Richie Norman

Former Player Remembers: Richie Norman (Part Two)

Chatting to Club Historian John Hutchinson last month, Richie Norman spoke about his memories of playing against Blackburn Rovers in the 1960s.
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He also recalled his maverick Leicester City team-mate and ex-Rovers player Derek Dougan. He then provided a fascinating insight into the life of a professional footballer 60 years ago which included, among other things, training, players’ cars, living in digs, buying a Club house, a threat to Gordon Banks, the abolition of the maximum wage and not having an agent.

Left full-back Richie Norman, who made his Leicester City debut against his hometown team Newcastle United in January 1960 and who rarely missed a game for City until 1968, played 14 games against Blackburn Rovers before the Lancashire side were relegated from the top-flight in 1966. Twelve of these games were in the old First Division and two were in a replayed FA Cup tie in January 1965. Richie was on the winning side six times and drew with Blackburn twice. Sitting in his sitting room, having provided a cup of coffee and biscuits, Richie thought back to his games with Jack Marshall’s Blackburn sides, which were noted for their entertaining and attacking football.

On arrival, we’d go to the hotel for a pre-match meal. Some players would have a steak, but I didn’t. I’d have chicken or beans on toast.

Richie Norman

“Blackburn were one of the best sides in the old First Division,” Richie began. “Lancashire was full of good sides like Bolton, Blackpool, the two Manchesters, Burnley and Preston North End. When we travelled to away games, we’d often travel by train on the day of the match. On arrival, we’d go to the hotel for a pre-match meal. Some players would have a steak, but I didn’t. I’d have chicken or beans on toast. We didn’t have meals together before a home game though.

“In my day, Blackburn had Fred Else in goal. Winger Bryan Douglas, right-half and captain Ronnie Clayton, centre-forward Fred Pickering and full-back Keith Newton all played for England. They also had defender Mike England, who played for Wales, and inside-forward Andy McEvoy, who was a Republic of Ireland international.”

Another Blackburn player Richie remembered was Derek Dougan, who played against him for Blackburn in the two 1960/61 fixtures before the Irishman went to Aston Villa. In May 1965, Dougan signed for City and became Richie’s team-mate.

“There was always something going on with Derek,” Richie recalled. “I went with Gordon Banks to watch Derek play for Blackburn in the 1960 FA Cup Final. The day before the final, he’d handed in a transfer request to Blackburn. At Villa, he turned up with a completely shaven head which was unheard of in those days. When he was at Leicester, I remember he came with me and Gordon to watch a game at Coventry. The three of us went to the bar afterwards and he asked for a tonic but secretly put a double gin in it, so nobody would know. On another occasion, driving his car, which was far too small for him, as he was 6ft 3in, his foot slipped off the pedal and he drove into a wall at Filbert Street. When we went for golf days at Rothley, while most players like me, Gibbo (Davie Gibson), Frank [McLintock] and Gordon would play golf, he would stay in the clubhouse and play cards, especially if it was raining.

All of Derek’s goals would be in the box. He was always there.

Richie Norman

“He was a character on the pitch as well. Once, when he scored at Filbert Street, he ran right the way round the back of the goal at the Kop end with his arm in the air and came round the other side, which just wasn’t done in those days. Back then, you just shook hands when you scored and went back to your position.

“He played in a good forward line at Leicester: Sinclair, Goodfellow, Dougan, Gibson and Stringfellow. All of Derek’s goals would be in the box. He was always there. He had long thin legs and didn’t have the power to shoot from outside the box. Being so tall, he was obviously good in the air and was always a handful because of his elbows.

“I liked him. The players liked him, but none of the staff approved of him despite the goals he scored, and, of course, they got rid of him in 1967 when he went to Wolves.

“Derek also used to muck about in training now and then, but when he wanted to, he could beat anybody for speed in races, taking the mickey out of the rest of us.

“We used to train a lot at Filbert Street and on the carpark, where we played five-a-side. The English players played the Scots. It used to get a bit heated. When it was really bad weather with a frozen pitch at the ground, we’d jog up to Granby Halls to train. Later, when we had the Belvoir Drive training ground, we’d get changed at Filbert Street and then jog up there and back carrying our boots in our hand. Can you imagine that now?

“When I first got into the team, some of the players like Frank very few players had cars. Jimmy Walsh had one, but the likes of me, Gordon Banks and Frank McLintock didn’t have one. In the early days, Frank, even as late as the 1961 FA Cup Final, used to cycle to the ground. Eventually, Gordon later had a little Standard 8 car. My first car was a small Triumph Herald. As I progressed, I began to get Fords. I remember I had a Ford Consul. The front seat was a single seat for three people and the gear stick was on the steering wheel.”

Richie then recalled the players’ living arrangements: “When I first came to Leicester (in the 1958/59 season), me and a player called Davy Agnew, who later went to Notts County, lived in digs in Upperton Road with a landlady. Frank was in another place by himself as was a lad called Jack Lornie who later went to Luton.

At the end of my first season, I got engaged to be married and once you were married, the Club got you a house.

Richie Norman

“Later, when Davy and I were in digs in Beaconsfield Road, the couple whose house it was used to get us to look after their little lad. I remember one Christmas, we couldn’t go out because we were playing the next day. They went out and we looked after the little lad. We remained friends with the family for a long time afterwards.

“At the end of my first season, I got engaged to be married and once you were married, the Club got you a house.

“The Club owned a lot of houses and all the married players had Club houses. Gordon got a Club house in Kirkland Road, off the Narborough Road when it wasn’t yet a dual carriageway. This was the same house that Arthur Rowley had lived in before Gordon and his wife took it over (Rowley scored more league goals than any other player in British history. Some 265 of these were for City).

“Gordon and I were very friendly and we used to go everywhere together. Once, when we were about to play Sunderland away, Gordon got a letter saying that he was going to be shot! He showed it to me and I said: ‘Well, if you don’t mind, I won’t hang around with you for a while!’ I was kidding him though. I also told him that, at Sunderland, I wouldn’t be guarding the near post as usual because I’d be too close to him! Whenever we played away from Filbert Street, my wife used to go to Gordon’s to keep his wife company. When we got back to Gordon’s from Sunderland, we parked the car. We were

just about to go into Gordon’s house when he stood on a big twig which made a loud crack. It startled me to say the least!

“When we lived in a Club house, we paid a peppercorn rent. This changed though when the maximum wage was abolished.”

Richie was referring to the abolition of the maximum wage in 1961, which changed football forever. At a time when the national gross weekly earning by an adult male was £14.10, footballers’ wages were capped at £20 per week. A campaign to abolish the maximum wage, led by the PFA and the Fulham player Jimmy Hill, led to a real threat of footballers striking on 21 January, 1961 but this was averted three days earlier when the FA gave in to the PFA’s demands. Soon afterwards, Fulham’s England international Johnny Haynes became the first £100-a-week footballer.

“When this happened,” Richie continued, “the Club decided to sell their houses now that the players were earning more. They sold them to the players for the price they had paid for them. It was a no-brainer to buy one. I got Ken Leek’s house in Dumbleton Avenue, just off the Narborough Road.”

Thinking back to the campaign that abolished the maximum wage, Richie reflected: “Jimmy Hill had got things moving. He had the whole country in an upset because the players were going to go on strike. I think our Captain, Jimmy Walsh, was our PFA rep.

When Frank left to go to Arsenal in 1964, it wasn’t just because of money. In 1963, we should have won the double but we’d finished fourth in the league and lost the FA Cup Final to Manchester United when we were favourites to win, and he thought that Leicester would never win anything.

Richie Norman

“Once the maximum wage was abolished, we could all now negotiate a rise for ourselves. We didn’t have agents then. If you wanted a rise you’d knock on the Manager’s door and ask for one. Gordon Banks and Frank McLintock were the ring leaders for going to ask for more money because they were both top internationals.

“When they came out from meeting Matt Gillies, they said that they’d told him, because they were internationals, they should have an increase in their wages. Until then, all players at all clubs could only earn a maximum £20 per week, no matter how big the club was. The Manager told them that the Club couldn’t afford to give them a rise and that was the end of the matter. They were not very happy. A lot of players also went in to ask for a rise but I didn’t because it was a waste of time. Then, a few weeks later, we heard that Gordon and Frank were getting a rise, but so were the rest of the players. Frank and Gordon weren’t too happy about that either.

“When Frank left to go to Arsenal in 1964, it wasn’t just because of money. In 1963, we should have won the double but we’d finished fourth in the league and lost the FA Cup Final to Manchester United when we were favourites to win, and he thought that Leicester would never win anything.”

The world of football today is so very different from Richie’s time as a player over 60 years ago. He has a huge number of stories about his years at Filbert Street, eight of which were in the old First Division, not to mention appearing in two FA Cup Finals, two league Cup Finals (winning one of them) and playing in Europe. It is a privilege to listen to him talk, as he provides some fascinating insights into the world of football as it was all those years ago in the mid-20th century.

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