John Newman

Former Player Remembers: John Newman

When John Newman, who played at centre-half and right-half for Leicester City between 1957 and 1960, spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson, he recalled his footballing career.

At Birmingham City, he won promotion to the old First Division in 1955, played in the 1956 FA Cup Final and featured in European competition. 

At Filbert Street, he played a vital role as captain in consolidating City’s position in the top flight. He then went on to captain Plymouth Argyle for seven years before moving to Exeter City first as a player then as a player-manager. He later managed Grimsby Town, Derby County and Hereford United. 

John began by explaining how he began his professional career at Birmingham City.

“I was born in Hereford and, as a 15-year-old boy, I had an attachment with Southern League Hereford United,” he said. “Their manager, George Tranter, who used to play for West Brom, then moved to coach at Birmingham City. I played a couple of games when I was 16 for Hereford reserves, and George recommended me to Birmingham City. As a result, they took me on as an apprentice in 1950. I signed professional in 1951 or 1952.

“I played at either centre-half or right-half. We won the Second Division title in 1955 and I played for them in the FA Cup Final against Manchester City the following year when Bert Trautmann broke his neck.

“A guy called Roy Warhurst was injured in the quarter-final against Arsenal and he was never going to be fit for the final so I took his place at right-half. I don’t remember a lot about the final, but we didn’t play a good game. It was a big disappointment to lose to be honest. I took a bit of flack because Roy was a big favourite at Birmingham, but that’s the way the game is. However, I felt very fortunate to have played in an FA Cup Final.”

Ten days after the cup final, Birmingham City, who had finished sixth in the old First Division that season, became the first English club side to play in European competition when they competed in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, a forerunner of the UEFA Cup.   

“We played Dinamo Zagreb and Inter Milan,” John continued. “We played these games back to back on the same trip, drawing 0-0 in Milan and beating Zagreb 1-0. Then we played the return legs back in Birmingham the following season (1956/57). These were quite an experience. We won both games which qualified us for the semi-final against Barcelona in October 1957.”

It was at this point that John moved to Filbert Street. Under manager David Halliday, Leicester City had just been promoted as the old Second Division champions, having broken several Club records in the process, but by the October 1957, after their first 14 games back in the top flight, they were bottom of the Division.

“My move to Leicester was out of the blue really,” John remembered. “ We were out training, preparing to go to Barcelona for the Inter-Cities semi-final when Arthur Turner, the manager, called me inside from training to tell me Birmingham had received an acceptable offer for me from Leicester City, who wanted me to play at centre-half. He said: ‘Make up your mind, but you won’t be travelling with us to Barcelona’. I went home and spoke to my wife Jean and we decided that I would go to Leicester and have a chat with them, which I did, and I signed.”

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Leicester City 1959/60

John Newman, pictured centrally with the ball at his feet, alongside his team-mates in 1959.

Brought to Filbert Street to bolster the defence, John had a difficult baptism as a City player. In his first eight games, the side only won once and conceded 29 goals, leaving them rock bottom of the table by Christmas.

“The team were struggling when I joined and I struggled with them, to be honest,” John remembered. “My job was to take over from (the ex-England international) Jack Froggatt at centre-half to help the defence. My first game was at Burnley and we lost 7-3! I wasn’t surprised to find myself out of the side after my first eight games. They put Ian King, a young centre-half, into the side instead of me and he did very well. I had to work really hard to get back into the team.”

Leicester’s survival in the top flight depended on gaining at least a point at John’s old team Birmingham City on the last day of the season. John was recalled for that match, which Leicester won 1-0, thereby ensuring their First Division status.

John was impressed by his new team-mates at Filbert Street: “Johnny Morris was probably the best player I ever played with. He was his own man. He lived in Derby and used to come to train three or four times a week with us. He always put in a good stint, but a lot of the work he did was on his own away from us. It could happen that way in those days. His natural ability and skills were unbelievable.

“Arthur Rowley was nearing the end of his time at Leicester, but he was still a superb player doing what he did. He knew where the back of the net was. He knew where to find positions in the box. They used to say: ‘Give it to Arthur. He’ll play it to [winger] Derek Hogg, he’ll go down the line and find Arthur in the box’. That’s what we did. Derek wasn’t a good player in practice matches, but he was excellent on matchday. He was very fast. When asked how he was so good in matches he’d say: ‘I don’t know. It just happens!’ Everything was so natural to him.”

The following season (1958/59), Leicester City once again avoided relegation, finishing 19th, but the foundations for the successes of the 1960s were being established under their new manager, the ex-player and coach Matt Gillies, who replaced David Halliday as manager in November 1958.

“That season, I captained the side and played in all 46 league and cup games,” John recalled. “They played me at right-half and it suited me. I got off to a flyer. The team was still finding it hard work to stay in the division, but things went well and I enjoyed that season very much.

“The following season (1959/60), I started as an ever-present in the side, but before Christmas, I lost my place. I think it was due to an injury. They played Frank McLintock, who was only 19, in my place and he was an outstanding talent, as was Graham Cross. He was only 16 but I could see that he was going to be a very good player. He was also a very good cricketer.

“Other young players were knocking on the door too. They were ganging up on me! Howard Riley was in the side and so was Don Walker, a Scottish midfield player. Although I was only 25 or 26, you could see that these players were going to be the future of the Club.

“In January 1960, I moved to Plymouth Argyle. Matt Gillies came up to me one day and told me that Plymouth had made an offer. Arthur Rowley’s brother Jack was manager there at the time.

“I told Matt that Plymouth was too far away. The next day, Jack Rowley arrived and had a chat with me in Matt’s office. He could see I wasn’t interested, but when I got home, he was sat talking to my wife to see if he could persuade her! The next day, Jack had another chat with me in Matt’s office and I agreed to go and have a look round Plymouth. I caught the train there and thought what a long trip it was.

“Jack took me into Plymouth’s board room and told me the club’s plans. They were struggling to stay in the Second Division having been promoted from the old Third Division at the end of the previous season. I spent the night in Plymouth, talked it over with my wife again, and then decided that maybe it was the right time to move on, so I did.”

John spent the next seven years at Plymouth Argyle.

“I was captain all the time I was there,” John continued. “I played 320 games. When Malcolm Allison became manager (in May 1964), he changed our kit from green shirts to white ones with a green horizontal stripe in the centre to make us look like Real Madrid.

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John Newman & former team-mates

John recently returned to Leicester City to remember his Foxes career alongside his ex-colleagues.

“We drew Leicester City in the two-leg semi-final of the League Cup in 1965 and they beat us 4-3 on aggregate. I remember that the pitch at Filbert Street was very muddy! Leicester, who’d won the League Cup in the previous season went on to meet Chelsea in the final instead of us. Defeats are always disappointing!

“After a year, Malcolm went to Manchester City and Derek Ufton took over. I didn’t get on too well with him and, in October 1967, Exeter City came in for me and Ufton told me that Plymouth had agreed a transfer fee with them. I went to see Exeter and thought: ’Well it’s 50 miles nearer home. I’ll sign’.

“I went there as a player and then became player/manager. I spent seven years there.

“Being a manager is completely different from playing and it took two or three years for me to adapt. One of the first things I did was take my coaching badges, because you don’t think a lot about coaching when you are a player. It was a different approach altogether and I had to make adjustments. Coaching has a big part to play. It leads you to think about the game play but natural talent is what sparks you off.

“Also, when I first became player/manager, I still used to change in the dressing room with the players, but players always like to talk about the manager and they didn’t like to do this in front of me so I started changing in the referee’s room.

“I enjoyed parts of being a manager, but nobody likes giving players a rollicking, or telling players that they are no longer wanted, after they’ve given several years’ service. It was difficult but it had to be done. It became a way of life eventually, but initially this was difficult.”

In January 1972, John signed the ex-Leicester City and Scotland inside-left Davie Gibson, who had been a star player at Filbert Street in the 1960s.

“That move came out of the blue,” John recalled. “Davie was at Aston Villa, whose secretary Alan Bennett (who later became the secretary at Leicester City) asked me if I’d be interested in signing Davie for £5,000. Davie, who wanted to move to the area, spent a couple of days looking around and he was very keen to join us.”

After leaving Exeter City in 1976, John also managed Grimsby Town, leading them to promotion to the Third Division in 1979. He was also manager of Derby County in 1982 before returning to manage his hometown club Hereford United, (then playing in the Fourth Division) between 1983 and 1987. He subsequently worked as assistant manager at York City, Notts County and Burton Albion as well as becoming Mansfield Town’s chief scout.

In 2013, along with several other Leicester City players from the 1950s to the 1970s, John attended a function at King Power Stadium at the launch of Davie Gibson’s autobiography, Gibbo. In answer to a question from the audience, he confessed that the only player he’d ever been frightened of was himself! Although this answer was met with laughter, it nevertheless summed up John’s committed approach to the game throughout his career.

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