Kevin Poole

Former Player Remembers: Kevin Poole (Part One)

Starring for Brian Little, Mark McGhee and Martin O’Neill, Kevin Poole made 193 appearances for Leicester City between 1991 and 1997. He featured in two Wembley Play-Off Finals and, playing in the Premier League, he was the Club’s Player of the Season in 1995.
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Last week, the goalkeeper sat down with Club Historian John Hutchinson to talk about his career in football. Kevin began by recapping on his career before he was signed by City Manager Brian Little in July 1991. 

“I was an apprentice at Aston Villa,” Kevin began. “Brian Little was the youth team coach there. I turned professional (in 1981) and made my league debut while on loan at Northampton (in 1984) before playing in Villa’s first team. When Graham Taylor took over at Villa (in May 1987), he told me I wasn’t big enough for a ’keeper.

“Brian left Villa and later become reserve team coach at Middlesbrough, managed by his ex-Villa team-mate Bruce Rioch. I knew Bruce from my time at Villa too, so I went up there with them and played over 40 games in the first team. Towards the end of my time there (in March 1991) I had three months on loan at Hartlepool. I was in their team for the rest of the season, and we got promoted to the old Third Division.”

That summer, Kevin signed for Leicester City. The Club had narrowly avoided relegation to the third tier the previous season and had just appointed Little as the new Manager at Filbert Street.

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Kevin Poole

Poole in Division One action for Aston Villa against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in March 1985.

“More or less as soon as he got the job at Leicester,” Kevin continued, “he rang me up and said: ‘Do you fancy coming down?’ I said yes and that was it. Ashley Ward signed on the same day as me. Brian more or less started from the bottom at the Club and rebuilt it. He knew what he wanted, the players had to follow along with him, and it worked. He got the best out of most of the players.

“Leicester’s goalkeeper was suspended at the beginning of the season, so I knew I’d be playing from the start and I never really looked back from there that season.”

During the season, as part of his rebuilding process, Little added Colin Gordon, Nicky Platnauer, Paul Fitzpatrick, Gary Coatsworth, Jimmy Willis, Michael Trotter, Phil Gee, Ian Ormondroyd, Simon Grayson and Mike Whitlow to the squad and, in sharp contrast to the previous season, the Foxes reached the Play-Offs for a place in the Premier League’s inaugural season.

Kevin missed only four games in his first season at Leicester until he was injured in the penultimate game, forcing him to miss the Play-Off Semi-Final ties against Cambridge United and the Wembley showpiece against Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn Rovers.  

“That was disappointing,” Kevin recalled. “I had a groin problem. I didn’t like missing the Play-Offs having played in virtually all of the games up until then. I travelled with the team to Wembley. It was quite a warm day. We lost 1-0 to a Mike Newell penalty after David Speedie appeared to dive. It was disappointing to get that far and not make it but overall, compared with the previous year when Leicester nearly went down, it was a good season.”

Having three goalkeepers was good competition. It’s what the Manager wants. It keeps you on your toes. You’ve got to keep performing.

Kevin Poole

The following season (1992/93), Kevin was involved in a three-way competition for a place in the First Team with goalkeepers Carl Muggleton and Russell Hoult. He was back in the team in time for the crucial run-in at the end of the season and for the Play-Off Semi-Final ties against Portsmouth and for the Final against Glenn Hoddle’s Swindon Town.

Reflecting on that season, Kevin continued: “Having three goalkeepers was good competition. It’s what the Manager wants. It keeps you on your toes. You’ve got to keep performing and if you don’t you know there are two other people that want your place. This makes you concentrate really hard. The competition was there but the rivalry didn’t get in the way. We all got on. We all worked our hardest.

“The Play-Off Semi-Final home leg was played at Nottingham Forest because they were demolishing the old stand at Filbert Street. We won 1-0. [Julian] Joachim scored and then we drew 2-2 at Portsmouth.

“In the Final against Swindon, we were 3-0 down soon after half-time. We wondered what had hit us. We were 2-0 down at half-time. We had a bit of a telling off in the dressing room at half-time and the lads got together and just said: ‘Come on! We need to pull this round!’

“We came out in the second half and conceded a third. Then we gave it a good go and we got three goals (scored by Julian Joachim, Steve Walsh and Steve Thompson) to pull the score back to 3-3.”

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Kevin Poole

Swindon's Paul Bodin scores from the spot during the 1993 Division One Play-Off Final at Wembley.

It had been a magnificent fightback, but then in the closing minutes, Swindon scored the winner with a controversial late penalty, as Kevin recalled.

“I remember that the ball came over the top,” he added. “I came out and Steve White knocked the ball past me. I pulled my hands back. I never touched him, but the ref just gave the penalty. It should never have been given. I didn’t touch him at all – and it happened in the last few minutes!

“After two Play-Off Final defeats, we were even more determined to get promoted the following season (1993/94) and that did happen when we beat Derby County at Wembley. I was injured again though and I didn’t play in that one. It was a shame to miss out but that’s part of football, isn’t it?”

The following season, Kevin played in nearly every game in Leicester City’s Premier League side.

Thinking back to that season, Kevin explained: “The standard in the Premier League was really good. We’d just come up. I don’t think we changed the squad too much (although the Club signed its first £1M player, Mark Draper). It was hard facing the best players in the world, like Gianfranco Zola and Jürgen Klinsmann.

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Leicester City 1994/95

The Club's first-ever Premier League squad ahead of the 1994/95 season.

“It was a tough season. When we were near the bottom of the table, Brian Little left us (in November 1994) to manage Aston Villa and Mark McGhee became the Manager. It was a bit unsettling when Brian left. It all changed again. I didn’t know what to expect.

“You have to prove yourself all over again when a new Manager comes in. Kevin needn’t have worried. McGhee picked him for every game for the remainder of the season and, despite the Foxes being relegated in May, he won the Club’s Player of the Season award.

“I had quite a bit of work to do that season,” Kevin said ruefully. “I was quite busy! I was pleased to win the award. It was an achievement get that award at a club like Leicester.”

To prepare for an immediate return to the top flight, McGhee signed Scott Taylor, Steve Corica and, the following month, Sweden international full-back Pontus Kämark, who suffered an injury in his first game, which took him over a year to recover from. McGhee also signed Zeljko Kalac, a 6ft 7in goalkeeper, from Sydney United.

“Pontus was a great player,” Kevin remembered, “and a nice bloke as well. The Manager told me he wanted to bring in a bigger ’keeper and Kalac was huge. He dropped me for an away game against West Brom and a League Cup tie against Bolton. I was a bit disappointed because I was doing reasonably well. However, Kalac messed up in those two games and McGhee came back to me saying he was sorry for dropping me.”

Martin [O'Neill] knew how to get the best out of players. He was a great motivator.

Kevin Poole

Kevin went on to play 53 out of the 55 games that season, but the road to Leicester City’s fourth Wembley Play-Off Final in five years was severely knocked off course when McGhee left the Club in December with the Foxes in second place in the table.

“That was another upheaval,” Kevin recalled. “Martin [O'Neill] came in. He introduced a totally different style of play which we had to get used to. It didn’t work to start with.”

This was an understatement. Despite Martin O’Neill signing Steve Claridge, Julian Watts, Neil Lennon and Muzzy Izzet, the Foxes only won three of the new Manager’s first 16 games, slipping down to ninth place in the table. Then, when all seemed lost and with a young Emile Heskey in the side, Leicester won six of their last eight games, scraped into the Play-Offs and went on to beat Crystal Palace at Wembley in the Play-Off Final to regain their place in the Premier League.

“Martin knew how to get the best out of players,” Kevin explained. “He was a great motivator. The bulk of the training was mainly done by Steve Walford and John Robertson. Martin would just come out for 10 minutes to have a look. Then we hit form late on, starting with an away win at Charlton.

“The last match of the season was at Watford. We had to win to get to the Play-Offs and Muzzy Izzet scored the only goal. We had to wait for a few minutes after the game to get clarification of the other results before it was confirmed that we would play Stoke City in the Semi-Finals.”

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Leicester City 1996

Celebrating promotion back to the Premier League via the 1996 Play-Off Final triumph over Crystal Palace.

The first leg was a 0-0 draw at Filbert Street. Reminded that his magnificent early save helped to keep Leicester in the tie, Kevin added: “I also remember Graham Potter hitting our post! In the second leg, we won 1-0, with a goal from Garry Parker, who’d been recalled to the side after being dropped following a fall-out with the Manager. He was a class player who was great on the ball.   

“In the Play-Off Final against Crystal Palace, the game was quite even throughout. I pulled off a good save in the second half from Bruce Dyer. His shot from the edge of the box was going in towards the top corner but I flung myself at it and managed to touch it over. 

“It was 1-1 at full-time and then, of course, there was the incident at the end of extra-time. I was absolutely gutted when Martin, anticipating penalties, replaced me with Kalac just before the end of extra-time. He hadn’t spoken to me beforehand, so I didn’t know it was going to happen.

“When I saw the board come up with No.1 on it I thought: ‘What?!’ I really didn’t want to come off. I sat down really annoyed but, by the time I’d taken my pads off, Claridge had scored the winning goal, seconds from the end. Everybody jumped up and I didn’t actually see the goal.

“We had a celebration do later on. I mentioned being taken off to Martin and he said: ‘Well, at the end of the day, it’s my decision’. He felt that Kalac would fill the goal more in a penalty shootout. It was a strange decision, but it paid off in the end.”

Leicester City were back in the Premier League. In part two, Kevin discusses his remaining time at Filbert Street, and about what happened next in his varied playing and coaching career.

Leicester City Crest





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