An England Under-23s international, Graham (back row, second from right in main image) played a record-breaking 599 games for Leicester City, mainly at wing-half and centre-back. He also holds the Club record for appearing in the most top flight matches (414 games), the most FA Cup appearances (59 games) and the most League Cup appearances (40 games). A fine all-round sportsman, Graham also played for Leicestershire County Cricket Club between 1961 and 1977.
In the second part of the interview, Graham continued to reflect on his career.
Graham left Linwood School in Leicester at Easter 1959. He was still only 15 when he scored on his debut for Leicester City reserves against Brighton & Hove Albion. This came as no surprise. He had been a phenomenally outstanding schoolboy footballer. The future Leicester City wing-half and defensive star, playing as a centre-forward for his school, broke all of Linwood’s football records. He scored a total of 144 goals, 80 of these goals were scored in 72 first team appearances.
Leicester City’s archives contain the Linwood School match reports of all games played between 1929 and 1969. These were handwritten by the teacher in charge of football, Joe Muscott.
When Graham left school, Muscott wrote: “It is not always a good thing to single out one boy for special mention in a team game. Cross left school at Easter having smashed every first XI school record. Blessed with a strong physique, he made his first XI debut late in his first year and continued to hold his place for the following three seasons. He has an excellent temperament, is most unselfish in his play and modest by nature, assets which increase his stature as a player. For him, the team always comes first. He goes out to attempt to reach the heights in soccer and cricket and carries our sincere wishes for his future success.”
In view of Graham’s successful career playing for Leicester City and Leicestershire CCC, these were prescient words indeed.
I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I’m a Leicester lad and I loved playing for Leicester. I wanted nothing more than to play for my home team. I was lucky enough to play for Leicester City and to play county cricket for Leicestershire.Graham Cross
Thinking back to those days, Graham said: “If somebody had asked me when I was 13 or 14: ‘What do you want to be?’, I would have said: ‘I’ve no idea’. And if you’d have told me that I was going to do all those things in my football and cricket career and win a lifetime achievement award I would have been amazed.
“One thing which helped me was that I was very fortunate with avoiding injury problems. Unlike many players, I didn’t have any cartilage out. In my day a cartilage operation was the end of your career, really. So, I was very, very fortunate. Perhaps God shone on me a bit.
“In those days, if you were injured, they used to jab you with a couple of needles and the pain would go for an hour or so and then all of a sudden, in the last half an hour, (Graham draws in breath), you know, you used to hobble off and you couldn't play for another month after that. And then there are the side effects when you finish playing because it's bound to catch up on you, isn't it?
“I did get injured playing for Leicester City when I broke my leg in a friendly match (in October 1967). The game was in Holland. About three minutes from the end, this guy came and whacked me and broke my fibula. I was out for about three months. I made my comeback against Sunderland on New Year’s Day.
“I also tore my ankle ligaments. I had to be careful when playing about how I put my foot down, because if I tweaked it over, I got a pain shooting through it. It took about a year to settle down properly.
“On the whole though. I was lucky with injuries. I just don't know how I managed to come out unscathed. Today, I’m still reasonably fit. I can walk around without any of the aches and pains which a lot of ex-footballers have."
In March 1963, fully established as a wing-half in the famous Leicester City ‘Ice Kings’ side, with Leicester City second in the old First Division and on the way to an FA Cup Final, Graham was selected for the England Under-23s side against Yugoslavia at Old Trafford. This was the first of 11 Under-23s caps that Graham won over the next three years.
Graham is pictured on the left during the 1973/74 FA Cup Semi-Final second leg versus Liverpool.
“I had some good games in the Leicester side as a wing-half operating a switch during games with Frank [McLintock] and I got selected," he recalled. "I went on tour with the England Under-23s to places like Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary, Israel and Turkey. It was a fantastic experience for a young lad. Other players in the team included Peter Bonetti, Terry Venables, Mick Channon, people like that. Joe Mercer was the manager. I got on ever so well with him. He was Manchester City’s manager I think, at the time.
“I played centre-half for a bit for the Under-23s, but I don’t think Alf Ramsey could have thought I was that good, because it didn’t progress from there for England. Mind you, Bobby Moore was there at the time!
“Perhaps if I’d been at a more fashionable club than Leicester it might have been different, but you never know. I know we were up amongst the top teams but Leicester was never a fashionable club, like your London and Manchester clubs and like Liverpool and Everton. But you know, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I’m a Leicester lad and I loved playing for Leicester. I wanted nothing more than to play for my home team. I was lucky enough to play for Leicester City and to play county cricket for Leicestershire.”
Nevertheless, Graham’s performances did attract other clubs.
Harry Catterick, manager of the successful Everton side of the 1960s, was interested.
“He nearly signed me for Everton,” Graham recalled. “There was a time when I was on the transfer list and there were rumours that Everton were going to sign me. They were top dogs in those days, with players like Roy Vernon, Jimmy Gabriel, Alex Young and Tony Kay. They were a hell of a side."
There was also the time that Brian Clough tried to sign Graham for Derby County in the late 1960s.
In those days you had to negotiate your own contracts, not like today. Also, I think you get more respect from going somewhere else if you perform well, but I loved playing for Leicester. In the end I was there from the age of 15 until I was 34. That’s nearly 20 years.Graham Cross
“That was unbelievable,” Graham said. “I used to live in Groby on an incline in a cul-de-sac. We had this big glass door. Late one night, at about midnight, for some unknown reason I was awake and I saw a light come onto the drive. The doorbell went. I went down to answer it, opened the door and who was there? Brian Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor! Clough said: ‘I want to sign you for Derby'.
“Derby were still in the Second Division at the time. I was about 24 and I wasn’t very keen on dropping a division to be quite honest. Clough and Taylor had this great reputation but I told them I wasn’t sure about it and I’d have to wait and see. At the end of the week, in the Sunday People newspaper, Cloughy was saying: ‘I wouldn’t sign Crossy if he crawled to Derby’. So I retaliated and said that I wouldn’t sign for Clough, if he was manager of Real Madrid! We had a bit of a slanging match in the paper.
“The next day he rang me up and said: ‘Come on, I want to sign you’ and I said: 'Okay'. We never talked terms. Money was never involved so I don’t know how much he was going to offer me. The fee was about £80,000 I think at the time.
“Leicester’s Chairman called me back the ground on Monday morning at 12 o’clock to sort this out. I sat outside the office for about two hours like a lemon while the Chairman and the managers discussed this. Eventually they came out and said that they couldn’t agree terms, even though they’d already agreed terms to start with.
“So, the move never happened. Thinking back, I should have gone. I should have started afresh. I’d never wanted to leave Leicester but I’d been there since I was 15, and I think I was being taken for granted. This meant I was never getting the best deals. In those days you had to negotiate your own contracts, not like today. Also, I think you get more respect from going somewhere else if you perform well, but I loved playing for Leicester. In the end I was there from the age of 15 until I was 34. That’s nearly 20 years."
Ironically, after Graham did leave Leicester in 1976, he was signed by the two men who had been interested in signing him for Everton and Derby several years earlier. Clough’s assistant Peter Taylor signed him for Brighton & Hove Albion and the following year Harry Catterick signed him for Preston North End. Both managers then lost their jobs soon after signing Graham. Despite this Graham was in the promotion-winning teams of both clubs in 1977 and 1978.
Graham (back row, third from right) was also a first class cricketer for Leicestershire CCC.
Playing for Leicester City in the top flight for so many years meant that Graham found himself competing against all of the top names in the game.
“I played against the best of my era,” Graham continued. “Today players play more as a team. In our day, teams relied more on individuals than they do today. Greavsie (Jimmy Greaves) was unbelievable. There was a photo one Sunday in the News of the World, which shows five of us on our backsides and he’s sticking the ball in the back of the net. Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and Besty (George best) were fantastic and, for different reasons, so was [Kevin] Keegan. I could go on and on. There was Mick Channon and Wyn Davies. ‘Wyn the Leap’ they called him. His face had black eyes and cuts. When I played against him at centre-half, it felt like I’d done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.”
Throughout his time as a Leicester City player and beyond, Graham also played first class cricket for Leicestershire as a right-handed batsman and right arm medium fast bowler. His football commitments limited his appearances to six weeks a season but between 1961 and 1977, he still played in 83 first class matches, scoring 2,079 runs, taking 92 wickets and 61 catches. In limited overs cricket he played 51 matches, scoring 701 runs and taking 63 wickets and 17 catches.
“I enjoyed playing cricket, especially the limited overs stuff,” Graham remembered. “When you play football it’s all action whereas playing three-day cricket can be a bit boring. I wanted all action. The John Player League, with 40 overs a side and played on Sunday afternoon, was brilliant. They had crowds of 6,000 to 7,000 and you had a result at the end of the day. There was also the Gillette Cup and the Benson and Hedges Cup which were limited overs matches. We won the Benson and Hedges Cup in 1975. Today, we’ve got T20 cricket, which is absolutely brilliant. I’d loved to have played in that.”
After such a distinguished sporting career, it is highly appropriate that Graham was the recipient of the Leicester Mercury Sports Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. He is also included in the Leicester City Football Club Hall of Fame display in the Directors’ Lounge at King Power Stadium.
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