Tommy Williams

Former Player Remembers: Tommy Williams

Last month, Club Historian John Hutchinson spoke to former defender Tommy Williams, who made 271 appearances for Leicester City between 1977 and 1986, and a further 71 outings for Birmingham City between 1986 and 1988.
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His time at Filbert Street included two promotions, an FA Cup Semi-Final and two broken legs. He was also awarded a testimonial match by Leicester City soon after he had moved to St. Andrew's. 

After a further two years at Grimsby Town, Tommy then spent 24 years as a police officer in Leicestershire. 

“My family moved to Leicester from Scotland when I was nine,” Tommy began. “I went to Hazel Street School and then to Gateway. One day, when I was about 11, my mother, who went to the same school as (former Leicester City star) Davie Gibson back in Scotland bumped into him in the supermarket. They chatted about football and Davie arranged for me to go to Leicester’s training ground on Tuesday and Thursday evenings with George Dewis, who was in charge of the youth team.

“The manager Jimmy Bloomfield used to take an interest in the youth team, as did a lot of first team players. Everybody knew each others’ names and got on well together.

“I’d left school at 16 and there I was suddenly mixing with my boyhood heroes, like England internationals Keith Weller, Steve Whitworth and other top-class players like Dennis Rofe, Mark Wallington and Jon Sammels.

“I made my debut in October 1977. It was against Chelsea and I played at full-back. When I’d played for Leicester Boys, I changed from being a midfielder into being a centre-back, where I played all through youth team and reserve team football. It was only when I got into the first team that I started playing at full back

Frank [McLintock] kept me in the team. He’d been a top-class defender and he gave me great advice about defending one-on-one. I went on to play over 30 games that season, scoring three goals.

Tommy Williams

“I wasn’t nervous on my debut. When the manager Frank McLintock told me I was playing, I was fine and just got on with it. We travelled down by coach and spent the afternoon in a hotel. A lot of the older players went to bed but I didn’t. I was 19 and full of energy. Only 13 players went to away games in those days, the 11 playing, a sub and just one extra in case something happened. 

“I can't remember too much about the game but Ray Wilkins was playing for Chelsea. I was playing alongside David Webb, Steve Whitworth and Dennis Rofe. They looked after me. It was a 0-0 draw so I think I did OK. 

“Frank kept me in the team. He’d been a top-class defender and he gave me great advice about defending one-on-one. I went on to play over 30 games that season, scoring three goals.”

Leicester City were relegated at the end of the season and Jock Wallace, assisted by Ian McFarlane, replaced McLintock as manager.

“Ian was a very colourful character,” Tommy continued. “He was exuberant, larger than life and you couldn’t help liking him. He was the ideal guy for bonding the older and the younger players. Big Jock Wallace was a great man-manager and a great motivator. He was very positive. He wanted to win every game. He didn’t want us to be defensive. He wanted us to attack and hopefully score more goals than the opposition. He was a get-up-and-get-at-them type of guy.”

In Wallace’s first season (1978/79), the Club finished 17th in the Second Division. He started to encourage young players like Larry May, John O’Neill, Gary Lineker, Andy Peake and Dave Buchanan to come through.  The following season, his young side were promoted to the top-flight as Second Division champions.

Thinking back about this, Tommy continued: “Frank was unlucky because when he came to Leicester, there were a lot of older players. There was a good young crop coming through, but they were possibly a little bit too young. Jock got the benefits of all these young players. Under Jock, I hardly missed any games until April 1982, when I broke my leg for the first time.

“Throughout the season (1979/80) when we went up as champions, Jock, rather than play me at full-back, occasionally played me as a sweeper between John O’Neill and Larry May. He did this in the last game of the season at Bloomfield’s Orient, when we secured the title. We won 1-0 and Larry May scored, but the thing that sticks in my mind wasn’t his goal. It was his clearance off the line at the other end which looked to be a certain goal. Larry was so quick. He got back and just scooped it away. He was a really good centre-half and I think that Leicester let him go far too early.”

I think we got relegated because of the young age of the team. I still think we did quite well, but if it had been a season later we might have been better.

Tommy Williams

Back in the First Division, Tommy played in every game, but the Club was relegated at the end of the season despite doing the double over Liverpool and beating Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

“The thing I remember most about my football career is playing against the best players at the best clubs, holding my own and being able to compete against them,” Tommy continued.

“Liverpool were league champions and were to win the European Cup that season. They had the big names like [Graeme] Souness, [Kenny] Dalglish, [Ian] Rush, [Alan] Hansen and [Ray] Clemence. The player who gave me the most trouble as a defender was probably Forest’s John Robertson. I knew what Robertson was going to do, but I just couldn’t stop him doing it! I always felt that he slightly got the better of me, but I never felt that Rush or Dalglish or any of the other top names ever did.

“I think we got relegated because of the young age of the team. I still think we did quite well, but if it had been a season later we might have been better.”

Back in the Second Division, Leicester City reached the 1982 FA Cup Semi-Final against Tottenham Hotspur.

“In that cup run, we beat Shrewsbury Town 5-2 in a game that will always be remembered for the three goalkeepers,” Tommy recalled.

“Wally (Mark Wallington) got injured and then [Alan] Young and then [Steve] Lynex went in goal! In the semi-final, we were up against a Spurs side containing [Osvaldo] Ardiles, [Glenn] Hoddle, [Steve] Perryman, with [Steve] Archibald and [Garth] Crooks up front and with Clemence in goal. Their team was full of internationals. The Villa Park pitch was awful. It was full of sand and I broke my leg. I tackled Tony Galvin on the halfway line near the touchline. He tried to back heel the ball and his heel hit my shin. It was a freak accident. If I could change one moment in my life, it would be that moment. To make matters worse, as I was being carried off round the pitch, Ian Wilson scored an unfortunate own goal! We did alright but they were the better team, and deserved to win, no question about it.” 

At the end of the season, Wallace left Filbert Street to manage Motherwell and was replaced by Gordon Milne.

“I was still recovering from my broken leg when Gordon became manager,” Tommy said. “When a new manager comes in you have to prove yourself again and try to get back into the team. I’d managed to do this in December. I played four games and then I broke my leg again! It was in training on the day before we were due to play Notts County in the FA Cup. This meant I missed virtually the whole 1982/83 season when Leicester were promoted back to the First Division.” 

Tommy returned to the side in September 1983 and re-established his place in the recently-promoted Leicester City side.

“It was hard to get back to the consistent level of fitness that I’d had before because I’d been out for the best part of 18 months,” Tommy reflected. “This probably didn’t help my career but in those days there was no real rehabilitation for players. You were left to your own devices, so in hindsight, I probably did quite well really.”

One of my options was joining the police force and it was one of the best choices I made in my life. I was 24 years in the police. It was a really good job with some really good people.

Tommy Williams

Leicester City finished 15th in the First Division at the end of the both the 1983/84 and 1984/85 seasons with Lineker, Smith and Lynex scoring over 100 goals between them.

“By this time, Gordon resorted to playing me at centre-half,” Tommy recalled. “I played alongside John O’Neill. We’d played together in the youth team and had a good partnership.

“My last game for Leicester was in October 1985. I didn’t know it was going to be my last game. We’d beaten Ipswich 1-0 at home in midweek and drew 4-4 with Oxford on the Saturday. The manager dropped both O’Neill and myself because we had conceded four goals, although to this day I can honestly say I wasn’t at fault for any of them. That was it. He never played me again and he let me go at the end of the season.

“Birmingham City contacted me. I went to speak to their manager, John Bond. He was an excellent manager and I signed (in July 1986). Birmingham was also fairly handy to travel to. It was a difficult time for Birmingham financially and it was more or less a team of free transfers and young players. The guys in the team included Ray Ranson from Manchester City, Brian Roberts from Coventry and Des Bremner from Villa. Wayne Clarke was up front. The young lads in the team were Martin Kuhl and Julian Dicks, who was extremely strong and aggressive.”

In December 1986, although he was at St. Andrew's, Leicester City awarded Tommy a well-deserved testimonial match.

He explains: “Just before I left Leicester, they’d offered me a testimonial year as I’d been at the Club for 10 years. I didn’t feel I could accept a year because I had left the Club so I had a testimonial match instead. It was between the present and past Leicester City teams. Gary Lineker came back from Barcelona. Frankie Worthington and lots of others were there. It was a good night.”

Tommy then spent the las two years of his career at Grimsby Town in the Fourth Division, before joining the police.

“In those days, footballers weren’t paid a great deal of money and I had to earn a living,” Tommy revealed. “One of my options was joining the police force and it was one of the best choices I made in my life. I was 24 years in the police. It was a really good job with some really good people.” 

Now retired, Tommy currently does part-time work with adults with disabilities and is involved in various sports including a disability football team.

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