Larry May

Former Player Remembers: Larry May

When central defender Larry May, who played over 200 games for Leicester City between 1977 and 1983, discussed his career in football with Club Historian John Hutchinson, the conversation included how he joined the Foxes and how he played for Jimmy Bloomfield, Frank McLintock, Jock Wallace and Gordon Milne in the Club’s first team.
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He also spoke about his loan stint at New England Tea Men in the USA, his two promotions at Leicester City, playing in the top flight and being an FA Cup semi-finalist. He then explained why he left Filbert Street for Barnsley before moving onto Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton & Hove Albion. 

“I was born in Sutton Coldfield,” Larry began. “I played for a local youth team. Scouts from teams like Wolves, West Brom and Leicester watched us. Leicester wanted me to spend a week with them over half term and stay in digs there. I really enjoyed it that week, being away and living in a house with a load of other young footballers who were my age. 

“Then West Brom wanted me to go on trial with them. They wanted to sign me but I’d made up my mind that I wanted to go to Leicester. They were in the First Division and West Brom were in the Second Division.” 

Larry became an apprentice at Filbert Street in July 1975 and signed professional forms in September 1976. “When I became a professional at 17,” Larry laughed, “Gary Lineker was a year younger than me and as an apprentice he had to clean my boots.” 

In March 1977, manager Jimmy Bloomfield gave Larry his debut in the centre-back position in a top flight match against Bristol City, at a time when Leicester City were sixth in the old First Division. 

“It was a 0-0 draw,” Larry remembered. “I was a young lad playing in a good team. I got a fairly good write-up for somebody making their debut. I absolutely loved it. It was what I’d wanted to do all my life. It was fantastic. I’ll always remember that Jimmy Bloomfield sang my praises at the end of the game.” 

At the end of that season, Jimmy Bloomfield left Filbert Street and was replaced by Frank McLintock, who had been a star player at Leicester City before captaining Arsenal to the league and cup double and Queens Park Rangers to runners-up position in the league. It was his first managerial appointment. Things went badly. Leicester were relegated and McLintock left the club before the end of the season. 

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Larry May

The Leicester defender stays close to Southampton's Kevin Keegan.

He added: “I played a couple of games under Frank McLintock, but I wasn’t a regular as Steve Sims, Jeff Blockley and Alan Woollett, who’d had years of experience, were there. Also, that season I’d had a cartilage out, and at the end of the season I went to America on loan to New England Tea Men in Boston to get some games. 

“It was a great experience in Boston, but then I ruptured my cruciate. In those days, you didn’t often come back from an injury like that. Luckily, I had it repaired in America. When I came back to Leicester, it was near the start of the new season under the new manager, Jock Wallace. I still wasn’t fit though. A lot of people at the Club didn’t think I would play again. 

“I actually started playing four or five games into that first season under Jock Wallace. My knee was killing me, but because I’d got into the first team I didn’t want to come out. I used to train, ice my knee and do exercise. As time passed it settled down and I managed to play that whole season.” 

Leicester City finished 17th in that first season after relegation. 

“Jock brought in a lot of young players who were already at the Club, including me,” he recalled. “It was good playing for him. I became a regular under him. There was Gary Lineker, Andy Peake, Tommy Williams and John O’Neill, who was a good lad. I think John is about a year older than me. We teamed up really well as centre- backs. I like to think I was good in the air, very quick and good on the ball as well. 

“That first season, Jock also brought in Scottish players like Martin Henderson and Bobby Smith. To start with, they played Gary [Lineker] wide, but he was never a winger. He didn’t get involved in setting up stuff. He was quick and he just wanted to stop in the box and nip onto the ball. 

“That first season we managed to stay up, and then it took off the following season. Jock brought in Ian Wilson and Alan Young. He kept the nucleus of the lads from the youth team. We ended up having a really good run and winning the Second Division title.” 

Promotion and the Second Division title was secured on the last day of the season, when Larry scored the only goal of the game in a victory over Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road. 

“That was brilliant,” Larry continued. “We took about 10,000 fans with us. We had to win that game to win the league. From a free kick, the ball was whipped in at the back post and I somehow reached it and volleyed it in. The crowd were fabulous. It was amazing for us to win the league.” 

It was a fitting end to Larry’s season. He had played in every game, as had Mark Wallington and Alan Young. However, the next season, Jock Wallace’s young side was relegated after just one season. 

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Leicester City 1978

Jock Wallace built a competitive and youthful squad at Filbert Street.

He explained: “At the time, I didn’t realise just how young our team was. It was great to be back in the First Division, but we could probably have done with a few older heads. Eddie Kelly left from our promotion team. I’m not knocking Jock, but we might have stayed up if Eddy had been there. We missed his experience. 

“For me, Jock Wallace was brilliant. He gave me my chance and kept me in the team. He was a motivator. He got you going. Everything was about working hard, being passionate and determined, and having the will to win. He wasn’t the best coach, but I can’t fault him for what he did for me. Before every game, he would just say to me: ‘You just play how you can play and we’ll be fine! Win the balls, win your tackles.’ And that’s what I used to go and do. The fans loved him and I think the players loved him as well. He was passionate. He’d have a go at you if he had to! 

“The highlight of that season (1980/81) was doing the double over Liverpool, who hadn’t lost at Anfield for 85 games,” Larry said. “Overall, though, we didn’t play as well as we could have done. 

“It was a different league playing in the top flight. That’s where all footballers should aim to be. It was great playing against the big established players. Kenny Dalglish always stood out. He was brilliant.” 

Back in the Second Division, although the Club didn’t get promoted that season (1981/82), the team had a good run in the FA Cup before being beaten by Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-final. 

“At the start of the run, we beat Hereford 1-0 away,” Larry added. “It was a tough old game. It was a horrible pitch. It was freezing and muddy. I scored the goal and we went on from there. I somehow scooped my leg into a free kick and the ball went into the top corner. Then, we beat Shrewsbury in the game when we needed three goalkeepers due to injuries. I scored one of the goals and we won 5-2. The atmosphere at Filbert Street, which was packed to the rafters, was brilliant. 

“Then there was the semi-final against Tottenham at Villa Park. It was a massive stadium and it was ram-packed. I thought we’d beat them actually, but we lost. Ian Wilson scored an own goal. He chipped it back from about 35 yards! Tommy Williams broke his leg. I remember hearing a big crack. Lineker was up front and Graham Roberts whacked him in the first five minutes and that affected him for the rest of the game. They had some very good players, like Glenn Hoddle and Ossie Ardiles. We had games in hand after that semi-final and we could still have gone up, but we finished eighth.” 

At the end of the season, Jock Wallace left the Club in order to manage Motherwell. 

Gordon Milne took over,” Larry remembered. “I played every game until the end of February and was enjoying it. About halfway through the season we had our first son. When he was four weeks old, he got something called pyloric stenosis. He couldn’t keep his food down. We rushed him to hospital on a Friday night before an away game at Grimsby. I wasn’t going to play but Gordon persuaded me to. I shouldn’t have played. My mind wasn’t there and I got sent off and we lost the game. I was suspended and from then on, with us pushing for promotion, he left me out of the team. It was really frustrating for me. I’d never been in that position before. If I hadn’t been persuaded to play at Grimsby, I’d have come back in a couple of weeks and played on. 

He continued: “We got promoted at the end of that season (1982/83) and I had a good pre-season. Then, before the first game of the new season, Gordon told me he wasn’t going to play me, that he’d had a couple of bids for me and that he’d accepted a bid from Barnsley. I went to see Barnsley’s manager, Norman Hunter, who’d been one of my heroes when I was a kid. He told me: ‘I’ll make sure you’ll be playing. You’ll be king of it here.’ I jumped at the chance to sign thinking: ‘At least I’m wanted here.’ 

“Looking back, I should probably have bided my time and stayed at Leicester, played in the reserves and got back into the first team, as I was good enough, but I was young and naive. I didn’t have anyone to guide me. I was only 23 and had already played 200 games. 

To be honest, I loved my time at Leicester. I loved playing at Filbert Street with the crowd and everything else. I never experienced that at any of the other clubs I’ve been to. I wish I’d never, ever left.

Larry May

“Barnsley paid £150,000 for me, the biggest fee they’d ever forked out. I loved my time there. Bobby Collins and Allan Clarke were also managers while I was there. I was Player of the Season twice.” 

In February 1987, Larry moved to Sheffield Wednesday for a fee of £250,000. 

“I was nearly 28, I wanted to get back to a bigger club and they were in the top flight,” Larry explained. “Howard Wilkinson was manager and I lived in Wakefield, which wasn’t far away. However, the next season I damaged my knee  again. I’d always had knee problems because of my cruciate injury at Leicester. Because of the injuries, I never played as well for Sheffield Wednesday as I had for other clubs.” 

Larry’s last move was to Brighton & Hove Albion for a fee of £250,000 in September 1988. “They’d just been promoted to the Second Division,” he said. “I became a bit of a folk hero there but only played 28 games because I damaged my other knee at the end of the season. I couldn’t get fit the following season and was forced to retire.” 

Since then, Larry coached at Brighton and Portsmouth and worked as a development officer for the Surrey County FA and for Brighton & Hove Albion’s Community Scheme. 

In conclusion, Larry reflected: “To be honest, I loved my time at Leicester. I loved playing at Filbert Street with the crowd and everything else. I never experienced that at any of the other clubs I’ve been to. I wish I’d never, ever left.” 

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