From The FOX Summer Special 2003…
Twelve years ago Brian Little walked into Leicester City and completely turned the club’s fortunes around. Nine years ago he left for a job he couldn’t refuse in one of the most bitter episodes of the club’s history. The FOX thought it was about time we caught up with him…
FOX: If we can take you back twelve years when you took over at Leicester… the supporters at the time felt that the club, both on and off the pitch, was a real mess. Was that your first impression at the time? BL: Not really. I think after a couple of years in the lower leagues at Darlington my first impression of Leicester was “Yes, this is more like it.” It was more like what I had been used to as a football player. I was then at Middlesbrough with Bruce Rioch and Wolverhampton so I had never really been away from clubs that size. My two years at Darlington were quite different for me.
Irrespective of where Leicester had been the year before I still felt like I was coming back to big time football. At that time I was very motivated and very focused on what I wanted to do and the challenge didn’t frighten one little bit. I knew they had been through a bad time, but I didn’t go too far back. I watched the video from the season before and couldn’t believe the amount of stupid goals they had given away!
FOX: What were your priorities when you first arrived at Leicester?
BL: I think to try and let people know that I was in charge. I felt that was very important. I’d been working as a coach for quite a few years by then. At Middlesbrough Bruce Rioch was very much ‘Bruce’ to the players. They didn’t call him the Gaffer but they knew he was the Gaffer. He taught me an awful lot about that sort of thing. I went to the training ground I thought it looked more like a leisure area. There was a pool table and I moved that out straight away. There were silly signs up around the walls about passing the ball around and keeping it and I took them all down. I got the walls painted and changed as much around the training area as I could before anybody turned up.
Then the players arrived and I could tell they weren’t too pleased about the pool table not being there!
On the playing side – I’d worked at Darlington where we had won two championships and not conceded many goals – I thought what we needed to do was go out there and not give very much away.
This wasn’t the easiest thing to do because from the minute I walked in people were on about the Frank Worthington days and the Glory Days and the way Leicester played football.
I suppose Ron Saunders who had instilled in me that if you are a hard side to beat then you are going in the right direction. If you are genuinely the best team in the league then you can play the best football but the modern game was then rapidly becoming a very result orientated business. Even though I wasn’t that sort of a player I definitely knew the value of being hard to beat.
After looking at that video I knew I had to get a team together that would give a lot less away than they had the season before.
Martin George had said to me I don’t really know what we expect you to do this first year but we need to be not in the bottom half of that table. I wasn’t really worried about changing the style but I sensed very early that it might upset one or two people. There was always this thing about how we used to play and how good we were and we were a Cup side….
I sensed I was going to go against the grain a little bit. But I wasn’t really worried. I knew that I had to create a side that would be competitive. I understood it and I took it on board but I also had to close my eyes to it and say judge me at the end of the season as opposed to early on. I had to bring in players from the lower divisions due to the finances so it wasn’t easy to build a stronger, more competitive team that in time people might begin to appreciate. I still wanted to play with ambition and enthusiasm when we had the ball but there was a definite priority to try and concede fewer goals. Hence you don’t have to score so many to win. That is a Ron Saunders-ism which is quite strange for me to come out with! I can’t remember how many arguments he and I had over the years.
FOX: You very quickly put together your own managerial team, essentially Allan Evans and John Gregory, who as a threesome stayed together for a long time. Are you still in touch with them?
BL: Yes. Allan lives in Plymouth now, he’s got his own driving school. His wife always wanted him to do that. We used to have debates with Gillian about it. She definitely wears the trousers in that house. Allan was the toughest of the three of us in terms of how we played football but Gillian’s the boss! Allan is a genuine all-round good guy in the home, washes up, feeds the kids, hoovers up. I don’t think Gillian ever really wanted Allan to work in football after he stopped playing, at least that is the impression she gave at the time.
I spoke to John about a month ago. We keep in touch.
I think we worked well together. I knew Allan and John weren’t the best of pals, but they were two different characters who both had something that I wanted to bring to the club.
Very early in our time at Leicester there was a day when I had to pull the pair of them together and say: “Look I know you aren’t the best of pals but if you’re not going to work together then we might as well say goodbye to each other straight away.” From that day it was absolutely spot on in terms of their work. Years on it was no surprise that when I left Villa and John came in, Allan left. They couldn’t work together without me. But I needed that, the way they were and their personalities and their strengths.
FOX: You were always fairly active in the transfer market. The teams you put together at Leicester were without big names, was that a conscious effort or simply because you couldn’t afford them?
BL: I was never in a position to afford any big names. It was just a case of looking at people and deciding whether they would fit in with the way we wanted to do things. We always tried to get people who could double up as well, play a couple of roles. We took midfield players to play wing-back for example. We took centre-backs who might be able to step up and playing a holding role in midfield. We very rarely got hold of somebody who could only play in one position. But things were determined by what they would cost and what sort of wages they would want. Leicester, in terms of my board meetings were probably the most efficient, that’s the polite way to put it, I have ever experienced. Board meetings would go on all day and if any ideas were thrown up then there would be sub-committees put together to check out the ideas. It was long-winded but, to be fair, it worked so I can’t really criticise. I really just dealt with Martin and I knew what the scope of it was. Pretty much he and I made decisions on the playing side and then it would be run by the board and rubber stamped by them.
I wasn’t the awkward sort who would say ‘I want him even though I know we can’t afford him.’ I respected how much we had to spend and didn’t put them under pressure. We operated inside the budget that was set for me.
FOX: Who were your best signings for Leicester do you think?
BL: Oh crikey. I have to go through them again. Who came in my first year? I took Fitzy – Paul Fitzpatrick, Kevin Poole, Colin Gordon, Steve Thompson… It’s a funny one really because I don’t any of them stuck out particularly. It was always more of a collective effort.
If I think of Fitzy then I see him in my head and there were that many things wrong with his game it was untrue. Colin Gordon… he scored a couple of goals, he was okay, Big Iwan did alright.
When I bought a lot of these players I knew what their strengths were but I used to look at their weaknesses and decide whether I could put up with them. I knew I wasn’t buying the finished article, I don’t think I ever bought a player who had a bit of everything. They all did something, but they all frightened me at times. I always knew they weren’t quite what everyone would want but we could get enough out of them to achieve what we were trying to do.
The three seasons I was there we were looking to make the play-offs and we did it every time. I don’t think you could say we were ever buying to achieve automatic promotion. We were never quite in that category. We were buying to try and get in the play-offs and then see what happened.
I can’t single one out! Thommo was great, Iwan, I liked him a lot. He did well for me and was what I wanted in terms of a centre-forward for what I could afford.
I start to think of David Speedie now. And Ian Ormondroyd and Phil Gee coming in for Paul Kitson.
FOX: That move worked ultimately…
BL: Yes it did work. It was something that left me open to criticism. But it was needed to get things going again. We had to let Kitson go I thought. At the time there was a hoohah about it with people saying he was the next Gary Lineker and all that. In fairness to me it was a brave one, pretty controversial. He was a young player who had come through the ranks and I think at the time that’s what the Leicester people were wanting. To see their younger players coming through is always good to see. I knew what Big Ian’s weaknesses where, and Phil as well. Phil was a lovely lad and I knew he would be great in the dressing room whereas Paul was a pretty moody character.
FOX: Was Tommy Wright a big loss when he moved on at the end of your first season?
BL: That was Tommy’s decision. At that time he was after a contract that the club weren’t prepared to go to. He’d had such a good season and scored a lot of goals but sometimes football teaches you that you have had the best out of somebody. The feller who does it better than anyone else is Mr Ferguson who wins the championship nearly every year. He gets rid of players and you’re thinking ‘You can’t do that!’ but he does.
Sometimes in football you need to change the team every couple of years to keep the motivation going. I think Tommy, deep down, was looking for something we couldn’t give him. I remember thinking it was the right thing to do at the time and every now and again you have to be brave enough to hang your hat on it.
FOX: If we can just go back to the Kitson/Ormondroyd/Gee deal.. that kick-started the season and took us back up to the play-off places all culminating in that fantastic 5-0 result against Cambridge…
BL: I still think that is one of my favourite games, I was thinking about it as I drove over here. I always felt that night games at Filbert Street were good and that was the best. Especially in view of the fact that earlier in the season the 5-1 defeat at their place was probably the biggest disappointment that I’d had. I remember sitting on the team bus getting absolutely pummelled by a group of people standing outside. Rightly so I suppose. But at the end of that season when we ended up turning that result around it was very satisfying. I see Steve Claridge quite a lot and he always talks about that game, saying it was his worst memory of playing for Cambridge. They had a good side that year. Going back to Ormondroyd and Gee it was a gamble but we just felt we didn’t have anything in our armoury to make us a different team. I thought we played some pretty good football, entertaining, exciting, end-to-end, but I thought we needed to make the opposition think about us a little more. Even if it wasn’t as good a player it was different type of player. I knew that Kitson was a good player but I think it would have taken us longer to achieve anything as a team with him. I was trying to find a quicker route to success.
FOX: In your career as a manager there can’t be that many times when things drop exactly into place as they did in that Cambridge game…
BL: No, that’s why it is still one of my favourites. Another one was the Coca Cola Cup Final when Villa beat Leeds 3-0. We murdered them that day. From the first ball we kicked to the last we were in complete control. Cambridge was the same. It was 1-1 at their place in the first leg and it was a hard game. Be we destroyed them in the second leg. It would be great to watch that again just to remind me.
My time as a manager has taught me to enjoy those games. As a manager you might have one game in a season when you know you have won before the end of the game. There are so few games when you are relaxed and feeling totally in charge. More often than not you can be three nil up with five minutes to go and you still feel a bit nervous.
It was a great occasion, everything was just right about it, and to get to Wembley that first year gave us all a chance to be part of the Leicester thing really.
FOX: You mention night matches, it seemed that in the last third of the season in the spring we were unstoppable in those night matches…
BL: I always felt that. I look back at my time at Leicester and although it is difficult to remember individual games I always think of those night matches at Filbert Street as being something very special. I always say that to people. I don’t know what it was. The atmosphere was great, especially when they still had the old wooden stand with everyone stamping their feet and the players seemed to respond to it.
FOX: You took Leicester to the play-off final three years in a row. Which of those three sides was the best?
BL: That’s a difficult one. I did a run through those games with SKY recently… I still think the first time we weren’t ready to go up. The Swindon game I still can’t believe they beat us to be honest. To have gone back the third year and achieved it says a lot about that group of players. I think we were very unlucky the second time against Swindon. I must have sat for an hour and a half sitting on the edge of a bath and I was totally and absolutely gutted.
Steve Walsh was on that SKY programme with me and he was saying that he couldn’t believe the team that I picked. That was the first time I’d heard him say that. He just didn’t think it was the best team. It probably wasn’t our best team but I had to pick a team that could win that game. Man for man Derby were better than us so I had to pick a side that could win in that one-off situation. I got labelled after that game, especially at Premiership level, as a long ball manager. With it being the play-off final live on TV a lot of people saw that game and assumed that was the way I played it. I don’t think I did. I was a result orientated manager.
I don’t think I could have gone back a fourth time if we had failed again. I’m not quite sure what we could have done to get them going again the year after.
I suppose we played our best stuff in the Swindon game, we were a better footballing side. Whether that means it was a better team overall I don’t know. We had become a different team by year three, certainly stronger and more experienced but not as mobile as we should have been.
FOX: You said that you sat on the edge of the bath for a long time after the Swindon game… what did you do after the Derby game?
BL: I drove my car down to Wembley so I had to drive back. I got stuck in the traffic with all the fans and it was a really happy trip. I was going to drop my wife and kids off at the hotel next to Wembley before the game but when I got there it was stacked with supporters and a bit rowdy. So I drove them to the hotel we were staying in. After the game we went back to Sketchley Grange in Hinckley. I didn’t drink because I was driving that night so there was a celebration going on and I was very relieved inside but I wasn’t totally relaxed. I’m a bit like that. When things are going really well I tend to switch a button inside me and watch everything that is going on without really joining in. I just sat, looked, listened and learned and then drove home from Sketchley Grange at whatever time of the morning it was.
FOX: In your book you said you had never watched the Swindon game again. Have you watched it since?
BL: I’ve never watched it all. I’ve seen the goals lately. I saw the goals for the first time in a long time last month doing that play-off finals programme. Seeing the goals made me think, ‘Oh My God!’ They were disappointing goals to concede.
I remember John Gorman jumping up and down in front of me that much that I felt like hitting him to be honest. I worked with him since and he’s a lovely feller but he was so much in our faces that I was thinking, ‘Oh I really could you know’… and that’s not like me at all!
It was a real sickener. I don’t think we had lost to Swindon that season and I think we genuinely had every confidence that we would win. There was an air of uncertainty about Swindon – nobody was sure if Glen Hoddle would be leaving. There was almost a feeling that it was our ‘turn’ after the season before. And if you look back on what it did to Swindon, they got absolutely brutalised and I don’t think the club has ever recovered from that to be honest. I felt we were more ready for the top flight that year.
FOX: You mentioned supporters reactions to various signings.. we’ve heard subsequent managers at Leicester, as well as yourself, talking about letters they receive, an apparent lack of patience and an intolerance in certain situations. Are Leicester fans any worse than any other set of fans you’ve come across?
BL: I think generally football fans at different clubs are the same. I don’t know if any other managers would admit this but often if I got a letter that I thought was a bit too strong then I would go round to people’s houses and knock on the door. I did that about four times at Leicester. I would knock on the door and then stand there. It was always a case of ‘Oh, come on in Brian, I didn’t really mean it.’
At Villa it was different because I was never allowed to see any letters that weren’t anything other than complimentary. The secretary of the manager dealt with those. I didn’t want to change club policy. Perhaps I should have done, I don’t know.
I think Leicester fans, in my period there, tended to look backwards to that seventies period which was always a bit difficult for me. I think I probably overcame that in the end in terms of where we got to. I think I am right in saying, some people might disagree, that I started this more modern trend of Leicester becoming a side that were a more results orientated unit. How many times Martin O’Neill got the sixties and seventies sides thrown at him I don’t know but I used to get it all the time. Why aren’t we playing with wingers etc etc.
I don’t think Leicestre fans are different. They love their football club, there are a lot of them. The nice thing about it is that ten years on from when I was there there are twice as many going to the games so the club has grown. To see 30,000 down at the new stadium is absolutely brilliant. But at my last job at Hull there was a hardcore devoted to the club and there will come a time when they are getting 20,000 down there.
FOX: There was one incident at half time in a match at home to Grimsby when a supporter spat at you…
BL: Yeah.. somebody spat at me in the face as I turned round. I think we were losing to Grimsby at half time. There are a lot of things I can put up with, but that isn’t one of them. And I think we were third or fourth in the league at the time. It really knocked me about a bit. Sometimes things stick in your mind. I’m not making excuses for what happened a year later but I remember saying to someone after it happened, ‘You know if I get a chance to leave this club I’m going to go.’
As time went on that maybe got put to the back of my mind but it really did upset me.
FOX: You didn’t come out for the second half…
BL: No. I just sat in my office. I did the half time team talk and then went and sat on my own in my office. I was quite close to walking away then. I am a very temperamental person by nature but managed to control it in my early days of management because I was so focused on wanting to be good at what I was doing. But even to this day I have to work hard at controlling that.
FOX: We remember the story of you jumping on the bus in Birmingham when they took you to get your haircut…
BL: Well, I am like that, with a bit of a sort of rebellious streak inside of me. If something isn’t how I want it to be and I believe I’m right then I have always been capable of walking away from absolutely anything. I read something Allan Evans said where he thought he would have been able to talk me out of leaving Villa, but he wouldn’t have. Once I have reached a certain point I will do it and nothing will stop me.
That day at Leicester really, really, really hurt.
I sat for that forty five minutes and then went away for a day afterwards. I think there was a seed sown that day. It was the look in the person’s eye and the way he spat at me and the way he swore at me that really, really hurt.
FOX: We went up that season but your Premier League preparations seemed to be hampered by a back problem…
BL: Yes, I had major surgery in the Summer. After we had won the play-off final I was being told by doctors to have a complete rest and not go anywhere or do anything. I needed to go on holiday though. I love the sunshine and I never really gave myself enough holidays over the years in management based on this determination to do well. I went away for two weeks that Summer but had to come home early with a seized up back.
I went into hospital and had a disc removed and spine fusion. I wasn’t very active after that.
Whenever the team had a little bit of a dip Martin George would come looking for me and say, ‘Are you alright? Is everything alright?’ He used to think the way that I worked had quite an effect on people and if I wasn’t a hundred percent into it myself then that would be one of the reasons things weren’t going so well. He felt I was pretty influential with everything that was going on.
I never felt that I quite got to grips with things the whole of that season, half at Leicester and half at Villa. In terms of how I had managed and coached, I was very active on that front, I always thought that season was a quite major turning point in my career as a person. I became less active on the training ground. I had always felt that I wanted to be amongst the team and playing a little bit.
It was very damaging for me as a coach.
FOX: Quite early in the season you also found yourself without Walsh, Speedie and Joachim, which can’t have helped…
BL: There were a few problems. Early in the season I thought we were playing reasonably well but, as others have found out since at that level since, when you are not as good as many of the other teams sometimes it is about grinding results out. You have to adopt some sort of policy when you are the underdog and really be hell bent on your team strategy. At that time I don’t think I was clear enough on what that strategy was. We went in quite bravely thinking we might as well have a go at them because if we sit back then we are going to lose. I’m not sure whether that was the right policy. I put that down to my mentality at the time, the fact that I‘d had the operation. It really wasn’t ideal preparation for the season.
FOX: We’ve mentioned Julian Joachim, he crashed onto the scene and it was like having a million pound player suddenly arriving in terms of the difference he could make. There is certainly a feeling amongst Leicester fans that what we saw as an 18 – 19 years old never translated into quite the finished article we all expected…
BL: You could say that. I’ve not seen JJ for quite a while. Obviously I took him to Villa with me and I still always felt that he should have gone further than he did. Why that is I’m not a hundred percent sure. At Leicester I think we probably got as much out of him as anyone else has done since. What Julian is good at is being part of the modern Premiership club, in terms of being in that squad.
At Premiership level he is certainly the sort of player that you would want in your twenty. If you get the best out of him then you are laughing your socks off. I don’t know if Julian would admit it yet, because he is still playing the game, but perhaps when he retires he might think he could have done a little bit better.
FOX: When he broke into the first team at Leicester it was almost like a smaller scale ‘Rooney’ situation…
BL: Yes, the difference with Rooney is that it is ten years on and the media coverage at that level is ten fold. The media coverage was pretty big in those days but it is vast now. Julian Joachim would have been a name known around the world pretty quickly.
FOX: They show the Rooney goal against Arsenal again and again… Julian’s equivalent would be the one at Barnsley with the outside of his foot…
BL: Which was a better goal. It is down to coverage. I have watched a lot of Nationwide football in the last season and some of the things I’ve seen and some of the goals, if they had happened in the Premiership then they would have been rammed down our throats constantly.
FOX: Were you in charge while Emile Heskey was at the club?
BL: Yes, I was there during Emile’s first season as a YT. Tony McAndrew talked to me a lot about him in those days. It would be wrong for me to say I knew very much about him other than my people at the club thought that there was someone there with great potential. I feel as if I know him but I don’t know him.
FOX: The season was only a few months old when Ron Atkinson was sacked as Villa manager and you eventually succeeded him. Could you take us through what happened there?
BL: I suppose everybody has a period in their life when they look back and think ‘Oh God, why wasn’t that done right?’
When Ron was sacked I was actually in Majorca. I think it was one of those international weekends and I just thought I needed a break. I was thinking of buying a home there at the time. I was sitting on a promenade and I think I would have used the phone on the corner I don’t think we had mobiles then. Anyway, I phoned home and I remember being told by Heather’s Mum that there were a few people who needed to speak to me. She told me that Ron Atkinson had got the sack and there were a lot of media people chasing me. She also told me a couple of people who weren’t media had left numbers and needed to speak to me. These were people with connections.
When I went to Leicester the job at Villa had been available. A friend of mine, they weren’t really agents or representatives then, spoke to Doug Ellis and asked: ‘Would you consider Brian?’
Doug thought I was too young then with not enough experience but if I did well he would be keeping an eye on me. So I sensed that three years on, when Ron went, that I might be asked. I remember sitting there in Majorca thinking: ‘Oh no, this is all I need!’
Its like anything in life. Sometimes the right job comes but it is never at the right time.
The whole thing really was an absolute shambles. From a personal point of view it wasn’t done right. From both club’s point of view it wasn’t done right. Looking back at it now it was a complete farce. I stayed away from Leicester for four or five years because I was disappointed at the way it turned out. But I go back now because it has settled down. To give a true recollection of what happened would probably be wrong because all you will get is my side. All I would say is that everybody should look at it and be disappointed with themselves because it really was uselessly handled. I still think that I couldn’t say no.
FOX: Would anything have stopped you taking the Villa job?
BL: One of the problems I had was that most of my friends and most of my family really wanted me to do it. I had all of that. They were all saying: “You’ve go to do this.”
I felt I had to do it. I wish I’d come out and said ‘Look ladies and gentlemen I’ve really got to go and talk to them and see if it is the right thing for me.” I should have come out and said that. But I didn’t.
It got to the point in the end where if they had have stopped me I think I probably would have left Leicester anyway in disappointment. I remember saying that to the board. ‘If you stop me going then I don’t know how I can continue to work.’
That stubborn temperamental side of me might have stopped my managerial career there.
I should have just said at the time: ‘Look, I want to do it.’ And I think from the way we spoke at board level I got the impression that they were allowing me to do it. Everybody did it wrong but I would accept my share of the blame. Other people, both sides of the fence, did not get any criticism and maybe should have. The only person who came out of it getting pummelled was me. I don’t think I’m a bad lad in all fairness. Other people kept their heads down and avoided the flak. Even later on they didn’t hold their hands up and say: ‘Hold on we were a bit naughty there.’
It was a bad episode. I had three great, fantastic years at Leicester and for me to have to blot that out for four or five years and be shunned away from the place was pretty hard to take. I think it has a bearing on how I am as a person now. I’m maybe less motivated. I don’t know if I need certain things anymore.
FOX: The leaked letter to the Sun seemed to turn the heat up on you even more…
BL: That was part of a letter I was prepared to write to the club saying look I’m not going to go to Villa but I don’t want to work for Leicester anymore. If you don’t want me to go there I understand but it means that much to me that if I can’t go I will pack in altogether. I was prepared to do that. Certain paragraphs were left out. It was a bit of an extract.
It was how I felt and I was prepared to put it in writing to them. It was published and where it came from I’m not prepared to say. That might be one of those heads that were in the sand. It was a bit of a dirty trick in fairness.
FOX: Fate being what it is your second match in charge of Villa brought you back to Filbert Street…
BL: Yes. Its funny, I spoke to Steve Cotterill at the play-off final, he was one of the guests there. He obviously left Stoke and made the decision to go to Sunderland. He said to me: “Do you know I got a letter off somebody and they were really giving me stick.” I said: “Listen son. I went back to Leicester with twenty odd thousand ‘Judas’s’ written in front of me. You’ve had one letter off a Stoke fan! Don’t you worry about it. You haven’t lived.” He said: “I like talking to you, you keep things in perspective.”
It was hell. I remember getting in my car that morning from where I lived in Barrow near Loughborough. The phone went and somebody said: “Have you seen the back page of the Sun?” I stopped at the first newsagents and got it… it was horrible. I say honestly to this day that it had an effect on me as a person. I don’t know if I can be bothered any more. I’d love to be a football manager but if you can’t put up with that side of things then maybe I shouldn’t be, hence me doing Sky. I think I would still be a good manager but there is an edge missing from me now based on those experiences.
When I left Villa I was a bit chewed up and in my personal life I have been divorced and I’ve got a new family now. I put a lot of that down to football. My experience at Hull where I went back to the very bottom to show people that I could manage again. I was never out of the top five and I got sacked again things like that have an effect on me to this day. When I look at some of the things that are written about people in football now I wouldn’t want to put my young family through that. I am a victim of my own success in some respects but because of my temperament I don’t think I’m prepared to go through all that again.
Returning to Leicester that day was definitely the worst day of my footballing career. Nothing could come near it. I say this now with total honesty, not just because people from Leicester will read this, but I love Leicester City. I still do, but that day hammered me, I tell you. It was horrible!
FOX: In a way was it a back-handed compliment…
BL: I suppose looking at it years on now, it was.
I went to Leicester five or six times last season and walking to the ground I still get the odd shout of real dissension towards me and the odd bit of flak, but in the main people come up to me and say: “Hey you shouldn’t have gone the way you did but you did a great job.” That’s fair enough. I hold my hands up and say you are not wrong. But then they are pretty complimentary about me starting this new phase of Leicester City. I think I managed to get rid of that 60s and 70s attitude at the club. I think Martin built on my foundations and took it on to the next stage.
If I could wish something away in my life, it wouldn’t be my divorce even, it would be that two weeks around Leicester when I left in the wrong way and went back and got hammered. I would definitely take that out of my life.
FOX: Later on in that season Leicester came to Villa. You were talking earlier about never relaxing until the final whistle…
BL: Oh that was crazy! Villa were 4-1 up with fifteen minutes to go and we let them in for the draw.
It was a lesson for me. I suppose underneath I smiled about it. If we had won that day then my Villa team would have been climbing away from trouble but we ended up having a really dicey end to the season. I put a lot of that down to that Leicester game. It took a while to recover from that and we had a real fight to stay up in the end. I still do smile about it though.
FOX: I was actually in the Villa end that game sat behind the dug-out with a Villa friend of mine. At 4-1 I remember Shaun Teale either back-heeling it or nut-megging someone and then turning to the bench and having a laugh with them right in the middle of the game. Had they taken their eye off the ball?
BL: They were a strange bunch. My first Villa season was a hard one because there were a lot of things that needed ironing out. They were a good side with some really good players but they were completely different characters to what I had dealt with before. I was talking to someone the other day who is doing a Villa managers book and he asked me how did you handle this side? It was a difficult dressing room for me to handle. As I have already said I wasn’t feeling one hundred percent myself anyway that season. Anything that went wrong it was always someone else’s fault and not their’s. And they always had a laugh and a joke about defeat as opposed to looking at themselves in the mirror and analysing what had gone wrong. It was a step into a slightly different world and it took me a long time to come to terms with it.
FOX: Do you have any professional ambitions left?
BL: When I left Hull I genuinely thought that was the end, as I said, because of certain experiences. Now I think I should still be in football and I made a couple of wrong moves in my career. I don’t think going to Villa was a wrong move it was just handled wrong. Going to West Bromwich Albion was probably the worst move I made in my career because I was always looked upon as a Villa man inside West Brom. I don’t think I was treated very well by the board there who sold players without me being told and wouldn’t let me buy players. When I left they bought four or five players that I had recommended to the club, so I think I was pretty hard done by there. Going to Hull just confirmed to me that I could manage a football club at any level. I took on a club in administration – and when you are talking about a Third Division club in administration you are talking about a club with absolutely nothing – and took them into the play-offs. I was expected to do better next year but we were never out of the top five, and I was sacked. The chairman acted so hastily it was untrue.
There have been very few jobs around in the last year. If I could find a club and I was one hundred percent committed to the job then I think someone would have themselves a good football manager.
I could have been back by now but it might have been the wrong move.
My young family is the most important thing to me now and I wouldn’t want to make the same mistake I did with my last marriage where football and the way that I worked had some influence on the way my marriage ended.
FOX: Finally how do you see Leicester City coping with the Premiership?
BL: It will be a very hard season but Micky Adams is very focused.
If I’d been a gambling man the day Peter Taylor left I would have bet anything I had on Micky Adams being appointed the Leicester manager. I’m not knocking Dave Bassett because he is a friend of mine, but if anyone was doubting that Micky could do the job then they should have put Dave alongside of him. I would say that Sunderland made the same mistake with Howard Wilkinson and Steve Cotterill. The younger men today – they are ready. They are motivated as I was. And Mark McGhee and then Martin O’Neill. I thought it was a stone cold certainty that Micky was the man for the job.
I think it will be more difficult for Micky this year than perhaps it was for Martin six years ago because the Premiership standard just seems to get higher and higher with each passing season. Teams like Charlton and Southampton and others have learnt a lot about how to stick in there. They’ve come to terms with it. For that reason I think that one of the big names will go soon. Looking at Villa, there is that much turmoil there at the moment. And Tottenham, what is going on there?
Staying in there is Leicester’s only priority this season, anything beyond that would exceed anyone’s expectations. But he’s a good manager. He’s a nice lad but very steely about what he does. And I like him. He knows he’s got to improve his team. West Brom didn’t want to spend anything last season and they never gave themselves a chance. I’ve seen a lot of Leicester this season and they have been really strong. I’ve said all season to a lot of people that Leicester and Portsmouth were certain to go up. But now they have to change the team and I think the players themselves would appreciate new faces coming in. Its not losing to Man United that is the problem, it is when you have lost against Charlton and then Southampton and then Bolton come to your place and go away with a draw – then you are under pressure. I watched Bolton at the end of last season and I thought they were a bloody good side, and yet they are right at that bottom level. We are getting very much like the Spanish and Italian leagues where those top teams seem to stay there all the time and there are teams that go up and down all the time.
But Leicester have got a good manager and with Dave backing him up it is a good combination.
They’ve got every chance.
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