Steve Walsh

Steve Walsh Day: City's Wembley Delight In His Own Words

On this day 26 years ago (30 May), Leicester City basked in the glory of finally emerging from the First Division play-off final as victors in their third consecutive attempt.
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In the preceding two seasons, Brian Little's Foxes had fallen to crushing defeats beneath the old Twin Towers in London - to Blackburn Rovers and Swindon Town. Each one brought a different kind of heartbreak. Against Blackburn in 1992, former Fox Mike Newell's penalty denied City, while Little's men recovered from three goals down a year later, only to be beaten 4-3 by Swindon.

Leicester very nearly didn't get a third attempt to break their Wembley hoodoo, however, drawing seven of their remaining nine fixtures of the season, but they nonetheless sealed a fourth-placed finish.

One man was there for both Blackburn and Swindon finals - Steve Walsh - the man who had spent much of the 1993/94 campaign on the sidelines recovering from a debilitating cruciate injury.

He was back just in time for the play-offs, though, and he was determined not to suffer yet another miserable afternoon at the home of English football - a place City had come to dread. 

They were pitted against Roy McFarland's Derby County in the showpiece event, a side they had failed to beat home or away in the league, and they fell behind on the half-hour mark.

It looked like the Foxes would fall victim to their Wembley curse yet again. That was until Walsh stepped up and made history with goals in the 41st and 84th minutes. This is how he remembers it.

The team selection

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Mike Whitlow
Mike Whitlow

Mike Whitlow pictured during City's semi-final success over Tranmere.

"After the season I'd had, it was an emotional occasion," the Leicester legend says. "I had done my cruciate and was out for most of that season. It was difficult for me to watch the lads playing every week while I had to watch on from the stands. In truth, I really wasn't fit enough to play in the final. I remember a day or two before the game, Little called me into a separate room. He wanted to know if I was ready.

"I think I said that I was 70 per cent fit, but I wanted to play whatever happens. I knew deep down I wasn't fit enough. We then went into another room and all the lads were there. He named the team and I was in it. Away from being pleased I was in the team, I actually disagreed with the tactics. He played myself with Ian Ormondroyd and Iwan Roberts up front in like a 4-3-3 system.

"It was a shock to the system. I'd played up front, but I didn't expect to do so in the final!"

The Wembley curse

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Wembley woe
Wembley woe

City had suffered Wembley heartbreak twice - against Blackburn and Swindon.

"We'd suffered a lot after the last two finals at Wembley," he continues. "I needed to get Leicester back in the Premier League, it was so important to me. That was my only ambition. We'd got relegation in my first season at the Club and I was determined to get back. It took eight years in the end. After those two failures, we were definitely aware of the pressure on us, but it drove us on.

"It did feel like a curse, but we'd said to each other that, this time, we weren't going to fail. No matter what. I thought before the game we were going to win it. That changed slightly when I heard the selection because I didn't feel that it was the right move. Brian's a good friend of mine, but on that occasion, we disagreed. It all worked out in the end though!"

The occasion

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Wembley
Wembley

City's third trip in a row to Wembley finally ended in happiness.

"The scenes in the stands were just absolutely unbelievable," Walsh remembers. "We genuinely used to take over Wembley. If you watch the old footage, you can all the balloons and ticker-tape streaming down from the Leicester end. Every year, we completely made Wembley almost like a home ground. Our fans were absolutely magnificent for us and I think they played a role in the win.

"Really, go and look at the footage, the Leicester end is phenomenal. I've never seen anything like it. Walking out on that pitch, I couldn't have been any prouder. I always say - because it's true - that every time I crossed the white line, I made a pledge to give absolutely everything for the Club. On that day, you had no excuse not to because there was a sea of blue behind you."

The Derby goal

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Simon Grayson & Tommy Johnson
Simon Grayson & Tommy Johnson

Tommy Johnson put Derby ahead in the capital.

"I remember it clearly when Tommy Johnson gave Derby the lead," he added. "You look around at your team-mates and you wonder if it's going to happen again. I remember, on the day, Derby were a better team than us in many ways, but we had a never-say-die attitude. We never gave up, we never stopped. We fought for everything.

"They had so many chances to score. It could have been five or six at one stage and we had to really dig deep to stay in the game. They were playing a different style of football to us and we were struggling."

The equaliser

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Martin Taylor
Martin Taylor

Rams 'keeper Martin Taylor reacts after conceding Leicester's first goal.

"Out of nowhere, [Gary] Coatsworth floated the ball into the box," Walshy says. "I saw Iwan Roberts in the area too, but I thought: 'I'm just going to try this one myself'. After the injury I'd had, I couldn't really jump. You just can't do it. For the rest of your life really, you can't do it. It's hard to do, but it's also risky. But on that occasion, I gave it a go, and I was able to get the height I needed.

"I just got my head on the ball and nodded it at goal. Iwan had his arm across [Martin] Taylor, the Derby 'keeper, and then Paul Williams was on the line for them. I'm not sure how he wasn't able to just head my header off the line, but there was a bit of spin on the ball and it just drifted over him! I was already wheeling away and then I had to look back just to make sure that it had actually gone in!"

The winner

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Steve Walsh
Steve Walsh

The iconic former Fox celebrates perhaps his biggest-ever goal for Leicester.

"I still have that picture in my house," he reveals, talking about an iconic image of him celebrating his second goal of the day. "I played the ball inside to [Julian] Joachim, he put it out to [Simon] Grayson and then he whipped in a tremendous cross on the overlap and, when [Ian] Ormondroyd headed the ball, I thought it was in. What a save from Taylor! But then I'm there too...

"My momentum just carried me into that area in the box where anything can happen and, luckily for me, I got a touch on it and the rest is history. The euphoria of that celebration is something I'll never forget. I just looked up and the fans were going crazy. We'd done it. My whole Leicester career up until that point was about about getting back in the top league and we'd done it. It meant everything to me."

Leicester City Crest

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