The FOX went round to pay City supporter Sam Holmes a visit in the Woodgate home he has lived in since 1942… this interview appeared in FOX 160 APR/MAY 2008…
Sam will be 91 next birthday but looks 15 years younger and is still able to call on a wealth of memories from nearly eighty years of following Leicester City.
He has a pile of memorabilia that would cause a feeding frenzy on eBay but he wouldn’t want to part with it, unless City ever get round to building that museum…
FOX: It was a while ago, but what can you remember about your first game?
SH: It was in 1931 and we played Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup.
I’m afraid we lost 2-1. From that day on it has always been Leicester City for me.
It’s funny what little things you can remember. From the old toilet block on the Pop Side there was a banner hanging saying: ‘PLAY UP BRIGHTON’.
FOX: Whereabouts in the ground did you stand?
SH: In the early years I used to stand at the Filbert Street end, just behind the goal.
You were that close to the action. I felt as though I could just reach my hand out and touch Eddie Hapgood, Ted Drake, Boy Bastin, all the legends from that time. I can still remember all the names from the thirties. I used to pay sixpence to go in the Boy’s Entrance there which was under 14s.
That went on until one day I tried it and the turnstile bloke said: “You’re a bloody old fourteen! About time you went next door.”
I don’t know how old I was then, about sixteen I think, so I’d had a good run. From then on I had to pay a shilling.
FOX: You didn’t live in the city then did you?
SH: I lived in the county, Ellistown near Coalville. When I left school my Dad said: “There’s enough down the pit.” I think he wanted something better for me. So I had to come to Leicester.
I started at Equity Shoes when I was fourteen, in the cutting room. And I was in the cutting room the day I retired at 65. Fifty One years…
Saturdays we used to work until half past twelve. Then we’d walk into the market and have a plate of peas. Then walk down Wellington Street and across the recce into Filbert Street. After the game we’d go back up Wellington Street and catch a train back to Ellistown. We’d get back about 7 o’clock at night.
FOX: What did Filbert Street look like then?
SH: The Double Decker had been built. The biggest difference would be no roof on the Pop Side. They soon put a roof on it though. I always liked to stand behind the goal though, rather than on the wing. After a few years we moved to the Kop. Every home game you’d be stood in the same spot. There would be about a dozen of you, you didn’t even know their proper names or where they came from or anything, but they’d be there every week, like your match day pals.
Once I moved to Leicester I’d go to the game on my bike so I’d have to nip out a minute early to go and collect it. You’d give them a couple of pence to park the bike in someone’s alley.
FOX: What was the view like as a kid?
SH: Well you’d go down and sit on the wall at the front. Or if any kids were late they’d just be hoisted up and passed down over the heads. Imagine that now!
In later years we had a season ticket. Must have had that for about thirty years. Block C, Row E, Seats 15 and 16 at the Filbert Street end of the Main Stand, level with the 18 yard line.
When I retired from work in 1982 I said I’m not going to have a season ticket now, I’ll pick my matches. It dropped off year after year then. For want of transport to the game as much as anything.
I’d happily go still, I’ve only been once to the Walkers Stadium. When you look at it .. twenty pounds. TWENTY POUNDS!
I can imagine a lot of old boys bringing their pension back to the wives and putting it on the table and then putting a twenty pound note aside and saying, I must save that, I’ve got to go and watch City. Heh heh heh!
FOX: You definitely don’t see so many old boys down there now. They used to fill a block of the wing stand.
SH: Well yes, but I always thought that was a bit off, shoving them all to one side and not giving them the choice. They’d be shoved right up in the top corner on the right hand side. I know they knocked a bit off the price but it wasn’t very nice being shoved up in the top corner.
FOX: What did people wear in those days, obviously now it is all replica shirts…
SH: Well I’ve never worn a City shirt, but you did used to wear a scarf, especially for the FA Cup. They were the special games, when the colours would come out. That’s when you would wear your rosette. They would sell them outside, they’d be a bloke with a long broom handle and a load of them stuck on the top. But not so much for your regular league games, no. Cup ties were the highlight of the season.
I remember before one Cup game this fellow lent me his blue and white umbrella with ‘Play Up the Knuts’ on it which was City’s nickname for a while. He told me the last time it had been to a game we played Cardiff, and they won the FA Cup later that year, which was 1927. Funny to think they are in the semi-final this year!
I never kept that umbrella, I wish I had. I took it to Tottenham for a fifth round game in 1948 and we lost 5-2. That’s the only time I have ever invaded the pitch.
Before the game I ran on and went in the centre circle with my umbrella. ‘Play up the Knuts!’ Heh heh!
I think it was a record crowd for White Hart Lane that day.
FOX: Did they throw you out?
SH: Oh no. You’d get a life ban these days, but they’d just let you back on the terraces then. Something in me just said: ‘Go for it!’ and off I went. It didn’t help though, we lost 5-2. It’s really heartbreaking when you lose like that.
I’ve been feeling like that on Saturday nights lately. I refuse to look at the league table some weeks.
FOX: You went to every one of City’s FA Cup Finals in 1949, 1961, 1963 and 1969. Was it easier to get hold of tickets back then?
SH: Well, in the sixties I was a season ticket holder so there was no problem there. But 1949 I didn’t have one. You had to send in a card to apply for tickets and everyone would fill out one for themselves and then their grandma, granddad, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, everyone they knew to improve their chances. I remember a photo in the Mercury of them delivering six mail sacks full from the Post Office.
One day this bloke at work, Frank Cox, said to me: “Have you got a Cup Final ticket?”
“No I haven’t” I told him, “..and it breaks my bloody heart.”
He said: “I’ll tell you what. Go round to my aunty’s house on Sylvan Street. She’s not there now, but here’s the key.”
I went up there and opened the door and there was a Cup Final ticket on the floor, been posted through the door! That’s how I got to the 1949 Cup Final.
I never had trouble after that being a season ticket holder. I remember buying a ticket for the 1963 Final, against Manchester United. There were touts standing outside in Filbert Street. As I came out they all came up to you, “How much do you want for it?”
I said to one of them: “Look mate, you ain’t got enough in the bank, in fact there isn’t enough money in the Bank of England to buy this!”
But it wasn’t just about the Cup Finals we had some marvellous times in the semi finals and the earlier rounds.
In 1949 we played at Luton in the fifth round and it was a 5-5 draw. We were losing 5-4 right near the end and my brother-in-law, Fred Gibbons, said “Come on, let’s go.” I said: “Half a minute, we’ve got a corner.” We took the corner and Jack Lee scored in the very last second.
The next week we played them in the replay and beat them 5-3.
I remember the 1934 semi-final we played Portsmouth at St Andrews. They didn’t put buses on back then so the only way to get to away games was by train. We went up to Midland Road Station and I think every bugger in Leicester was on that platform. Six, seven and eight deep, right from beginning to end. In came the train and where you stood you went. When it pulled in we were opposite the Guard’s Van so in we went, packed like sardines and stood up all the way to New Street, Birmingham. I’m afraid we lost 4-1.
Did you know there were three brothers played in that match? Sep Smith for City and Jack and Willie for Pompey? I was bloody heartbroken when we lost that one. It’s terrible to lose the semi-final and not make it to the Final.
The only time I have ever lost my voice in my life was at the 1949 semi-final when we beat Portsmouth 3-1 at Highbury. I remember sitting on the steps round Eros in Piccadilly Circus and there were lots of City fans all enjoying themselves. There was sheer delight on their faces.
FOX: Was there any singing on the terraces back then?
SH: No, not really. That came later on. Although they would sing before the Cup Final and finish up with ‘Abide With Me’. I’ve still got one of the songsheets. ‘Abide With Me’ is still overpowering to me. They would be 100,000 singing their hearts out.
FOX: What were the queues like in those days?
SH: I can’t remember them being too bad, I think they always had plenty of turnstiles down there. The only time I remember queuing was for Cup Final tickets when you’d queue up round the pad behind the Kop.
I remember one time we played Everton on Boxing Day and the fog was coming down. A crowd started putting their shoulders to the gate and they knocked it down and everyone got in for nowt!
You did have to get down there early though if it was a big team visiting. Sometimes the turnstiles would be shut at around half past one for a three o’clock kick off with a full house inside.
FOX: Who were the big teams when you started going?
SH: Arsenal were a big draw, Everton, Derby County. I can remember all the players from those teams. Bill Shankly played for Preston North End and Matt Busby played for Manchester City. I saw them all.
FOX: Who was the best Leicester player you ever saw?
SH: Well Sep Smith has got to be one of them. You’ve got to have a favourite.
Keith Weller was another one, he was a good player. And Davie Gibson. I remember that half back line in the sixties of McLintock, King and Appleton. They were great together.
We’ve had some good players, too many to mention, but Sep seemed to be such an outstanding individual.
FOX: Who was the best player you ever saw at Filbert Street not in a City shirt?
SH: Cliff Bastin, Boy Bastin they called him, of Arsenal. And Eddie Hapgood of Arsenal. Stanley Matthews. So many of them… hard to pick a best one.
FOX: One of the things that disappeared many years ago was football on Christmas day, what was that like?
SH: You would always have a double header at Christmas. You would play the same team on Christmas Day and then again on Boxing Day. I used to say to the misses, “Come on, hurry up and get that dinner out, there’s a match on!”
[Sam produces a ‘League Liner’ brochure from a pile of memorabilia which contains a Liverpool away programme from 1972-73, menu, train layout map etc] Now this was a good day out…
FOX: Liverpool won the title that day didn’t they?
SH: We were up towards the Kop end and Bill Shankly walked round in front of the Kop, with them all throwing scarves to him. It was a wonderful day. Fancy having something like that today. The players all went up on that train. As soon as we left Leicester they started serving dinner. The players were all walking up and down the train, I’ve got photos of them all somewhere. I can’t remember how much it cost, but it wasn’t cheap.
[At this point Sam’s wife of 66 years, Joan, brings us a cup of tea.]
JOAN: You should hear the noise he makes in that front room when City score. He shouts his head off. He
always listens to the game on Radio Leicester…
For the next game, at home to Hull City, Sam is not in his front room listening to Radio Leicester, because he is at the game with us. As we drive to Filbert Way he catalogues the buildings and streets that have disappeared over the years. As we pass the former site of Equity Shoes he tells us that every day he would take the time to look out of the window and watch the Flying Scotsman race by. It was always on time to the minute.
Sam enjoys his trip out but is disappointed by City’s performance.
“If they go down, then there can’t be any complaints. They will have deserved it.”
Sam has been watching City for 77 years and has never seen them in the Third Division. It would be a shame to start now…