His promising career with Hibernian was cut short by a terrible injury, but he fought back to spend nearly five years at Filbert Street as a player.
A larger than life character who was a key player in the Leicester City side which broke six Club records when winning the Second Division title in 1957, he also scouted for the Club when Jock Wallace was manager and retained his connection with Leicester City until he sadly died, aged 91, in May 2020.
Born in Motherwell in 1928, John joined Scottish champions Hibernian in 1947. He made his league debut in December 1948 and played for Hibernian in their most successful era as they won three Scottish league titles, with their famous-five forward line of Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Riley, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond.
His most successful season was in 1950/51 when he helped his team become Scottish champions, but it ended in disaster for John as he suffered an horrendous injury 15 minutes into the Scottish FA Cup semi-final against Motherwell.
“That season, Manchester United’s manager, Matt Busby, had come up to see me playing when we beat Celtic and Rangers and the headlines said that he offered a blank cheque for myself and two team-mates,” John remembered.
“I didn’t know what a blank cheque was! Then my leg was smashed in the semi-final. It left me about 1/16th of an inch short in my leg. It’s still bent. It was a transverse fracture. The bones were smashed at an angle. That day, the ice was thick on the pitch. Our opponents were Motherwell, who we’d beaten 7-2 three weeks earlier. I lived in Motherwell and their players knew me from when I was a boy.
I went upstairs to this big room. David Halliday, Leicester City’s manager, was sitting there with a double scotch. He was a very nice, quiet man who had played for Sunderland, Arsenal and Manchester City. He said he’d heard that I was working on a fishing boat off the Orkneys!John Ogilvie
“They’d asked me to go easy on them in the semi-final. In the match, I’d just managed to get my toe to the ball, but their centre-half came in and smashed my leg with his studs. I’d never felt pain like it. I’d fallen 40 feet off a crane and that had hurt my back, but there was never pain like this.
“I was in hospital for a long time, then they sent me away to a special care home to try to get me moving. They made callipers for my leg. I was off injured for nearly two years. Even then I had trouble with my leg all the time. I’d started playing a bit in the reserves but I knew I was never going to be the same player again.
“One day I was standing at a bus stop when this Jaguar drew up and a business man got out and told me he had been with the Hibs chairman in the last week,” John recalled.
“He said that Sheffield United’s manager, Joe Mercer, had also been there and that Joe had asked the chairman if I could go to Sheffield for a month’s trial, just to have a look at my leg. The chairman told him that I was thinking of chucking in playing and that I’d got a good job at the steel works if I wanted it.
“But I phoned Joe up and went to Sheffield. Mercer said: ‘Your leg’s worse than mine and I broke mine four times, but you can still run a bit.’ I’d been the fastest player at Hibs. He picked me to play at centre-half for a reserve game against Burnley and I was up against the England centre-forward who was coming back after injury. Joe was pleased. We won the next reserve game 6-2 at home and then we drew 1-1 against Manchester United’s reserves.”
However, a month later, John moved to Second Division side Leicester City.
“Scotland were playing England at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground,” he continued.
“Five of the Hibs players were in the Scotland team. I got a message saying to go to a certain pub after the game, and that my taxi fare there would be paid. When I got there Hughie Howie, a top Glasgow sports writer, told me that someone wanted to speak to me upstairs.
“I went upstairs to this big room. David Halliday, Leicester City’s manager, was sitting there with a double scotch. He was a very nice, quiet man who had played for Sunderland, Arsenal and Manchester City. He said he’d heard that I was working on a fishing boat off the Orkneys!
“He then said he wanted to sign me, because he’d had me watched in two of the Sheffield United reserves games and that I was one of the best players not playing first team football. He asked me how much I wanted and then he offered me £1,000, which was a lot of money then, together with First Division wages rather than Second Division wages.
“I said I was due to see Joe Mercer on the Friday morning, which I did, because he’d been very good to me. However, Sheffield United’s left-back was playing for England and he was younger than me. He said that I could play at centre half or midfield, but I decided to sign for Leicester. I knew some of the Scottish lads at Leicester.”
When John moved to Filbert Street in October 1956, Leicester City had just been relegated to the Second Division after one season in the top flight, after winning the Second Division title in 1954. He went straight into the first team at left full-back, missing only two games for the rest of that season, when City finished in fifth place, missing out on promotion by four points.
The team’s captain was the ex-England international Jack Froggatt. Other star players were Northern Ireland international full-back Willie Cunningham, prolific goalscorers Arthur Rowley and Willie Gardiner, the speedy left winger Derek Hogg and the superbly gifted inside- forward, ex-England international Johnny Morris.
Rowley and Gardiner scored many goals. They scored over 60 goals between them in my first season and Rowley scored 44 the following season.John Ogilvie
Recalling these players, John added: “Jack had captained the great Portsmouth side which won two league titles, but which had been defeated by Leicester in the 1949 FA Cup semi-final. Bill Cunningham won many caps for Northern Ireland and he later played for them in the 1958 World Cup finals.
“Rowley and Gardiner scored many goals. They scored over 60 goals between them in my first season and Rowley scored 44 the following season. Rowley used to get in a huff if somebody scored more goals than he did. He also upset some of the players with his attitude. I was asked by the players to go to see the manager about this, even though Jack Frogatt was the captain.
“Johnny Morris was our best player,” John continued. “He’d also been the best player at Manchester United and Derby and had played for England. He’d won the cup at Manchester United and the Second Division title at Leicester. His view of management was that managers didn’t know what they were talking about.
“He was very skilful with the ball, but he had a temper. He even got sent off in a pre-season practice match involving the first team and the reserves. Even then he didn’t want to leave the pitch. He didn’t like referees. Also, he didn’t care how big his opponents were.
“He just laid into them. He’d bend the rules too. On one occasion, after we’d won in London, we were told we could only have one drink on the train journey back. He asked for three gins and one tonic water, then put it all into a big glass and said it counted as one drink.”
John also admired centre-half Gordon Fincham, who was himself destined later in his time at Leicester to suffer from injuries, before rebuilding his career at Plymouth Argyle.
“I’ve never seen anybody who could head the ball like him,” John remembered. “He could shoot the ball better than Rowley. The legendary Leeds player John Charles once told me that when he played against Fincham in a match at Filbert Street, it was the first time that he’d played 90 minutes of football and never won a ball in the air. Finch had also done the same against the great Nat Lofthouse. He later played for Plymouth and then in South Africa.”
As well as his exploits on the pitch, John was also a strong presence in the dressing room.
“Once, on a train going to a match, there were four or five players playing cards,” John explained.
“A bit of trouble blew up, so I walked up to the table. They invited me to join in but I said that I wasn’t there to play. Then, I just lifted the cards and threw them out of the window. I told them that from then on, there would be no card games on the way to games.
“I said, ‘It affects you because some of you lose money which you can’t afford to and that can affect your game. That’s it. No more arguments!”
John’s second season at Filbert Street (1956/57) was his most successful as a Leicester City player.
Playing in nearly every game, he helped his side to win the Second Division title, finishing seven points clear of runners-up Nottingham Forest with a Club-record 61 points, at a time when only two points were awarded for a win. Top of the table from December onwards, new Club records were established for the most wins, most away wins, fewest defeats, most points, most goals and the highest individual goal- scoring total.
In the second part of this interview, which will appear on the website next week, John discussed, among other things, his later career at Filbert Street as a player both in the first team and the reserves, his view on the story of the sensational dropping of Ken Leek on the eve of the 1961 FA Cup Final, his post-Leicester City playing career and his time as a scout working with Jock Wallace when he was manager of Leicester City.
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