Norman Plummer

Former Player Remembers: Norman Plummer

Last month, Club Historian John Hutchinson discovered, transcribed and then edited a recording made well over 20 years ago by centre-half Norman Plummer, who was Leicester City’s FA Cup Final captain in 1949. It provides a fascinating insight into his career as a footballer.
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Norman, who sadly died in 1999, recalls his days as a schoolboy footballer, his engineering apprenticeship, his service in the RAF during the war, his pride captaining Leicester City in the Club’s first ever FA Cup Final and his life after he left the Foxes.   

“I was born in Leicester in Leopold Road in Clarendon Park,” Norman began. “I attended Marriott Road Junior School and Linwood Lane Boys’ School. When I was at Linwood, I played for Leicester Boys and then Leicestershire Boys. At Linwood, there used to be an old school master called Joe Muscott. He put his heart and soul into the game. He devoted all his time to running the football and cricket teams. We used to practice every evening.

“At that point, I didn’t have ambitions to be a professional footballer. I left school in 1938 and worked at Stibbes as an apprentice engineer. When the war started, I was working at Mellor Bromleys. This was a reserved occupation so I couldn’t join the forces. I’d actually been in the Air Training Corps since 1939 so I joined the RAF in 1943.  

“Before that, I played for Leicester City in the wartime leagues. The person who put me through to Leicester City was a fellow I worked with at Mellor Bromleys. We used to play in a works team on Sunday afternoon. This fellow, who was a professional footballer, saw me play and put me in touch with Leicester.  

“This was in October 1942. I had one game in the ‘A’ team and I scored three goals playing at outside-left. In those days, it was difficult for Leicester to raise a team with players being away in the forces so the Club turned to service people in the area for players. The Leicester manager, Tom Bromilow phoned me up and asked if I would like to play for the first team. We won at Coventry and I scored. I then played in quite a lot of wartime football until I was called up to join the RAF in 1943. In wartime football, we were paid 30 shillings (£1.50) a game.

“In the RAF, I was mainly posted overseas but I did play a couple of games when I came home on leave. One game was against Aston Villa on Christmas Day in 1943, when I played at left-half. I played all over the place in wartime football. Then I was posted to Canada for aircrew training. I returned to England in November 1944.”

In total, Norman played in 24 Wartime Regional League games for Leicester City before being posted to Belgium.

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Norman Plummer
Norman Plummer

During the Second World War, Plummer served with the RAF, in the Far East and in Europe, as a navigator.

“I was posted to Brussels in early 1945 until the end of the war,” Norman recalled. “Then we came back to England, the squadron was re-formed completely and the next thing we knew we were on our way to India and the Far East to relieve a Canadian squadron. I was out there until June 1947. The war meant that I’d missed five years of football.”

 The Football League, after a seven-year gap, restarted in the 1946/47 season.

Norman continued: “When I came back to England, Leicester got in touch with me to ask me to play for them, so I signed a contract which paid £10 a week in the reserves, £12 a week in the first team and £8 per week in the summer. That was about half the money I’d been earning in the RAF.”

On Christmas Day in 1947, Norman made his Football League debut, playing at centre-forward, in a Second Division match at Brentford. He went on to play in another seven matches that season playing at centre-half in all but one of them.

“In those days the football boots were very heavy high ones,” he added. “We had long studs which we used to replace. I think I only had two pairs of boots all the time I played. The balls were heavy leather ones. At the Double Decker end of Filbert Street, there used to be about six inches of mud on the pitch and it never used to dry out. We used to call it the deep end. When we tried to kick the ball out from the penalty area, if you kicked it along the floor it would just stick in the mud. You had to scoop it out and lift it maybe for 20 or 30 yards.

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Norman Plummer
Norman Plummer

A rare photograph of Plummer and his team-mates training at Bradgate Park in north Leicestershire.

“We enjoyed playing football though. We went out as an attacking side and not play negative football. We had two wingers, Mal Griffiths and Charlie Adam, and they used to fly along on the outside. We used to attack down the flanks, and not try to go through the middle.”

Norman’s second peacetime season (1948/49) was momentous, both for Leicester City and for Norman personally. Although manager Johnny Duncan’s side was struggling in the Second Division, City embarked on an epic FA Cup run which culminated in Norman captaining the side in the 1949 final at Wembley against a star-studded Wolverhampton Wanderers side.

Thinking back to that season, Norman remembered: “We had quite a hard time in the league. Johnny Duncan, the manager, made me captain just before Christmas and we started to get one or two results, but the icing on the cake was playing in the FA Cup.”

In the third round, Leicester City were drawn away against First Division side Birmingham City. The first game was a 1-1 draw after extra-time at St. Andrew’s.

He explained: “The first replay was a midweek game at Filbert Street. It was in the afternoon because there were no floodlights but there was still a crowd of 35,000. The score was again 1-1 after extra-time. Two days later, in another afternoon match at St. Andrew’s, we won 2-1. Jimmy Harrison and Don Revie scored the goals.

“The next round was against (First Division outfit) Preston at Filbert Street in front of 37,000 spectators. They were a very good side and people gave us no hope. Jack Lee scored a second-minute penalty for us and we never looked back. Tom Finney (Preston’s England star) finished up in Leicester Royal Infirmary after a collision with (Leicester City full-back) Ted Jelly.”

In the fifth round, a 5-5 draw at Luton was followed by a 5-3 City victory at Filbert Street.

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Leicester City 1949 squad
Leicester City 1949 squad

Plummer and his Leicester colleagues photographed in 1949.

Recalling this tie, Norman said: “I would say that that was the most exciting game that anybody could watch, because it was a ding-dong battle. Neither side ever went two goals ahead. In extra-time, we were virtually on our knees. Right at the end of extra-time, we were 5-4 down. Then we had a corner kick which Mal Griffiths took. He got the ball right into the centre and Jack Lee got up into the air and headed it in for a goal, which made it 5-5. There wasn’t even time to put the ball on the centre spot because then the final whistle went! In the replay at Filbert Street, it was another exciting game and we won 5-3.”

After beating Brentford 2-0 at Griffin Park in the sixth round, Leicester City, who at that point were   20th in the Second Division, faced that season’s league champions Portsmouth in the semi-final at Highbury in front of 62,000 spectators.

“Portsmouth really were a top side,” Norman said. “I think that was the only time we travelled to London by train for a game. There were thousands of Leicester supporters at Highbury. The odds were heavily against a Leicester win, but we outplayed them completely.”

A month later, Leicester City faced Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup Final.  

“Nearly everyone in Leicester wanted a cup final ticket,” Norman continued. “The team went to North Shore in Skegness in the week before the game to play golf and rest for a couple of days, before going by coach to Wembley.

“We had a good team spirit. I think that’s what got us through to the final. We were the first team from Leicester to go to Wembley. We got £20 per head for getting to Wembley in addition to our wages which were between £8 and £12 per week, with £8 a week in the summer.

“We tried to stay relaxed, but going down Wembley Way and seeing all the fans was something none of our players had ever experienced, so we were all getting really keyed up before the game.

“Don Revie, who’d scored twice in the semi-final, was in hospital in Leicester and missed the final. We had to juggle the forward line. Full-back Jimmy Harrison was at centre-forward and Jack Lee went to inside right. Also, our goalkeeper Ian McGraw, had injured his hand at Grimsby after the semi-final and they had to take his little finger off, which meant he was finished as a goalkeeper.

“Their captain was England captain Billy Wright and they had two of the best wingmen in the country: Jim Mullen and Johnny Hancocks. Most of our players were homegrown. Chissy (Ken Chisholm) was about the only player we actually paid out money for. He was a real character and gave the lads a lot of confidence.

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Leicester City in 1949
Leicester City in 1949

The Foxes would reach the final of the FA Cup in 1949.

“I remember sitting in the dressing room before the game and then leading the team out down a great big tunnel onto the pitch. Then, all of a sudden, we heard the Wembley roar. It’s difficult to explain the feeling you get. Once you’re on the field and warming up, you’re still very keyed up but, once we’d kicked off, you concentrate completely just as you would in any other game.

“As a professional, you must have the confidence you can win, but we were 2-0 down at half-time. In the dressing room, Johnny Duncan said: ‘Look lads you’re 2-0 down. Just go out and play football’. This is what we did. Mal Griffiths scored two minutes after half-time and, later, Ken Chisholm had a goal which was ruled marginally offside. This made us all a little despondent. Mal Griffiths and those players in a position to see what was happening all said the goal was definitely onside. Then, a minute later, Wolves made it 3-1! The ball didn’t run for us.

“I got married in July 1949 and in those days the view was that when you got married it took you a few months to sort your life out and I didn’t play for some time. Also, we had a new manager, Norman Bullock, who had different views from Johnny Duncan.”

In July 1952, Norman joined Mansfield Town: “We’d come back from a close season trip to Holland and Leicester offered me terms. They didn’t offer what I wanted, which was £12 per week in the season and £8 in the summer, so I didn’t sign.

“Then Mansfield came in for me and I went there for four years. I travelled there every day from Leicester. In August 1956, I went to Kettering, managed by (the ex-England star) Tommy Lawton, who I got on very well with. When he became manager at Notts County, he wanted me to go with him, but I said: ’No, not now, I’m 35’. My parents had a haberdashery business in Leicester and I went to work there instead.”

Norman concluded by saying: “It was a great honour to play for Leicester City and I was very pleased to be the captain when we went to Wembley in 1949.” 

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