English Premiership

World's press flock to cover Leicester fairytale

2016-04-28 08:57
Jamie Vardy (TEAMtalk)

London - A sweep of the press room before Leicester City's recent victory over Swansea City confirmed the extent to which their pursuit of Premier League glory has captivated global audiences.

Journalists from as far afield as Finland, Turkey, South Korea and Australia mingled in the queue for a pre-match meal, while a 10-strong Japanese contingent sat around a table discussing how Shinji Okazaki would fare in the absence of his suspended strike partner Jamie Vardy.

The team that narrowly avoided relegation last season are now just three points from the league title and their Cinderella story has won them admirers in the most unlikely locations.

"Last season, no-one really wrote about Leicester in the US and no-one really talked about them," says Joe Prince-Wright, the lead soccer writer for American broadcasting giant NBC.

"This season it's been incredible -- people like (New England Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady and NFL players have been sending them messages.

"All of a sudden there's this clamour to latch onto the underdog story. The American public love an underdog story.

"Most people haven't got a team (to support) yet, but we get pictures from people on a tractor in some small town in the middle of the US and they've got a Leicester shirt or a Leicester scarf and they're following the Foxes."

One tellingly titled recent video on the NBC Sports website was called: "What You Need To Know To Jump On The Leicester City Bandwagon".

ESPN, meanwhile, has sent its acclaimed sportswriter Wright Thompson to Leicester for the season's final weeks to capture the Foxes' story.

"I'm here for the duration!" he told AFP during the 4-0 victory over Swansea last Sunday.

'SOMETHING AMAZING'

A modest club from a humdrum city in England's east Midlands, Leicester's previous highest finish was a runner-up spot in 1929 and in times past the only newspaper they could rely upon for regular coverage was local daily the Leicester Mercury.

This season's fairytale campaign has seen them featured in such bastions of American journalism as the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and the Wall Street Journal.

As Peter Soulsby, Leicester's mayor, told the Daily Telegraph earlier this month: "A provincial English city doesn't get on the front of the WSJ unless it's doing something amazing."

The multinational make-up of the King Power Stadium press pack reflects the league of nations that is the Leicester squad, which includes players from 14 different countries (not including those out on loan).

Italian manager Claudio Ranieri, whose employers, King Power, are Thai, has a Danish goalkeeper (Kasper Schmeichel), a Jamaica international as captain (Wes Morgan) and an Argentine centre-forward (Leonardo Ulloa), while Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez on Sunday became the first African to be named England's Player of the Year.

According to a report compiled earlier in the season by Sky Sports, it is the second most diverse squad in the Premier League behind Watford's.

While Leicester's quest for glory has seen journalists from around the world flock to the party, the press room's Japanese representatives have been there all along due to the club's acquisition of Japan international Okazaki from German side Mainz last July.

Masatoshi Mori from Japanese sports daily Hochi Shimbun arrived even earlier, attending his first press conference last season when news of the club's interest in Okazaki first emerged.

"It was a relaxed atmosphere," he told AFP. "There was only the guy from the local paper, the BBC and including me, probably four or five journalists. Now, there are hundreds!"

The Leicester story is not quite a triumph of racial harmony. Three young players were sacked after filming a racist sex tape during an end-of-season tour of Thailand and Vardy was obliged to apologise after being caught on camera racially taunting an Asian man in a casino.

But in terms of sporting interest, it is a tale that has touched almost every corner of the world.

 

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