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Leicester City FC legends reflect on Family Night Football

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Foxes heroes including Emile Heskey and former captain Matt Heath have revealed how an innovative approach to reserve team fixtures at the club changed the footballing landscape.

And the concept would go on to break attendance records at clubs across the country.

Family Night Football (FNF) was a unique concept devised and developed by Leicester City’s club marketer Richard Hughes in the 90s.

Alongside renowned chief executive Barrie Pierpoint, the duo aimed to revolutionise the way reserve team football was viewed, drawing inspiration from American sports games and family entertainment, with the aim of adopting a much wider fanbase than diehard fans.

Describing the concept, Pierpoint said: “Reserve games in the early nineties were weekday affairs. The crowd consisted of a handful of fans who parted with their hard-earned cash to sit and enjoy a steaming hot cup of tea.

“Richard sensed an opportunity to create a new product that would appeal to a different type of supporter and also help to improve our standing within the community.

“He’d previously attended a college football game in Florida that combined live sport and off-field entertainment such as a 200-strong marching band, cheerleaders and cartoon characters. The safe, fun environment attracted 90,000 people.

“We didn’t have anything like this in England, so we decided to give it a go. However, we wouldn’t do anything on the football side without [manager] Brian Little’s approval, so we pitched the idea to him.”

Little, who managed the Foxes between 1991 and 1994, explained how he gave FNF his blessing:

“I embraced it. I didn’t want any changes made to the first team matches, but the concept was ideal for reserve games.

“I had a few people asking why I was letting Barrie and Richard change the reserve matches, but I loved that they were trying to do something different. It was great for kids.”

With the Foxes having built a new stand which increased its total stadium capacity to 21,500, FNF was seen as the next step in developing Leicester City’s growing fanbase in the 90s, as the club started to make its ascension to the heady heights of the Premier League.

Aiming to present a more fun and friendly environment for families, the proposition drew value for money in the form of its tickets, which were available at just £2 for adults and a quid for kids, with additional community support driven through the Leicester Mercury’s free coupon incentive.

Additionally, the concept saw the introduction of a young and exciting striker, Emile Heskey, who was in Leicester’s youth side at the time.

Acting as ball boy for the fixture, FNF reached its peak in 1994, as the Foxes attained a landmark reserve game win over the might of Manchester United, which attracted over 14,000 fans.

Discussing his memories, Heskey said: “Family Night Football was a great initiative that made reserve matches more family oriented and playing in those games definitely helped me in my development.

“I remember watching in disbelief as more and more fans entered the ground. By the time the match [against Manchester United] kicked off, the ground looked as full as it usually was for first team games!”

Leicester’s creation was to be the envy of many clubs, so much so that the Foxes decided to run seminars for interested clubs such as Manchester United and Liverpool to replicate its success.

And with ‘kids go free’ and ‘kids for a quid’ concepts now so readily commonplace in modern day football, Pierpoint feels proud that FNF laid the blueprint for widespread change across the game.

“Whilst bringing in money was important, what I’m most proud of is the positive impact that FNF had within the community.

“We made football affordable and accessible which attracted a bunch of new fans. Our aim was to introduce people to the club at a young age, give them a good experience so that they would be fans and customers for life.”

Watching the early days of FNF was a young Matt Heath, a Leicester-born supporter and future club captain.

For Heath, the concept helped not only generate his interest in the club from the stands but would also later go on to improve his performances as a player.

“The fact that FNF was so family friendly meant that I was allowed to attend with my mates for the first time. We’d get dropped off and picked up, but we could watch the matches on our own.

“I thought it was a great concept, the games were great fun and we watched some good football.

“Later, as I transitioned from the stands to the pitch, which was amazing, I remember thinking, wow, the opponents were unbelievable.

“During one match against Chelsea I found myself marking Champions League winner, Gianluca Vialli, with former Barcelona defender, Winston Bogarde, another big name in their line-up.

“It was a step up because I was playing with, and against, older and more experienced players, but it wasn’t too intense because there wasn’t much on the line. The games definitely helped my development.”

Fans interested in FNF can learn more in Barrie Pierpoint’s new book, Minding My Own Football Business, which charts the highs and lows of Leicester’s storied ascension to the Premier League in the late 90s.

Released today, it is available online and in all good book stores, including Waterstones.

Proceeds from each book sale will go to raising vital funds for Rainbows Children’s Hospice in Loughborough.

For more information and to make your order, visit https://www.mindingmyownfootballbusiness.co.uk/.

FNF LOGO 001 (1).png

Heskey.jpg

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28 minutes ago, MMFB said:

Foxes attained a landmark reserve game win over the might of Manchester United, which attracted over 14,000 fans.

That game was crazy, I think United had a lot of injuries and there were rumours about loads of top players being in the team. I don't think there were mind you. 

 

Sam McMahon (sp) winner wasn't it?

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1 hour ago, Babylon said:

Some characters around that marketing department back then. Barrie, Richard, Adi, Paul... who I think I'm right in saying it was a football hooligan lol and oddly the nicest of the lot of them. 

And there was a guy who worked in the lottery dept for five months in 1997 who was a lovely chap....... :whistle:

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2 hours ago, Babylon said:

That game was crazy, I think United had a lot of injuries and there were rumours about loads of top players being in the team. I don't think there were mind you. 

 

Sam McMahon (sp) winner wasn't it?

Must have been a crowd of something like 15/16 thousand right? I remember people being walkway around the pitch to East Stand as they only turnstile open at one side of the ground 

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3 hours ago, MMFB said:

“During one match against Chelsea I found myself marking Champions League winner, Gianluca Vialli, with former Barcelona defender, Winston Bogarde, another big name in their line-up.

“It was a step up because I was playing with, and against, older and more experienced players, but it wasn’t too intense because there wasn’t much on the line. The games definitely helped my development.

This is what the U23s miss out on. Clubs rarely use the U23s to work 1st team players back to full fitness or to keep them match fit.

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I remember one reserve game, pre FNF, V United where there was a risk they could be relegated (we beat them but they managed to stay up by winning elsewhere) and as bastions (just a few letters out) of fair play they sent a lot of first teamers. We had a young-ish team but were lead by the mighty Finn Jari Rantanen who I believe scored a couple as we beat them. That one had a "big match" feel as we hadn't seen many star name opponents that season being in Div 2.

 

“There was a plan for me to go on loan to (Bundesliga side) Cologne but their head coach told me that Leicester City was asking for too much money. I don’t know if that is right or wrong. I remember one special game when I was playing in Leicester’s reserve side. At that time Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton and were playing against us in the reserve league. Manchester United was in danger of being relegated from that reserve league so Alex Ferguson sent the first team to play our reserves on a Tuesday night and we beat them 3-1. That was a really great game and it was nice to score a couple of goals against their (Scotland international goalkeeper) Jim Leighton. Bryan Robson scored their goal. After that game, David Pleat said, ‘Maybe we should try Jari next Saturday’ but I wasn’t even substitute. I felt he never wanted to give me a chance but I was sure that I could prove him wrong.”

 

FNF brings fond memories of the Foxy Ladies, where else could you see an acrobatic pyramid of girls collapse because the one at the top has had a few too many Kebabs recently. Made the Keystone cops look like the Cirque Du Soleil.

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1 hour ago, Cardiff_Fox said:

Must have been a crowd of something like 15/16 thousand right? I remember people being walkway around the pitch to East Stand as they only turnstile open at one side of the ground 

Yep if not more. We got there late and had to walk around the pitch to get to a seat in what was usually the away section. My sister tripped and fell and pulled me down with her resulting in large cheers and laughter from the crowd.

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7 hours ago, TrickyTrev Benjamin said:

@UpTheLeagueFoxwhat roles have you done at the club ? Like have you ever officially worked for the club ?

I hosted some of the FNF events - my employers at the time (Radio Leicester) didn't seem to have a problem with it but I suspect the BBC would think differently now.

Had a staff job in '97 for five months working in the lottery department - it filled a gap after I came back from DJing in Egypt and starting writing a book about MON and then ultimately getting back into radio.

Worked for the club's in-house media channels (as a freelance in 15/16) covering the title win etc and covered the LA tour for them before (presumably) they realised I was crap and stopped offering me shifts.

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