Alan 'The Birch' Birchenall

The Birch's Filbert Street Memories

In the latest edition of Alan 'The Birch' Birchenall's fortnightly column, Leicester City's Club Ambassador remembers Filbert Street, home of the Foxes for 111 years...
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I saw on Leicester City’s website the other day that it is now 18 years ago that the Club moved out of Filbert Street, our home for 111 years, in 2002.

Time really does fly, doesn’t it? I remember visiting the site which is now King Power Stadium with Dave ‘Harry’ Bassett to dig the first trench – and 16 years later we won the title there.

The day we officially moved out of Filbert Street, winning 2-1 against Tottenham Hotspur, was an emotional day – Matt Piper’s still living off scoring the last goal there even today!

It was always going to be a sad day, especially with the Club suffering relegation a few weeks earlier, but we did our best to turn it into a celebration of our whole time there.

We had some real Leicester City legends join us that day – the likes of Sep Smith, Frank Worthington and Gary Lineker – and the place was bouncing all afternoon.

When I think back to Filbert Street, I first remember the impression I had of it from visits with my former clubs, Sheffield United, Chelsea and Crystal Palace.

Some of their stadiums back then had all sorts between the fans and the pitch, running tracks and the like, but the crowd at Leicester were always right on top of you in games.

When Jimmy Bloomfield, the Foxes manager for my time at the Club, asked me to join, he’d just signed Jon Sammels from Arsenal and, if I followed, he told me he’d also get Keith Weller in.

And what a team that was! We were never going to win anything because there were some magnificent teams about in the First Division back then, but fans still remember the 1970s with fondness.

My goodness, even on a bad day, one of those players would produce something special, just to put a smile on Foxes faces.

It could be a great save from Shilts or Wallo, a mazy Weller run, a silky Wortho flick, a Glover dance into the area – we just wanted to entertain people.

Teams like Liverpool were dominating the league and cups back then, but the alternative for us was to play football as attractively and with as much fun as we possibly could.

The atmosphere was always something else at Filbert Street, too, but I always remember the old Double Decker Stand used to block out the sun on the final third of the pitch.

So, that part of the pitch was basically a bog! You had four patches of actual grass on the Filbert Street pitch and they were in the corners – the rest was just a muddy sand pit!

I do sometimes wonder how the likes of Worthington or Glover would have performed on these carpets the players have now. My money is on them being absolutely world class.

I recall always smiling while playing for Leicester City. Of course, football’s a serious business, but if you can’t have a giggle once in a while as you’re doing it, what’s the point?

I’ve been trawling through my garage lately and found some news articles which take me back to some unforgettable memories I have of playing for Leicester City.

Times like when I had a umbrella out during a game, or when I nicked a bobble hat off one of the fans in the stands, or when I hopped off the pitch to help sell pies in the crowd… 

I must have sold about 30 pies while someone was injured – and then the pie salesman came into the changing room at full-time while Jimmy was giving his team talk to get his money back! 

Another thing which comes to mind is when I tripped up a referee – on purpose! He said: ‘I hope you didn’t do that intentionally!’ I said: ‘Of course I did!’ And we just laughed it off.

You may not believe this, but that ground was ahead of its time in many ways – the executive rooms we had in the old Filbert Street end were among the first in the country. 

At the top of that little chicken shed of a stand, we had some of the smartest boxes in the country and, in pre-season, we were asked to test out the Perspex by shooting at it as hard as we could.

We all lined up at around the edge of the area and took shots at it… and some cheeky monkey piped up and said: ‘Birch’ll be good at this, because that’s where his shots usually end up!’

Members of the Blue Army of a certain age will never forget Filbert Street, it might have been a bit ragged around the edges, but it was home after all. It was our home – and we all loved it. 

Obviously, I’m writing this during strange and worrying times and I’d like to just extend my very best wishes to you all once again as we adapt to this new way of living. 

We might not be able to see each other in person, but our Foxes family is stronger than ever, so please do reach out to each other and make sure everyone is getting what they need. 

I’d like to end by paying tribute to two wonderful supporters of your club - Richard Sculthorpe and Isabell Coughlan – two people who adored Leicester City – who sadly passed away recently.

Everybody at the Football Club is thinking of their families at this sad time and remembering the lovely memories we all shared together, either at Filbert Street, or at King Power Stadium. 

Take care everyone. 

The Birch.

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