Mark Wallington

Former Player Remembers: Mark Wallington (Part One)

Former England Under-23s international goalkeeper Mark Wallington discusses his remarkable career at Leicester City, which included 14 seasons at Filbert Street, with Club Historian John Hutchinson in part one of his feature interview.
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Wallington was the only goalkeeper to have made over 400 appearances for Leicester City until Kasper Schmeichel reached that milestone in January this year. Mark was a very worthy successor in the Leicester goal to his immediate predecessors, Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton.

Before he left Filbert Street after 14 seasons in 1985, Mark had played 460 competitive games for the Club. Only three other players in Leicester City’s entire history have exceeded that total - Graham Cross, Adam Black and Hugh Adcock.

Thinking back to the very beginning of his lengthy and distinguished career, Sleaford-born Mark started by explaining how he became a professional footballer.

“I suppose my break came when I was selected for my local county side, Lincolnshire, through school," he began. "Fortunately I progressed enough to be capped by England schoolboys. At the time I was very busy at school but I was on schoolboy forms with Lincoln City.

“They wanted to sign me, but I said no, because I’d got my heart set on a teaching career and I wanted to complete my GCEs and A-levels. Then I went off to Carnegie College when I was 18. At the time I was playing for my village side and I’d come to the notice of one or two people, as you do when you play for England Schoolboys.

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Mark Wallington
Mark Wallington

He enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a Leicester City player.

“I came back home to play for Heckington in the local village cup final. The guest of honour was Eric Houghton, who was a director of Walsall. He’d played for England in the 1930s and had later been Aston Villa’s manager. He’d been born in the village where the match was played.

“Anyway, this was at the end of the season and he invited me down for pre-season training with Walsall. As I was on my holidays from college it was convenient so I popped down to Walsall.

“I was picked up from the station by Walsall’s captain, Stan Bennett and when I asked him about the trials, I was envisaging 30 or 40 lads playing in two or three different games. He said: ‘Oh, no, no, no! The trial match is against Leicester City and you’ll get half a game', so ironically, the first time I played for Walsall, in this trial match behind closed doors, was against Leicester City!

“I think it was one of Jimmy Bloomfield’s first games in charge of Leicester. I found myself playing against people such as Crossy (Graham Cross) John Sjoberg and Shilts (Peter Shilton). These were the players I’d watched only the season before in Leicester and now I was playing against them. I just thought: ‘Well, enjoy it!’.

“I saved a penalty from Nishy (David Nish) and I was lucky enough to be asked by Walsall to go on their pre-season tour. This coincided with my break from college, as we were still on holiday. So, I went to Scotland and played three games for them.

“They wanted to sign me, and I agreed to sign amateur forms (in the 1971 close season). This enabled me to be a semi-professional, playing for Walsall while I was still studying at Carnegie.”

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Leicester City 1974/75
Leicester City 1974/75

Wallington was competing with Peter Shilton for the No.1 jersey at Filbert Street.

In February 1972, Mark came to national prominence following his outstanding display in Walsall’s televised FA Cup Third Round defeat by Everton in front of a Goodison Park crowd of over 45,000.

“That was fortunate, you know,” Mark continued. “Like a lot of players, I take the view that you can have ten people of equal ability and it’s down to the luck of the draw whether you are in the right place at the right time. It was the same with me at Everton.

"I’d played half-a-dozen games or so and then, at Bradford, I had a bad injury. I broke my fingers and my hand had to be operated on. In the meantime, Walsall went on a cup run. For the Everton game, [goalkeeper] Bob Wesson was suspended for being sent off in the previous round, so I had to slot back in for the big game at Everton."

The following month, Mark signed for Leicester City.

He explained: “Leicester’s chief scout was a man called Ray Shaw who had been manager at Walsall, so there was a lot of contact between the two clubs. To be honest, and unbeknown to me, I think Leicester might have had the first option to sign me.

“The irony was that I’d finished my second year exams and I’d approached the college to see if I could have a year’s sabbatical to have a go at full-time football. The idea was that if this didn’t work out, there would still be a college place for me to return to.

“I rang Walsall to tell them I’d like to sign as a full-time professional. They were keen for me to do this because apparently none of the big clubs would look at me while I was still at university. I think that once I’d said I’d go full time, Walsall had got on the phone to Filbert Street to tell them. Then they told me: ‘Well, don’t bother coming here, go straight to Filbert Street and we’ll meet you there’.”

Consequently, in March 1972, Mark signed for Bloomfield as Peter Shilton’s understudy for a fee of £30,000.

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Mark Wallington
Mark Wallington

Wallington tries to punch the ball away from Arsenal's David O'Leary during a match at Highbury in April 1977.

“The opportunity to work with Peter was tremendous," he added. "I knew I was raw. I needed to learn the ropes and who better to learn from than him? I was quite prepared to spend time learning. I thought it would take a couple of years. I appreciated the fact that I hadn’t had any professional training up to that point on a regular basis, as I’d been attached to Walsall in a very ad hoc situation.”

Despite this realistic assessment, Mark didn’t have to wait long for his debut.

He recalled: “I signed on the Wednesday and made my debut against West Ham at Filbert Street on the Saturday. I found myself playing against the likes of [World Cup winners] Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst. These were people I’d admired so much as a schoolboy. The outstanding memory for me was Clyde Best. What a big fella!

"We won 2-0 and I was delighted to keep a clean sheet. It was a brilliant occasion for me. You always dream of making it to a professional level and now I’d actually played a game in the First Division.”

Mark played four more top flight games that season, against Derby County, Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, but he had to be patient for the next two seasons during which Shilton only missed one league game and one FA Cup game whilse also gaining another 15 international caps as England’s regular first choice goalkeeper.   

“Peter and myself formed a very good relationship which was really good," the former Fox said. "He’d served his apprenticeship in the first team from the age of 16 hadn’t he? However, I did understand and appreciate the fact that he may well be on the move at some time and that if he went, I had to be ready and be good enough so that I could cement my place as his replacement rather than see Leicester having to go out and buy another goalkeeper.”

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Mark Wallington
Mark Wallington

Wallington pictured in action at White Hart Lane against Tottenham Hotspur.

Mark’s chance to be the regular first choice came at the start of the 1974/75 season. Shilton had not signed a new contract, so Mark started the season in goal.

“I started the season quite well,” Mark recalled. “I’d been selected above Peter because the Club knew that he was on his way. It was a great boost for me to realise that the Club had got enough confidence in me to enable them to let Peter go. Then after eight games, I broke my wrist. This put me out for five games and Peter came back into the side obviously. Then he went to Stoke and I was back in the side again.”

Unfortunately for Mark, four games later, at the end of November he broke a bone in his hand at Manchester City. He missed another seven games during which Stoke City’s John Farmer came in on loan. He had been displaced by Peter Shilton’s arrival at the Victoria Ground. However after he was injured in his second game for Leicester City, he in turn was replaced by the young reserve goalkeeper Carl Jayes.

This was to be Mark’s last injury for over seven years. When he returned to the first team on 11 January, 1975, he began his Club record run of 331 consecutive games, which only ended in March 1982.

In part two of this interview, Mark recalls being selected for the England Under-23s side, and playing for Bloomfield, Frank McLintock, Jock Wallace and Gordon Milne. He also discusses, amongst other things, some of the notable opponents he faced and his rapport with the Filbert Street crowd.

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