1969 Cup Final squad

Former Player Remembers: Bobby Roberts

This springtime, as Leicester City look ahead to their fifth FA Cup Final appearance, former midfielder Bobby Roberts spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about playing for the Foxes against Manchester City in the 1969 showpiece.
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Bobby joined City for a Club record fee in September 1963 before going on to make nearly 300 appearances in his seven seasons at Filbert Street. Among other things, he talked about the FA Cup run which took Leicester to Wembley, the final itself and the pressured five match aftermath to the occasion.

Scotland Under-23s international Bobby transferred to the Club from Motherwell in September 1963 for a fee of £41,000. He joined a side which, four months earlier, had finished fourth in the league, but they were defeated in the FA Cup Final by Manchester United.

Recalling his early time in Scotland, Bobby began: “We beat Rangers in the Scottish Cup in 1961. I was a very slim frail left winger then. We drew 2-2 at home and, in the replay, we won 5-2 in front of an 85,000 crowd.

“The next season, we met Rangers again, this time in the semi-final, but we lost 3-1. The game was at Hampden. I think the crowd was about 90,000. Our left-half was injured by a terrible tackle. He had 10 stitches in his knee but he could hardly walk. He was just a passenger on the wing. There were no substitutes then. We were unlucky, though, not to get a result. We had a certain penalty turned down when it was 2-1. If we’d scored then, I think we would’ve won as we were all over them at the time.

In those days, before the League Cup Final moved there in 1967, the only way you could play at Wembley was either in an FA Cup Final or in an international match, playing for your country.

Bobby Roberts

“As a kid in Scotland, we always watched the English cup final. I knew all about Leicester being there in 1949, 1961 and 1963. I came down to watch the 1963 final as my friend Davie [Gibson] was playing for Leicester.

“Growing up in Scotland, one of my ambitions was to play at Hampden. In 1960, I watched Real Madrid play Eintracht Frankfurt in the European Cup Final at Hampden and there were 135,000 fans there.

“My other ambition was to play at Wembley. In those days, before the League Cup Final moved there in 1967, the only way you could play at Wembley was either in an FA Cup Final or in an international match, playing for your country.”

Bobby’s chance to play at Wembley in an FA Cup Final came in 1969 when Frank O’Farrell’s Leicester City team met the previous season’s league champions, Manchester City.

Thinking back, Bobby continued: “The funny thing was, I’d thought we’d get to a Wembley final about three times before we made it in 1969. We were a good team, but we’d been knocked out by Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton and I began to think it wasn’t going to happen. So I never thought about getting to the final in 1969 because our team wasn’t quite as good as it had been in previous years.

“That season (1968/69) we’d lost our manager (Matt Gillies) before the cup run started and it was all a bit chaotic. Frank O’Farrell came in with Malcolm Musgrove (in December 1968). Under Mr. Gillies and his coach Bert Johnson, there was less coaching. They would suggest things and tell us what to do but we never really got coached. But when Frank O’Farrell and Malcolm Musgrove came in, they worked on the shape of the team.

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1969 cup final preparation

Inside Leicester City's dressing room as the Foxes prepare for the final.

“In the cup run, we beat Barnsley after a replay and beat Millwall away. We then drew, after a lot of postponements, with [Bill] Shankly’s Liverpool at home before we beat them 1-0 at Anfield, when Andy Lochhead scored Peter Shilton saved a penalty. Then we beat Mansfield away and West Brom in the semi-final at Hillsborough.

“Throughout all this, we were struggling in the league, so the cup run was almost like a side issue when it came along. It was a change from the pressures of the league.

“When we played the semi-final, Davie Gibson was injured. West Brom’s Bobby Hope was a very good midfield player and I thought I’d be marking him, but Frank O’Farrell told Alan Woollett, who played in midfield in place of Davie, to get as close to Hope as he possibly could. Alan was very good at man marking. It’s a hard job and there are only certain players capable of doing it.

“My job was to sit a bit deeper and stay near a young lad, whose name I forget, who was scoring a few goals for them. I had to try to make sure that I blocked his runs into the box. They were the tactics that O’Farrell gave us for the semi-final and then we had to go out and play and do the best we could. It wasn’t a mountain of coaching but they did try to organise us a wee bit better so that we could get through games.

The pitch at Wembley was usually like a bowling green, but they’d had the Horse of the Year Show there and the pitch wasn’t as good as it usually was. Normally the pitch was immaculate, but it was a wee bit rough in places. But still, to play there, that was the thing! It was marvellous!

Bobby Roberts

“Len Glover went off injured in the second half and Malcolm Manley came on. I think it was from a cross from Malcolm that we got the winning goal. Andy Lochhead headed it down and Allan Clarke buried it with four minutes to go. It was the longest four minutes of my life!

“Winning the semi-final was absolutely brilliant. When the final whistle went, the first thing I thought was ‘we’re going to play at Wembley! We’re actually going to get there!’ It had been a terrible match against West Brom, on a very, very poor surface which was very bumpy and dry, but who cared! To play at Wembley in the cup final, that was the pinnacle!”

Bobby then spoke about the build up to the final: “I think we played about six games between the semi-final and the final which was unusual. In the week leading up to Wembley, we travelled to Bisham Abbey for training. On the Wednesday, we went to Brentford for a practice match, just to test the fitness of John Sjoberg and Lenny Glover. I think they ruled out John very quickly.  

“Lenny, who was a real match winner, wanted to come off at half-time, saying he felt great. He was a fit lad, as fit as a fiddle, but they made him go out for the second half. That was when he felt his leg a wee bit where he hadn’t felt anything before. He said afterwards that if he’d just done his 45 minutes, he would have been 100 per cent fit for the Saturday. He did play at Wembley but he was not as sharp in the final as he normally was.

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Bobby Roberts

Bobby Roberts made nearly 300 appearances for the Foxes after a Club record move.

“On the night before the final, Davie told us that in 1963, the cup final had gone by before he realised it. He told us to make sure we took in as much as we could on the day, because it would fly by, so on the day, I was conscious of what was going on. I wouldn’t say the day flashed by me, but I was very disappointed that we were beaten.  

“In the coach going to Wembley, the atmosphere outside was fantastic. The supporters were there in their thousands. They’d had three cup final defeats and they were hoping that this time it would be fourth time lucky. The support was great. They roared us on every time we did anything or got near to their goal. They were magnificent. They were as disappointed as we were when we lost.

“The pitch at Wembley was usually like a bowling green, but they’d had the Horse of the Year Show there and the pitch wasn’t as good as it usually was. Normally the pitch was immaculate, but it was a wee bit rough in places. But still, to play there, that was the thing! It was marvellous!

“I remember reading the newspapers on the Saturday morning and they were forecasting a 4-0 win for Manchester City and, although they probably were better than us on the day and beat us 1-0, we had some good chances. There were two or three that, on a good day, would have gone in.

“Peter [Rodrigues] had a good chance. I don’t know where he’d come from but if he hadn’t been there then Clarkey (Allan Clarke) or Andy Lochhead might have scored. Andy Lochhead also had a chance. They were good enough chances, and I think we were a bit closer to winning it than some people thought we were going to be. Cup finals are usually pretty close. I’d never seen a recording of the game until about a year ago.

“As I watched it, I thought ‘we played better than I’d remembered. It was close.’”

The post-match banquet was held at the Dorchester Hotel.

“All the wives were there,” Bobby remembered. “But it was quite a subdued thing. Normally when people play in the cup final, that’s it. The season’s finished. Apart from the fact that we’d lost and were disappointed for ourselves and for the fans, we were also sat there thinking ’we’ve now got five games in the next three weeks to try to make sure we avoid relegation.’ That was at the back of everyone’s minds.

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Bobby Roberts

Manchester City were the victors at Wembley Stadium.

“It was nice that the supporters turned out to welcome us when we returned to Leicester to cheer us on the open top bus tour, but there was always the thought that the season wasn’t finished.”

City needed seven points from their last five games to stay up. At that time, only two points were awarded for a win.

Three days after the final, O’Farrell’s team defeated Tottenham Hotspur at Filbert Street and then lost to Ipswich Town at Portman Road on the Saturday. Two days later, 18-year-old Ally Brown scored twice on his debut to beat Sunderland at home. The next game was a home draw against Everton.

Thinking back, Bobby recalled: “Everton had absolutely nothing to play for. You don’t expect them to lie down, but I’m not kidding you, they played as if it was a World Cup Final. It finished 1-1.”

This meant that, in order to avoid the drop, Leicester had to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the last game of the season.

“Three days later, we had to win at Old Trafford to stay up,” Bobby continued. “I had a very high temperature which went through the roof on the Friday, so although I was there for the match, I couldn’t play.

“We scored first but George Best had one of those days when, even with 12 players, it still would have been hard to control him.

“We lost 3-2. People always said we shouldn’t have gone down, but if you don’t get enough points, that’s it. I really think the circumstances of having to play six games between the semi-final and the final and then having the five games after the final made all the difference.

“I think we would have stayed up otherwise.”

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