Matt Elliott

Former Player Remembers: Matt Elliott

Two years ago, Club Historian John Hutchinson's series of interviews, conducted with Leicester City icons, enabled him to sit down with Matt Elliott.

Matt, who joined the Club 21 years ago on Tuesday, spoke to John about his career in football. Martin O’Neill signed him for a Club-record fee in 1997. He went on to play nearly 300 games for the Foxes, mainly in the Premier League.

In addition, Elliott played in two European campaigns, captained City to League Cup victory in 2000 and was part of Scotland’s 1998 World Cup squad. Nowadays, he is increasingly in demand for media appearances, often commenting on City for LCFC TV.

Matt began by talking about his earliest days in football: “I’d been at Crystal Palace when I was younger but I didn’t like the coach who was the proverbial tea cup thrower. He was a nightmare.

"After a year at Epsom and Ewell, where I played with Powelly [Chris Powell], I was spotted by Premier League Charlton’s physio. He offered me a trial on the Monday, but I didn’t take him seriously, so I went out on the Sunday night and didn’t go for the trial.

"The next day my dad tracked me down wondering where I was, and Charlton gave me another chance. I went for a month’s trial and was offered a year’s contract by Lenny Lawrence.

“Going to Charlton from Epsom was like going from Oadby Town to Leicester City. It was a big learning curve. Lenny Lawrence gave me the opportunity to go on loan to Torquay and I had to check that they were a league side!

"I had an amazing time down there: too good in fact. After three months we played at Wembley in the Sherpa Van Final after beating Wolves in the Semi-Final when I got Man of the Match. It was great for me as a 19-year-old lad.

[Martin O'Neill] sold me the dream. I felt the energy and enthusiasm off him and wanted to be part of it. I was hooked. He convinced me he was the manager to play for.

Matt Elliott

"Getting paid cash on a Thursday as part of a young group of lads was not necessarily conducive to developing your football potential! We got promoted, though, after beating Blackpool at Wembley on penalties.

“I realised I needed to leave Torquay to make a decent career for myself so I went to Scunthorpe on loan. We got to the Fourth Division Wembley Play-Off Final, but lost. The manager was a solid ex-West Ham centre-half Bill Green who paid a club-record fee for me.

"He gave me a lot of confidence. I got my head down. Supposedly Leeds, Newcastle and Liverpool were interested in me but I finished up going to Oxford, in what is now the Championship, for another club-record fee.

"Dennis Smith, another ex-centre-half, was the manager. He encouraged me to express my footballing abilities. Previous managers had just wanted me to head it and kick it. I was comfortable on the ball and he developed this. He gave me a bit of freedom.

“By this time I was 28 and I began to think a move to a top club wasn’t going to materialise. All of a sudden Southampton and Leicester both wanted me!

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Matt Elliott on Thursday Night Live
Matt Elliott on Thursday Night Live

Matt now works for LCFC TV and LCFC Radio, previewing and reviewing Foxes action in the Premier League.

“When I went to Southampton to talk to Graeme Souness, he bemoaned the fact that the chairman and the director of football weren’t there when I was due to meet them and this put me off a bit.

“By contrast, Martin O’Neill was very committed to signing me. As soon as I met him, that was it. He met me at midnight at a service station on the M40 on the day I was driving back to Oxford from Southampton with my agent.

"Martin had driven down from Leicester after a night match, dragging along with him with Steve Walford, John Robertson and chairman Tom Smeaton. He sold me the dream. I felt the energy and enthusiasm off him and wanted to be part of it.

"I was hooked. He convinced me he was the manager to play for. The team spirit at Leicester was good. There was a relaxed atmosphere there. It wasn’t overly technical. It was a laughy, jokey atmosphere as long as we put in a shift in training and in matches.

"Steve took most of the training. John and Martin came to oversee it. The tempo of the session went up a notch or two when Martin was there.

“The tactical talk before my debut against Wimbledon consisted of us being told that if we won the headers against Marcus Gayle we would win the game. That was it. Tactics talk over! And that’s what happened!

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Matt Elliott
Matt Elliott

Elliott's crowning moment was lifting the League Cup in 2000.

“That season we won the League Cup after a replay at Hillsborough. Ian Marshall, Steve Guppy and myself were cup-tied but Martin involved us and we went to all the games in the cup run, even breaking the midnight curfew at Burnham Beaches the night before the Final.

"We climbed in through a bedroom window at about 1.30am but went through the wrong one and we finished up trampling all over Mike Whitlow who wasn’t best pleased!

“In the last-but-one game of that first season, I scored the winner against Sheffield Wednesday, which made us safe from relegation. Having come from the lower leagues, I was desperate that we didn’t just have one season in the Premier League.

"There were big celebrations that night. Then we won the last game and we finished 9th! The league was very tight that year. The next season we were in Europe as League Cup winners. Playing at Atletico Madrid against some of the best players in the world was brilliant.

"When we took the lead it was dreamland but we had some very dubious decisions against us in the second leg at Filbert Street. Everyone unfortunately mentions [Dennis] Bergkamp’s hat-trick in the 3-3 daw against Arsenal.

"It pops up on Match of the Day and on various other occasions. It’s the only time my kids see me on the television these days! Bergkamp was sublime. His third goal was superb.

We were labelled ‘boring, boring Leicester’. The Final was a dream day for me, especially after the previous year’s League Cup final against Spurs when we messed things up.

Matt Elliott

"I was too busy celebrating our 90th minute equaliser when he scored his third, before Walshy equalised again and saved the day. Another good memory was my winning header against Aston Villa in the League Cup Semi-Final in 2000. We had injuries but we’d battled away.

"We were labelled ‘boring, boring Leicester’. The Final was a dream day for me, especially after the previous year’s League Cup final against Spurs when we messed things up.

"We had felt we were better than Spurs even though they had big names like [David] Ginola, [Les] Ferdinand, [Sol] Campbell and [Ian] Walker. That Spurs defeat made us doubly determined to win the Final against Tranmere.

"As a kid you fantasise about scoring in a cup Final at Wembley and I scored two, from two great deliveries from Guppy. I was partly at fault for their goal so I was glad to be able to make amends.

"I ended up as Man of the Match and was the only Leicester captain to lift a major cup at Wembley. On top of that, my son was born two days later and my dad, who had £20 on first and last goalscorer won about £600!

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Matt Elliott
Matt Elliott

Matt was still with the Club when they moved to Filbert Way in the early 2000s.

“At about this time, Tottenham manager George Graham offered £5 million for me. I told Martin couldn’t believe that and he said he couldn’t either! But I wanted to stay even though Tottenham are an enormous club and I had the prospect of playing alongside Sol Campbell.

"So Leicester sorted out a new deal for me. I was happy to stay. I thought we were a better team. Martin had visions of us pushing on to a higher level, but the pivotal point was when the Club sold [Emile] Heskey to Liverpool.

"That signalled to Martin that Leicester were not going to be able to push on. It was a big blow when Martin went to Celtic. Initially, the momentum continued under Peter Taylor. We were top after eight games and still in the top six in March.

"This was because to start with, Taylor kept the same personnel, the same system and the same mentality. But then he brought in new players, of a lesser calibre and changed the system, sitting off teams inviting them to come at us.

"Everything started to unravel, leading to us being relegated the following season which was devastating. We got promoted at the first attempt but the Club went into administration that season.

"People lost their jobs. It gave us extra drive to get straight back up. We didn’t have the money but we felt we were good enough to go back up - which we did. That alleviated the situation, but we got relegated again.

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LCFC tour with Matt Elliott
LCFC tour with Matt Elliott

Alongside his media duties, Elliott also hosted the first Legends Tour of King Power Stadium earlier this season.

"It took 10 years for the Club to get back to where they were. I’m not quite sure how I became a Scottish international, though! There was a move for me to play for Ireland, but my Irish grandfather had been born in England so I couldn’t.

"I was even on the edge of a large English squad of 40. Then Craig Brown gave me the opportunity to play for Scotland. I really enjoyed it. It was just before the 1998 World Cup.

"I made my debut against France in St Etienne against players like [Zinedine] Zidane, [Lilian] Thuram, [Marcel] Desailly, [Fabien] Barthez, [David] Trezeguet and [Youri] Djorkaeff. Good times!”

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