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Mural artist Richard Wilson working on his giant mural to celebrate Leicester City winning the 2015/16 Premier League title.
 
© Copyright Mat Fascione and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

 

 

Yesterday my dream died.”

Last Thursday brought the news that many people were expecting but probably just as many hoped would never come. Leicester City Football Club sacked Claudio Ranieri, the manager that helped them win the Premier League title last season and took them to the Champion’s League.

 

I don’t think there is anyone that expected Leicester to repeat their success this season, but it’s fair to say they’ve not been doing very well. In football, when teams fail to produce good results with alarming regularity it’s only a matter of time until the manager gets sacked. I’m not going to discuss whether this is right or wrong – everyone has an opinion.

 

All I want to say is that Leicester will be a poorer place without Claudio. He was a true gent who loved us just us much as we loved him; a man who would shake the hand of every person present, from journalist to cameraman, at press conferences, and the manager who rewarded his players with pizza for a clean sheet.

 

I told them, if you keep a clean sheet, I’ll buy pizza for everybody. I think they’re waiting for me to offer a hot dog too.”

He bought the players bells for Christmas as a reminder not to slip up in training.

 

From the beginning when something was wrong I’ve been saying: ‘Dilly-ding, dilly-dong, wake up, wake up!’ So on Christmas Day I bought for all the players and all the staff a little bell. It was just a joke.”

His interesting use of English was an endless joy. He described Jamie Vardy thus:

 

This is not a footballer. This is a fantastic horse.”

He was the Italian who introduced the Leicester supporters to opera by bringing Andrea Bocelli to the King Power Stadium to sing Nessun Dorma in celebration of the Premiership win. The fans, always extremely vocal, were still chanting, so Claudio held his hand up in the universal sign for “keep it down a bit, guys” and they did.

 

And so we say a very sad goodbye to a man who captured the imagination of a whole city. He made our dreams come true and in return we took him into our hearts and loved him for it. If his gentlemanliness was ever in doubt this is the statement he released after being sacked:

 

Yesterday my dream died.

After the euphoria of last season and being crowned Premier League champions, all I dreamt of was staying with Leicester City, the club I love, for always.

Sadly this was not to be. I wish to thank my wife Rosanna and all my family for their never-ending support during my time at Leicester.

My thanks go to Paolo and Andrea, who accompanied me on this wonderful journey. To Steve Kutner [Ranieri’s agent] and Franco Granello [his Italian agent] for bringing me the opportunity to become a champion.

Mostly I have to thank Leicester City Football Club. The adventure was amazing and will live with me forever.

Thank you to all the journalists and the media who came with us and enjoyed reporting on the greatest story in football.

My heartfelt thanks to everybody at the club, all the players, the staff, everybody who was there and was part of what we achieved. But mostly to the supporters. You took me into your hearts from day one and loved me. I love you too.

No-one can ever take away what we together have achieved, and I hope you think about it and smile every day the way I always will.

It was a time of wonderfulness and happiness that I will never forget. It’s been a pleasure and an honour to be a champion with all of you.

Claudio Ranieri

 

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Two weeks ago we had a blizzard in Leicester, hail storms and lots of rain. Yesterday the city was sizzling in the long-awaited heat of a late spring and early summer. But it wasn’t just the May sunshine that was raising temperatures in the heart of the East Midlands, our local football team, the Blues, the Foxes, Leicester City, was going to be presented with the Premier League trophy after the evening’s match against Everton at their home ground, the King Power stadium.

 

In some cities the presenting of a big football trophy is not that remarkable. Some football clubs in this country have won trophies more times than I can be bothered to research. For many, it is an almost inevitable conclusion to the football season.

 

I don’t claim to be a football fan; however, I am a huge supporter of my home town and will always root for its sporting teams whenever the opportunity arises. Leicester City supporters are used to disappointment – I’ve only ever been to see them play three times and they lost each time – so it will have been no surprise that at the beginning of this season there seemed little hope of glory.

 

Despite a late resurgence in form at the end of last season and somewhat surprisingly avoiding relegation, Leicester City started this season as rank outsiders. The bookmakers were offering odds of 5000-1 that they would go on to win the league such was the lack of expectation. You could get the same or better odds if you wanted to bet on Elvis being found alive this year!

 

There are many theories about how a team made up of rejects, has-beens and complete unknowns led by a manager, Claudio Ranieri, who had never won a major title, came to win the most coveted trophy in English football for the first time in their 132-year history. The more sensible of these theories talk about incredible teamwork, camaraderie and work ethic coupled with time to relax and the promise of pizza for a clean sheet. Some suggest that Buddhist monks have had some influence through prayer – the club is owned by the Thai businessman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, founder and CEO of King Power Duty Free. The more romantic like to think that Leicester’s success may have something to do with the reinterment of Richard III. As outlandish as it may seem it is true that the team’s fortune took a turn for the better after the city excelled itself and reburied the much maligned King with dignity and honour.

 

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With the events surrounding the discovery of Richard III and his subsequent reinterment, Leicester showed the world what its inhabitants have known for much longer: we are warm and welcoming; we are tolerant, truly multi-cultural and cosmopolitan; and most of all we are fiercely proud. In a world that is increasingly intolerant and bigoted, Leicester stands out as an example of how to do it right. With this global recognition came a new-found self-confidence and we all know what a boost self-confidence can be.

 

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Leicester City’s meteoric rise to the top of the Premier League is not the only sporting success we have to boast about this year. Mark Selby, the Jester from Leicester, won his second  World Snooker Championship; Leicester Riders became British Basketball League Champions, BBL trophy winners and play today in the hope of winning the BBL play-off final and claiming the treble; Leicester City Women won Women’s Premier League Midlands Division One title – football again – with a 100% record; and Leicester Tigers are in the Premiership Rugby Union play-offs hoping for an 11th English title, having finished in the top four for a 12th successive season! Our cricket team has had less success but even they won their first County Championship game in almost three years just a couple of months after the reinterment of Richard III.

 

As I wandered around the city yesterday afternoon there was the beginnings of a carnival atmosphere. There were blue shirts everywhere, people were blowing horns and carrying Leicester City flags, and random groups of people wearing football shirts kept suddenly bursting into football chants. There are banners hanging from the streetlights on the high street depicting all the Leicester City players, in the depths of Marks and Spencer hangs a Leicester City flag, and they are selling blue sausages in the market. As I made my way back to the car, supporters were starting to fill out the city’s pubs, spilling out onto the streets and raising their voices in song. I turned a corner, away from the drinking establishments and wandered down towards the restaurants. A big blue light installation has taken pride of place in St Peter’s Square and surrounding it are all the usual restaurant chains associated with a cosmopolitan city, many with tables outside continental-style. They all looked pretty full and while the atmosphere was a little more sedate than elsewhere there were still blue shirts everywhere.

 
This little gem is a hip hop track written by local musicians. If you can make out the lyrics they are full of little Leicester-isms, local references and just so much stuff that makes me smile from ear to ear. “We ‘soar’ like the river that flows through the city” is just one such example.

 

 

I love my city. I love its optimism, I love its pride and most of all I love its people. They come from all cultures, all ethnicities, all backgrounds but together we are all Leicesterians, all “chisits“. I could not be more proud of Leicester City Football Club. I could not be more proud of Leicester. We have shown the world that with grit and determination, a fearless attitude, more than a little hope and maybe the support of the last Plantagenet King it is possible to achieve your dreams.

 

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Forgive the long break, but I’ve finally got my new home straight and the computer unpacked and plugged in. I’ve been spending my short Easter break sitting at my new desk in my new study – so many bookcases it’s practically a library – and indulging in some family history research. It’s proving to be more frustrating than anything else but that’s the nature of genealogy. Anyway, I digress.

 

Leicester Cathedral illuminated by the Richard III logo, with the statue of Richard III looking on. My photo.

 

Unless you’ve been in some kind of media black out zone over the last few weeks you’ll know that Leicester has been hitting the headlines. And although I’m obviously biased I have to say “didn’t we do well?” I could not be more proud of my city.

 

One of my favourite headlines from the flood of newspaper articles and suchlike appeared in, of all things, The New York Times:

Richard III, Previous Visit a Bust, Is Warmly Received 530 Years Later”

Much as I would have liked to have been in the city to see the procession and soak up the atmosphere I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the cortège pass my parents’ house. I wasn’t lucky enough to get a ticket to the only service taking place at a time when I didn’t have to be at work, so standing outside their house and watching as the hearse passed was a pretty special moment. I stood there watching as the police motorcyclists approached me and felt strangely anxious. I pointed my camera in the right direction and decided that video would be better than photos, pressed the button and hoped for the best. This was the result, all 23 seconds of it:

 

 

I went back inside the house and burst into tears. I don’t really know why. I just felt somewhat overwhelmed by the whole thing. I’d been listening intently to BBC Radio Leicester who were doing a sterling job of covering the day as the cortège travelled from Bosworth Field, to Dadlington, to Market Bosworth, and so on into the city. Thousands and thousands of people lined the route. Our village, Newbold Verdon, was teeming with people. From my point of view, my parents’ house was ideally placed as it’s not in the centre of the village which meant I didn’t have to fight for position. Afterwards, I went home and downloaded the film and a couple of photos onto the internet. Twenty minutes later I had an email from a news agency wanting to use my video. I filled out the form they sent and gave permission fully expecting nothing further to happen but, sure enough, my video made it to Yahoo! News. It was all very surreal.

 

My parents were actually at the Service of Compline that took place to welcome the mortal remains of Richard III into the cathedral. They were there as invited members of the congregation. I watched the service on television. Annoyingly, it wasn’t shown in its entirety because Channel 4 decided we’d rather watch Jon Snow discussing the finer points of whether or not Richard III was an evil child murderer and other such mindless and pointless tabloid TV – we wouldn’t. Luckily, during the sermon my parents appeared clearly on screen for quite some time and I got rather overexcited – frantic texts were exchanged with my brother.

 

Excited parent-spotting aside, I found what I saw of the service deeply moving and once again was moved to tears. My parents both said afterwards that they too found themselves unexpectedly emotional.

 

Fast-forward a few days during which I had a very hurried visit to the cathedral to see the coffin (not up close) and it was time for the reinterment. I was working, frustratingly. My dad was lucky enough to be at the service as a volunteer. I did suggest he might like to snaffle Mr Cumberbatch for me; however, he’s good, but he’s not that good!

 

I kept checking Twitter for photos and updates of the proceedings and when I got home I grabbed a cup of tea and sat down to watch the service. The cathedral had never looked so beautiful. The service was wonderful and moving, Cumberbatch’s reading of the poem by Carol Ann Duffy was perfect. Again, the whole thing was oddly surreal. Having spent much of my childhood Sunday mornings in the cathedral, to then see it in such a light with such people in attendance was bizarre, but in the best possible way.

 

What a privilege for Leicester and Leicestershire to get to honour Richard III in such a way. The people of the city and county showing the world how much he means to them – with dignity and honour.

 

But how do you bring to a close such an unprecedented week of events? I read up on all the events taking place and saw that on the Friday evening, after the Service of Reveal where the tomb would be revealed (I’ve still not seen it), there would be something called Leicester Glows. A fire garden was promised and fireworks from the cathedral roof. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but was determined to go. A friend had come to stay for the weekend as she was attending the Friday service so I rushed into the city after work to meet her and my parents and grab some dinner.

 

Darkness had fallen over the city as we made our way back to the Cathedral Gardens. There were again hundreds, if not thousands, of people gathering and across the medieval quarter of the city 8000 flames were lit.

 

Candles in Peacock Lane, Leicester. My photo.

The fire garden in Cathedral Gardens, Leicester. My photo.

 

The crowds could so easily have felt oppressive, but everyone was in high spirits, marvelling at the beautiful sight of so many candles burning, chatting and joking with strangers, smiling and waiting with bated breath for the main event. If the cathedral had never looked so beautiful on the Thursday then the city had never looked so beautiful on that Friday evening. Not ever.

 

The main event turned out to be thrilling and wonderful, even if slightly heart-stopping. Watching fireworks quite literally bouncing off the cathedral steeple is nothing if not nail-biting. But it was quite a spectacle and beautifully put together, resulting in a spontaneous round of applause. Here’s a video of the full display:

 

 

After the fireworks were over the crowds, and us, spent time milling around admiring the flames. They were quite mesmerising and the smell of candle wax will forever transport me back to that evening. It was magical.

 

Leicester Glows was the perfect end to the most remarkable week. I’ll never know how it got signed off by Health and Safety but I’m inordinately grateful and pleased that it did. 8000 naked flames sounds dangerous but my goodness they looked stunning.

 

Leicester Glows, Cathedral Gardens (the yellow light beam is the projection of the RIII logo onto the cathedral steeple). My photo.

 

So, Leicester did what it promised. It reinterred Richard III with dignity and honour. But more than that, it showed what our city can do and what its people can do. It showed that we have a great sense of community and that we are warm and welcoming and all-embracing.

 

A beautiful film for Leicester Glows by the Big Difference Company (who organised the event):

 

 

On this Easter Sunday they will have been rejoicing in our cathedral that “Christ is Risen”. Like the King we have reburied, Leicester is often much maligned but I truly believe that now all the pomp and ceremony of the reinterment has passed, we can honestly say that Leicester is risen.

 

Happy Easter to you all.

 


 

If you want to see more photos (click “Images”, don’t use the drop down menu) and read more about the week’s events then please take the time to visit the King Richard in Leicester website where there are blogs by The Revd Pete Hobson (Acting Canon Missioner) who led the Richard III Project for the cathedral, and lots and lots of photos. You can even order copies of the Orders of Service – please don’t be tempted by eBay.

 

 

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Leicester wins the battle of the bones

Richard III fell in Leicestershire at the Battle of Bosworth Field. The battle was the last one of significance in the Wars of the Roses, a civil war that was all about power and the right to rule. He was buried in the city in a consecrated grave in a position of honour by his successor, the man responsible for his demise but a closer relative than any living today. The ravages of time rendered him all but forgotten, perhaps helped by the fact that it suited his successor to deny him a celebrated burial place. Leicester has, largely unwittingly, watched over him for over 500 years. I think it wonderful and appropriate that the city that embraces all comers should get to watch over this controversial figure for eternity. He will be welcomed into our lovely cathedral and laid to rest with great dignity as befitting his status. I look forward to paying homage.

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