Singaporeans in Leicester

Fans gripped by first title challenge in decades

PHOTO COURTESY OF VIKARAMAN RAJARATANAM

With Leicester on the brink of a stunning English Premier League title triumph, the team's success has gripped the city of 340,000 people.

And that includes Singaporeans based there and strapped in to enjoy the Foxes fairy-tale season.

From their solid tactics to team spirit, astute management and Thai Buddhist monks blessing the team, Leicester's campaign has unfolded into a myriad of memorable stories.

But for Meng Hong Plummer, a Singaporean based in the city for a year, it has something to do with a long-dead English monarch.

"Some people put Leicester's success down to the fact that King Richard III (who died in battle in 1485) was finally laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral last May, several centuries after his body was "dumped" in an unofficial grave," the 45-year-old told The Sunday Times.

"Everyone in Leicester is a fan now. Nobody can believe this is happening and... there is already talk about how the victory will be celebrated."

DEAFENING DIN

The stadium is not massive, but there are always fans shouting the club's name. The noise level is just very loud.

VIKARAMAN RAJARATANAM, mechanical engineering student at the University of Leicester, on the spirit in the city.

Fellow Singaporean Alexander Loh, currently a law student at the University of Leicester, agreed.

"Game days in Leicester are really quite a sight to behold," he said. "You would see streams of people coming in from other cities, just to catch the game, singing and chanting all the way to the stadium. There even are road closures near my student accommodation just for people to get there."

Leicester's recent success has also gained them many new supporters. "Initially, the Singaporeans here would travel out of Leicester to watch their own favourite teams play," said Loh, 23, who has been in the city for two years . "However, as this season unfolded, more and more of them would stay in Leicester to watch the Foxes play."

One such fan was Vikaraman Rajaratanam, 26, who managed to snag tickets to the FA Cup third-round replay against Tottenham in January, where Claudio Ranieri's men lost 0-2.

Despite the defeat, Rajaratanam says the Leicester fans were still supportive. "The fans got behind the team and encouraged them to pick themselves up," he said. "I did not see any people jeering the team.

"The stadium is not massive, but there are always fans shouting the club's name. The noise level is just very loud. Before the match, we were even given clappers to show our support."

Rajaratanam has been in Leicester for three years as a mechanical engineering student at the University of Leicester. A long-time Liverpool supporter, he took interest in the team when they were promoted to the EPL in 2014 as he liked their playing style.

Neither Plummer nor Loh are football fans, but they too have been bitten by the Foxes bug.

Watching Leicester's matches in the pub may be the only way for fans to catch the club's final few games. Tickets to their final home game against Everton were sold out within 90 minutes and were later offered on unofficial resale websites for as much as £15,000 (S$29,300) a pair.

As the EPL enters its final stretch, the whole city is has rallied behind Ranieri and his players to pull off one of the unlikeliest victories in sport. "There is a Leicester-wide petition being made to the Leicester City Council for a free public screening of the last few games," says Loh.

As Plummer puts it: "No one complains about the traffic on match days any more."

Perhaps, it is also fitting that the king's remains were dug up 1.6km away from the Foxes' ground.

Since he was reburied with full honours, Leicester rose from the bottom of the EPL to its summit.

Fittingly, their home ground is called King Power Stadium.

Aleysa John

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 24, 2016, with the headline 'Fans gripped by first title challenge in decades'. Print Edition | Subscribe