Steve Walsh

‘Leicester City are in dream land now!’ – Walsh On 1994 Play-Off Success

On the 27th anniversary of Leicester City’s maiden promotion to the Premier League on 30 May 1994, goalscoring hero Steve Walsh remembers his part in the play-off final triumph.
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Following the heartbreak of the preceding two seasons, Leicester entered the 1993/94 First Division campaign with renewed motivation to get the job done and reach the promised land.

Still under the stewardship of manager Brian Little, the Foxes made a lightning start, winning five of the opening seven games and losing just once.

Walsh had scored several goals on that impressive early run - twice in the 4-0 home victory over Millwall before also netting during a 3-1 win at Bristol City.

However, following a cruciate ligament injury picked up in September 1993, he would play no further part in the regular season and not be on the scoresheet again until the Wembley showpiece.

Initially, Leicester marched on and triumphed nine times in 14 matches, before a run of one win in nine before the turn of the year threatened to derail the promotion push.

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Steve Walsh

Walsh was part of the Leicester side that had tasted two successive play-off final defeats, including against Blackburn Rovers in 1992.

Victories in just two of their last 12 games, although unbeaten in the final nine of those, meant City finished fourth, 10 points behind Nottingham Forest in the final automatic promotion spot.

In the end, just three points separated third to sixth, and Leicester would face Tranmere Rovers in the two-legged semi-final. A cagey goalless draw in the first leg at Prenton Park left it all to play for at Filbert Street three days later.

Walsh returned to the starting XI for the second leg and in front of over 22,500 Foxes fans, a goal on the stroke of half-time from Ian Ormondroyd had Leicester ahead.

Pat Nevin equalised for Rovers immediately after the break, but with four minutes remaining, substitute David Speedie headed in Mark Blake’s free-kick to secure a 2-1 aggregate advantage and Leicester’s place in the final. However, Speedie’s late red card meant that the Club’s top goalscorer would be suspended for the Final.

Cue Walsh’s heroics…

"After the season I'd had, it was an emotional occasion," Walsh remembered. "I had done my cruciate and was out for most of that season. It was difficult for me to watch the lads playing every week while I had to watch on from the stands.

I knew deep down I wasn't fit enough. We then went into another room and all the lads were there. He named the team and I was in it. Away from being pleased I was in the team, I actually disagreed with the tactics.

Steve Walsh

“In truth, I really wasn't fit enough to play in the final. I remember a day or two before the game, Little called me into a separate room. He wanted to know if I was ready. I think I said that I was 70 per cent fit, but I wanted to play whatever happens.

“I knew deep down I wasn't fit enough. We then went into another room and all the lads were there. He named the team and I was in it. Away from being pleased I was in the team, I actually disagreed with the tactics.

“He played myself with Ian Ormondroyd and Iwan Roberts up front in like a 4-3-3 system. It was a shock to the system. I'd played up front, but I didn't expect to do so in the final!"

Losing to both Blackburn Rovers and Swindon Town by a single goal in successive Wembley play-off finals at the beginning of the Premier League era, Walsh was determined to make it third time lucky when they took on Derby County, who had seen off Millwall in the other semi-final.

"We'd suffered a lot after the last two finals at Wembley," he continued. "I needed to get Leicester back in the top flight, it was so important to me. That was my only ambition.

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Leicester City 1994

The squad celebrate promotion to the top flight at Wembley.

“We'd got relegation in my first season at the Club and I was determined to get back. It took eight years in the end. After those two failures, we were definitely aware of the pressure on us, but it drove us on.

"It did feel like a curse, but we'd said to each other that, this time, we weren't going to fail. No matter what. I thought before the game we were going to win it.

“That changed slightly when I heard the selection because I didn't feel that it was the right move. Brian's a good friend of mine, but on that occasion, we disagreed. It all worked out in the end though!"

Some 73,641 fans, many kitted out in Leicester City colours, banners and flags, were at Wembley under the famous twin towers to watch the Foxes’ third consecutive final.

And Walsh can still vividly remember the partisan atmosphere that the Blue Army created on that day.

Really, go and look at the footage, the Leicester end is phenomenal. I've never seen anything like it. Walking out on that pitch, I couldn't have been any prouder.

Steve Walsh

"The scenes in the stands were just absolutely unbelievable," the defender recalled. "We genuinely used to take over Wembley. If you watch the old footage, you can all the balloons and ticker-tape streaming down from the Leicester end.

“Every year, we completely made Wembley almost like a home ground. Our fans were absolutely magnificent for us and I think they played a role in the win.

"Really, go and look at the footage, the Leicester end is phenomenal. I've never seen anything like it. Walking out on that pitch, I couldn't have been any prouder.

“I always say - because it's true - that every time I crossed the white line, I made a pledge to give absolutely everything for the Club. On that day, you had no excuse not to because there was a sea of blue behind you."

The game itself could not have got off to a worse start. The Rams broke through early on and Marco Gabbiadini’s effort had to be cleared off the line by Jimmy Willis.

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Steve Walsh

The iconic former Fox celebrates perhaps his biggest-ever goal for Leicester.

And Derby did break the deadlock when Paul Simpson’s first-time ball forward played in Tommy Johnson, who saw off the intentions of Simon Grayson and Brian Carey before firing in past Gavin Ward.

"I remember it clearly when Tommy Johnson gave Derby the lead," Walsh added. "You look around at your team-mates and you wonder if it's going to happen again.

“I remember, on the day, Derby were a better team than us in many ways, but we had a never-say-die attitude. We never gave up, we never stopped. We fought for everything.

"They had so many chances to score. It could have been five or six at one stage and we had to really dig deep to stay in the game. They were playing a different style of football to us and we were struggling."

Leicester looked to get a grip on the game and respond when full-back Mike Whitlow saw a powerful strike palmed away by Martin Taylor, and the Rams’ goal would be breached four minutes before half-time.

I was already wheeling away and then I had to look back just to make sure that it had actually gone in!

Steve Walsh

Walsh rose highest to meet Gary Coatsworth’s high cross, beating Taylor in the air and nodding the ball past Paul Williams, who tried to head it off the line, creating a spine-tingling roar that reverberated around the Leicester half of Wembley.

"Out of nowhere, [Gary] Coatsworth floated the ball into the box," he explained. "I saw Iwan Roberts in the area too, but I thought: 'I'm just going to try this one myself'. After the injury I'd had, I couldn't really jump.

“You just can't do it. For the rest of your life really, you can't do it. It's hard to do, but it's also risky. But on that occasion, I gave it a go, and I was able to get the height I needed.

"I just got my head on the ball and nodded it at goal. Iwan had his arm across [Martin] Taylor, the Derby 'keeper, and then Paul Williams was on the line for them.

“I'm not sure how he wasn't able to just head my header off the line, but there was a bit of spin on the ball and it just drifted over him! I was already wheeling away and then I had to look back just to make sure that it had actually gone in!"

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Steve Walsh

Walsh leads the celebrations after beating Derby at Wembley.

The noise generated by City’s supporters cranked up a notch as the players emerged for the most important 45 minutes of the entire season.

They were almost silenced, though, as Derby kept the pressure on and forced Ward to save John Harks’ looping header with a little over a quarter of an hour to play. Harks was in again minutes later, but couldn’t hit the target, chances Derby would come to rue.

It left the door ajar for City to snatch victory. And with four minutes to play, they did just that, in a carbon copy of the semi-final.

As Ormondroyd met Grayson’s cross, Walsh was lurking inside the area ready to pounce. When Taylor parried Ormondroyd’s header into his path, the makeshift centre forward was able to prod home his second of the game and a Wembley winner.

‘Leicester City are in dream land now!’ the commentator bellowed as Walsh wheeled away in celebration, right in front of the Foxes faithful at Wembley.

"I still have that picture in my house," he revealed, talking about an iconic image of him celebrating his second goal of the day.

"I played the ball inside to [Julian] Joachim, he put it out to [Simon] Grayson and then he whipped in a tremendous cross on the overlap and, when [Ian] Ormondroyd headed the ball, I thought it was in. What a save from Taylor! But then I'm there too...

"My momentum just carried me into that area in the box where anything can happen and, luckily for me, I got a touch on it and the rest is history. The euphoria of that celebration is something I'll never forget.

“I just looked up and the fans were going crazy. We'd done it. My whole Leicester career up until that point was about about getting back in the top league and we'd done it. It meant everything to me."

Happy Steve Walsh Day, Foxes fans!

Leicester City Crest

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