Leicester City win the play-offs in 1994

Championship (Old Second Division) Play-Offs - 2

In the mid-1990s, Leicester City regularly visited Wembley Stadium in the old First Division Play-Offs, winning promotion to the Premier League twice.

1995/96 - Claridge shins the Foxes into the top flight

In 1996, Leicester City secured promotion to the Premier League in extraordinary circumstances, beating Crystal Palace in the First Division Play-Off Final, and commencing a vintage era. 

Steve Walsh led the Foxes out as skipper at a sun-drenched Wembley Stadium on the afternoon of 27 May, 1996 as unfancied Leicester confronted Palace in the capital. Despite City looking the better team, Palace took the lead in the 14th minute through Andy Roberts and the Blue Army contemplated the prospect of yet again suffering heartache beneath the Twin Towers. 

It took until the 76th minute for the Foxes to register on the Bank Holiday Monday scoresheet, with Izzet’s galloping run tempting defender Marc Edworthy to foul him in the penalty area. 

Parker duly stepped up to take the spot-kick. He was such a reliable figure in these situations, but the magnitude of this kick in particular had City fans nonetheless biting their nails in unison. Naturally, as he'd done so often before, he planted his penalty beyond Nigel Martyn in the Eagles’ net and the clash eventually went into extra-time as the temperatures continued to hit the heights. 

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Garry Parker & Steve Claridge
Garry Parker & Steve Claridge

Garry Parker's penalty was followed by a dramatic 120th winner by Steve Claridge in the play-off final at Wembley.

With seconds of the added 30 minutes remaining, O’Neill made the unorthodox decision to withdraw goalkeeper Poole and replace him with penalty expert Kalac - a bold move which could have backfired.

With even fewer seconds remaining, a loose ball glided through the air... and time suddenly stopped. Everything seemed to agonisingly slow down. Wembley fell silent – and Claridge stuck out a leg. He actually miscued his strike, making contact with the ball with his shin rather than his laces, but it was perfect in an imperfect way – dumbfounding Martyn in Palace’s goal and bulging the back of the net. 

There was a delay in the Wembley crowd’s reaction to what they’d just witnessed, most likely because of the sheer disbelief which was being felt in all four corners of the ground. 

Time sped up again and the travelling Leicester contingent exploded with happiness. O’Neill was mobbed by Walsh on the sidelines, Claridge ran off into the sunset and the fans went ballistic. Leicester City were back in the Premier League – and O’Neill was only just getting started.

1993/94 - Steve Walsh Day!

In the preceding two seasons, Brian Little's Foxes had fallen to crushing defeats beneath the old Twin Towers in London - to Blackburn Rovers and Swindon Town. Each one brought a different kind of heartbreak.

Against Blackburn in 1992, former Fox Mike Newell's penalty denied City, while Little's men recovered from three goals down a year later, only to be beaten 4-3 by Swindon.

Leicester very nearly didn't get a third attempt to break their Wembley hoodoo, however, drawing seven of their remaining nine fixtures of the season, but they nonetheless sealed a fourth-placed finish.

One man was there for both Blackburn and Swindon finals - Steve Walsh - the man who had spent much of the 1993/94 campaign on the sidelines recovering from a debilitating cruciate injury.

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Steve Walsh
Steve Walsh

The iconic former Fox celebrates perhaps his biggest-ever goal for Leicester.

He was back just in time for the play-offs, though, and he was determined not to suffer yet another miserable afternoon at the home of English football - a place City had come to dread. 

They were pitted against Roy McFarland's Derby County in the showpiece event, a side they had failed to beat home or away in the league, and they fell behind on the half-hour mark.

It looked like the Foxes would fall victim to their Wembley curse again. That was until Walsh made history with goals in the 41st and 84th minutes. Despite Tom Johnson putting the Rams ahead, a startling double from Walsh sent City's fans into delirium and booked their place in the top-flight.

"I still have that picture in my house," he remembered in a recent interview, talking about an iconic image of him celebrating his second goal of the day. "My whole Leicester career up until that point was about about getting back in the top league and we'd done it. It meant everything to me."

Leicester City Crest

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