Steve signed for Leicester in January 2008 and, despite the Club’s relegation four months later, he was Player of the Year in the record-breaking team which stormed to the League 1 title the following season.
He was also a key member of the side which reached the Play-Off Semi-Finals for a place in the Premier League in 2010 before he departed the Club in 2012 after 169 appearances and 39 goals.
Earlier in his career, after playing for Tow Law Town in the Northern Premier League, and for Middlesbrough in their youth and reserve teams, Steve went to Hartlepool United in 1995.
“I had been knocked back as a 15-year-old on trial at various clubs,” Steve began. “But I put my head down and got on with it, so breaking through into professional football was great. It was what I’d always wanted, even though I was working as a roofer and had to take a pay cut!”
Howard netted 103 times in all competitions for Luton.
After playing for three-and-a-half seasons at Hartlepool United, Steve moved to Northampton Town for a club record fee of £120,000.
“I took a phone call on the coach following a game at Exeter, telling me that Hartlepool had accepted an offer for me from Northampton,” Steve recalled. “Peter Beardsley was sitting next to me on the bus. He gave me a few pointers and I signed for Northampton the next day. It was a big step to leave the North East but the only way to progress in football is to move away.
“I was at Northampton for three seasons and then moved to Luton. Joe Kinnear and Mick Harford were there. If it wasn’t for Mick I wouldn’t be the player I was. Being another North East lad, he took me under his wing, gave me massive pointers and made me into the player I became. He was the same type of player as me. He saw that similarity and helped me every day.”
Steve’s next move was to Derby County in July 2006 for a fee of £1M. Howard netted 20 goals in 72 overall appearances for the East Midlands side and the Rams were promoted to the Premier League.
I didn’t score for my first five games at Derby but then I didn’t stop scoring. We were promoted to the Premier League but we struggled. We were promoted too soon.Steve Howard
He added: “This was another move to a club higher up the league. My agent rang when I was preparing for pre-season friendly. I drove up there wearing my Luton tracksuit.
“I didn’t score for my first five games at Derby but then I didn’t stop scoring. We were promoted to the Premier League but we struggled. We were promoted too soon.”
Ian Holloway signed Steve for Leicester City in January 2008. The Foxes were fighting relegation.
Howard continued: “Going to Leicester was fine because although they were struggling in the Championship, they were a big club. Holloway was bringing in many new players [Matt Oakley, Jamie Clapham, Lee Hendrie, David Bell, Gábor Bori, Zsolt Laczkó, Kelvin Etuhu and Harry Worley]. He wasn’t panicking about relegation but he was getting players without asking if they would gel as a team.
“I did get a hat-trick at West Brom. It was great! The team was flying that day and we thought we’d turned the corner and we would be safe, but it never happened. However, even as late as the last game of the season at Stoke, I still didn’t think we would go down, but we did.”
Howard was brilliant for the Foxes in Cardiff in 2010.
For the only time in the Club’s long history, Leicester played in the third tier the following season.
Looking back fondly on the 2008/09 season, he added: “We had a great season. Looking back now, relegation was probably a good thing to happen. Nigel Pearson came in and we managed to get a proper team together. He brought in players like Michael Morrison, Jack Hobbs, Lloyd Dyer, Chris Powell, Aleksandar Tunchev and Bruno Berner. He created a team. We were successful on the pitch but we were the best team off the pitch too which is why we succeeded.
“Me and Matty (Fryatt) just hit it off. He’s a great player. I used to say to him, I’ll take care of the centre-halves and you just do what you do, and score goals. I tried to free him up and it worked really well.”
Leicester were top of the table from November onwards, establishing a Club record of 23 consecutive games unbeaten. Promotion was effectively secured in April, following a truly memorable added-time header by Steve to beat Leeds United 1-0.
He said: “I remember going into the game thinking we would take a 0-0 draw. In added time, I remember waiting in the box for a corner to come in, and saying to the lads: ‘C’mon! One last push!’ and thinking: ‘I am absolutely shattered here!’ The ball came over. I stuck my head on it and away it went! I have a massive picture of this in my house. It was a full stadium that night and when the goal went in, the roof came off! The noise was incredible!”
That season, Steve was both the Players’ and the Supporters’ Player of the Year.
He remembers: “It was a great honour. The previous season I was a big signing and was supposed to get us out of trouble so getting these awards was fantastic!”
I was really pleased when Nigel returned (in October 2011). I’m glad he got Leicester into the Premier League in the end.Steve Howard
The following season Leicester City reached the Play-Off Semi-Finals against Cardiff City for a place in the Premier League. Leicester City lost the home leg 1-0 but famously won the return fixture 3-2 before going out on penalties. Steve was outstanding in that second game.
Looking back, he continued: “That was because I hadn’t played in the first game because I’d been stupid, got sent off and was suspended. I kept all my energy for the return leg. Before the game, Nigel came up and told me it was down to me. I was so pumped up that played probably the best game I ever played for Leicester.”
After extra-time, the aggregate score was 3-3. Leicester lost 3-4 in the penalty shoot-out. Steve scored, with Yann Kermorgant famously missing with his chipped attempt. Nigel Pearson left the Club in the close season.
“We weren’t happy that he’d gone,” Steve continued. “Paulo [Sousa] came in. I got on really well with him. He knew exactly how he wanted to play. He was trying to do the right things. It was just that he was taking a while to get there and he paid the price.
The PFA love the idea of my company and encouraged me to get round the clubs to see these lads and advise and that’s what I do.Steve Howard
“Then Sven[-Göran Eriksson], one of the biggest names in football, came in. He had a lot of money to spend and he spent it. We had a trip to Thailand which was great. Sven was a lovely, lovely man, an absolute diamond, but he bought individuals and they didn’t always fit into the team. Everyone was talking about getting to the Premier League. But you can’t just wave a magic wand. It takes time.
“I was really pleased when Nigel returned (in October 2011). I’m glad he got Leicester into the Premier League in the end. There was only one team in the Championship that season (2013/14) when they won the Championship title and it was Leicester!”
At the end of his time at Leicester, Steve had offers to go abroad, but he went back to the North East, rejoined Hartlepool and later played on loan at Sheffield Wednesday.
He now runs a property investment company: “I’ve always bought property. A few of the younger lads would ask me advice about this, so I started the company so that when the lads leave the game they could have five or 10 properties. The PFA love the idea of my company and encouraged me to get round the clubs to see these lads and advise and that’s what I do.”
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