Steve Thompson

Former Player Remembers: Steve Thompson

Last month, Steve Thompson spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career in football.
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He played a combined total of over 800 league and cup games for six clubs between 1982 and 2001. These included 155 appearances for Leicester City between 1991 and 1995.

He was a key member of Brian Little’s sides which reached three successive Play-Off Finals and achieved promotion to the Premier League in 1994. He is currently First Team Coach at Preston North End.  

When Steve, a creative midfielder, arrived at Filbert Street in October 1991, following a brief spell at Luton Town, he had already played over 400 games for Bolton Wanderers.

“I was brought up in Blackpool,” Steve began. “As a youngster I was approached by a Bolton scout and I signed schoolboy forms for Bolton, was an apprentice and then became a professional. John McGovern gave me my debut at Derby when I was seventeen. I spent 10 years as a professional there and had a testimonial year.”

In September 1991 Steve signed for Luton Town, then playing in the top flight. “After all those years at Bolton,” Steve explained, “I felt I needed a change. Quite a few clubs were interested in me but then I got a phone call from David Pleat (Luton Town’s manager). I went down there on the Sunday, spoke to David Pleat and signed on the Monday.”

However five games and six weeks later, Steve left Luton Town for Leicester City.

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Steve Thompson

The midfielder played 155 games for Leicester City over the space of four years.

Steve continued, “I was still living in a hotel, looking for houses and waiting to get my family down to Luton when David Pleat called me in and said that Leicester had been in for me. I was a bit bemused to be honest. I couldn’t understand and asked him what was happening. He said he was interested in signing two Leicester City players (Des Linton and Scott Oakes) and that Leicester wanted me. I’d heard rumours that they had an interest in me so I drove up to Filbert Street and met Brian Little, John Gregory and Al Evans. I had no hesitation. It just felt right and I signed a three-year deal. It worked out absolutely fantastically.”

Steve arrived at Filbert Street when the club, which had only narrowly avoided the drop to the third tier the previous season, was being revolutionised by Brian Little who transformed the club from one which had been relegation candidates to one which won a place in the Premier League, following three successive Wembley Play-Off Finals.

“Brian’s man management was fantastic,” Steve continued. “He got together a good group of players. There were no superstars and no big egos. There were some good players and there was good competition. We all worked together, the training was good, he had good staff around him. I learnt so much from John Gregory. He’d obviously been a quality midfield player. We were one of those teams which never knew when we were beaten. We had big characters in the team, with lads who were still hungry and who went onto another level after that.”

Recalling his Leicester City debut, Steve continued, “It was at Oxford. I came on as a substitute and scored by hitting the ball into the top corner. There was a great following of Leicester fans. It was nice to get off to a good start.

“They were great times at Leicester. The three Play-Off Finals were the icing on the cake. We were disappointed to lose the ones against Blackburn (1992) and Swindon (1993), but beating Derby in 1994 to finally get into the Premier League made up for these disappointments.

laying in the Premier League is a massive jump. Did we invest enough money? Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but we still had a group of players who always gave it their best shot. We had players who could hurt teams. What we lacked in quality, we made up with effort.

Steve Thompson

“The Blackburn final was on a roasting red hot day. Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn had spent a lot of money and they had some very good players. The game could have gone either way. The difference was the controversial penalty when Speedie went down. I still don’t know if was a penalty. Losing was a big disappointment. If you get promoted, a Play-Off Final is the best place to do it, but it’s the worst place to get beaten!

“We were deflated after that. Our summer had been cut short, but because of the group we had, we were just determined to give it another good go the following season. The management galvanised the players, made a few additions to the squad and we reached the Play-off final again, playing Glenn Hoddle’s Swindon Town at Wembley.”

This final was a classic. Glenn Hoddle and Craig Maskell scored for Swindon Town just before and just after half time and Shaun Taylor added a third in the 53rd minute. The Leicester City fight back was memorable. Julian Joachim scored in the 57th minute, Steve Walsh scored with a header in the 68th minute and then, a minute later, Steve scored an unforgettable equaliser.

“When we were 3-0 down you think, ‘here we go again,’ but the fightback summed up our team spirit. I remember Micky Whitlow bombing down the wing and pulling the ball back. I hit it with the outside of my right foot to score. It was great to score at Wembley, with all the noise and with all of my family there. It was one of those special moments that you look back on. But Swindon got another penalty to make it 4-3. We had chances after that, but we were disappointed again with the result. Losing another Play-Off Final was hard to take.

“I’ve got a photograph of me with the gaffer at the end of the game. There was such emotion coming back from being 3-0 down, having the momentum to try to get a fourth goal and then to get defeated by another penalty again! The emotion got to us. I remember the gaffer came over to me. I was absolutely drained. We’d given everything. I just put my head on his shoulder. I can’t deny that it hurt. There were tears as well, not because we had let the fans down, because they could tell we’d given everything, but because we had come so close to winning. We thought: 'can we bounce back from this again?’“

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Steve Thompson

Steve Thompson was part of the side that gain promotion to the Premier League during the 1993/94 campaign.

They could. The following season, Leicester City again reached Wembley for another Play-Off final, this time against Derby County.

“We were under no illusion. Derby were favourites, especially with the money they’d spent on a lot of big hitters. That season I had my first Achilles problem. I remember changing my boots during the season and that did me no favours. I was struggling to get fit towards the end of the season and I probably came back too quickly. Brian Little put me on the bench for the final. I wasn’t 100 per cent fit, but I thought I could do myself justice if I could get on for the last 30 minutes.”

Steve came on to the pitch in the 68th minute. Leicester City won 2-1 with Steve Walsh scoring twice, his late winner finally securing a place in the Premier League.

“Although I’d had a disappointing season with injuries, that win at the final made up for it,” Steve reflected. “It was great to be at Wembley again, with my mum and dad and all the family watching me.”

The following season Brian Little left the club in November 1994. He was replaced by Mark McGhee and the Club was relegated back to the Championship.

“Playing in the Premier League is a massive jump,” Steve said. “Did we invest enough money? Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but we still had a group of players who always gave it their best shot. We had players who could hurt teams. What we lacked in quality, we made up with effort.

I was sorry to see Brian Little leave. He was the gaffer who brought me in. We just clicked. He stuck by you and was loyal. He looked after you on and off the pitch. I’d say he was one of the best managers I worked under. He was great for me.

Steve Thompson

“I was sorry to see Brian Little leave. He was the gaffer who brought me in. We just clicked. He stuck by you and was loyal. He looked after you on and off the pitch. I’d say he was one of the best managers I worked under. He was great for me.

“After he had gone, I was disappointed how it ended for me at Leicester. I was in and out of the team. I missed a couple of penalties against Sheffield Wednesday and Liverpool. Certain things were said after the game which I wasn’t happy about and I knew then that my days were numbered at Leicester.

“However I have great memories of great times at Leicester. I was Player of the Year twice, played in three Championship finals, and got promoted to the Premier League. We also made some great friends there.”

In February 1995, Steve moved to Burnley for a fee of £200,000.

“I didn’t know it at the time but I think my name was being circulated saying that I could leave Leicester. There were some big clubs lining up to talk to me, especially in the Championship. Then I got a phone call off Jimmy Mullen at Burnley. It ticked a lot of boxes. It was a big club and it was in the north-west where I was from. I also got a feel for the club. It felt right there, so I signed a three-year contract.”

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Steve Thompson

Steve now works with Alex Neil as First Team Coach at Preston North End.

Thinking back to his time at Burnley, Steve reflected: “I was desperate to do well there but I don’t think they saw the best of me. They saw glimpses of what I could do but it was just so disappointing because I had a knee operation and two Achilles operations, and I just couldn't seem to shake the injuries off. I was having injections into my Achilles which is probably one of the worse injuries you can get because nothing seems to get it right. I was just desperate to show Burnley that they'd signed a good player but it just wasn't meant to be.

“I began to wonder if the number of games I’d played in my career was catching up on me.  If I hadn’t got injured at Burnley, I think I would have got up to 800 League games and added to my tally of 104 league and cup goals.”

After leaving Turf Moor in July 1997, Steve played for Rotherham United and Halifax Town before retiring from League football in 2001, having amassed a career total of 802 League and Cup games.

Steve has subsequently had a lengthy coaching career, often working, at different times, with other coaches with Leicester City connections. These included Simon Grayson, Ian Holloway, and Michael Appleton at Blackpool and Mark Robins and Chris Powell at Huddersfield Town. He also worked with Neil Redfearn at Leeds United before moving to Preston North End in 2015, where he is currently First Team Coach working with Alex Neil.

“They were special times at Leicester,” Steve concluded. “It was a great club for me. My three best years as a footballer were at Leicester. I enjoyed it there.”




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