Hugh McIlmoyle

Former Player Remembers: Hugh McIlmoyle

Last month, Club Historian John Hutchinson sat down with Scottish goalscorer Hugh McIlmoyle, who played for Leicester City in the 1961 FA Cup Final.
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He also played nearly 100 games for Wolverhampton Wanders between 1964 and 1967. In addition, he signed for Rotherham United, Bristol City, Middlesbrough and Preston North End as well as having three spells at Carlisle United. A statue of Hugh stands outside Carlisle’s Brunton Park ground. 

Hugh began by explaining how he arrived at Filbert Street as a 19-year-old in August 1959. 

“When I left school at 15, I worked from 8am until 5pm everyday as a ship painter in Greenock shipyards and played for a local team called Port Glasgow Rovers. 

“When I was 19, I was approached after a game by a fellow who was a scout from Leicester City. He asked me for my name and where I lived. He came to the house to ask me to go to Leicester. 

“I caught the train to Leicester for a fortnight trial. I played in a trial match at centre-forward. I remember that there was no grass on the pitch! At the end of the fortnight, they asked me to stay.

“It was the first time I’d been out of Scotland. I’d never really been outside Port Glasgow. I was homesick. (Leicester manager) Matt Gillies told me to stay until Christmas and, if I was still homesick, he’d fix me up with a Scottish club.  

“I went into digs and I got friendly with other young players like Frank McLintock and Ian White from Glasgow, and John Sjoberg and Jackie Lornie from Aberdeen. Frank was a top player. He only trained a couple of evenings because he was painter and decorator.”

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Hugh McIlmoyle
Hugh McIlmoyle

Hugh McIlmoyle and his Foxes colleagues line up at Wembley in 1961.

Hugh graduated to the reserves and was their top scorer in 1960/61 when he scored 19 goals in 20 games. 

“When I first went to Leicester, I was getting £10 a week,” Hugh remembered. “This was twice what I’d earned at the shipyard. When the maximum wage was abolished in 1961, wages rose and Johnny Haynes became the first £100 per week footballer.”

In April 1961, an injury to Wales international centre-forward Ken Leek provided Hugh with the opportunity to make his first team debut against West Ham United. He scored in a 5-1 victory over the Hammers and this was the start of a seven-match run, in the month leading up to the 1961 FA Cup Final against league champions Tottenham Hotspur. During this run, he scored four goals.

Top scorer Ken Leek had netted in every round of the FA Cup leading up to the Wembley final, but when he was sensationally dropped on the eve of the showpiece for reasons which have never been properly revealed, Hugh found himself in the cup final team in his place.

“It never entered my head that I would be playing in the final,” Hugh remembered. “We were training on the Thursday before the final. Gillies came out while we were training. He very rarely watched us training. He called Leek over. You could see them in conversation and then Ken cleared off down the tunnel and we were all wondering what had happened. Then the manager called me over and told me I was playing in the final on Saturday! 

“That Spurs side was the best team I ever played against. We lost 2-0 but we played most of the game with only 10 men because Len Chalmers was injured and spent the game hobbling on the wing as there were no substitutes in those days. The game was a complete disappointment even though we had played well given the circumstances.”

At the beginning of the next season, Hugh started in the side and scored in the European Cup Winners’ Cup against Glenavon in September 1961, but at the end of the season, he left Filbert Street. A disagreement with Gillies, who didn’t want Hugh to get married during the season, soured his relationship with the manager. Hugh went to Scotland to get married in a double wedding with this brother, and even though he returned to Leicester the next day, Hugh was dropped to the reserves and his time at Filbert Street looked as though it was coming to an end.

I scored about 45 goals in about 95 games but the manager called me into his office and sold me and another striker Bob Hatton, who went to Bolton. The manager wanted the money to buy Derek Dougan from Leicester City, where he had scored a lot of goals.

Hugh McIlmoyle

This is why Hugh signed for Second Division Rotherham United in July 1962.

“The manager who signed me on the Friday left for Grimsby Town three days later,” Hugh remembered. “The weather that season was terrible and many games were postponed. Carlisle were interested in signing me and I signed for them without hesitation in March 1963. It was the best move I ever made. It was terrific there. I was glad to get away from Rotherham. 

“Alan Ashman was the manager at Carlisle. The next season (1963/64), we were promoted from the Fourth Division. I scored 44 league and cup goals. I was the Football League’s top scorer. They gave me a clock to commemorate this. I’ve still got it.”  

The following season, Carlisle won back-to-back promotions as Third Division champions, but in October 1964, Hugh had been transferred to First Division side Wolverhampton Wanders, although they were unfortunately relegated at the end of that season, just as Carlisle United were promoted to the Second Division.  

“I didn’t want to leave Carlisle,” Hugh continued. “In fact, I went back there twice later in my career. However, Wolves were a bigger club. and Carlisle benefitted from the transfer fee of £30,000. Money was never a priority for me, I just wanted to play, but the wages were better. Nowadays a move like that would set you up for life.”

When Hugh moved to Molineux, Wolves had players like England internationals Bobby Thompson and Ron Flowers, as well as forward Peter Knowles and wingers David Wagstaffe and Terry Wharton.  

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Hugh McIlmoyle
Hugh McIlmoyle

Sitting in son Alan's garden, Hugh spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson.

“They had big players,” Hugh remembered. “Ron Flowers, who was in the England World Cup squad in 1966, was terrific. So was Terry Wharton.”

Two highlights of Hugh’s time at Molineux came in FA Cup games during his first season (1964/65).

“In the fifth round against Aston Villa, we drew the first two games 0-0 and then had the second replay at the Hawthorns. There was snow on the pitch and it was very cold. I scored a hat-trick and we won 3-1. In the next round, we played Manchester United at Molineux. There was snow on the ground again. I scored twice in the first five minutes, but they had [George] Best, [Denis] Law and [Bobby] Charlton in their side and we lost 5-3.”

Throughout Hugh’s time at Molineux, the manager was Ronnie Allen. The side was pushing for promotion back to the top flight in the 1966/67 season, but in March 1967, Hugh left for Bristol City, who were struggling in the Second Division. 

“I wasn’t unhappy at Wolves,” Hugh recalled. “I scored about 45 goals in about 95 games but the manager called me into his office and sold me and another striker Bob Hatton, who went to Bolton. The manager wanted the money to buy Derek Dougan from Leicester City, where he had scored a lot of goals.”

Hugh’s goals helped Bristol City to avoid relegation, but he only stayed at Ashton Gate for six months.

“I didn’t stay long,” Hugh recalled. “I soon went back to Carlisle, who were in the Second Division.”

Two years, 79 league appearances and 30 goals later, Hugh’s next move was to the Second Division promotion contenders Middlesbrough in September 1969 for a fee of £50,000. Hugh didn’t want to leave Carlisle, but the club once again needed the money from the transfer fee. Two years later, Hugh went to another Second Division side, Preston North End, where he stayed another two years until the close season of 1973.  

After a brief spell with Greenock Morton back in Scotland, Hugh then returned for the third time to his beloved Carlisle in July 1974, when he was signed by Alan Ashman in his second spell as manager at the club. Hugh signed a one-year contract. His role was to add experience to the small Carlisle squad which was about to embark on the club’s only season in the top flight. The Cumbrians had replaced the relegated Manchester United and this gave Hugh his chance to play at Filbert Street for the last time.

When there were floods in Carlisle, the flood water reached the top of the statue’s pedestal and the fans said I was walking on water! Whenever we passed the statue on match day, my wife always rubbed the statue’s boots.

Hugh McIlmoyle

Remarkably, Carlisle won their first three games and went to the top of the old First Division. Their fifth game was at Filbert Street against a Leicester City side containing England internationals Steve Whitworth, Keith Weller and Frank Worthington. 

Playing alongside Hugh was the Leicestershire and England cricketer Chris Balderstone, described by Hugh as ‘a hell of a good player.’ In the match, Balderstone found himself in opposition to Leicester City’s Graham Cross, another cricketer who was Balderstone’s team-mate at Leicestershire CCC, who won the John Player League that year.

Hugh scored in the 10th minute when he met a cross into the box and beat Mark Wallington with a shot from about eight yards out. Balderstone missed a penalty and the match ended 1-1 following Frank Worthington’s equaliser.   

Hugh concluded: “When I finished playing, I didn’t want to coach or manage. I came back to Leicester and got a job at Walkers Crisps for about 22 or 23 years but I always had it in mind to go back to Carlisle when I retired and we moved back up there nearly 20 years ago.” 

Today, a statue of Hugh stands outside Carlisle United’s home ground, Brunton Park.

“In the pub, my ex-team-mates used to say: ‘How the hell did you get a statue?!’ What happened was that a builder called Fred Story took over the club and he wanted to put a statue of me outside the ground because of what I had achieved at Carlisle. I remember him picking me up and driving to North Yorkshire for a fellow to take an outline of me for the statue. When there were floods in Carlisle, the flood water reached the top of the statue’s pedestal and the fans said I was walking on water! Whenever we passed the statue on match day, my wife always rubbed the statue’s boots.”

Hugh has recently moved back to Leicestershire to live nearer to his son Alan. 

Sitting in Alan’s garden earlier this month, it was a great privilege to talk to Hugh who, among his achievements, made such significant contributions over half a century ago to both Leicester City and the Club's opening 2021/22 opponents, Wolverhampton Wanderers. 

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