Frank McLintock

Former Player Remembers: Frank McLintock (Part One)

In the first part of an extended interview with Club Historian John Hutchinson, Frank McLintock focuses on his roots in Glasgow and his time with the Foxes, which included two FA Cup Finals and a credible attempt at winning the league and cup double in 1963.
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Scotland international McLintock was a major star in Leicester City’s midfield between 1959 and 1964 before he left Filbert Street for Arsenal for a record incoming fee of £80,000. 

Frank began by explaining how, shortly after his 17th birthday, he left Glasgow to head to Filbert Street: “I was training with Shawfield Juniors, which was a semi-professional side playing with guys who maybe hadn’t made the top grade and had dropped down a level. It’s called junior football in Glasgow and is still quite widespread.

“I was only 5ft 2in tall when I was playing for them and right away Hamilton Academicals came in for me to play a trial match. Within six months, there were four or five clubs interested in me, including Leicester City, whose scout was Walter McLean.

“I remember meeting Leicester’s manager, David Halliday, with my mum and dad before my 17th birthday. He took us to a hotel in Glasgow. We’d never been in a restaurant in our lives before. We didn’t know which knives and forks to pick up.

“David Halliday was a big dour Aberdonian. He just sat there for about an hour and a half. He hardly said a word. He must have looked at my mum and dad who were 4ft 11in and me at 5ft 2in and thought: ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ However, Walter McLean must have given me a good write up and I was invited to Leicester for a trial.

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Leicester City
Leicester City

England goalkeeper Gordon Banks during his time at Filbert Street, part of an iconic squad for Leicester City which went close to winning both the First Division and the FA Cup.

“I remember the first trial game I played. Everyone was shouting for the ball which didn’t happen in Scottish junior football. It was so confusing. I was passing the ball between people instead of to them and I thought: ‘God, I have no chance of staying here.’

“I can’t even remember the second game, but I must have done okay because Halliday signed me. I was 17. I was already an apprentice painter and decorator and Leicester fixed me up with a job. I was up at 6:30am every morning, cycling to work.

“Two nights a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I cycled to Leicester City to train. I’d run myself into the ground for about two and a half hours. George Dewis was the youth team trainer at the time.  Arthur Chandler, a lovely man, was the kit man. I used to get home at about 10pm having been up since about 6am in the morning.

“I made my first team debut at Blackpool when I was 19. I remember Ian McFarlane saying to me that they thought I might be a bit young for this. I didn’t feel nervous, but I was poorly going up on the train, so maybe inside I was nervous, or perhaps it was something I’d picked up. What a forward line Blackpool had: Jackie Mudie, Ray Charnley and Bill Perry.

“I was Man of the Match. They couldn’t quite believe it and I think I was Man of the Match for the next few weeks.

I remember the Friday before the cup final against Spurs I cycled to my digs from work, washed, showered and shaved and put my little Italian suit on. I then put on my bicycle clips and cycled to the ground.

Frank McLintock

“And then I injured my leg badly. I kept on playing in the game like you did in those days. There were no substitutes. They put big bandages around my knee, but I kept collapsing when I got the ball.

“After the game, I was on the treatment table and four or five directors came in with their soft homburg hats and stood around me. In those days, the manager was way above the players and the directors were way above the manager. It was quite intimidating to be surrounded by them. They were there because it looked as though their young bright player’s career might be nearly finished.

“They thought it was a cruciate ligament, but then the Club’s physio, Alex Dowdells, came up to me. I was a big Celtic supporter and he used to be their physio and, in Glasgow, even the physios are famous. He walked past me and said, out of the side of his mouth, so the directors wouldn’t notice: ‘Ask for a second opinion.’ Now, I was only 19. I was young and naïve.

"I felt like Oliver Twist but I said: ‘I’d like a second opinion.’ They all looked at each other and there was silence for about a minute, but eventually they issued a message over the Filbert Street tannoy. A Professor McLean, who was still in the stands, came down. He thought that it wasn’t the cruciate ligament but a torn medial ligament. He thought I’d be okay if I was put in plaster for six weeks.

“He probably saved my career, because then, if they’d opened up my leg, that often caused problems and if it had been a cruciate ligament, my career would probably have been finished.”

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Frank McLintock
Frank McLintock

McLintock played alongside Richie Norman for Leicester in the 1961 FA Cup Final.

The following season, young players like Gordon Banks, Richie Norman, Ian King and Howard Riley (having completed his National Service in the army) became regulars in the first team. At the end of the season, Leicester City finished sixth and reached the FA Cup Final.

Surprising by today’s standards, Frank was still working as a painter and decorator.

“I remember the Friday before the cup final against Spurs,” he continued. “I cycled to my digs from work, washed, showered and shaved and put my little Italian suit on. I then put on my bicycle clips and cycled to the ground.

"I left my bike at the ground, got onto the first team bus and then we went to the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane, where we were going to stay for the weekend. We were just ordinary guys and that was almost as good as going to Wembley itself!

“Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had a suite at the Dorchester. She was fantastic and she wished us all the best. She kept looking at me and I was quite flattered. Eventually she came over to me and whispered: ‘You’ve still got your bicycle clips on!’”

I got a tap on my shoulder. It was Liverpool manager Bill Shankly. Shankly said: ‘Hello son. How would you like to play for a good team?’ This was on the dance floor!

Frank McLintock

On the eve of the final, top scorer Ken Leek was controversially dropped and replaced by young Hugh McIlmoyle.

“That was a shock for us,” Frank continued. “Kenny was a regular goalscorer. Spurs were the league champions that season, but we were their bogey side. They didn’t particularly fancy playing us, although they were the supreme team, a fantastic team in those days. They had players like Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, Cliff Jones and John White, who was tragically killed by lightning playing golf three years later.

"We fancied our chances against them and we were absolutely shocked when we heard that Kenny wasn’t playing. We never really found out why, but whatever it was, it looked bad at the time with the Leicester City board and the manager, Matt Gillies.  

“The final was a terrific occasion. I’d have felt brilliant if I’d been Hugh McIlmoyle. But the final was marred by the injury in about the 20th minute to Len Chalmers. Les Allen went over the top to him, which was very unusual for Les. There were no substitutes then. Lenny had to play on, hobbling on the wing, so we more or less played with 10 men.

“We played terrifically. Until near the end, playing against one of the best teams ever, it was still 0-0, although we finally lost 2-0, meaning that Spurs won the league and FA Cup double.

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Frank McLintock
Frank McLintock

McLintock in action against Tottenham's Jimmy Greaves during 1962.

“Later that night, at the hotel, I was dancing with my girlfriend, who later became my wife, when I got a tap on my shoulder. It was Liverpool manager Bill Shankly and Ian St. John, who I’d played with for the Scotland Under-23s team. Shankly said: ‘Hello son. How would you like to play for a good team?’ This was on the dance floor! I should have said that I was playing for a good team! That was typical of Shankly. He made every player who went there a better player. He was such an influence and a marvellous man. He was a great manager.

“It never came to anything. The Leicester directors made it clear to Shankly that they weren’t going to sell me.”

Two years later, in the 1962/63 season, City came near to winning the league and cup double themselves. A feature of the Club’s play that season was the way that right-half Frank and inside-right Graham Cross interchanged their positions during matches. This was viewed as an innovative tactical ploy.

“That came about by accident,” Frank laughed. “Graham was a big lad and when he went forward and then came back, he found it hard to go forward again. I was so full of energy that when he dropped back, I used to bomb forward into the space. It worked great for the team, but it was never worked on. It happened by natural instincts.”

During the 1962/63 winter, which was one of the harshest on record, Leicester City won 10 successive league and cup games, rose to top of the table and reached the FA Cup Final against Manchester United.

Gordon Banks made saves that were as good as the one he made against Pelé in the 1970 World Cup. He made six unbelievable saves, especially one from Ian St. John, which was a bullet of a diving header from about six yards out.

Frank McLintock

Thinking back, Frank recalled: “It was quite astonishing that we managed to play a lot of games when other teams didn’t play. This gave us a big advantage. The ground staff put soil on the pitch and then rolled it and used fires to heat it. The way we played, Ken Keyworth and Mike Stringfellow liked long balls. Davie Gibson was great at playing it short and he could chip a ball over people’s heads a couple of yards ahead of him. Howard Riley put great crosses into the box. We just went up and up the league.”

Top of the table with five games to go and facing an FA Cup Final against relegation threatened Manchester United, Leicester had an injury-hit run-in, finishing fourth, and then lost the final.

Thinking back, Frank reflected: “In the semi-final against Shankly’s Liverpool, we got battered. Mike Stringfellow scored with a header from roughly 17 yards. The ball skidded off the surface and went into the bottom corner. That was about our only attack in 90 minutes! Gordon Banks made saves that were as good as the one he made against Pelé in the 1970 World Cup. He made six unbelievable saves, especially one from Ian St. John, which was a bullet of a diving header from about six yards out. He somehow managed to turn it around the post. We should have been beaten about 4-0.

“In the final, we played terribly. I don’t know what happened to us, but Paddy Crerand and Denis Law were outstanding that day. It was so disappointing for us. We hardly had a decent shot at goal. I didn’t mind getting beaten, so long as we gave the Club and the supporters something to shout about, but we didn’t.”

In part two of this extended interview, Frank speaks about playing for Scotland, being injured for the 1964 League Cup Final, Don Revie’s attempt to sign him for Leeds United and why he left Leicester for Arsenal, where as captain, he finally won a league and cup double. He also speaks about his successful time at Queens Park Rangers and his time as Leicester City’s manager in 1977/78.

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