Allow me to paint you a backdrop. It is February 1979, a time of great transition at Filbert Street.
Jock Wallace has taken the reins of a broken carriage and is desperately trying to keep it on the road. City have won just five games all season and face the threat of relegation to Division Three for the first time in the club’s history.
The old familiar faces of the Bloomfield Era are departing one by one – Keith Weller has just crossed the Atlantic to join the New England Teamen for £40,000 – and they are being replaced by kids barely out of school… Andy Peake, Dave Buchanan, Gary Lineker. And the vulnerability of those teenagers is brought into sharper focus by the freezing cold. There are goosebumps on lilywhite knees and they clutch their shirt cuffs trying to keep out the bitter cold. It is the worst winter in years and hundreds of games are postponed up and down the country, wrecking the fixture list. Not at Leicester though. We have our famous inflatable tent and a better chance than most of ensuring a game goes ahead.
That’s why the ‘Match of the Day’ cameras came to Filbert Street on February 10th 1979.
Orient are the visitors, a little unusual in their red shirts with white ‘braces’ and their exotic sounding players with names that sound like they might have come from a spice ship in the nearby docks. In a time when footballers were mostly called, Steve, Dave and Bobby, Orient have a Tunji Banjo and a John Chiedozie. And to remind City supporters of better times Jimmy Bloomfield is their manager. Last season he took them all the way to the FA Cup semi-finals.
City’s side is: Mark Wallington, Steve Whitworth, Dennis Rofe, John O’Neill, Larry May, Tommy Williams, Andy Peake, Mark Goodwin, Bobby Smith, Martin Henderson, Dave Buchanan.
They concede an early goal to the Londoners and there are groans around the ground. Not another home defeat. Already Sheffield United, Notts County, Charlton and West Ham have helped themselves to two points from Filbert Street. One more defeat and this collection of youngsters-and-veterans-and-nothing-in-between will be done for, even with Jock Wallace at the helm… but wait. This game is about to explode and a genuine turning point in the season will be reached.
The twelve thousand who have braved the bone-chilling cold look on in wonder at City’s gutsy response.
Five goals fly past the stout figure of John Jackson in the Orient goal. A long range effort from Bobby Smith at the Kop end; a header from Dave Buchanan; a determined nod through a crowded penalty area from Larry May; and in the second half Tommy Williams nets from close in; and Mark Goodwin chips over the advancing keeper. For Orient John Chiedozie scores twice and Peter Kitchen once, resulting in a thrilling 5-3 win for City.
On the way home we were reminded that we could go home and enjoy this classic match all over again as we walked past the BBC broadcast vans parked outside the Main Stand. City on Match of the Day was a rare treat and I could picture Jimmy Hill’s broad beaming, chinny, smile as he promised the viewers a real treat from Filbert Street.
I was bursting with pride at the thought of the whole country watching Jock’s young braves at their best… but to our huge disappointment it didn’t happen.
Something, somewhere, had gone wrong. Due to a technical fault the transmission was sent, but was not received back in London. Not a second of it. A genuine moment of glory could now be lived only in memories and black and white photos.
That transmission will still be travelling across the universe now, thirty years later (apparently at a rate of 186,000 miles per second) so maybe someone will be able to enjoy Larry May’s header again… but not on this planet.