The following is an extract from the second edition of ‘The Football Grounds of Great Britain’, by Simon Inglis.
It was published in 1987, before the all seater legislation came in, and before the Carling Stand was built.
The book is well worth reading, for anyone with an interest in football grounds and the history of football, even though most grounds have changed significantly since it was published. It’s been out of print for a long time but there are usually several cheap copies available on eBay – click here to see what’s available now.
City were originally called Leicester Fosse when formed in 1884, because they played on a field by Fosse Road South (a `fosse’ is a ditch or moat in front of a fortified place). In 1885 the club moved to Victoria Park, where they were often competing with the more popular Victoria Park Rugby FC for spectators. On 5 November 1887 Fosse switched to their first enclosed ground, Belgrave Road Cycle Track, using the White Hart Hotel as changing rooms. But the rugby club followed their example a year later and made a bid for the stadium higher than Fosse could afford, so the soccer club moved back to Victoria Park. Soon after, however, Leicester turned professional and began playing on a ground at Mill Lane, until the council evicted them and they were forced to make a temporary home at Aylestone Road County Cricket Ground. Finally, after seven years the club made its sixth and final move to the present site at Filbert Street.
What is today known as Filbert Street or the City Stadium was in 1891 referred to as Walnut Street, then the nearest road actually touching the site. It is thought that the ground was first spotted by a Miss Westland, who considered the 3 3/4 acre site would make a very nice football ground, which indeed it did. Fosse played their first game there, a friendly v Nottingham Forest Reserves on 7 November 1891. Three years later they joined the League and in the period before the First World War the ubiquitous Archibald Leitch played some part in the ground’s improvement.
In 1919 the club’s name was changed to Leicester City, and on 24 November 1921 the present Main Stand was opened.
In 1924-25 City reached the Cup quarter-finals, won the Second Division Championship and thereby began one of the most successful periods in their history. In the summer of 1927 the double-decker South Stand was built, an almost exact copy of West Ham’s Main Stand built two years previously. Perhaps inspired by its grandeur the team went on to finish third in the Division in 1928 and on 18 February of that year Filbert Street enjoyed its highest attendance, 47 298 for the visit of Tottenham in the FA Cup 5th Round. Both the Popular Side and the North Terrace were covered around this time.
A wartime fire, caused either by military personnel occupying that section or by a bomb, destroyed a third of the Main Stand and this was not completely repaired until 1949.
The first floodlit match at Filbert Street was on 23 October 1957 v. Borussia Dortmund, that year’s West German League Champions. When the club bounced back to Division One in 1971, Filbert Street was extensively redeveloped. Seats were installed first at the North Stand, then along the East Side, and in 1975 a unique arrangement for shelter was provided for the newly seated terracing when the North Stand roof was replaced by a line of 20 private boxes directly above.
Being such a tightly enclosed ground, Filbert Street’s pitch had always suffered from a lack of ventilation, and was notoriously muddy in winter. To alleviate this, in 1971 the club installed a huge plastic sheet which could be raised above the pitch with hot-air blowers, so high that players could even train underneath it (although in practice it made for a claustrophobic and uncomfortable environment in which to spend much time). But the cost of running such a system was high, the sheeting was prone to tearing, and since the club improved the drainage the cover has been removed.
City now own Filbert Street, except for the car park and roadway behind the Main Stand (both still belong to the council). The ground’s capacity is 31 500, including 15 326 seats.
An observer once described Filbert Street as a `shoebox’ ground, an impression certainly reinforced by television coverage. But the camera has been known to lie, and in reality the ground seems quite open, two of the stands being low. If there was a sense of confinement, this has been considerably diminished by the demolition of the neighbouring electricity generating station, whose enormous cooling towers used to form a shadow over the south east corner. But the ground is hemmed in quite tightly by the surrounding terraced streets, as for example in Burnmoor Street, where the entrance to the East Stand is, as at Kenilworth Road, actually part of the houses. There are bedrooms above the gateways.
The Main Stand is lower than the end South Stand but has a modest dignity all of its own. Most noticeable is the `pigeon-loft’ box on the roof which houses cameras. It has extra lamps perched along the roof. The most interesting feature is the mock-classical podium built behind the players’ tunnel. The tunnel was formerly like a courtyard, extending the full width of the podium with two windows on each side of the entrance, until the installation of more seats ruined its grand effect. Otherwise the stand is unremarkable, with solid screen ends, a small front paddock and blue and white paintwork. The seats are a mixture of colours and therefore deny the stand any uniformity.
From here to the right is the South Stand, a copy of one at the Boleyn Ground but not so well preserved. Even though the stand has been there half a century, the standing area is still referred to under its old name of Spion Kop.
The East Stand opposite the Main Stand is low with a shallow rising tier of seats from front to back, obviously a hurried conversion of the old terracing. Its roof is well lit by skylights, but as it reaches the northern corner it gets messily tangled in a web of steelwork which continues round the corner until meeting the North Stand’s private boxes. Underneath this apparently impromptu roof is a section of bucket seats installed in front of a small section of terracing. This is the Filbert Street corner for the supporters’ club, where the spectators pay the same and may choose whether to stand or sit.
The North Stand is most curious. The bottom section is covered in bright orange seats and is the usual converted terrace. But above a this are executive boxes, forming a roof over the seats. The glass fronts are virtually suspended over the goal-line, and have their own little canopy to keep off the rain. They look like an aquarium at the zoo. It is. an unorthodox arrangement, but apparently most successful. Between here and the Main Stand you may notice that behind the odd, white floodlight pylon, is a figure at once familiar but highly unexpected in the depths of Leicester. It is a copy of the Statue of Liberty which dates back to 1920 when the directors of Lennards Shoes, whose premises were on Walnut Street, visited New York and decided they wanted a statue for the roof of their new building. Liberty Shoes, as the company became known, no longer exists but the large stone figure survives. Her hundred-weight torch, which fell onto the pavement below during a frost attack has happily been restored. At the ground entrance in this corner is another quite classical feature, a gateway with a flag on top.
Filbert Street is cramped, with box-like aspects, and certainly there is little room within the stadium. Each goal is narrow, as is the running track. There was a plan to move out and rebuild at Beaumont Leys, on the outskirts of the town, but as so many other clubs have found, by adding seats Leicester have managed to convert their ground into one easily able to cope with the smaller crowds of today.