Mark Wallington

Former Player Remembers: Mark Wallington (Part Two)

In the second part of his interview with Club Historian John Hutchinson, goalkeeper Mark Wallington, who made 460 first team appearances for Leicester City between 1972 and 1985, recalled playing for Jimmy Bloomfield, Frank McLintock, Jock Wallace and Gordon Milne.
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He also discussed his call-up to the England Under-23s, some of the notable opponents he faced, the influences on his career, his rapport with the Filbert Street crowd and why he left City.

Last time, Mark spoke about how he left college to play for Walsall, how he came to join Leicester as Peter Shilton’s understudy and how he made his way into the first team at Filbert Street.

Mark established himself as Bloomfield’s first choice goalkeeper in 1974/75. In a side which contained Steve Whitworth, Malcolm Munro, Graham Cross and Dennis Rofe in defence, Alan Birchenall and Jon Sammels in midfield and players with the attacking flair of Keith Weller, Frank Worthington, Steve Earle and Len Glover, the team was entertaining to watch but results were disappointing.

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Mark Wallington
Mark Wallington

Mark Wallington made 460 first team appearances for Leicester City.

That was until the arrival, from Arsenal, of England defender Jeff Blockley and England Under-23s international Chris Garland from Chelsea.

Further boosted by subsequent arrivals of Brian Alderson and Steve Kember in 1975, Bloomfield’s team continued to play attractive football, finishing seventh and 11th in Mark's next two seasons, a period which ended in the manager's departure in May 1977.

These two campaigns were the first of six consecutive years during which Mark never missed a game.

He also became an England Under-23s international in March 1976, playing two games against Hungary, one in Budapest and one at Old Trafford. Thinking back to these times, Mark recalled facing some formidable forwards.

“Martin Chivers at Spurs was a very deceptive player,” Mark reflected. “Then there was Stuart Pearson at Manchester United, who also had Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill on the wing. They would hammer balls in low and quick. There was Eddie Gray at Leeds and John Richards at Wolves, who was a more deft player.

“There were so many good forwards. There are so many different varieties of forward aren’t there? It’s like asking somebody who was the best player they’d ever played against. Are you talking Franz Beckenbauer at centre-half or Denis Law as a forward?

“On their day, anybody can be a terrific player. I always had the utmost respect. I never went into a game thinking: 'Oh well, he’s hopeless'. The reason they are playing professional football is because they have tremendous ability, capable of producing an outstanding performance, so you are always very much on your guard. You are never, ever laid back enough to think: ‘I’m going to have a good day today'."

At the beginning of Mark’s fourth season as first team 'keeper, ex-Leicester star McLintock, who had captained Arsenal to a league and cup double in 1971, replaced Bloomfield as City’s new manager.

“I try to put that season behind me,” Mark continued. “Frank brought in established players that he knew, like David Webb, George Armstrong and Eddie Kelly. He also signed Roger Davies for a record fee. He thought that was the way forward, but we got relegated and Frank left the Club.”

McLintock’s replacement was the Glasgow Rangers manager Wallace, who had just achieved the treble of Scottish league, Scottish FA Cup and Scottish League Cup for the second time in three years.

“Jock had a very different remit,” said Mark. “There was no money, so he went for youth. I have the utmost respect for Jock. It was a privilege to work under him.

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Mark Wallington
Mark Wallington

In action for the Foxes against Arsenal in 1977.

“In the first season we were struggling. I remember going to see him towards the end of the season when we were hovering in the relegation zone of the Second Division, after we’d been relegated from the First Division.

“There was a vital relegation battle against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. Jock had put the teamsheet up and if you took me out, the average age was about 19 or 20. He’d selected young lads like Everton Carr and Neville Hamilton.

“So I went to see him and said: ‘Gaffer, we’re fighting for our lives here. Surely you’ve got to go with experience rather than the young lads!’ He just turned to me and said: ‘Well Mark, it doesn’t matter what division we’re in next year, whether it’s the second or the third, these are the lads who’ll be playing.’

“I thought: ‘Gee! He has such a great belief in what he is doing.’ We drew the game 2-2 even though we were down to 10 men because I think Everton Carr got sent off.

“In the end, we came through that and stayed up and, the next season, Jock’s approach obviously paid dividends because we won the Second Division title.”

Jock’s young side struggled in the First Division, but the season wasn’t without its highlights.

Mark added: “We beat Liverpool at Filbert Street early in the season when Andy Peake scored the goal of the season with a 35 yarder which beat Ray Clemence. We had some good young players in the side like Andy, Larry May, and Tommy Williams with Gary Lineker and Kevin MacDonald coming through. We also won at Anfield which was Liverpool’s first home defeat for 85 games.”

City were relegated at the end of the season but, the following season (1981/82), they reached the FA Cup Semi-Final against Tottenham Hotspur. The quarter-final tie had been against another Second Division side, Shrewsbury Town.   

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Alan Young & Steve Lynex
Alan Young & Steve Lynex

Striker Alan Young changes into a goalkeeper kit, replacing Steve Lynex in goal, against Shrewsbury.

“We were pleased to draw Shrewsbury,” Mark continued. “We were confident that we would go through. Unfortunately, circumstances dictated. I was injured in a clash with Chick Bates and we had to play three goalkeepers in the end as the goalkeeper stand-in, Alan Young, got injured and had to be temporarily replaced by Steve Lynex.”

Leicester won the tie 5-2, but Mark’s injury ended his record of being an ever-present for six-and-a-half consecutive seasons, establishing a Club record of playing in 331 consecutive games.

Mark had recovered, however, in time for the semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur at Villa Park.

“We got it wrong in the semi-final,” Mark said. “We lost 2-0 against a quality Spurs side which had Ossie Ardiles, Glenn Hoddle and Ray Clemence. I remember Garth Crooks scoring first and then Ian Wilson got an unfortunate own goal. On top of that, Tommy Williams broke his leg. It wasn’t going to be our day.”

At the end of the season, City finished eighth in the Second Division and then the Club was shocked in the close season when Wallace walked out of Filbert Street to become manager of Motherwell. The new manager was Milne, the ex-Liverpool and England half-back.

He had spent the previous seven years as manager of Coventry City and was a very different character to Wallace.

In Milne’s first season, 1982/83, Leicester were promoted back to the old First Division. In the days before play-offs were introduced, the top three clubs were promoted automatically.

City secured third place on the last day of the season, even though the Club had to wait a couple of days while the Football League considered an appeal from Fulham, Leicester's rivals for the third spot. This was because the London club’s last game at Derby had finished 75 seconds early due to crowd trouble.

The rapport I had with the fans was phenomenal. Whenever we went through bad times, they were 100 per cent behind me. Every 'keeper makes mistakes, but I was never vilified. They never got on my back. They encouraged me. For that I’m eternally grateful.

Mark Wallington

Mark was an ever-present that season for the seventh time.

Thinking back, Mark reflected: “I respected Gordon as a manager. He was in charge and it was his right to make the choices. I was skipper when he arrived and I thought I’d done a good job but he relieved me of the captaincy which I wasn’t at all happy with!

“I don’t know the circumstances but I’ve often thought it was a shame that Jock's team broke up when they were still quite young.”

The following season, back in the First Division, 1983/84, Milne brought Mark Grew from West Bromwich Albion for a fee of £60,000 to replace Wallington. In his first five games, Grew conceded 14 goals and Mark was restored to the first team, playing in the next 38 league and cup games.

Mark has particularly vivid memories of City’s match at Anfield that season against a Liverpool side who were league champions and on their way to becoming European champions again.

He looked back: “I remember we were 2-0 up at Anfield. They got back to 2-2 and then, in the last minute, they were awarded a penalty. A long high kick from (Liverpool goalkeeper) Bruce Grobbelaar bounced. Ian Rush came in and I collided with him on the edge of the box. I’d gone for the ball as it bounced but the referee, under pressure from the Kop, decided that I’d conceded a penalty in getting the ball. Graeme Souness took the penalty and I managed to get it round the post so we came away with a point.”

Mark maintained his place in the first team for the first 11 games in the top flight in the following season, 1984/85, before leaving for Derby County in July 1985. He had played 460 first team games for Leicester City, a total surpassed by only two other players in the Club's long history.

Thinking back on his time at Filbert Street, Mark reflected on the biggest influences on his career.

“Jimmy Bloomfield had the confidence to sign me and the foresight to see in me what I probably couldn’t see in myself,” Mark began.

“His reserve team manager, David Coates, was a tremendous influence too. In the days before specialist goalkeeping coaches, he spent hours with me at the training ground for which I’m forever grateful.

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Leicester City 1980/81
Leicester City 1980/81

Jock Wallace's Leicester City squad ahead of the 1980/81 campaign.

“Peter Shilton was also tremendous for me, and then there was Jock Wallace. I had tremendous admiration for the man. He always said to me: ‘Mark, if you want to do well, surround yourself with the best possible people that you can. Never be afraid or lack the confidence to have with you somebody who’s good’.

“A lot of managers have less-able people with them because of their insecurity.

“I was Leicester City through and through. I could quite happily have stopped at Filbert Street for the remainder of my career and hopefully gone on to coach, but it wasn’t to be.

“The rapport I had with the fans was phenomenal. Whenever we went through bad times, they were 100 per cent behind me. Every 'keeper makes mistakes, but I was never vilified. They never got on my back. They encouraged me. For that I’m eternally grateful.”

Mark spent three years at Derby, winning promotion to the Second Division in 1986 and to the First Division in 1987.

He then returned to his native county and signed for Lincoln City in 1988, where he was Player of the Season in 1990. He made his 577th and final league appearance in April 1991 at the age of 38.  

After coaching spells at Everton and the Lincolnshire FA, and a spell as assistant manager at Grantham Town, Mark became a teacher in Sleaford, as well as becoming the goalkeeping coach for the England Schools Under-18s squad.

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