TWIH: The End Of The Bloomfield Era

In the latest of his ‘The Week in History’ blogs, Club Historian John Hutchinson talks to Alan Birchenall about the Bloomfield era which ended this week in 1977.

Thirty-six years ago this week an era of Club history ended. Jimmy Bloomfield managed Leicester City for the last time. The home game against Leeds United, on 16 May 1977, turned out to be Jimmy’s last match in charge.

Jimmy Bloomfield’s six seasons as manager between 1971 and 1977 defined Leicester City’s decade. They also left an indelible mark on fans’ memories because he built a team, which was widely acknowledged as one of the most attractive, and entertaining in the country.


Alan ‘the Birch’ Birchenall played a major role throughout Bloomfield’s time at Filbert Street and this week he told me what it was like playing for Jimmy at Leicester.

“Jimmy had been a great inside-forward at Arsenal and he’d done a good job managing Leyton Orient,” remembered the Birch.

“When he wanted to sign me early in his first season, he told me that he wanted to build a good footballing side. He had already signed a really good midfield player from Arsenal, Jon Sammels. He was a quality player.

“He told me that he wanted me to be an integral part of the side and that he’d got another four or five players lined up to come in. He was true to his word. A few days later he signed Keith Weller.


“The side he put together reflected his footballing philosophy. He liked to be out on the training ground with you. He joined in the five-a-sides. When he started to build his team, there was already a good nucleus here.

“The two full-backs, David Nish and Steve Whitworth were two of the finest attacking wing- backs in football. They left gaps at the back for Sjoberg, Cross and Woollett reflected Jimmy’s attacking philosophy.

“There was also Shilton in goal. He was unbelievable. He was a law unto himself.  If some of his saves in training had been captured on video from when we lined up balls on the edge of the area to shoot at him, they would have gone down as some of the greatest saves ever.

“Jimmy wasn’t a disciplinarian but he had the respect of the players. He left it to you to be responsible. But when you buy somebody called Frank ‘Elvis Presley’ Worthington, what do you do? In his first fortnight Frank caused a massive traffic jam in Charles Street after he had abandoned his loan car because it had run out of petrol.


“Also, traffic wardens would come to the ground with bunches of parking tickets. Then there was the time when Jimmy gathered us all together after a game at the training ground to talk to each of us about our performances. He didn’t shout. He just talked to us individually. Frank wasn’t there. He was behind Jimmy, and was volleying balls at an apprentice goalkeeper. When Jimmy realised that Frank wasn’t in the group he looked over his shoulder and saw him. We thought he’d go ballistic! But he just turned back to us and said, ‘It’s a waste of time him being here anyway!’

“There was also the time when Frank, on the coach trip back from a defeat at Newcastle got Jimmy to agree to babysit that night for him so that he could go out on the town!

“The players respected Jimmy. Nobody took advantage. We respected him, but not because we were frightened of him, like you would be with Sir Alex [Ferguson]. Jimmy wanted to develop a side so that when supporters came to a game, they saw something special. That’s what made the Blomfield Boys special.


“Shilton and Wallington made great saves. Rofe and Whitworth tore up and down like wingers. Jon Sammels would hit thunderbolts. Lenny Glover and Stringy (Mike Stringfellow) would cut inside. Weller would roll people, and drift past them as if they weren’t there. Frank would do about fifteen flick-ups on the half way line before unleashing a shot. Everybody contributed.

“Even when we got beaten, we entertained. Martin O’Neill used to tell me that we never won anything, but what we did win were the hearts and souls of the Leicester fans. There was that game at Luton (a 4-0 win in the FA Cup in February 1974). It was played on a mud heap. It was like the Somme, yet we played more like Barcelona that day than Barcelona themselves. After the game there was a knock on the door and Malcolm Allison came in.  He had managed great players at Manchester City like Colin Bell, Rodney Marsh, Mike Summerbee and Franny Lee. He told us that we had just produced one of the greatest attacking displays he had ever seen”.

In many ways, that display summed up the Bloomfield era, but all good things must come to an end.

Birch went on: “Towards the end, the side started to be dismantled. Other people came in. We started to lose the togetherness we had as a team. It wasn’t always harmonious towards the end.

“But Jimmy was a lovely bloke.  I have very fond memories of him. He was a family man. He was quiet and unassuming. He just wanted to play football. You had the feeling that he would sooner lose 4-3 and play well than win 1-0 and play badly. Nothing was better than when he came in after a game when we’d played well.

“He didn’t give out rollickings. He’d tell us that when fans come down to Filbert Street he wanted us to go and entertain them. He’d say that the ultimate was for us to entertain and win. He’d say that if we lost but we still entertained, he’d be happy but that if we lost and were rubbish, he wouldn’t be happy”.

This seems to sum up Bloomfield’s philosophy in a nutshell. It also epitomises the Leicester City teams during the Bloomfield years, an era which ended thirty-six years ago this week.

Photos: 

1. One of Jimmy Bloomfield's first training sessions as manager of Leicester City, August 1971.

2. Jimmy Bloomfield's three major signings in his first season - Jon Samels, Keith Weller and Alan Birchenall.

3. Jimmy Bloomfield signs Frank Worthington, August 1972

4. Team photo 1974/75 season.


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