A collective euphoria has gripped Leicester’s humdrum streets as the often-overlooked English city stands on the cusp of achieving global sporting immortality by winning football’s most coveted league title.
Many in the medium-sized Midlands city will not talk about the possibility of one of sporting history’s most unlikely triumphs for fear of jinxing their heroes.
“If you look at all the fans, the people, the city, it’s an incredible, incredible time,” said Ian Smith, while readjusting his Leicester City scarf.
“It means the world to them. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
But the impossible dream will become a reality if the Foxes win at Manchester United on Sunday.
The club, who started the season as one of the relegation favorites and 5000/1 shots to finish top, would still have two more matches to seal arguably the most unlikely league title in English football history if they were to lose at Old Trafford.
Sitting between the powerhouses of Birmingham, Sheffield and Manchester, Leicester has a population of around 330,000.
Locals pride themselves on their hospitality, welcoming strangers with open arms and using the affectionate greeting “m’duck”.
For a city instilled with restraint and discretion, the current emotional eruption is unprecedented.
“It’s an unbelievable buzz everywhere, there are… blue items just everywhere,” said Anna Hulewicz-Brown, adding that the city is almost unrecognizable from the one where she had spent her whole life.
– On the global map –
The temperature will ramp up a notch on Friday when the city’s landmarks, houses and shops will be illuminated and draped in blue until the end of the season.
Fans nervous about Sunday’s big match will be able to calm their nerves in the city’s pubs with a “Vardy bomb”, a cocktail invented in honor of star striker Jamie Vardy.
Others are seeking divine intervention, with a city-centre street preacher now using football to begin his sermon while singing the praises of “Saint Vardy”.
Even fans of the town’s successful rugby club Leicester Tigers are on board, having Vardy’s name emblazoned on the back of their shirts.
“Every time I go out in the street, everybody wants to talk about football,” said mayor Peter Soulsby, who has been swamped with international media requests to explain the miracle.
“It’s a wonderful thing for the city, with Richard III being reinterred last year and Leicester winning the Premier League. We couldn’t hope for anything better,” added die-hard fan Sandra Baum.
The last Plantagenet king was buried at the city’s cathedral last year following the sensational discovery of his remains underneath a council car park, 500 years after his death.
The story shone a rare spotlight on the city, but fans say the city’s footballing fairy tale eclipses everything.
“It puts Leicester City on the map,” said Prami Singh, a regular at the team’s King Power Stadium.
His friend Asif Sheikh lauded the city’s cosmopolitanism and the authentic atmosphere inside the stadium.
“Manchester United, Chelsea fans are from different cities, but the fans here are all born and bred here,” he said.
– No ‘big-time Charlies’ –
Fruit and vegetable seller Scott Lee, 43, epitomizes the city’s familiarity, working on the stall that used to be run by the family of Gary Lineker.
The former England international is revered in Leicester and his family name still appears above the stall.
The ardent fan, now a presenter, promised last December that he would host BBC’s flagship football show in his underpants if the team won the title.
Lee revealed that the current players can wander around town free from hassle, and said the absence of “big time Charlies” in the squad was a key part of their success.
“Manchester United spent 270 million ($395 million, 350 million euros) and have got nothing. We’ve got a team like Leicester, they play together and are friends.
“(Japanese striker) Shinji Okazaki was around town last week. I talked to him, didn’t understand him, but a lovely man. You wouldn’t see that at Chelsea.”
He is in no doubt that the country is behind them, and that they will have the world’s support when they tackle Europe’s elite in next season’s Champions League.
“The world likes it, it’s the underdog story. We’ll beat them, we’ve got a team, not just individual players,” he said.
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