Richard Stearman

Former Player Remembers: Richard Stearman

Between 2004 and 2017, Richard Stearman, a Leicester City Academy graduate and England Under-21 international, played a combined total of 383 games in defence for Leicester City and for Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Earlier this month, he visited King Power Stadium to talk to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career in football, which also included spells at Ipswich Town, Fulham and his current club Sheffield United.

Sitting in one of the King Power Stadium executive boxes overlooking the pitch, Richard began by explaining how he came to join City’s Academy as a 10-year-old.

He said: “I was born in Wolverhampton but we moved to Market Harborough when I was four. I got picked up by Leicester when I was 10 and playing at Harborough Town.

"I was in the first batch of Academy players. I worked my way up through the various age groups, winning the Young Player of the Year award three years on the spin.

"We had fantastic staff there in Jon Rudkin, Steve Beaglehole, Trevor Peake, Mike Stowell, Dave Rennie and Macca, the kitman. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

"We had a great set-up and a great set of lads like James Wesolowski, Alan Sheehan, Louis Dodds, Conrad Logan, Max Gradel, Chris O’Grady and, of course, Andy King.

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Richard Stearman
Richard Stearman

Richard progressed through the Academy at a similar time to Tommy Wright, one of many who featured for the first team.

"A lot of them had a good career in the game which is rare for one particular age group.”

After playing for the reserves as a 16-year-old, and just before his 17th birthday, Richard went on the Club’s pre-season tour to Scotland in July 2004.

Three months later, he made his first team debut when he came on as a substitute at Cardiff City.

Richard recalled: “Going on the pre-season tour was a big thing for me. Being so young, it was a massive boost for me to be trusted to go away with the first team.

“I was very fortunate to start so young in the first team but I was able to hold my own. Getting tested against the older players was a great learning curve. It was sink or swim.

"Luckily, I went from strength to strength. I coped with whatever challenge was put in front of me.

“My debut [at right full-back] came towards the end of my first scholar year. Micky Adams had promoted me to first team's daily training and then had me on the bench a couple of times.

"Then he left [in October 2004]. Dave Bassett was back in temporary charge with Howard Wilkinson and they gave me my debut.”

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Richard Stearman
Richard Stearman

Richard's first goal came against Milwall at King Power Stadium.

Later that month, Craig Levein became Leicester City’s new manager. Two months later, Richard made his full debut at home to Reading.

He made eight appearances that season, scoring his first goal in a Championship home game against Millwall in April 2005. The following season, Richard became a regular at right-back.

“I’d come through the youth teams as a centre-half, but coming into men’s football, I was giving away a couple of stone," he added.

"The staff were worried I might get pushed about a bit! I enjoyed playing at right-back when I was younger, but now I’m older moving back to centre-half is better for me. It’s less of a workload!”

A highlight that season was the FA Cup defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in January 2006.

“That game was great for us,” said Richard. “It was a really special night, both from a personal point of view and from a team perspective. I felt I did a good job on their winger.

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Richard Stearman
Richard Stearman

Despite now being a centre back, Stearman often played at right back for City.

"It was a fantastic night. The match was live on Match of the Day.”

Later that month, with Leicester City at the foot of the Championship table, Levein was replaced by Rob Kelly. Results improved and relegation was avoided.

Richard continued: “I thrived on the pressure. I’ve always been a player who digs in. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I want to win through adversity and be the underdog who succeeds.

"I’ve always played with a lot of passion. The pressure created a bit of a siege mentality within the squad. We were determined that we wouldn’t go down, and we didn’t.”

A highlight of the next season [2006/07] was the Third Round League Cup tie against Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa, fondly remembered by Richard, even though Leicester City lost 3-2 in extra time.

“I remember that game very well,” he said. “I played in centre midfield alongside James Wesolowski. I thoroughly enjoyed that night. I played well and scored”.

Milan Mandarić took over the Club in February 2007, but Kelly was sacked in April, with Leicester once again fighting relegation.

That was one of my worst days in football. At the end of the game, their fans were invading the pitch because they had been promoted to the Premier League, whilst we had just been relegated.

Richard Stearman

Nigel Worthington was appointed as manager until the end of the season and once again Leicester City avoided relegation finishing in 19th place.

The following season [2007/08], Richard won both the Player of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year Awards.

However it was the worst season in Leicester City’s history, culminating in an unprecedented relegation to League 1.

The Club had three permanent managers, and four more coaches acting in interim roles. A record 40 players appeared in the first team.

“It was strange to have all that going on in the background," said Richard. “Every manager has their own ideas about players, together with their own ways, strategies and formations.

"It can be a bit tough. Luckily I was picked by all of them, so this didn’t really disrupt me. However, it caused instability and can be unsettling.

"I just focussed on wanting to play. I just thought ‘wow, I’m playing first team football and my family is here every week’. I just concentrated on performing week in, week out.

“That season we actually had a very good defence. There was myself, Gaz [Gareth] McAuley, Paddy Kisnorbo and Joe Mattock.

I was in the England Under- 21 squad and wanted to play in the Euros. "I thought I might not get the chance if I was in League 1. I felt that I had to leave. Wolves came in for me, which was ironic as I was born there.

Richard Stearman

"We didn’t concede many goals but we struggled to score at the other end. The chopping and changing affected our rhythm and flow going forward.

“We went down at the end of the season. We couldn’t put a run together when everyone else could. We took it to the last game against Stoke but it wasn’t enough in the end.

"That was one of my worst days in football. At the end of the game, their fans were invading the pitch because they had been promoted to the Premier League, whilst we had just been relegated.

"I was very upset. I think I cried in the dressing room afterwards.”

This was Richard’s last game for Leicester City. That summer, he moved to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

He reflected: “I was devastated after getting relegated. I didn’t really want to leave but I only had a year left on my contract.

"The Club didn’t have the money that they have now. I didn’t want to risk running my contract down.

“Also, I had played for the England Under-16s, Under-17s and Under-18s. I was in the England Under- 21 squad and wanted to play in the Euros.

"I thought I might not get the chance if I was in League 1. I felt that I had to leave. Wolves came in for me, which was ironic as I was born there.”

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Richard Stearman
Richard Stearman

Stearman established himself as an important player at Wolves.

Richard signed a four-year deal at Molineux. In his first season his new side was promoted to the Premier League as Championship winners and he was selected for the PFA Championship Team of the Year.

“If I hadn’t got promoted that first season, it wouldn’t have been such a good move, but luckily Mick McCarthy had put together a very strong squad.," he said.

"Leicester of course got promoted back to the Championship that season too.”

Richard’s next three seasons were in the Premier League with Wolverhampton Wanderers.

“Playing in the Premier League is a completely different world," he added. "It is such a big spectacle, with the media coverage, the money that surrounds it, and the quality of the players.

"What an experience! No one can ever take that away from me. I had three seasons there, playing 70 or 80 Premier League matches. It is something I am very proud of."

In 2011, Richard was contacted about playing for the Republic of Ireland.

“My mum’s side of the family is Irish,” Richard explained. “As I was playing regularly in the Premier League, the Irish FA asked me to sort out an Irish passport and Irish citizenship.

"That wasn’t as easy as it sounds. They needed wedding and birth certificates and then there was always something else they needed.

I was given the captain’s armband at the start of the next season, which was a big honour for me. It’s something I’d done at Leicester through the age groups, and I had filled in as captain on the odd occasion at Wolves.

Richard Stearman

"The whole process just took too long. My passport took a good while to come through and when it did, the manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, had left the job.

"I was on standby for a couple of squads, but it just didn’t work out.”

Wolves were relegated in 2012, and after 12 games in the Championship, Richard went on loan to Ipswich Town.

“When the team got relegated, McCarthy got the sack. Ståle Solbakken came in. We weren’t doing as well as expected by Christmas so he got the sack too.

"Dean Saunders came in, I was in and out of the team and McCarthy, who was by now manager at Ipswich, phoned me to ask If I wanted to play regular football with him.

"I definitely was willing to do that so I went to Ipswich on loan. They were bottom of the league and Wolves were pretty comfortable.

"By the end of the season, Ipswich were safe and Wolves had been relegated to League 1, suffering back-to-back relegations.

“I thought that there was a very good chance I would be back at Ipswich the next season but for whatever reason I went back to Wolves, to play in League 1.

"I wanted to prove that they had made a mistake in letting me go on loan to Ipswich. I also wanted to get the club back into the Championship.

“Kenny Jackett was the manager by then. We won the title and we were promoted back to the Championship.

"The following season [2014/15] we just missed the Play-Offs for the Premier League on goal difference and I won fans’ Player of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year Awards.

“I was given the captain’s armband at the start of the next season, which was a big honour for me.

"It’s something I’d done at Leicester through the age groups, and I had filled in as captain on the odd occasion at Wolves.

"However, it didn’t last long because I was transferred to Fulham on the deadline day in September 2015.

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Richard Stearman
Richard Stearman

Bramall Lane is the sixth stadium Stearman has called home.

“That move caught me by surprise. I was in the last year of my contract and this bid from Fulham came in. Wolves told me that I wouldn’t get another contract.

"I didn’t want to leave but I’d just had a daughter and I didn’t want to risk running my contract down. I had to think about my family so when Wolves accepted the bid, I joined Fulham, a fantastic club.

“Fulham’s manager was Kit Symons, but he got the sack soon after I arrived. I then had four managers in four months at Fulham.

"Three of them played me and then the most recent one didn’t. Fulham then told me that they were looking to sign a whole new team and that if something came up they would let me leave.”

Early the next season [2016/17], Richard returned to Molineux on loan.

He revealed: “Wolves were looking for an English centre-half and I was available, so I jumped at the opportunity. A lot had changed in the year I had been away.

"They had been taken over, a lot of money had been pumped into the club and it was the starting point to what you see from Wolves now.”

At the end of the season, Richard moved to his present club, Sheffield United: “I would have liked to stay at Wolves but I was on loan. Fulham made me available for transfer.

"I wanted to get back to being a main stay in a team and Sheffield United gave me the opportunity to do that so I jumped at the chance.

They had just romped to the League One title with a good staff, a great set of lads and a great fan base. It reminded me of what had happened at Wolves and I wanted to be part of that.”

Richard concluded by saying that he has very fond memories of his time at Leicester City and that he envisages watching Foxes matches against Wolves in future years when his playing career is over.

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