Steve Earle

Former Player Remembers: Steve Earle

Last month, Club Historian John Hutchinson spoke to Steve Earle, a Leicester City favourite who made a big impact on the Blue Army over 115 appearances for the Foxes, many as Frank Worthington's strike partner.
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From his home in Tulsa, Steve recalled starring alongside Johnny Haynes, Bobby Robson and George Cohen, signing for Jimmy Bloomfield’s Leicester, and being inducted into Oklahoma’s Soccer Hall of Fame.  

Feltham-born Steve began by recalling how he began his career at Fulham in 1961: “It was strange really. As a youngster I used to play three or four times at weekends for school and for men’s teams. I was going to go to Crystal Palace, but our next door neighbour was a big Fulham fan. He knew their scout, Eddie Parry, and through him Fulham invited my mum and dad to Craven Cottage. They gave my dad a few whiskies and I ended up signing for Fulham! I’d never ever been there. On my first day, I didn’t know how to get there so they told me to get the train to Putney and then a number 30 bus. Well, I did that, got the bus but I ended up in Roehampton. I’d gone the wrong way!”

Steve signed professional forms for top-flight Fulham in November 1963. His team-mates at that time included three big names in English football history.

Haynes had captained England and was the first player to earn £100 per week, following the abolition of the maximum wage in 1961.

Robson, in his second spell at the club, had also played for England and was to become a world renowned manager. There was also Cohen, who later played in England’s World Cup winning team in 1966.

“We had some great players at Fulham then,” Steve recalled. “The only thing I regret a little bit about Fulham was that when I got into the team as a 17 or 18-year-old, most of the players were in their late twenties or thirties, so I didn’t have any social life with them basically. My friends were still the guys I went to school with.

“Johnny was absolutely the best. He was a gentleman on and off the pitch. On the field, he was a tough taskmaster. It didn’t bother him whether you were 17 or 25, if you made a mistake, you heard about it.

“I used to share a room with Bobby. What a great guy he was! I remember we went one time on a tour to Singapore. On the room list, the manager put me with Bobby. He hated snakes so I bought a plastic snake and put it in his bed.

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Steve Earle
Steve Earle

Steve Earle, pictured in 1967, made a name for himself at Fulham.

“If you squeezed it, it moved. Oh dear! He jumped into bed and then jumped straight out of it again! He began whacking the bed with his shoe, trying to hit whatever was under the blanket. He ended up chasing me round the Raffles Hotel for about half an hour!”

Steve then reflected on some of the other players who were team-mates at Fulham: “Tony Macedo was the goalkeeper. We had Jimmy Langley, Bill Dodgin and (future Spurs and England player) Alan Mullery. We also had winger Graham Leggat. He was as brave as a lion and scored a lot of goals. Marshy (Rodney Marsh) was there too. He was a different type of character and used to rub the manager up the wrong way!”

Later on, two other colleagues of Steve at Craven Cottage were Frank Large and Allan Clarke, both of whom had Leicester City connections.

Filbert Street cult hero Large went to Fulham in June 1968 as part of the deal which brought Fulham striker Allan Clarke to Leicester for a British record transfer fee of £150,000.

“Clarkey was a different character as well,” Steve said. “He had the best house, the best car, the best this, the best that. Everything was the best. He was a great goalscorer. He used to practice on his own, just getting the ball in the box at a certain angle, and he used to hit it without even looking and it would go straight into the corner. He just practiced it and practiced it. He was tall and skinny and very brave. He used to leave his foot in every now and again. He was a good player.

“Frank was a lovely guy. A super nice fella, but he just didn’t have a good time at Fulham. He just couldn’t score a goal. He would try and try but he was smashing the goalposts. Sometimes it goes like that, you know!”

Fulham were relegated from the top flight in 1968 and slipped to the Third Division in 1969.  

“We had just avoided relegation from the top division in 1966,” Steve continued. “But I scored a hat-trick against Northampton Town in the last game of the season. This meant that Northampton were relegated instead of us and the result kept Fulham in the old First Division until we were relegated in 1968.

“Fulham were building the new Riverside Stand and they were relegated whilst that was being built. It put a dent in the finances. They didn’t have any money to buy new players. They started to bring players in on free transfers and giving them good sign-on bonuses which didn’t go down too well with players that had been there a long time. When it looked as though we were going down to the Second Division, they started blooding a lot of young players with a view to selling them later if they did well.”

For part of this time, Robson was manager at Craven Cottage.

All of a sudden, I hear this car coming into the carpark on two wheels. It was a big American Mustang. It pulled up right next to me, and who got out? Frank Worthington, wearing a cowboy hat, a leather waistcoat, and the tightest pair of jeans you’d ever seen! I just thought ‘What am I doing here?!

Steve Earle

“It was difficult for him,” Steve said. “He had to manage players he’d played with for years, like Johnny and George. It wasn’t a problem for me. He was an absolute gentleman. A super nice guy.”

Steve spent two seasons in the Third Division with Fulham, before they were promoted back to the second tier in 1971. During this time, Steve scored five times in an 8-0 victory at Halifax Town.

In November 1973, after 10 years at Craven Cottage, Steve returned to top flight football when City manager Bloomfield brought him to Filbert Street as a partner for Worthington for a fee of £100,000.

“At the time, it looked as though I was going to Chelsea,” Steve explained. “Chelsea’s manager, Dave Sexton, had been a trainer at Fulham and in the past, he’d wanted to take me and (Fulham team-mate) John Dempsey to Arsenal when he became coach there. But that never came through. One day, (Fulham manager) Alec Stock called me in to tell me that Leicester had made an offer for me. Then he said: ‘If you wait until Friday, I can get another £20,000 for you from Chelsea’. But I thought: ‘No, I’ll go to Leicester’. Jimmy came down and I met him in the Crooked Billet restaurant in Staines, which is where I signed.

“The next day, I drove up to Leicester. I was waiting in the carpark at Filbert Street, feeling really nervous because I didn’t know any of the guys there. All of a sudden, I hear this car coming into the carpark on two wheels. It was a big American Mustang. It pulled up right next to me, and who got out? Frank Worthington, wearing a cowboy hat, a leather waistcoat, and the tightest pair of jeans you’d ever seen! I just thought ‘What am I doing here?!’”

Steve played alongside Frank in every one of the remaining 34 league and FA Cup games that season.

“Frank was a great player,” Steve reflected. “He was different. He had a wonderful left foot. He could do things that nobody else could do. It was just unbelievable!

“My debut was against Spurs. I’d only come up to Leicester a couple of days before and had just had a tooth out due to an abscess but I had so much adrenaline in the game that I didn’t feel anything. I just wanted to play. Fortunately, I scored with a header and we won 3-0. That was a good start.”

That season, with a team containing Steve, together with Peter Shilton, Steve Whitworth, Dennis Rofe, Graham Cross, John Sjoberg, Jon Sammels, Alan Birchenall, Keith Weller, Len Glover and Worthington, Bloomfield’s side played entertaining football, finished in the top half of the table and reached the FA Cup Semi-Final against Liverpool.

Thinking back, Steve continued: “We had a good team. We were in the semi-final draw along with Burnley, Newcastle and Liverpool. We felt that if we got Burnley of Newcastle we’d be in the final, but we drew Liverpool! It was 0-0 at Old Trafford but we lost the replay 3-1.

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Steve Earle at Fulham
Steve Earle at Fulham

Alongside a glittering array of names at Fulham in 1968.

“Jimmy was very good for me. He liked players who could play. When he played with us in practice, he was as good as anybody out there. I enjoyed my time at Leicester. I had a bit of a lull in my third season, but I got back in the side in the season before I left, when Frank and I scored 27 goals between us. He got 14, I got 13.”

Despite finishing 11th in the top flight, Bloomfield was replaced as manager by the ex-Leicester City star Frank McLintock for the 1977/78 season, which ended with him leaving before the inevitable relegation was confirmed.

In November 1977, Steve went loan to Peterborough United: “I’d drive out there and nobody trained! Players were exercising their greyhounds! I played one game and decided I didn’t want to do this anymore.”

Later that season, in March 1978, Steve signed for Detroit Express.

“When you’re getting to the end of your career, you could either go down the divisions or go to America,” Steve explained. “Keith, Sammy (Sammels) and Birch (Alan Birchenall) all went there. Every man and his dog wanted to go to America. You could earn twice as much money and experience a different lifestyle.

“Later, I went to Tulsa Roughnecks in the NASL and then I got my green card so I could play indoor soccer with Wichita Wings for a year. They wanted me to stay, but I returned to Tulsa Roughnecks as assistant coach to (Wales international defender) Terry Hennessey. We won the Soccer Bowl in 1983 but soon after we won it, the team folded. I’d got two kids at school. I had to get a real job, so I went into the insurance business for about 30 years.”

Steve also coached youth teams in the Tulsa area, winning over 30 state championships with his teams through the years. This achievement resulted in him being inducted into the Oklahoma Soccer Hall of Fame in January 2010.

Steve still lives in Tulsa.

“I love going back to England,” he concluded. “But it’s too hectic there for me now, whereas here it’s easy and laid back. It’s a good lifestyle really.”

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