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DREAM ON

CAN LEICESTER CITY CHANGE FOOTBALL FOREVER?

In late February, I made the two-hour journey north from my home in London to witness what some have started to call a miracle.

The procession of supporters wearing blue scarves and replica shirts heads through the streets of Leicester toward the King Power Stadium. King Power is a Thai company that runs duty-free shops and employs more than 7,000 people. The company, along with some business partners, also owns Leicester City Football Club, a team that hasn’t come close to winning the top division title in English football since it came second in 1929. When the Thai-led consortium bought the team in 2010, it seemed rather like a vanity project for the wealthy overseas owners.

CHEAP SHOT: Leicester’s bargain hunting has yielded many gems, including midfielder Riyad Mahrez, who is the league’s fourth-best scorer.

For years, Leicester struggled to fill its 32,000-seat stadium. This time three seasons ago, when the team was marooned in the second tier, just 8,585 fans turned up to see one league match. The club, which narrowly escaped demotion last year from England’s top tier, the Premier League— the most-watched national football league in the world—began the new season by beating Sunderland. Nice start, but beating Sunderland isn’t such a big deal. Then Leicester won the following Saturday, beating West Ham United away. The victories, along with some draws, continued. It took eight league games for the team to be beaten—by Arsenal, one of the giants of English football. Eleven games later, the team lost for only the second time—to Liverpool, which has won the European Champions League more times than any other English team.

By the time Leicester hosted Norwich City on a cold Saturday afternoon in late February, the team had lost just three matches, a remarkable run, and was on top of the English Premier League. By now, tickets to Leicester’s home games had become almost as hard to get as seats at the men’s final at Wimbledon. There is talk that this isn’t a fluke. There is talk that Leicester City could actually win the league and shatter the de facto cartel of very rich teams that have long controlled the Premier League.

Inside the King Power, it’s a blue carnival. Flags wave, fans clap and sing, and just before kickoff a tall man in the center circle blows a silver hunting horn. The Leicester players are known as the Foxes due to the area’s ancient fox-hunting tradition; the horn marks the start of the chase.

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Can Leicester City change football forever? by David Winner
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