Fifty-five years ago, on 11 November, 1967, one of City’s most popular-ever players made his debut for the Club in a 6-0 defeat at Manchester City. His name was Frank Large, and he was a centre forward. He was only at Filbert Street for six months, but his exploits during that time mean that his name will forever be remembered by Foxes fans.
The fans loved his bravery. His bustling, aggressive, no-nonsense, barnstorming style intimidated defenders. He had great energy. He worked very hard. He was great in the air. He was as strong as a lion and ultra-competitive. He was fearless. He would run through brick walls as his badly broken nose testified. He was tough. Hardly surprisingly, he quickly became a crowd favourite at Filbert Street.
His career prior to arriving at Filbert Street had been fairly nomadic, as it was to be after he’d left Leicester City. Aged 27, he had never played in the top division before, having spent his career at Halifax Town, Queens Park Rangers, Northampton Town, Swindon Town, Carlisle United, Oldham Athletic and Northampton again.
Frank was signed by City manager Matt Gillies from Northampton for a fee of £20,000 a few days before his Foxes’ debut. The Foxes were in their 11th successive season in the top division. The team had some very good players, such as Peter Shilton, Peter Rodrigues, David Nish, Bobby Roberts, John Sjoberg, Graham Cross, Davie Gibson and Mike Stringfellow. In addition, winger Len Glover was signed shortly after Frank arrived at Filbert Street.
However, Derek Dougan, who had left the Club in March 1967, had never really been replaced. Leicester had been linked to such high-profile strikers as Jim McCalliog of Sheffield Wednesday, Ron Davies of Southampton, Fred Pickering of Everton, and Andy Lochhead of Burnley. Consequently, it was a bit of a surprise when City signed Large from Third Division Northampton.
“He was a Leeds lad,” Frank’s son, Paul, said. “He was born in a house less than half a mile from Elland Road and near to the Hunslet rugby league club. He played football for his school team and for Leeds Boys. Then he worked for British Rail and played for their team in the Half Holiday League which was for guys who, like him, worked on Saturdays and therefore had half days on Wednesdays.
He was cheered in the north, jeered in the south, and loved in the Midlands. The fans certainly took to him at Northampton and at Leicester when the time came.Paul Large on Frank Large
“When he was 19, he was spotted by a scout from Third Division Halifax Town, who signed him in June 1959. He was there for three seasons. Although he was right-footed, he was an attacking left-half (midfielder) in those days. At that time, he only had a willowy physique and, although he was tall, he wasn’t big and strong then. Halifax gave him a crate of Guinness each week to build him up!”
In June 1962, Frank moved to Third Division side Queens Park Rangers.
Paul explained: “At Halifax, I think dad scored a goal every three games from midfield and some clippings in his scrapbook indicate that, at that time, Newcastle, Aston Villa and Leeds United were looking at him. Don Revie’s approach was turned down by Halifax because they weren’t prepared to benefit Leeds, who were seen as local rivals.
“Then QPR came in for him so he left Halifax and went there. I’d only just been born so, while he sorted out a house in London, my mother and I moved to her family home in Leeds.”
Six months into his first season at Loftus Road, Frank moved again (in February 1963), this time to Northampton Town, who were going for promotion to the Second Division.
“He felt that there was a different attitude to the game in the south,” Paul added. “He said that they didn’t appreciate his hard working endeavour as much as they certainly did in the north. He felt exactly the same about his moves later in his career to Swindon Town and Fulham, which confirmed this view.
“It was said of Frank – or he might have said it himself – that he was cheered in the north, jeered in the south, and loved in the Midlands. The fans certainly took to him at Northampton and at Leicester when the time came.”
The forward enjoyed success at Northampton.
Three months after signing for Dave Bowen’s Northampton in February 1963, the Cobblers won the Third Division title, winning promotion to the second tier for the first time in their history.
“Dave Bowen got my father almost by accident,” Paul continued. “He was trying to sign another forward, but he was injured so he put in an offer for my dad instead. It was the big freeze that year and his goals for the rest of that season helped Northampton secure the Third Division championship, with Swindon Town promoted as runners-up.”
The following season, in March 1964, Frank transferred to Swindon, but only stayed there until September 1964 before moving again, this time to Third Division outfit Carlisle United.
Explaining this move, Paul said: “Dad had a slower start with Northampton in their first season in the Second Division and didn’t score as many goals. Swindon made an offer which Northampton accepted, although Dave Bowen, who eventually signed Frank three times for Northampton, apparently regretted letting him go.
“He scored twice on his Swindon debut and everything looked to be good, but I’ll never forget him telling me that, one morning when he went into training, the manager told him that the club had received an offer from Carlisle, and could he go to speak to their manager? So he got into his car, drove all the way up to Carlisle, agreed terms, came back and then told my mother. She didn’t even know that he’d gone there!
“For the first month at Carlisle, dad was a team-mate of Hugh McIlmoyle (who had played for Leicester City in the 1961 FA Cup Final and whose statue now stands outside Brunton Park) before Hugh moved to Wolves.
“Dad had a great season at Carlisle. The team was promoted as Third Division champions for the first time in their history, as had been the case with Northampton two seasons earlier. Dad had been in both teams.”
The move came out of the blue. I was five when he got to Leicester and it was only then that it dawned on me that he was quite famous.Paul Large on Frank Large
In December 1965, Frank was on the move again, this time to Third Division side Oldham Athletic.
“Ken Bates (later to become owner and chairman at both Chelsea and Leeds United) signed him,” Paul recalled. “I went to pre-school in Oldham. My dad did very well at Oldham. I think he scored a goal every two games and he was loved by the fans.
“Then, a year later (in December 1966), he was just sold out of the blue. Northampton, who had just been relegated after one season in the old First Division and were now trying to stay in the Second Division, wanted him back. Ken Bates, being the businessman that he was, sold him for a £5,000 profit.
“I always felt that my dad was a bit like a fireman. He was always either trying to put a fire out to avoid relegation or to get a fire going to achieve promotion. He never went to a club that was in mid-table, doing nothing. They were either fighting to stay up or fighting to get up. People saw in him the energy, the enthusiasm and the attitude that could lift a team to get them to where they wanted to be.”
Northampton were relegated from the Second Division at the end of Frank’s first season (1966/67) in his second spell at the Cobblers, but in November 1967, playing once again in the Third Division, he suddenly found himself catapulted to the top flight of English football when he signed for Leicester City. The Foxes were not having a good season at that point, sat in 18th position in the First Division.
“This was a great move,” Paul reflected. “Despite their position, Leicester were one of the most successful sides in England in the 1960s, reaching three FA Cup finals, two League Cup finals, doing well in the league and playing in Europe. Once again, the move came out of the blue. I was five when he got to Leicester and it was only then that it dawned on me that he was quite famous.
The 1967/68 season saw Frank Large play alongside some top talents at Leicester City.
“Graham Carr, the father of the comedian Alan Carr, was a good friend of Frank’s at Northampton and he told me that, just before he signed for Leicester, dad had played in an away game at Barrow. He said it was the worst fixture in the league, because it was in the middle of nowhere, it took ages to get there, and it was always very cold.
“Graham said that they’d had a few drinks the night before the match and the next day, dad had a stinker and the team lost 4-0. Graham’s view was that if Leicester manager Matt Gillies had seen him playing that game, he wouldn’t have signed him!”
Frank’s first game at Leicester was a baptism of fire. It was 6-0 defeat at Manchester City who went onto to become league champions that season. It was the first time Frank had played in the top flight, but he wasn’t at all daunted.
“One thing I remember dad telling me,” Paul continued, “was that when he played in that Leicester City side, there were players who were better than him who gave him just a little bit more time and a little bit better quality of pass.
“It was still a very physical game, but teammates like David Nish, Bobby Roberts and Davie Gibson were able to just put the ball in the place where he really wanted it to be. This didn’t happen as often in the lower leagues. It made a big difference to him and it lifted his game.”
In part two of this interview, Paul goes onto to explain why Frank became a cult hero at Leicester and to describe the highlights of his father’s time at Filbert Street. These include, among many others, his home debut against Arsenal, a truly memorable FA Cup match against Man City, a clash at White Hart Lane, dramatic events on a tour of Zambia and his part in the British transfer record deal which saw him move to Fulham.
Paul also describes Frank’s time at Bobby Robson’s Fulham, playing alongside the famous Johnny Haynes and Malcolm MacDonald, before going on to talk about his father’s later career, including his time playing in the USA, before settling in County Mayo in Ireland.
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