliant.”

The new manager Gordon Milne started the new season playing Jim alongside Lineker, Steve Lynex and recent signing Alan Smith. However in September 1982, to the disappointment of the fans, he was exchanged for Tommy English who came from Milne’s old club Coventry City. 

“I enjoyed my time at Leicester and I didn't really want to leave,” Jim recalled. “I was settled and my eldest boy had been born there, but Gordon Milne decided that Tom English was a better player than me. In fairness to Gordon, a few years later he said to me: 'Look, I made a mistake and I tried to buy you back several times when I was at Leicester'. That meant a lot to me, because I didn't want to leave Leicester. 

“However, leaving Leicester marked me for the rest of my career because I decided at that point, that if clubs don't have any loyalty to us players why should I have loyalty towards clubs?”

Just the thought of going back to Leicester and back into the dressing room was too much to say no to.

Jim Melrose

Jim’s subsequent career reflects this decision. After a year at Coventry City he signed for Celtic, appearing in the Scottish FA Cup Final and League Cup Final.

“Given the fact that I’m from the blue side of Glasgow,” Jim explained, “It wasn’t the best decision I ever made. At the time Glasgow was renowned for its problems. Also Celtic are a club with huge expectations and I couldn’t handle it, it’s as simple as that.”

After a short loan spell at Molineux, Jim’s next move was to Billy McNeill’s Manchester City in November 1984.

“Manchester City was a great club with great supporters, he said. "There were a number of Scottish players there too, which helped, particularly with the sense of humour in the dressing room. We beat Charlton 5-1 in the last game of the season to gain promotion to the First Division. Tragically that was the same day as the Bradford City fire when a lot of people lost their lives.”

In March 1986, Jim signed for Charlton Athletic, who were battling with Leicester City to avoid relegation from the top flight.

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Jim Melrose

Jim Melrose later joined Charlton Athletic after spells at Coventry, Celtic Wolves and Manchester City.

“Lenny Lawrence the manager believed in me. I was very happy there but my family situation dictated that I had to move on. We were expecting our third child, we couldn’t sell our house in Cheshire and my wife didn’t want to move to London, so I went to Leeds United (in September 1987). Soon afterwards, my good lady had the temerity of going into labour on the Friday and having Lindsey, my daughter, on the Saturday morning. Manager Billy Bremner told me to go to London to play against Millwall. I told him I couldn’t as I had two young lads at home  to look after. I never played for Leeds again. They never spoke to me again. They bombed me out because I refused to go to London. That's what it was like in football clubs in those days. Even if you were injured, most managers wouldn't talk to you.”

In August 1990 Jim had a brief spell with Conference side Macclesfield Town

“I was there for a month,” Jim continued. “I just didn’t want to do it. I fell out of love with the game. I’d been playing first team football for 16 years, so I fell into doing other things.

“I was an agent for a while. I brought [Neil] Lennon to Leicester City. Then Martin O’Neill decided I was a half decent judge of a player and offered me the Chief Scout’s job at Filbert Street (in November 1996). Just the thought of going back to Leicester and back into the dressing room was too much to say no to. It was a successful time for the Club, but I left when Martin went to Celtic. I didn’t want to go back to Glasgow so I fell into banking in Manchester would you believe? I worked for a finance company who wanted to get into funding transfer fees etc. I’ve been in and out of that ever since and I’m currently working with a London bank.”

Leicester City Crest