Jon Sammels

Former Player Remembers: Jon Sammels

Jon Sammels was an elegant and creative midfield player and a key member of Jimmy Bloomfield’s Leicester City sides in the 1970s. Speaking to Club Historian John Hutchinson, Jon recalled his time at Filbert Street.

In July 1971, Orient’s manager Jimmy Bloomfield became Leicester City’s new manager. He replaced Frank O’Farrell who, having guided the Foxes to the old Second Division title the previous season, had departed to become the manager of Manchester United.

Bloomfield’s first signing, in July 1971, was midfielder Jon Sammels. He was the first of three big money signings made by the new manager in his first two months at Filbert Street. The other two were Alan Birchenall from Crystal Palace and Keith Weller from Chelsea, who both signed in September 1971.

Jon went on to make over 271 first games for City between 1971 and 1978, scoring 25 goals from midfield. All of his league games for the Club were in the top flight. During Bloomfield’s time at the Club he was a hugely influential player and captain. His time at Filbert Street was a distinguished phase of a career which had commenced with 270 games for Arsenal.

Jon began by explaining why he came to Filbert Street from Highbury: “I was all set to sign for Bobby Robson’s Ipswich but then I got this phone call out of the blue from Jimmy who said: 'Whatever you do, don’t sign for anybody until you’ve spoken to me'. He sent a car down to Bournemouth where I was with Arsenal on a golf do.

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Leicester City 1971/72

The 1971/72 season was Jon Sammels' first at the Club.

"On the journey to Leicester I realised that I would like to play for Jim because I knew he would want to play ‘thinking man’s’ football. We would be on the same wavelength. After speaking to Jimmy, I phoned up Bobby Robson to tell him I was signing for Leicester.

“Jimmy told me that he wanted to get three or four other players who had played at the top level. He tried to sign Rodney Marsh, and soon signed ‘Birch’ (Alan Birchenall) and Keith Weller, his best ever signing. Frank Worthington came later. We had a nucleus of experienced but reasonably young players.

“My first Leicester game was winning the FA Charity (now Community) Shield against Bill Shankly’s Liverpool. It was a big game and a good start to my Leicester career. It gave the Club a good start to the season.”

Leicester City won the Charity Shield by beating Liverpool 1-0. National press reports said that Leicester’s victory owed much to Sammels’ skill and authority in midfield.

Reflecting on his time as a Leicester City player, Jon continued: “We were an entertaining side. When we played away games, quite often supporters would come up to us and say, regardless of the result, that we were the team they had most enjoyed watching and that we were the best team they had seen. This was nice.

I had a lot of respect for Jim (Jimmy Bloomfield) as did the other players. He would have made a really good England manager.

Jon Sammels

“It’s important the way football is played. I’m a great believer in playing attractive football, not kick and rush. Our 4-0 win in the FA Cup at Luton in 1974 was exceptional. Malcolm Allison, a top coach, said we had played like a top continental team, and he wasn’t one for handing out compliments to other teams.

“Jim had a lot of confidence in his teams. He didn’t overload us with fancy ideas. His view was: ‘You are a good player, go out and do what your brain tells you’. He realised that football is an instinctive game.

“I had a lot of respect for Jim as did the other players. He would have made a really good England manager. Top players respected him because of his manner, his knowledge and the way he conducted himself.

“Keith Weller (who played with Jon throughout the Bloomfield era) was a tremendous all-round player. He could beat people. He was quick and strong. He had stamina and a good attitude. He could do defensive stints. He could score goals.

“His hat-trick against Liverpool in 1972 was the best hat-trick I ever saw. All three goals were fantastic. He was a really good all rounder. He was always likely to get a goal out of nothing or create a goal for someone else. He had no weaknesses.

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Jon Sammels

Sammels would spent seven years at Filbert Street.

“Frank Worthington was a maverick. When we had team meetings Jim would be talking and in the background you would hear this tapping sound. It would be Frank keeping the ball up. We accepted that was the way he was. Frank had great respect for Jim because he gave him a bit of leeway to do his own thing.”

Frank McLintock, an ex-Leicester City player who had played with Jon at Arsenal, succeeded Bloomfield as Leicester City’s manager in July 1977.

Thinking back, Jon continued: “I respect Frank a lot. He phoned me up when he got the Leicester job but I had to tell him that it was pretty certain that I was going to play for Vancouver Whitecaps.

“Then I had a meal with him at the Manor (in South Wigston) and said I would stay on for a bit longer to help him out, and I did play a few games but I left before the end of the season. Frank thinks a lot of Leicester City and it still hurts him that it didn’t work out for him as manager.”

Johan Cruyff was a special player. When I played against him in the European Fairs Cup Semi-Final, all we heard about in the briefing was Cruyff.

Jon Sammels

In his illustrious career, Jon came up against some of the world’s top players, including Johan Cruyff.

“Johan Cruyff was a special player. When I played against him in the European Fairs Cup Semi-Final, all we heard about in the briefing was Cruyff. I will never forget when he scooped the ball up 35 yards out and just volleyed it in. What skill! What confidence!

“I admired a lot of continental players. I would have liked to play on the continent. I was also a great admirer of John White (the Tottenham Hotspur player killed by lightning in 1964). He was so easy on the eye. They called him ‘the Ghost’. He was so smooth and silky.

“I also admired the toughness of strikers. Players like John Radford and Ray Kennedy at Arsenal and Frank Worthington at Leicester were always getting kicked. Radford, in some games, used to wear pads at the back of his legs as well as the front because he knew he was going to get kicked from behind!”

After Jon left Leicester City in January 1978, he had two spells playing for Vancouver Whitecaps in the NASL. He was also player/coach at Nuneaton Borough and had a stint at Trowbridge Town before running a driving school for many years based in Countesthorpe.

Leicester City Crest

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