Frank Sinclair

Former Player Remembers: Frank Sinclair

Last month Frank Sinclair talked to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his lengthy career in football. A club record signing Leicester City in August 1998, Frank made a combined total of over 400 appearances for Chelsea and Leicester City between 1991 and 2004
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He was an FA Cup winner and European Cup Winners Cup winner with Chelsea and a League Cup winner with both Chelsea and Leicester City. His 28 appearances for Jamaica included playing the 1998 World Cup Finals. He also played for Burnley, Huddersfield Town, Lincoln City and Wycombe Wanderers before playing and managing in non-league football. He is currently assistant manager of Radcliffe FC in the Northern Premier League.

Frank began by explaining how he came to join Chelsea.

“I was a South London lad, but I went to school in West London, in Pimlico,” he said. “I represented the West London region and started representing London in my first year at senior school. A lot of scouts watched these games and I was offered trials at Wimbledon, Chelsea and Arsenal. I went on trial to Wimbledon, who were in the Premier League, at their old Plough Lane ground. In the same week, I went to Chelsea. I enjoyed it so much there that I didn’t even bother going to Arsenal. I committed myself to Chelsea. I went through all the age groups there from the Under-11s to the Under 16s. Then I earned a two-year scholarship before becoming a professional.

“I’m right-footed and saw myself as a centre-back, which I preferred, or right-back. As a first-year professional I had to play at left-back in the reserves because we had a good crop of young players who were older than me. This was a great learning curve. It gave me different problems to solve and helped me improve using my left foot.

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Frank Sinclair

Frank Sinclair (right) lifted the FA Cup while at Chelsea in 1997 before winning the League Cup a year later.

“I made my first team debut after a short spell on loan at West Brom under Bobby Gould. This was cut short when I was sent off. I went back to Chelsea, served my ban and then got my opportunity in the first team, making my debut against Luton Town in the old Division One.

“Bobby Campbell was the manager. My second manager at Chelsea was Ian Porterfield and then David Webb took over for a short spell. He was brilliant for me. He took a shine to me because of the way I played. I was quite physical for my age and was very determined. Like me he was a no-nonsense centre-half or right-back. He’d pull me aside after training and work on little bits and pieces to help me improve.

“Glenn Hoddle, coming in as player-manager [in 1993] was the start of where Chelsea are today. He bought into the vision that Ken Bates had to improve Chelsea. He transformed the way we played. He wanted a more attractive type of football which, to be honest, Chelsea hadn’t seen for many years.”

At the end of Hoddle’s first season, Chelsea reached the 1994 FA Cup Final.

“I think we overachieved that year. We beat Manchester United, home and away, even though they won the League and FA Cup double. Playing in the cup final against them was a great experience for me. It’s what your dreams are made of. We lost 4-0 but we had a lot of young players who’d come through the Academy. I was only 21. We were playing against the likes of [Ryan] Giggs, [Andrei] Kanchelskis, [Mark] Hughes, [Eric] Cantona and [Paul] Ince and the famous defence of [Peter] Schmeichel, [Steve] Bruce, [Gary] Pallister, [Dennis] Irwin and [Paul] Parker. It was all part of the process of us improving as a football club. After that final, we started to sign internationals like Mark Hughes, Ruud Gullit and Dan Petrescu. The club was going in the right direction.”

The following season, Chelsea reached the UEFA Cup Semi-Finals.

“Chelsea hadn’t been in Europe since the early 1970s,” frank continued. “The atmosphere in those midweek European games at Stamford Bridge was unbelievable. It was a great experience for me as a young player. It was a massive learning curve. We lost in the semi-final to Zaragoza, who had (future Chelsea star) Gus Poyet playing for them.”

Winning the FA Cup after losing in the 1994 Final was a sweet moment for me. When we won the League Cup in 1998 I scored in the Final.

Frank Sinclair

In May 1996 Ruud Gullit replaced Glenn Hoddle as manager, a post he held until February 1998.

Frank continued: “The most successful period of my career was between 1997 and 1998 when we won the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup. Winning three cups in two years was phenomenal.

“Winning the FA Cup after losing in the 1994 Final was a sweet moment for me. When we won the League Cup in 1998 I scored in the Final. That was bitter-sweet for me. It was a massive surprise that this ended up being my last game for Chelsea. I got a groin injury in the final that kept me out for the rest of the season, hence me missing the European Cup Winners' Cup Final when we beat Stuttgart, although I still got a medal. I went to Leicester City during the summer.”

That summer, before his move to Leicester City in August 1998, Frank played for Jamaica in the World Cup Finals in France.

“Representing Jamaica was a great experience," he said. "I grew up dreaming of playing for England. I got called into a couple of Terry Venables’ England squads in the mid-1990s making up the numbers but I was never officially in the squad.

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Frank Sinclair

The defender made a total of 28 appearances for Jamaica.

“When I got the opportunity to represent the country of my heritage in a World Cup, I couldn’t turn it down. It made my Jamaican-born parents very proud. Going back to Jamaica with the Jamaica squad was an unbelievable experience. It was like you had twenty David Beckhams. You couldn’t go anywhere! We were the first Caribbean team to qualify for the World Cup, which was a massive achievement.

“We were in a strong group. We beat Japan, after getting thumped by Argentina when [Gabriel] Batistuta scored a hat-trick. We were unlucky to lose narrowly to Croatia when we played really well. To actually win a game was a great achievement for a country that had no experience of that sort of tournament.”

Later that Summer Frank signed for Leicester City for a club record fee of £2.05M.

“I signed very late in the pre-season window," he said. "I was with Chelsea in Holland for a pre-season game when my agent phoned me on the Friday to tell me that Leicester City had accepted a bid for me. This was a big surprise! I was looking forward to pursuing my career at Chelsea after being so successful the previous season and qualifying for the Champions League.

“I spoke to Gianluca Vialli on the Monday and it was made clear to me that, having signed the likes of Marcel Desailly, Brian Laudrup and Albert Ferrer, the chairman wanted to recoup some money.

“I wanted to play football. I’d always played and didn’t want to just play the occasional game, so on the Wednesday I met Martin O’Neill and John Robertson on the M1. I was very open-minded as I knew a couple of other clubs were interested.

I was one of the players who took responsibility on and off the pitch, trying to lead by example. I still gave 110 per cent and the fans recognised that.

Frank Sinclair

“When I sat down with Martin O’Neill he just looked at John Robertson and said 'can you believe he’s here, John? Apart from Steve Bould and Tony Adams, this is the best defender in the Premier League'. This made me feel a million dollars after just having had the disappointment of knowing Chelsea didn’t want me anymore. Over the next hour, he told me where he wanted to take the Club and how he saw me being part of it. He really sold the Club to me. I was really excited about joining. I was 26 and I felt I had so much to give.

“I signed on the Wednesday, trained on Thursday and Friday and made my debut in the opening game of the season at Old Trafford on the Saturday. I thought to myself what an opportunity this was, making my debut in such a massive game!

“Apart from Muzzy Izzet, who I’d grown up with at Chelsea, I didn’t know the Leicester players too well but I knew enough about Leicester having played against them in the Premier League. There were no household names but they had very good players and seasoned professionals. We were an unknown quantity and this helped because the spirit in the side was really good.”

Frank’s first two seasons at Leicester were very successful, and he was a League Cup winner again in 2000. Then Martin O’Neill left for Celtic in June 2000.

“When he left we were kind of lost,” Frank reflected. “You couldn’t imagine him leaving after he’d previously turned down other clubs that were bigger than Leicester at the time. After his departure, the team just fell apart really, and the spirit went as well.

“We had a couple of really tough years, getting relegated [in 2002], and getting promoted to the Premier League again [in 2003] despite going into administration that season. I was the Club’s Player of the Year when we were relegated, probably because I was a bit overworked! I was one of the players who took responsibility on and off the pitch, trying to lead by example. I still gave 110 per cent and the fans recognised that.

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Frank Sinclair

Frank Sinclair was convinced by Martin O'Neill and John Robertson to sign for Leicester City.

“Going into administration galvanised the players and helped us get promoted. Our backs were against the wall. The players decided together to take a pay cut to help protect the jobs of the people who worked behind the scenes. Keeping the backbone of the team together after relegation also helped us get promoted.”

A year after their promotion, Leicester were relegated again back to the second tier. This was Frank’s sixth and final season at Leicester. A highlight for Frank that season was playing his last game for Jamaica in a match against Brazil in front of his home crowd at Leicester.

“That was unbelievable" he recalled. "The Jamaican Federation had asked me about whether the Midlands would be a good place to play and I thought playing at Leicester was a great idea. It was a full house on the day. What will always stay with me was the individual cheer I got when I came out with the Jamaica side for the warm-up. It was overwhelming and unexpected too because I wasn’t wearing a Leicester shirt. The Leicester supporters were showing their appreciation of what I was doing for my international team and what I was doing representing Leicester City. It’s something I will always remember. And Roberto Carlos’ goal? Brilliant, wasn’t it? Brilliant!”

After leaving Leicester in July 2004, Frank spent two-and-a-half years at Burnley in the Championship followed by a season-and-a-half at Huddersfield Town in League One and spells at Lincoln City and Wycombe Wanderers in League Two.

“You’re a long time retired,” Frank reflected. “I wanted to keep playing for as long as I could. I think I made the right choices to drop down the league at the right times, so I wasn’t being carried by anybody. It was a great honour to be captain at Burnley. I left there at the right time to go to Huddersfield in League 1 and later it was the right time to go to Lincoln and Wycombe in League 2 when I was getting close to my 40s.

"I had two really good years as player-manager at Colwyn Bay in the Conference North. I stopped playing when I was nearly 42. I’m now assistant manager at Radcliffe in the third tier of Non-League. We’re ambitious and looking for our second promotion in two years. I’m using my experience to help improve young players.”

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