Shock title pushes Leicester onto the European stage

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

One crazy night in May 2016, the whole world was focused on the East Midlands city of Leicester as flagship football club Leicester City won a heroic and historic Premier League title. TV crews from all parts of the globe had descended on this multi-cultural market town all week to find out how its beloved Foxes triumphed over the moneyed elite of Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and the rest.

Reporters had been given plenty of material to provide local context. There was the recent discovery of Richard III in a Leicester car park. Claudio Ranieri’s imaginary bell in training. The communal post-match dinners at Peter Pizzeria in the city centre.

Most of all, though it was just the hard work all season by team-focused individuals led by a previously underrated manager – and the desperately poor form shown by the usual suspects from Manchester and London. Whatever the reasons, Leicester’s well deserved fairy-tale victory saw the city celebrate in style when the title was presented at the last home league match against Everton. Who could not have been moved when blind tenor Andrea Bocelli serenaded Ranieri and the 32,000 lucky enough to be inside the King Power Stadium with a rousing rendition of Nessun Dorma?

The previous Monday, when Tottenham’s draw at Chelsea confirmed Leicester as champions, local lad and lifetime Foxes fan Mark Selby won the World Snooker Championship.

It wasn’t to last, of course. Ranieri’s Leicester performed miserably when defending their title in 2016-17 and the Italian was duly sacked in February 2017 – after taking the club to within 90 minutes of a place in the last eight of the Champions League. Now City are back on the European stage, having won the FA Cup under Brendan Rodgers in 2021.

Leicester, meanwhile, is slowly getting back to normal after the crazy days of May 2016. This sport-focused community can also boast a successful rugby club, a county cricket club, a top basketball team and a speedway team in the Elite League.

On its doorstep, Loughborough University is home to the world’s largest university-based sports technology research group as well as to SportPark, where national bodies for tennis, swimming and cricket are based.

In terms of football, the city has produced a number of England internationals, most notably Gary Lineker and Peter Shilton. Before the unexpected triumph of Claudio Ranieri’s boys in 2015-16, the Foxes had won three League Cups – and lost four FA Cup finals.

City, known as Leicester Fosse until after World War I, have spent more seasons in the lower flight. In the post-war era, the club finished in the higher reaches of the top division in the early 1960s, when another England great, Gordon Banks, was between the sticks.

After Banks’ understudy Peter Shilton came into the frame, Leicester’s great local rivals, Nottingham Forest and Derby County, became surprise winners of the English title. East Midland derbies have often been dramatic, Leicester’s injury-time winner at Forest in May 2013 sealing a play-off place in a winner-takes-all contest. Leicester hadn’t won there since 1972.

The Barley Mow/Peterjon Cresswell

Crowd trouble has blighted many of these fixtures, even in recent years, but this pales in comparison to previous clashes with Leicester’s nearest rivals, Coventry, currently two divisions below them.

Leicester’s lower-league football scene is awash with colourful names. Loughborough Dynamo, former by rugby-rejecting pupils of the local grammar school in the 1950s, currently compete in the lower flight of the Northern Premier League. In the same division before a restructure were Coalville Town, FA Vase finalists at Wembley in 2011. In 2017-18, the pair met in the final of the Leicester & Rutland Challenge Cup, resulting in a 7-6 win on penalties by the former Ravenstone Miners’ team.

Another Dynamo, Shepshed, recently competed below them in the newly founded Midland Football League, along with the team representing Loughborough University. Leicester Nirvana play at Hamilton Park on the eastern outskirts of Leicester, occasionally reaching the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Two airports are within easy reach of Leicester. East Midlands Airport is 30km (19 miles) away, Birmingham International 61km (38 miles).

From Bay D at East Midlands airport bus concourse, the Skylink service (£7.40 on board, every 20mins, 1hr journey time) runs to Leicester St Margaret’s bus station. Three or four National Express coaches a day run from Birmingham International (£9, journey time 1hr 10mins). By train, Leicester is 1hr 10mins direct from London St Pancras (advance singles £30) and 2hrs 15mins from Manchester Piccadilly (change at Sheffield, advance singles £40). Adding a PlusBus Leicester tariff (£3.50) to your fare allows you to use local buses all that day.

St Margaret’s is just north of the compact town centre, Leicester train station south-east, the city centre walkable. The King Power Stadium is about 1km south of town. The main hub for local transport is Haymarket, near St Margaret’s. You can pick up a free, chargeable OneCard at the information point and newsagents, for use on all local buses. Services are provided by Arriva Bus Midlands, First Leicester and Stagecoach, among others.

Swift Fox Cabs (0116 26 28 222) offer fixed transfer rates for nearby airports.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Many of Leicester’s numerous city-centre drinking spots are sport-focused – though, sadly, the once football-centric King Richard III on Highcross Street has had to pack up its many pennants and hand-painted club shields and go gastro. The Barley Mow displays classic black-and-white images of LCFC in the back room, including the 1968-69 team that reached the cup final. There’s also regular live music on Saturdays. It’s on Granby Street, a short walk from the station.

Near the Cathedral, the traditional-looking High Cross is the local Wetherspoons, its name alluding to a medieval landmark rather than any football reference. The Market Tavern (3-5 Market Place) is equally traditional, close to a number of other drinking options, including the Leicester branch of BrewDog on Friar Lane, offering 28 craft beers on draught. 

The Queen of Bradgate on the High Street knows its craft beers too, having been put together by Matt Saunders and the team behind the Fat Cat chain. This place is more individual, with live football and quality food. Also close, The Friary occupies a corner building where TV sport is shown and pub grub served, while chain bar O’Neill’s offers drinks promotions along with match action.

Back on Market Street, The Distillery has its own skyboxes and screen-blessed booths.

Across the road and tucked down Silver Street, The Globe dates back to 1720 and is said to be haunted by the ghosts of those executed nearby. An upstairs function room has a pull-down screen for sports coverage. Traditional to a tee, The Salmon on Butt Close Lane serves Black Country Ales and shows sport.

Serving the students of De Montfort, the screen-lined Soar Point stands alongside the river of the same name. Lane7 combines sports bars with bowling, beer pong and retro arcade games.

A more discerning clientele frequents the characterful King’s Head on King Street, specialising in Black Country Ales and TV sports – though the name of the game is often rugby.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and around town

Visit Leicester provides a database of lodging options.

There’s a chain hotel right by the ground, the Holiday Inn Express Leicester City – though it doesn’t offer any special game-day deals or open its bar to the public. Rooms fill, so online prices increase, on match weekends.

Around Leicester University, on New Walk a 15-minute walk from the ground, the contemporary boutique belmont is a stylish three-star offering weekend deals. It’s also convenient for the train station. Also by the station, affordable rooms are provided at the Premier Inn Leicester City Centre.

The upscale chain Ramada encore by Wyndham Leicester City Centre stands by the CM bus stop for the stadium, offering a gym and 24-hour reception. Equally central and convenient, the four-star Novotel Leicester has a decent terrace restaurant and well-facilitated gym.

On focal, pub-dotted Granby Street, the Mercure Leicester The Grand Hotel was once the finest place to stay in town. Today a chain, it still contains a ballroom and elegant staircase. Equally historic, built in the 1800s and a former department store, The Gresham was converted into a 121-room hotel with a restaurant, bar and gym, unveiled in November 2021. It’s surrounded by bars and restaurants on Market Street.