For four years, between 1978 and 1982, Jock Wallace dominated Leicester City Football Club. He was big in stature, big in heart and big in influence. When Jock arrived at Filbert Street in June 1978, he had just won the treble in Scotland with Glasgow Rangers for the second time.
By contrast, Leicester City had just been relegated from the old First Division. The Board’s decision to appoint Wallace was inspired. Jock turned the Club upside down.
He struck up an immediate rapport with the Leicester fans who quickly warmed to his bluff no-nonsense manner, even though they found his broad Glasgow accent difficult to understand.
His training methods, influenced by his time in the army fighting in the Malaysian jungle, initially involved the players running up and down the sand hills at Wanlip. He soon replaced the ageing stars of the Bloomfield-McLintock era with youth.
Players like David Webb, George Armstrong, Roger Davies, Billy Hughes, Steve Kember, and Keith Weller didn’t last long. Their places were taken by largely untried youngsters like Tommy Williams, John O’Neill, Larry May, Andy Peake, Trevor Christie, Dave Buchanan and Gary Lineker.
Jock’s skill was to encourage and develop these players. He had the knack of making them believe in themselves.
Wallace was a charismatic figure who inspired positive change at the Club.
He used the experience of Mark Wallington and Eddie Kelly together with new signings Martin Henderson (from Glasgow Rangers) and Bobby Smith (from Heart of Midlothian) to bolster these youngsters.
Finishing 17th in the Second Division in his first season might not look too impressive, but it was a season dedicated to rebuilding. A period of consolidation was necessary. The following season (1979/1980), Jock’s plan came to fruition, despite the embarrassing FA Cup defeat by Isthmian League Harlow Town.
Further strengthened by Oldham Athletic’s Alan Young and Highland League player Ian Wilson, his youthful side won the Second Division title. Jock’s confident prediction that Leicester would win the First Division title was wildly optimistic.
Despite the introduction during the season of Jim Melrose, Kevin MacDonald, and Steve Lynex, despite completing a famous double over Liverpool and an attempt to sign Johann Cruyff, Leicester City were relegated along with Norwich City and Crystal Palace.
The following season, with Paul Ramsey now in the side, Leicester City were at times on the fringe of the promotion race, but their main achievement was to reach the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur in a cup run which included the famous three-goalkeeper game against Shrewsbury Town which ended Mark Wallington’s run of 331 consecutive games.
In the close season, when Jock unexpectedly broke his contract and defected to manage Motherwell, the sense of shock around Leicester was palpable. Despite this, 12 years later Leicester City arranged a testimonial dinner for Jock who was now ill.
Alex Ferguson paid tribute to Jock’s giant character and personality, his generous nature, and his infectious enthusiasm.
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