West Lothian-born Matt Gillies, the latest focus manager, was one of the most successful managers in City’s history.
While he was an amateur on Motherwell’s books, the outbreak of war in 1939 put paid to his ambition to pursue a medical career. He joined Bomber Command as a navigator, playing football for his unit. In October 1942, while stationed at RAF Walton, he signed for Bolton Wanderers.
He also guested for Arsenal, Chelsea and QPR during the War. Between 1946 and 1952, Gillies made 145 top flight League appearances for Bolton Wanderers, where he was captain.
In January 1952, meanwhile, he signed for Leicester City for £9,500 and was a regular member of the side which won the 1954 Second Division title.
A deep-thinking and thoughtful man, Gillies joined David Halliday’s coaching staff in 1956, and helped City break many club records the following season when they stormed to the old Second Division title again.
In November 1958, he became acting manager at a time when the City were bottom of old First Division. The appointment was made permanent in January 1959. This coincided with a bad New Year run of eight defeats and one draw which put the Club at the bottom of the table in March.
Fortunately, the directors kept faith with their new manager. A late season rally saw the City just avoid relegation, finishing in 19th position. An era of unprecedented success for the Club followed. They consolidated the next season, finishing 12th.
The following season they finished sixth and were beaten FA Cup finalists, unluckily losing to double-winning Tottenham Hotspur. The next campaign, they competed in Europe.
The season after that they were realistic contenders for the league and FA Cup double, before finishing fourth and losing in the Final to Manchester United. The Club won the League Cup in 1964 and were beaten finalists in 1965. Further top-half finishes in the old First Division followed.
One of Gillies’ key appointments was to bring Bert Johnson in as coach, scout and chief adviser.
Between them Gillies and Johnson signed players such as Gordon Banks, Graham Cross, Davie Gibson, Mike Stringfellow, Bobby Roberts, Derek Dougan, Jackie Sinclair, Peter Rodrigues, Peter Shilton, David Nish, Len Glover and Allan Clarke.
They also developed Howard Riley, Richie Norman, John Sjoberg and Frank McLintock into big first division star players. By the beginning of 1968, Gillies, who by now was a Justice of the Peace, was ill for three months. Bert Johnson took over temporarily and the Club finished mid-table.
On 30 November, 1968, on the day his team lost 7-1 at Goodison Park, and with Leicester City near the foot of the table, Gillies resigned following the sacking of Johnson. Gillies turned his back on football in October 1972 after a three-and-a-half year spell as Nottingham Forest’s manager, where he discovered the young Martin O’Neill. He died on Christmas Eve in 1998. His reputation as one of Leicester City’s best managers lives on.
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