In the latest of his ‘The Week in History’ blogs, Club Historian John Hutchinson recalls the 52nd anniversary of the debut of a true Leicester legend, John Sjoberg.
Fifty two years ago this week, on October 28th 1960, a young nineteen year old Scottish defender made his debut for Leicester City in an ‘old’ First Division game at Ninian Park against Cardiff City.
His name was John Sjoberg. He went on to make over 400 appearances for Leicester City. Most of these games were in the top flight. Only nine players in the whole of the Foxes’ history have played more games. His trophy collection as a Leicester City player is only equalled by Graham Cross.
John came to Leicester in 1958 as a seventeen year old from the prestigious Scottish Junior Club Banks O’Dee. He could have gone to Rangers or Aston Villa, but he chose Leicester City. He didn’t like the sectarianism at Rangers. When he first arrived at Filbert Street he was doing an accountancy course, working full time at John Rowley’s in Friar Lane. That’s where he met his wife Cynthia who is still a regular at Leicester City’s games. His job meant that he was only able to train at Filbert Street in the evenings.
John came to Leicester as a wing-half but he was so good at heading the ball that he played at centre-half in the reserves and it was in this position that John made his first team debut at Cardiff.
The game was played on a Friday night rather than the usual Saturday afternoon. Despite the fact hat it was a clear, mild and dry night, it wasn’t a popular experiment as only 18000 turned up for the game.
Another notable feature about the game was that it marked the Cardiff City debut of Derek Hogg who had been a speedy left-winger and a real Leicester City favourite during the 1950s, when he had played alongside Arthur Rowley.
Hogg had been a West Bromwich Albion player since 1958 and he was bitterly disappointed when he was dropped by the Baggies for their match against Leicester City a week before the Cardiff game. He transferred to Cardiff City on the following Thursday. He had to go back to the Midlands to collect his boots and then joined the Leicester City team on their Birmingham train to Cardiff prior to turning out against them the next day.
On the night, Cardiff were the surprise victors. Ironically it was Derek Hogg who scored their winner in the 78th minute when he swooped onto a loose ball in the penalty area to score with a close range shot.
Young John Sjoberg had a good debut game.It was later claimed that he was the first Scot to make his debut for an English Club in Wales.After a nervy start he developed strength and class throughout he game. He was very unlucky to be on the losing side.Cardiff were outclassed. However, Leicester somehow contrived to lose the game. A Leicester City Director said that it was the only time he had heard directors of an opposing club apologising for winning.
Despite his creditable performance, John wasn’t selected for the next game. The centre-half spot was held for the rest of the season by Ian King.
Leicester City went on to finish 6th in the top flight and reach the FA Cup Final against Spurs. John did have four more games, at right-back, towards the end of the season, when he deputised for the injured Len Calmers, but he did not make the team for Wembley. In those days there were no substitutes.
John eventually established himself in the team at right-back just before the start of the 1963 FA Cup run to Wembley, in the season that Leicester City were realistic contenders to win the League and Cup double. For years John played alongside Graham Cross. They were the backbone of the defence. They were really good friends. They had a great understanding. Each one knew what the other was good at and they played to one another’s strengths.
Cynthia recalls, “In those days there were crunching tackles, and shoulder charges. There was no writhing in agony like today. He was fearless. He didn’t ever hold back. That’s why he had so many injuries. He broke his nose, his jaw and his cheekbone. It was John who deafened Rodney Marsh when he unintentionally headed the side of Marsh’s head. He moved to centre-half when right-back Peter Rodrigues arrived in 1966. He also had a spell at centre-forward in 1967, and scored at Manchester United”.
John missed out on the FA Cup Final in 1969 against Manchester City, failing a late fitness test after having played in all of the previous rounds on the way to Wembley.He was a key member of the defence which had 23 clean sheets in the Second Division Title winning side of 1971.
John Sjoberg was one of the great players in Leicester City’s history. Sadly, he died four years ago. His medal collection includes an FA Cup Final runners-up medal from 1963, a League Cup winners tankard from 1964, a League Cup runners-up tankard from 1965, a specially struck FA Cup runners-up medal from 1969, when he missed the final through injury, a Charity (Community) Shield winners trophy from 1971 and a Second Division Title plaque, also from 1971.
John was held in such esteem by the Leicester fans that his testimonial match against Derby in 1971 attracted over 24000 fans, a Filbert Street record for such an event. It was a fitting acknowledgement of an impressive career which began on a mild Cardiff evening fifty two years ago this week.