Congratulations to Leicester City on winning the English Premier League title. This morning, this was the first thing I read, when checking the overnight news on my phone. Imagine me cheering loudly in a still sleeping house.
Anyone who knows me, realises how utterly unlikely this reaction is. I’m not interested in sport, never have been, and least of all in soccer. Nevertheless, here I am supporting a soccer team on the other end of the world. Just don’t expect any technical analysis of the Leicester’s game plan from me here.
At the beginning of the season, nobody had any hopes of Leicester City achieving anything. Bookies apparently rated their chances of winning at 5000 to 1. The result is that in Australia the TAB faces a payout of over $1 million. This will be the biggest loss on a sporting event ever for TAB, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports today. The losses to British betting agents will be considerably bigger.
Many journalists have made a connection between the Foxes’ success and Richard III, as the team’s chances started to pick up once the king had been reburied in Leicester Cathedral in March last year. After his reinterment with “dignity and honour”, I have no doubt that Richard would support Leicester City, if he could support any team from beyond the grave. However, even if not accepting supernatural influence from long-dead monarchs, there is a connection.
Until August/September 2012, Leicester was hardly on top of any tourist’s visiting wish list. It certainly wasn’t on mine. However, that changed, once the remains found in a car park were confirmed to be those of Richard III. In March 2013, we set off to the Midlands, as I wanted to attend a conference on the archaeological dig organised by the Richard III Society at Leicester University. Let’s start with the positive experiences. The conference was great and I also enjoyed the Jewry Wall Museum. The volunteers at St Mary de Castro were incredibly welcoming. On the negative side was the hotel. Our room was dusty, the bathroom mouldy, and the staff were anything but interested in providing service for their customers. I felt the city itself was rather non-descript, and the grey and drizzly weather didn’t do much for it either.
We returned for the reinterment in March last year, and could feel the transformation, as soon as we got off the coach and walked to our hotel. Everyone was excited and smiling. We had decided to stay at a different hotel this time. The choice of the Premier Inn City Centre was validated as soon as we arrived. The staff at reception was very professional and welcoming, the room clean and comfortable.
Not that I spent much time at the hotel after checking in. I rather made my way to meet up with friends in Jubilee Square to wait for Richard’s cortege. The sun was shining, it was relatively warm and the atmosphere tremendous. What impressed me particularly was that people of all sorts of different backgrounds were there together, waiting in anticipation for the arrival of the coffin. Leicester is one of the most multicultural cities in the UK and it has made a success of it. The masses waiting for the cortege were certainly an example of what it can be like. And I’m not the only one who noticed this change as this article shows.
The city itself had also scrubbed up very nicely for the big event. Information boards now make it easy for the tourist to find his or her way around. They also point out sites of interest, of which the city has its fair share. All in all, this time round it was a much better experience.
And that brings me back to this unlikely fan’s unlikely interest in these unlikely champions. I think it’s all due to a sense of excitement, of being caught up in the excitement of a larger group. That was the case with Richard III’s reinterment, and it’s the same with sport.
The first time I experienced it, was, when as a teenager, I went with some friends to watch some boys of our group, who were part of the local village football team, playing the team from the next village. The same happened in 2011, when my husband decided to go to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup. Again, I wasn’t particularly interested in rugby, but the prospect of a trip to New Zealand was too good to be missed, and I gladly went along. Once there, walking around in Wellington during the afternoon, the general excitement got to me. By the time, we were at the stadium and watched South Africa play Wales, I was just as enthusiastic as the fans, who had supported their respective teams for ever.
My support for Leicester was the same. My friends from Leicester were getting increasingly excited and that spilled over. So when Leicester City got mentioned on the news in Australia, I started listening, while I normally just mentally switch off when the sport news come on. Friends in Australia, who have no interest in Richard III and sometimes not even in soccer, started asking me whether I was supporting the Foxes. With the result that this morning, the first thing I did, was to check how the game between Tottenham and Chelsea had gone, and then started cheering, even if nobody was listening.
It should also be mentioned that the soccer team are not the only champions from that city. Also yesterday, Mark Selby from Leicester played in the final of the 2016 Betfred World Snooker Championship and won, which apparently was also a big surprise.
So you see, when it comes to Leicester you have to expect the unexpected. In 2012, nobody seriously expected finding Richard III’s remains virtually as soon as the ground in that car park was broken. A year ago, nobody seriously expected Leicester City to be EPL Champions.
Let me add another remarkable coincidences, one that you won’t find in the media. I just got a new mobile phone. Yesterday morning, I was playing around with it, trying to discover more of all the wonderful things it can do (well, wonderful to me, as my old one had been rather limited). When looking at the option to play music, I switched on the shuffle feature. The first thing it decided to play was Queen’s “We are the Champions”. That surely had to be a sign!
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You can watch the lovely ‘Fox and the Ghost King: Morpurgo’s Leicester football tale‘ on YouTube. It was originally broadcast on the BBC.
There is also an “updated” version of the words Shakespeare put into Richard III’s mouth by Stephen Moss in the Guardian.