Alan Paris

Former Player Remembers: Alan Paris

Earlier this month, Alan Paris who played 103 games for Leicester City between 1988 and 1991, spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his football journey. A pacey defender, and Leicester City’s Player of the Year in 1989, he played for Graham Taylor, David Pleat and Neil Warnock during his career.
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Seriously injured at the age of 27 he went to university, became a teacher and played and coached in non-league football. He also played cricket for the Lords Taverners and was a member of the Leicester City Masters team.  

Alan, who signed for Leicester City in July 1988, was born in Slough. He played for Slough Town as a youngster graduating from the youth and reserve teams to the first team when he was 17. He signed for Graham Taylor’s Watford in November 1982 when he was 18. 

“In the four years before I signed for them,” Alan remembered, “Watford had worked all the way up from the Fourth Division and had just been promoted to the old First Division when I joined them. Elton John was the Chairman. We’d see him all the time. He came to all the home games. He’d go to our changing room, shake everybody’s hand and wish us all the best. We used to have a garden party at his house in the summer, during pre-season.

 “In my first season at Watford, we finished runners-up in the league, one point behind Liverpool and a year later we reached the FA Cup Final. That’s why I never broke through to the first team as they were doing very well with the team that they had. I was an unused sub a few times and I travelled with the team to Europe in the UEFA Cup (in 1983/84). 

“I was a midfielder in those days. Watford’s long ball game didn’t suit me because I was a football player. I wasn’t allowed to dribble. We were a route one side. It wasn’t my style. Watford then played me at right-back in the reserves and I did well there.

“When they brought in Brian Talbot from Arsenal, it was my time to go. John Wile was Peterborough’s manager. He wanted a right-back and he signed me. There were a couple of other boys from Watford who were already there. It meant dropping three divisions to the old Fourth Division, but I wanted to play.

Pleaty was like an encyclopedia of football. He used to watch everybody. He knew about every player in every division.

Alan Paris

“In my three seasons at Peterborough, I missed only one game. I was Player of the Year there as well. I was also in the PFA’s Fourth Division team of the Year and won the Players’ Player Award as the best right-back.”

In July 1988, Leicester City manager David Pleat brought Alan to Filbert Street. The Foxes had been relegated from the top flight in May 1987. David Pleat had become the Club’s manager in December 1987 when newly relegated Leicester were struggling badly. His success in improving results impressively in the second half of the season meant that Leicester City were favourites for promotion in the season that Alan joined the Club. 

“Pleaty was like an encyclopedia of football,” Alan continued. “He used to watch everybody. He knew about every player in every division. His knowledge of football is still unbelievable. In that first season, I played some games at right-back but I mainly played at centre-back.” 

However, the season was disappointing with promotion favourites Leicester City finishing 15th in the second tier. Reflecting on this, Alan said, “I thought we had a great team. The only thing was that Mike Newell, whose hold up play was really good, wasn’t scoring. When he went to Blackburn and Everton, he scored loads of goals. If they’d done stats like they do today, we probably had about 70 to 80 per cent possession in matches but we couldn’t turn our possession into goals. 

They also brought in (Northern Ireland international striker) Jimmy Quinn because he was a goalscorer but he wasn’t a footballing player. When Quinn played, we started to go with long balls over the top as he was good in the air, but his hold up play wasn’t his strength.

“We had good players. In defence we had full-backs Ali [Mauchen] and Tony Spearing, with Walshy (Steve Walsh) at centre-back. We also had winger Paul Reid, who was left footed but played on the right side, and Gary McAllister and Paul Ramsey in midfield. 

“We had Nicky Cross and Mike Newell up front. (Finnish striker) Jari Rantanen was there too, but he wasn’t playing much. We were a pure footballing side. Pleaty was, and is, a pure football man. We played five-a-side every day. We also worked on patterns of play. I learnt lots of little things about the game doing this. 

My time at Leicester was my most enjoyable time in football. I’m not saying we were like Manchester City are today, but our style was similar.

Alan Paris

“I don’t remember learning anything really at Watford. There it was just a matter of ‘hook the ball on’ whereas at Leicester, I learnt a lot. Gary McAllister taught me a lot as well, not just football but off the pitch as well. I started to stay with him on Friday nights. I still lived in Peterborough. 

“It wasn’t far to travel from Peterborough to Leicester. It’s only an hour, but I didn’t want to travel in on matchdays. Sometimes I’d stay with Tony Spearing at his flat on Friday nights, or else I’d stay at the Holiday Inn. Sometimes a few of us used to go for a meal, or play cards, or just chill. 

“My time at Leicester was my most enjoyable time in football. I’m not saying we were like Manchester City are today, but our style was similar. We passed the ball and played some great football, but whereas Man City can score, we couldn’t finish.” 

At the end of his first season at Filbert Street, Alan won the fans’ Player of the Year Trophy and he continued his good form during the following season (1989/1990) when he played in 42 league and cup games. The side benefitted from the performances of Paul Kitson, Gary Mills and Tommy Wright as well as from the very successful loan signings of strikers Kevin Campbell from Arsenal and Paul Moran from Tottenham Hotspur. 

Later that season, David Oldfield and David Kelly also moved to Filbert Street, with Kelly scoring seven goals in 10 games after he signed towards the end of the season. Despite this, David Pleat’s team finished the season in a disappointing 13th place in the old Second Division. 

The following season (1990/91) saw the mid-season departures from Filbert Street of both David Pleat and Alan. 

Gordon Lee used to shout but I don’t ever remember Pleat shouting. He’s a calm man. Warnock was so different.

Alan Paris

Thinking back, Alan recalled: “We both left in January 1991. It looked as though Pleaty was on his way because although we were playing well, we weren’t winning games. He started to make changes to the team, but we were near the bottom of the table.” 

Pleat was sacked to be replaced for the rest of the season by his assistant, the ex-Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United and Everton manager Gordon Lee, who was initially appointed on a caretaker basis. Alan, meanwhile, was injured in October against Swindon Town and was only able to make two more appearances before he too left Filbert Street in January 1991. 

“I got an offer before deadline day to go to Notts County who were in the race for promotion to the old First Division,” Alan explained. “Neil Warnock was their manager. I didn’t really want to leave Leicester. I could also have gone to Sheffield United (in the old First Division) or to Grimsby Town (going for promotion to the old Second Division).

“I nearly went to Grimsby, because of the three of them they were the best footballing team, but I chose Notts County because they were on a good run and in the running for a place in the top flight. Neil Warnock was as different from David Pleat as chalk is from cheese. Pleat never raised his voice. 

“Gordon Lee used to shout but I don’t ever remember Pleat shouting. He’s a calm man. Warnock was so different. On my first day training, a Thursday, it was a free for all. I thought, ‘What the hell have I come to?’. People were getting elbowed with players getting hurt. 

“The only training that was organized was on a Friday when we did set pieces for a couple of hours. I played at left-back for my whole time at Meadow Lane. I’m right footed. We weren’t allowed to pass the ball inside to midfield. I had to put it into the channel. It was like it had been at Watford. 

“We had a good young team though. ‘Drapes’ (Mark Draper who became Leicester City’s first £1M player) was quality. We also had Tommy Johnson, Craig and Chris Short, Charlie Palmer and (Leicester-born) Dean Yates, who, if he hadn’t been injured, would have gone on to play for England.”

On the last day of the season, Leicester just avoided the drop to the Third Division by defeating Oxford United 1-0, with Tony James scoring the vital goal. Notts County were promoted to the top flight by defeating Brighton and Hove Albion in the play-off final at Wembley.

“It was a fantastic day at Wembley,” he recalled. “The next season I played in all the games (27) in the top flight until I ruptured my patellar tendon. It was a bad injury. I’d had tendonitis earlier in the season, but I’d wanted to keep on playing against the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool so I had injections before Christmas to keep me going to the end of the season. 

“You’re not really supposed to do that and the tendon snapped in February. It took me a whole year to get over the injury and then it snapped again. I was out for another whole year, so that was it. I couldn’t run and my contract had ended. 

“I was 27. In those days we weren’t all insured like they are now. Notts County only gave me 5 per cent of the insurance money they had on me. I moved back to Slough. I went to Brunel University and did a Sports Science degree. I still couldn’t run so I coached the youth team at Slough Town. 

I wasn’t earning as a student but got some money for playing which I couldn’t turn down.

Alan Paris

“We won nearly everything. Six of the youth team then played for the reserves and I was asked to play for the reserves too. I hadn’t played for three years but I did and then I started playing for the first team. I wasn’t earning as a student but got some money for playing which I couldn’t turn down.”

In 1996 Alan, who for the last 20 years has been teaching PE and now Maths in secondary schools, went to Stevenage Borough helping them win the Conference (now the National League) title, before becoming player-manager at Harrow Borough and then moving on to play and coach at other non-league clubs such as Boreham Wood, Flackwell Heath, St Neots Town and Peterborough Sports.

Alan also played for Leicester City’s Masters side in the televised series of the indoor six-a-side tournaments for veteran players. A keen cricketer, Alan also played for the Lords Taverners for a few seasons. 

“We had some really good people there,” said Alan, “like Alastair Cook who played with us before he was in the England team. I was a medium fast bowler. We used to play cricket every summer when I was at Watford too. Graham Taylor loved his cricket.”

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