Friday, February 05, 2016

My, how the tables have turned

There used to be a Fleet Street branch of the Leicester City supporters club. All unofficial, of course, and it's meetings were fairly ad-hoc and usually reserved for when there was a London game on and enough local knowledge to be assured 'the first pub you see when you turn left out of the tube' was all that was needed.

I won't name them all for fear of getting one wrong and confusing affiliations which just isn't done. It's players who go through transfer windows, fans stay put.

There weren't that many of us and in the latter years it was left to Express man Bill Wheeler to muster a crew together (usually his son from the Sun and a pal) to join us in being able to say 'I was there' when we lost to some old first division side whose players I'd never heard of.

Tickets were easy to come by if your annual membership or share certificate wasn't enough to get you into a big game because most sports editors we knew would find a couple going spare. And your rarity meant you were easily identified among the fans of 'real' clubs.

One Saturday afternoon in the Mirror building in Holborn a sports sub on deadline was sent my way when struggling to get a Midlands slip away. 'You from Leicester?' he asked as if expecting an apology.

He dropped a picture down. A player in blue, face partly obscured, number on his shirt hidden. 'Any idea who that is? Need it for the caption.' Indeed I did. It was a player whose opposite number at Arsenal, Man U, Chelsea, you name it, would have been household and wouldn't need a relative to identify the body.

I can't recall the full caption but it ended with words to the effect of: '. . . scores his second, despite a hapless lunge from Richard Smith'.

The club produced an season review on video called 'So near, yet so far', and the commentary began with the cheering words: 'No silverware but pleeeeenty of action...'

We were at Wembley half a dozen times in the nineties - nothing the stuff of legends; two league cups and four play-off finals, one even producing the best live game I've ever seen - and I was so proud ok my share dividend that I didn't even cash it. And not just because it was for 3p.

How times have changed. The City fan who wept his way through a radio interview shed tears for a forgotten generation of fans who are no longer asked 'do you know who this is?' But, 'do you think you'll hang on to him next season?'

I sat alongside Robbie Savage at the Watford Hilton a few Fridays ago. He was on his mobile the whole time so I eventually left without asking him whether I could replay his radio phone-in slot in which he repeatedly insisted a club like Leicester, with the funds and squad size they have, will never (his emphasis) win the premiership.

If, sorry, when, they do, I've every confidence my childhood local, the Leicester Mercury, will win the sort of plaudits given to the Oxford Mail for their recent performance in celebrating their club's achievement.

And they can run the pictures without captions. Anyone who cares will know who they are.

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