Howard Riley

Former Player Remembers: Howard Riley

On the week of the anniversary of Leicester City winning the League Cup in 1964, we publish for the first time online, Club Historian John Hutchinson’s interview with Howard Riley, who scored the winning goal in the 1964 League Cup Final.
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An England Under-23s international, Howard played over 200 games at the very highest level for City, including two FA Cup Finals and a campaign in Europe. In the interview, Howard also explained why, at the height of his career, he gave up full-time football for a teaching career, before becoming one of the first English players to help pioneer football in the United States. 

He began by talking about to the League Cup Final against Stoke City in 1964. On 22 April, it will have been 58 years since that historic triumph, the Club's maiden piece of major silverware.

On the way to the final, Leicester had defeated Tranmere Rovers, Gillingham, Norwich City (when Howard scored an extra-time winner) and, in the two-legged semi-final, a West Ham United side containing Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore.

“The League Cup competition was only four years old,” Howard began. “Initially, the top clubs didn’t always compete but when we won it, it had gained in prestige. In the first leg of the two-legged final, at Stoke’s old Victoria Ground, we drew 1-1. They could have scored five or six, but Gordon (Banks) played really well. It was one of his best games along with the semi-final victory over Liverpool the previous year.”

Recalling that Stoke’s Keith Bebbington scored after 62 minutes and Davie Gibson equalised, Howard went on to talk about the second leg of the final.

He added: “It was a good crowd at Filbert Street. Mike Stringfellow scored early on and then Dennis Viollet equalised. I was involved in the second goal (after 70 minutes). I took a corner at the Filbert Street end and Davie Gibson got a head to it. He didn’t score a lot with his head but that was a good one. Late on, I got a third. I got a pass from Tom Sweenie, cut inside and scored with my left foot. Stoke scored in injury time but we had won 4-3 on aggregate.

“We went up to the directors box for the presentation. There are pictures of (captain) Colin Appleton receiving the cup. We got a tankard each rather than a medal. It added to my two FA Cup Final medals.

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Leicester City

The Leicester City squad pictured in 1963.

“That season, I had made a very, very big decision. I went part-time so that I could train as a teacher. I had been a regular first teamer for five years and I thought about what I was going to do when I finished football.

“Maybe it was too early to think about this, but I’d always had in my mind about being a PE teacher. I was possibly influenced by Eddie Russell and Ron Jackson, who were also teachers after being Leicester City players.

“An old school pal suggested I went to St. Peter’s College, Saltley in Birmingham, so I applied and was accepted onto a three-year teaching course.

“The final was at the end of my first year of the course. I did well to keep my place that season. It was always on your mind that if you are part-time you could lose your pace. At times I thought: 'Hang on. I am playing in the top league in the world, at top level, been in two cup finals, probably have another five or six years, and haven’t reached my peak.'

“If I’d had a different outlook, I would have said: 'Right. You still have a football career. Make the most of your abilities and then think about teaching'. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed teaching, but I think I should perhaps have had another five or six years playing.

“As a part-timer, the only full-time training I did was pre-season and at Christmas. The rest of the time, I only trained a couple of times a week, at college. I don’t know how I did it. After two years, I thought ‘I can't do this’, but my wife encouraged me to keep on.

“I thought about transferring to Scaptoft College to finish my course but that didn't happen so I buckled down and finished my course. At the end of my third year, I took my FA coaching course, which was being run by Aston Villa’s Phil Woosnam.

“I’d lost my place at Leicester during my second year at college so, in December 1965, whilst still at college, I signed for Ray Shaw’s Third Division Walsall.”

Within days of signing, Howard made an impact at his new club in a third round FA Cup match against Stoke City.

In January 1966, the local press reported that Howard ‘sent the Walsall fans wild with delight with a 17th minute goal at Stoke by pouncing on a loose ball and smashing 20-yard right foot drive into the net’ in a 2-0 victory at the Victoria Ground.

The Stoke City team was very similar to the one defeated by Leicester in the 1964 League Cup showpiece. Walsall’s other scorer that day was Allan Clarke, who transferred to Leicester City for a British record fee, two and half years later.  

“At the end of that season,” Howard continued, “I qualified as a teacher. I got a teaching job at King Richard III School in Leicester.

“Shortly afterwards, Phil Woosnam and Vic Crowe asked me to play professional football in the USA for Atlanta Chiefs. So, after only a term of teaching, I went to America where I played for two years. We were the first English players to go to America. Players like [Franz] Beckenbauer and Pelé went later.

“For every away game, you were on a jet. The nearest game was in Washington! We flew to places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, Chicago and Miami.

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Howard Riley

Howard Riley in training for the Atlanta Chiefs in the USA.

“Atlanta’s all-seater stadium was very modern. It held 54,000 and had executive boxes. It was a big contrast with Filbert Street and Fellows Park. If you weren’t in the first team, you would have to fly out and back on the same day to Washington to play for a team called Washington Britannia.

“We lived in a beautiful place. It was like a holiday complex, with a swimming pool and tennis courts. It was fantastic. We thought about staying out there, but I wasn’t playing as regularly as I would have liked, so we came back home.

“I had a year with (ex-Leicester City captain) Colin Appleton at (Third Division) Barrow. There was a big contrast between catching a 737 jet and catching a coach to Plymouth, getting back at four o’clock in the morning!

“Colin resigned at Christmas so I went back to teaching. I spent four years at Westcotes School in Leicester and then went back to King Richard III.

“I also went on to play for Rugby Town and Burton Albion, which was managed by (ex-Leicester City team-mate) Richie Norman. Eventually, I went full circle and went back to Wigston, where I had started as a 14 or 15 year old.”

In the end, Howard taught in Leicester for 27 years before retiring. He then spent two years working at South Wigston College before returning to Filbert Street in 1999 to work as the education and welfare officer for the Club’s Academy.

Now retired, and a keen golfer, he is often to be seen on match days at King Power Stadium watching the Club he played for which such distinction.

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