Danny Simpson

Former Player Remembers: Danny Simpson

Full-back Danny Simpson is a man who will be forever associated with the role he played in Leicester City's stunning 2015/16 Premier League title-winning season and the subsequent campaign in the UEFA Champions League.
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Danny, who celebrates his birthday today (Monday), spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson last month about his career in football. Simpson started his professional career at his boyhood club, Manchester United, and later won promotion to the Premier League with Sunderland, Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers.

He was famously a key member of the Leicester side which lifted the Club's first English top-flight table in 2016 and also reached the quarter-finals stage of the Champions League a year later.

Speaking over the festive period, against the backdrop of his former clubs City and United being separated by just a point in the Premier League, Eccles-born Simpson began by explaining how he joined the Red Devils.

“I’d had trials at Liverpool and Manchester City and they both said no,” he said. “Then United, the team I supported, offered me a trial and they took me on when I was about 11 or 12.

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Danny Simpson
Danny Simpson

Breaking through into first-team contention for Manchester United.

“Whilst I was still at school, I was coming through the ranks at United but when I was about 14 or 15, I wasn’t really growing so they kept me down for another year to see if I would get a bit bigger and stronger which I did. Then I signed full-time for the youth team, with players like Jonny Evans, Ryan Shawcross, Darron Gibson, Fraizer Campbell, and Tom Heaton, as well as Gerard Piqué and Giuseppe Rossi. They all went on to have good careers.”

Danny signed professional forms in January 2006 and then went on loan to Royal Antwerp in Belgium.

“I went with Jonny Evans, Darron Gibson and Fraizer Campbell,” Danny continued. “This was considered to be the pathway to the first team after you had played in the reserves. I spent a year at Antwerp (January 2006-January 2007). Ritchie De Laet was there too.

“Another part of my development was to be around the first team on a pre-season tour. I went to South Africa (in July 2006), playing against Kaizer Chiefs. I was around players like [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Paul] Scholes, Nani, [Patrice] Evra, [Ryan] Giggs and [Ole Gunnar] Solskjær. It was a very difficult squad to get into. Gary Neville, Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Owen Hargreaves could all play at right-back.

“That squad played a massive part in developing my mentality, inspiring me to take pressure and to want to win stuff.

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Danny Simpson
Danny Simpson

Danny toasts Newcastle's promotion back to the Premier League in 2010.

“The next part of my development was to go to Sunderland (in January 2007) with Jonny to play for Roy Keane and we got promoted to the Premier League.”

The following season (2007/08) Danny made his debut for Manchester United, playing three games, before going on loan to Ipswich Town for more first team knowhow.

During the 2008/09 season, Danny gained valuable Premier League experience on loan at Blackburn Rovers, managed by another ex-Manchester United player, Paul Ince.

However, after Ince was replaced by Sam Allardyce in December, Danny returned to Old Trafford before the end of the season.  

He added: “When I got back to United, the twins Rafael and Fábio were there and they were great players. At that time, Chris Hughton, who had spoken to Paul Ince, signed me for Newcastle. I wanted to play every week, which probably wouldn’t have happened at United.”

Newcastle United were promoted in Danny’s first season (2009/10) and he continued to be the Magpies’ first choice in the Premier League for the following three years.  

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Danny Simpson
Danny Simpson

Another promotion to the Premier League, with QPR, shortly before joining the Foxes.

“I had a great four years there,” Danny continued. “Every year we got better and better. There were United connections with Nicky Butt, Alan Smith and Danny Guthrie being there. Playing with [Hatem] Ben Arfa helped me when I played with Riyad [Mahrez] at Leicester because they were similar players.”

In June 2013, Danny signed for Queens Park Rangers, who had just been relegated from the Premier League.

“I couldn’t agree terms with Newcastle,” Danny explained. “I wanted to stay in the Premier League but Harry Redknapp rang me. He’s a top manager and he had players like Richard Dunne, Rob Green, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jermaine Jenas and Bobby Zamora in the squad. I wanted to help the team back into the Premier League, which I did that season (2013/14), when Leicester City went up as champions. We got promotion through the play-off final.”

In August of that year, Simpson left Rangers and signed for Nigel Pearson’s newly promoted Leicester City.  

Danny recalled: “There’s a picture of me and Wes Morgan standing next to each other as captains of QPR and Leicester in the King Power tunnel, with me obviously not knowing I was going to Leicester a few months later.

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Danny Simpson
Danny Simpson

Simpson joined the Foxes ahead of the Club's 'Great Escape' season in 2014/15.

“Moving was a bit of a shock, but Redknapp had signed Rio Ferdinand, and he told me he was willing to let me go. Forty-eight hours later, I was at Leicester’s training ground with ex-United lads Danny Drinkwater, Matty James and Ritchie De Laet.

“Nigel Pearson had built a very close dressing room. I knew it was going to be a tough task to replace Ritchie, but Nigel and Craig Shakespeare were brilliant with me and the players were a great bunch of lads. I learnt a lot there.”

Following the 2015 ‘Great Escape’ from relegation, Pearson left Leicester City at the end of Danny’s first season at King Power Stadium.

The following season, with Claudio Ranieri in charge, the Foxes famously won the Premier League.

“What Nigel and his staff had built up behind the scenes played a big part in the Club winning the Premier League,” Danny reflected. “Claudio brought ideas in and helped me with my game defensively. After we’d lost to Arsenal 5-2 at home at the end of September, he went with a back four, bringing me and Christian Fuchs into the side.

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Leicester City lift the Premier League trophy
Leicester City lift the Premier League trophy

The greatest moment in Leicester City's history.

“That season, we were in our own little bubble. The more people doubted us, the less we cared about who we were playing. We went into games thinking: ‘We don’t care who you are. This is what we are going to do.’ We felt that we were going to win every game, keep focused and go against everything that was supposed to happen. As a group, we had a lot to prove and it all just gelled.”

In February, City lost to Arsenal for what was only their third (and final) defeat of the season. Arsenal scored a 95th-minute winning goal, after Danny had been sent off on the hour.

“I still don’t think I should have been sent off,” said Danny. “They celebrated beating us as if they’d won the FA Cup! Claudio told us to go away for a week, clear our minds and come back ready to go again, and that’s what we did.”

This worked. Leicester City were undefeated for the rest of the season.

On 1 May, the team went to Old Trafford, knowing that a win there would secure the Premier League title.

“That’s the only game when I was scared,” Danny said. “I remember sitting with Danny Drinkwater in the Marriott Hotel in Worsley when Patrice Evra, who I knew very well, phoned. He used to help me a lot when I was at United. He said: ‘Good luck. Enjoy the game. Who would have thought you might win the Premier League at Old Trafford?’

I’d give anything to go back to that night! Everyone was crying, screaming and dragging people around. It was a special night with a special group of players.

Danny Simpson

“We drew 1-1, but I’m actually glad we just got a point because otherwise we wouldn’t have gone to Jamie [Vardy's] house the next day when Chelsea drew with Spurs, which meant we had won the Premier League. I’d give anything to go back to that night! Everyone was crying, screaming and dragging people around. It was a special night with a special group of players. We’ve got a special place in each other’s hearts because we worked so hard to win that league.

“I think we celebrated all week but we played really well against Everton in the last home match on the day of the trophy lift. We won 3-1 but Kasper [Schmeichel], who was going for the Golden Glove award, was fuming that we conceded a late goal, even though in about another 30 minutes we were going to lift the Premier League trophy. It goes to show the type of character Kasper is.”

The last game of the season was at Chelsea.

Danny continued: “We didn’t want to finish the season with a loss. It was special when they gave us a guard of honour, clapping us for our achievements. Drinky (Danny Drinkwater) scored, we drew and we finished the season off with our heads held high. Then, there was the open top bus tour through Leicester. I’ve still got the videos. Everyone turned out for us to celebrate what we’d done. We’d made so many people happy and I hope that they will never, ever forget.

“I sometimes think: ‘Did I take it all in enough?’ It such a whirlwind going from one week to another and none of us were used to it. That month was such a special time.”

That season, Shakespeare replaced Ranieri as manager and the Club recovered from a disappointing run of form to finish in 12th place.

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Danny Simpson
Danny Simpson

Delirious celebrations after defeating Sevilla in the Champions League.

They did, however, win their group in the UEFA Champions League and then progress to the quarter-finals, beating Sevilla in the Round of 16 over two legs.

Danny remembered: “I don’t think this gets spoken about enough. We were the only English team in the last eight and those two (quarter-final) games against Atlético Madrid could have gone very differently.

“We lost 1-0 in Madrid to a penalty that should have been a free-kick. If we’d had VAR then we could’ve gone back to Leicester with a 0-0 score and I personally believe we could have got through to the semi-final. Those night games at King Power Stadium with the fans behind us would intimidate any team. Coming back from 1-0 was always going to be difficult. We drew 1-1 at home but their away goal killed us.”

The following season, Danny was regularly picked by Claude Puel following Shakespeare’s departure, but the season after that was Danny’s final season at King Power Stadium.

“A little man called Ricardo [Pereira] turned up, didn’t he?” Danny reflected. “He is one of the best right-backs in the country. I didn’t want to be second choice when I’d been playing every week, but part of me looks back now and thinks maybe I could have played a role, especially under Brendan [Rodgers], learnt a lot and been part of the dressing room for just another year.

“I spent last season at Huddersfield and I’m currently coming back from quite a big injury. I want to give playing another go, but I’m enjoying working in TV. I’ve been working with MUTV for over a year now and I’m also working with BT Sport.

“Leicester is in my heart,” Danny concluded. “My two teams are Leicester and United. I’m still friends for life with all the Leicester lads and I still watch and support them.”

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