Gerry Taggart

Former Player Remembers: Gerry Taggart

Former Leicester City and Northern Ireland international defender Gerry Taggart speaks to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his memories, on and off the pitch, of a dramatic UEFA Cup tie between the Foxes and Red Star Belgrade in September 2000.
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As a reward for the Club's 2000 League Cup triumph at Wembley, the Foxes, who had new manager Peter Taylor in charge, embarked on a second European campaign in four seasons.

Thinking back 20 years, Gerry began: “They were exciting times back then in Leicester. Everyone was looking forward to the game immensely. We were under no illusion that Red Star were a top team, a really good outfit, but we fancied our chances going into the game. Our league form was good at that point and we were pretty confident. We knew about their history and their quality, although they were a bit of an unknown quantity. Preparing for the tie, we looked at the way they played, and we earmarked their good players, but we only had limited information on their team. Until you actually get onto the pitch and face them you are going into a bit of an unknown.”

The first leg was in front of a full house at Filbert Street and it began in dramatic circumstances.

“Right at the start, there were bright red flares in the crowd lit by the Red Star supporters and then they threw a smoke bomb which came onto the pitch,” Gerry remembered. “The smoke filled the pitch and I thought to myself: ‘Surely the referee has got to stop the game until it is cleared.’ Obviously he didn’t. In the first minute they scored. They got possession of the ball, worked it up the pitch and then their best player on the night [Milenko Ačimovič] hit this great strike from 35 yards out. It was an absolute thunderbolt.

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Leicester City vs. Red Star Belgrade
Leicester City vs. Red Star Belgrade

An intense atmosphere greeted the two sides for the visit of Red Star to Leicester.

“The best man to ask about this would be Tim Flowers. He must have been uncertain because of the smoke. I was further up the pitch and I couldn’t see clearly. It’s as simple as that. I don’t know if it affected Tim. He was a bit too far off his line and the ball went over his head. I think he said that the smoke didn’t affect him but it’s got to have done in some way. Even if he’d been half a step back it would have made all the difference as he might have got something on the ball and knocked it over the bar. It was a massively disappointing start to the game. We weren’t expecting it and it was a shock to the system to concede a goal after about 40 seconds.”

This early goal scuppered City’s plan to prevent Red Star scoring an away goal, but the home side worked their way back into the game and Gerry equalised just before half-time.

“For the first 15 or 20 minutes, Belgrade were the better side,” Gerry continued. “But then we grew our way back into the game. We settled down and started to impose ourselves. When you look at the goal, you can see that it was really composed football. There was a short corner. It was played to Muzzy [Izzet]. He played it to Lenny (Neil Lennon) who just curled the ball into the box.

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Gerry Taggart
Gerry Taggart

Taggart's header was a truly memorable moment for the Blue Army in attendance at Filbert Street.

“I was being a bit roughed up by the Red Star centre-half who was picking me up. I saw [Matt] Elliott in front of me so I used him as a barrier and I ran round the front of him so that got me free of  the defender. It was a great piece of play by me in the first place to get away from him!

“By making that run I was able to run onto the cross from Lenny. I wouldn’t say it was unorthodox but I had to slightly adjust myself to make sure that I got the right contact on the ball. I knew that if I did, it would end up in the net because there was a good pace on the cross. I didn’t have to do too much as regards getting power on it.”

Stan Collymore came on at half-time for Leicester City and he missed a great chance from four yards out to put the home side ahead.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, I thought it was a more evenly matched game in the second half,” Gerry continued. “We created the better chances and the best chance in the game fell to Stan. He had a great chance towards the end. The ball came to him and he tried to be a bit clever, instead of just putting his foot through the ball and burying it. You’d expect Stan to stick that one home but unfortunately he just couldn’t put it away. The game ended 1-1. It was a hard-earned draw. It was the first time a lot of our players had played in a European competition and it was a great experience for them.”

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Red Star Belgrade vs. Leicester City
Red Star Belgrade vs. Leicester City

The away leg was played in Vienna and City were level at 1-1 on aggregate going into the fixture.

The return leg was a fortnight later on 28 September, 2000. Leicester were riding high in the Premier League, in second place. Because of the recent turmoil in the Balkans, the match had to be moved to Vienna from Belgrade, where the security situation was unstable.

“There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in the lead up to that game,” Gerry recalled. “We weren’t quite sure whether we were going to Belgrade or not. I think it was the Sunday before the match that the decision was made that they couldn’t guarantee our security in Belgrade, so the game had to be changed to Vienna.

“I’ve been in unsavoury atmospheres playing for Northern Ireland against the Republic, but this was something else.”

The game itself was played in a ferocious atmosphere. The Red Star fans threw flares onto the pitch and the sound was deafening when the two sides walked out onto the pitch. The intensity from the home supporters did not come as a surprise.

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Muzzy Izzet
Muzzy Izzet

Muzzy Izzet found the net, but it wasn't to be for the Foxes.

“It was all pretty unsettling,” Gerry continued. “But once you were on the pitch, you were in a space that you were comfortable with once the game got underway. You think: ‘Let’s get the game on, let’s get going and then let’s get out of here.’ We played pretty well in the first half. It was a fairly even game. They scored after about 20 minutes and Muzzy equalised just before half time. We went in at half time pretty confident.”

However, Ivan Gvozdenović scored for Red Star just after half-time, before Goran Drulić made it 3-1 by firing a shot into the bottom corner of the net in the 70th minute.

Gerry remembered: “A few things happened at half time that may or may not have had a bearing on the second half, but it’s fair to say that in the second half we didn’t produce the performance we needed and they ran out deserving winners in the end.”

This defeat was the first time that Leicester City had lost that season.

Gerry concluded his reminiscences of the game by saying: “It was a different experience for us, but one we’ll never forget. Obviously scoring in the first leg will always be a fond memory.”

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