Steve Walsh

Former Player Remembers: Steve Walsh

Steve Walsh's exploits at Leicester City are the stuff of folklore at the Football Club. Less well known is the story of his formative years at Wigan Athletic.
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Last month, Steve spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his time at Wigan, where he learnt his trade as a young centre-back. He made his first team debut as a 17-year-old against Manchester City and went on to play 149 games for the Latics in the old Third Division.  

Preston-born Steve began by explaining how he came to be playing for Wigan Athletic: “When I was a youngster, I played in Preston on Saturday and in Blackpool on Sunday. I also trained in Blackpool on Thursday nights at the YMCA. I was spotted by Blackpool’s manager, the World Cup winner Alan Ball, so I signed with Blackpool as a 15-year-old on a non-contract basis. My early years were there and then I got released as I was just coming up to 16-and-a-half. At this time, I was working for Amtico Floors as an upholsterer and a specialist floor layer in hospitals and X-ray units. This is what I was doing when Wigan signed me, so I’d be working and then going down to Wigan to train!”

Wigans Athletic’s player-manager was Larry Lloyd who, like Steve, was a centre-back. His predecessor at Springfield Road was the ex-Leicester City player Ian McNeill, who made 76 appearances for the City in the 1950s and who, as Wigan manager, led them from the Northern Premier League into the Football League in 1978.

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Steve Walsh at Wigan
Steve Walsh at Wigan

Walsh learned his trade at Wigan and enjoyed a good degree of success.

An England international, Lloyd had, amongst other honours as a player, won the league title, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup with Liverpool and the league title, two League Cups and two European Cups with Nottingham Forest.

When Steve signed for the Latics in September 1982 as a 17-year-old, the Springfield Road club had only been a Football League side for four seasons. Four months before Steve’s arrival, Lloyd had led the team to promotion to the third tier. Steve didn’t have to wait long for his debut.

“Within a month of arriving,” Steve remembered, “I got my chance when Larry Lloyd was injured. My debut was in a Milk Cup (now the Carabao Cup) replay at Maine Road against First Division Manchester City. The manager pushed me straight into the team. I had a stormer and I never looked back. It was unbelievable. Manchester City had the likes of Joe Corrigan and Asa Hartford in their side. Paul Power scored two goals and we lost 2-0 but we gave a real good account of ourselves. David Lowe (who was later a teammate of Steve’s at Leicester City) also made his debut in that game. There were three or four of us young lads and from then on the manager played us week in, week out. When I look back on my upbringing, the older players in that Wigan team helped us very much.”

I can still remember the old Springfield Road ground at Wigan. Once, the goalkeeper kicked the ball and the wind blew it straight back. We called it a wind machine. As soon as he kicked the ball he had to tip it over his own bar. It was unbelievable.

Steve Walsh

One of these older players was club captain Colin Methven, who made nearly 300 appearances in seven seasons for the Latics.

“I played alongside Colin Methven and I learned a lot from him,” Steve acknowledged. “I learned my trade as a centre-back from him. It was proper old school then. You needed to be looked after and Colin taught me how to stand up for myself. So did Graham Barrow, who was a hard man in midfield. At the time though, I don’t think they thought I’d become the British record holder for receiving the most red cards during my career! When I got my first red card at Exeter, Larry Lloyd picked me up by my throat and chucked me against the wall! It wouldn’t happen today!

“I can still remember the old Springfield Road ground at Wigan. Once, the goalkeeper kicked the ball and the wind blew it straight back. We called it a wind machine. As soon as he kicked the ball he had to tip it over his own bar. It was unbelievable.” 

In that first season, Wigan maintained their place in the old Third Division, but finances were tight and, following a run of eight successive defeats, Lloyd was sacked in April 1983, less than a year after he had led the club to promotion. One of the directors of the club was World Cup winner Bobby Charlton and he took over as manager on a temporary basis.

“Yes, Bobby managed us for three months,” Steve recalled. “It was amazing. In the first game that we played in for him, he had a bottle of Bell's whisky. He opened the bottle and filled the cup up and gave it to all the older players. We young players were thrown into it at an early age, and we had to fend for ourselves in those days. He didn’t give the whiskey to the youngsters like me though. He just gave it to the older players. It just shows how things have changed. After I got a red card, he told me that if I didn’t change I would be out of the game within a year. I got lots more red cards after that. I really listened to him!”

Steve’s next manager at Wigan was Harry McNally.

“Harry had been Larry Lloyd’s sidekick,” Steve continued. “I owe a lot to him and to Larry Lloyd and to the other coaching staff, because it all started with me because of them. I owe Wigan Athletic a lot. Harry used to take me and David Lowe to train on one of those small astro turf pitches they had then. They were solid. He’d make me wear studs and let David Lowe wear nice new trainers, just to toughen me up a bit.

“It was great when Mike Newell (another future teammate of Steve’s at Leicester City) came to Wigan. He was one of several scousers at the club. In the end there were about six or seven of them. They were great lads, like Alex Cribley (a centre-back ), and John Butler (a versatile right-back), who between them played over 600 games for Wigan. There was also David Lowe and Warren Aspinall. Paul Cook was another Liverpudlian when I was there and he is now their manager today. It was brilliant. We had a great spirit at the club. We won the Freight Rover Trophy (now called the EFL Trophy) when we beat Brentford 3-1 at Wembley in 1985. It was my first taste of Wembley. I remember we had the New Balance tracksuits and our sponsored trainers. The club also got a Freight Rover mini bus. A great day! Winning at Wembley was great and obviously I went back there six times in later years with Leicester City.

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Steve Walsh
Steve Walsh

Steve represented Leicester in the UEFA Cup.

“Bryan Hamilton became manager at Wigan for the 1985/86 season. We took the team very close to promotion to the Second Division (now the Championship). Derby County just beat us to it. We had a great team. We should have gone up rather than Derby. Wigan is a Rugby League town but we had a lot of support.”

At the end of the season, Hamilton became manager at Leicester City, working in conjunction with the previous manager at Filbert Street, Gordon Milne who became director of football. Milne had also managed Wigan Athletic in their non-league days)

Soon after taking up the manager’s post at Filbert Street, Hamilton signed Steve for a fee of £100,000.

“I‘ve got to thank Bryan for taking me to Leicester,” said Steve. “Without him being there, I might never have come to Leicester City although Gordon Milne had always wanted to sign me since he spotted me in the Isle of Man playing in the Manx Cup against Leicester in a pre-season friendly in July 1985.

“In my last season at Wigan I had my first serious injury. I broke my leg playing against Preston North End so when I came to Filbert Street I wasn’t 100 per cent fit. It took me a while to get over it, but I don’t think people knew when I first arrived. By this time, Wigan were having to sell players because of their financial situation.

“The reason I came to Leicester was because I wanted to play at the top level. I wanted to play in the First Division, which is now the Premier League. I took the opportunity straightaway. I would have signed for nothing!

Leicester became a big part of my life and is until this day. I live here and my family has grown up here. Leicester City is my first love, but Wigan has got to be my second because they gave me my first professional contract and got me into the football world which was fantastic.

Steve Walsh

“I had a wonderful start at Leicester. I think I played in the first 16 games. We beat Liverpool and drew with Manchester United. We were just flying, but then I had a serious groin injury. I missed the rest of the season and watched Leicester go down.”  

Steve went on to become a Leicester legend and cult hero. In his 14 years as a City player and captain, he made 449 appearances, played in six Wembley finals, won promotion to the Premier League twice, lifted the League Cup twice, qualified for the UEFA Cup twice, and was a key member of the side which achieved four successive top-10 Premier League finishes under Martin O’Neill.

Steve still has a great affinity to both Wigan Athletic and Leicester City.

“There have been many links between Wigan and Leicester City,” Steve reflected. “In my time, there was Gordon Milne, Bryan Hamilton, David Lowe and Mike Newell and I outstayed all of them. Leicester became a big part of my life and is until this day. I live here and my family has grown up here. Leicester City is my first love, but Wigan has got to be my second because they gave me my first professional contract and got me into the football world which was fantastic. I owe them a lot and have got very special memories of my time there.

“For a small club, they’ve achieved heights I never thought they’d get to. It’s fantastic what they’ve achieved. They moved to a new stadium, had eight seasons (2005/06 until 2012/13) in the Premier league and won the FA Cup (in 2013), beating Manchester City in the final. That was incredible. It was a bit like us winning the Premier League. I worked that day at Wembley when they won the cup. They are struggling a bit in the Championship at the moment and I really hope that their manager Paul Cook, who was my teammate at Wigan, gets them out of the spot of trouble that they are in. He’s a good man-management manager.”

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