Steve Sims

Former Player Remembers: Steve Sims

This winter, Steve Sims spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career in football. An England Under-21s and England B international centre-back, Steve played for Leicester City between 1974 and 1978 under Jimmy Bloomfield, Frank McLintock and Jock Wallace.
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He then spent a total of eight seasons in two spells at Graham Taylor’s Watford, during which the Hornets rose from the old Third Division to become runners-up to Liverpool in the First Division and reach an FA Cup Final. They then competed in a UEFA Cup campaign with Steve as the captain. He also played for Notts County and Aston Villa. 

Steve, who was born and grew up in Lincoln and whose father played at centre-half for Lincoln City, began by explaining how he came to Leicester City as a youngster.

“I played for a local side, Lincoln United, because their manager also managed Lincoln schoolboys at Under-15s and Under-16s level,” he said. “One day, I played for Lincoln United at Leicester’s Belvoir Drive training ground against Leicester’s youth side. I must have done okay because Leicester’s chief scout, Ray Shaw, invited me back. One or two other clubs, like Nottingham Forest and Ipswich, were interested in me and my dad told Leicester that if they wanted me they would have to be quick.

“I had trials. I liked Leicester and, luckily enough, they took the risk and I signed me when I was 16 in July 1973.

“In my first two years, I played in the youth team, winning the Midland Youth League both times. In my second year, I started getting in the reserves. One day, there was a first team practice match against the reserves, whose centre-half was injured, so I went across in his place. I played against Frank Worthington. I knew he used to turn onto his left foot and I just kept taking the ball off him. I’d come from nowhere and Jimmy Bloomfield and the players were asking: ‘Who is this?’  

“Frank didn’t like you tackling him, but he was lovely. After a few weeks, when he knew that I could play a bit, he was very supportive. He said that it was good to see somebody like me coming though. With that group of players, if they knew you could play football, they accepted you, because that’s what Jimmy Bloomfield liked.

I was Jimmy Bloomfield’s type of player. He placed a lot of faith in me. He allowed me to play football. He wanted me to be more than just a centre-half.

Steve Sims

“I made my debut at Manchester City in the second match of the season just after I’d turned 18. I came in for Jeff Blockley, who had just done his cartilage. When you’re young, you just get on with it. I enjoyed it. I was up against Joe Royle. I got a knock in the game, but I kept it quiet. George Preston, the physio, knew and I managed three quarters of the game. It was a great experience. They were a good side and we drew.”

Steve played nine more games before Blockley returned to the side: “I enjoyed those games. I never felt any pressure. I liked the crowds and playing at that level. We were a good side, with some fantastic players.”

During the following season (1976/77), Steve established himself in the first team.

“I was Jimmy Bloomfield’s type of player,” he added. “He placed a lot of faith in me. He allowed me to play football. He wanted me to be more than just a centre-half. He encouraged me to play the ball from the back and get it to the feet of the other players around me. Jon Sammels was brilliant. He was always there for you. I played alongside either Jeff Blockley or Alan Woollett. Woolly was good for me. He used to cover my youthful mistakes.”

That season was the first campaign that England Under-21s caps were awarded.

“I won 10 Under-21s caps that season, playing in all of the games,” Steve recalled. “We reached the European Under 21s semi-finals, when we were beaten by Yugoslavia. Dave Sexton, Terry Venables and Howard Wilkinson were the coaches. Dave Sexton was a brilliant manager. He let you play football. I loved Terry Venables. Don Revie (the England manager) came to the first few games. I liked him. I thought he was very good.”

At the end of the 1976/77 season, Jimmy Bloomfield was sacked, even though Leicester City were in the top six in the old First Division with only nine games to go.

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Leicester City

Steve Sims was a part of Jock Wallace's youthful and talented Foxes squad.

“For most of the season we were doing well, “Steve continued. “Then suddenly it all went to pieces. We didn’t do very well in the last seven or eight games. Some of the players were coming towards the end of their time. Perhaps the team needed a fresh voice. We still finished 11th, but Jim got the sack. I liked Jim. I was disappointed that he went. I was a young and and thought: ‘What’s happening here?’”

Bloomfield’s replacement was the ex-Leicester City star, Frank McLintock: “It was his first management job and he was learning. He came into a difficult dressing room. As I said, some of the older players were coming to the end and some of the players he brought in didn’t quite do it for him.

“Frank tried to teach me different aspects of defending but I didn’t appreciate what he was doing for me because I was young and thought: ‘Hang on. I’m doing alright as it is’.

“I can see now what he was trying to do for me. Looking back, I’d never had anybody work hard with me on the techniques of defending. With Jim, it was all natural and you learnt as you went along. If I wasn’t playing as well as I could, I didn’t have any basics to fall back on. That’s why Frank was trying to help me. I didn’t really learn the actual techniques of defending until I went to Watford with Graham Taylor.”

Steve was a regular under McLintock but, at the end of the season, Leicester City were relegated and Glasgow Rangers manager Jock Wallace replaced McLintock.

Steve’s good form earned him an England B selection at the end of the relegation season.

“The tour was to Malaysia and New Zealand,” he explained. “I played in the first game against Malaysia in May 1978, but my cartilage went and my knee locked up. I tried to play, but I couldn’t. I had to fly back early, on my own, all the way from New Zealand. It was horrible.

“When I came back, I’m not sure what Jock Wallace thought of me. In those days, it took up to three months to recover from a cartilage injury. He played me in the team, but although I liked Leicester, I felt I needed a change.”

We were promoted in my first season (at Watford), and then had a couple of years in the old Second Division. Luther Blissett was in the side and we brought some new players in.

Steve Sims

In October 1978, Steve transferred to Third Division outfit Watford for a Hornets’ club record fee of £175,000. He played a vital role in propelling Watford to the First Division runners-up spot behind Liverpool, to playing in Europe and to reaching the FA Cup Final.

“The transfer was done quickly in an afternoon at Leicester’s Holiday Inn,” Steve remembered. “Then I got a phone call from (Watford’s owner) Elton John. He was as excited about me signing as I was about signing for him!

“Watford was a mess and the stadium was a shambles, but Graham Taylor told me his plans for the club, which had the backing of Elton John. I needed someone like Graham to coach me on and off the field to get the best out of myself.

“Watford was a family club. We worked very hard. It was an enjoyable time.

“We were promoted in my first season, and then had a couple of years in the old Second Division. Luther Blissett was in the side and we brought some new players in. We also had a great youth policy with players like John Barnes, Steve Terry, Nigel Callaghan and Kenny Jackett coming through.”

The season after being promoted from the Second Division in 1982, Watford were runners-up to Liverpool in the First Division.

“Although I’m still a big Leicester fan and nothing can compare with Leicester’s feat in winning the Premier League in 2016, the achievement of finishing runners-up was very similar,” Steve reflected.

“It meant we qualified for the UEFA Cup and I was the first Watford captain to take us into Europe. There’s a picture of me shaking hands with Kaiserslautern captain, Hans-Peter Briegel. We beat them over two legs and then we defeated Bulgarian side Levski Spartak. It was hostile in Sofia with their fans throwing bottles at us taking corners. Then we lost to Sparta Prague in the third round. I loved playing in Europe.”

Later that season, Watford reached the FA Cup Final against Everton, which Steve missed through injury.

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Steve Sims

Steve Sims played for Leicester City between 1974 and 1978.

“I broke my ankle at Filbert Street a few weeks before the final,” Steve remembered. “I kicked through the ball as I went to tackle Andy Peake and I caught the bottom of his boot. His studs went into my ankle. I played on for 10 minutes which was daft because it was fractured.

“I missed out on the cup final. It was a big miss. I’d always played well against Everton’s front two, Andy Gray and Graeme Sharp. I didn’t get a runners-up medal. I think I got an onyx cigarette lighter.”

Much of Watford’s success was due to the backing of their owner.

Steve continued: “Elton John was a lovely, brilliant and caring man. He would ask about your family and knew the names of your kids.

“He used to come to the dressing room just before kick-off with people like Hank Marvin, Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy and Rod Stewart! It was all a bit showbiz!

“Elton opened a lot of doors for the club. When we were still in the Second Division, we were invited to go to China and play their national side, which would never have happened without Elton. China were opening up and, although the hotels weren’t up to modern standards, it was a great experience. We saw Tiananmen Square, the Terracotta Army and the Great Wall, which was very steep! We also went to Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.”

In October 1984, Steve moved to Second Division side Notts County, before returning to Watford two years later.

One of Graham’s [Taylor] assistants at Watford saw me playing against a centre-forward they were looking at and he reported back that I was playing as well as ever.

Steve Sims

“My knee needed maintaining carefully,” Steve said. “Graham was a very hard trainer and he insisted I trained full-time. I went to Notts County, where the training was easier, and the coach allowed me time off training when my knee needed it.

“After a while, I quite enjoyed it there. I was playing really well. One of Graham’s assistants at Watford saw me playing against a centre-forward they were looking at and he reported back that I was playing as well as ever.

"In October 1986, I went to watch Watford play at Nottingham Forest. After the game, Graham asked me if I wanted to go back to Watford. He said I might not always be in the side but would be there to help with the young lads, bring them along and keep their attitudes right. I went back to Watford and, after one game in the reserves, I was back in the side.”

At the end of the season, Taylor became Aston Villa manager and Steve went with him to add experience to the dressing room. In his first year, his new club were promoted back to the First Division.

“I had another season helping out the reserves before leaving Villa Park,” Steve recalled. “But I knew I was coming towards the end of my playing days because of my knee.”

Steve subsequently played Burton Albion and Lincoln City. He did his coaching badges, obtaining his A license. Subsequent jobs included working at Coventry City’s Centre of Excellence as well as working at Leicester City as the Youth Development Officer, with David Nish and Neville Hamilton. He also worked for the Premier League, monitoring club academies.

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