Steve Walsh

Former Player Remembers: Steve Walsh

Steve Walsh, one of Leicester City’s most iconic captains, spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about the 1992 Play-Off Final between Brian Little’s Foxes and Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn Rovers for a place in the Premier League.
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This match at Wembley was arguably the biggest-ever game between the two clubs since they first met in 1908. Taking place on 25 May, 1992 against Dalglish’s Lancashire side, who were being bankrolled by the multi-millionaire Jack Walker.

At stake was a place in the inaugural season of Premier League, which was due to start three months later. The financial gain to the victorious club was enormous by the standards of the time making it the most lucrative match in English football history until then.

Twelve months earlier, Leicester had only managed to keep out of the Third Division for the first time in their history by defeating Oxford United on the last day of the season.

Darlington’s manager, Little, the ex-Aston Villa star, was appointed at Filbert Street in the close season and proceeded to revolutionise City’s fortunes. New players to join the Club included Kevin Poole, Nicky Platnauer, Paul Fitzpatrick, Colin Gordon and Ashley Ward, together with Steve Thompson, Gary Coatsworth and Jimmy Willis. Colin Hill, Simon Grayson and Mike Whitlow were added to the squad later in the season.

Little’s side made a good start, had a mid-season blip and then won seven out of eight games in March and April 1992, to reach the second automatic promotion place with only two games to go. A key figure in this late run was Kevin ‘Rooster’ Russell, whose vital goals included his strike in a 1-0 victory at Blackburn.

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Steve Walsh & Dion Dublin

Battling against Dion Dublin in the play-off semi-final.

Unfortunately, Leicester lost the final two games of the season to Charlton Athletic and Newcastle United. They finished in fourth place to qualify for the play-off semi-finals, where they had to beat Cambridge United to earn the right to meet either Derby County or Blackburn in the final at Wembley. Walsh was a key figure in this season.

“Things changed a lot and quickly when Brian arrived,” Steve began. “He was a great fella and he gave everybody a chance. He was just an alright, down to earth nice fella, but if you messed him around, then you’d soon find yourself in a bit of trouble.

“He was a strong manager, but I think he had a bit of a soft spot for me. I got on very well with him. I’d even go round to his house for meetings on a Friday night. The players didn’t know. He wanted me to be in between the players and the manager, like Martin O’Neill did later. It created a good bond.

“When we reached the play-off semi-final, we avoided Blackburn and played Cambridge, who had beaten us 5-1 at their ground earlier in the season, but we’d beaten them 2-1 at Filbert Street three games before the end of the season. 

“We played the first leg at their Abbey Ground. John Beck was their manager and he believed in the long ball game. He used all sorts of ploys. We’d turn up and the bath would be cold and the pre-match footballs would be flat. He used all these tactics, like Neil Warnock used to. They had Dion Dublin, Steve Claridge and Lee Philpott in their side.

It was a massive game for everyone. It was winner takes all. After nine months of hard work, everything depended on 90 minutes of football.

Steve Walsh

“Beck would give his goalkeeper points if he could kick the ball a long way upfield. It was horrible to go there. Beck didn’t want you to have it easy. We knew we’d have to fight our way into the game.

“I should have been sent off though for an incident off the ball when I elbowed Dion Dublin which laid him out. I did this because he tried to really hurt me in the first few minutes of the game. It was a really bad tackle and, for some reason, I elbowed him. If I’d been sent off, I would have missed Wembley.

“Rooster Russell put us 1-0 up with a scrambled goal and later they equalised. It was a hard game, but I was convinced that when we came away with a draw, we’d win the second leg at Filbert Street and get to Wembley. I loved the fact that we played away first. I always felt that when we played at Filbert Street with a full crowd we’d win.

“The second leg was an incredible game. We won 5-0. We were 2-0 up at half-time and then, in the second half, we scored three in five minutes. When it was all over, the scenes and celebrations were incredible.

“To get to Wembley was an achievement. Our opponents were Blackburn Rovers, with Liverpool legend Dalglish in charge. They were backed by Jack Walker’s money and had bought some good players. It was a massive game for everyone. It was winner takes all. After nine months of hard work, everything depended on 90 minutes of football. The value of the game was worth millions.

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Leicester City 1991/92

The Leicester City squad from the 1991/92 season.

“I was born in Preston and, for me, Blackburn Rovers had always been a big Lancashire team and they were then too with Dalglish in charge and players like Mike Newell and David Speedie playing for them. It was a great chance for us to get into the Premier League for its first season.

“To help prepare us, Brian took us to Wembley a couple of days earlier to watch the Third and Fourth Division play-off finals. This was to get us acclimatised, but all that waiting might have made us more nervous. 

“Whatever anyone says, these play-offs were special days for the Leicester fans and for the players. They were special memories I’ll never forget. It was incredible. It seemed like all of Leicestershire turned up at Wembley. There was a sea of fans as we pulled up at the gates at Wembley. It was incredible. I was very proud to lead the team out. The Leicester fans were a sea of blue and white.”

The game will always be remembered for an incident in the first half. Walsh challenged Speedie in the penalty area, and the Rovers forward went to ground very easily. Newell scored from the spot and Blackburn had a 1-0 half-time lead.

In the second half, City forced a couple of goal line clearances but, with six minutes remaining, Leicester’s goalkeeper Carl Muggleton brought down Mark Atkins in the area. This time Newell failed to score from the spot, with Muggleton diving to the left to make a save. The final score was 1-0.

My ambition when I first stepped through the door at Leicester City was to play at the top level.

Steve Walsh

Reflecting on the game, Steve continued: “I’ll never forget that it was such a hot day. It was a hundred degrees inside the stadium and that didn’t suit me at all. When we emerged from the tunnel the whole stadium erupted. It was quite a frightening place if it was your first experience of Wembley, but I had played there before with Wigan in the Football League Trophy Final in 1985 and had tasted success at Wembley then.

“I thought I had a bad game. Probably people don’t see it that way, but I felt I’d let us down really. To be honest, it just felt that I’d not played well. I think it was the surroundings. Wembley was full and there was a great atmosphere. I was too busy looking at that rather than focusing on my game.

“It was a tremendous effort to get to Wembley and to take Blackburn as close as we did to a final score of 1-0. It was clearly a dive by Speedie. Whenever I see him now, I kind of get on with Speedie, but if that penalty is mentioned we could still go to war about it.

“Losing to Blackburn was a bitter end to a season as we had fought tooth and nail to get to the final. We gave it our best shot. After Newell’s penalty, we got back into the game and were close with a few chances, but it just wasn’t to be.

“After the game, we returned to Leicestershire and went to the Sketchley Grange Hotel. We were down. It wasn’t a nice feeling, so we got a few drinks to forget about it for a while. But when you wake up the next day, the disappointment was back again. My ambition when I first stepped through the door at Leicester City was to play at the top level.

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Colin Hill

The Lancashire side won the final at Wembley, but Leicester would be promoted themselves two seasons later.

However, when you think about it, it had been a massive achievement for us to reach the final especially after the previous season. If we had got the Premier League then it probably would have been a bit too early for us, but I’d still rather have beaten Blackburn. As it was it made us all the more determined to go on and get promotion next time. I played up front a lot that season and finished up top scorer.”

Two seasons later, Steve’s wish of playing in the Premier League was eventually fulfilled. After losing to Swindon Town in the 1993 final, City reached their third successive showpiece in 1994, this time against Derby County, when Steve famously netted both goals in a 2-1 victory. However, in the second match of the season in the Premier League, Blackburn once again proved to be his nemesis as he ruefully recalled.

He added: “We’d played Newcastle in the first game and then played at Blackburn on a Tuesday evening in the second game, when I injured my knee again and was out for a few weeks.”   

As for Blackburn Rovers, they finished fourth and second in their first two seasons in the Premier League before winning the Premier League title in their third season.

Leicester City Crest





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