Lochgelly, Fife born inside right Johnny Duncan, nicknamed “Tokey”, began his football career with Denbeath Star in 1913, playing for Kirkcaldy United in 1914 and Scottish League club Lochgelly United in 1915, where he scored a hat-trick on his debut against Dunfermline Athletic, before joining First Division club Raith Rovers in 1916. He played for six years at Stark’s Park, where he played alongside the legendary inside forward Alex James under manager Peter Hodge, captaining The Rovers to third place in the Scottish League in 1922, for whom he scored 26 goals in 121 appearances before being re-united with Hodge, their new manager, who signed him for Second Division club Leicester City with his brother Tom for a fee of £1,500 in the 1922 close season.
Described as “an indelible Leicester City great”, Duncan made his Football League debut at Stockport County in August 1922, missing only one match in a debut season that produced 22 goals, and he holds the (joint) club record at Leicester for the most goals in a single game, scoring six goals in a 7-0 victory over Port Vale on Christmas Day 1924, a game in which Arthur Chandler, the other joint record holder, scored the first goal, scoring a career best 34 goals that season as The Foxes won the Second Division Championship, albeit Chandler outscored him with 38 strikes. Besides his six goal feat he scored two further hat-tricks for Leicester while they were still a Second Division club against Bristol City in March 1924 and Fulham in March 1925.
Duncan was considered the lynch-pin around which Hodge’s plans in progressing the club and instilling the Scottish passing style into the club’s culture were built. After Hodge left Leicester in 1926, Duncan insisted the club stayed loyal to Hodge’s passing style as the club reached its halcyon years of League success. He won his only cap for Scotland against Wales at Ninian Park, Cardiff in October 1925, scoring in the match which Scotland won 3-0.
From February 1926 he switched to right half and it was from there that he directed Leicester’s exceptional run during the late 1920’s, Duncan being ever present as they signalled what was to come with a seventh place finish in 1926-27, by when he was already the club captain. He then led The Foxes to third place in the League Championship in 1927-28, and to runners up in 1928-29, their highest ever League finishes until the club shocked the football world to win the League title in 2016.
The Sunday Express said of Leicester in their runners-up season: “The best football team have been Leicester City, who have approached nearer to the pre-war standard than any other in individuality and constructive cleverness. I attribute this largely to the influence of their Scottish captain, John Duncan, who has insisted that the way to success was by expert use of the ball than by helter-skelter methods.”
After eight seasons with The Foxes, he finished his playing career in 1930 after 95 goals in 295 matches, and later had a brief spell at Leicester based amateur side Solus in 1933, but he returned to Leicester City as manager in March 1946 after the end of the Second World War. Under his management the club signed among others Don Revie and reached it’s first ever FA Cup Final in 1949, which they lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers at Wembley, but he left the club that October after a poor start to the new season.
Don Revie, who would find fame as manager of Leeds United and England, dedicates an entire chapter of his autobiography to Duncan, entitled “My Debt to Johnny Duncan” claiming “Until you have heard Johnny Duncan talk about Soccer then your Football Education is sadly lacking.”
His younger brother Tom Duncan also played for Raith Rovers and Leicester City, also appearing for Halifax Town and Bristol Rovers.