Alan Young

Former Player Remembers: Alan Young

Centre-forward Alan Young was a record signing for Leicester City in 1979. In conversation with, Club Historian John Hutchinson, he recalls his early career at Oldham Athletic and the highlights of his three years at Leicester City playing for Jock Wallace. He also speaks about playing alongside Gary Lineker.
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Kirkaldy-born Alan started by talking about winning his Scotland Under-18s schoolboy international cap.

“The match was at Old Trafford,” he explains. “I was the only player on the pitch not associated with a professional football club. One of the players was a left winger at Spurs called Tony Galvin. Many years later, when I was playing for Leicester in an FA Cup semi-final against Spurs, he broke Tommy Williams’ leg. He’s not on my Christmas card list!

“At the game, I was spotted by an Oldham Athletic scout called Colin McDonald, who years before had played in goal for Burnley and England.

“A couple of weeks later, there was a knock on my door in Kirkcaldy. It was Colin with a contract. Soon afterwards, I was in Oldham in digs with a couple called Tony and Barbara. I was paid £30 a week in wages and I paid £10 per week board. I was 18 and I felt loaded! I was up at Phil Cohen’s men’s tailor shop every day!

“When I was at Oldham, I scored a hat-trick against Leicester in the FA Cup. That match nearly didn’t happen. In the round before that game, we’d played at Stoke. It snowed and snowed. Instead of postponing the game, they rolled the snow to pack it and painted blue lines instead of white. We were falling about all over the place and we were soon 3-0 down. At half-time our manager, Jimmy Frizzell, told us that he was going to insist on the match being postponed. He told the referee it was too dangerous to play and the match was called off.

“We went back there in midweek and we beat them! That gave us a home tie against Leicester. We won 3-1 and I scored a hat-trick.

Jock Wallace was Leicester’s manager and Martin Henderson, who’d I’d grown up with and who’d been best man at my wedding, was in their team. After the game, Martin phoned me up and said: ‘Jock fancies you’. Those were his actual words.

“I wasn’t allowed to ring Jock because I was still under contract, but the new freedom of contract rules were coming in. My contract was due to expire and Oldham offered me £100 per week.

“Eventually, Jock phoned me and asked me if I’d like to play for him. I said that I would. I’d never met him but he’d been an absolute legend in Scotland. He’d won the treble with Rangers.

“Jock then set up a meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel between him, me and Alan Bennett, Leicester’s secretary. We met in a bedroom and the contract was lying there. He told me that life at Leicester would be one big roller-coaster and an adventure. He said that he had Eddie Kelly in midfield, that there was a boy called Andy Peake coming through and a lad called Lineker. He then handed me the contract and said ‘sign it’ and I did. I then found out I was on £200 per week on a four-year contract as well as getting a signing on fee.

My Leicester debut was the first match of the season at home to Watford. For the first time in my career, I was nervous.

Alan Young

“I later found out that Wolves, Leeds, Newcastle and especially Manchester City had all been after me. I never knew this. Frizell never told me. I found out that I’d been promised to Manchester City and when I didn’t go there, I got slaughtered in the Manchester Evening News, but it wasn’t down to me.

“After I signed for Leicester, we went on a pre-season tour to Sweden for three weeks. The transfer fee was sorted out while we were there. Leicester offered £100,000 for me. Oldham wanted £450,000-£500,000. The tribunal decided on £250,000, a record fee for Leicester. I was only the second person to move under the new freedom of contract regulations.

“In Sweden, we played nine games in three weeks and I scored 18 goals. It wasn’t against the greatest opposition, but I felt invincible! On the trip, we trained together, played together, ate together, shared rooms, looked after each other and got to know one another. Team building, done correctly, is fabulous. I came back from Sweden knowing everything I needed to know about the players. Every single one of them was a friend.

“My Leicester debut was the first match of the season at home to Watford. For the first time in my career, I was nervous. Jock used to talk about nervous energy and there’s nothing wrong with that. Nervous tension is what you have to look out for. In the tunnel, I just turned to Martin [Henderson] and said: ‘Martin, Look after me’. But I never need any help. I scored my first goal and then my second one, which became goal of the season! I just smashed it in.”

Alan was an ever-present and top scorer in the side that season (1979/80) which ended in Wallace’s young team being promoted to the top flight as Second Division champions. 

The title was secured in the last game of the season at Orient: “There were thousands of Leicester supporters at Orient. It was magnificent. Before Larry [May] scored the winner, I missed a chance. Eddie Kelly went up field and put in a delicious cross and I was on to it. I thought: ‘Yes! 1-0!’ But I shot past the post. How did I miss that?’”

For 20 games that season, the young Gary Lineker was in the side.

Alan recalls: “Gary made his debut against me when I played for Oldham against Leicester the previous season, on New Year’s Day. The game should never have been played. The pitch was like an ice rink.

“Gary was very quick. Jock used to say: ‘Up back and through!’ In other words, he’d tell the players to get the ball up to me, then get it back to Eddie Kelly or Andy Peake (or out to Stevie Lynex) and then get the ball through to Link, who had to run onto the ball. He was quick. We learned early on not to give the ball to his feet. He didn’t want it there. We just tried to release him to run onto the ball. Link would get kicked but he was too quick. Even so, he needed to know that someone would be there for him. He enjoyed playing with me. We built up a great relationship.”

Despite Wallace’s famous prediction that his young side could win the First Division title, Leicester City were relegated back to the second tier in 1981 after just one season. Even so, Leicester defeated European Cup winners Liverpool twice in the league that season. The victory at Anfield in January 1981 ended the Reds’ unbeaten home run of 85 matches. Despite scoring an own goal in the 2-1 victory, Alan was named Man of the Match. 

“We were 1-0 down after my own goal,” he adds. “Then we equalised before going on to win 2-1. I set up the winner. Ray Clemence (Liverpool’s goalkeeper) came out for a big ball to the far post. I clattered him and knocked him down. The referee never gave a foul and Paddy (Pat Byrne) went in and scored. For being Man of the Match, I got a hamper full of exotic cheeses, ham and wine.”

The following campaign (1981/82), with the Club back in the Second Division, was Alan’s third and final season at Filbert Street. He was hampered by injuries but he did play in all of the matches in the run to the 1982 FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur. This included the famous game against Shrewsbury Town, when Young was one of three City goalkeepers on the day following a bad injury to goalkeeper Mark Wallington, who had been an ever-present for the previous 331 games.

I left Leicester too soon. I was a bit hasty. I realise that now. I didn’t think it would be the same without Jock.

Alan Young

“I wasn’t really fit for the semi-final at Villa Park against Spurs,” Alan says. “I’d been struggling with a groin injury. I’d had a couple of injections before the game and some pain killers. I had to come off in the second half. I could handle the pain but my mobility was poor. Jim Melrose took my place. I genuinely believe that if I’d been on the pitch, Spurs wouldn’t have scored their first goal. My job at corners was to mark the near post. Nobody took over my defensive duties and I believe that cost us the goal. 

“Then Tommy Williams broke his leg and Ian Wilson scored an own goal. Normally when Willy (Ian Wilson) got the ball in that position, he’d smash it over the stand!” 

At the end of the season, Wallace unexpectedly left Filbert Street to take over at Motherwell. Alan found it difficult to accept the new manager Gordon Milne, so he moved to Sheffield United during the close season. 

“I left Leicester too soon,” Alan adds. “I was a bit hasty. I realise that now. I didn’t think it would be the same without Jock. I couldn’t accept Mr. Milne as ‘gaffer’.

“When Sheffield United came in for me, I phoned Jock. He said that I could do worse than go to Sheffield United, that their manager Ian Porterfield was an honest man and that although Sheffield United were in the Third Division, he thought they’d get promotion. I moved to Sheffield. Lovely people and a good club. I made some great friendships and I scored a decent amount of goals. But the move never really worked out.”

Alan subsequently played for Brighton and Hove Albion, Notts County and Rochdale before injuries forced his retirement. 

“My year at Brighton was horrendous for injuries,” Alan continues, “but I scored 13 goals in 26 games. I scored on my debut, which I did for all of my clubs, apart from Notts County, when I broke my leg on my debut. At Brighton, I was in and out of hospital. My knee was bad, after I ripped my cartilage on QPR’s plastic pitch. My back was bad. I had manipulation and traction under general anaesthetic. I used to play with injuries and pain. Medical care was basic. It was a case of: ‘Rest up, put an ice pack on, and we’ll see how you are’.

“At Rochdale, the manager Eddie Gray (the ex-Leeds United and Scotland star) advised me to retire. He said I wasn’t jumping anymore and that I wasn’t enjoying my football. It was good advice, so I retired at the age of 31. Rochdale paid up my contract to the end of the season.  When I went to Rochdale hospital for insurance purposes, they said that my back was in such a state they were surprised I was still walking, let alone playing.”

Subsequently, Alan was player-coach at Shepshed Charterhouse, organised Notts County’s community scheme and coached the youth teams at Meadow Lane and at Chesterfield. He also worked for a time for the local Leicester sports media. 

Leicester City Crest

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