Frank Large

Former Player Remembered: Frank Large (Part Two)

Described as a working-class hero who embodied many of the game’s virtues, centre-forward Frank Large, who died in 2003, became a cult hero to Leicester City fans when he played for the Club during the 1967/68 season.
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In the second part of his interview with Club Historian John Hutchinson, Frank's son Paul remembers his father’s time at City and Fulham, before moving onto talk about the latter stages of Frank’s career, prior to him moving to County Mayo in Ireland.

In part one, Paul described his father’s nomadic career, playing for five clubs in the Second and Third Divisions before he burst onto the scene at Filbert Street in November 1967 for a fee of £20,000 to play in the old First Division. 

For the next six months before his transfer to Fulham in June 1968, his utterly fearless, brave, committed, selfless, big hearted and ultra-competitive performances won the respect and affection of fans and players alike. It was said that Frank hit the First Division scene like a force 10 gale.

Frank’s first game for Leicester was a 6-0 defeat at Manchester City, who went onto become league champions that season. His next outing was his home debut against Arsenal, which was a 2-2 draw on a frozen pitch. Another new signing, winger Len Glover, also made his debut in that game. Frank immediately impressed the Filbert Street crowd by scoring with a header after only three minutes.

Thinking back to that season, Paul recalled: “The first Leicester game I remember going to was in December 1967 against Spurs at White Hart Lane. I was five. When the teams ran out of the tunnel, 35,000 people started roaring and I naively assumed they were all shouting for my dad, because that was who I was shouting for. With his blond hair, he was very distinctive and you could see him from 100 yards away.

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Frank Large & Bobby Robson

Large alongside the manager who took him to Craven Cottage, Bobby Robson.

“Leicester won 1-0. My uncle, who was about 12, was left to look after me and my younger brother by the players’ tunnel after the match. When we saw the away changing room door open, my younger brother, who was about three and a half, got past security and ran in, so we ran in too. I can clearly remember my dad telling us, in no uncertain terms, to get out! The steward caught us and took us out.

“Later that month, Leicester’s home game against West Ham was on Match of the Day,” Paul continued. “Leicester were beaten 4-2 but dad scored a cracking goal. I was allowed to stay up to watch it. I fell asleep on the sofa, but I clearly remember being woken up for the game. I was wearing my all-blue Leicester City kit, which I’d got for Christmas, and my ‘Bobby Charlton specials’ boots. Watching my dad on Match of the Day was unbelievable!”

The game which sealed Frank’s status as a Leicester folk hero more than any other was the fourth round FA Cup replay in February 1968 against Man City in front of a near 40,000 crowd at Filbert Street. Leicester City were 2-0 down after 22 minutes, but then scored four goals in reply in a 20-minute spell either side of half-time.

Large’s header into the box fell to young Rodney Fern to crack home the first goal just before the break. Frank then lashed home the equaliser after 50 minutes, and then, following a goal by David Nish, Large headed in a curling corner kick for his second and Leicester’s fourth. Man City’s goal in the 89th minute made the final score 4-3.

It was a memorable evening, still talked about today. The local press reported: 'Large has inexhaustible energy. Nothing stopped him. He charged up and down the field like a man possessed and showed shrewd touches as well'.

Reflecting on this game, Paul said: “I remember reading a fans’ poll in a football magazine which voted this game to be the greatest-ever played at Filbert Street. Dad got Man of the Match. City’s skipper Bobby Roberts told me that dad frightened their goalkeeper to death.”

He went across to Heathrow to meet the Leicester boys and go on the tour. He was determined to go even though he’d signed for Fulham.

Paul Large

Frank only missed one league and cup game from the day he signed for Leicester City until he left Filbert Street in June 1968. He didn’t let injuries bother him. On a YouTube video about his father, Paul provides a quote from the Daily Express which summed up Frank’s attitude to the game which so endeared him to the fans and his fellow players.

The report said: 'Large strolled into Filbert Street with a broken nose, double vision, a black eye, stitches in a cut eyebrow and battered legs. I’ll be OK for Saturday’s match at Chelsea, he told assistant manager Bert Johnson. Don’t worry'.

In June 1968, and much against his will, circumstances dictated that Frank left Leicester City to sign for Fulham, who had just been relegated from the top flight.

Thinking back, Paul said: “It broke his heart to leave Leicester. Bert Johnson wanted him to stay, but Matt Gillies wanted to pay a British record transfer fee to Fulham for their striker Allan Clarke. This put dad under pressure to go to Fulham as part of the deal to bring Clarke to Leicester. In those days, you didn’t have an agent to look after your interests. Players were bought and sold just like cattle.

“When all this was happening, dad was looking forward to Leicester’s close season tour to Zambia. The way I heard the story, dad met Fulham’s manager, Bobby Robson, at a railway station in London on his way to Heathrow for the Zambia tour. There’s a picture of him signing for Fulham at the station in his Leicester City suit and tie.

Then he went across to Heathrow to meet the Leicester boys and go on the tour. He was determined to go even though he’d signed for Fulham. My dad liked enjoying himself and the tour was a bit of an end of season jolly.”

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Frank Large

He joined the Cottagers just after they were relegated to Division Two.

Leicester played five games on the tour against Zambian opposition together with one game against a team of English coaches who were also on the tour to help develop the game in Zambia. Four of the games were against the Zambian international team. Frank scored six goals on the tour but was involved in an incident which allegedly caused a riot, and which could have had had serious consequences, as Paul explained.

He continued: “In one of the matches against Zambia’s national team, their goalkeeper was a popular local lad. He caught dad early on. Dad decided to sort him out. He knocked him into the middle of next week and he had to be carried off. The locals were incensed.

“After the game, at the presentation, all hell broke loose. Leicester were prevented by the crowd from getting to the dressing room! The crowd was calling for Frank to go out. Bobby Roberts said that if the team had realized they were calling for Frank, they’d have sent him out there!”

Frank spent the next season at Fulham.

“I don’t think mum was overly impressed,” Paul remembered. “We’d stayed in our house at Northampton when dad was at Leicester as he could commute, but now we had to think about moving again.

“Fulham’s manager, Bobby Robson, was sacked soon after dad arrived at Fulham. That was partly to do with the clique in the dressing room of older experienced players who’d been team-mates with Bobby at Fulham. They could have and should have done more to help Bobby.

Leicester City discussed offering a fee of £20,000 to bring him back to Filbert Street and play in the top flight again. Dad would’ve loved this, but he never knew.

Paul Large

“The main man at Fulham was the ex-England captain, Johnny Haynes. My dad got on well with him off the pitch but on the pitch, he said that the only person he was scared of was Johnny because he could make you look bad. If dad chased something down and then passed the ball to Haynes, if it didn’t drop on his toe, Haynes would let the ball go past him which would make you look like a useless footballer.

“My dad felt that was unacceptable because he always tried his hardest. He believed that even if things weren’t working, the one thing you could do was run around like a madman, because at least then you might make something happen.

“Other Fulham team-mates were George Cohen and the ex-England international forward Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne. There was also the young Malcolm MacDonald. Once, when Johnny Haynes shot at goal, MacDonald stopped the ball, controlled it on the six yard line and crashed the ball into the net to give Fulham the lead. At half time, Haynes slagged MacDonald off because he said that his shot was going in.

“Fulham didn’t really appreciate dad’s hustle and bustle and he asked for a transfer. This was the only time he ever did this, and he ended up playing in the reserves.

“The worst thing about dad’s experience at Fulham was that, during the season, Leicester City, fighting relegation from the top flight, discussed offering a fee of £20,000 to bring him back to Filbert Street and play in the top flight again. Dad would’ve loved this, but he never knew about it and nor did I until a few years ago when I became aware that this was recorded in the Leicester City directors’ minutes book.

“Fulham didn’t sell him, even though he was in the reserves, or playing at centre-half which he absolutely hated. Fulham could have got half their money back, but they waited a few more months then sold him to Northampton (in August 1969) for £14,000, so they lost even more money on him.”

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Frank Large

Large played alongside the likes of Johnny Haynes and George Cohen at Fulham.

Frank spent three years back at Northampton Town in the Fourth Division before two more seasons at Third Division side Chesterfield. In April 1974, Frank took his family to the USA to play for Baltimore Comets in the North American Soccer League.

Paul said: “I was 12 when we were in Baltimore. What an unbelievable experience that was! And then it was back to England. My dad knew he was near to finishing as a player, so he played for Ron Atkinson’s Kettering Town while working on a building site.

“Big Ron loved him. Once, dad dropped a load of bricks onto his foot and broke his toe, which became swollen. In order to play in the next game, he put his boots on the kitchen table, which my mum wasn’t happy about, got a Stanley knife and cut out a hole in his boot  so that he could play with the swollen toe exposed, sticking out the end of the boot! He had the most amazing pain threshold.”

In conclusion, Paul explained why Frank’s family later moved to County Mayo in Ireland: “After retiring from football, my dad worked long shifts for 11 years in a dirty chemical factory at Deanshanger in Northamptonshire.

“My mum’s family came from County Mayo, so in 1987, we moved to the area and bought a cottage and a lovely 40 acres of land with two lakes. It was the final chapter. Dad was lucky enough to live in County Mayo for 16 years before he sadly passed in 2003.”

Paul Large’s book about his father – Have Boots, Will Travel: The Story of Frank Large – was published by Pitch Publishing in 2014.

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