Mike Stringfellow

Former Player Remembers: Mike Stringfellow (Part Two)

In the second instalment of an interview with Club Historian John Hutchinson, Mike Stringfellow spoke about how he coped with and adjusted to his injuries, and about his life after football.
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When Stringfellow retired after playing for Leicester City between 1962 and 1975, he was only the second player in the Club’s history to feature in the top 10 records for both appearances and goals scored. This was despite his career being dented by injuries in his later years at Filbert Street.

In part one of this interview, Mike, who was a goalscoring and speedy left winger, recalled the highlights of his career at Filbert Street during the 1960s playing for manager Matt Gillies.

This phase of his career saw him establish a renowned partnership with inside-left Davie Gibson, play in the 1963 FA Cup Final, win the League Cup in 1964, and star in the League Cup Final in 1965. The vast majority of his league matches were in the top flight.

During the 1968/69 season, however, his career began to be blighted by injuries, causing him to miss the 1969 FA Cup Final.

Up until this point, Mike been a first team regular since his debut in January 1962 and he scored consistently from the wing - his goal tally never failing to reach double figures in his first six seasons.

He was even the Club’s top scorer in 1967/68. In addition, he also created many goals for other players with his crosses. He was a key player for the Foxes.

“I finished playing when I was about 31,” Mike remembered. “But I got injured when I was about 26 or 27. My knee injury in 1968 kept ballooning up and on top of that I developed Achilles tendon trouble in the same leg. This achilles injury dragged on. It used to be agony getting out of bed first thing in the morning.

"When my achilles went, I broke down and fell in a heap onto the pitch. Achilles tendon injuries are nasty, nasty injuries and you take a long time to recover. The specialist actually said to me that I’d be alright but that I’d never be good enough to play professional football again. Then, lo and behold, after about six months, the achilles suddenly felt alright and I started training again. It was uncanny. That injury never gave me any trouble again.

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Leicester City 1968/69

Stringfellow would miss the majority of the 1968/69 season through injury.

"I never had a problem with my achilles after that. Looking back, I thought I was really finished and I can’t imagine how it happened, and how I was able to carry on playing for about six more years. However, my knee was never right again. I lost a yard or two of pace.

"I wasn’t able to get to the balls that I used to get and I was struggling. Every time I had an operation they said I’d be alright but I wasn’t! First, I had my outside cartilage out on my right knee, and that wasn’t right. Then, five months later, I had the inside cartilage out.”

As a result of these injuries, Mike was only able to play in a handful of games under manager Frank O’Farrell between December 1968 and May 1971.

“All the while Frank was there, I wasn’t able to train properly and when I did play, I wasn't properly fit and that lasted for about three years,” Mike recalled. “It was really hard. I didn’t really get on with Frank O’Farrell, but I can understand it from his point of view as I was never fit all the time he was here. He was probably thinking: ‘Who is this guy? If it’s not one thing it’s another!’

“There was a player at the time called Terry Hennessey, who played for Forest and Derby. He had exactly the same injuries as me but I was six months in front of him. His achilles went playing against Tottenham and he was stretchered off. After his operation, we had a charity cricket match against Derby and he was there only a month after his operation.

"I was surprised to see him. I asked him if he could run. He said he couldn’t but that (Derby County manager) Brian Clough had told him he had to play as wicket keeper because he was hanging about too much!”

When Jimmy Bloomfield arrived to take over from O’Farrell in July 1971, Mike was still injured and he didn’t play at all in Bloomfield’s first season, in 1971/72. He did, however, recover enough to play 16 league and cup appearances (five as substitute) in 1972/73, and 27 league and cup appearances (seven from the bench) in 1973/74.

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Mike Stringfellow

Stringfellow pictured in action against Tottenham Hotspur during the 1972/73 season.

These appearances included a place in the starting line up in the 1974 FA Cup Semi-Final replay against Liverpool at Villa Park, 11 years after he had scored the winner against Liverpool in the 1963 FA Cup last-four

“After three bad years, I was only a bit part player by then,” Mike continued. “But it was nice, I enjoyed it when I played. I enjoyed coming on as sub and it was great for two years. Sometimes I played at centre-forward.

“I was going to leave the Club at the end of the season (1974) but then Jimmy suddenly changed his mind. He wanted me to stay. He told me that because he wanted to make sure I was fit on a Saturday he didn’t want me to bother training. I thought! ‘That suits me! I’ll go with that.’"

The following season was Mike’s last at Filbert Street. His final start for the Club was against Tottenham Hotspur on 22 February, 1975. It was also the game when he scored the last of his 97 goals for the Foxes. Mike remembers it well.

“My last game was at White Hart Lane," he recalled. "It was a big game because Tottenham were near the bottom of the table and so were we. We’d been on a disastrous run. We hadn’t won for about 14 games.

"We were bottom and they were about three points above us, but we had two games in hand. If they won they would be six points ahead but if we won we would be level. We had to win our games in hand.

“We won 3-0. I didn’t really think I’d be playing. I didn’t know until just after our meal before the game. Jimmy just said: ‘How do you feel? Are you alright?’ I said: ‘Yes, I’m alright’. He said: ‘Well, you’ll be playing today. You’ll be playing on the wing.’

That was it, I never played again. I knew by then I would finish at the end of the season, I don’t know if I was actually told, I just assumed that it was the end. Those thirteen years just flew by.

Mike Stringfellow

“I scored too! It was fate and about being in the right place at the right time. I can’t remember who crossed the ball, it might have been Steve Whitworth. Anyway, Frank Worthington mis-hit it and the ball came to me. I was about three yards out and I scored, that was the first goal.

"Later on, I headed one down for Frank to smash in the second goal, so I had a good game. Jon Sammels scored the third. It was one of Jeff Blockley’s first games for us after he’d joined us from Arsenal. I think we won about the next five games on the bounce after that and we shot up the table.

“That was it, I never played again. I knew by then I would finish at the end of the season, I don’t know if I was actually told, I just assumed that it was the end. Those 13 years just flew by.”

At the end of the season, in recognition of Mike’s outstanding contribution to Leicester City, he was awarded a testimonial match against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Filbert Street. The score was 2-2 with Keith Weller and Richard Wilcox scoring for the home side at Filbert Street.

The testimonial was well deserved. Since his debut in January 1962, Mike had made 370 appearances for the Club and scored 97 goals. At the time, these statistics placed Mike in the top 10 lists for both the all-time number of appearances for Leicester City and for the number of goals scored, a truly remarkable achievement. The only other player to appear in both charts had been Arthur Chandler.

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Mike Stringfellow

The forward challenges Tottenham 'keeper Pat Jennings and captain Mike England for the ball during a league match at White Hart Lane in December 1966.

Reflecting on his time at Filbert Street, the conversation turned to Mike’s most difficult opponents and a Republic of Ireland international full-back who played well over 400 games for Manchester United in the 1960s and early 1970s.

“There were quite a few,” Mike said. “But one player I never really played well against was Manchester United’s Tony Dunne. I was up against him in the 1963 FA Cup Final too. He was a hard player but fair.”

After a brief spell playing for Nuneaton Borough, Mike hung up his boots.

Thinking back, Mike said: “When people stop playing you hear that certain players can’t adjust. Probably the more famous you are the more difficult it can be. In my day, even the best players you’d ever seen like Bobby Charlton had to work when they finished playing. You have to set up another life for yourself. I’ve been lucky actually, things just seemed to drop into place at the right time.

“In November 1975, I became landlord of the Plough at Littlethorpe, a pub I drank in. This followed a casual conversation with the retiring landlord who asked me if I fancied taking over the pub when he had gone and after a training course at Buxton I was accepted by Everards Brewery and I took out a three-year tenancy.

“I really enjoyed being the landlord. It was a busy pub, particularly in the long hot summer of 1976 with people sitting and drinking both outside the pub and in the adjacent park. 

"Running the pub was hard work, even though the licensing hours were limited. In those days, the pub opened from 12pm-2pm and from 6pm until 10.30pm, extended until 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays. The pub used to do lunchtime snacks and the skittle alley was always very popular, as was the darts team.

“The rent was £30 per week which was double that paid by my predecessor, at a time when the price of beer was only 20p a pint. Former team-mates like Jeff Blockley and Dennis Rofe, who both lived locally, used to visit the pub.”

Although they enjoyed the life, Mike and his wife left the pub when the tenancy expired in November 1978 as they had two young children at the time. For the next few years, Mike worked for Victoria Wine. In 1985, he become a newsagent for the best part of 20 years in Sutton-in-Ashfield before retiring.

Until lockdown, Mike was a familiar figure on matchdays at King Power Stadium, rarely missing a game. We look forward to seeing him again when fans are allowed back into the stadium.

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