Brian Little

Former Manager Remembers: Brian Little

When Club Historian John Hutchinson spoke to Brian Little about his time at Filbert Street, the former Leicester City manager recalled the three seasons when he took the Foxes from the brink of the old Third Division into the Premier League.
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On 30 May, 1991, Newcastle-born Little was appointed City’s manager, replacing Gordon Lee, whose brief caretaker spell as manager the previous season had saved the Club from relegation to the old Third Division. In the three and a half years which followed, Little completely transformed the Club.

Born in County Durham, Brian was an FA Youth Cup winner with Aston Villa in 1972. He went on to play 302 times as a striker for Aston Villa, helping them rise from the old Third Division in 1972, to the top flight three years later.

He made a single appearance for England, in 1975, was a League Cup winner in 1975 and 1977, and was a regular for five seasons in the top flight. In 1980, aged 26, his playing career was ended by a knee injury. 

He coached at Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Middlesbrough, before becoming the manager of the league’s bottom club, Darlington, in February 1989. He couldn’t prevent Darlington from dropping out of the league but he went onto achieve success, leading the Quakers to the Conference title in 1990 and to the Fourth Division title in 1991.

In May 1991, impressed by this achievement, City’s chairman, Martin George, contacted Darlington’s chairman, met up with Brian, agreed to give him three years to turn the Club round, and then announced his appointment as Leicester's new manager.

Brian recruited Allan Evans and John Gregory to work with the professional players and Steve Hunt and David Nish to work with the youth players. 

This was the start of the process which resulted in three successive Wembley play-off finals for City for a place in the Premier League. The first two finals ended in defeats by Blackburn Rovers, in 1992, and Swindon Town, in 1993. The third final was the victory over Derby County in 1994.

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Brian Little

Brian Little was gradually building a resilience and adding quality to Leicester's squad.

Thinking back to his time as City’s manager, Brian began: “Martin flew up to Teeside and we had talks. That evening, when I was speaking at a club function at Darlington Town Hall, celebrating two championships, I knew then I was going to Leicester. 

“My homework on Leicester City’s previous season was to take a video back home. I realised I needed to make the team harder to beat and to stop conceding goals all over the place. I brought in players to do this. I signed Kevin Poole, Colin Gordon, Paul Fitzpatrick, Nicky Platnauer and Ashley Ward, followed by Gary Coatsworth, Jimmy Willis and Michael Trotter. 

“Initially, it didn’t go down too well as Leicester fans had been brought up on attacking football, but it was a transitional period. I adopted a three centre-back system. People thought it was defensive but it was adventurous because players like Mills and Platnauer went flying up the outside.

“We were releasing players to be more adventurous and come into the game from deeper positions. On the whole, this worked. We had the old bad result. We got hammered at Cambridge. I got so much stick it was untrue. It hurt. I learnt a lot that season.

“My favourite all-time game as a coach/manager was the 1992 play-off semi-final, 5-0 victory over Cambridge. It was a fantastic night. Nights at Filbert Street were brilliant anyway. Winning the way we did was brilliant!

“We had come a long way in a short time. In the Wembley final, we played Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn Rovers, who were favourites. We watched the other two play-off finals that weekend. It was a great day at Wembley, but I am not sure, deep down, whether we felt we were going to do it.

“It’s not nice losing, but it wasn’t the end of the world. People loved the day. There were banners on the motorway coming back. We had done ever so well.

“The most important thing for me was not to give the players much time off. The previous pre-season, we had been in early and had worked hard. We had a strong work ethic. We wanted to make sure that everything was in place for the next season. We wanted the players back as soon as possible.

The final against Glenn Hoddle’s Swindon was strange. We came back to 3-3 from 3-0 down. On reflection, we should have shut up shop and gone for extra time. Losing 4-3 really knocked us back. We were gutted. We thought we were ready.

Brian Little

“We gave JJ (Julian Joachim) his debut in October 1992. You never knew what was going to happen when he got the ball. He could go past three people and score. He had strength and pace. If you took away the tackling from behind, like it was then, he would have been ideal for the modern game.

“He was fresh. He didn’t have to think. He couldn’t pick out a pass like Steve Agnew or Steve Thompson but he was dynamic. 

“His goal in the 1993 play-off semi-final against Portsmouth was typical. They were very angry not to have gone up automatically. We used that as a real motivation in the dressing room. We were happy to be there. They weren’t. 

“The final against Glenn Hoddle’s Swindon was strange. We came back to 3-3 from 3-0 down. On reflection, we should have shut up shop and gone for extra time. Losing 4-3 really knocked us back. We were gutted. We thought we were ready.

“But once again we weren’t going to give the players much time off. It was back to work. 

“The following season, we signed David Speedie. We lacked someone who had an edge. We were a little naïve in the top area.

“We needed someone to dig us out. It was a controversial signing. In football, there are defining moments. If a decision goes wrong, that’s the finish of you. If it goes right, people understand it. It was the same when we sold Paul Kitson. 

“Steve Walsh had injury and discipline problems so I took the captaincy off him and put him up front to keep him out of trouble. In training, Walshy never played at the back. He was very combative and had a fantastic attitude. Steve going up front worked for us. He loved scoring goals. 

“Driving down to Wembley for the 1994 play-off final against Derby, I was sitting in front of the bus with coaches, John Gregory and Allan Evans. We asked ourselves: 'Are we doing this again? Are we really heading for Wembley for the third time in a row?'

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Steve Walsh

Steve Walsh etched his name into Leicester City history with both goals in the final.

“We just had to win. If we had not won that game, I would never have been forgiven for playing Ormondroyd, Walsh and Roberts up front. You only win your arguments in football if you win games. In my head, I locked myself away from everyone. I named the team on the morning of the game.

“I then just told them: ‘Right lads. Just go out there and win!’”

Leicester won 2-1. Walsh scored twice. Brian had taken the Club from the verge of the old Third Division to the Premier League in three years.

Little was rewarded with a new contract. The future looked good. However, City struggled in the Premier League and, by the beginning of November, they were near the foot of the table. It was at this point that Little began to be linked with the Aston Villa vacancy.

Later that month, he returned to Villa to replace Ron Atkinson as manager. Little’s departure angered the fans at the time. However, with the passage of time, the anger has dissipated somewhat, and there is now a general realisation that Little laid solid foundations in his three and a half years at the Club, rescuing the Club from five years of steady decline and laying some good foundations for the future.

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