The year was 1961 and City's players were waiting eagerly. It was the European Cup Winners’ Cup draw and, after Tottenham Hotspur’s double achievement paved the way for the beaten FA Cup finalists, Leicester City were among continental elite for the very first time.
Who would they draw for the first round? The possible list of destinations and opponents was exciting. Sunshine, golden sands and potential European glory were all a possibility. The Club’s first ever European away day, though, was only about 70 minutes in the air from Leicester.
On 13 September, 1961, Leicester played the Irish Cup holders, Glenavon. They would have to earn a trip outside the United Kingdom.
The plane that took Leicester City's squad to their first-ever European fixture.
Leicester triumphed in the first leg, coming back from 1-0 down in the opening 20 minutes to take the victory to 4-1, and in the return fixture at Filbert Street, the aggregate was stretched to a huge 7-2. A comfortable win for City.
A reporter for the Belfast Telegraph, however, remarked that Leicester were ‘one of the poorest First Division sides (he’d) seen for years’. Nevertheless, their reward for beating Glenavon was an enticing clash against Spanish giants Atlético Madrid.
The sunglasses and shorts were finally packed. According to reports, Leicester ‘ran rings’ around the Spaniards in the home tie, and ‘astonished’ their opposition, but a goal seconds from the end denied the City a much-deserved lead and the game finished 1-1.
Ultimately, they would bow out of the competition after losing the return leg 2-0 in the Spanish capital. Atlético would go on to win the whole tournament. The scoreline, though, didn’t tell the whole story.
The players – most notably young 18-year-old Graham Cross and penalty hero Gordon Banks – had put up an admirable fight. It was a night that the Club could be proud of. Incidentally, Atlético’s manager commented that City’s performance in the competition had been ‘one of the best’ he’d seen.
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