On Sunday, the Foxes return to the last-four stage for the first time in 39 years when they face Southampton at Wembley Stadium (6:30pm BST kick-off). City’s last semi-final, though, resulted in a 2-0 defeat for Jock Wallace’s young side by Tottenham Hotspur at Villa Park.
Two years earlier, Leicester had been promoted to the top tier as Second Division champions, only to be relegated again the following season. By the time of the semi-final, they were on the fringes of a promotion race in sixth place, but this was in the days before the play-offs had been introduced.
Only the top three sides went up. The Foxes' best chance for glory that season was in the FA Cup. Wallace, however, was optimistic about the outcome. On the day before the game, he was reported as saying: “We have a great depth of understanding in our side.
“They are so confident. There is not a hint of fear about tomorrow’s match. Every individual player has to pass his own test. There are suggestions that the younger players may freeze, but I can’t see that. I don’t care about Spurs. I feel personally that we are favourites for victory.
“That will be the mood that we carry into the game.”
Jim Melrose was a Club record signing at Filbert Street in July 1980.
The reality was very different. John O’Neill was City’s Northern Ireland international centre-back at Villa Park. His analysis of the game was succinct and to the point.
“Spurs had class players like Ossie Ardiles, Ricky Villa and Glenn Hoddle in their side,” he said. “We didn’t do as well as we could have done. I don’t think we troubled them at all.”
John’s fellow defender, Larry May, agreed: “It all went wrong that day. Villa Park was packed to the rafters and that’s the sort of game you want to play in. I really thought we could beat Spurs but we just didn’t play. Ian Wilson scored an own goal from about 35 yards out and it went into the top corner.
“I also remember hearing the big crack when Tommy Williams broke his leg. Gary Lineker was up front and, within the first five minutes, Graham Roberts whacked him which didn’t help. It would have been lovely to have got to the final, but they had some really good players and they were a good cup side.”
Young England Under-21s midfielder Andy Peake agreed.
“The reason we lost was because we froze,” he added. “From that day onwards, I thought that whatever sport I’m playing in, if I fail it wouldn’t be because I was nervous. We’d had a great cup run. We started off against Southampton, beating them 3-1 at Filbert Street.
“Youngy (Alan Young) scored with a great header. Then we played at Hereford in the fourth round, which was probably the hardest game. We won 1-0. Larry May scored. In the fifth round, we beat Watford 2-0. Then came the sixth round tie against Shrewsbury when we had to play with three 'keepers.
Alan Young & Steve Lynex
Striker Alan Young changes into a goalkeeper kit, replacing Steve Lynex in goal, against Shrewsbury.
“Chic Bates hurt Wally’s (Mark Wallington’s) leg, causing him to miss his first game for nearly seven years. Youngy went into goal, got injured and was replaced by Steve Lynex until Youngy came back in! We won 5-2.
“This took us to the semi-final against Spurs, one of the biggest games I’d played in. We were a good side and should have got promoted that season but we didn’t turn up for the semi-final. Ian Wilson scored an own goal and Tommy Williams broke his leg.
“Tottenham had some great players: Ardiles and Hoddle, with Garth Crooks and Steve Archibald up front too.”
City’s captain and goalkeeper, Mark Wallington, recalls: “We were absolutely delighted to draw Shrewsbury in the quarter-final. We were confident that we would go through. Unfortunately circumstances dictated. I was injured in a clash with Chic Bates and we had to play three goalkeepers in the end as the goalkeeper stand-in Alan Young got injured and had to be temporarily replaced in turn by Steve Lynex.”
Leicester won the quarter-final tie 5-2, but Mark’s injury ended his run of being an ever-present for six-and-a-half consecutive seasons, establishing a Club record of playing in 331 consecutive games.
Mark Wallington made 460 first team appearances for Leicester City.
Mark had recovered, however, in time for the semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur at Villa Park: “We got it wrong in the semi-final. We lost 2-0 against a quality Spurs side which had Ossie Ardiles and Glenn Hoddle with Ray Clemence in goal. I remember Garth Crooks scoring first and then Ian Wilson scored an unfortunate own goal. On top of that, Tommy Williams broke his leg. It wasn’t going to be our day.”
Defender Tommy Williams, on the other hand, concurred. It was him who suffered a broken leg in the tie which came to define City's bad fortune in Birmingham.
He said: “The thing I remember is that we were well outclassed. Men against boys. Tottenham, with Ardiles and Hoddle, were far better than us. The pitch at Villa Park was awful. It was all sand. It was really bad.
“I broke my leg in the game. The one thing in my life that I regret was making that tackle on Tony Galvin. The following season, I broke my leg again in a training ground accident with Dave Buchanan. This set me back another eight months. I lost about a year-and-a-half. You don’t feel part of the team because you are training on your own most of the time. And it is an effort to get back to the level of fitness that you had. In those days, there was only one physio at the Club. There wasn’t the type of fitness programme that players nowadays would have.”
Unfortunately, I scored an own goal in the semi-final. For the first time in about 15 years, Mark came off his line when I passed back to him!Ian Wilson
Midfielder and future Scotland international Ian Wilson also ruefully recalled the match.
“We had a fantastic run in the FA Cup,” he explained. “Unfortunately, I scored an own goal in the semi-final. For the first time in about 15 years, Mark came off his line when I passed back to him!
“It wasn’t to be. Spurs had some top players like Ardiles, Hoddle and Crooks. Losing was a huge disappointment.”
Eddie Kelly, who had been an FA Cup winner with Arsenal in 1971, also remembered the clash with Spurs: “Spurs had a fantastic team. They had Glenn Hoddle, Micky Hazard and Ossie Ardiles. We were a young side. On the day they were far better than us.
“Tommy Williams broke his leg. Ian Wilson scored an own goal. That’s life! After the game, I just wanted to get away from there. Spurs were too good for us. Even though by half-time, we had taken their good play and not conceded a goal, but they were always in control.”
In his second season at Filbert Street, winger Steve Lynex was an ever-present in the FA Cup run to the semi-final. He agreed with his ex-team-mates about the quarter-final against Shrewsbury Town, but his view on the semi-final differed a little.
City did have chances at Villa Park, but many of the players now regard it is a missed opportunity.
“The atmosphere at Filbert Street for the quarter-final game against Shrewsbury was fantastic,” Steve remembered. “It was end to end. We went behind, then Wally was injured. Alan Young went into goal and he got injured. Then I went into goal. When Young felt better, Jock Wallace pulled me out.
“Straight after that, the ball came to me on the wing, I crossed it and Jimmy Melrose buried it. Fantastic! We won 5-2.
“We were really gutted to lose the semi-final against Spurs. I don’t think they were superior. Ian Wilson scored an own goal and Tommy Williams broke his leg. He was out for ages and, on his first day back training, he broke it again. He was a great player.”
Striker Jim Melrose, a Club record signing in July 1980, was considered unlucky not to be in the starting line-up for the semi-final, but he came on as a second-half substitute. His performances in the 1981/82 season had made him popular with the Filbert Street crowd.
However, the emergence of Gary Lineker meant that, despite making 28 starting appearances in league and cup competitions, he often had to fulfil the role of a super-sub, most memorably when he scored twice in the 5-2 cup victory over Shrewsbury Town.
“At the start of the season, Gary and I were playing together,” Jim recalled. “And then I got injured against Orient and that kept me out for quite a while. Youngy and Gary sort of took over, but I was lucky enough to come on as a sub and score a few goals.
Leicester-born striker Gary Lineker tries to work an opening for the Foxes.
“I came on as a sub in the semi-final. I remember Ian Wilson scoring. He chipped Wally. What a great finish! Unfortunately it was an own goal!”
The player Jim replaced in the semi-final was Alan Young, who perhaps shouldn’t have played, as he explained.
Alan said: “I wasn’t fit. I had a groin injury. I’d had a couple of pain killers before the game and the effect lasted for about an hour. Gary had two good chances in the first half. (Tottenham’s) Chris Hughton should have been sent off. In the second half, I had to come off.
“It wasn’t the pain, I could stand that. It was because my mobility was poor. I had no choice.”
After the game, on the return coach journey to Leicester, the team was in sombre mood, but Jock Wallace found the sight and sound of the Leicester fans caught up in the traffic to be inspiring.
“Look at them,” he was reported as saying. “They are cheering and waving as if we’d won. It’s unbelievable. Magnificent. It’s all behind us now. The players will be off until Thursday and by that time we’ll be ready to think about the Newcastle game next Saturday.”
However, those cheering and waving Leicester fans, who had witnessed five semi-finals in the FA Cup and three finals in the previous 21 years, certainly weren’t expecting it to be another 39 years before their Club reached its next last-four tie. This weekend, the wait will finally be over.
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