By BEN WRIGHT
In the late 1970s, my uncle wanted to go to Filbert St. My Grandmother said no. Like the stadiums of many a middling football club at the time, the home of Leicester City could be a rough place. English hooliganism was enjoying its dark hey day and my uncle was already in trouble for sneaking the first of many tattoos on to his upper arms. Filbert St was a no-no. But “no” wasn’t going to work, even for woman of iron will like my grandmother. Always a good politician, she cooked up an alternative: my grandfather (I’m not sure how much say he had in the matter) would take my uncle past Filbert St to Welford Road – home of the Leicester Tigers Rugby Football Club, the greatest club rugby club in the northern hemisphere. I say “the greatest” because, the Tigers are unequivocally my team. When I think of Leicester, I think of the Tigers.
It was 1990 when I saw my first Tiger’s game. One Saturday lunchtime, my divorcee dad had again cancelled our plans, again at the last minute. I was again disconsolate. I never did get to see him as much as I wanted to. As I hung the phone back on the wall, my head sagged and my bottom lip jutted. I was at my grandmother’s house. About 15 minutes later, my grandfather (I’m not sure how much say he had in the matter) was walking me down to the Tiger’s stadium.
I say all this, because I want it to be very clear: I am a fair-weather Leicester City fan. I am the archetypal glory supporter. But I am happily on the band-wagon. Over the last nine months, the foxes have brokered an unmatchable achievement. It is not just Manchesters United and City that have been feistily vanquished. It’s money and power itself. Privilege, nobility, and snobbery have been defenestrated. Those are the forces which for 25 years have colonised the world’s favorite league. Sure it won’t last, but who cares? They always win, today we did. And it can’t be taken away from us.
As soon as Tottenham-Chelsea finished, I called my grandmother. She had listened to the game on the radio – while also watching the snooker on the television. (Incidentally the World Championship of Snooker was won 30 minutes later by Mark Selby, a chap from Leicester.) How are the girls? The Tigers still have a chance of winning their league, so perhaps it will be a(nother) triple crown for England sporting capital, she said. Yeah, Maybe. Hopefully see you this summer. Love you Grandma, bye.
I don’t want to feel a melancholy in all this. I want to enjoy it. But right now, I want to be in Leicester, and I’m not. I’m in Austin, Texas of all places. I’m not just a fair-weather fan of Leicester City; I’m a fair-weather fan of Leicester. Am I a fair-weather grandson? Gosh, I’m melodramatic.
Time zones being what they are, I snuck out of work early to watch the end of the Tottenham-Chelsea match. The sun hasn’t yet set, and I’m two drinks down. Spell-check is working harder than usual. My wife will be putting the kids to bed tonight. But in this moment of celebration and connection, I feel strangely alienated. Ahh, fox these feelings! Another drink. Melancholy and existentialism are the one-night-stands of emotions – temporary indulgences underserving of wedding rings. Let’s go out.
And please forgive me another moment of melodrama: I can honestly say that tonight I can hear the roar of Filbert St. I have walked past Leicester City’s stadiums for decades – on the way to Welford Rd. I never went to Filbert St. I’ve been to the KP Stadium once – to see the Tigers play in a European Cup Semi-Final, back when Welford Rd wasn’t big enough for big occasions. Nevertheless, I was acquainted early on with the roar of a fox-crowd. You see, before all the TV money came in, the Tigers and the Foxes kicked usually off at the same time, barely a mile apart. You always knew when the Foxes had scored.
So I’m happily now part of the roar. Part Tiger, part Fox, part fair-weather friend. And fully grandchild. I’m immensely proud, but even more, I’m over-the-moon for the die hard; for the fan who saw Leicester relegated (twice) only to fight back up; to nearly get relegated again last year and who now have blown the whole logic of the league open. This day belongs to the likes of them, not the likes of me. Like anywhere, Leicester is full of people having a hard time; a harder time that I am having. A quick delve down my feed: people who are broke, their relationships are broken. I’m grateful for the rest-bite this pretty piece of glory incarnates. I’ll enjoy from afar and offer a little magnanimity to the melancholy: joy is reserved for the harvesters after all. Enough of this. This is an unlikely, lovely story, and a kind piece of providence. I’ll enjoy it from here. But what of everyone else? Is this a story of underfoxes that everyone can get behind? Perhaps. But I know a better one.
Ben Wright. Born in Leicester. Lives in Texas. Bought his first Foxes shirt last month on Ebay for $36. It turned out to be a fake.