THE BIG INTERVIEW: Leicester City cult hero Steve Walsh, who was born in Preston
Hardman Steve Walsh's fearsome reputation on the football field was formulated on the '˜battlegrounds' of Moor Park.
Hardman Steve Walsh’s fearsome reputation on the football field was formulated on the ‘battlegrounds’ of Moor Park.
The legendary former Leicester City captain is a cult hero among Foxes fans due to his near 15-year stint at Filbert Street and for his no-nonsense approach at both ends of the pitch.
A bruising centre half for most of his career, Walsh probably was better known for being utilised as an emergency striker –scoring more than 60 goals over his Leicester career, including some of the most important goals in their history.
His cult status also owed much to his tendency to frequently enter the referee’s notebook – in fact he has been sent off more times than any other player ever in the Football League.
His 13 red cards is a record he holds jointly with ex-Southend and Colchester striker Roy McDonough.
However, a little known fact is Walsh is actually Preston born and bred and grew up watching North End on the terraces of Deepdale.
And such was his love for the club that when it came to defending PNE’s honour, the young firebrand Walsh was not too far away from any flashpoint whenever arch rivals Blackpool came to town.
“I remember the big scraps on Moor Park we used to have with the Blackpool fans,” chuckled Walsh, who is 53-years-old.
“I was right in the middle of all that – you had to be in those days.
“That was always the meeting place for a scrap; quite scary when you think about it.
“That’s where it all happened; that’s where it all kicked off. but that’s how it was back in those days.”
Getting up close and personal with his Blackpool counterparts back in the day certainly helped Walsh’s intimidatory factor as a player, although it certainly did not help his bank balance with all the fines he paid while the suspensions kept him on the sidelines for a few too many games.
“I look back at all those red cards and think they cost me a lot of money and probably cost the team a few points,” said Walsh, who attended Ashton-on-Ribble High School.
“They were ridiculous really some of them – I probably deserved every one of the reds in a way.
“I used to get some bad things done to me on the pitch but I was sort of brought up to defend myself, although I was a bit too blatant at times I must admit.”
If Walsh’s ability to look after himself was forged on Moor Park, his footballing prowess was certainly developed by watching some of North End’s stars of the day.
“I used to go on with my dad,” he said.
“I will never forget those meat and potato pies.
“I used to stand right next to the Kop and it was amazing watching Mike Elwiss and Alex Bruce – all those old players. I used to love going on.”
While Blackpool were the sworn enemy when Walsh was growing up, bizarrely he could have ended up playing for the Tangerines when his football ability began to get noticed.
A town team and Lancashire schoolboy, North End failed to pick up the boy on their doorstep initially and he headed to Bloomfield Road instead.
“I was spotted by a guy called Jack Chapman, who was a scout at Blackpool,” Walsh revealed.
“They gave me a non-contract at the age of 15 and I was training with the first team.
“Alan Ball was the manager and players like Paul Stewart were there.
“I thought it was the start of me becoming a professional player but they didn’t fancy me in the end and I got released.
“I then went to Preston but was overlooked there and it was then that Wigan came in for me.”
Walsh had four fantastic years with the Latics – helping them to lift the Freight Rover Trophy at Wembley in 1985.
And a year later, his love affair with Leicester began.
With the Foxes he played in the top flight, won Championship play-off and League Cup finals and played in Europe in what was one of the most successful periods in the club’s history under Martin O’Neill.
“It really was a roller-coaster ride for me at Leicester,” Walsh said. “What with being the joint British record holder for red cards, 26 operations because I suffered some really bad injuries, but then I scored 62 goals for them and played in 450 games.
“The 1990s was a massive time for me – I played at Wembley six times I think.”
One of those trips to the Twin Towers wrote Walsh’s name in Foxes folklore when he scored twice to help City defeat Derby 2-1 in the 1995 play-off final.
“That game got Leicester into the Premier League for the very first time in its history,” he said. “Unbelievable times really.”
In that game, Walsh was deployed in attack – a tactic which City used on many occasions.
“I remember getting two red cards in a week – one at Wolves and one at Charlton, Walsh said.
“At the time Brian Little was the manager and he said, ‘Right I am going to play you up front so you don’t get booked.
“To be fair, it worked. I think instantly I scored eight goals in nine games.
“I hit it off straight away with Julian Joachim; he was small and fast and I was the targetman who could play. I got my head on a lot of things and could score goals.
“I was regularly deployed as a makeshift centre forward.
“I had played up front in training and I always loved playing up there.
“The thing with playing at the back, if you make a mistake you get crucified – sometimes you wouldn’t sleep at night.
“Where as there was less pressure up front; it was like a release for me.
“I loved the freedom and I loved scoring goals.”
Arguably the most exhilarating game Walsh was involved in was when Leicester drew 3-3 with Arsenal at Filbert Street in August 1997.
The match is one of the greatest games in Premier League history and is synonymous with Dennis Bergkamp, who scored a wonderful hat-trick.
But City played no small part in the events of that evening as they came back from 2-0 down to equalise through Matt Elliott in the 90th minute.
Amazingly Bergkamp scored again with a breathtakingly good goal in stoppage time to seemingly hand the Gunners– who went on to win the title that season – the three points.
However, Walsh popped up in the 96th minute to head past David Seaman to rescue a point.
“I scored a lot of last minute and late goals,” Walsh said.
“I would probably place the Arsenal 3-3 draw as higher than the Derby game.
“Just the meaning of that game with the Bergkamp hat-trick and to get the equaliser so late on.
“It was just amazing because they were an incredible team and to get a draw down at Filbert Street; the atmosphere was just amazing.
“Winning the Coca-Cola Cup at Hillsborough in a replay, beating Middlesbrough – that is also another very special memory.”