Sport in Leicester
In the centre of Leicester, next to the clock tower, is a statue celebrating the city’s three biggest sporting strengths: football, rugby and cricket. The statue could also have included basketball, speedway, snooker and many other sports – but there was only so much room on the plinth.In 2016, ESPN ranked Leicester number one in their list of the UK's Greatest Sporting Cities with perfect scores in the success, matchday atmosphere, local talent, community and social categories.
In 2016, Leicester City FC made global headlines by winning the English Premier League, hailed by many pundits as the greatest story in the history of football, or even the greatest sporting story ever. Having spent most of the 2014/15 season bottom of the league, the Foxes were rank outsiders with bookies offering the same odds as those for Elvis being still alive – 5,000/1. But over the course of the season, under new manager Claudio Ranieri, they won again and again, gathering support and goodwill as football fans across the UK realised that the stranglehold of the ‘big four’ teams on the Premier League could be broken.
The moment of triumph, when Leicester’s only remaining rivals drew a game they had to win, saw incredible scene on the streets of Leicester as cheering crowds gathered around the King Power Stadium to celebrate. Two weeks later a victory parade, culminating in the University’s ‘back garden’ Victoria Park, was witnessed by 240,000 jubilant Leicester citizens and Foxes fans. Just one year after the reinterment of Richard III (a moment which spookily coincided with the upturn in the club’s fortunes), the success of Leicester City FC put the city of Leicester firmly on the map. King power indeed.
Just up the road from the Foxes, you’ll find the Tigers, Leicester’s all-conquering rugby union club who have played at Welford Road since 1892 (don’t worry – the facilities have been upgraded). It’s difficult to know where to begin with the Tigers’ stats. Since league rugby was introduced in 1987, Leicester has won the championship ten times, including an unbroken run from 1999 to 2002. In 2003, seven of the England Squad who lifted the Rugby World Cup were current Leicester players, including Captain Martin Johnson. Twelve years later the Rugby World Cup came to Leicester when the city hosted several international matches as part of the 2015 tournament.
In the summer months, head over to the famous Grace Road Cricket Ground for County-level test matches and thrilling one-day Twenty20 games. Leicestershire CCC have won the Twenty20 Cup more times than any other side – in 2004, 2006 and 2011. You’ll find plenty of cricket across the county too. The annual Barwell vs Coventry match has been played every year since 1807!
First staged in 2013, the Leicester Castle Classic has rapidly become a fixture in British Cycling’s Elite National Road Race Series, with the country’s top professional riders battling it out along the banks of the River Soar and over the bone-shaking cobbled streets around Leicester Castle.
Established in 1967, the Leicester Riders are the oldest professional basketball team in the UK. They won the BBL Cup in 2013 and 2014.
There has been speedway in Leicester since 1928. The Leicester Lions race in the Elite League at the Beaumont Leys track.
The Donington Park Circuit in Leicestershire has reverberated to the sound of powerful engines for more than 80 years. The FIA World Touring Car Championship has been held there since 2011 and it has also hosted the British MotoGP on many occasions, as well as many other races on four wheels or two. Donington is also home to an unrivalled collection of Formula 1 cars driven by legends such as Senna, Schumacher, Prost, James Hunt and Jim Clark.
2014 World Champion Mark Selby – ‘The Jester from Leicester’ - is just the latest in a string of top-flight snooker players from the city that also includes Willie Thorne, Tom Ford and Ben Woollaston.
There is a long and impressive history of women’s hockey in Leicester dating back to 1894. Since 2000, Leicester have won the Women’s Hockey League Premier Division an unprecedented five times, and in 2014 they brought home the EuroHockey Club Champions Trophy. Sponsored by a well-known local pie manufacturer, the team are known as ‘The Pukkas’.