Peter Rodrigues with Peter Shilton

Former Player Remembers: Peter Rodrigues

When Club Historian John Hutchinson met Peter Rodrigues at his home in Southampton, the Welsh international full-back, who was Leicester City’s record signing in 1966, reflected on his life as a professional footballer.
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Among other things, Peter played in FA Cup Finals for both Leicester City, in 1969, and for Southampton, in 1976, when he captained the Saints to victory. 

In a career which lasted for 17 years, he faced outstanding opponents such as the Brazilian star Garrincha and the incomparable George Best. 

Peter began by recalling his days as a schoolboy in Cardiff: “I took part in football, baseball, rugby and athletics. My family were all rugby fans and my rugby master was Welsh international C.L. Davies! For a while, I played rugby on the wing but the football master insisted I played football. I played at right-half for my school team, centre-half for the Cardiff team and right full-back for the Welsh Schoolboys team.

“When I joined Cardiff City, they had just been relegated. I played in the reserves at a young age, but once, in a public trial match, I wasn’t picked for the reserves. In the first half, a young reserve, a Scottish full-back, broke his leg. Then in the second half the other reserve full-back broke his leg!

“I thought this would catapult me up the ladder, but it didn’t! Cardiff tried all sorts of players in that position, but not me. The team had a bad start to the season. Eventually I got my debut in September 1963 at Sunderland. I was in the same side as (Welsh international icons) Ivor Allchurch, John Charles and Mel Charles! I was awe struck. Nick Sharkey, who later played with me at Leicester, was playing for Sunderland and they were 3-0 up by half-time. Then Allchurch turned on the magic and scored a hat-trick.

“I became a Welsh Under-23s international after six games. Tommy Docherty was interested in me going to Chelsea, who had a great side at that time, but Cardiff manager Jimmy Scoular, who didn’t get on with Tommy, wouldn’t let me go! I was given a new contract, but a couple of weeks later, Matt Gillies wanted to sign me for Leicester. They were a good First Division side with players like [Gordon] Banks, [John] Sjoberg, [Graham] Cross, [Bobby] Roberts, [Jackie] Sinclair and [Derek] Dougan so I signed (for a Club-record fee of £42,500).

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Peter Rodrigues
Peter Rodrigues

Peter in action for Wales against England at Wembley.

“My Leicester debut was on New Year’s Day in 1966 at Filbert Street against Stoke. I remember sitting in the Grand Hotel on New Year’s Eve, listening to the bells at midnight. On my debut, I crossed the ball from the Popular Side (the old East Stand) for Dougan to head it in.”

By now a regular Welsh international, Peter was Leicester’s first-choice right-back for the next five years. His sliding tackles and pacy overlaps were outstanding.

“Matt Gillies was a softly spoken gentleman,” Peter continued. “I respected him. Whatever he said, went. I got on well with him and his coach, Bert Johnson. The players there were good. I remember [Peter] Shilton working on his angles with Banks. Frank Large was a big bruiser, as was Andy Lochhead. I used to love playing with him. He would clatter the goalkeeper in the first few minutes on the grounds that you rarely got booked early on! Allan Clarke was a good player, very deft. It was an ambitious move for Leicester to break the British transfer fee to buy him in 1968.”

The 1968/69 season was a turbulent one for Leicester, as Peter explains: “Gillies, who hadn’t been well, resigned in November on the day we played at Everton. He told us in the dressing room that he had resigned and said: ‘Go out and enjoy yourselves’. We lost 7-1! As a result I never used that phrase in coaching!

“At that time, I had an ankle problem. For one game, I had six cortisone injections! I went to Harley Street to get it fixed. In the end they opened up my ankle and cleaned it out. I was still struggling though, in a great deal of pain. The ligament was pulling away from the bone. Then a specialist in Coventry gave me some tablets which acted like a lubricant. It worked and I started playing again.”

Back in the side, and with Frank O’Farrell now the manager, Peter was involved in the run to the 1969 FA Cup Final against Manchester City.

He added: “We drew 0-0 at home to Shankly’s Liverpool in front of over 42,000, on a dreadful pitch. In the replay at Anfield, Andy Lochhead headed the only goal of the game. I remember Shankly coming out before the game and telling us we would be playing on grass this time! In the Semi-Final at Hillsborough we beat West Brom with a late Allan Clarke goal. We deserved to nick it.

We had to win our last game at Old Trafford. David Nish scored in the first minute, but George Best and Bobby Charlton pulled us apart. We lost 3-2. Charlton came up to me at the end and said: ‘Sorry Pete. It is (United manager Matt Busby's) last game and we wanted to win for him’.

Peter Rodrigues

“My memories of the Wembley Final aren’t too clear. For years, I thought we had been hammered. It was only recently when a friend showed me a DVD of the match that I realised that the game was really close. Even the chance I missed was nothing like I remembered.

“We lost 1-0 but I couldn’t believe how many Leicester supporters came out to welcome us when we got back.”

After the Final, Leicester had to play five games to avoid relegation.

Peter remembered: “We had to win our last game at Old Trafford. David Nish scored in the first minute, but George Best and Bobby Charlton pulled us apart. We lost 3-2. Charlton came up to me at the end and said: ‘Sorry Pete. It is (United manager Matt Busby's) last game and we wanted to win for him’.

“Going down isn’t much fun. That season, I had a clash with O’Farrell when he embarrassed me twice in a week in front of the players, saying I wasn’t performing in training. I wrote a letter requesting a transfer. I moved to Sheffield Wednesday (in October 1970) where I played for five years. However, I really missed Leicester City and I seemed to go back every two minutes! It took me a long while to eventually drift away. I missed Leicester for years.”

Whilst he was at Leicester Peter won 16 of his 40 Welsh caps: “Playing against George Best and playing two games in Brazil (in May 1966) were the highlights. In Brazil I marked Garrincha and got his shirt! I wore it summer after summer in places like St Tropez. I eventually loaned it to the Welsh Football Museum. On the tour to Brazil we lost 3-1 and 1-0. We came up against a player none of us had heard of. His name was Jairzinho! Another proud moment was getting back into the Welsh side after my ankle injury.

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Peter Rodrigues
Peter Rodrigues

The Queen presents Peter with the FA Cup trophy.

“After five years at Sheffield Wednesday, I was nearly 32. I’m a realist. It was time to go on a free transfer. I wanted to get into the pub trade, but in the meantime, Lawrie McMenemy offered me a two-year contract at Southampton as a short-term replacement for his promising young full-back, Steve Mills, who had been injured in a car crash, but he didn’t make it back into the first team. Later, when Lawrie fell out with Mick Channon, he made me captain because I had played 450 league games and won 40 caps.”

This led to Peter becoming an FA Cup-winning captain when his Second Division Southampton team beat Tommy Docherty’s Manchester United in the 1976 Final.

He concluded: “My Final for Leicester had gone over my head. This time I was determined to take everything on board. Before the game we noticed how nervous Manchester United were. We felt we could win it. When we scored I did something I’d always wanted to do. I ran 40 yards and launched myself on top of everybody in the team, just like the Brazilians did!

“Receiving the cup from the Queen, who asked me if I had enjoyed the game, holding the cup aloft, turning towards the Southampton supporters and then being lifted onto the shoulders of the rest of the team... that was awesome!”

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