In the latest of his ‘The Week in History’ blogs, Club Historian John Hutchinson recalls the 42nd anniversary of the debut of one of the most consistent players in Leicester City’s history, England international Steve Whitworth. . .
When we think of the Jimmy Bloomfield era, we immediately think of high-profile players like Keith Weller, Frank Worthington, Alan Birchenall and Jon Sammels. However, the man who played more games under Bloomfield than any other player, missing only two league games and one cup game in the whole of the six-year Bloomfield era, was Steve Whitworth.
Forty-two years ago this week, on 2 September 1970, this young red-haired 18-year-old right-back from the Leicestershire mining town of Ellistown made his Leicester City debut in a 4-0 home victory against Bristol City at Filbert Street. Over the next seven seasons, he became one of the most consistent and reliable players in Leicester City’s history. During that time, he built up a run of 198 consecutive games, a Club record at the time, until it was beaten by Mark Wallington. He also won seven caps for England in 1975.
He took over the right-back slot from the established Welsh international and crowd favourite Peter Rodrigues, who had been injured in the first game of the season. Seizing his chance, Steve became such a by-word for consistency that Rodrigues never played for Leicester again.
In the season before Steve’s debut, Frank O’Farrell’s Leicester City had narrowly missed promotion in what was their first season outside the top division since 1957.
O’Farrell was determined to win promotion at the second time of asking. He told me recently that he knew he had some very talented players at the Club. These included Peter Shilton, on the verge of being capped by England, England Under-23 international David Nish, defensive stalwarts Graham Cross and John Sjoberg, wingers John Farrington and Lenny Glover and strikers Rodney Fern and Ally Brown.
However, he wanted to strengthen his midfield by adding what he called two ‘street fighters’. To this end, he signed Bobby Kellard from Bristol City and Willie Carlin from Derby. He completed the mix by throwing young Steve Whitworth into the fray against Bristol City.
Steve had joined the Club as a 16-year-old apprentice. By the time he made his first team debut he had been capped by England at School and at Youth level.
His play was characterised by great pace, superb tackling and an ability to read a game so well that he was always in the right place at the right time, spotting danger long before it occurred.
Steve’s first season ended in Leicester City winning the Second Division title in convincing fashion. He was part of a defence which conceded only 30 league goals throughout the season, a record which included 23 clean sheets.
At the end of the season Frank O’Farrell became Manchester United’s manager and Jimmy Bloomfield took over at Filbert Street. In Jimmy’s six years at the Club, Steve won six England Under-23 caps. The first of his seven full England internationals was against reigning world champions West Germany. He was an integral part of a Leicester City team that was generally considered to be one of the most entertaining sides in the country.
For such a consistent performer, the one surprising statistic in Steve’s career was that in 400 league and cup appearances for the City, he never scored a goal. His only goal for the Club came in the Charity (Community) Shield game against Liverpool in August 1971, when he got forward to slide the ball beyond the grasp of Liverpool’s Ray Clemence – Peter Shilton’s main rival for selection as England’s goalkeeper. As this goal was enough for Leicester City to win this trophy for the only time in their history, it is somewhat surprising that it was scored by Steve.
After Bloomfield’s resignation in May 1977, Frank McLintock took over the managerial reigns at Filbert Street. In what was an otherwise disastrous season which ended ignominiously in relegation, just about the only bright spot was the continued effectiveness of Steve’s full-back play. Jock Wallace continued to pick him as his first choice the following season, which saw him playing behind the young right-winger Gary Lineker when that future England star made his Leicester City debut on New Year’s Day 1979 against Oldham Athletic.
Three months later, in March 1979, Steve transferred to Roker Park for £125,000. His new Sunderland side narrowly missed out on promotion that season, but the following year he was a regular in the Sunderland side which finished runners-up to Second Division champions Leicester City. During that season, even though he had left the Club, Steve was awarded a testimonial match at Filbert Street against Coventry City in recognition of his superb contribution to Leicester City’s cause during his nine seasons as a first team player.
After two and a half years at Sunderland, Steve played for two more years at Bolton Wanderers before spending the final two years of his league career at Mansfield. In total, Steve played in well over 600 league and cup games.
This illustrious career began with that first appearance against Bristol City on a Wednesday evening under the Filbert Street floodlights, 42 years ago this week.