Mick Duffy

Former Player Remembers: Mick Duffy

Braunstone-born Mick Duffy made his Leicester City debut soon after his 17th birthday in September 1978 and he later provided the assist for Gary Lineker to score his first-ever first team goal for Leicester City.
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This month, Mick met up with Club Historian John Hutchinson to reflect on his career and to give an insight into what life was like as a young player under the unique management style of Jock Wallace

“I was brought up on a council estate in Braunstone,” Mick began. “I didn’t start kicking a ball until I went to English Martyrs Catholic School when I was 11. Dick Smith (who had been on Leicester City’s books) was head of PE there but he also ran the County Schools team.

“I started playing football and Dick pulled me into the county side. That’s where I met Gary [Lineker]. We played together in the County Schools team from the age of 11 to 16. We also played for Leicester Beavers and became good friends. 

“In those days, Leicester City used to train kids down at Belvoir Drive on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. This was really difficult for me. My dad had passed and the family didn’t have much money. To get to Belvoir Drive, I’d have to walk from Braunstone, so I didn’t go because I couldn’t get there. 

“I was still playing for Leicester Beavers and Leicester City’s chief scout, Ray Shaw, used to watch us every week. I also had a few scouts from elsewhere watching me. I was approached by Arsenal. I said, ‘Where’s that?’ and when told it was in London, I said I’d never been to London. 

“When I was 16, soon after Leicester’s manager Frank McLintock had resigned, trials were held at Belvoir Drive, so I went. After the trials, Leicester City signed 10 players from the Beavers and county sides, but not me. All my friends were signed. That devastated me. I was destroyed, because all I’d ever considered doing was playing football. 

“Dick Smith told me to stay at school and do my A Levels, as I was only 16 and that something might happen later with my football. 

“I kept playing for my teams and a year later, Ray Shaw called me back for trials. Ian McFarlane (Leicester’s interim manager prior to Jock Wallace’s arrival at Filbert Street), saw something in me and signed me in the 1978 close season when I was nearly 17. They offered me an apprenticeship until I was 18 on £18 per week. I signed and then walked back home. All of my mates, like Gary, had been there for a year, and I was back with the lads. 

What impressed me was that Jock Wallace used to come to every single youth match at Belvoir Drive with Ian McFarlane.

Mick Duffy

“The next day, the Club secretary, Alan Bennett, phoned me. He told me to go to the Club the next day, as there was a problem. I couldn’t sleep that night, worrying. The next day, Alan Bennett and Ian McFarlane told me that to sign apprentice forms it had to be for two years and as I was nearly 17, I could only do one year.

"So, they signed me on professional forms on £35 a week instead! Lineker and all my mates had been there a year and technically, as they were apprentices, they were supposed to clean my boots, but I didn’t let that happen! 

“Then, Jock Wallace became manager (in June 1978). We had pre-season training and then I played in the youth team, as a professional. Gary and myself were the front pair. We got on so well together. 

“What impressed me was that Jock Wallace used to come to every single youth match at Belvoir Drive with Ian McFarlane. Playing for the youth team, I scored a wonder goal. I was playing centre-forward with Lineker on the right wing. I chested down a clearance and passed the ball out wide to Gary. He chipped the ball back to me. I took it on my chest and volleyed it into the top corner, from about 30 yards out. 

“After training, on the Friday of the following week, Ian McFarlane told me to go to Filbert Street because the manager wanted to see me. Jock Wallace was petrifying and I wondered what I’d done. It was like being sent for the headmaster.

"We drove back in silence with me thinking, ‘He’s going to kill me.’ “I was taken to see Jock and he said, ‘Congratulations! You’re playing in the first team tomorrow. Get your kit, go home and just live the moment.’ 

“I couldn’t grasp it! I was 17, I’d just joined the Club and I was playing in the first team! I walked home and made my debut the next day against Notts County (on 9 September, 1978). A year after being told at 16 that I was going nowhere, I was in the first team! 

“The next day, I asked my brother, Paul, for a lift because I didn’t want to walk to the ground. We could only get as far as the Upperton Road bridge because the road had been blocked off with all the fans so I walked with the crowd, who didn’t know who I was. I had my boots in my bag. I heard them saying things like, ‘Who is this Duffy who’s playing today? Never heard of him.’ 

“I got to the players’ entrance. One of the autograph hunters there recognised me and I started signing autographs. The next thing I knew, someone pulled me inside. Wallace saw me and said, ‘You’re late! If you’re ever late again, I’ll throw you into that river and you’ll never kick a ball at this Club again!’ He was like that. He’d scare you, but he had a softer side to him. 

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Leicester City 1979/80

Jock Wallace's Leicester City squad in 1979/80.

“I played up front with Trevor Christie. It was also Keith Weller’s first game back after spending the summer playing in America. 

“I scored on my debut, but it was disallowed because apparently I pushed (the ex-Leicester player) Jeff Blockley in the back as I leaned back and headed the ball over the ‘keeper. Early in the game, he came straight through me and sent me flying into the air. He’d have been sent off today. He said, ‘Welcome to the game. I’m going to kick you all game!’ At half-time, Jock said, ‘Next time he does that, you do that to him. Take him out next time.’ Today, Trev [Christie] tells me that he looked after me that day and that he got kicked so that I didn’t. 

“In those days, you only had one substitute, so when we travelled we always took one extra player in case of a problem. That season, we travelled to Oldham for an FA Cup replay on a Tuesday night. On the coach I didn’t feel well, but I was scared to death about telling Jock as we only had 13 men. In the end, I spoke to Ian McFarlane and then to the manager. He just said, ‘okay’, with no feeling or emotion, as if to say, ‘You’ve ruined the night now.’ 

“When we got to Oldham 90 minutes before kick-off, he left me on the bus, totally alone. I sat there right through the game, and even after the game when the players had a drink in the bar. I could hear the cheers for the goals. It was a terrible night with thunder and lightning.

"It’s how it was in those days. He left me on the bus because he was annoyed with me. He couldn’t stop his anger. He was the same with every player. I had great respect for him. The strength I got from that made me a stronger player. 

“He was a great motivator. We weren’t a great team tactically. We were hard working, running a lot. We weren’t a footballing side. If I’m honest, he got rid of the talented footballers like Eddie Kelly and Steve Kember and he brought in the Scottish lads. 

“One of these was Alan Young, who’d scored a hat-trick for Oldham the night I was left on the bus. When he came in, I got left out. I still think Jock Wallace was annoyed with me.” 

One of Mick’s claims to fame is that he provided the assist for Gary Lineker’s first-ever first team goal. 

“It was at Notts County on a Wednesday night,” Mick recalled. “It was pouring with rain and I was on the bench. It was quite an experience sitting next to Wallace, McFarlane and Eddie May. They were full of threats. It was more like fury and fight, rather than football. 

“In the first half, Dennis Rofe was badly injured when, jumping up for a ball, he was deliberately headbutted in the side of the face by a Notts player, who didn’t even look at the ball. He was out cold with a broken jaw and cheekbone and he ended up having a wire contraption on his face. I came on as the only sub. 

“It was 0-0 at half time. I was left wing, Gary was right wing. He was 18, I was 17. Martin Henderson was in the centre. I dribbled past a couple of players and hit the ball towards goal. Gary came running in and put the ball in the net for his first professional goal. I told him that he’d stolen my goal away from me because my shot was going in at the far post, but he reckons it was going wide! 

I had a good semi-pro career after that. I played for Shepshed and Leicester United, the two biggest local clubs. I was also player-manager at Oadby Town. I was captain there when we played West Brom in a pre-season friendly with World Cup winner Ossie Ardiles in their side.

Mick Duffy

“The next season (1979/80), when we won the Second Division title, I couldn’t break into the first team, although I was in the squad when we won the title at Orient in the last match of the season, so I was part of that. In my third season, I couldn’t score to save my life and at the end of it, Jock didn’t renew my contract. 

“That set me back big time but then Jock arranged for me to go to Germany, to FC Saarbrücken, who wanted a striker. It was horrendous. I was a 21-year-old lad from Braunstone who’d never been abroad in his life. Only the manager could speak English. None of the players did and they completely ignored me anyway. They never spoke to me in training.

"I was also living in a hotel, with nobody giving me a thought. There was no duty of care. They wanted to sign me for another year, but I couldn’t live that life. It was soul destroying. I was homesick and just wanted to come home. 

“When I came back, I moved out of the professional game. I didn’t have the career I perhaps should have had, but I’m proud of some of the things I did. As well as playing in the first team, I also played for the youth team and the reserves, scoring at Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham, Norwich and Chelsea, where I scored a hat-trick in a Youth Cup quarter-final. 

“I had a good semi-pro career after that. I played for Shepshed and Leicester United, the two biggest local clubs. I was also player-manager at Oadby Town. I was captain there when we played West Brom in a pre-season friendly with World Cup winner Ossie Ardiles in their side. 

“I also spent about 40 years working in sport in a variety of ways, including working as a Sports Development Officer for the council, organising coaching courses and football events. I also ran leisure centres and spent six years working for Bobby Charlton as his coaching manager in the south for his soccer schools.” 

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