Steve Whitworth

Former Player Remembers: Steve Whitworth

When England full-back Steve Whitworth spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career, the conversation covered his 400 appearances for Leicester City between 1970 and 1979.
More on this story...

These were characterised by great pace, superb tackling and an impressive ability to read the game.

He set a Club record at the time for playing in 198 consecutive games. Only eight other players in Leicester City’s entire history have played more first team games for the Club than Steve.

While at Filbert Street, he won seven England caps, to add to his Three Lions honours at school, youth and international level. He later captained Sunderland to promotion to the old First Division in 1980.

“As a football-mad boy all I wanted to do was to play for Leicester City,” he said.

“I played for Coalville and England Schoolboys which was fantastic and then signed schoolboy forms for Leicester City. I left school at 16 and signed as an apprentice at Filbert Street. I joined in the training but then  I would be cleaning the toilets or the boots. We even painted the gym during one close season!

The ball bounced off the pair of them straight to me. I had carried on running and it was a tap-in with my left foot which I only ever used for standing on! It was the only goal I ever scored for Leicester!

Steve Whitworth

“Initially I was a right-half but then they moved me to right-back. I was comfortable there from day one. When I was 18, we were back in the Second Division. Reserve team coach David Coates drove me to the training ground early on in the 1970/71 season and told me I would be playing in the first team on the Wednesday night against Bristol City.

“I thought: 'Wow!' Peter Rodrigues, the first team right-back was a really good player. On my debut, I marked the veteran winger Alan Skirton. We won 4-1. I played in every game for the rest of the season and we went up as champions. It was a good defence to be in with Peter Shilton in goal and with big John Sjoberg, Graham Cross and David Nish alongside me. I used to bomb forward all the time.”

Following promotion, manager Frank O’Farrell went to Manchester United and Jimmy Bloomfield became the new manager. Jimmy’s first game resulted in a trophy, when Leicester defeated Liverpool 1-0 in the Charity (Community) Shield. Steve scored the goal.

“The game was at Filbert Street, not at Wembley. It was a good game. The pitch was perfect. I remember flying down the wing on an overlap, getting into their penalty area, and crossing the ball low across their six-yard box. Ray Clemence (Liverpool’s goalkeeper) came diving out, Rodney Fern went charging in.

“The ball bounced off the pair of them straight to me. I had carried on running and it was a tap-in with my left foot which I only ever used for standing on! It was the only goal I ever scored for Leicester!

“Following Jimmy’s arrival there was a large turnover of staff,” Steve continued. “Frank O’Farrell’s team had been quiet and disciplined. Jimmy’s team had larger than life characters like Keith Weller, Alan Birchenall and Frank Worthington. They were really talented players. I was playing in a great team from a full-back’s point of view.

Expand photo
Steve Whitworth
Steve Whitworth

Steve made seven appearances for England in total.

“The two players I would pass to would be right-winger Keith Weller or centre-forward Frank Worthington. I would ping the ball to Frank who, with his first touch, would have it on his left foot, and smash it out to Lenny Glover on the left wing.

“Right-back to left wing in three seconds! We had a lot of joy. Jimmy wanted football like that. We spent very little time in training working defensively. It was all about bombing forward. We had a great team spirit and ‘Birch’ was one of the main contributors!

“I was playing against left wingers like Liverpool’s Steve Heighway, Forest’s John Robertson, Burnley’s Leighton James and QPR’s Dave Thomas.

“Ian Storey-Moore (Nottingham Forest and Manchester United) was a great player as was West Brom’s Laurie Cunningham who was lightning quick. It was 1v1 competition. I really enjoyed it as I was very quick in those days. If I wasn’t bombing forward, Denis Rofe was!

“As a kid, in addition to wanting to play for Leicester City, I also wanted to play in an FA Cup Final, play at Wembley and play for England. The FA Cup run in 1974 was fantastic We faced Liverpool in the semi-final at Old Trafford. It was a 0-0 draw. It was when Liverpool were at their best. They hit the bar and the woodwork.

“Shilts was heroic! We were lucky to get away with a 0-0 draw. In the replay at Villa Park we got it back to 1-1 and Clemence then made a good save from Keith [Weller]. We lost 3-1. That was the closest I ever got to the FA Cup Final which was a very big thing in those days.”

Jock had a totally different philosophy of football from Jimmy. From day one, it was all high energy. Although I was a regular in his side, it was obvious that I wasn’t his cup of tea.

Steve Whitworth

Steve did however fulfil his ambitions of playing for England and playing at Wembley. Seven weeks after winning his sixth England Under-23s cap, Steve won the first of his seven full caps in March 1975.

He added: “It was an honour. I was 22 when I was called up for the game at Wembley against world champions West Germany. It was pretty staggering to walk on to the pitch with Franz Beckenbauer! I had a good game but I did make a mistake which almost cost us a goal. 

“I never actually played in the same England team my Leicester City team mates, (Shilton, Weller and Worthington) but I was picked against Cyprus in the European Nations Cup and for the Home International series against Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.  Later that year I played against Switzerland and then Portugal which was my last game for England.”

Jimmy Bloomfield was replaced by Frank McLintock as manager in July 1977.

A year later, with Leicester newly relegated, Jock Wallace arrived for what proved to be Steve’s last season at Leicester.

He continued: “Jock had a totally different philosophy of football from Jimmy. From day one, it was all high energy. Although I was a regular in his side, it was obvious that I wasn’t his cup of tea. With about 10 games to go to the end of the season, Sunderland, who were going for promotion, put in a bid for me.

“Jock said although he would still play me, maybe I needed a change so I thought I’d try it. It was bizarre because I came back to Leicester for my testimonial game at the end of the season when I was a Sunderland player.

“Sunderland just missed out on promotion that season but the next season we went up with Leicester and I was captain. When we came to Filbert Street, me and another ex-Leicester player, Bob Lee, played a one-two, then I went whizzing down the right wing, and put in a cross for Bob to score with a bullet header against his best mate Mark Wallington. It was so ironic!”

Steve went on to have two years each at Bolton Wanderers and Mansfield Town before joining Barry Fry as player-coach at Barnet until he retired from football at the age of 37.

Leicester City Crest

Latest News

More Videos

Latest Images