Paul Friar

Former Player Remembers: Paul Friar

This month, Leicester City full-back Paul Friar spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career in football, which saw him play in every top league division in both England and Scotland between 1981 and 1993.
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Paul became an apprentice at Jock Wallace’s Leicester City in 1979. Two years later, he set the Club record for making the most top flight appearances as a 17 year-old. He was in the Foxes’ FA Cup Semi-Final team in 1982 and played an important part in the 1982/83 season, which saw City promoted back to the old First Division under Gordon Milne. 

Speaking from his home in Falkirk, Govan-born Paul first explained how he came to join Leicester City.

“One of the chaps who ran the kids’ team I played for as a youngster also used to run an amateur team as well,” he said. “I played with (the future Everton and Manchester United manager) David Moyes in one of these kids’ teams. In those days, you could play for quite a few boys’ clubs. There were less restrictions. It was brilliant. 

“When I was about 14, the amateur team were short of players in a friendly fixture against an Ayrshire Juniors team, whose adult team played in the equivalent of English non-league. They were not a team to be scoffed at. It was quite rough-end football. They asked me to go on the bench and I said I would but that I wanted to play in some part of the game. During the match, I kept pestering the bench to put me on and they did. I was playing on the wing against men. (Leicester City manager) Jock Wallace’s friend was watching and that was how my move to Leicester came about.

“At that time, I’d been in and around several Scottish clubs, but Leicester were the first English club. The first club I ever went to, when I was about 14, was St Mirren. I’d go in at night and Alex Ferguson would take the schoolboys’ training. I was also at Partick Thistle quite a lot for training after school. Bertie Auld, a Lisbon Lion, took the training. I used to go to Celtic too.

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Paul Friar

On duty with Scotland's youth team, fourth from the right on the front row.

“I started going down to Leicester during the school holidays when I was about 15.  It was fantastic. I remember being in Leicester one school holiday when I saw Gary Lineker make his debut (on New Year’s Day 1979) along with Dave Buchanan and Bobby Smith. I’m pleased that Gary went onto such great heights.

“They were keeping tabs on me at a young age. I was offered an apprenticeship when I was 16 in June 1979 and I was down in Leicester on 1 July for the start of pre-season training. It was a great adventure.

“My coaches were Eddie May and Dave Richardson, who was excellent. I stayed at Linden Lodge on Aylestone Road. The first person I ever shared a room with was Mark Warburton.

“I lost contact with him for quite a while but when he managed Brentford (between 2013 and 2015) I sent him a note and then me and Paul Ramsey (a Leicester City team-mate of Paul’s) spent a weekend down there with him. And then, of course, he came to Glasgow to manage Rangers. Its funny, the journeys that football takes you on.”

Not long before his first team debut, Paul was capped at Scottish youth level, prompting him to observe: “Ally McCoist was in the Scottish youth team and I was with Gary Lineker at Leicester so I played with probably the two best strikers from Scotland and England at the time.”

Wallace gave Paul, then only 17 years-old, his first team debut on 17 June, 1981 against Leeds United at Filbert Street. City, who had been promoted as Second Division champions the previous season, were struggling in the old First Division. Paul played at left full-back and kept his place for a run of 15 consecutive top-flight games until the penultimate game of the season. All of these games were before his 18th birthday.

“I went down to Leicester as a winger,” Paul recalled. “I was quite speedy but then I was put at full-back, with explicit instructions to put in crosses and to stop crosses. So I was up and down the pitch. I’d played about 10 or 15 reserve matches before my debut against Leeds. I probably did okay. I was left out for the next game, an FA Cup match at home against Exeter, which was a draw, but I was picked for the replay. We lost but I actually did well in that game even though it was a bad result.”

Paul kept his place for the next game, which was at Anfield. Liverpool were the current league champions and went on to win the European Cup at the end of the season. Against all the odds, Leicester, fighting relegation, ended the Reds’ run of 85 home games without defeat, winning 2-1.

“That was the first game I ever won in England,” Paul laughed. “What an experience! Liverpool weren’t often beaten, that’s for sure.”

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Paul Friar

Friar played for the Foxes over three years in the early 1980s.

Paul’s next game was a 1-0 home win against Manchester United and he was also in sides which defeated some other big clubs before the end of the season, including Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Arsenal.

“All my opponents in these sides were difficult, to be honest,” he explained. “I tried not to think about it too much. If you thought about it too much you would struggle. This is where Jock Wallace came into his own. He was a great motivator. He focused your mind, so you just really got on with it.”

As a 17-year-old in the side, Paul appreciated the support of the senior players.

“The Leicester players had great camaraderie,” Paul reflected. “Mark Wallington was excellent with us young boys. Eddie Kelly was fantastic as well. Also, Davie Gibson (an ex-Leicester City star of the 1960s) always looked out for me and was a great help.”  

City were relegated back to the old Second Division at the end of the season. An ever-present for the final 23 league games of the season which followed, Paul also played in every match in the FA Cup run that season, which culminated in the semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur at Villa Park.

The quarter-finals tie against Shrewsbury Town was particularly memorable. Leicester won 5-2 but had to use three goalkeepers in the game.

“The Shrewsbury game was iconic,” Paul continued. “To be part of that was fantastic. The atmosphere was brilliant. I always thought that the atmosphere at Filbert Street was tremendous. As a boy, I didn’t always go to watch football, but when I did, it was to Partick Thistle or to Celtic. The pitches there had running tracks around them. Filbert Street was different. It was a very closed-in ground and the crowd was right on top of you.  The atmosphere was tremendous. It was a proper old ground. It was a privilege to play there. I thought it was great.

“As for the semi-final, Tottenham were the better team on the day. We didn’t perform to our maximum, which we needed to if we were to get anything out of the game. They had some fantastic players and we weren’t nearly as a good as them. The game didn’t go our way. Tommy Williams broke his leg and Ian Wilson scored an own goal. It wasn’t to be, sadly. That happens in football, but it was a great experience to be in it.

“Pitches in those days were different. I remember playing at Anfield and it was just full of sand. The pitch at Villa Park in the semi-final wasn’t great. As a youth in Scotland, we only used to play on grass in cup finals. We were playing on ash.”

At the end of the season, Leicester failed to achieve promotion back to the old First Division, finishing sixth in the old Second Division. In July, Wallace stunned City by moving to Motherwell.

“I was gutted when Jock left,” Paul said. “He was a brilliant man. Before I came down to Leicester, Celtic offered me more money and would have got a trade for me. I turned this down to be an apprentice at Leicester for less money. The apprenticeship at Leicester was not only for football. It was also an apprenticeship in life. Jock was a great mentor. He instilled good attributes which stood you in good stead in later life. It was a total education. It was a pleasure getting an education from Jock, who gave you good bits but also rough bits too when they were well deserved.”

Wallace’s successor was Coventry City’s manager, the ex-Liverpool and England star Gordon Milne, who led the Foxes to promotion back to the top flight at the end of his first season.

Paul played in the side until he lost his place in late December 1982. Perhaps surprisingly, with City pushing hard for promotion, Paul left Filbert Street two months later to join Second Division Rotherham United, who went on to be relegated at the end of the season.

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Paul Friar

In action for the Foxes against Manchester United.

“Gordon was very different from Jock,” Paul remembered. “He tried to push me further forward on the pitch. I wish that I had listened to him more.  After I lost my place in December (1982), Rotherham’s manager (the ex-Liverpool and England star) Emlyn Hughes came in for me. I wish now I hadn’t gone to Rotherham, but I did.

“To be honest, life wasn’t easy after Jock left. He’d guided me through life, giving me a lot of attributes but unfortunately the world isn’t all like that. I always liked playing but I made some wrong choices after he left.

“I believe that the transfer fee for me going to Rotherham was minimal. Emlyn Hughes was replaced as manager by George Kerr. I played well but after 25 games they couldn’t play me without paying Leicester some more money which they didn’t have.

“Then Jock Wallace phoned me to get me to sign for Motherwell on loan. As I was driving up, I heard on the radio that Jock had left Motherwell to become manager of Glasgow Rangers! Jock was waiting for me at Motherwell and when I asked him why he was leaving he told me it was none of my business and that I should sign, which I did (in November 1983). I’d had three managers in a month. That’s quite a harsh thing to go through.”

In the close season which followed, soon after his 21st birthday, Paul moved south again to spend nearly two seasons playing for Second Division side Charlton Athletic, managed by Lennie Lawrence and his assistant, who was Eddie May, his old Leicester City coach.

After a spell on loan to Northampton Town in March 1986, Paul spent a season at Aldershot winning promotion to the Third Division by defeating Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 1987 play-off final at Wembley. This was the last professional game Paul played in England.

Spells at several English non-league clubs followed, and then, in October 1991, Paul returned to Scotland for spells at Partick Thistle, East Stirlingshire and Albion Rovers.

Thinking back over his career, Paul concluded: “I have the dubious distinction of playing in every top division in both England and Scotland. I loved my time at Leicester City. I met a lot of good people there. Everybody was great to me. I look back at Leicester with extreme fondness, and I'm thankful for the time I had there. I'm very proud that I played for Leicester City.”

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