Monday 26 September 2016

On top of the world: Leicester fans hail heroes

Globe tunes in as proud city celebrates win 'less likely than finding Loch Ness monster'

Tom Rowley in Leicester

Published 04/05/2016 | 02:30

Claudio Ranieri is mobbed by fans as he leaves an Italian restaurant after having lunch with team-mates in the centre of Leicester. Photo: Getty
Claudio Ranieri is mobbed by fans as he leaves an Italian restaurant after having lunch with team-mates in the centre of Leicester. Photo: Getty
The Leicester team bus arrives at San Carlo Pizzeria in the city. Photo: PA
A Leicester City scarf is wrapped around the neck of a statue of Richard III yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Leicester city fans celebrate outside the King Power Stadium in Leicester. Photo: Getty
A Leicester City fan celebrates with his dog. Photo: Reuters
Ranieri on the front of Italian newspaper ‘La Gazzetta dello Sport’

Leicester once earned itself a solid reputation - if not exactly international renown - as a maker of knickers, tights and stockings, but yesterday the city was truly at the centre of the world's attention.

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Born in Leicester two years after World War II, Sue Evans has lived through the slow decline of the industries that once sustained the city.

She worked for 20 years on a factory production line, making sweaters and lingerie. But jobs gradually moved overseas and, in the mid-1990s, she was made redundant.

"There aren't many good things that have happened to Leicester over the years," she said. "We used to be known for hosiery, shoes, engineering. It's a shame it's gone downhill."

Yesterday, though, she was celebrating on the streets. Like thousands of other residents, who were joined by people flooding in from across the globe, she was enjoying the alien feeling of her city being a global sensation.

Mrs Evans was euphoric when she heard Leicester City had won the English Premier League on Monday night.

"Leicester has finally made it," she said. "This is something to be proud of."

It was a sentiment shared across the city yesterday. Last year, they buried a former king of England here. Now, they were laying to rest their city's relative obscurity.

The discovery of Richard III beneath a city centre car park and his subsequent reburial caused a stir, but it was nothing compared with the spotlight now trained on Leicester. There were parties in Honduras, Japan and Nigeria.

The victory was trumpeted on newspaper front pages in Boston and Brazil, Sweden and Spain. In China, a lengthy report on the state television channel congratulated the club on a win it called less likely than the discovery of the Loch Ness monster.

Outside the King Power Stadium, where football fans gathered all day to a constant chorus of car horns and a gospel choir singing "we're all going on a European tour", a television reporter from Brazil was recording a piece to camera. Ivan Rupp is more accustomed to covering top-flight matches in Barcelona and Madrid than interviewing the citizens of England's East Midlands, but said he "couldn't miss it".

"It's an amazing thing Leicester has done," he said. "For sure, it is big news."

A few yards away, Yaniv Halily was preparing his dispatch for Israel's largest daily paper. "Until two weeks ago, nobody in Israel knew where Leicester was on the map," he said. "Now, we have started looking for the equivalent of Leicester in Israel to explain it to our readers."

Peter Soulsby, the mayor of Leicester, pondered an appropriate honour to bestow on Claudio Ranieri, the Italian manager who has brought his city such renown. A statue? The freedom of the city? Perhaps, he wondered aloud, they should name a street after him.

Outside the stadium, an opportunistic vendor sold ice cream with blue sherbet and topping. On the city's main thoroughfares, every shop seemed determined to outdo its neighbour: bunting was strung from the façade of the Boots branch; blue and white balloons filled the window of Marks & Spencer.

Fans converged outside an Italian restaurant where the manager and his players were having a celebratory lunch of seafood and meat (no alcohol allowed, even yesterday). Inside, staff greeted the party with applause.

Outside, hundreds gathered in the street, leaving only a narrow space for police to shepherd the players to their waiting coach as the crowd roared its approval.

The victory meant almost as much to lifelong residents who had never followed the game but who queued to buy up to four copies each of a souvenir edition of the Leicester Mercury. "Champions", declared the only word on the front page.

Back at the ground, the club shop was selling out of merchandise. Though she does not watch football, 27-year-old car saleswoman Emily Langton wheeled a pram bearing her six-month-old son Luca to the stadium. "We wanted to tell him about being here today," she said.

She reflected on the profound change her city's reputation has undergone in the past few days. "It's always been a nice place to live in, but it's not really known for anything," she said. "Now it's definitely known. This is the whole world, really."

She looked around at the crowd of hundreds, and the legions of foreign reporters. Then she added: "Richard III didn't have this many fans." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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