Elation on the Streets of Leicester: Scenes From the Foxes’ Title Parade
As Claudio Ranieri and co. paraded the Premier League trophy, we spoke to Leicester fans about what their title win means for the city.
All images by Will Magee
This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.
Arriving in Leicester several hours before the title parade is due to start, there is already an unmistakable atmosphere of elation. Bus drivers honk their horns at the clusters of blue shirts that have started to form outside pubs, bars and cafes. The streets resound with the sound of clackers and klaxons, while friends and families meet and mingle by the route that is soon to be graced by the Premier League trophy.
This is the route that will soon be traversed by their champions.
Traders ply their wares on almost every street corner, selling Leicester shirts and flags to eager passersby. Kids eat blue ice creams as half-deflated helium balloons trail behind them. There are outbursts of chanting here and there, often led by supporters wearing Claudio Ranieri masks. The sun is shining, the beer is flowing, and excitement is building. In a few hours time, the fans and their heroes will be united in celebration of their remarkable success.
While there is elation on the streets, there is also a sense of disbelief. The mood is euphoric, but also dreamlike. Leicester fans are about to celebrate their club's first ever top-flight title, as clinched by a team that many pundits tipped for relegation at the start of the season. This is a team that finished 14th the previous campaign, and which was assembled at the cost of £54.4m.
By comparison, Arsenal's squad cost over £250m in transfer fees, while Manchester City's current side cost an astounding £418m. Leicester finished 10 points clear of the former, and 15 points ahead of the latter. The Foxes have broken into the moneyed upper echelons of the Premier League, shattering the monopoly on success shared out by the top six or seven clubs. They have proved that anyone can top the table, given the right mix of shrewd investment, adaptable tactics and genuine team spirit.
What was previously thought impossible has now become a reality. As such, Leicester's title win represents a defiant challenge to the status quo of English football.
While many Leicester supporters are still pinching themselves at their champion status, those that I meet on parade day are hugely forthcoming about what it means to the fanbase and the city. David, a fan of 47 years standing, tells me: "It's fantastic, honestly. It's unbelievable. I've even cried over this. It has to be the greatest moment of my life.
"Almost every fan in the country has been rooting for Leicester, and what does that say about us? I've never seen anything like this, ever." When I ask if it's the greatest achievement of the Premier League era, the response is emphatically positive.
As the start of the parade edges closer, the city centre overflows with people. Fans clamber up street signs, buildings and bus stops to get a better view. Balconies are stuffed with spectators, while inquisitive faces poke out of every window. By the time the distant rumble of the champions' bus is heard, it's hard to move on the pavements lining the parade.
When the victory convoy finally arrives, the noise is deafening. While the squad occupy the front bus, the rest seem packed with club officials and travelling digatories. Each of them is greeted with rapturous applause, as well as the appreciative bleating of air horns and the fluttering of massed flags.
Then, once the convoy has passed, all is a mad rush. A river of blue streams through the middle of the city, as fans make their way to the next viewing point. With more than 240,000 people in town, the march through the streets is something of a spectacle. It feels like fans are making a pilgrimage, all to catch a glimpse of their heroes holding the Premier League trophy aloft.
As I'm swept up in the eddies and currents of the crowd, I bump into a man wearing a customised Leicester waistcoat and shorts. Chatting to Dangerous Dave – as he insists I call him – the feeling that the title win has brought the city together is palpable. He tells me: "You've only got to look around to see what this means to us. We're united nations, all together. Stuff like this unites people, doesn't it?
"I never expected this. I thought we'd probably finish mid-table, maybe win a cup, and that would be it. I'm ecstatic, I'm over the moon. In fact, I'm more than over the moon – I'm in orbit!"
Fans begin to mass by Leicester station, where the champions' bus is due to pass by any minute. As it crawls back into view, the adulation begins once more. The Premier League trophy glints in the afternoon sunlight, while the players – as exhorted by their manager – wave to the close-packed throng.
As the convoy continues up London Road, local shopkeepers come out to celebrate on the streets. I speak to Alum, owner of the Salt Indian restaurant, about what the title win could mean for his business. He tells me: "Hopefully our town should get a lot busier in the future. It's good for local businesses in every possible way to be honest.
"Everyone's happy, and I hope Leicester gets noticed all around the world. Even Tom Hanks knows about us, he'd never have known about Leicester without this," he says, laughing.
The parade is now nearing its final destination, the massive open fields of Victoria Park in the south-east of the city. With evening coming on fast, fans bask in the last of the light. Some have a kickabout, some drink tinnies, many wait with rapt attention in front of the massive stage erected for the squad. When they do finally emerge, there are fireworks and explosions of confetti, while the noise of the crowd is louder than ever before.
As people prepare to continue the party long into the night and vendors desperately try to sell the last of their merch, I chat to Jeremy, a lifelong Leicester fan who's travelled up from Cambridge. He reminds me of just how incredible the club's story is. "I've been one of the fortunate ones, I grew up watching Steve Walsh, Gerry Taggart and Steve Claridge," he says. "Then there was our decline, then Pearson came in and brought a bit of hope and stability.
"Still, we would never have dreamed this would happen. I can't quite believe that it has."