What it’s like to be a life-long Leicester City fan right now
‘I still expect them to make a mess of it’
Since he was young, my Dad (you can call him Mark) has had three loves in his life: Leicester City, Bruce Springsteen and my Mum. Growing up in Corby, Northamptonshire, Leicester was his nearest big team and in his late teens Dad would get a bus every Saturday to watch them play at their old ground at Filbert Street.
After I was born, we moved away from Leicester and he had to follow the Foxes from afar and put up with a son who decided to support Tottenham instead. Now though he might get the last laugh: Leicester are seven points clear of Spurs at the top of the table and on the cusp of pulling off one of the greatest upsets in recent Premier League history. So I asked him what it’s like to watch the Jamie Vardy party every weekend.
Hi Dad. So what made you pick Leicester City in the first place?
Growing up, they were the nearest big team to where we lived on the border of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. Everyone on my mum’s side of the family was from Leicester so it was a natural choice even though all the other kids would support Man Utd, Liverpool or even Wolves because they were big back then.
Leicester were always in the top two divisions but we knew they’d never really win anything. They’d have flashes of brilliance, beating Liverpool one week, but then they’d go and get knocked out by a minnow in the cup a week later.
What was it like watching games at Filbert Street?
Well it was all-standing as this was before Hillsborough or Heysel. It was a run-down ground in many ways, crammed in between council houses. Although there was a finite capacity, they’d really pack people into the terraces. You knew when it was a big team playing because you and your mates would have a lot less room to stand and chat and you couldn’t go to the toilet or the burger bar without almost taking three other people with you. You had your spot and so you saw the same people every week.
How has it been following this season from afar?
Terrible! I don’t know if it would be any better if I was able to go in person. Watching the highlights of the Southampton game from the weekend and seeing some of the anguished faces of the fans in the stadium makes me think it wouldn’t be any better. I’d be biting my nails and all sorts.
What was the greatest high before this season?
We won the Milk Cup a couple of times under Martin O’Neill which is probably one of the few occasions when we’ve won some silverware. We’d get knocked out of Europe in the first round but that was Leicester for you.
What was the lowest moment?
When we were relegated to League One, I think that was the first time we’d ever been outside of the top two tiers of English football which was embarrassing. But, as I said, football fans are fickle and it meant we got to win games. The other main one I can really think of is when we had financial difficulties and went into receivership. Gary Lineker, Emile Heskey and some others put in quite significant sums of money to help save the club. Although I’ve often said that if a club dies then it dies, it’s different when it’s your club.
When did it shift from being happy with how well they were doing this season to realising there was something to lose?
Probably after we beat Tottenham in early January. Robert Huth scored a header. That made me think, hang on, these guys are our rivals. Being able to beat them meant I started to think about the Champions League. Then we beat Man City 3-1 away from home at the start of February. I probably only started to believe they could genuinely win the title two to three weeks ago though.
Can you see next season being as successful?
Ranieri deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done, he’s had a very settled side. I’m prepared for them to struggle next season and for there to be a few midweek headlines about them getting beaten 7-1 by the likes of PSG in Europe because we’ll have to change more things.
This season Ranieri has been able to have the same players every week because they’ve only had one game a week. Next year, with European football, there’s potentially another 12 or so games in the season so he’ll need a bigger squad. That’s the worry at the moment, that one injury or poor decision could still cost us because the squad is so small.
How does it compare to this time last season? Did you think they were dead and buried?
Absolutely, I think we were seven points from safety at this time and we looked beaten. We were giving the ball away, not making simple passes and everyone was beating us.
Earlier in the season I remember beating Man Utd 5-3 and it was fantastic. I thought we’d be fine, probably finish mid-table. We ended up beating West Ham, picked up a couple of wins and were able to put a run together. I think Nigel Pearson deserves a lot of credit for what he did and if they do win it then it would be nice if he’s included in the celebrations in some way.
If you were getting a name on the back of a Leicester shirt now, who would it be?
Probably Drinkwater. I know Vardy gets the attention because of his rise from non-league but I still feel he’ll get found out eventually. Drinkwater has been superb in midfield, the pass he played at the weekend to set up Fuchs for the cross was perfect and he proved he can do it for England too.
Of the players you used to watch play for Leicester, are there any you think would get into this team?
We had some very good players come through but rarely did we have more than one or two top-class players at a time. Now we’ve got several top internationals. We had Banks and Shilton as goalkeepers but I think Schmeichel is up there with them which is the highest praise he can be given.
One player I’d like to see in there is Steve Walsh at centre-half for either Huth or Morgan. He was always a favourite of mine. Keith Weller was another fantastic player in the centre of midfield but I don’t think he could do the running that Kante does. He’d be great to have in there though along with Kante and Drinkwater.
Do you believe they’ll win the league or is there a part of you that still expects them to mess it up?
I think they should do it but my heart still expects them to make a mess of it. We only need four wins and if you look at the fixtures, I think we should be able to beat West Ham, Swansea, Sunderland and Everton so the wins are there. It’s just if we can get them. Man U can do us a big favour on Sunday afternoon by beating Tottenham because then it will hopefully be a ten-point lead. I think it’s us or them. Arsenal need to win four games just to get level with us now and us not to get points which I can’t see happening. We’ll still get some points, it’s just whether it will be enough.
And if they do it, you’ll be travelling back to Leicester for the open-top bus parade?
I will, I’ll be there with tears streaming down my face.