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.
Releasing on a slightly earlier than planned date of December 1st , buyers can enjoy a 20% discount when making their pre -orders, making the book an attractive proposition at just £12.
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 pre order, visit