Alan Bennett & Jock Wallace

Former Secretary Remembers: Alan Bennett

Club Historian John Hutchinson catches up with Alan Bennett, who was a key figure at Leicester City between 1979 and 1994.
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Before becoming Leicester City’s secretary he had worked for the FA, Chelsea and Aston Villa. At Stamford Bridge, working with Tommy Docherty and Dave Sexton, he had dealings with many great players, such as Jimmy Greaves and Peter Osgood, not to mention Alan Birchenall.   

In his time at Leicester City, he worked with managers Jock Wallace, Gordon Milne, Bryan Hamilton, David Pleat and Brian Little and with players such as Gary Lineker, Alan Smith, Ali Mauchlen, Gary McAllister and Steve Walsh. He was also involved in three promotions to the old First Division, three Wembley Play-Off Finals and was a key figure in the building of Filbert Street’s new Carling Stand.

Alan started watching football at Highbury with his father in 1946. After he left school in 1951, following an interview with Sir Stanley Rous, he secured a job at the FA.

“In those days, the FA only had 31 people working there," he began. "They’ve got 700 or 800 now. My job was to register professional players. I was filling in for a chap who was doing his National Service. A year later, I got called up as well.

“When I returned in 1954, in addition to registrations, I also did some writing for the FA yearbooks, as well as getting involved in disciplinaries and meetings with the Football League and the Players Union at a time when the abolition of maximum wage was an issue. I contributed to courses for football club secretaries at Bisham Abbey and got to know some of them.

“Then a vacancy arose at Chelsea for the post of assistant secretary. I knew their secretary from the courses and Chelsea’s chairman Joe Mears knew of me as he was also the FA chairman. I was interviewed by those two and by the Chelsea manager Ted Drake and got the job in 1961.

Jim (Jimmy Greaves) went to AC Milan, who paid £10,000 up front with £70,000 to follow. Chelsea players were on about £35 per week.

Alan Bennett

“Ted Drake was sacked soon after I arrived and their coach Tommy Docherty became manager. He’d played for Arsenal when I’d been a steward there and I’d got to know him and the other players when they’d stroll out of the tunnel a couple of hours before the match.

“Dave Sexton was the coach (and later manager). Tommy was magnificent as a motivator and getting the best out of young players, while Dave was certainly the best and most innovative coach I worked with. One of the young players was Jimmy Greaves who was still at Chelsea when I joined.

“I had known Jim when I was at the FA through his England duties and I can safely say he was the best natural goalscorer I can remember. He just had that knack of being in the right place and knowing how to score, but he didn't know how he did it! He'd come through the Chelsea youth scheme, left school at 15, was in the first team at 17, and scored a lot of goals in his four years at Chelsea.

“In April 1961, a couple of months after I arrived, Jim went to AC Milan, who paid £10,000 up front with £70,000 to follow. Chelsea players were on about £35 per week. Jim went for the money. At the end of the season, the maximum wage was abolished and the club were able to offer Jim £100 per week.

“He would have been prepared to stay, but for this to happen, Milan wanted Jim to return the money they had given him but he had already spent it, so he went to Milan. I used to do the wages each week for the players. I remember trying to sort out this Italian thing whilst Jim sat on the big radiator in my office. He wouldn’t stop talking whilst I was trying to concentrate!

“Football administration was a lot different then. When I joined Chelsea, just five of us ran the club. With that small staff the whole club was together – staff, management and players. The team spirit was second to none. That was because of the number of players that were brought through to the first team from the youth scheme.

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Alan Bennett & Alan Birchenall

Bennett (second from right) at a Chelsea disciplinary hearing with Alan Birchenall (far right).

“As well as Greaves, these included Peter Bonetti, Ken Shellito, the Harris brothers Allan and Ron, Terry Venables, Peter Brabrook, Bert Murray, Barry Bridges, Bobby Tambling, John Hollins, Peter Houseman and Peter Osgood. We beat Manchester United at Stamford Bridge 2-0 with a team that didn't cost a penny.

“We got relegated in 1962, but then roughly the same side came back in 1963 and in the mid-60s, they were as good as anybody. ‘Outsiders’ such as John Mortimore, Eddie McCreadie, George Graham, Tommy Baldwin and a certain Alan Birchenall could easily be assimilated to keep that Chelsea spirit going.

“I think Peter Osgood was the best all round player from the hundreds of players at the clubs I worked at. Although he came through the youth scheme, he was different in that he didn’t join from school but from Buckinghamshire junior football at the age of 17. I still remember our youth team manager Dick Foss coming into the office after an open trial at Hendon saying: ‘Oh, I’ve found a centre forward’. There were no doubts in Dick’s mind and he was right.”

Alan then recalled his heavy workload resulting from Chelsea beating the League Cup holders Leicester City in the 1965 League Cup Final, qualifying for the Inter Cities Fairs Cup Semi-Final in 1966 and reaching the 1967 FA Cup Final.

He was at the club when Birchenall moved to Stamford Bridge from Sheffield United for a big fee in November 1967, a month after Docherty resigned. In 1969, Alan became secretary at Aston Villa where he spent 10 years before becoming Leicester City’s secretary in February 1979.

Alan explained: “Ron Saunders, the Villa manager, was probably the best I’d worked with overall, but behind the scenes, the board was split. Then, in 1979, Leicester approached me and offered me the post of general secretary, in control, and with more money. It was a friendly club and I made the move.

I knew that Jock was in discussions to bring Johan Cruyff to Filbert Street. Jock was quite convinced he was going to get Cruyff and he wasn't the only one.

Alan Bennett Alan Bennett

“Leicester had been relegated the previous season. Jock Wallace was in his first season as manager and his exciting young team returned to the First Division in my first full season at Filbert Street. But regretfully we could not hold on to that First Division place.

“That season, I knew that Jock was in discussions to bring Johan Cruyff to Filbert Street. To be honest, I didn't see it happening, so I didn't give it as much importance in my mind as I probably should have done. There was nothing I could have done anyway. But Jock was quite convinced he was going to get Cruyff and he wasn't the only one.

“When Jock had ideas about getting players I sometimes thought: 'He's got no hope of signing him' and I was correct in virtually every case. But the Cruyff one was nearer the mark than I thought it was. I learnt afterwards it was pretty close to happening.

“The following season, (1981/82) Leicester finished sixth in the Second Division and reached the FA Cup Semi-Final against Tottenham Hotspur. But at the end of the season, Jock decided to return to Scotland. He was replaced by Gordon Milne, who had impressed football with his management at Coventry City and he repeated that in his four year spell at the helm with us.

“Promotion back to the First Division in 1983 and staying there for four years, allied to the development of stars such as Gary Lineker, Alan Smith and Gary McAllister, confirmed Milne’s ability to produce and maintain good teams while running on a shoestring financially. He got the best out of the players.

“In 1986, Gordon decided he wanted to give up day-to-day management at Leicester. He was going to leave and recommended Bryan Hamilton for the job. I thought that if we could possibly keep Gordon in another role, we would have someone that could guide Bryan. Also if anything really went wrong, he would still be here.”

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Alan Bennett

Alongside manager Jock Wallace at Ian Wilson's signing in April 1979.

Following Alan’s advice, Milne stayed on in this new role as general manager with Hamilton as first team manager.

“After Milne took the decision to step back from team management in 1986, things started to go wrong,” Alan continued. “Leicester were relegated in 1987. David Pleat took over from Bryan Hamilton as team manager in December 1987 with the team near the bottom of the table and he improved things. Playing attractive football we finished mid-table with the best record of any club for the second half of the season.

“But the following season we got off to a bad start and it never picked up. Attendances were poor, which meant players had to be sold if good offers were made and a further relegation to the old Third Division was only avoided in 1991 thanks to a last match win at Filbert Street against Oxford United coupled with a favourable result elsewhere.

“Then the change to the modern Leicester City started. Martin George took over as chairman. He was a different sort of chairman, more active. He knew what he was talking about with football. If he saw a player, he would know pretty quickly if he was a good player or not. I think he was a very positive influence.

“His first choice for a new manager was Cambridge United’s John Beck, but Beck turned him down. I was the one that mentioned Brian Little to Martin George. He had done very well at Darlington and I knew him from my time at Villa of course.

“Martin George got Brian down to his manor and appointed him. I was there as well. Brian had worked out exactly what he wanted to do and who he wanted. His coaches were John Gregory and Allan Evans, both of whom I’d signed for Villa.

We had at last moved into the modern era with the construction of the new Carling Stand at Filbert Street.

Alan Bennett

“The whole outlook of the Club was refreshed. Brian the knack of making that trio work. John Gregory was a very good coach and Allan Evans was a very good organiser. John and Allan didn’t get on at all but Brian controlled it all and you wouldn’t have known it unless you worked there.

“But as a the trio they worked well. If one of them hadn't been there, it wouldn't have worked, in my view. Brian knew the players he wanted for the situation we were in and he got them at good prices.  

“Three successive trips to Wembley for Play-Off Finals were crowned in 1994 by promotion to the new Premier League, by which time we had at last moved into the modern era with the construction of the new Carling Stand at Filbert Street. This was pushed through by (director) John Sharp and myself. The original plan had been to switch the ground round with the new stand being built at the Filbert Street end but that was turned down.

“That entry to the Premier League coincided with my retirement from full-time work, even though the Premier League kept me involved on an active, but part-time basis initially helping with their youth development programme and later, as a director of the Premier League Medical Care Scheme. This was set up to ensure that top standard medical treatment is always available for the players of both Premier League and Football League clubs.”

Alan is still a regular supporter of the Club, rarely missing a match.




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