Burton Albion vs. Leicester City

Former Player Remembers: Ian Wilson & Paul Ramsey

During the pandemic, Club Historian John Hutchinson spoke to internationals Ian Wilson and Paul Ramsey, who each played over 300 games for Leicester City, including a strange match in an empty stadium 38 years ago this week.
More on this story...

The events leading to this behind-closed-doors game began in January 1985 when First Division Leicester City were drawn away against Neil Warnock’s part time non-league side Burton Albion.

The decision was taken to play the game at Derby County’s Baseball Ground. Leicester City won the tie 6-1 but trouble in the crowd resulted in the FA ordering that the game be replayed behind closed doors at Coventry City’s Highfield Road Ground. Ramsey scored the only goal of that game to secure a 1-0 victory for Leicester.

From their respective homes in Scotland and Leicestershire, Scotland International Wilson and Northern Ireland international Ramsey recalled the build up to the behind-closed-doors game and the strange atmosphere which surrounded it.

Ian began: “When the draw was made, Burton were a non-league club. We’d had experience a couple of years before of losing to non-league Harlow Town. We knew how difficult it could be going away from home in an FA Cup tie. There’d been so many banana skins before. It was a favourable draw for us but obviously one that Burton would be up for and a giant killing was on the cards.”

Paul agreed with this view: “When you are a First Division player you always feel that you can switch off a little bit against a non-league side and you think it’s going to be easy. However, you always get a tough game.

Expand photo
Leicester City 1984/85

The Foxes were a First Division side in 1984/85.

“Burton had actually won about six FA cup ties to qualify for this round so they were on a run. Losing to Harlow Town a couple of years earlier was at the back of our minds. I didn’t play in that one! After that game, the manager Jock Wallace went nuts!”

Ian continued: “When Burton got the draw, and it was their home tie, they were in discussions with Leicester and the FA to try and make the game more attractive to their fans and financially better for them. Their idea was to take the tie to a bigger stadium to get a bigger gate.

"Being a local derby, either the Baseball Ground or the Forest’s ground would be the best stadium for the tie. It ended up at the Baseball Ground. There was a huge crowd at the game and a fantastic atmosphere.”

The atmosphere was also recalled by Paul: “There was a great atmosphere, especially behind the goal. It was unbelievable. The fans were all standing and were very vocal. It was so different from nowadays when people sit.”

Another feature of the game was the state of the pitch.

Expand photo
Paul Ramsey

Ramsey scored the winner in Coventry.

“The pitch wasn’t great that day,” Ian recalled.” It was all a bit ‘iffy’ as to whether the game would go ahead. The pitch was frozen and then it softened up and got really heavy, but it was the same for both teams and we got off to a good start in the game.”

“We scored first,” Paul remembered, referring to Gary Lineker’s 16th minute goal. “Not long afterwards they equalised. Then came the incident with the Burton goalkeeper who was struck by a missile from the crowd behind the goal. At the time we didn’t think there might be a problem.

“We thought he was play acting. We just wanted to get on with the game. Neil Warnock was their manager. He must have been young then. He came onto the pitch. He was probably thinking he could get something out of this. He thought it was worth complaining. He’s always on at referees, even now!”

Ian also held this view. “The goalkeeper wasn’t knocked out,” he said. “I don’t know what he was struck with. When Neil Warnock came on the pitch, he wanted the goalkeeper to carry on. Then when we scored five more goals, he blamed the defeat on the injury on their goalkeeper. That was the frustrating part of it. It was a difficult one. If it had been an outfield player, it would have been okay.”

The atmosphere at game was beginning to turn a little sour.

When there’s no crowd, as a player, you don’t make the same decisions that you would normally make when the crowd is there. It becomes a bit lacklustre.

Paul Ramsey

“It wasn’t a nice game,” Paul said. “We weren’t sure what was going to happen next. There was a wee bit of tension there. At the end of the game we had no idea that there would have to be a replay. We’d won 6-1. We just thought ‘Thank God that’s over.’ We’d done the business. We were on a bit of a high.

“The Ind Coope Burton Brewery sponsored both teams and after the game they gave us a beer barrel. I don’t remember drinking any of it. It probably went into the Directors’ Room! Then for the next few days there was talk in the papers about Burton making a complaint and wanting a replay.”

The FA made a decision to replay the game,” Ian continued. “There had been a wee bit of trouble behind the goal but personally I don’t think the game should have been replayed. Neil Warnock was really argumentative. He pushed and pushed his case through the press. He probably wanted the tie to be replayed so there would another pay day for them.

There was also the chance he could win, but he wouldn’t have wanted a replay behind closed doors. However, the FA ordered the replay to take place 11 days later at Coventry City’s Highfield Road behind closed doors. Playing in an empty stadium was so peculiar to us and so strange. It was surreal. It was like a practice game.”

Paul added: “The replay took place in bad weather. It had been snowy. I think that there was an early kick-off at about 12 o’clock. That experience was surreal. We’d all played for the reserves when it was quiet with no spectators but this was strange. We got there and went onto the pitch and there was no crowd. You could only hear the players and managers shouting. But you buckled down. You kept focused.

Expand photo
Paul Ramsey's goal

A view of Paul Ramsay's goal at an empty Highfield Road.

“It was such a contrast from the atmosphere at the Baseball Ground. We won 1-0. I scored the goal. Alan Smith crossed the ball, Gary (Lineker) knocked it on and I ran onto it and just tucked it inside the 'keeper. It was quite early on, in the first five minutes. By scoring that I set a club record. At that time it was the only goal scored for Leicester City behind closed doors.”

Ian felt that the replay wasn’t a like a cup tie. “I didn’t have a problem motivating myself,” he said. “The fact that Burton had wanted the game replayed was enough incentive for us. But it didn’t prove to be easy though with Paul scoring the only goal to win it. Part of the pitch was pretty frozen.

“With no protection the pitch was pretty solid. Certain areas were softened up and it was quite difficult to play in that match. The pitches are so lovely now but back then, we used to play at the end of the season with only the four corners of the pitch having a bit of grass on.

“Playing in an empty stadium is very strange. There’s nobody else there. There’s nobody watching. Normally when your team bus turns up, your own fans or the opposing fans are there but nobody was there to meet us. There was TV there because they were looking for an upset, but it wasn’t on Match of the Day the following Saturday. It was just there because it was a newsworthy story. They only showed highlights of the game on the news.

“It’s not easy for the players to play in these circumstances. It really confirms the importance for football of the fans being there. Football loses a lot if there aren’t thousands of fans questioning decisions, shouting for free-kicks and reacting to goals, great saves and penalties.

Expand photo
Leicester City 1985

Celebrating the victory over Burton with a free barrel of beer from the Club's sponsor.

“All this makes the game so much more presentable. It makes a huge difference to the players as well. It doesn’t half spur the players on when you’ve got fantastic supporters screaming for you to win the game. I’m sure Neil Warnock and Gordon Milne (the Leicester City manager) wouldn’t have enjoyed that game at all.

“Hopefully the present day behind-closed-doors matches don’t go on for too long. I have a friend in Turkey and they are playing their games in empty stadiums as well. Where I played, at Besiktas, when Gordon (Milne) and I were there, they’ve taken photographs of the fans and put them onto cardboard cut outs which they’ve placed on their seats!”

Paul agrees about the importance of having a crowd present. “It’s a totally different game without the fans,” he said. “Gary McAllister phoned me yesterday and he said football’s not meant to be played without fans in the stadium. That sums it up for me. When there’s no crowd, as a player, you don’t make the same decisions that you would normally make when the crowd is there. It becomes a bit lacklustre.

“It’s not right. Having the crowd behind you is one of the reasons you play the game, because of the atmosphere and the adrenalin. You try to do well for the fans. It’s a completely different game without them. Not too many players will enjoy it although today there will be a global audience watching. In our case there was just a camera behind the goal to take a picture of a goal scored.”

Leicester City Crest





Get Game Pass

To watch or listen to Leicester City’s Sky Bet Championship matches live on Foxes Hub, you now need to have a Game Pass. Please click below to get yours and enjoy the action!

Buy Game Pass Now!