Here is my own personal top ten City matches…
1. Leicester v Ipswich Town – 22nd November 1975.
An unremarkable fixture in the middle of the Jimmy Bloomfield era, but one that I will never, ever forget as it was my first game.
Two of Division One’s more attacking and entertaining sides managed to conjure up what I now realise was a drab goalless draw: but to this eleven year old it was utterly thrilling.
We had a black and white TV at home so the first shock, as I entered the ground in the wing stand, was that Filbert Street was in glorious colour. The next was the size of the cavernous Double Decker stand away to our right. By the time I reached my seat I was feeling dizzy. Just as well there was little excitement on the pitch, beyond the thrill of seeing my heroes from programmes, annuals and sticker albums becoming flesh.
2. Leicester v Oldham Athletic – January 1st 1979.
This was the start of a new year, but also the dawn of a new era for the club. Jimmy Bloomfield’s side had been allowed to grow old together and were in decline. Frank McLintock raised the average age still further in 1977-78 as City lost their top flight status and now Jock Wallace was taking stock of what he had. On a freezing cold afternoon (the famous hot air ‘tent’ had been pressed into service) three players made their City debuts: new signing from Hibs Bobby Smith, and two pale and scrawny teenagers: Dave Buchanan and Gary Lineker.
It all worked rather well. Smith and Buchanan both got on the scoresheet in a 2-0 win; Lineker didn’t, but he would make up for that later.
3. Orient v Leicester – May 3rd 1980.
My first away game, and what a way to start my travels following my team. Centre-half Larry May scored the only goal of the game early on and City ended the afternoon as Second Division Champions in Jock Wallace’s second season.
There were 10,000 City fans among the 13,000 crowd packed into little Brisbane Road and they completely took over the place.
This was not a Sunday School outing however. A rampaging mob decided to tip the programme hut down the grass bank at the rear of the terraces and it finally came to rest in somebody’s back garden. On the final whistle thousands scaled the perimeter fences and poured onto the pitch, some swarming around the goal and snapping the crossbar. Striker Martin Henderson was stripped for souvenirs as he ran for the dressing rooms and ended up wearing just one boot and his jockstrap when he finally made the sanctuary of the changing rooms.
Were all away games like this? I wondered.
4. Leicester v Shrewsbury Town – March 6th 1982.
If there has ever been a more dramatic game of football played in the history of the world then I haven’t heard of it. Jock Wallace’s side had battled their way to the quarter finals of the FA Cup and avoided the bigger sides in the last eight, but little Shrewsbury weren’t about to roll over.
City took the lead after only five minutes, but any notion that this would be a formality were quickly dashed when Shrews’ striker Chic Bates left goalkeeper Mark Wallington writhing in agony after a studs on thigh challenge. Wallington, playing his 333rd consecutive game, soldiered on but his injury had immobilised him to the extent that, before half time, Shrewsbury were leading 2-1. Enough was enough and Wallington was in tears as he removed his gloves and headed for the tunnel. Striker Alan Young took over between the posts.
City hit back just before the break when Colin Griffin stabbed the ball past his own keeper for a gift of an equaliser, but yet more calamity was to befall the Foxes in the second half. Stand-in keeper Young was also the victim of a fierce challenge forcing another outfield player, winger Steve Lynex, to don the green jersey.
After Lynex had tipped an effort over the bar Young was able to resume in goal and then City set about their opponents with a breathtaking display of attacking football. Jim Melrose put City ahead; Gary Lineker sent a frenzied home support into further dementia by poaching a fourth goal; and then Melrose headed a fifth.
Legend has it you could hear the roar of the crowd as far away as the High Street when that one went in…
5. Fulham v Leicester – April 23rd 1983.
A sea of blue and white travelled from Leicester to Craven Cottage on the banks of the Thames to see Malcolm MacDonald’s Fulham and Gordon Milne’s City in a head to head promotion clash.
A vast following of around 9,000 filled the huge open Putney End terrace and they were regularly soaked by Spring showers, but it didn’t dampen their spirits.
In those days before the play-off system provided a buffer zone things were more black and white and success or failure was more immediate. When Ian Wilson scored the only goal of a tense game suddenly it was City, and not Fulham, who were looking like favourites for that third promotion spot.
6. Leicester v Manchester United – November 23rd 1985.
I remember standing in the middle of Pen Three of the Spion Kop for this game and we covered almost as much ground as the players as the tightly packed crowd surged back and forth.
Manchester United weren’t the best club in the country back then, that was Liverpool, but they were indisputably the biggest and City gave them a footballing lesson at Filbert Street.
City were very much a Jeckyll & Hyde outfit in the mid-80s. During this season they beat League Champions Everton both home and away; lost 5-0 at Oxford; beat Tottenham 3-1 at White Hart Lane; lost at third division Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup… you were never sure which City were going to turn up. On this day it was the stylish, attacking City with new loan signing Laurie Cunningham in the line-up and they were 3-0 up against United by the half hour mark with a goal from Gary McAllister and two from Alan Smith. United legend’s like Gordon Strachan and Norman Whiteside were swept aside by a rampant City.
A video of the game was released and it was top of the ‘most rented’ charts in video shops around Leicester for many months afterwards.
7. Leicester v Oxford United – May 11th 1991.
City were one of only ten sides at the time who had never suffered the drop to Division Three, but on this day we only survived by a gnat’s whisker. Despite having some good players like Tommy Wright, Paul Ramsey, Gary Mills, Ali Mauchlen and Steve Walsh City had a lousy season and even a win at home to Oxford would not be enough to keep City up if West Brom won at Bristol Rovers. Happily the Baggies could only draw and a single goal from big centre-half Tony James was enough to haul the Foxes clear of the trapdoor. Seconds after the final whistle most of the 19,000 crowd were dancing with wild delight on the pitch.
Due to league re-structuring that season only two clubs went down, any other season and it would have been us condemned to the lower divisions. But thanks to Tony James and caretaker-boss Gordon Lee, who took over from David Pleat in January, City had been spared the ignominy of Division Three by the narrowest of margins.
8. Leicester v Derby – May 30th 1994.
I’m still not sure how City managed to beat Derby County in the 1994 Division One Play-Off Final. The Rams had a much better transfer kitty than most clubs and had assembled a side that, player for player, looked better than Brian Little’s boys. But we had a few factors on our side.
Firstly, the City side had a big presence. Jimmy Willis, Gary Coatsworth and Steve Walsh may not have played like Brazil in 1970, but you wouldn’t want to meet them down a dark alley.
Secondly referee Roger Milford was one of those old fashioned refs who didn’t blow his whistle at the first sign of contact. This was football, not netball, and he liked to let things go now and again.
And thirdly, Leicester City had been to Wembley six times previously and lost on every single occasion. No one could lose at Wembley seven times out of seven. It just wasn’t possible.
And so it proved. Even though Derby went a goal ahead through Tommy Johnson, City fought their way back. Steve Walsh headed an equaliser amid Derby appeals that their keeper had been flattened by Iwan Roberts. Then, with four minutes remaining, all hell broke loose around the royal blue end of Wembley. Simon Grayson crossed for Ian Ormondroyd but his header was parried by the keeper.
The ball fell for Walsh who tucked it over the line before embarking on a manic celebration shared by 40,000 City fans.
Simon Grayson became the first City captain to hold silverware aloft at Wembley and “We are Premier League!” was sung all the way back up the M1.
9. Leicester v Middlesbrough – April 16th 1997.
After a nervy 1-1 draw at Wembley City and Middlesbrough had to contest the League Cup Final again ten days later at Hillsborough. 20,000 fans from each side watched a thrilling game that was settled by a Steve Claridge goal ten minutes into extra-time.
Steve Walsh lifted the three handled League Cup trophy and City had landed a major honour for the first time since 1964. But for many in the crowd, including me, this was the first time we had seen City win anything other than a promotion pot. It was a superb moment.
10. Atletico Madrid v Leicester – September 16th 1997.
This is the only defeat in this list, but it still belongs here among the greatest moments of my City-supporting life.
Martin O’Neill had arrived at City in December 1995 and, after a stuttering start, had taken the club on an extraordinary journey. Promotion at the first attempt, that League Cup win, and a place in the top half of the Premiership had all followed at a bewildering pace.
And now we were in Europe, playing Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Cup. Most of the three thousand City fans housed in a small corner of the enormous Vicente Calderon stadium were still pinching themselves. This was beyond our wildest dreams.
And then it got even sillier. Ian Marshall, the man with all the sartorial elegance of a farm labourer, swung a boot at a loose ball and found the back of the net. We were winning. We had a precious away goal. I have never heard a goal heralded with quite that level of laughter before. Surely this was a mass hallucination?
It didn’t last of course. Marshall was soon kicked out of the game and Madrid won the first leg and the return at Filbert Street due to some highly dubious refereeing decisions.
But for a short while that night in Madrid it seemed that Leicester City, under Martin O’Neill, could achieve anything…
So there they are, my favourite ten games. Though ask me on another day and I might come up with a different ten. Did I ever tell you about the time we went to Anfield on Boxing Day……