Ian King

Former Player Remembers: Ian King (Part Two)

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.
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Ian played 297 games for Leicester City between 1957 and 1966. All of his league games for the Foxes were in the top flight. In the second part of this interview, which has never been published before, Ian spoke about playing in Europe, challenging for the league and cup double in 1963, winning the League Cup in 1964, playing for Charlton Athletic and his spell as Burton Albion’s player-manager. 

In part one of this interview, Ian talked 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 Leicester City.

Four months after appearing for the Foxes in the 1961 final, Ian experienced European competition for the first time. City had been defeated at Wembley by Tottenham Hotspur, but because the Londoners were also the league champions, Leicester, as FA Cup runners-up, qualified for the European Cup Winners’ Cup, because Spurs were in the European Cup. 

The European Cup Winners’ Cup was a relatively new UEFA tournament in only its second season. City were drawn against Northern Ireland Cup winners Glenavon in the first round, winning the two-legged tie 7-2 on aggregate. Captain Jimmy Walsh’s two goals were the Club’s maiden strikes to be scored in Europe. 

In the second round, Leicester drew the Spanish giants and eventual winners of the tournament that season, Atlético Madrid. The first leg at Filbert Street was a 1-1 draw, with the Spaniards equalising in the last minute in a match when the home side had earlier been controversially denied a penalty.

“We got into Europe because Spurs had done the league and cup double,” Ian remembered. “The second leg in Madrid was one of those games you’ll never forget. Atlético were a big side. To get onto the pitch from underground, we had to come up steps and emerge from a hole in the ground near the touchline. The stadium was packed. The crowd was daft. They were not just throwing cushions but everything else at us too. That was some night! It was an atmosphere of pure hate towards us. Banksy (Gordon Banks) saved a penalty and the guy who took it was so disappointed he went up and nearly kicked him. In the end, we lost 2-0 and were out of the competition.” 

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Leicester City

Ian can be seen in this team photograph, third from the right on the back row.

Ian missed only two games out of a total of 49 in all competitions that year and, the following season (1962/63), he was again a virtual ever-present as Leicester’s famous ‘Ice Kings’ side were realistic contenders to win the league and cup double. 

Under the influence of Bert Johnson’s coaching, Matt Gillies’ City were considered to be tactical innovators that season. The ploy of effective counter-attacking, centred around Frank McLintock and Graham Cross regularly interchanging roles by switching positions during a game, drew particular attention and admiration. 

“This started when Crossy came into the team regularly that season,” Ian explained. “We decided to play this way and Bert Johnson refined it. Crossy would drop back from inside-forward and play alongside me in defence with John Sjoberg and Richie Norman at full-back. Either that or he’d play just in front of me because he was more suited to be a defender because of his build. Frank played anywhere, making it difficult for their defenders to pick him up.

“Colin Appleton was more of a defensive wing-half who liked passing long balls. He had such a good left foot. Howard Riley played wide on the right wing and we had Mike Stringfellow on the left wing. He had a great partnership with Davie Gibson at inside-left, who used to feed balls to him. Mike chased lost causes, getting balls he shouldn’t have got and he got hurt for it because there was no way he was going to stop for the opponents’ full-backs coming in for him. He was very brave. 

“We also had Ken Keyworth, who had come to us as a wing-half, playing at centre- forward, and he scored a lot of goals. He got a six-minute hat-trick against Manchester United when we beat them 4-3 at Easter when we went to the top of the First Division. Denis Law scored a hat-trick too. One of his goals was an overhead kick. I was marking Denis. He received a cross, caught the ball on his left thigh, hit it up into the air and overhead kicked it into goal. Banksy was off his line and it went over his head. I said to him: ‘What are you doing out there?’” 

A few days later, Leicester City defeated Bill Shankly’s Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough. Mike Stringfellow scored the only goal of the game after 20 minutes and, for the rest of the tie, Leicester were forced to defend with Gordon Banks playing magnificently. 

“Shanks (Bill Shankly) said that we were the side of the season,” Ian remembered. “He admired the way we played because we had a system. We were certainly defensive at Hillsborough. They threw everything at us! Big Yeatsy (Liverpool’s giant centre-back Ron Yeats) played at centre-forward for a while alongside Ian St John. Banksy had a great game that day.”

Top of the league with five games to go, City’s FA Cup Final opponents were relegation fighting Manchester United. The double looked a real possibility but then the team lost form, losing their last four league games and finishing fourth in the table. 

I played against the likes of Tom Finney, John Charles, Jimmy Greaves, Stanley Matthews and George Best. For a time, Best was the best player this country had ever seen. However, my most difficult opponent, the first couple of times I played against him, was Derek Dougan.

Ian King

“After the semi-final we didn’t play well,” Ian continued. “We had injuries, but I believe that the way we won the semi-final didn’t please the management. They wanted to change from having a back four (a system Leicester City had pioneered) and have us playing up to the halfway line. We were never comfortable with that, even though some players thought that because of the way we had played, they had too much ground to cover.” 

Despite being favourites to defeat Matt Busby’s Manchester United in the FA Cup Final, the team lost 3-1. 

“We didn’t play as well as we could or should have done at Wembley,” he continued. “I don’t think it was the occasion because most of the team had been in the final two years earlier. It was just one of those days. We went into it knowing we should beat them, but they played well on the day. They had great players like Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and Pat Crerand. The puzzle was why they’d had such a bad season.”

The following season, Ian was a League Cup winner when Leicester defeated Stoke City in the two-legged final at the Staffordshire club’s Victoria Ground and at Filbert Street. 

“We played in two League Cup Finals because we also lost to Chelsea a year later,” Ian added. “In those days, I think that the League Cup had more prestige than it seems to have now, when some teams don’t take it as seriously as they should.” 

At the start of his final season at Filbert Street (1965/66), Gillies signed the maverick Northern Ireland international centre-forward, Derek Dougan, for a fee of £25,000. Ian had found Dougan to be one of his most difficult opponents over the years, as he explained. 

He said: “I played against the likes of Tom Finney, John Charles, Jimmy Greaves, Stanley Matthews and George Best. For a time, Best was the best player this country had ever seen. However, my most difficult opponent, the first couple of times I played against him, was Derek Dougan. I’d had an injury and I first played against him in a reserve match at Portsmouth. It was a wet night. A long ball was hit down the left wing and we both went for it. I was running full out. Dougan was running alongside me. Then he said: ‘Right, let’s go now!’ and he just left me behind. It took me about three games against him before I could kick him! When he came to Leicester, he was a law unto himself! 

“When I played, every team in England was full of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish players. If you name me a world-class overseas player from today I’ll match it with a British or Irish player from my era. 

“When we were in the game, salaries weren’t like those of today’s players, but we thought we were doing quite well. However, we were all on annual contracts, and we didn’t know from one season to the next if we were going to be on the annual retained list when it came out. We didn’t have the security of today’s players who re-sign contracts when there are still two years to go. Also, if you had a Club house, if the Club got rid of you, you were out of the house too. That was the norm. That was the time, but we were happy as a group of players. Most of us went out together.” 

In March 1966, after playing 297 games for the Club, with all of his league games in the old First Division, Ian signed for Second Division side Charlton Athletic, two months before his long-time Leicester City team-mate and captain Colin Appleton also arrived at The Valley.

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Ian King

Ian visits King Power Stadium, the current home of the Foxes, in 2011.

“I was there for two years,” Ian recalled. “It was very different from Leicester. They had a huge stadium, The Valley, which was always virtually empty. I was instrumental in Colin coming to Charlton. I was also instrumental in telling their winger, Len Glover, an East-End kid, to go to Leicester. When he asked me about Leicester, I told him that he should go there.” 

In March 1968, Ian moved to Southern League outfit Burton Albion as player-manager. 

“I went to Burton for a while, but it never worked out there,” he added. “There were big financial problems there. I had to cost cut, get rid of a lot of players and put the emphasis on young players, but it never really worked out.” 

After Ian left Burton on Boxing Day 1969, to be replaced by his ex-Leicester City team-mate Richie Norman, he had spells coaching in Saudi Arabia and Canada and was briefly manager at Thringstone. He later returned to Filbert Street in 2000 as part of the matchday hospitality scene.

Ian passed away in July 2016, but his enormous contribution to one of Leicester City’s most successful eras will always be remembered. 

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