When Club Historian John Hutchinson spoke to him, George recalled his time at Filbert Street and, among other things, his subsequent career at Swansea City, where he played with the great Ivor Allchurch and appeared in the European Cup Winners' Cup. George also talked about his life after football.
Bolton-born George started by explaining how he became a goalkeeper: “As a boy, I’d tag along with my older brothers when they played football. They would put the coats down and tell me that I was in goal! When I went on to play for a Bolton lads’ club, a scout from Blackpool saw me because the game he was going to watch had been called off. He was interested but didn’t have his forms with him and said he would be back on Monday. However, a scout from Rochdale persuaded me to go there. I was 16.
“At Rochdale I was part-time as I was working as a GPO telephone engineer. I trained on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Part-time was very different from full-time. You would have wet muddy kit drying on the pipes. I used to take my own kit!”
George was signed by Rochdale manager Harry Catterick who, after a spell at Sheffield Wednesday, went on to achieve great success as Everton’s manager (1961-73). Rochdale’s assistant manager, who also did the laundry and marked the pitches, was Joe Fagan, who won the league title, the League Cup and the European Cup as Liverpool’s manager in the mid-1980s.
Heyes, in the cap, in action for the Foxes.
Heyes continued: “Joe took us for training. He was the salt of the earth, a heck of a nice fellow. (Ex-Leicester City full-back) Stan Milburn, who was Jack and Bobby Charlton’s uncle, was there. They called him ‘Mr Rochdale’.”
George played about 30 games for Rochdale and then he moved to Filbert Street: “There was talk in the papers that Birmingham City’s manager Gil Merrick (the ex-England international goalkeeper) wanted to sign me. I didn’t know Leicester were interested. Jack Marshall, who was Rochdale’s manager at the time, told me we were going by train to Leicester. We were met by manager Matt Gillies and director Len Shipman. They took me to the Bell Hotel and I signed there and then as a full-time professional. I was put up in the Belmont Hotel, and when George Meek moved to Walsall, Sandra and I moved into his club house at Thurmaston for £1-a-week rent. We eventually bought the house.
“I didn’t have a car. To get to the ground, I caught a bus to St. Margaret’s and then another one from the back of the Town Hall to Filbert Street.
“When I first started, we would get changed at Filbert Street and run to the Saffron Lane track to train. We would have practice matches there. We would also run round the edge of the pitch at Filbert Street and have games on the Filbert Street car park after training. We also used the gym under the Filbert Street Main Stand. We’d play badminton there. Banksy was brilliant at that.
“In the latter stages of my time at Leicester, we trained at Belvoir Drive (the site of the current training ground). The police trained their dogs there. You would hear these bangs and then see policemen running with their arms strapped and police dogs grabbing them.
“At about this time, Derek Dougan was here. He was about the only player who had a car, apart from Banksy, who had a little Standard Eight. Derek had a red Jaguar. You couldn’t meet a nicer bloke. He used to take the balls to training in it and give the apprentices a lift.
I went to see Gillies about this at a time that the papers were reporting that Birmingham and West Ham were interested in me. Matt got out of his chair and told me to sit in it. He went round the desk to where I had been. He then asked me to imagine that it was me who had come to ask him for a transfer. Would I let him go? Clever! I stayed.George Heyes
“One of my highlights at Leicester was a 2-1 win at White Hart Lane in November 1961 against double winners Spurs on the day they signed Jimmy Greaves. Another was a 2-0 home win against Manchester City in April 1963 which consolidated Leicester’s position as second in the table. Two days later, Leicester went to the top of the League. Playing in front of a packed Filbert Street crowd with the teams coming out to the Post Horn Gallop was brilliant. There would only be six policemen on duty, one at each corner and two near the tunnel!
“No matter how well I played, Gordon would be back the next game. I went to see Gillies about this at a time that the papers were reporting that Birmingham and West Ham were interested in me. Matt got out of his chair and told me to sit in it. He went round the desk to where I had been. He then asked me to imagine that it was me who had come to ask him for a transfer. Would I let him go? Clever! I stayed.”
In a pre-season friendly in August 1965, Banks broke his wrist against Northampton Town, a team which had shot through the leagues in four years to reach the top division.
George remembered: “I knew Swansea were interested. Len Chalmers (Leicester City full-back) had told me that he had been in Filbert Street’s reception area and, as there wasn’t a receptionist about, he had answered the phone. It was Swansea saying that they were coming up for the game against Northampton to watch me. I didn’t start the game. When Gordon came off, Gillies said: ‘Get stripped’. Young [16-year-old] Peter Shilton got up. He was a confident little fellow, but Matt said to him: ‘Not you!’”
George’s move to Swansea was delayed due to Gordon’s injury: “I played the first nine games of that season. When Gordon came back, the Swansea manager, Glyn Davies, signed me and I played a total of 48 games that season. Swansea is a lovely place with the Gower and the Mumbles and I loved it. Ivor Allchurch (the ‘Golden Boy’ of Welsh football, whose statue is outside Liberty Stadium) and (Welsh international centre-half) Mel Nurse, who later kept Swansea going for a while, were there, towards the end of their careers.
“At the end of my first season, we won the Welsh Cup, which qualified us for Europe. We drew the home leg 1-1 with Bulgarian side Slavia Sofia but lost the away leg 4-0.
A tough training session for Heyes and his team-mates.
“It was at Swansea that I gave away the only penalty of my career. It was against a young Walsall forward called Allan Clarke (who played for Leicester City in the 1969 FA Cup Final following his British-record transfer fee move to Filbert Street in 1968).”
In July 1969, George moved to Barrow, then a Football League side recently managed by ex-Leicester City captain Colin Appleton. George went there because the new manager was his ex-Rochdale team-mate Norman Bodell. George moved into Appleton’s old manager’s house and after a year there, he had brief spells at Bedworth United and Hereford United.
Back in Leicester, and after a brief spell as a Typhoo tea rep, George then returned to BT as a telephone engineer. He later took redundancy and set up his own telephone engineer business.
Among other things, George scouted for numerous league clubs until 2014 and coached Blaby Boys Club.
Goalkeeping is in the Heyes family genes. George’s son Darren played for England Schoolboys and England Youth, before going on to star for Scunthorpe United, Wrexham and Halifax Town. Since then he has had a successful career in coaching at Nottingham Forest, Notts County and Derby County.
George’s grandson is 20-year-old Joe Heyes, who is an England rugby Under-20s international who plays for Leicester Tigers as a prop.
Looking back on his career, George’s conclusion was simple: “Playing football was something I loved.”
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