Behind the success of Leicester City: more than a football miracle

Leicester City jersey buttoned to his neck, Barry roams the market hall looking around. He notices our camera and comes to us even before we say a word. He’s smiling, as if he were keen to hear what people say these days about his favourite team. The long-awaited Foxes’ success hasn’t driven the 72-year-old crazy, but seems instead to have instilled a sort of undaunted serenity.

Even when talking of the following season’s Champions League, Barry calmly concedes that “it’s fantastic, but we’ll have little chance”.

1 - Barry 1 - WaterHe then comes closer, as if to tell a secret, pointing at his last year’s shirt: “I paid this just 4£ in a charity shop,” he says, before laughing at those who are queueing at the other end of the market to get the brand new jersey at unreasonable prices.

The world’s attention will last maybe next year, then it will shift on someone else.

Listening to his words with closed eyes, one can’t help but think of a cynic man, even though Barry’s peaceful face says otherwise. Probably, he just cares about the triumph of his football team and, beyond that, of the whole city. This becomes evident when, just few minutes later, he bumps into Singh, who has long beard, wears a turban and a Leicester City celebration shirt. Barry asks him to pose for a photo, but jokes at him first: “the Asians always supported either Man United or Arsenal, now they’ve jumped on our bandwagon.” But then, he reveals:

Everyone used to live on his own before, football is bringing different cultures together now.

2 - Barry & Singh - WaterThe embrace of Barry and Singh, from Punjab, reflects the recent history of Leicester, a city where immigrants have become a major strength. In fact, the immigration flow saved the East Midlands town from the decline of its once well known manufacturing sector, which moved elsewhere in Europe. Sarah Harrison, city centre director at Leicester City Council, tells this story with growing enthusiasm.

Leicester had to reinvent itself, and then we had this amazing immigration story.

In particular, the city benefitted from the arrival of Ugandan Asians in 1972, when president Idi Amin gave them 90 days to leave the African country, in order to accomplish an ethnic cleansing wanted, according to Amin, by Allah. “They brought a load of skills, work ethic, it was a fantastic contribution to our society,” Sarah says proudly. It took time for people to accept that Leicester had a white minority, but now the city prides itself on it. Narborough Road is the shining example, featuring shops and restaurant from 23 different nationalities on a single street.

Narborough Road - waterHearing these stories makes talking of football difficult, but Sarah does it first. “When they told me Chelsea had leveled the score [on Monday], I started crying.” She giggles while saying this, but she won’t probably forget that moment. And after speaking of Nigel Pearson and Claudio Ranieri, she takes us where the first premises of the club were.

Just next to the Clock Tower, the Silver Arcade is part of the [shopping] Lanes and holds a longstanding secret.

On the third floor of a Victorian building, we meet Andy Ritchie, owner of DeliFlavour, where our attention is caught by some old-fashioned Foxes’ jerseys and black-and-white photographs.

Here is where the Fosse Football Club was born,

Andy says. The shop’s window with a view on the city centre is one century old.

silverarcade -wThe club which originated here would create a community of passionate supporters, who often claim their season ticket-holder title with visible proud.

I’ve got two season tickets under my ass!

So says Vicky, a woman working on a fruit stall at Leicester market. Her words are evidence of the locals’ feeling towards the Foxes.

4 - Mercato Leicester - WaterMaking our way through stalls and the crowd, we spot a woman whose facial expression is particularly glad and energetic. Jacyntha, 52, is well the symbol of the cosmopolitan heart of Leicester. She left his native country Ghana to move to England almost 10 years ago. Few days earlier, she was in Amsterdam, where she remembers watching the Chelsea v Tottenham game in a pub. Her son still in Africa, Jacyntha hopes he will be able to join her and his husband Michael soon.

They’ve welcame me, like in a family.

15 - Jacyntha e Michael (back) -waterThe woman’s look is joyful while reminding of her integration process in the English society. Since then, she have witnessed the growth of a city which, when she arrived, “looked like a dead plant. But then, God gave it a drop of water.” Looking at the character, Jacyntha’s devotion is no surprise, but it is also linked to one of the secrets which are whispered among the streets of the city.

I believe it, it’s spiritual,

she says, referring to Richard III, considered by many to have played a pivotal role in the Foxes’ title race.

9 - Riccardo III - water

Loyaulte me lie,

reads his tombstone inside the Leicester Cathedral. His remains were found underneath a car park in 2013, with his definitive burial in March 2015. That weekend, Nigel Pearson’s side won the first match of an impressive streak known as ‘the great scape’, which led Leicester City to safety. Many hailed this coincidence amid relief and jokes, as they could not expect their side wouldn’t stop winning.

But now, one year later, this looks rather a true blessing.

That’s why Barry, at the age of 72, can wander the market looking for those reporters who are flocking to his city. Generally, they would inform him on how his team are doing. But nowadays something has changed – he’s become part of that sporting miracle that everyone is trying to understand.

14 - Padre e figlio - wAater

Photos © Bruno Bottaro and Alessandro Bai –

Words by Bruno Bottaro (@br1bottaro) and Alessandro Bai (@AleBai20)