Gary Lineker & Gordon Milne

Former Manager Remembers: Gordon Milne

Gordon Milne was Leicester City’s team manager and then general manager between 1982 and 1987. When he spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson, he talked about his lengthy career in football which lasted for over half a century.
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In the 1960s, Milne won two league titles playing for Bill Shankly’s Liverpool and 14 England caps playing for Alf Ramsey. Following spells as manager at Wigan Athletic and Coventry City, he managed Leicester City to promotion in 1983, kept them in the top flight in the mid-1980s, and nurtured such talents as Gary Lineker, Alan Smith and future Liverpool star Gary McAllister. He then had a very successful career managing in Turkey and in Japan.

Gordon’s league career started at Preston North End, then in the Old First Division and with Tom Finney in the side. Gordon’s father Jimmy, who was Preston’s manager in the 1964 FA Cup Final had also played for the club in the 1930s alongside Bill Shankly.

“My dad insisted I did a carpentry apprenticeship," he said. "After I had done my two years military service, Arsenal and Shankly’s Liverpool, who were then in Division Two, wanted to sign me. Shankly and my dad were pals. I went to Liverpool. On reflection it was the right move!

“I was the first of the group of Liverpool players brought in by Shankly. We won the Second Division title in 1963, and I went on to win two league titles (1964 and 1966).

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Leicester City 1983/84
Leicester City 1983/84

Leicester City are pictured ahead of the 1983/84 season, with manager Gordon Milne sat next to Gary Lineker.

“Losing to Leicester 1-0 in the 1963 FA Cup Semi-Final was a bitter pill to swallow. We pulverised Leicester but Banksy (Gordon Banks) was magnificent. Big Mike Stringfellow scored. Leicester were always a real bogey team for us.

“I didn’t miss many games, but I missed the 1965 FA Cup Final through injury. The Liverpool team rarely changed. I remember Shankly telling some reporters before a match that it was the same team as last year!

“My dad said that as a player Shankly was enthusiastic and passionate, he never grew up. He wasn’t a coach, Bob Paisley did all that. Shanks never bothered about the opposition. He preached how he lived, he was into diet before anybody else. He also took us away on Friday night before home games so that players with young children could get a good night’s sleep. 

”Being picked for England was my proudest moment. We had five Liverpool players in the England squad then. Whereas Shanks was warm, Alf [Ramsey] wasn’t. He was very positive about what he wanted. He was very brief. You knew where you stood with him. You wouldn’t cross him but you couldn’t read him. He could also be passionate.”

After two years at Blackpool between 1967 and 1970, Gordon retired from league football.

Leicester had a good tradition of letting managers get on with it. I went for the interview and got the job.

Gordon Milne

“I wanted to stay in the game. When I was offered the player-manager role at Non-League Wigan, it appealed to me as I was starting at the bottom. I saw a side of football I’d never seen before. If I didn’t pay for the coke, you wouldn’t have a hot shower. If I didn’t pay the coach company, the team coach wouldn’t turn up.

“While I was at Wigan I became the England Under-18s coach and we won the Under-18s tournament in Barcelona. This, and Wigan’s epic FA Cup match against Manchester City, led to my becoming Coventry’s manager with Joe Mercer as Director of Football. He was fantastic. Later Jimmy Hill came in as Director of Football, he never interfered, he was also fantastic. A real innovator.”

"After nine years at Coventry, I moved upstairs and then came to Leicester City.

Jock Wallace had gone, and I knew (Director) Terry Shipman. Leicester had a good tradition of letting managers get on with it. I went for the interview and got the job.

“In my first season (1982/83) we went up. Initially it was hard. Jock was popular and a hard act to follow. That first year, we were really struggling until our 15-match unbeaten run at the end of the season. I remember the last game at a packed Filbert Street against Burnley. There were huge queues outside the ground. I said to one fan: ‘This is more like it!’ He had no idea who I was and said it was his first game!”

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Ali Mauchlen, Gordon Milne & Gary McAllister
Ali Mauchlen, Gordon Milne & Gary McAllister

Ali Mauchlen and Gary McAllister both joined Leicester City under Gordon Milne.

Back in the top flight it was tough. An early decision was to give young striker Alan Smith his debut.

“In a practice game, between the old guard and the younger players," Gordon explained, "I thought the young group looked a bit lively. As well as Smudger (Alan Smith), we had a raw Gary Lineker, and Stevie Lynex. I used to think that Stevie could get us 12 goals a season and ‘Smudger’ and Gary could each get us 20, so I didn’t think that we were going to get relegated.

“My mentality was we had to have a go. I knew these lads would get goals so I let them loose. We played to their strengths. Shankly used to peep through the dressing room door as the opposition came down the corridor and tell us players: 'They are frightened to death!' Taking from this I’d tell the Leicester players: 'Look, they are going to have to make plans for us, to counter Smudger, Gary and Stevie'.

To stiffen the defence, Gordon signed Bob Hazell. “He was a key signing with his presence and his personality,” Gordon continued. “He was part of the Club’s Birmingham contingent along with Smudger and Stevie. They used to come in from Birmingham together by car... late! He was great in the dressing room, he was easy to manage and he frightened the opposition. He was so big, he couldn’t get into the training kit!

“In his early days, Gary was quick and only went in one direction. He was learning the game. He went to Everton in 1985. If we had been able to sign top players, Gary wouldn’t have gone. He was happy here. We went to tribunal and sold him for £800,000, raising to £1M if he moved again before his contract at Everton was up which he did after a year, to go to Barcelona.”

Like at Coventry, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep our best players but the board protected me from any fall out.

Gordon Milne

After Lineker left, Gordon signed Motherwell’s Ali Mauchlen and Gary McAllister.

“I was quite proud of my recruitment record,” Gordon continued. “I had a good scouting network in Scotland under John Rice. We went to Motherwell to watch Ali Mauchlen. John and I always stood by the corner flag. This 17-year-old, before taking a corner, placed the ball with his foot. I just thought: 'That’s good'.  It was Gary McAllister. Motherwell were skint so I asked about McAllister too. And we did a dual deal."

In 1987, Gordon had to sell Alan Smith and Ian Wilson, but he was philosophical about this: “Like at Coventry, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep our best players but the board protected me from any fall out. They were both great lads and I couldn’t stand in their way."

In June 1986 Gordon became general manager at Filbert Street following the arrival of Bryan Hamilton from Wigan Athletic as Team Manager.

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Gordon Milne
Gordon Milne

Gordon Milne spent five years at Leicester City, first as manager and then general manager.

Explaining this change of role, Gordon said: “I’d reached the point where I felt I couldn’t take the Club any further. Secretary Alan Bennett, who has a shrewd brain, persuaded me that I was leaving the position a year too early and that I should see my contract out in an amended role and then decide. Bryan Hamilton came in from Wigan. He had a totally different personality to me, which I thought was the right way to go.

“The previous year we had played Wigan in a pre-season game on the Isle of Man. One of their players headed a ball against Director Terry Shipman so hard that he knocked him off his seat and almost killed him! His name was Steve Walsh. Terry was impressed so when Bryan wanted to sign him for Leicester there was no problem.”

Gordon left Filbert Street in May 1987. He went on to have a very successful career as manager of Besiktas, (with Ian Wilson as his assistant), Bursaspor and Trabzonspor in Turkey, and at Nagoya Grampus Eight (again with Ian Wilson, and with Gary Lineker in the team). He also became CEO of the League Managers’ Association and Director of Football at Newcastle United. Talking to him was truly fascinating. He should write a book about his life in football!

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