Richard Smith

Former Player Remembers: Richard Smith

A Leicester City fan as a boy, Richard Smith turned professional at 18, before becoming an established first team player under Brian Little. In conversation with Club Historian John Hutchinson, the centre-back recalls representing the Foxes at Wembley, his struggles with injury, a transfer to Grimsby Town and life after football.
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Lutterworth-born Richard first visited Filbert Street as a nine-year-old in January 1980 when City played Hibernian in a friendly fixture.

“I sat in the Double Decker with my dad,” Richard remembered. “It was very cold and George Best, a hero of mine, played for Hibernian. From that moment I was hooked. 

“I started playing football at Blaby Stokes Primary School. We won the Rice Bowl, a big trophy in the county, for three of my four years at the school.  

“I began training with Leicester City at Belvoir Drive when I was nine. Jock Wallace was the manager. I was quite terrified of him at that age! Dave Richardson was our coach. We’d be there right through all the school holidays. 

“When I was about 13, I was at the School of Excellence. Jon Sammels coached us in the new gym at Belvoir Drive on Wednesday nights. He was an absolutely amazing coach on the technical side, teaching us skilful exercises and one-touch football. We all wore grey tops and white shorts and felt quite special. 

“I was on the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) from the age of 16 to 18. We were paid £27.50 per week in the first year and £35 a week in the second year. We learned our trade, finding out everything about the Football Club from top to bottom. That scheme made us into who we are today. It developed me as a person.  

“We had an early start at the training ground, at 7:30am. We had to clean boots, lay the kit out for the pros and get the balls and cones ready for the coaching sessions. Then we’d do some training. At the end of the day, we had to clean the changing room, tidy up after the pros and clean their boots. We had work experience every Friday, doing things like working with the groundsmen, marking out the pitches and working in the Club shop. In the close season, we painted the changing rooms. We also used to attend college one day a week.

We were coached by Bobby Roberts (Leicester City’s record signing in 1963). He was inspiring. Out of everybody, I made the most progress through Bobby.

Richard Smith

“I caught the bus to the training ground every day from my parents’ house in Blaby. We’d finish our day at 5pm. Many a time I fell asleep on the bus going home and missed my stop!

“We were coached by Bobby Roberts (Leicester City’s record signing in 1963). He was inspiring. Out of everybody, I made the most progress through Bobby, because of the way he coached and how he talked to you one-to-one.”

In December 1988, aged 18, Richard signed as a professional at the Club.

He explained: “Three of us, Ian Baraclough, Paul Kitson and myself, were taken on about six months before anyone else. We had a really good youth team, which I captained, and they wanted to secure us. I went with my dad to sign. David Pleat was the manager by then. My first contract was £200 per week. Pleat had a great knowledge of the game but he often used to forget our names!” 

In September 1989, Richard went on loan to Fourth Division side Cambridge United. 

“It took me hours to get to Cambridge by train,” Richard said. “I’d come back to Leicester at the weekend after a game. Chris Turner and then John Beck were the managers. There were some great characters there. Three of them, Dion Dublin, Lee Philpott and Steve Claridge, later played for Leicester. Beck’s methods were quite bizarre. We had to have a cold shower before a game, and before we went onto the pitch, we had to get in a big circle, run on the spot shouting for 30 seconds.

“Playing first team football in that environment taught me a lot about the game. It was very competitive and games were tough and physical. You learned to look after yourself. It was a good experience.”

Later that season, Richard made his Leicester debut as a substitute against Oldham Athletic, the first of his four substitute appearances that season. 

The following season (1990/91), he was loaned to Southern League side Nuneaton Borough.

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Richard Smith

Celebrating a memorable goal against Crystal Palace in January 1992.

“I’d had a couple of injuries,” Richard recalled. “I needed to regain fitness playing at a decent standard. I really enjoyed it at Nuneaton. I was that confident as a young lad that I even offered to take a penalty, although I missed! I’m not saying it was easy, but it was comfortable and it gave me confidence. I realised I could play at that standard quite easily.”

Later, Richard made his first start for the Foxes in 3-1 home defeat by Blackburn Rovers. With the Club in 21st position in the Second Division, it was Pleat’s last game in charge.

“Pleat’s assistant, Gordon Lee, took over,” Richard added. “He was a great guy to work with. He was a lot more relaxed in his approach. The lads responded well to him and we avoided relegation in the last game of the season when Tony James’ goal defeated Oxford 1-0.”

During the close season, Brian Little became the new manager at Filbert Street: “He brought John Gregory and Allan Evans in as coaches and Steve Hunt became the youth team manager. As a unit of coaches, they really complimented each other. It was a great blend. They instilled discipline from day one. We had to be clean shaven for games. We had to wear flip-flops in the changing rooms. If you were a minute late, you got fined. It was a huge change for us, but it had a big effect. We all knew where we stood. Brian built his squad based on strength. Sometimes we had about six centre-backs on the pitch! We were hard to play against. We weren’t a particularly attractive side, but it was effective.”

That season (1991/92), Richard made 33 league and cup appearances but he missed the last 11 games of the season, including the play-off final at Wembley, against Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn Rovers.

“A highlight for me that season was scoring against Crystal Palace at the Filbert Street end in the third round of the FA Cup,” he revealed. “We won 1-0 and it was the first time in seven years that Leicester got past the third round. I’d actually scored my first goal for the Club the previous week against Southend. Those two goals were the only ones I ever scored for Leicester!”

A year later, in 1992/93, after seven successive wins in the league in February and March, City reached the play-off final again for a place in the Premier League. 

Walking out at Wembley to play for the Club I’d grown up watching was probably the proudest moment of my football career.

Richard Smith

The opponents were Glenn Hoddle’s Swindon Town. 

“I only missed two games, through suspension, that season,” Richard continued. “In a match against Oxford, I had to take over in goal. Moggy (goalkeeper Carl Muggleton) got injured. We didn’t have substitute goalkeepers then. At half-time, I was nominated to go in goal for the second half because I sometimes messed about in goal in training. I got a clean sheet, although I didn’t have a lot to do! It’s a fond memory.”

In the last match of the season, having already qualified for the play- offs, the Foxes were defeated 7-1 by Newcastle United at St. James’ Park.

“We were 6-0 down at half-time!” Richard smirked. “But we drew the second half! We played the first leg of the semi-final against Portsmouth at Nottingham Forest’s ground as they were demolishing the old Main Stand at Filbert Street. [Julian] Joachim scored and we won 1-0. The second leg at Portsmouth was a great night. We drew 2-2 and got to the final. 

“Walking out at Wembley to play for the Club I’d grown up watching was probably the proudest moment of my football career, along with scoring in the FA Cup. It wasn’t to be our day though. We were 3-0 down, pulled back to 3-3 and then lost to a late penalty.”

The following season, City, in their third successive play-off final , defeated Derby County 2-1, with Steve Walsh scoring both goals. Richard missed most of the season through injury. He had recovered, though, to play in the Club’s first-ever fixture in the recently-established Premier League against Newcastle United at Filbert Street.

“It was another proud moment to play in the Premier League in that match against Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley,” he continued. “That was a fearsome front two! I played about a dozen games that season but injuries occurred again. I had three hernia operations and a hamstring problem. Also, I’d always struggled with lower back pain, even in training. I wore a brace and took lots of medication.

“Being out injured is depressing and gets you down. I just had to get on with it and work it out for myself. As a 25-year-old lad, you’re not mentally mature enough to cope with this. 

“Halfway through the season, Little, who I had a great relationship with, left for Aston Villa. Mark McGhee came in and that didn’t go too well for me. Looking back, I missed Brian, who I’d go fishing with, more than I thought. We were relegated at the end of the season.

“The next season, in September 1995, I was loaned to Grimsby Town and then McGhee left in December 1995. He was replaced by Martin O’Neill. He was brilliant. We had a really open and honest conversation. He told me he was happy for me to stay to fight for my place, but that he couldn’t guarantee first team football, so in March 1996, I moved permanently to Grimsby, who were then in what is now called the Championship. 

“I was there for four seasons and played just over 100 games but, in my second full season, I ruptured my Achilles twice and was out injured for a whole year.”

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Richard Smith

In action during the Club's first-ever Premier League fixture.

Richard was back in the side for the 1998/99 season but then his back injury kicked in: “I got to the stage when I couldn’t even train. I just played in matches and then it took three or four days to recover. I was in a lot of pain. A specialist told me the disc space between my vertebrae had deteriorated and that to play again I’d have to have a spinal fusion with steel rods in my back. I had this done and it was the worst decision I ever made.

“I played one or two more games but I was in so much pain. I couldn’t train or play. I was coming to the end of my contract and it was terminated. I had to retire at the age of 30.

“I had no job, so my family moved back to Leicester. It was a complete life change. My wife Kate and I started buying and selling property. We’d used a lot of skips in the property business, so 15 years ago, we bought a lorry and 12 skips. Since then we’ve developed a family business within the local area called BASH Skip Hire.” 

Richard concluded: “When I look back, I do pinch myself sometimes. I played over 100 games for Leicester. I had great affection for Filbert Street. I have really fond memories!”

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