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Leicester City's Underdog Story Nears Finish


The greatest underdog story in sports history - that's what they're calling it in England. A small-time soccer team there is poised to possibly win the Premier League title, the most-watched soccer competition in the world. Leicester City had a chance to clinch the title today. But they couldn't quite do it. They tied with Manchester United. But they could still win it all. NPR's Lauren Frayer is there in Leicester to explain how. Hey, Lauren.


MARTIN: So you're in a pub, I understand, right?

FRAYER: Right, hardship assignment.

MARTIN: Hardship assignment, someone's got to do it. A tie, I imagine is not the most satisfying ending to this competition. What's the atmosphere like right now?

FRAYER: It's not. There's obvious disappointment here. Leicester City could have clenched the title today. And now they're going to have to wait to see how their main contender Tottenham plays tomorrow. So if Tottenham Hotspurs lose tomorrow, Leicester City will automatically win the league.

And fans here say look, they've waited all their lives for this. They can certainly wait a day longer. They're used to coming from behind. After all, this team was in dead last place last seaon. People filed out of this pub singing team songs. The spirit really does continue here. There are backing the Blues poster all over the city. The Blues or the Foxes are Leicester City Football Club. The Church of England is flying the Foxes flag over the Leicester Cathedral.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

FRAYER: At the start of the season, the odds of this happening were 5,000-1, the odds of Leicester winning. I met a 20-year-old young woman who bet 2 pounds, about $3, on the team last summer. She stands to make about $10,000 from that bet.

MARTIN: Holy cow, big money. So this is being described as David and Goliath, the ultimate underdog matchup, the game that they played against Man U and their larger plight. I mean, has an underdog ever won England's Premier League before?

FRAYER: So only five teams have ever one before, and they're the big, rich one - Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, with the exception, just once, of the Blackburn Rovers. Just a word about money - Leicester City's entire squad costs about a quarter of what one of those big teams would pay for a single player.


FRAYER: So for example, Leicester City's top goal-scorer Jamie Vardy - a few years ago, he was working in a factory earning 50 bucks a week, playing for a much low-league team on nights and weekends. Now, he's having a movie made about him, a biopic about Vardy. The equivalent is, like, imagine your local minor league baseball team winning the World Series.

MARTIN: Wow. So it's a big deal, needless to say, for the fans of Leicester City. What's this place like, though, Lauren? You've wandered around. What kind of city produced this rags-to-riches tale?

FRAYER: So it's one of Britain's most diverse cities, actually, population about 300,000. Leicester's often overshadowed by London 90 miles away or Birmingham a bit closer. Honestly, it has a reputation of being sort of a nondescript city in Middle England. It did become famous a couple years ago, though, as the place where the 15th-century King Richard III's bones were found and excavated from under a parking lot.

And so some soccer fans here believe that the spirit of King Richard is watching over the local team here. In fact, they say that their team's luck turned around the moment the king's bones were brought. And they say the king's looking out for them - that he's helped Leicester City become famous for something other than him. They've become the underdog kings of soccer.

MARTIN: Very cool. Lauren Frayer - she's watching all of this transpire in a pub in Leicester City. Lauren, go have a pint. Expensive - it's on us.

FRAYER: I certainly will.

MARTIN: OK, cool.

FRAYER: Thanks, Rachel.

MARTIN: Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.