Ian White with LCFC team-mates

Former Player Remembers: Ian White

Half-back Ian White played for Leicester City and Southampton in the late 1950s through to the 1960s. Speaking to Club Historian John Hutchinson, he recalled a tough grounding in Glasgow, playing in Europe for Leicester City, nearly joining Chelsea, being promoted with Southampton, coaching in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Saudi Arabia, and running a sports shop near Southampton.
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Ian started by recalling his early footballing education in his home city of Glasgow: “In those days, when I was a teenager, Glasgow was a hotbed of football. I played junior (semi-pro) football for Petershill. Junior football in Scotland was tough. It was full of ex-professionals. I played left-half in those days. The guy behind me had played at Rangers for three years. Every Saturday, I would meet the other players in town. We would catch buses, then go to play.

“With old hands in the same team, you would pick up ideas from them and learn your trade. Junior football was massive. Petershill won the Scottish Junior Cup in 1956 and there were 62,000 at the match at Hampden!”

Soon afterwards, in April 1956, Ian joined Celtic: “Scouts would watch our matches and I was spotted by Celtic. I thought signing for Celtic was great. I only lived two tram stops from Parkhead. It wasn’t a good move for me actually. Years later I sat back and I thought how naïve I’d been. The first team was full of internationals, so what chance did I have! It was a good environment to keep learning your trade though. In those days, Celtic were a really big team.”

Three years earlier, in 1953, Ian had been in the crowd of 117,000 at Hampden Park to watch Celtic beat Hibernian in the final of the Coronation Cup. Ian’s future Leicester City team-mate, Jimmy Walsh, scored for Celtic. Celtic’s trainer was Alex Dowdells and full-back Joe Baillie was also at the club. Ian was to join up with all three at Filbert Street five years later. 

He added: “Jimmy and Joe were more established than I was. All the time I was at Celtic, I was serving my apprenticeship with Rolls Royce as a sheet metal worker. I used to train at Parkhead from about half-past six to half-past eight on three nights a week, travelling there on buses. I was up at six in the morning to go to work, first in Glasgow, then in East Kilbride. By the time I got home at night after training, it was half-past ten. 

“I don’t know whether Jimmy Walsh (who had moved to Filbert Street in November 1956) was a factor in Leicester City signing me (in July 1958). I never asked. I wasn’t really sure where Leicester was! The reason I think I went there was their trainer Alex Dowdells, who had been the trainer at Celtic.

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Leicester City 1961/62
Leicester City 1961/62

White and his Foxes team-mates ahead of the 1961/62 campaign.

“I had finished my apprenticeship when I came down to Leicester City to sign for them. David Halliday, the manager and Matt Gillies, the trainer and future manager, were both Scots. I was in digs with three other Scots; Billy Calder, John Sjoberg and a lad from Nairn.

“Other young players at Filbert Street in those days included fellow Glaswegian Frank McLintock, Scot Jackie Lornie, and Davie Agnew. The other players were all married so we didn’t see them, but we lads knocked about together.

“One of the first players I met when I arrived at the Club was the experienced striker Derek Hines. He was one of the first Englishmen I met. He was one of life’s gentlemen. He was a good cricketer as well. A lot of the lads played cricket, like Graham Cross (the Club’s record appearance holder, who also played for Leicestershire).”

Ian made his debut on 7 November, 1959 in a First Division game against Sheffield Wednesday. Jimmy Walsh and Joe Baillie were both in the side.

Gordon Banks and Frank McLintock, who had made their City debuts two months earlier, were also playing: “In my time at Leicester, I came up against some great players. Burnley’s Jimmy McIlroy was one of the best. He was awesome. He was a right smoothie. I remember once, just outside our penalty box, McIlroy had the ball at his feet. I was trying to back away and he actually rolled the ball over my foot! Burnley were one hell of a side. They won the league in 1960. There were two teams we had a great rapport with. They were Spurs and Burnley. Our team, like the team today, were a real team. Gordon Banks became a star eventually, but we were all just a group of lads playing together. Stan Milburn (Bobby Charlton’s uncle) controlled the defence with big John Ogilvie. If there was any trouble, Stan would sort it. There were strong characters in the side. All teams need that. We were establishing ourselves in the First Division.”

Although he did not play in City’s FA Cup Final side of 1961, in the days before substitutes were allowed, Ian did play in all four of Leicester City’s European Cup Winners’ Cup matches the following season against Glenavon and Atlético Madrid.   

He recalled: “We expected to beat Glenavon, which we did. The Atlético game was a hard one. They were a different kettle of fish. They were a good side, with good players. They went on to win the trophy that season. We got a few bumps and knocks from them in ways we thought weren’t allowed! In those days, football was very sociable. One of their directors owned this big place where we went for dinner and drinks. We were all trying to converse in half-Spanish and half-English. They had a good centre-forward. Kingy (centre-half Ian King) had his work cut out that day! There were a couple of controversial refereeing decisions too. Gordon Wills, on the left wing, played well. He would take people on and get past them.”

When he came up to Leicester to finalise the deal, fee had gone up to £18,000. I was disappointed about that. Chelsea were in the Second Division but were on their way up, promoted the following season.

Iain White

In February 1962, Ian came very close to joining Tommy Docherty’s resurgent Chelsea.

He explained: “I felt I needed to leave Leicester because the midfield had Colin Appleton and Frank McLintock. Colin was a machine. I never saw him get injured. That was the trouble. There was no chance of getting a game. What a player! Then I had to fight Frank McLintock for the No.4 shirt. So it was time for me to go. Tommy Docherty, on the verge of taking Chelsea to success in the mid-1960s, wanted to sign me. Tommy had gone to the same school as me in Glasgow, St Mark’s Secondary Modern, although he had obviously left before I went there.

“When the move fell through it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. ‘The Doc’ came up to Leicester one morning when, as usual, we were training under a covered bit on the car park next to Filbert Street, playing a five-a-side. There were more bikes than cars in the car park in those days! I saw ‘the Doc’ go to the office and he waved to me as he went in.

“When he came, he told me the move had fallen through. He said was really angry with (Leicester manager) Matt Gillies because, before the meeting, they had agreed a fee of something like £15,000. When he came up to Leicester to finalise the deal, fee had gone up to £18,000. I was disappointed about that. Chelsea were in the Second Division but were on their way up, promoted the following season.”

Four months later, in June 1962, Ian did leave Leicester City, signing for Ted Bates’ Southampton

Ian added: “Southampton had been promoted from the Third Division in 1960. Ted Bates was trying to have a clear out and was trying to get some players who had played in the First Division. England international right-winger Terry Paine was there. He was crafty with it as well. He wasn’t quick. The so-and-so wouldn’t train! We used to train in the New Forest. The manager used to let him get away with that but he was a hell of a player. The Arsenal full-back Bob McNab told me that there was a left-backs' union which had been set up to nail him and get him carried off! A big full-back at Portsmouth used to threaten him, telling him that if he wanted to get picked for England, he’d better move across to the left wing!”

At Southampton, Ian was reunited with the ex-Leicester City centre half Tony Knapp, who had lost out to Ian King for Leicester City’s centre-half position: “They were completely different footballers. Kingy was the better footballer. Knappy was extremely fit. He had nothing to do with me going to Southampton though. When I came here (in June 1962), he wasn’t around on the day I arrived. He couldn’t give a toss that I had signed, but all the papers were saying that there was a connection between Knappy and me signing!”

In 1965, the Saints were promoted to the old First Division along with Manchester City.

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Ian White
Ian White

Ian, a few years ago, pictured as he spoke to John Hutchinson in Southampton.

Two years later, Ian left the Dell: “Towards the end of my time at Southampton, I was going to go to Colchester United, who were managed by (the ex-England international) Neil Franklin. By this time, the kids were all at school and we were settled here in the Southampton area and we didn’t really want to leave. I used to play a lot of golf then and just before I went to see Neil Franklin, I met a builder on the golf course who used to write jokes for the comedian Jimmy Tarbuck. When I told him I was going to see Neil Franklin, he told me that he was building four shops at Totton (near Southampton) and that they wanted one to be a really good shop selling sports equipment. He also said that there was a flat above the shop, which was handy as we were going to have to leave the Southampton club house. 

“So, I didn’t go to Colchester. Instead, we ran the shop for 28 years. It was called ‘White & Davies’ because I went in with Ron Davies, who had been a Southampton full back, (not to be confused with Ron Davies, the Southampton Welsh international centre forward).

Around this time, Ian also became involved in coaching: “When I first had the shop, I was also player-manager with Portals in the Hampshire League First Division. Portals made the paper for banknotes. My wife ran the shop on Saturdays.

“I also did some coaching in Saudi Arabia and Africa. That came about through Birmingham full-back Pat Wright. When I was doing my coaching badge, Pat was in the same group. Coventry’s Ernie Hunt (famous for a very unorthodox free-kick routine with Willie Carr) was also there. Later, whilst scouting in the Southampton area, Pat rang me up out of the blue in about 1974 or '75 and asked me if I was interested in joining a coaching team.

“I was, and we went with Tom Finney to Africa, to Bulawayo and Umtali, in what was then Rhodesia. We also went to Saudi Arabia with Jimmy Hill. My good friend and old Leicester City team-mate Ian King came with me along with other players like Geoff Vowden and Mal Beard. This took up two years. My wife and Ron Davies managed the business.”

Today, Ian and his wife live in Lyndhurst, just outside Southampton. Listening to him talk about his life in football was a pleasure and a privilege.

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