Last month, he sat down with Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career in football. In part two of the interview, Steve looks back on the 1982 FA Cup Semi-Final, Jock Wallace’s abrupt departure from the Club, promotion under Gordon Milne, playing in the old First Division with Gary Lineker and Alan Smith, and how this trio scored 158 goals between them in three seasons. He also reflects on his time at Filbert Street and explains why he left the Club.
In the first part of this interview, Steve remembered his time at West Bromwich Albion, Shamrock Rovers, Birmingham City and why he signed for Jock Wallace’s Leicester in 1981. He also recalled some of the highlights playing for the Foxes in the old First Division and reaching the FA Cup last-four in 1982, following the victory over Shrewsbury Town in the quarter-finals in the famous match when City used three goalkeepers, one of whom was Steve.
Thinking back to the semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur, Steve recalled: “That game was fairly disappointing. We’d gone to Villa Park thinking we could smash Spurs because of the run we’d had. Confidence was high. The pitch was like a black hole. There was so much sand on it. It was one of those games that you want to win but we just couldn’t seem to get going. Also, they had Ossie Ardiles and Glenn Hoddle in their side. Hoddle ran the show that day. Garth Crooks scored in the second half and, of course, our defender Tommy Williams broke his leg. You could only have one substitute in those days and we’d already used ours. We had to play with 10 men, Ian Wilson scored an own goal and we lost 2-0.”
You knew what you had to do with Jock and that was good for everybody. Maybe football needs something like that now!Steve Lynex
At the end of the season, City finished eighth in the old Second Division, a year after the team had been relegated from the top flight. During the close season, the Club was shocked by the news that their charismatic manager Wallace had left despite having recently signed a five-year contract. On 15 July, 1982, Motherwell unveiled him as their new manager. The impact of this defection on Leicester was huge. For four years, Jock had dominated Leicester City Football Club and was building a very good young side. The fans’ feeling of disappointment was palpable.
“Jock leaving was a blow,” Steve recalled. “We never saw it coming. It had never been spoken about and then, all of a sudden, we heard that he’d gone. It was quite a shock! He was a great manager, and a very good motivator. You knew what you had to do with Jock and that was good for everybody. Maybe football needs something like that now!”
In June 1982, City appointed Gordon Milne as Wallace’s replacement. Gordon had played for Liverpool and England, had managed Wigan Athletic and, for the previous 10 years, Coventry City.
Steve added: “When Gordon came in, he was completely the opposite to Jock. He was more of a man manager. He’d call you to one side and talk things out with you. It was a bit hard for him at first with his Coventry connections, but he soon got going and we started to crack on again.”
One of Milne’s first decisions was to play the future Arsenal and England centre-forward Alan Smith in the first team. Nineteen-year-old Smith had been signed by Wallace from non-league Alvechurch and hadn’t expected to be in the first team so quickly. Over the next three seasons, the attacking trio of Steve, Lineker and Smith scored an impressive total of 158 goals between them.
“One year, we were the highest scoring forward line, when I think we got 57 goals between us!” Steve said. “That was down to Gordon. He coached individual players. Gary, Alan and me just clicked. They knew that as soon as I got the ball, I’d be off down the wing and then cross the ball. Whenever Gary would come near Smudger (Smith) would go far. Then if I did get Gary near, I’d get Smudger at the far post. We had a great understanding. It was a great forward line. It had a lot of speed.”
One impressive feature of Steve’s play was his ability to take penalties.
“I think I only missed one penalty, and that was just before I left Leicester,” Steve continued. “When we beat Carlisle 6-0 (in August 1982) I had the chance to get a hat-trick of penalties. I’d already got a hat-trick in the match, which included two penalties. Gary had also got two goals and then we were awarded a third penalty. He was up for a hat-trick, I’d already got mine, so I let him take the penalty. I was told afterwards that nobody had ever scored a hat-trick of penalties before and that I’d have been the first player to do this. After he scored his penalty, Gary wanted to be the regular penalty taker, but I told him: ‘No you’re not taking any more!’ Gary got the original matchball, not me, but I got another ball later. I don’t know where they got it from! I think I scored 21 consecutive penalties until I missed one against Luton just before I left. I always put it in the same spot. I used to have a competition in training with Wally (goalkeeper Mark Wallington). I tried to never miss and he tried to save them! Good days.”
In Milne’s first season at Filbert Street (1982/83), Lynex, Lineker and Smith scored 48 league goals between them. The season ended with an unbeaten 15-match run. This lifted City into the top three with only three games to go before the end of the season. To make sure of promotion, the Foxes needed to win their last game, at home to Burnley, to ensure their place in the top tier at Fulham’s expense. Leicester drew 0-0 with Burnley in front of a capacity Filbert Street crowd, but Fulham lost at Derby County. On the face of it, City were promoted, but the game at Derby ended in controversial circumstances as the referee ended the game early because of crowd problems.
“The game at Fulham ended about three minutes early,” Steve recalled. “I remember watching the Fulham game later evening on TV. The crowd spilled over the touchline. Fulham were losing 1-0. A Fulham player was running down the line and a fan kicked him and the referee just went: ‘We’ll stop the game’. That was the game finished.”
We were over there (in Portugal) when the news came through that the Fulham result was upheld and that we were promoted. That’s when we were allowed to have a few drinks.Steve Lynex
A Football League enquiry took several days before deciding that the Fulham result should stand.
“Straight after the game, the team went to a foreign country on a trip,” Steve remembered. “I think it might have been Portugal. We were over there when the news came through that the Fulham result was upheld and that we were promoted. That’s when we were allowed to have a few drinks.”
Leicester finished 15th in each of their first two seasons back in the top flight. In the first season back in the old First Division, the trio of Lynex, Smith and Lineker scored a total of 50 goals and Steve won the Player of the Year award.
Referring to this, Steve said: “I was surprised at that. We were team players. There were no egos. Gordon brought players to fit into the team’s structure. I was in the toilet when they announced that I’d won. When I came out Gary was on stage with the runners-up award. I thought he had won Player of the Year! When I went up for what I thought was the runners-up award I said I thought the best man had won the Player of the Year! I didn’t know until after I’d said this that it was me who had won! Everyone must have thought that I was a right big-headed swine!”
Lynex, Lineker and Smith scored another 60 goals between them in the 1984/85 season. Lineker was the top flight’s joint top scorer with 24 goals. In the close season, he transferred to league champions Everton for an initial fee of £800,000.
“In a way, we were expecting that to be honest,” Steve reflected. “You can’t carry on doing what he was doing and not be noticed. I was just happy to help him progress and supply the goals for him.”
Steve had two more seasons in the top flight with City. At the end of the first of these (1986/87), Bryan Hamilton arrived at Filbert Street as team manager to work in tandem with Milne, who became general manager before leaving Leicester in May 1987.
“When Bryan Hamilton arrived, that was me gone.” Steve said. “I got Man of the Match in the first game of the season under Bryan but, the following Monday, he told me that I wasn’t in his plans, so I went on loan back to Birmingham (in October 1986). I was playing well there, but Leicester’s results were not going too well so I was recalled to Filbert Street in January.
“However, I still wasn’t getting on with Bryan, so I knocked on Gordon Milne’s door and said: ‘I can’t play for this geezer’. And that was it. I was sold two days later back to West Brom (in March 1987). I was totally gutted to leave Leicester. I loved Leicester to bits: the fans, all the people inside the Club and the players. It really was, and still is, a great club to be at.
The fans appreciated what I was doing and they were fantastic to me.Steve Lynex
“I was at West Brom for just over a year and then I went to Cardiff City. Halfway through the Cardiff contract, I just totally fell out with football and retired. I just went in and said: ‘I quit’.
“I then went into the pub business, and I had to get FIFA international clearance just to play for the pub team. This was because I’d walked out halfway through my contract at Cardiff. I couldn’t play for anybody else until my contract ended. I didn’t care. As I said, I fell out of love with football for ages and ages. Then, when my son started playing, I’ve taken up an interest again.”
Steve concluded with some final thoughts on his time at Leicester City: “It’s the buzz of the fans that gets you going and the buzz at Filbert Street was second to none. The fans were the 12th and the 13th player. The crowd pushed you on as soon as you got the ball. The crowd knew that you’d always give 100 per cent even if you didn’t win or play well. The fans could accept that. My time at Leicester was my best time. The fans appreciated what I was doing and they were fantastic to me.”
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