Ian Wilson

Former Player Remembers: Ian Wilson

Scotland international Ian Wilson, a playmaking midfielder and full-back, played over 300 games for Leicester City between 1979 and 1987, most of them in the top flight.
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Last month, he spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career in football as a player, a coach and a manager. This included, among others, spells at Everton, Beşiktaş, Nagoya Grampus Eight, Bursaspor and Peterhead, when he took the Highland League Club into the Scottish League. 

In a previous interview for CITY, Ian recalled his Highland League background with Elgin City, Jock Wallace signing him for Leicester City and his eight-year spell as a regular in the first team, playing also for Gordon Milne and Bryan Hamilton. He spoke about winning the Second Division title in 1980 and promotion again in 1983, playing in the 1982 FA Cup Semi-Final against Tottenham Hotspur, captaining City, and winning his first two Scotland caps while at Filbert Street.

When he spoke to us again last week, Ian continued his story by remembering his move to Everton in 1987, his international career, experiences as a player and coach in Turkey and Japan, his achievement as a manager, and setting up a coaching school in Aberdeen.

“When I left Leicester in September 1987, they’d just been relegated from the First Division,” Ian began. “In the close season, I was selected to play for Scotland, which was very late for me in terms of age. It was very difficult to get into the Scotland team because they had top-class players like Graeme Souness. However, as they came towards the end of their international careers, I was lucky enough to be considered to play for Scotland.

“Gordon Milne notified me when I was having dinner with Gary McAllister and Ali Mauchlen and our families. Gordon told Gary and myself to travel to Aberdeen the next morning. I’d started my professional career at Aberdeen, but I’d left when I was 18 because they said I was too small and too light and here I was, at 29, going back there to join the Scotland squad for a B international against France, whose team included a young Eric Cantona.

“Then I was included in Scotland’s team for the Rous Cup (in May 1987), a three-way tournament between Scotland, England and Brazil. We did okay, drawing with England and losing 2-0 to Brazil.”

Four months later, with newly-relegated Leicester struggling in the Second Division, Ian moved to league champions Everton for a reported fee of £300,000: “I never wanted to leave Leicester, but It was indicated to me that if I wanted to continue my international career, I needed to be playing at the highest level, so I moved to Everton. Unfortunately, Everton weren’t allowed to play in the European Cup because English teams were banned from playing in Europe for five years.

“Everton had some fantastic players, starting with Neville Southall, who was the best goalkeeper in the world at that time. Whenever international teams got together, there was hardly anyone from the first team squad left at Everton.”

At Everton, I’d had a facial injury and one or two knee injuries, so maybe I didn’t do myself justice there. I played a lot better when I was at Leicester.

Ian Wilson

Ian spent two seasons at Goodison Park making a total of 48 appearances. These included coming on as a substitute in the 1989 FA Cup Final against Liverpool.

“Our semi-final was against Norwich City at Villa Park, I was on the bench,” Ian continued. “It was on the day of Liverpool’s semi-final at Hillsborough against Nottingham Forest on the day of the Hillsborough disaster. We were jubilant, defeating Norwich, and getting to the final. After the game, we heard that the match at Hillsborough had been abandoned. It wasn’t until later that we realised the extent of the disaster. There were a lot of discussions with the FA because Liverpool and Forest weren’t sure whether they were going to replay their semi-final. The game did go ahead, Liverpool won and it was an all-Merseyside final, which was a fitting memorial to the people who passed away that day.

“Everybody wanted Liverpool to win the final, for obvious reasons, apart from the Everton supporters, who were brilliant at that time. I came on as substitute in the final as Pat Van Den Hauwe and Kevin Sheedy were on the left-hand side, so it was very difficult to get into a team which had so much ability. We lost 3-2 but it was a great experience.”

That was Ian’s last game for Everton. That summer, he transferred in Turkey to join his old Leicester City manager Milne, who had been at Turkish giants Beşiktaş since 1987.

“Gordon kept in touch with me when I was at Everton,” Ian explained. “At Everton, I’d had a facial injury and one or two knee injuries, so maybe I didn’t do myself justice there. I played a lot better when I was at Leicester. After the final, Gordon asked me if I’d be interested in having a spell in Turkey. A young centre-forward and future England international Les Ferdinand had spent the previous year at Beşiktaş. It was a big learning curve for him, he’d enjoyed his time there and did very well. When he came back to England, he had a fantastic career.

“Gordon told me that I’d enjoy it in Turkey, that they were wonderful people and that they were football fanatics. Language wasn’t a problem. You’d be surprised how many players back then spoke some English. Gordon had a word-perfect interpreter who was with him during the week and on match days.

“Beşiktaş were a big side, like Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray. If we had a night match, we’d train in the morning and then go to a hotel where there were twin rooms for players to rest in for a couple of hours. After that we’d have a bit of a pre-match and then prepare to go to the stadium.

“Our hotel overlooked our stadium. I remember looking out of my hotel window at about 4 o’clock prior to playing Fenerbahçe and I could see that the stadium was already full with about 40,000 fans who were singing and dancing for an 8 o’clock kick-off. I couldn’t believe my eyes!

I was doing my coaching badges and I went to Bury to do some coaching with Mike Walsh, who was the manager, and then I went to Wigan for a bit with Bryan Hamilton.

Ian Wilson

“In my first season, we won the first of three successive Super Lig titles and we also won the Turkish Cup to win the domestic double. We didn’t have a training ground, but things have moved on a lot since then. I left towards the end of my second season at Beşiktaş, but Gordon continued to win honours after I’d left, winning two more Super Lig titles and the Turkish Super Cup.”

In February 1992, Ian joined First Division side Derby County until the end of the season.

He added: “Derby’s manager, Arthur Cox, had been keen to take me to Turkey where he’d been coaching, but Gordon had got in first. Derby were going through a difficult time and were relegated at the end of the season but I enjoyed playing again at the top level. Roy McFarland was assistant manager and we had Peter Shilton, Mark Wright and Dean Saunders in the team.

“I was doing my coaching badges and I went to Bury to do some coaching with Mike Walsh, who was the manager, and then I went to Wigan for a bit with Bryan Hamilton.”

Ian’s next move was back to the Highland League in November 1992: “Peterhead’s chairman phoned to ask if I’d be interested joining Peterhead as a player and also as commercial manager. I accepted. It was a full-time position.

“Then Gordon, who was now manager at Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan, asked me to help him out for four weeks. Peterhead agreed that I could go to Japan for a month, so I went to Japan to help with the training. After two weeks there, I was offered a contract which I accepted.

“It took a little while to adjust to the culture. Japan was developing football and the fanbase then was much younger. It was like being a pop star. During a game, the fans would be screaming.

“The culture was to do everything together. For example, prior to training, everybody including the manager and coaches would change together. Gordon and I didn’t do that at first and that didn’t help our cause. The Toyota car company owned the club and, in the factory where they produced their cars, you would see all the staff out in the carpark doing exercises together before they started work at 8 o’clock. It was a different mentality. Everywhere was so clean. You could eat off the pavement. Everybody was so polite. No one was in a hurry. They’ve never heard of road rage.”

Ian’s old Leicester City team-mate Gary Lineker played for Nagoya Grampus Eight at this time.

I got the Bells Third Division Manager of the Month in September 2002 and in February 2003 and was the Bells Division Manager of the Year for the 2002/03 season.

Ian Wilson

He said: “I had lunch with him last week with Gary McAllister, Alan Smith and Gordon celebrating Gordon’s 86th birthday. He was injured a lot in Japan with a major toe problem. One day, Gary told me on a Tuesday that he needed to go back to England but that he’d be back for the game on Saturday. I asked him why and he said: ‘Walkers Crisps have asked me to do an advert.’ It was his first advert, the first of many. He was back on time, but he should have given me some commission for me letting him get on that plane!”

In May 1996, Ian and Gordon returned to Turkey: “When Gordon and I left Nagoya, Arsène Wenger became the manager and he did very well. He is an absolute hero there. Then I went as Gordon’s coach to Bursaspor. When we were there, Beşiktaş wanted us to go back. We told Bursa that we’d like the opportunity to speak to them, as Beşiktaş, a big club in Istanbul with money and playing in Europe, was a big draw. However, as it developed, Beşiktaş thought we wouldn’t be allowed to leave Bursa and they appointed John Toshack instead. We had to go back to Bursa with our tails between our legs and work with the players again. At the first home game of the season, all 20,000 fans turned their backs on us as it had looked as though we’d turned our backs on them. We knew then that that was that.”

In November 1997, Ian returned to Peterhead and was manager when the club was granted league status in 2000, joining the Third Division of the Scottish League. Until he left Peterhead in December 2003, the club finished fifth and fourth twice in the table.

“We did very well,” Ian recalled. “I got the Bells Third Division Manager of the Month in September 2002 and in February 2003 and was the Bells Division Manager of the Year for the 2002/03 season. I had a good time at Peterhead. It was a great experience.”

In 1999, Ian established the successful Ian Wilson Soccer Coaching school for youngsters in and around the Aberdeen area. In December 2020, he took the decision to step away from full-time involvement, but he continues to act as a consultant. Ian has fond memories of his time at Leicester and will always be a welcome guest whenever he travels down from Aberdeen.  

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