Bobby Roberts

Former Player Remembers: Bobby Roberts (Part Two)

In the second part of his interview with Club Historian John Hutchinson, midfielder Bobby Roberts, who played 281 games for Leicester City between 1963 and 1970, spoke about overcoming an injury, his team-mates at Filbert Street and playing in the 1969 FA Cup Final.
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He also opened up about being manager at Colchester United, Wrexham and Grimsby Town. His Wrexham team competed in Europe against FC Porto and Sven-Göran Eriksson’s AS Roma. After coaching in Kuwait, he returned to Filbert Street between 1988 and 1991. He later head back to Kuwait, worked for Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, and was Jim Smith’s chief scout at Derby County and Oxford United. 

At the start of his second season at Filbert Street (1964/65), Bobby had just recovered from a troubling ankle injury.

“My ankles kept blowing up like balloons,” he recalled. “But at the end of the season, the physio Alex Dowdells and the club doctor Dr. Lenton dipped my ankles in a wax bath, and let the wax form a skin to keep the ankle warm. They then came round to my digs, gave me an injection to deaden the pain and then twisted my ankles all over the place before giving me some ankle strengthening exercises. It was a bit primitive but it was the best treatment I ever had in my life. I never had a problem with my ankle again.” 

Thinking back to that season prompted Bobby to talk about Jimmy Goodfellow, who made over 120 league and cup appearances for the Club and who was the first Leicester City player to go onto the pitch as a substitute in August 1965. 

“He was the most under-rated player,” Bobby remembered. “Today, we talk about false no.9s and players playing between the lines. Jimmy did this brilliantly. If you picked a ball up and somebody was a bit tight on you, you’d know he’d always be just there where you could find him unmarked. He was terrific. When I played in Scotland, he was a right winger with Third Lanark. They had a good forward line which scored 106 goals and came third in the league. 

“When Jimmy came to Leicester, he played on the right wing sometimes, but he gradually moved to inside-forward and sometimes centre-forward. I remember we played Middlesbrough in the FA Cup. We won 3-0. Jimmy was absolutely brilliant. After the game, Davie [Gibson] and I went to a wee shed at the ground where you could get a cup of tea. The old boy serving there said: ‘I’ve seen all the great centre forwards like Lofthouse, Clough and Milburn, but Goodfellow today had the best display of centre-forward play I’ve ever seen.’ 

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Leicester City's 1969 FA Cup Final squad
Leicester City's 1969 FA Cup Final squad

Leicester City's 1969 FA Cup Final squad pose for a photograph at Filbert Street.

“That’s how good he was. He was a brilliant player. He was a great lad as well. He never swore, which is unusual for a Scotsman. He just went about things in a quiet unspectacular way but those who played with him will tell you how good he was. We had some good players at that time. I think wee Jackie [Sinclair] scored 20-odd goals two seasons on the trot from the right wing and Derek Dougan scored 20-odd as well. Goals also came from Stringy (Mike Stringfellow). John Sjoberg scored from corners. Davie always got goals and I also got a few. We had Gordon Banks behind us. There wasn’t so much coaching then but we always felt that we could win.” 

Between 1965 and 1968, Bobby only missed two league and cup games and was an ever-present in the run which led to the 1969 FA Cup Final against the previous season’s league champions Manchester City.

Thinking back to the final, Bobby said: “We had thought we might have got to Wembley in previous seasons. In the 1968/69 season Matt Gillies had left and Frank O’Farrell had taken over. I just wasn’t thinking about getting to Wembley but then we started to play.

“In the third round, I hit the stanchion and the ball came out. The goal was disallowed but I knew it was a goal because Clarkey (Allan Clarke) was running in and he just turned away instead of automatically knocking it into the back of the net. The referee was Jack Taylor (the 1974 World Cup Final referee) and years later he told me: ‘You were the only one in the ground who thought it was a goal!’

“We beat Barnsley after a replay, then we beat Millwall 1-0 at the Den. Keith Weller was playing for them. We thought it would be tough but it was the easiest 1-0 I ever played in. Lenny [Glover] scored the goal and we coasted from there.

“The next round was against Liverpool. It was 0-0 at Filbert Street and we won 1-0 at Anfield. It was bedlam up there. [Peter] Shilton saved a penalty. When they took Roger Hunt off, he didn’t want to go and we had to say: ‘Roger you’ve got to go off mate!’ He threw his shirt into the dugout and kept walking. We won when Andy Lochhead scored with a header.

“Mansfield in the next round was a real tough battle on a bad pitch. Rodney [Fern] scored with a far post goal off his head and shoulder. In the last 10 minutes Nick Sharkey (an ex-Leicester City team-mate) skimmed the bar from just inside the box and that was their last chance.  

“We got another clean sheet in the semi-final against West Brom. Clarkey scored late on. The 'keeper should have saved it. Suddenly, we were at Wembley. I couldn’t believe it! I’d scored at Hampden against Rangers in a Scottish Cup Semi-Final but as a youngster you also wanted to play at Wembley. 

“We lost 1-0. They probably passed the ball better than we did, but we did have some good chances. Peter [Rodrigues], Andy [Lochhead] and Clarkey could have scored. These things happen.” 

After the final, Leicester City had five games to stave off relegation after a spell of 12 years in the top flight. To stay up, they had to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the final game of the season. 

“I didn’t play at Old Trafford,” Bobby said. “On the way to the game, my temperature went up and I couldn’t play. George Best was fantastic out there and they beat us 3-2.”

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1969 FA Cup Final preparation
1969 FA Cup Final preparation

The Foxes prepare for the final at the home of English football.

The following season Leicester City narrowly missed out on promotion.

“At the end of the season, it was us or Blackpool who would go up,” Bobby recalled. “We had to beat Blackpool down here. It absolutely bucketed it down and the pitch was waterlogged. The referee said that as there were nearly 40,000 fans in the ground he would play until half-time and then abandon the game. Then the rain stopped and the ref carried on after half-time. The pitch was still unplayable. We tried to pass the ball and work our way through but the ball would stop in the water. All Blackpool had to do was defend in numbers and the game ended 0-0.”

That summer Bobby moved to Mansfield Town.

“That was the worst move of my life,” Bobby continued. “Frank O’Farrell wanted me to go in a deal which would bring Malcolm Partridge from Mansfield to Leicester. He’d also signed Bobby Kellard and Willie Carlin, who were a different type of player to me. They did the job here, no doubt about that. Those signings would force me to play in the reserves, so I went to Mansfield. Jimmy Goodfellow was there, I wouldn’t have to move house and we could share lifts. Soon afterwards, wee Jackie [Sinclair] phoned me to say Sheffield Wednesday had been interested. It wasn’t a good move.” 

After playing over 80 games for Mansfield, Bobby went into coaching. Following a brief spell at Coventry City, he moved to Colchester United, first as coach then, from 1975 to 1982 as manager, taking the U’s to promotion to the Third Division in 1977. 

“I went to Colchester with Jim Smith, who was brilliant, a really clever guy,” Bobby remembered. “He favoured more experienced players and was successful at Colchester. I always wanted to try and encourage and develop younger players like Ian Allinson and Perry Groves who both later went to Arsenal.”

In 1982, Bobby became manager of Wrexham, leading them into a European campaign in 1984/85: “On the way to the Welsh Cup Final, I had to play in goal against Worcester as our 'keeper was injured! We lost to Shrewsbury in the final, but as an English club, they couldn’t qualify for the European Cup Winners' Cup so we qualified instead. Our first game was against Porto, who had beaten Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen in the previous season, so I asked him for advice. He sent me videos and reports on all of their players. Porto had a lot of international players. We beat them 1-0 at home. It was a terrific game. Both teams hit the woodwork three times. 

“When we went to Porto, it never stopped raining. There was a crowd of about 45,000. I changed the team slightly, but we were 3-0 down after 15 minutes, so I put the bloke on I should have played from the start. We’d worked on set pieces and had pulled two goals back by half-time. Paulo Future, who was going to be the next European sensation, scored their fourth. Then Barry Horne volleyed one in from 25 yards to make it 4-3 which was enough to get us through to the next round against Eriksson’s Roma. 

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1969 FA Cup Final
1969 FA Cup Final

Greeting royalty ahead of the 1969 FA Cup Final at Wembley.

“We played at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. Roma scored with a penalty just before half-time for a handball when it was their player who had handled! Then Cerezo, the Brazilian who’d scored against Italy in a World Cup Semi-Final, scored an absolute blinder for them from 25 yards to make it 2-0. When we played at home we did pretty well. We battled but they got a breakaway goal and won the tie 3-0 on aggregate.”

Bobby then explained how he returned to Filbert Street as part of David Pleat’s coaching staff between 1988 and 1991.

He said: “After coaching in Kuwait, I managed Grimsby Town for a season (1987/88). One night, we had a reserve match against Leicester City. David was there. He commented on a free-kick which worked for us as we’d scored. At the end of the season when I’d finished at Grimsby, David phoned to ask if I would be interested in working with the youth and reserve players. 

“David had so many ideas but they were all about attacking. He was very, very clever. Some of the things we did in training were first-class. I was learning something all the time. However, we conceded too many goals. If David had been as clever working on defence as he did on attacking, we’d have had some team! We had some very good players like McAllister, Mauchlen, Ramsey, Reid and Walshy. 

After leaving Filbert Street, Bobby had another spell in Kuwait before rejoining Jim Smith at Derby in 1995. 

“I worked with Jim at Derby for seven years as chief scout. He had this ‘Bald Eagle’ image but he was as sharp as a tack. He was always good for a laugh but was serious when it mattered. I also worked with him later for a couple of years at Oxford United as chief scout.”  

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