‘Ah, the skidmark of the Midlands’. Just one of the responses I remember someone saying to me, age 18, after informing them of my hometown. 1) Errm that’s rude, especially considering I still lived there. 2) Really? I don’t understand? Having grown up and lived in Leicester all my life, I’d had a cracking time. Sure, it wasn’t one of the biggest, most glamorous cities in the world, but I’d always loved it. Had they never been to Flaming Colossus (circa 1999)? It’s two pints of snakebite for £2 in the Palais if you get there before 11pm for gods sake? They must’ve got there after 12. I was a little bit offended. But cracked on with my life and ignored that rude nit.
I moved to Nottingham when I was 19 for the next 8 years. It had always seemed the superior of the Midlands cities. And on first arrival, especially whilst being at uni I could see why; more variety of restaurants, nightclubs, bars, more bustling. But after a while I started to realise that it wasn’t actually a lot different to Leicester at all, it was just new and exciting. But what I realised Nottingham had in abundance compared to Leicester, was a real strong sense of pride and identity. Everyone local to Nottingham LOVED it as a city. They were fiercely proud of their home town. And that is something Leicester always distinctly lacked. In hindsight now, I’m sure the success of Nottingham Forest was no coincidence in forming that attitude.
Leicester has always been an underdog, but I always felt a real disappointment when people who lived or grew up there gave it such a slating. I remember chatting to a friend of a friend who moved away & they stood boasting about the relief of leaving, with an air of superiority. The words ‘shithole’, ‘depressing’, ‘boring’ were banded about. I remember thinking, well perhaps that’s your experience, but it certainly isn’t mine. I found it strange just how angered they were by the city. A bit like someone who’s just been dumped and keeps slagging off their ex but still blatantly loves them. We know it’s not London, Manchester, or New York, but it’s never tried to be. So bugger off and stop whingeing. Because people of Leicester won’t take fondly to your new found snobbery…
For a while this felt like a common response amongst many people in Leicester. But not recently. And I don’t mean in the last few weeks, but the last ten years. First off, ever since Kasabian handily became one of the best, biggest, bands in the world, Leicester suddenly became that little bit cooler. When they performed their hometown gig on Viccy Park, a two minute walk from my house, people I knew of all ages from Leicester were in attendance. In fact, everyone I knew was there. It didn’t matter how big a fan, if you were from LESTAH you were welcome. It was ours. We owned it, and they owned us, Leicester. It was the best gig I’ve ever been to. And not just because I didn’t have to wait for a taxi home (that did help though). To see people lining the streets was incredible. And did the boys shun their hometown and go hang with the Primrose Hill set in London? Nope, they live about 10 mins from my Mum. She often see’s Serge in the Co-op.
And then there was the matter of that King sneaking away in the car park, like a secret cultural weapon we had stored ready to explode in a momentous way. King in a car park? What an utterly ridiculously brilliant story that helped put Leicester on the map worldwide. My boyfriend often laughs at my excitement when there’s anything on the tele about Leicester. Can you imagine what I was like around this time. I took a lot of pictures of the news.
And now this with Leicester City. Whenever I’ve met someone abroad and tried to explain where Leicester was I’d genuinely say ‘you know Nottingham, where Robin Hood’s from, near there…’. Now, only a few weeks ago, when in Portugal, locals went bonkers when I announced I was from Leicester. The fact they could barely pronounce it added to the charm. I felt like I was Royalty. My brother was in America with work when watching Mondays game. He was treated like a celebrity when they discovered he was from ‘Ly-Chester City’. I’m astounded by the impact of football. And here’s not to forget the success of all our other endeavours; the Leicester Tigers, Mark Selby this week, Engelbert Humperdinck, Gary Lineker, Sam Bailey, Mark Morrison, the bloody marvellous Highcross, the way we add an ‘eh’ to the end of everything. The list to Leicester being great is becoming longer and longer, but the football takes us to a new international level.
This is why this story has been more than just about football. It’s given us a sense of pride, excitement, aspiration and identity. No longer will people describe my city as a skidmark. Unless they want to be buried back in that car park. There’s a free space now.
William, 79, who has only missed two games in 62 seasons. 62?! He turned up early to the stadium because he was too excited to sleep.