Ian King

Former Player Remembers: Ian King (Part One)

In the Club’s oral archive, there is an extended interview conducted by Club Historian John Hutchinson with centre-half Ian King, who sadly died in 2016. Ian played 297 games for Leicester City between 1957 and 1966. All of his league games for the Club were in the top flight.
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In part one of this interview, which has never been published online in full before, Ian speaks about his formative years in Scotland, working as a coalminer, his early days at Filbert Street and playing in the first of his two FA Cup Finals for the Foxes. 

Scottish schoolboy international centre-back Ian began by recalling his early days playing football in Scotland prior to moving to Leicester City. 

“I lived about five miles outside Edinburgh in a mining village called Loanhead,” Ian began. “When we played, we didn’t have fancy tracksuits or anything. We’d turn up at the bus stop with just a jacket on and, on the way back, we couldn’t untie our bootlaces because our fingers were so cold. That was the norm then. That was our life. 

“We didn’t have any coaching at school. We played a lot of games in all weathers. We played at school, after school and all day Sunday. We’d go out in the morning and didn’t get back until seven or eight at night. We’d play games for up to five hours non stop. That’s how we learnt the game. There wasn’t a great deal to do in those days so if you were keen on football, you played football. You’d play in the street. If you kicked the ball into people’s gardens, they didn’t bother. If you owned a ball, you’d pick the team.

“Before I came for Leicester, I was on Heart of Midlothian’s books. I signed for Hearts when I was very young. They farmed you out to a junior side. I played junior football with future Everton players Alex Young and Alex Scott, together with Dave Mackay, who later played for Spurs, and the future Liverpool player Bertie Slater. An awful lot of players in junior football made the grade. 

“Junior football in Scotland was a good standard because we had a lot of senior players who were what they called ‘reinstated’ into the Junior League. You played with a mixture of youngsters and experienced players who were maybe over the top or hadn’t made the grade.

“When I was training with Hearts, I was training with players I’d been brought up to watch. They were household names and heroes of mine, like their ‘Famous Five’ forward line – Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond. I trained at night with Dave Mackay and a few others. 

“I knew Dave Mackay well. Also, Alex Young, who was in my class at school. We both started our National Service mining apprenticeships together. In our first winter, we were up ladders in the freezing cold lagging pipes with asbestos and wire.

“I remember Matt Gillies (who was the coach at Leicester City, before becoming manager) came to watch me playing one night and, the following week, (Leicester manager) David Halliday met me in the North British Hotel in Princes Street in Edinburgh and I signed for him (in June 1957). 

“In those days, your world was quite small and I didn’t know much about Leicester. I knew they were a team in the Midlands somewhere and had just been promoted back to the First Division and that was about all. 

“When I came down to Leicester, it was arranged for me to continue my mining apprenticeship at Desford Pit. They were all daft on football. A lot of the men were overfriendly and wouldn’t let me do anything even though I was meant to be doing an apprenticeship. They were a great crowd. It was their way of saying: ‘You look after yourself’. It was the same for (fellow Leicester City forward) Albert Cheesebrough. We used to wander about the mine trying to get work to do, but they’d say: ‘Come in. It’s cold’. They would get the tea out. It was boring. 

“Whilst I was at Desford, National Service stopped and I was told I was surplus to requirements. This was ideal because the Club wanted me to give up the apprenticeship anyway. 

“When I came to Filbert Street, there were quite a lot of Scots people there. There was also a big staff. They ran two or three sides every week and also had players surplus to that. We had both dressing rooms at Filbert Street filled with players.

“I signed in time for pre-season training and had two or three games in the ‘A’ team over a period of two weeks. I then played two or three reserve games. One was at Aldershot on the Saturday and then the next Wednesday (on 11 September, 1957) I made my first team debut against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.”

Ian went on to play 23 First Division games that season.

“The side had some experienced players,” he continued. “There was Johnny Morris, Arthur Rowley, Derek Hogg, and Jack Froggatt. There was also Dave Maclaren and Johnny Anderson, who alternated in goal for a bit. Arthur scored more goals than anybody. Johnny had won the cup with Manchester United and he and Jack had been England internationals. Johnny used to say to me: ‘If you’re in trouble, just give me the ball’. He never gave it away. He was a character. He got sent off one night in a pre-season practice match against the reserves! The reserves were out to make an impression and it finished up a kicking match. Johnny hit somebody and got sent off….in a practice match!”

They bought Banksy (Gordon Banks) from Chesterfield. They worked hard with Banksy on crosses because that wasn’t one of his strong points and he came on in leaps and bounds. He was such a hard worker.

Ian King

In his second season, Ian suffered an injury: “It was at Blackburn Rovers. Roy Vernon caught me a little late on the outside of my left ankle. I was off for weeks with a ballooned ankle, but the worse thing was he’d done my cartilage at the same time. In those days, they believed in getting you on your feet very quickly. After my cartilage operation, I remember waking up from the anaesthetic in the Fielding Johnson Hospital. Doc Lenton (the Club’s doctor) came in and, from day one, he made me lift my leg, even though I’d just had my knee cut, to help the big muscle grow. Later he had me running up and down the terraces at Filbert Street, using weights, the lot. But I came back very quickly. That was the most serious injury I had when I played. It was all fine after that.”

Gillies replaced Halliday as manager in November 1958. The Club was signing the promising young players who became central to the successful teams of the first part of the 1960s. 

As well as Ian, Gordon Banks, Frank McLintock, Richie Norman and John Sjoberg were all coming through the ranks. 

Ian added: “In 1958/59, Matt Gillies got the job and he drafted in Bert Johnson as the coach, which was forward thinking in those days. They bought Banksy (Gordon Banks) from Chesterfield. They worked hard with Banksy on crosses because that wasn’t one of his strong points and he came on in leaps and bounds. He was such a hard worker. The kids came back in the afternoon to try to beat him with shots and they didn’t beat him at all. Banksy improved himself through hard work.

“Bert was very keen. A nice man. He had a difficult job because he came to a group of players who maybe thought that they didn’t need coaching. I was one of them. Bert persevered with what he wanted and we did start to practice. We spent time on corner kicks, dead ball situations and defending shots from outside the box. Nobody wanted to go into a defensive wall in those days as the old balls were heavy and some players could hit the ball very hard. Gillies used to tell me not to go into he wall but to mark the centre-forward, which suited me!

“Albert Cheesebrough joined us from Burnley (in June 1959). Burnley, who won the league title that year, were seen as the team which was streets ahead of everybody else and Cheesy came with all these coaching ideas. He and Bert would stand talking for ages. One day Cheesy said: ‘We’ve got to have rest periods’. When Bert asked him what he meant, he said: ‘If I run up the wing, you can’t expect me to go back and help the full back. At Burnley, we had a rest period!’ 

“Heading those old balls on a wet day wasn’t pleasant. The balls were heavy and sometimes you’d get the lace of the ball on your forehead and it hurt. Also, in those days, there were no substitutes so if you were having a bad day you’d still stay on the pitch. I’m sure this did damage when players were injured as they had to stay on the pitch.”

In Ian’s third season (1959/60), he vied for the centre-half spot with England prospect Tony Knapp, but he made the position his own for the next six seasons at the start of the 1960/61 season, which saw Leicester City finish sixth in the top flight and reach the FA Cup Final against league champions Tottenham Hotspur. 

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Ian King

Sat in the front row, first right, Ian King joins his Foxes team-mates in listening to the semi-final draw.

“That was the final when Gillies dropped (Wales international centre-forward) Ken Leek on the eve of the match,” Ian remembered. “Ken scored a lot of goals for us. He had scored in every round leading to the final and he had already scored twice against Spurs that year. 

“As I always say, I can remember the occasion and remember a lot about the game, but it still seemed to fly past. The result, losing 2-0, didn’t help. We played for most of the game with 10 men. Len Chalmers was injured and he shouldn’t have been kept on the field. In those days before subs, if you had an injured player, you had to decide whether to play him at centre forward, where he could be a nuisance because there is an extra body there, or on the wing. Len went on the wing, but what does he do if he gets the ball on the wing when he was so badly injured? It was a shame. That season, we hadn’t had any problems meeting Spurs. We’d beaten them at White Hart Lane earlier that season. They had big players including (Scotland international half-back) Dave Mackay, who I’d trained with as a youngster.”

In part two of this extended interview, to be published in the next edition of CITY Matchday Magazine, Ian talked playing for Leicester City in the European Cup Winners’ Cup. He also remembered the team being serious contenders for the league and cup double in 1962/63, the 1963 FA Cup Final and winning the League Cup in 1964. He went on to discuss his mid-1960s team-mate Derek Dougan, money and contracts, his most difficult opponents, overseas players, playing for Charlton Athletic and his spell as Burton Albion’s player/manager.  

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