Leicester City: From Last Place To Now Poised To Win English Soccer Crown

Ashley Watson, 26, has a tattoo on his forearm, in support of his local soccer team, Leicester City Football Club. (Lauren Frayer)
Ashley Watson, 26, has a tattoo on his forearm, in support of his local soccer team, Leicester City Football Club. (Lauren Frayer)

Karishma Kapoor, 20, is a business student, a soccer fan — and a betting woman. One day last August, she was at her grandmother's house.

"We just all sat around talking, and then football came up. And we just thought, 'Why not?' Kapoor recalls. "It's only a pound, so we put 2 pounds on (about $3), at 5,000-to-one odds."

She placed a bet online — against the 5000-to-one odds — that her hometown soccer team, Leicester City, would win England's Premier League — the richest and most-watched soccer league in the world. At the time, they were last place. Now, Kapoor stands to win some $14,600 from that $3 dollar bet.

And her team stands to make U.K. sports history.

Leicester City had a chance to win the league Sunday, but they tied 1-1 away at Manchester United. That leaves their fate hanging on a Tottenham-Chelsea game Monday. If Tottenham tie or lose, the Premiership is all Leicester's.

Shop and restaurant windows in Leicester's city center are adorned with 'Backing the Blues' posters, in support of the hometown soccer team, Leicester City.
Shop and restaurant windows in Leicester's city center are adorned with 'Backing the Blues' posters, in support of the hometown soccer team, Leicester City.

"It hasn't sunk in. No one in this city at the moment knows how to deal with this," says Ashley Watson, 26, who works at a hospital in Leicester. "Everyone's obviously excited and happy."

Watson has three Leicester City tattoos — across his back, forearm and leg. He got the first one 10 years ago, when Leicester City wasn't even in the top division of English soccer. His forearm reads: "Leicester Till I Die."

"This season is the most remarkable season in the history of — not just football — but of my life," he says, choking up. "You never thought Leicester could win the league — not without the money of Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal."

Leicester City's starting squad cost about $24 million dollars. The sports' biggest, richest teams — those Leicester has been up against in this competition — often spend that sum to acquire a single star player.

By contrast, Leicester City's lead goal-scorer, Jamie Vardy, was working in a factory a few years ago, playing soccer at night in the U.K. equivalent of the minor leagues. Now, a biopic film is reportedly in the works, about Vardy's life.

Fans gather at the home stadium of the Leicester City Football Club.
Fans gather at the home stadium of the Leicester City Football Club.

This week, Leicester is bedecked in blue and white — the colors of LCFC, the Leicester City Football Club. Windows of shops and restaurants in the city center all display "Backing the Blues" posters. Even the Church of England is flying the Leicester City soccer flag, atop the city's gothic cathedral.

Overshadowed by bigger Birmingham 45 miles away, Leicester is one of England's most diverse cities. On a Sunday stroll through the center, NPR spotted an African gospel choir, many Muslim women in headscarves, and an entire soccer-crazed Vietnamese family all wearing curly clown wigs in blue and white.

One of Leicester's main thoroughfares, Narborough Road, is known as Britain's most diverse main street.

"On Narborough Road, you can eat Turkish, you can eat Indian, Pakistani, Greek," says Leo Daniels, who lives on the road. "There are so many different languages spoken, and different people living here."

Daniels was taking his children out for an evening stroll, to pick up ice cream and point out local team spirit.

Fans gather at the home stadium of the Leicester City Football Club. Sunday's game was an away game in Manchester, but thousands of fans gathered at the home stadium to watch the game on huge screens inside.
Fans gather at the home stadium of the Leicester City Football Club. Sunday's game was an away game in Manchester, but thousands of fans gathered at the home stadium to watch the game on huge screens inside.

"We're looking at a Leicester City scarf tied around the statue of Richard the III's neck," he says. "Everything connected with Leicester, and about Leicester, is now supporting Leicester City for this title run. It's fantastic."

Leicester is where the bones of the 15th century King Richard III were found buried under a parking lot a few years ago. Some Leicester fans believe the spirit of their king, 500 years ago, is guiding their soccer team now.

"If he could be here, he'd be cheering them on!" says Rachel Hare, in a local Leicester pub. "He's been here for 500 years, we just didn't know it!" says her husband, Steve Hare.

And that's pretty much how they feel about their soccer team too.

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