LCFC at Walkers Stadium

'A Massive Step Forward' – When The Foxes Moved To Filbert Way

In 2002, after 111 years, Leicester City made the emotional move from Filbert Street to King Power Stadium.

To younger supporters, the idea of life away from King Power Stadium, less than 300 yards from where the Club's former home ground stood, is difficult to imagine.   

Their older relatives, however, will savour the occasions they experienced beneath the four oddly-shaped terraces of Filbert Street for the rest of their lives.

From the first match, on 17 October 1891, until the last, on 11 May 2002, Filbert Street was home. The subject of jokes for visiting fans perhaps, but it was still home nonetheless.  

Initially there was resistance to moving and the fondness City fans felt towards Filbert Street led to the construction of the Carling Stand, replacing the old Main Stand, in the summer of 1993.

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Filbert Street

An aerial view of Filbert Street during the Club's last-ever fixture there.

The new stand, which cost around £6M to build, held 9,500 spectators and expanded the Club’s corporate facilities - and its presence scratched the itch for those who wished to move elsewhere. 

However, under the management of Martin O’Neill, the Foxes were swiftly becoming a force in English football, winning two League Cups and securing four consecutive top-half finishes.

When City tackled Atlético Madrid over two legs in the 1997/1998 UEFA Cup (now the Europa League), the juxtaposition between the Vicente Calderón and Filbert Street was difficult to ignore.

Actually called the City Business Stadium for the final years of its existence, Filbert Street had a unique, raucous atmosphere that Leicester managers through the years would rely upon.

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The new stadium

The plans were finally settled at the beginning of the 21st century.

With planning permission for further improvements proving difficult to secure, however, it was becoming clear that City would need to relocate to meet the demands of 21st century football.

O'Neill in fact once joked that he would lead prospective new signings out of the tunnel backwards, to prevent them from getting a glimpse of the ageing East Stand.

After negotiations with local stakeholders, work finally began in 2001 on a 32,312 capacity venue in Freeman’s Wharf, an improvement of over 10,000 seats on Filbert Street.

By the time work started, the popular O’Neill had left the Club to join Celtic and, under Peter Taylor, the Foxes began their final season at their home of 111 years in damaging fashion.

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Leicester City 0 Bolton Wanderers 5

City's 2001/2002 season couldn't have got off to a worse start.

Ahead of the opening game of the 2001/02 season, a 5-0 defeat by Bolton Wanderers, City’s programme reported: “Today’s fixture kicks off an historic final season at Filbert Street.

“The nostalgia will obviously grow as the campaign progresses, although it should be balanced by the levels of excitement as the new stadium rises just a couple of hundred yards away.”

By the time Ipswich Town visited on Saturday 8 September, the visitor centre at the new stadium had attracted its 5,000th visitor, with the facilities on offer providing a virtual tour of the plans.

Later on, steel frameworks were visible at the site and October marked the beginning of 13,000 season ticket holders picking their seats among the new stadium’s four stands.

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The new stadium

The new stadium was really taking shape in 2001.

As work continued so too did enhancements to the Club’s online presence with a full redesign of including a live webcam stream of the development site.

Taylor left in September 2001 with City bottom of the Premier League as supporters began to come to terms with the prospect of starting life at their new stadium in the second tier.

He was to be replaced by a management team of Dave Bassett and Micky Adams - and the latter took sole charge of the Club for the final month of the 2001/02 season after relegation was confirmed.

As the move-in date approached, a three-part publication called Blueprint was available to buy in Filbert Street’s Fox Leisure store, priced at £3, providing exclusive behind-the-scenes access.

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Filbert Street

The demolition of Filbert Street occurred as the new stadium, visible here, was being completed.

Open days were staged on Filbert Way, the road that would loop round the ground to this day, with thousands often queuing around the block to get a first look at City's new home.

The spectacular glass frontage, which also remains today, was completed in spring, providing the Club with an iconic backdrop which would become part of City’s identity over years to come.

Visits to Filbert Street often included a stroll past Filbert Way, with supporters eager to monitor the developments at Freeman's Wharf, which were scheduled to be completed that summer.

On Saturday 11 May, the final whistle blew on City’s association with Filbert Street as Adams’ men overcame Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 in glorious sunshine.

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Filbert Street

Images of Filbert Street's demolition were a sad sight for all Foxes fans.

Second-half goals from Paul Dickov and Matthew Piper gave Leicester the three points and brought the curtain down on 111 years of football at Filbert Street in front of 21,716 fans.

As the crowd made its way to the old ground, many fans got into the mood by buying a special commemorative programme which contained highlights from over a decade at Filbert Street.

After a goalless first half, Teddy Sheringham scored a 54th minute penalty for Spurs, punishment for Lee Marshall bringing down midfielder Stephen Clemence in the 18-yard box.

Leicester responded by stepping up the tempo and, six minutes later, Marshall made amends in front of a home crowd which was determined to enjoy their afternoon.

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Paul Dickov

Dickov levels the scores for City against Spurs.

He stormed into the Spurs penalty area, was tackled by Chris Parry and the ball fell to Dickov, who hammered home a right-foot shot past the ex-Leicester goalkeeper and Filbert Street hero, Kasey Keller.

Ten minutes later, Leicester scored the winner. A long throw to the edge of the goalmouth was headed on by Matt Elliott for young Piper to score the last-ever goal at Filbert Street.

It was a diving header in front of the Kop which, along with the rest of the ground, rose to acclaim this historic strike. It was a piece of history everybody in attendance would remember forever. 

It was hugely fitting, too, that the final goal at Filbert Street was the first-ever scored by Matt, a local Leicester City Academy graduate and Foxes fan.

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Matthew Piper

Piper's name will forever be in the Club's history after this strike.

Sadly, this was to be Matt’s last league game for Leicester as the Club sold him to Sunderland for £3.5M to try to offset the growing financial pressures that relegation inevitably brought about.

Seven minutes later, there was another loud cheer as Gerry Taggart came on as substitute, ending a 14-month absence due to major surgery.

An abiding memory of the afternoon was the appearance on the pitch of a host of former players, each one introduced to the capacity crowd by Alan 'The Birch' Birchenall.

The final player to be introduced was 90-year-old Sep Smith. He was a true Leicester legend, playing between 1929 and 1949 - and he was capped by England's national side in 1936.

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Sep Smith

Smith's Filbert Street goodbye was one of the most emotional moments of the day.

As he emerged from the players’ tunnel, positioned at the centre of the Carling Stand, blinking into the sunlight, he was greeted with applause from all sides of the ground.

Walking onto the pitch, he turned towards the Double Decker Stand. He then pointed his walking stick towards the Kop. After a pause, he spoke into the microphone.

He said: “When I first came to Filbert Street, that stand wasn’t even built!”

Here was a man whose association with Leicester City was longer than the whole span of time that Filbert Street’s famous Double Decker, built in 1927, had been in existence.

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Filbert Street

Filbert Street was packed for its final league fixture.

His valedictory words were every bit as fitting as Piper’s goal. Two days later, there was another occasion at Filbert Street - a special match between past and present Foxes line-ups.

Over 100 ex-players were in attendance. The singing of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ - as the floodlights were extinguished - finally brought to an end City's Filbert Street love affair.

On the fourth day of August, City played their maiden game at their new stadium, which, after an initial flirtation with 'Walkers Bowl' was named 'Walkers Stadium' a few weeks earlier.

Their debut was a friendly match against Athletic Bilbao on another sun-drenched Leicester afternoon - and an estimated crowd of 20,000 turned up to witness the occasion.

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The new stadium

Open days were held regularly in the build-up to the grand opening.

Bilbao were a worthy side to provide the first-ever opposition at the new stadium and a carnival atmosphere greeted them in the East Midlands.

They were managed by ex-German international Jupp Heynckes, who had won the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid, a feat that he repeated in 2013 as manager of Bayern Munich.

Despite their rigid policy of signing only players born in the Basque region, or with origins there, the 'Lions' had won La Liga eight times since it had been formed in 1928.

Their side included the Spanish international striker Joseba Etxeberria, who had made over 200 appearances for the club. Their star man, meanwhile, was the technically-gifted Julen Guerrero.

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The new stadium

The stage was set for City to write a new chapter in the Club's history.

City, on the other hand, were preparing for a bid to secure an immediate return to the Premier League following their relegation three months earlier amid off-field turmoil. 

Adams’ squad retained experienced and talented players from the earlier season such as Ian Walker, Muzzy Izzet and Brian Deane.

The Foxes boss was looking forward to the game and he wrote in his programme notes: “I am sure everyone will agree our new home is pretty special.

“Spectacular, I’d call it. Fantastic seems to be the word used by most people to describe the surroundings and the facilities. It’s certainly a stadium befitting the 21st century.

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The new stadium

The new stadium's 'christening' - as Micky Adams called it - came in August 2002.

“I’m proud and thrilled to be charged with the task of producing a team worthy of such a setting. I can assure you that all the players are excited by the prospect of playing here.

“During the years there have been some magical occasions at Filbert Street where the atmosphere was always electric for big matches.

“I believe the new stadium will generate the same sort of atmosphere. Perhaps even more so.”

The Club also had a noteworthy new home kit, available in the new-look 'City Megastore', which moved away from the large white collars which had become synonymous with City in the late 1990s.

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The new stadium

The fans quickly embraced the new stadium with modern-day record attendances.

Skipper Matt Elliott recognised the historic importance of the opening match at the new stadium, adding: “It’s well known that I had a special place in my heart for Filbert Street.

“I enjoyed so many great moments on that pitch that I’m sure you would be surprised if I said different. But the new stadium is a massive step forward for the Club.

“It gives us a facility that will be the envy of every team that comes here this season for a league game.”

And so, on Sunday 4 August, just before 3pm, Matt led City out for this historic game.

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Jordan Stewart

Just like Piper, Stewart's name will forever be in the Club's history books.

Bilbao’s Aritz Aduriz was dismissed in the 28th minute, but the La Liga side then took the lead in the 58th minute, when Tiko scored from a direct free-kick.

It looked as if the first game would end in defeat - until 20-year-old Jordan Stewart made history by netting a stoppage time header - the first Leicester City goal at the new ground.

Back in action after a three month lay-off with a dislocated shoulder, he could not conceal his delight at carving his name into Foxes history.

He later said: “I was just happy to get on the scoresheet because that was my first goal for the Club at senior level.

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City are promoted

City's first season on Filbert Way ended with promotion.

“That in itself was pretty special but for the goal to be the first to be scored in the new stadium and become part of the Club’s history means a lot to me, that really is something.

“Whatever happens, it means that I’ve got a place in City’s record books. I’m hoping that this is just the start of good things to come and that it can set me on the way to a regular place in the team.”

The game against Athletic Bilbao, 17 years ago this summer, started a new era for the Club, a tale which would see it sink to its lowest ebb and rise to its headiest high.

Under Adams’ management, the Foxes were promoted and, while relegation and a 10-year absence from the top flight would follow, the stadium ensured City's off-field prestige remained intact. 

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Wes Morgan lifts the Premier League

King Power Stadium witnessed City lift the Premier League title in 2016.

In May of 2016, the renamed King Power Stadium hosted a day which Leicester City supporters thought they would never see.

After a 3-1 victory over Everton in front of a television audience of hundreds of millions, the Foxes were presented with the Premier League title.

While almost two decades have passed since the move, the decision to relocate undoubtedly belongs on the timeline of events which led to that wonderful day.

Leicester City Crest





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