I’m a lifelong Leicester City fan. I’m not from round there, but my dad is from not far away and he brought us all up as Leicester fans. It wasn’t cool for a kid growing up in Gloucestershire. It wasn’t cool for a kid anywhere. Apart from Leicester.
I wasn’t particularly into football as a kid, not many girls were at that time, but if anyone asked what team I supported, it was always Leicester. Other kids found this both funny and strange. They supported Liverpool and Man Utd, even in Gloucestershire.
My first ever football match was actually a Nottingham Forest game. I was at university in Nottingham and it seemed like a fun thing to do. I loved it. There was even a tense couple of months when I might have been tempted to cross over to the dark side and support Forest, but I had a word with myself. I was a Leicester fan.
Living in the East Midlands meant that I could actually hear about Leicester on the local news, which I loved. It also meant I could go to games.
With a football mad boyfriend (now a football mad husband), I started going to three or four Leicester games a season.
And that carried on right into my 20s, through living in London and being back living in Gloucestershire.
I saw Leicester under Brian Little, Mark McGhee and, best of all, Martin O’Neill. Under Martin O’Neill, they got quite good for a while. I saw them lose the Coca Cola (league cup) at Wembley with my dad and my uncle and auntie. I saw them win it in a pub in Nottingham. I saw them play Man Utd on about the third game of a season when they were actually top of the league (needless to say, it didn’t last).
The players at the time were Emile Heskey, Steve Claridge, Neil Lennon, Muzzy Izzet, Steve Guppy and Matt Elliot. And some bloke called Robbie Savage.
Heskey went on to have a long playing career, including with England. Neil Lennon went on to manage Celtic. Steve Claridge and Robbie Savage went on to have careers in broadcasting.
But then I had kids and suddenly there was no room in my life for football any more.
We had a box at Leicester for my dad’s 60th, when the boys were tiny. My boys even got Leicester shirts, against their daddy’s will. It was an amazing day, but after that I forgot about football and Leicester.
For many years, I couldn’t have named their players. I could barely have named their manager. I was aware that they got relegated and then got relegated again. If the football scores came on the TV or radio, I would check Leicester’s score for old time’s sake, but I had no idea whether it meant they were in the relegation zone or not.
Because being a Leicester fan has always been about relegation.
They came so close to relegation in 2014-15. But then something happened. They started winning games. They went on a tremendous winning streak which saw them survive the drop. But they were going to go down in 2015-16, weren’t they?
My dad turned 70 last year and we promised him a ticket to a game. We couldn’t get one, as it was the end of the season. Never mind, we’d get him a ticket for the 2015-16 season.
My dad still hasn’t had his birthday present.
At the start of the 2015-16 season, Leicester were top of the league. It was like when I saw them play Man Utd all those years ago. It wouldn’t last.
By October, when we had our disastrous trip to an England game, Robbie Savage was on the radio saying that Leicester definitely couldn’t win the league. Where was his loyalty to the team that had made him?
But Leicester stayed there. Right at the top of the table.
Arsenal would win it.
OK, Arsenal wouldn’t win it. It would be Tottenham.
But, as the weeks wore on, people started to think the unthinkable. Could LEICESTER really win the league?
Needless to say, I stopped being a lapsed Leicester fan this season. I felt myself almost burst with pride every time they won a game. Suddenly I knew who all of the players in the team were again. And so did the rest of the country. That made me even happier.
It wasn’t just Leicester fans who wanted Leicester to win the league. It was everyone. All of a sudden, this was the greatest story in footballing history. With the unlikely Hollywood hero in the form of a skinny bloke who used to play non-league.
They were seven points clear at the top. I started doing the maths, like my husband always does. Tottenham were going to seriously struggle to catch them.
Vardy got a two-match ban. They drew against West Ham. They beat Swansea 4-0 without Vardy.
By some miracle, my husband got tickets for him and the kids for the Man Utd v Leicester game on Sunday. They are all members and go to two or three games a season. I was very jealous. Even my husband and boys would have been happy to see Leicester win that one (although my daughter doesn’t get what the fuss is all about and remains 100% a Man Utd fan), but my husband predicted they wouldn’t win it.
A 1-1 draw didn’t win them the league, but they were eight points clear. With seven wins and three draws in their last 10 games, it was almost impossible for Tottenham to catch them.
My kids bought me a match scarf. ‘I bet you never thought you’d have your own Leicester scarf, did you, mum?’
‘I’ve got my own Leicester scarf. And my own Leicester shirts.’
The scarf and the shirts came out when Tottenham played Chelsea last night. Tottenham scored as soon as I put my shirt on. I was clearly an unlucky omen. Tottenham scored again.
But then Chelsea scored twice. Maybe me and my retro shirt were lucky after all.
Tottenham drew. They didn’t win the league.
LEICESTER CITY WON THE PREMIER LEAGUE!!!
It’s the greatest story in footballing history. That’s according to the TV pundits, not just me.
I feel proud to be a Leicester fan. I’m no longer lapsed.