When he was appointed as Leicester City’s Secretary-manager in July 1926, Willie Orr was by far the most distinguished ex-player to manage the Club. He then guided City to their best ever league position until the Premier League trophy was lifted in 2016.
Despite these achievements, he is probably one of the least known of all Leicester City’s managers.
Orr had made his name as a left-back for Aidrieonians before moving to Preston North End in February 1894. Three seasons later he joined Celtic where for the next 10 years he achieved remarkable success as a player.
Celtic won the Scottish League in 1898, 1905, 1906 and 1907 and the Scottish Cup in 1900, 1904 and 1907. He was Celtic’s captain from 1902-1906 when he helped nurture what was essentially a young team. During this time he also won three international caps for Scotland.
Orr returned to his old club Airdrie in 1909, first as a Director until 1921 and then as Secretary-Manager. Between 1923 and 1926 he guided Airdrie to four successive runners-up spots (their highest ever league positions) as well as winning the Scottish Cup for the only time in their history in 1924.
In April 1925 Willie Orr brought his Airdrie side down to Filbert Street to play a benefit game (for Leicestershire County Cricket Club) against Peter Hodge’s Leicester City, the newly crowned Second Division Champions. The Club’s archives contain a menu card from the dinner held at the Grand Hotel to mark this occasion. It contains the autographs of the Airdrie players, including that of Hugh Gallacher who later became one of the biggest names in football with Newcastle United, Chelsea and Scotland.
A little over a year later, in July 1926, Willie Orr became Leicester City’s manager following Hodge’s decision leave Filbert Street. Orr’s dinner with the Leicester City directors in May 1925 may well have had a bearing on their decision to appoint him as their new manager.
In the three seasons following his appointment Orr, building Hodge’s foundations, took Leicester City to seventh, third and then second in the old First Division. To a team already containing the likes of Adam Black, Arthur Chandler, Johnny Duncan, Ernie Hine and Hughie Adcock, Orr added current and future England internationals Sid Bishop, Len Barry and Sep Smith.
Unfortunately, Orr’s unbroken run of success at Airdrie and Leicester City ended during the three seasons following the high spot of 1929 when his City team came to within a point of being crowned League champions. He resigned in January 1932 following a run of six successive defeats which saw Leicester City near the bottom of the table.
His unsuccessful streak continued at his next club Falkirk. His three years there as Secretary-manager ended in relegation and in a lifetime ban from football following his attempt to bribe an Ayr United player not to play against Falkirk in a vital relegation match.
The ban was lifted in February 1937, but Orr never returned to football, He died aged 72 in April 1946.
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