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Former Player Remembers: Mike Stringfellow (Part One)

In the first instalment of a two part interview, Mike Stringfellow spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his time at Filbert Street in the 1960s when Matt Gillies was the manager.
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Stringfellow is one of City’s legendary players. Between 1962 and 1975, he made 370 appearances for the Club, scoring 97 goals.

Only 12 players have made more appearances and only seven players have scored more goals in the Club’s history.

On 12 October, 1960, Leicester played their first-ever game in the newly-established League Cup. Their opponents, in front of a Filbert Street crowd of just over 7,000, were Fourth Division Mansfield Town.

Playing on the left wing for the visitors that night was a 17-year-old called Mike Stringfellow.

Thinking back, Mike recalled: “I remember we got well beaten. If I recall correctly we lost 4-0. I was up against Ian King, who was at right-back. I was dropped after the game! Raich Carter was the manager, he was ultra confident. He did well at Mansfield, he was building a young team which eventually got promoted in 1963.”

In January 1962, after playing 65 games for the Stags, Mike was transferred to Leicester for a fee of £25,000. This was the highest price ever paid for an 18-year-old at that time.

City manager Gillies had already tried to sign him twice earlier in the season. The same month, Davie Gibson was also secured for a similar fee.

Both players made their home debut against Fulham on 3 February, 1962 and, in subsequent years, they formed a renowned left-sided partnership.

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Mike Stringfellow
Mike Stringfellow

Stringfellow signed for the Club from Mansfield Town in 1962.

“I didn’t know Leicester had already tried to sign me,” Mike continued. “We didn’t used to know anything really. It’s totally different now, with agents. At Mansfield, we used to play our home games on Monday nights.

"After a game against Millwall, which I think we won about 3-0, I got a phone call the next day, about lunch time, saying the chairman wanted to see me, so I went to the chairman’s factory and that’s where I met up with two Leicester directors, Mr. Needham and Mr. Sharp. I signed there and then near enough.”

For the remainder of the season, Mike established himself in City’s first team. He was seen as the successor on the left wing to Gordon Wills.

The following season (1962/63), when Leicester were realistic contenders to win the League and FA Cup double, Mike scored an impressive 17 league goals and two cup goals from the wing.

“Sometimes you have spells when things go right for you,” Mike reflected. “The ball sometimes seems to drop for you. I started the season like a house on fire! I scored six goals in my first four games. Then, before the next game against Bolton, I felt a little twinge behind my leg. I’d never had an injury before so I wasn’t bothered.

"Anyway, I played the game on the Saturday against Bolton and my leg stiffened up. The next Tuesday, we were away at Burnley. Things are done differently now, but I had a big strapping on my leg.

"Then, after about 20 minutes, Gibbo (Davie Gibson) hit a ball over the top for me to run on to and as I was running, my leg went and I was out for about seven weeks.

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Leicester City 1963
Leicester City 1963

Leicester City became known as the ‘Ice Kings’ during Stringfellow's first full season at the Club.

“Davie was a very good player. He was a confident guy. He had a good first touch, good vision, and he was an accurate passer of the ball.

"Davie and I hit it off straight away. I often wonder whether people plan things or whether they just happen. I think they just happen to be quite honest.

“Howard Riley was a great player to have in the team because I was tall and playing on the left wing and Howard was on the right wing.

"He was a tremendous crosser of the ball, so he was made to measure for crossing the ball for me and for (centre forward) Ken Keyworth. I don’t know how many headers I scored because of this. 

"A good few were from Howard’s crosses on the right wing.”

On 16 April, 1963, during Mike’s first full season, following a severe winter, during which Leicester were given the nickname the ‘Ice Kings’ because of their run of 10 consecutive League and Cup wins, City went to the top of the First Division.

This was after defeating Manchester United 4-3 at Filbert Street with both Ken Keyworth and Denis Law scoring hat-tricks.

Eleven days later, Leicester faced Bill Shankly’s Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough, with Mike scoring the only goal of the game.

Liverpool’s left-back, Ronnie Moran, handled the ball 15 yards inside the Liverpool half.

Howard Riley’s free-kick was driven perfectly towards the far post and the dynamic Mike out-jumped the Liverpool defenders to score with a header into the left-hand corner of the net.

Thinking back to this game, Mike continued: “Graham Cross, sometimes interchanging with Frank McLintock, would drop back and play alongside (centre-half) Ian King.

"This was the beginning of the back four, because before that, wing-halves used to play just in front of the defence - we drew one man back.

"Leicester were one of the first teams to do this and play a back four. Shankly said afterwards that the way we played was a disgrace, but the next season he had Liverpool playing the same way!”

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Mike Stringfellow
Mike Stringfellow

City's No.11 jumps for the ball with Manchester United 'keeper David Gaskell during the 1963 FA Cup Final.

FA Cup finalists and top of the table with only five games to go, Leicester fans had high hopes of winning a League and cup double. However, in those days before substitutes, injuries and fatigue caught up with the team.

They drew one and lost four of their last five games, finishing fourth. They also lost the FA Cup Final to relegation fighting Manchester United.

“If you talked to anybody who played that day,” Mike reflected, “they’d probably say it was the most disappointing day of their career.

"We were on this bad run towards the end of the season and we weren’t playing well. I don’t know how big the squad was but it wasn’t as big as squads these days.

"In the sixties, when Manchester United won the European Cup, Bobby Charlton played sixty games in the season - that wouldn’t happen now. Also there were no substitutes then, you played the full match.

"When I was watching a game at the stadium, somebody brought a programme for me to sign. It was from a friendly match we’d played against a German side in about October.

"Today they’d probably use about 10 substitutes for a friendly like this. Looking at the programme, I saw that we played our normal side, with Gordon Banks, Davie Gibson and the rest.

“If we had good cup runs we’d be playing over 50 games a season. I remember Alan Hansen saying on the TV that when Liverpool won one of their league titles, they’d only used 13 players.

"How many games would those guys have played in if they had a cup run too?”

I can see those goals now in my mind. In those days it (the League Cup) wasn’t a really big tournament to win, but you still had to come out top over about ninety teams.

Mike Stringfellow

The following season, Mike was selected for the England Under-23 side, but injury prevented him playing.

“I think it was a hamstring injury,” Mike explained. “It lasted for ages. I could manage to play on a Saturday, but I wouldn’t recover by midweek, so I couldn’t play.

"I wasn’t that bothered at the time because I thought I might have another chance, but it didn’t happen.”

In 1964, Mike was in the team which won the League Cup, scoring in the two-legged semi-final victory against West Ham United and netting again in the final in the two-legged victory over Stoke City.

“I can see those goals now in my mind,” Mike said. “In those days, it wasn’t a really big tournament to win, but you still had to come out on top over about 90 teams.”

For Mike’s first seven seasons at Filbert Street, Leicester City’s manager was Gillies and the first team coach was Bert Johnson.

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Leicester City 1967/68
Leicester City 1967/68

City's 1967/68 squad featured a young Peter Shilton in goal, pictured to the right of Stringfellow.

“I got on alright with both of them,” Mike reflected. “But I didn’t really have much to do with Matt Gillies. Bert Johnson used to take the training.

"When we’d sometimes see Matt Gillies if he turned up at Belvoir Drive to watch us training, we’d wonder what he was doing there!"

In January 1968, Gillies was ordered to take three months off on medical grounds. Johnson took charge for the rest of the season and for the close season tour to Zambia.

Gillies returned the following season but left the Club after 10 years as a manager and nearly 17 years after he’d arrived at Filbert Street as a player in January 1952.

His resignation, in protest at the sacking of Johnson, was announced on the day that Leicester City lost 7-1 at Everton on 30 November, 1968.

“On that day, we were bottom of the league,” Mike continued. “Bert had to go didn’t he? Why they decided that, I don’t know, but then Gillies said: ‘Well, if he goes, I’ll go as well.’

“It was at this time that my injuries started to kick in. I didn’t play in the Everton game, which was a disaster. I’d injured my knee in the game before.

"That’s when my injury problems started. Eventually, I had a cartilage out, then the knee was continually ballooning up.

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Mike Stringfellow
Mike Stringfellow

Stringfellow pictured in action for the Foxes against Manchester City at Maine Road in April 1969.

"I used to get a syringe stuck in to draw the fluid off. This was continual so I had to have another cartilage out in the same knee. I was never the same again, to be honest. It was never really right again.”

Despite this, and subsequent injury issues, Mike, although missing the 1969 FA Cup Final through injury, went on to play for the Club for another six seasons first under Frank O’Farrell and then Jimmy Bloomfield.

He was no longer the very pacy and high goalscoring left winger of his first eight years at the Club, but as we shall see in part two of this interview, his courage and determination to overcome his injury nightmares enabled him to readjust to a new role within the team.

Highlights of this second phase of Mike’s Leicester career included the FA Cup Semi-Final replay against Liverpool in 1974 and scoring in his last start for the Club, a match against Tottenham Hotspur in 1975.

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