Steve Walsh

Former Player Remembers: Steve Walsh

Earlier this season, Leicester City icon Steve Walsh sat down with Club Historian John Hutchinson to remember the Foxes' UEFA Cup campaign in 1997/98.
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The record books show that during his 14 years at the Club, Steve made 449 appearances, many as captain, and scored 62 goals.

His feats have entered into the Club’s folklore and they resulted in him topping the Leicester City voting in the 2004 BBC Football Focus poll to find out who the fans regarded as their all-time cult hero. This was no surprise. For fans, he embodied total passion and commitment to the Club’s cause. Although, this resulted in several red cards, his never-say-die attitude throughout his career will always be remembered and admired by Leicester City supporters. 

These statistics don’t begin to capture the essence of Steve’s contribution to City’s cause over the years. As well as his unforgettable feats as an inspiring captain and centre-back, he was also top scorer in 1992/1993, when he forsook his usual position in defence to play at centre-forward for a few months. 

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Ian Marshall
Ian Marshall

Ian Marshall handed City a shock early lead in Madrid.

He was central to many of the most memorable moments in the Club’s history, including his six appearances in the seven Wembley finals between 1992 and 2000. He missed the seventh through suspension. It was as a result of winning the League Cup in 1997, however, that Steve found himself captaining Leicester in the UEFA Cup campaign the following season. 

“Playing in Europe was massive for the whole squad after what we’d achieved by winning the (League Cup,” Steve began. “It gave us the opportunity to play against the best in Europe. Atlético Madrid had spent a lot of money and they had a terrific team and were always going to be favourites against the English underdogs. It was a knockout competition. The tie was across two legs. Martin O’Neill really wanted to do well in Europe. Don’t forget, he’d won two European Cup finals (as a player). I think one of his biggest goals was to go as far as he could in this competition with a team he had built and nurtured. These were exciting times for Leicester. Everything was just great about this opportunity we had.” 

The previous month, Atlético had signed the prolific goalscorer and Italy international Christian Vieri for £12.5M. At Atlético, he went on to score 24 goals in 24 games in his only season at the club. Two years later, he became the world’s most expensive player when he moved to Inter Milan from Lazio for £32M. His strike partner at Atlético was the prolific Spain international Kiko. Another recent signing for the Spanish side was the Brazil international Juninho, who had faced Leicester City in the previous season’s League Cup final playing for Middlesbrough. 

It was a special game in the history of the Club and we wanted to do well. We’d got tigers in that team. We were going to fight for everything.

Steve Walsh

Referring to the Atlético team, Steve continued: “They had all these terrific players and, no doubt, it was going to be a difficult task. It was one of those games where we were going to be up against it a lot for much of the game.

“When I led the side out, you came onto the pitch from underground. The nerves were there as you can see from our faces in a photograph taken as we came out of the tunnel. As soon as we came out of that tunnel into the cauldron, you could smell the atmosphere. It was very volatile. There were flares burning. It was a tough place to go at the best of times. It was quite scary coming out onto the pitch. It was an intimidating place to go as a footballer in a big game like that. However, it was a special game in the history of the Club and we wanted to do well. We’d got tigers in that team. We were going to fight for everything. 

“We started the game well. Marshy (Ian Marshall) had a header that went over the bar. And [Emile] Heskey was a threat. The balls in the air were always going to be a threat to them. After about 10 minutes, I found myself at the far post in space to head [Garry] Parker’s chip down and back across the goal for Marshy, my ‘smash and grab’ mate, to sweep the ball in from close range. 

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Christian Vieri
Christian Vieri

A Christian Vieri spot-kick ultimately sealed a first-leg success for Atlético.

“We couldn’t believe we’d gone ahead. It was a terrific start and gave us the momentum in the game to try and come out with a win. After that, every time the ball was pumped into the air, I thought: ‘We’re going to win this. Never mind us just coming here to get a draw out of the game.’ 

“In those days, the away goal was vital. I always felt that once you get that away goal, that was our job more or less done. However, we couldn’t see the game out. It was difficult. Marshy went off injured and I did my hamstring. I played the whole game with it, as you do. I was carrying the injury in the second half but thankfully I got through the game.” 

Leicester held their lead until the 70th minute, when Juninho scored. Two minutes later, Vieri netted a hotly-disputed penalty. This was his first goal for his new club. 

“It was Juninho who was causing us the problems,” Steve continued. “He levelled the score with a deflected shot. Then they got a penalty. When I look back, it might have been a penalty but we felt harshly done by. It was awarded because Steve Guppy made an innocuous challenge just inside the area. Vieri scored from the spot. 

I always felt that the team kind of needed me as captain at that time. There were certain things that I could do at the back, like getting Muzzy [Izzet] and Lenny (Neil Lennon) right. I don’t know. It might still have gone the other way.

Steve Walsh

“I remember Martin arguing with some officials after the game. We were harshly done by at times in that game. We knew that this could happen. You’ve just got to get on with it. It’s as simple as that. The whole experience of being in Spain was terrific, it really was. 

“After the game, I remember sitting with Martin at the top of this hotel and discussing it. He was happy. He felt that the referee had slightly favoured them, but as far as we were concerned we could win the home leg. 

“We played Leeds United away in the Premier League the following Saturday. I was carrying the hamstring injury and I got the winner, but just before half-time, I ripped all my hamstring so I was out for the home leg against Atlético. I was really gutted about that.” 

Leicester lost the home leg 2-0. 

“Juninho did the damage at Filbert Street again,” Steve continued. “Again we were the victims of disputed officiating by the referee.

“The defeat was really harsh to take. As captain, I really needed to be playing in that game. I always felt that the team kind of needed me as captain at that time. There were certain things that I could do at the back, like getting Muzzy [Izzet] and Lenny (Neil Lennon) right. I don’t know. It might still have gone the other way. 

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Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill

Martin O'Neill was left frustrated by refereeing decisions in both legs.

“Juninho was a genius. In the first leg, he had been man-marked but in the second leg he broke free and caused us problems. He was such a good player. He was the difference between the two teams and we lost 2-0. 

“It was one of the biggest bits of bad luck in my career. I’d picked up an injury and I had to watch the lads go out of the competition in the fashion that they did. It hurt me. Martin deserved to go further in that competition after what he’d orchestrated for that team. Unbelievable, really. 

“Again, after the game, he was fuming with the officials. He felt that once again we had been wronged by the referee. Sending Garry Parker off for a second yellow for taking a quick free-kick and then turning down penalties for us? Come on! You don’t get those decisions going for you when you are playing against teams like that.” 

Steve concluded by paying tribute to the support of the Leicester City fans for the tie against Atlético.

“I remember pictures being sent to me of my dad with the fans in the big square in Madrid. The Leicester fans came out in droves for the trip to Madrid. It was what they had wanted all their lives and it was sad for them when we were chucked out of the competition in that fashion. However, as a team, we gave a good account of ourselves, there’s no doubt about that. It was hard to lose but, typical Leicester, we had the spirit and the fight to go again. We wanted another go at Europe, learn from this one and be better equipped next time.” 

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