The Ice Kings

Former Player Remembers: Frank McLintock (Part Two)

In the second part of his interview with Club Historian John Hutchinson, Frank McLintock, a star of the Leicester City side between 1959 and 1964, continued to review his career in football.
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Among other things, he spoke about playing for Scotland and why he left the Foxes for Arsenal, where he won the league and FA Cup double. He also spoke about completing his 19-year playing career at Queens Park Rangers, where, as captain, he led his team to the runners-up spot in the old First Division. He then reflected on the difficulties he faced during his time as City’s manager in the 1977/78 season. 

In part one of this extended interview, Frank focused on his roots in Glasgow, how he came to join the Foxes, his first team debut and his first four seasons at Filbert Street. These included playing in two FA Cup Finals and playing in the famous ‘Ice Kings’ side which made credible attempt at winning the league and cup double in 1963.  

Frank’s high energy midfield performances for Leicester gained the attention of the Scotland international selectors and, in 1962, he had been capped by his country at Under-23s level.

In June 1963, he became a full Scotland international, a month after his Leicester team-mate Davie Gibson had also won his first cap. That summer, Frank played against Norway in Bergen, against Ireland in Dublin and against Spain in Madrid. Gibson was a team-mate in all three of these internationals and both of the City players scored in the 6-2 defeat of Spain.   

Thinking back, Frank recalled: “I was picked against Norway, Ireland and Spain, but I found it very difficult playing for Scotland because if you were an English Scot, which is what they called us then, you weren’t accepted. It wasn’t the supporters, it was the reporters.

“I remember coming back from the train station after one of the games, which I think we either drew or lost, and the headlines said: ‘These Men Must Go!’ The article had photographs of Scots playing in England like Denis Law, Alan Gilzean and Ian Ure. Today, Scotland would die to have players like that in the team. Pat Crerand and Jim Baxter should also have been picked more. We didn’t really need players from north of the border.

“I think that stopped me playing well for Scotland. I tried too hard and lost my composure and confidence a bit. Some people battled through it and did very well, but I felt that no matter what I did, the feeling against Scots playing in England was always there.

“The funny thing is that the Scots in England were more Scottish than the Scots because we were always trying to keep the flag flying down here. It was heart breaking playing for Scotland. I wish it had been a lot different.”

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Frank McLintock
Frank McLintock

The former Foxes man enjoyed the most successful years of his playing career at Arsenal.

The following season, Leicester won the League Cup, defeating Stoke City in the two-legged final. “I was injured for that final,” Frank remembered. “That should have been another final I could have been in.”

Five months later, in September 1964, Frank left Filbert Street for Arsenal for a Club record incoming fee of £80,000. It was also a record fee for Arsenal.

Explaining why he left Filbert Street, Frank recalled that his impressive form had attracted the interest of other clubs.

“Before I left Leicester, (Leeds United manager) Don Revie looked into signing me. He came to my house at 10.30pm one night and offered me an absolute fortune. He offered more than double what I was earning at Leicester and £8,000 in cash. That was an awful lot of money in those days.

“I loved Leicester City. I’ve always said that. There’s so much in my heart. That badge on the blue shirt with the fox’s head on it with the crops sticks in my mind terrifically. However, I always felt that Leicester needed two or three extra players, but that they would never be able to get them. I thought the team that we were in would never get any better.”

In his last home game for Leicester City, in September 1964, Frank scored twice in a 3-2 defeat against Arsenal, the team he was soon to join.

“For the first couple of years, moving to Arsenal was a big disappointment,” Frank continued. “Although Arsenal had some great players, like Joe Baker and George Eastham, I felt that Leicester were a better grounded team. They were more organised and had a better balance in the team, with people like Davie Gibson and Mike Stringfellow. Gordon Banks was a terrific goalkeeper.

“Billy Wright (who had won a then record 105 caps for England) was the manager and it was his first job. After my later experience when I became manager at Leicester, I know what this must have felt like. As a new manager, you are better off going with smaller clubs first unless you are a genius like Cloughy (Brian Clough) and even he started at Hartlepool. At Arsenal, it was too big a job for Billy Wright. The training wasn’t up to standard and he’d tend to let the experienced players get away with things, but jump on the youngsters. It wasn’t working out at all and I was devastated because I was hungry to win things.

“It was hard going. I didn’t play nearly as well as I did when I was at Leicester, but I had to keep my heart and my spirit and my running power and my determination. I think that’s why the supporters gave me the Player of the Year award.

“Then things started changing. The club’s physiotherapist, Bertie Mee of all people, took over as manager. He brought in Dave Sexton and, all of a sudden, there was light at the end of the tunnel. There were some marvellous young players coming through and, with my experience and (goal keeper) Bob Wilson’s experience, there was a good blend there.”

As Arsenal’s captain, and by now playing at centre-back, Frank famously went on to win the league and FA Cup double in 1971 as well as the European Inter Cities Fairs Cup (a forerunner of the UEFA Cup) a year earlier.

Frank left Arsenal for Queens Park Rangers in June 1973 and, under their manager Dave Sexton, came close to winning another league title.

“We missed out on the title by one point to Liverpool in 1976,” Frank remembered. “That was a bit of a tragedy because I was nearly 37 and it would have been a lovely way to finish my career. We played some magnificent football.”

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Leicester City 1977/78
Leicester City 1977/78

Frank McLintock's Leicester City side at Filbert Street in the summer of 1977.

After another season with QPR, Frank retired as a player and returned to Filbert Street to replace Jimmy Bloomfield as Leicester City’s manager in July 1977.

He explained: “I didn’t know what to do after I finished playing football, because I just loved playing all the time. I wasn’t like Terry Venables and other top coaches, who , because they recognised that they wouldn’t be in the first team when they were over 30, started doing coaching courses and managing little teams while playing, so that when they retired, they’d done this for seven or eight years.

“I didn’t do this. I played top-flight football for 19 years. I never played a lower division game, ever. I had a great knowledge of tactics and everything else but learning how to communicate this knowledge is very important.

“When I went to Leicester as manager, I couldn’t believe the standard. I thought it was terrible. I was very disappointed with the results we were getting and I think my anxiety showed as a manager. Looking back, I think I transmitted a little bit of tension to the players, whereas Jimmy Bloomfield had been quite laid back and relaxed about things. Also, I lost Keith Weller and Frank Worthington.

“I think Leicester were about 11th in the league when I took them over, but they were on the path towards relegation anyway. They gave me £100,000 to buy four players, but it would have needed a Brian Clough to do what was necessary to form a team. Cloughie, with his genius, would go out and maybe sell eight players and bring in another eight. That’s what Bertie Mee did at Arsenal after Billy Wright left.

“I couldn’t do that, but there were some good young players at Leicester coming through, like Tommy Williams, Larry May, Mark Goodwin, Neville Hamilton, Derek Dawkins and Trevor Christie. I had all of them coming through and I gave them all their chance in the first team, but it was a bad time for them as well.”

Frank left Leicester in April 1978 with the side doomed to relegation.

“I’m very critical of myself and I still feel a bit heartbroken over my time as Leicester’s manager,” Frank reflected. “I so much wanted to do well there. I think people thought that I was affected by having a business in London, but I put my heart and soul into that Leicester job. I think that people thought I’d let everybody down and let myself down.

“Although I’m critical of myself, I do see that it was mission impossible at Leicester that particular year. I needed another year or two. Being relegated was perfect for Jock Wallace, who came in as manager after me. He was in a lower division, he had a lot of fine youngsters coming through, he brought in one or two others and I think Jock did a really good job.”

Even so, Leicester finished as low as 17th in the Second Division in Wallace’s first season. It wasn’t until the season afterwards that his side was promoted as Second Division champions. Some of the youngsters that Frank helped develop in his time as manager, but who weren’t quite ready for the first team then, played an important part in this achievement.

Irrespective of Frank’s time as manager however, his performances as a star player for Leicester City between 1959 and 1964 were exceptional. On the field, his skill, energy, commitment and tactical awareness were outstanding.

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