Leicester City, 1968

Former Player Remembers: Alan Woollett

When speaking to Club Historian John Hutchinson, Wigston-born Alan Woollett, who specialised in tenacious man-marking, recalled his career in football.
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He played 260 games for Leicester City in the 1960s and 1970s, most of them in the old First Division. He also played in the 1969 FA Cup Final.  

“My father had wanted me to concentrate on my O-levels at Guthlaxton School,” Alan began. "But one parents’ evening, he had a chat with (ex-Leicester player) Eddie Russell, who was a teacher there, and he arranged for me to train in the evenings at Leicester City with George Dewis on the old shale car park behind Filbert Street.

"I joined the ground staff in 1963 and signed professional a year later. My full debut was at Stoke in April 1967, on the day Gordon Banks made his Stoke City debut. It was an end of the season game but it meant a lot to me.

“I played more regularly the next season. I played in one side with nine locals, like Peter Shilton, David Nish, Steve Whitworth, Graham Cross, Alan Tewley and Bobby Svarc. It’s very different now.

“When I was a youngster, I had a bad game at right-back against Everton in front of 40,000 at Filbert Street. The nerves got to me. I had a stinker. The crowd were on my back. For a time (manager) Matt Gillies would only play me in away games because the home crowd gave me so much stick.

I used to get man-marking jobs against players like Besty (George Best). The manager told me, ‘I don’t care if you don’t touch the ball, just keep him out of the game, otherwise he’ll destroy us'.

Alan Woollett

"When the crowd have a go at you, you do hear it, and it does affect you. Gibbo (Davie Gibson) wrote to the Leicester Mercury saying how disgusted he was with the crowd for giving me so much stick. After that, I played against Manchester City, got in one or two good tackles early on and started to get a few cheers. Gradually I turned it round, but it was hard.

“I used to get man-marking jobs against players like Besty (George Best). The manager told me: ‘I don’t care if you don’t touch the ball, just keep him out of the game, otherwise he’ll destroy us. We’ll play 10 against 10’. 

"[Kevin] Keegan was the hardest to mark. I remember once coming off at half-time absolutely shattered. He used to make runs and you had to go with him and keep him playing away from the goal. He was the hardest working player I ever came across.”

In 1969, Alan played in the FA Cup Final against Manchester City.

"Thinking back to that final," he recalled, “the one thing I wanted to do was play in a cup final at Wembley. It was unfortunate for John Sjoberg that he was injured. He was a tremendous centre-half. He was brilliant in the air and really tough.

"I played well with him because I was quick and could mop things up. It was the same when I played with Graham Cross and Steve Sims. The week before the final, we had a game against Brentford at Bisham Abbey to see who’d be fit and John broke down.

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Alan Woollett
Alan Woollett

Woollett in action during the 1969 FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium against the Citizens.

"When Frank O’Farrell told me I’d be playing it was a tremendous moment for me. I don’t remember a lot about the day. We were very disappointed to lose. Lochhead and Rodrigues missed great chances. The game didn’t go for us, but we didn’t get hammered as everyone expected.

“After the game, we went to a banquet at a hotel in Park Lane. Then we came back to Leicester and had a do at the town hall. There was an open-top bus parade. We were disappointed to lose but I’ve still got my medal, shirt and tracksuit top. You can never take that away.

“We had a hectic five matches after the final. We had to win at Old Trafford in the last game to avoid relegation. Unfortunately, Frank O’Farrell didn’t put me on to Besty. It was a red hot day, and they were strolling around. We went ahead, but Besty turned it on and beat us on his own.

"As we came off, Bobby Charlton said to me: 'Sorry. We did all we could for you!' I think, to this day, that if I’d had my usual man-marking job, playing 10 against 10, we might have got a result.

“When Jimmy Bloomfield replaced Frank O’Farrell, he bought in a lot of the London crew, players he knew like Keith Weller, Alan Birchenall and Jon Sammels, who were established First Division players.

“For a couple of seasons, I played at centre-half alongside either Jeff Blockley or Steve Sims. In my testimonial year (1976/77), I’d been playing well with Simsy, but when Jeff got fit again, I was left out of the team against Leeds at Elland Road. I was annoyed. I saw no justification.

I told the manager that Jeff and Simsy wouldn’t play well together because they were both ball winners, but he hadn’t got anybody playing off either of them. Sure enough, the Club slid down the league and I was recalled.

Alan Woollett

"I told the manager that Jeff and Simsy wouldn’t play well together because they were both ball winners, but he hadn’t got anybody playing off either of them. Sure enough, the Club slid down the league and I was recalled. The crowd took my side. I wasn’t playing and the team were losing. Eventually I got back in again, alongside Simsy.”

Alan had several other disagreements with Bloomfield, not only about tactics, but also about a proposed move to Birmingham City, which Bloomfield blocked, about a trip to Kuwait, and about the timing of Alan’s testimonial match against Chelsea.

“My last year at Leicester was Frank McLintock’s relegation season (1977/78). I was injured and Frank brought in David Webb. When I was fit again, Frank told me he would look daft with the directors if he didn’t play Webby, who had cost the Club money to buy.

"He fixed me up with a move to Detroit. I was on £120 a week at Leicester and Detroit offered me £350. However, I turned it down. My wife wasn’t keen because she was pregnant. Detroit came back and offered me £12,500 in my hand, which was half of the transfer fee. 

"This was big money in those days. But we still didn’t go. In the end, I had a free transfer and went to Northampton, in the Fourth Division, but after a year I thought: ‘What am I doing here?’ So I negotiated a settlement and packed it in.”

After hanging up his boots, Alan spent 27 years working in the prison service. He now lives in retirement in Knighton.

Leicester City Crest

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