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Church will join the party in Leicester

06 May 2016


Kings of England: football fans celebrate in Leicester city centre after confirmation that Leicester City have won the Premier League

Kings of England: football fans celebrate in Leicester city centre after confirmation that Leicester City have won the Premier League

THE party in Leicester to celebrate winning the Premier League was still going on when the new Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, got up on Tuesday morning.

Speaking later on Tuesday, he said that he could still hear celebrations from his house.

“I have only just arrived [in Leicester], and it is quite an extraordinary feeling on the back of this wave of excitement that has gradually been building in the city. I can hear all the sounds from my house of a major party going on in the city centre.”

As soon as Tottenham Hotspur drew 2-2 with Chelsea on Monday night, making it impossible for them to catch Leicester City at the top of the league, plans for a victory parade and city-wide party began.

The Church would play a full part in the revelry, Bishop Snow said. “There will be a victory party after the last game of the season” against Chelsea, “and it is being discussed with the cathedral” how it will be involved.

Every cleric in the C of E feels called to help their communities through adversity; so why not through joy as well, he asked.

“We do funerals, but we also do weddings — the whole spectrum,” Bishop Snow said. “We always specialise in helping people to celebrate well, and celebrate gifts and where they come from. Yes, we say thank you to the team who have done so well and performed so well; but we recognise the sense of pride we feel in all of this is a God-given gift.”

Leicester Cathedral has set up a five metre-long board for worshippers and passers-by to write their thanks on. It began as part of the diocese’s Lenten programme, which focused on God’s generosity; but as Leicester City closed in the title, the Cathedral decided to leave the wall of thanksgiving up.

It has now been filled with messages and prayers thanking the players for the joy and excitement they have given the city, filling up the two-metre tall board several times over.

Sally Hayden, the diocese’s generous giving development director, said: “In total there have been about 4000 messages — everything from children drawing Mummy and Daddy, to adults giving thanks for overcoming illness . . . and many messages about Jamie Vardy and the exploits of Leicester City.”

Much of the world’s press that has descended upon the East Midlands city has remarked on how Leicester City’s success has bound together the various communities that make up the diverse city.

Bishop Snow said that this was his own experience, too. “If you look at the crowds who are out last night, it is representative of the full spectrum. There is a wonderful sense of diversity which is mirrored in the team itself, made up of players from all around the world.”

The team’s stars include the English striker Jamie Vardy, but also the Algerian Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez, and France’s N’Golo Kanté. Leicester City was led to the title by its Italian manager, Claudio Ranieri, who has seen his own press coverage shift from ridicule to respect since his appointment last summer.

“It’s a wonderful example of team spirit focused on a goal. Football can bring out the good in people, and what it means to work for others,” Bishop Snow said, though he conceded that the opposite was also often the case, Tottenham’s bitterly fractious game against Chelsea being a good example.

“The particular thing for me is the affect [Leicester’s success] will have on grassroots football. Young people in the city are going to love this, and love the diversity being a key part of it.”

An Italian priest has suggested that divine intervention was behind Leicester City’s victory. Fr Mario de Santis, who is responsible for the tomb of St Rita in Cascia, in Umbria, said that Mr Ranieri frequently brought his teams to the shrine of the 15th-century saint, who is the patron of impossible causes.

If Mr Ranieri had been praying to St Rita, as Fr Mario believes he has, she could “well have been out there on the field with the players”, he told The Times.

But as with every sport, for there to be winners in football there must also be losers. Just 40 miles to the west of Leicester, but 19 places below City in the table, is Aston Villa, the historic giant of Midlands football. The team has just been relegated from the top division for the first time in 29 years.

The Revd Ken Baker, a retired football referee and chaplain to the club since 2000, said that a mood of despondency had settled on the city.

“It’s been very difficult,” he said on Monday. “Aston Villa is the leading club in the city; so it does change the mood. It just feels very downbeat.” He said the fans, demoralised by a season of endless disappointment, were looking for leadership and finding none in their manager-less team.

The feeling inside the club was not much different, he said. “We have got a very good welfare set-up there, but players do get downhearted.

“Really, football is a lonely world. Players come into the club, but they don’t mix too closely because they never know when they are going to be moved. If they are not playing well, they will be transferred; so they don’t get too close to the locals.”

His position as chaplain was about “taking the Church to the club”, which included conducting funerals and memorial services for fans. But, despite the desperatation of the club’s plight, he remained positive. A good manager is crucial, he said, pointing to the success of Leicester City. If Aston Villa could get that right, the club would bounce back.

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