Leicester City 1978/79

Former Player Remembers: Derek Dawkins

Full-back and midfielder Derek Dawkins recently spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his life in football.
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Beginning his career at Leicester City, he made his debut as an 18-year-old. Among his other teams, he also played for AFC Bournemouth when ex-City team-mates Dave Webb and Eddie Kelly were at Dean Court together with Harry Redknapp and, briefly, Charlie George and George Best.

He later became a cult hero at Torquay United and he currently divides his time between living in Spain and England. Derek is one of 16 players who have played for both Leicester and Bournemouth. Among these, the most notable were Dave Webb, Eddie Kelly, Steve Claridge, Tony Sealy, Jimmy Quinn, Ian Andrews, Max Gradel and Yann Kermorgant.

Although he was born in Edmonton in 1959, Derek grew up in Leicester. He was a pupil at Linwood Boys School on the Saffron Lane estate where he was in the same class as Neville Hamilton, another talented youngster who went on to play for the Foxes.

Until it closed in the 1970s, Linwood provided more players for City than any other school. They included Norman Plummer (Leicester City’s 1949 FA Cup Final captain), Jim Harrison (who also played in the 1949 showpiece) and Graham Cross (who played a record 600 games for Leicester City, including two FA Cup Finals and two League Cup Finals).

Other ex-Linwood pupils who went on to play for the Foxes in the 1960s included forwards Bobby Svarc and Alan Tewley, together with full-back Clive Walker.

Derek became an apprentice at Leicester in 1977. Thinking back to those days, Derek, speaking from his home in Spain, began: “I was involved in football at all levels. At Linwood, I went on trial for England Schoolboys. I didn’t get in, but I was close.

“People at Leicester who helped me develop were the coaches George Dewis and David Coates. They made a really big impression on me both personally and professionally.

“Leicester is a family club. They expected a lot from you. It was hard work, but they supported you all the way. The Club was good for me and for Nev [Hamilton]. We were fortunate to be signed as professionals for the Club (in October 1977).”

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Derek Dawkins

Dawkins made his Leicester first team bow at the age of 18.

At that time, City were in embarking on their seventh successive season in the old First Division. For the previous six, under the guidance of manager Jimmy Bloomfield and with players like Peter Shilton, Dennis Rofe, Steve Whitworth, Mark Wallington, Graham Cross, Jon Sammels, Alan Birchenall, Keith Weller, Frank Worthington and Len Glover, the Foxes had been one of the most entertaining sides in the country.

Bloomfield left the Club in May 1977 and, when Derek signed professional forms, the new manager was the ex-Leicester star Frank McLintock, who had then gone on to captain Arsenal to the league and FA Cup double in 1970/71.

McLintock, in his first job as a manager, inherited a Leicester side which had finished 11th in the top flight the previous season. However, the likes of Dennis Rofe, Steve Kember, Jeff Blockley, Steve Earle and Keith Weller were nearing the end of their City careers, prompting Frank to bring in experienced players.

These included his old Arsenal team-mates George Armstrong and Eddie Kelly and his ex-QPR team-mate Dave Webb. Other new arrivals included Lammie Robertson, Alan Waddle, Geoff Salmons and the Club's record signing Roger Davies.

Despite this, Leicester were in the bottom two of the table for almost all of the season, prompting McLintock’s departure from the Club in April 1978 .

Recalling McLintock, Derek said: “He was a lovely guy. At that time, my parents had a house in London. Frank used to drive up with Steve Kember and he’d pick me up and we’d drive up together if I’d stayed down for the weekend. At the time, I felt that he perhaps wasn’t given the respect that he should have been given, on and off the pitch.”

McLintock’s assistant, Ian MacFarlane, took over for the remainder of the season and, with relegation confirmed, he turned to some of the Club’s crop of talented youngsters to play in the first team.

“Nev and I came into the team for the last three games of the season,” Derek recalled. “Nev had already made his debut against Manchester United and we both played in the last three games of the season against Derby away and against Chelsea and Newcastle at Filbert Street.

Playing in the first team at a young age was a big learning curve. Even though it was a baptism of fire, big names just looked after the young lads.

Derek Dawkins

“These games were a baptism of fire. I was 18. Football in those days was hard. Tackles were vicious. The more you got the player, the more successful the tackle was. You grew up so quickly in those days. We had people like Dave Webb at the Club. 

“Later in my career, I was with him at Bournemouth and at Torquay. He was a big influence on me, both on and off the pitch. He taught me a lot about how to look at life. He told me not to give in when you don’t have to but treat people with respect. This always resonated with me, even today.

“Playing in the first team at a young age was a big learning curve. Even though it was a baptism of fire, the likes of Dave Webb, Eddie Kelly, Frank Worthington and Steve Kember, who were all big names and great characters in their own right, just looked after the young lads. The experienced pros wanted us to succeed and show us what we had to do to be like them.

“Even though you respected the fact that you weren’t allowed in the first team changing room until you went in to get their kit after they’d finished training, it wasn’t a case of them and us. They made you realise that it was all for one and one for all, because at any moment, as a young lad, you could be thrown into the team and you’d be expected to perform. It was great!

“Ian MacFarlane always wanted the best for you. He also stayed on as assistant manager when the new manager Jock Wallace was appointed in time for the next season (1978/79). They were both strong characters. Jock Wallace had a heart as big as a barrel.

“They didn’t suffer fools and if they saw you putting the effort in, they would reward you for it. I’ve been fortunate in football. I’ve rarely met anyone that I didn’t get on with. In football, you’re not like a tennis or a snooker player. You have to count on other people. You perform as part of a team. Camaraderie is important.”

In December 1978, Derek joined Mansfield Town. The manager was Billy Bingham, the ex-Northern Ireland international who had recently been Everton’s manager, having been a member of their First Division title-winning team in 1962/63. Derek spent three seasons at Field Mill, playing 73 league games before moving to Bournemouth in August 1981.

“Billy Bingham was an astute guy,” he explained. “The month after I arrived, Nev also signed for Mansfield. Nev left before me to go to Rochdale. He moved to Tommy Docherty’s Wolves team in the 1984 close season, where he sadly suffered a heart attack which ended his playing career.”

It was an environment you thrived in. Football is like a roundabout. You get off and get back on again. The circle of players is a lot smaller than people think.

Derek Dawkins

Derek’s next move was to Bournemouth in August 1981.

“Dave Webb, who was now their manager, signed me,” Derek continued. “Eddie Kelly, who I’d also been at Leicester with, signed at the same time. Later, all three of us were to meet up again when we were at Torquay.

“At that time, Harry Redknapp was also at Bournemouth as assistant manager to Dave Webb. Harry is a one-off. He really is a diamond and so likeable. Everybody gets on with him and his family. I’ve known his wife Sandra and his boys Jamie and Mark from when they were little. They’re just such a lovely family.

“Also, Charlie George played a couple of games for us at Bournemouth and then George Best played a few games for us as well while I was there. For us young lads at Bournemouth, we were star struck!

“It was an environment you thrived in. Football is like a roundabout. You get off and get back on again. The circle of players is a lot smaller than people think.”

In July 1983, Derek moved further west to sign for Torquay United, where he stayed for nearly six years: “Dave Webb took over the club. That’s why I went there. One highlight was in the last game of the season. This was when we only avoided dropping out of the league when we scored an equaliser in injury-time against Crewe. The injury time had been added because a police dog had caused a delay when it bit one of our players! David Platt was playing for Crewe that day.”

In September 1987, Derek scored in Torquay’s 1-0 victory in a League Cup tie against Tottenham Hotspur.

“It was a tremendous evening and people still remind me of it today,” Derek remarked. “Even now, after all these years, if I go to Torquay, people still talk to me about it. The BBC did a series in 2004 called Cult Heroes and I was voted by the fans as Torquay’s all-time cult hero.”

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Derek Dawkins

Celebrating with Torquay fans after avoiding relegation out of the Football League.

Frank O’Farrell, who was Leicester City’s manager in the 1969 FA Cup Final and who won the old Second Division title in 1971, had also been Torquay’s manager on three occasions.

Reminded of this, Derek continued: “Frank didn’t live far from the ground, so we used to meet all the time. It’s weird, and we used to laugh about this, every time I went into Sainsbury’s he seemed to be there! He was often at the ground too.”

When the ex-Spurs and England full-back Cyril Knowles was manager at Torquay, the club developed the talent of Lee Sharpe, who became a star winger for Manchester United, Leeds United, Sampdoria and England in the 1990s.

“While I was working with the YTS youngsters at the club, we found Lee Sharpe,” Derek explained. “He came to us from Birmingham after we’d been advised to look at him. We got him on the training pitch and was just exemplary, even at the age of 16. He just took off.

“He was level-headed. He had a superb talent and was always smiling. What we didn’t know was that Manchester United were interested and that Alex Ferguson and his assistant Archie Knox had been watching him.”

Derek later played for Newport County, Yeovil Town, and Gloucester City.

He concluded by saying: “When I finished playing, I had a number of businesses in Torquay and, after 20 years, we moved to Spain. We lived there for 16 years and then we moved back to the UK. Since then, we’ve just been going backwards and forwards between England and Spain.”

One of Derek’s recent visits to Leicester was last year when he attended a reunion with many of his ex-Leicester City team-mates at an evening at the stadium honouring Jock Wallace.

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