Graham Cross

Former Player Remembers: Graham Cross (Part One)

Graham Cross’s 599 appearances for Leicester City between 1960 and 1976 is a Club record. He was also an ever-present in the Brighton and Hove Albion side which was promoted to the Second Division in 1977.
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Last month, Graham remembered his long and distinguished career in football. While at Filbert Street, he became an England Under-23s international and played in two FA Cup Finals and two League Cup Finals.

He was a League Cup winner in 1964. He spent 12 of his 14 seasons as a first teamer in the top-flight, played in the European Cup Winners’ Cup and also won a Second Division title.  

In addition, Graham was a distinguished first-class cricketer for Leicestershire Country Cricket Club, but he grew up as a Leicester City supporter.

“As a boy I used to sit on the wall in the old Popular Stand at Filbert Street to watch matches,” he began.

“We used to swap the boards with the half-time scores around that used to hang on the wall. Fans would see a 6-0 score and say: ‘That can’t be right!’

“When I went to Leicester as a young lad from school, I was a centre-forward because I’d scored loads of goals at Linwood Lane School, but I never liked playing as a striker to be honest.

“The ball is coming up your backside most of the time. That wasn’t for me. It all changed when I played for Leicester City’s ‘A’ team at Lockheed Leamington.

“The wing-half for some reason didn’t turn up so I played at wing-half and it sort of progressed from there.”

Graham made his Leicester City first team debut as a 17 year-old.

“To get into the first team you needed to be lucky,” Graham modestly continued. “We had five teams: the ‘B’ team, the ‘A’ team, the midweek team, the reserves and the first team.

“I made my debut as a 17 year-old against Birmingham City, who had Jimmy Bloomfield in their side. I scored in the game with an easy tap in. I played at inside-forward, although I would never have made an inside-forward.

“When I was 18, I made my European debut against Glenavon in the European Cup Winners’ Cup when we won fairly easily. In the next round, I played in Madrid against Atlético!

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Graham Cross
Graham Cross

Graham toasts City's 1969 FA Cup Semi-Final triumph over West Bromwich Albion.

“I played centre-back alongside Ian King. I was up against their star player. We were a bit unlucky to lose 2-0 but they had a dubious penalty. It was an unbelievable stadium to play in.”

The following season, (1962/63) when Leicester City were realistic contenders for the league and FA Cup double, Graham established himself in the first team.

He added: “That season we won 10 games in succession. Then we drew with Spurs 2-2 at Filbert Street. Greavesie (Jimmy Greaves) scored on the stroke of half time but the whistle had gone before it hit the back of the net so it didn’t count!

“When we beat [Bill] Shankly’s Liverpool at Hillsborough that season in the FA Cup Semi-Final, we were top of the league. The semi-final was like the Alamo! It was unbelievable.

“After Mike Stringfellow had given us the lead, I don’t think we got out of our half. It was unbelievable. Banksy (Gordon Banks) played so well that day.

“There were a lot of good players in the first team, like wing-halves Colin Appleton and Frank McLintock. Frank liked attacking more than defending. I preferred defending.

“The coach, Bert Johnson, had the idea to keep switching our positions during a game. People just couldn’t understand what we were doing. Sometimes we didn’t know either!

“ Bill Shankly must have been impressed with this tactic. The following season, did exactly the same at Liverpool with Tommy Smith.

“The (1963) cup final against Manchester United was horrendous. We lost 3-1. They were about fourth from the bottom of the First Division.

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Graham Cross
Graham Cross

Cross in action for Leicester against Man City in the 1969 FA Cup Final.

“Not long before the final, we had drawn 2-2 at Old Trafford and beaten them 4-3 at Filbert Street when both Ken Keyworth and Dennis Law scored hat-tricks.

“On the Friday before the final, the TV guys were so certain we were going to win the cup that they persuaded Colin Appleton (Leicester City’s captain) to go and practice how to get the cup.

“That was tempting fate! It was the kiss of death! We didn’t win. None of us performed, full stop. We were hopeless. How many times did we give the ball away?

“They had the big stars like Denis Law, Bobby Charlton Albert Quixall and Paddy Crerand. 

“Towards the end of that season, we had so many injuries, left right and centre. We struggled to get a fit side for the cup final. We ran out of players. The season went flat. We never got our impetus back and we finished fourth.”

Graham continued to be a mainstay of Matt Gillies’ top-flight side (which also won the League Cup in 1964 and reached the final in 1965). Gillies left the Club in November 1968.  

Under Gillies’ successor, Frank O’Farrell, who was manager between 1968 and 1971, Graham missed only one game, playing in what turned out to be a long established centre-back partnership with John Sjoberg.

At the end of O’Farrell’s first season, Graham was in the Leicester side which lost to Manchester City in the 1969 FA Cup Final.

The team was relegated three weeks later and, for the first time, Graham found himself playing outside the top division, but he was an ever-present for the next two seasons, which culminated in the Second Division title in 1971.

Graham has an extremely high opinion of O’Farrell: “I got on ever so well with Frank. Fantastic. For me, he was the best manager. An absolute gentleman. Frank and his coach Malcolm Musgrove were absolutely fantastic.

“As a pair they were tremendous. I had total respect for both of them. They were brilliant. Malcolm was a terrific coach. Tremendous. He must be the best we ever had.

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Graham Cross
Graham Cross

Back at Wembley, in 1963, with an iconic Leicester City team.

“When we won the Second Division title, the number of clean sheets and 1-0 victories we had was unbelievable.

“When Frank and Malcolm went to manage Manchester United in 1971, I was mortified. He nearly signed me for Manchester United. I’d have jumped at the chance.

“But with Matt Busby in the background, what chance did he have at Old Trafford? Football can be a horrible game. One minute it can be great and the next it can be completely the opposite.”

Back in the top-flight, the new manager was Bloomfield, who Graham had faced on his debut many years earlier.

After signing players like Keith Weller, Jon Sammels, Alan Birchenall and Frank Worthington, Bloomfield’s Leicester City became one of the most attractive sides to watch during the 1970s, particularly in the 1973/74 season when the Club reached the FA Cup Semi-Final against Liverpool.

Bloomfield was at the Club for six seasons and, for the first four of them, Graham hardly missed a game. However, his relationship with the manager wasn’t an easy one.

He explained: “I never got on well with him but we had a pretty good side. In the 1973/74 season, it was the best I’d played in, with a terrific forward line. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, though, because of the manager.

“I don’t know what it was but we never hit it off together. I was a regular in his side for four years but we never saw eye to eye. It was just a matter of time before he was going to push me out.

“At one time, he had this idea of playing a man-for-man marking system. He played Jon Sammels at the back like [Franz] Beckenbauer to spray the ball around.

“He even put the Birch, a great lad, in the back line. He played me as a man-to-man marker. He wanted me to man mark whoever was the striker. I had to follow him everywhere. That wasn’t me. I’m not that sort of player.

“I like to read the game. I told him it wasn’t for me. That was one of the things we fell out over. It wasn’t the only one and things got worse and worse.

“In the summer, I used to cricket for Leicestershire. They were doing well in the Championship (in 1975) and he wouldn’t give me a new contract.

“So, I said to him if he wasn’t going to give me a new contract, I’d finish the cricket season playing for Leicestershire. That’s what I did and he suspended me for a fortnight.

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Leicester City in 1963
Leicester City in 1963

A special Foxes line-up in 1963.

“After that, he didn’t want to know me and I didn’t want to know him. He never picked me once in the 1975/76 season, which was a nightmare. The season was a complete waste.

“Other clubs were interested but he wouldn’t let me go. I was there until March and then I went on loan to Chesterfield for the rest of the season. I’d played a Club record 599 games, one short of 600. Full stop. That was it.”

In June 1976, after 16 years at Filbert Street, Graham signed for Brighton and Hove Albion.

“Peter Taylor signed me,” Graham remembered. “And then he left a couple of weeks later to rejoin Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest. Alan Mullery (the ex-Tottenham Hotspur and England midfielder) took over.

“He let me train at Leicester and I did for a while with the reserves under Dave Coates, who was terrific. Dave let me join in and it was great, but then all of a sudden Bloomfield stopped this.

“ All I could do was a bit of running to keep myself more or less fit. I finished up playing head tennis with the groundsman!

“I’d go to Brighton on the Thursday for home matches. I used to catch the 6.30am train in the morning from Leicester, go from St Pancras to Victoria and catch the 8.45am train to Brighton.

“I’d get there at about 9.45, ready for 10am training. After the game on the Saturday, I would catch the 5.30pm train back to Leicester. I used to tell the ref that I didn’t want to be playing any extra time because I would miss my train back!

“We got promoted, that season, back to the old Second Division. I played in every game. I only had one season at Brighton, which was absolutely fantastic. I loved every minute of it.”

That summer, Graham went to Preston North End, where he once again won promotion to the Second Division, before finishing his career at Lincoln City in 1979.

Graham’s 599 games for the Club included two FA Cup Finals and two League Cup Finals. He also played in the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Twelve of his 14 seasons in the first team were in the top flight.

Graham went on to talk about playing for the England Under-23s side, some of the great players he came up against, the bizarre story of how Brian Clough tried to sign him, and playing first-class cricket for Leicestershire.

He also spoke about injuries and football pitches in his time, his views on football agents and much more besides. Part two of this interview will be published on next week.

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