Richard Stearman

Former Player Remembers: Richard Stearman

Earlier this month, defender Richard Stearman spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his time on Filbert Way.
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Stearman made over a combined 400 appearances for City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, who visited Leicester last weekend. The ex-Foxes defender was speaking to the matchday programme ahead of that game. 

“I was born in Wolverhampton but moved to Market Harborough when I was four,” Richard began. “Playing at Harborough Town, I was picked up by Leicester City when I was 10 and was part of the first intake at the Academy’s new Centre of Excellence.

“I worked my way through all the age groups. I think I’m the only player to win the Young Player of the Year award three years on the bounce. They let me keep the trophy!

“At that time, Leicester were financially struggling and youth players were thrust into first team action a bit sooner than expected, which was brilliant for the likes of myself and others. I’m very grateful for the opportunity I was given. 

“The manager, Micky Adams, pushed me through quite early. I went on the 2004 pre-season tour when I was 16, which was quite a big thing. I’d jumped ahead of a group of defenders who were probably expecting to go instead of me. It was great to have that exposure to first team football. I’ve got a lot to thank Micky and his staff for, by involving me with the first team at such a young age. 

When Rob [Kelly] succeeded Craig [Levein] as manager, we picked up some good results. I can’t speak highly enough of Rob. He helped us all a lot. A great guy and a great coach

Richard Stearman

“I made my debut for the reserves when I was 16 and made my first team debut not long after turning 17 (in October 2004). I clearly remember my debut, a Championship game at Cardiff’s old ground. Micky had just left and Howard Wilkinson was in charge at the time. Making the bench was a big achievement for me. Howard asked me if I’d ever played central midfield before. I’d have said yes to anything so I said I had. He put me on in central midfield for the last 10 minutes or so, telling me to run around and make some tackles. It was a great experience for me at such a young age. It whetted my appetite to get more games. 

“That season, (2004/05) with Craig Levein now the manager, I played a handful of times. My first goal was home against Millwall. I was free at the back post. Paddy McCarthy flicked a header to me and I swivelled and hit it on the volley. All my family were in the stands, as well as the Academy lads who were backing me. It was a great feeling.” 

The following year (2005/06), Richard was an established first team player and, in September 2005, he became an England Under-19s international, having already represented his country at Under-16s, Under-17s and Under-18s levels. 

With City struggling in the Championship, Levein was replaced as manager by Rob Kelly in January 2006, even though the Foxes had recently defeated Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup. 

“Levein’s departure was a blow,” Richard continued. “He’d played me a lot in the first team. I probably played for about 10 managers at Leicester. This could have been distracting but I was just delighted to be in the first team. I just kept my head down, worked hard and tried to improve.

“When Rob succeeded Craig as manager, we picked up some good results. I can’t speak highly enough of Rob. He helped us all a lot. A great guy and a great coach.”

At about this time Roy Keane, who was then manager of Sunderland, wanted to sign Richard: “That was obviously flattering but Leicester turned down the bid.  I didn’t want to leave Leicester. I was playing regularly, and I loved my time there.” 

In 2006/07, the Foxes finished a disappointing 19th in the Championship. Thinking back, Richard continued: “We played Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa in the League Cup at home in October. I played in central midfield alongside my good friend James Wesolowski. I scored but we lost 3-2 with Villa’s winning goal coming in the last minute of extra-time.” 

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Richard Stearman

Richard Stearman became a crucial part of the Foxes line-up.

Before the home fixture against Coventry City in February 2007, Milan Mandarić, accompanied by his grandson, was introduced to the crowd as the Club’s new owner. Two months later, with the side in danger of relegation, Kelly was replaced by caretaker manager Nigel Worthington on a short-term contract until the end of the season and relegation was avoided. 

The 2007/08 campaign was arguably the worst in City’s history as, for the first time ever, the team was relegated to League 1. The Club was in turmoil, appointing three new managers (Martin Allen, Gary Megson and Ian Holloway) and five caretaker managers and coaches (Jon Rudkin, Steve Beaglehole, Mike Stowell, Gerry Taggart and Frank Burrows) as well as playing 40 players in the first team.

“With every new manager, we gained a few more players and when you get squads of that size it can cause real problems,” Richard continued. “This turmoil ended up with us being relegated. It was the only time I’ve cried throughout my career. We were relegated after the last game of the season at Stoke. It was a goalless draw. That day, Stoke got promoted to the Premier League and we got relegated. They were on the pitch jubilant and celebrating. I was in bits in the dressing room.”

Despite this, Richard emerged from the season with great credit. Richard was voted Players’ Player of the Year and Player of the Year. That summer, in the 2008 close season, Richard transferred to Championship club Wolverhampton Wanderers.

He explained why: “I was devastated to leave Leicester. If we hadn’t been relegated, I’d certainly have stayed. I knew, after the Stoke match, that I might have to leave. The Club needed money and I was an asset they could sell. My contract was coming into its final year and rather than let the contract run down, they wanted to cash in. At the same time, I was hoping to get picked for the England Under-21s, with the European finals coming up the following season. I knew that if I was in League 1, I probably wouldn’t get selected. Also, Leicester could spend the money they got for me and rebuild the squad. 

I think I’m in [Wolves'] top 50 list for the most appearances. It makes me and my family very proud that I could turn out for a club of that size and stature, with their history, for so many seasons especially as I was born there.

Richard Stearman

“I had a great first season at Wolves and we got promoted into the Premier League as champions. Mick McCarthy was the manager. He was brilliant for my development. I won four England Under 21s caps too and I was selected for the PFA Championship Team of the Year. 

“At Leicester, I’d played mostly at right-back which wasn’t my natural position, so it was great to be signed as a centre-half by Mick, who’d been a great centre-half himself. He really brought me on as a player and as a person.”

Richard had three seasons in the Premier League while at Molineux: “It was a dream come true. I’d worked hard to get into the Premier League. Everything was on a different scale. I thrived. I loved playing against the best players in the world. The best individual I came up against was Luis Suárez before he went to Barcelona. He had everything. The best partnership I remember was Agüero and [Carlos] Tevez. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to pit myself against them and players like Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres.”   

It was around this time that Richard was contacted about playing for the Republic of Ireland because his mother’s side of the family was Irish. The whole process of sorting out an Irish passport and citizenship took too long and then the Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni left. Richard was on standby for the Irish squad a couple of times but didn’t play. 

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Wolves,” Richard continued. “I think I’m in their top 50 list for the most appearances. It makes me and my family very proud that I could turn out for a club of that size and stature, with their history, for so many seasons especially as I was born there.”

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Richard Stearman

He also played Premier League football for Wolves.

In his fourth season at Molineux (2011/12) Richard broke his wrist: “I’ve been lucky throughout my career with injuries. I had an operation to put a plate in my wrist, had a plaster cast put on it and I was soon back playing.” 

However, Wolves were relegated at the end of the season after three years in the top flight. During the following season (2012/13), when Wolves were relegated again, this time to League 1, Richard re-joined his old manager McCarthy at Ipswich Town on loan.

“It was a tough couple of years at Wolves with back-to-back relegations,” he explained. “Then Kenny Jackett came in as Wolves new manager (in May 2013) for the League 1 season. He changed a lot and reset the club. I came back from Ipswich and Kenny told me that he saw me as a big part of his plans. This was music to my ears as I hadn’t wanted to leave in the first place. It couldn’t have gone better. We broke numerous records that season and got promoted back to the Championship as League 1 champions. The following season (2014/15), we missed out on the play-offs for the Premier League on goal difference and I was both the fans’ and the players’ Player of the Year.

“I started the next season as Wolves’ captain. I was hugely honoured and I was looking forward to the season ahead. Then, a month down the line, I’m at Fulham! 

“My contract was up that season and the club decided to cash in, so they accepted Fulham’s offer as they wanted the money. I didn’t want to leave Wolves, but we’d just had our first child. I’d been told I wasn’t going to get another contract at Wolves and I was offered a three-year deal at Fulham. However, the manager who signed me got sacked and the new Fulham manger wanted new players. I played most games that season but I was told if anything came up, I could leave, but Fulham were very respectful about this. 

“The next season, Wolves missed out on signing a centre-half near the August deadline day so they took me back on loan from Fulham as I was available. I was desperate to get back to Wolves and I managed to get another season in the old gold.”

Since leaving Wolves for the last time in July 2017, Richard has played for Sheffield United, Huddersfield Town and Derby County, where he is now in his second season. He has completed his coaching badges and got his A License and is currently becoming involved in the coaching side at Derby. His intention is to play for as long as he can and then transition over to the coaching side. 

Richard concluded by saying: “I have spent about half of my life and the bulk of my career amounting to 19 years at Leicester City and Wolves and I couldn’t ask for two better clubs to spend those times with.”

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