LEICESTER, England — The best story in world sports right now is Leicester City, the club that has not only defied predictions of relegation but is somehow scoffing at 5,000-to-1 odds and leading the Premier League by two points with 11 games left in a miraculous season.
After Leicester’s 1-0 win over Norwich City here on Saturday, in which Leonardo Ulloa scored the game-winner in the 89th minute, I stumbled onto a great little story-within-the-story in the bar of the Holiday Inn Express, which is literally right next to King Power Stadium.
Savoring the win there were Rocky Fox and Kat Morgan, an American couple who had more than one reason to celebrate. Why had two Americans traveled more than 3,000 miles to the middle of England? Well, let Fox tell you:
“The English Premier League is just catching on in America like wildfire,” said Fox, a government-relations specialist who lives in Washington D.C. “I think that’s pretty clear. It starts right before NFL games. Kickoff is at 10 a.m. [ET], they finish at noon and you can flip on an NFL game. So I’ve been watching it for probably three or four years.”
Last season, Fox decided it was finally time to pick a team, and one day on his TV screen was newly promoted Leicester City, known as the Foxes. “We’re watching a game, and it’s the Foxes,” he explained. “My last name is Fox, so who better to support than the Foxes? Guilt by association, so she’s onboard too. They always say you don’t really choose your team, your team chooses you. It’s like: The Foxes! Got it! We’re in!”
They started watching every Leicester City game, but a year ago at this time the Foxes were deep in the relegation zone. As Fox recalls, “I was like, ‘Great, I picked this team, and they’re going to be relegated, and now I’ll have to find [the second-tier] Championship on TV.’”
But then a series of remarkable things happened. Leicester, which was playing in the third-tier league of English soccer just seven seasons ago, went on a stunning run to finish 14th and stay in the Premier League—the greatest escape in the league’s history.
Then this season, despite 5,000-to-1 odds to win the league—the same odds for discovering Elvis Presley alive—Leicester is top of the league by two points heading into Tuesday’s game against West Brom (NBCSN, 2:45 p.m. ET). Fox and Morgan will be there for the second Premier League game they have ever attended.
“We actually planned this trip some time ago, well before they were in first place,” said Morgan, who’s about to finish a graduate degree in business at the University of Miami in Florida.
“We thought we were going to be here to help them stave off relegation,” Fox cracked.
Instead, it has turned into a trip they’ll never forget. Their plan was to fly separately from Washington D.C. and Miami, meet in London and drive up together to Leicester. But Fox had other ideas. “I wanted to propose at some point, and I thought: What better way to see the Foxes than if we were Foxes?”
Soon after Morgan boarded her flight in Miami last week, her boyfriend walked on the plane to her surprise. He handed her a female fox stuffed animal, and then he handed her a male fox stuffed animal with an engagement ring tied around its neck on a blue string.
“Will you marry me?” he asked. “Will you be a Fox?”
After the game on Saturday, the newly engaged couple was still beaming at the Holiday Inn Express bar, where the bartender, hearing their story, had given them a bottle of Champagne on the house. Fox couldn’t believe what had happened.
“The fact that we came here, and they win in the 89th minute? As a first-place team? Out of nowhere? If you’re looking for signs that we should be the Foxes, it’s every affirmation you ever needed.”
“Since I was a little girl, the fox has been my favorite animal,” she said. “So all around my childhood bedroom back home it was covered with fox posters.”
For his non-soccer-loving friends in the U.S., Fox has tried to come up with an American comparison to what Leicester City is doing—and it’s awfully difficult.
“The best I had was essentially Hickory High from the movie Hoosiers,” he said. “Because any professional league in America has no comparison. I mean, a year ago they were going to be down to Triple-A.”
Added Morgan: “He described it as like a minor-league team being pulled up to win the World Series …”
“… And beat the Yankees,” said Fox.
On Saturday, the U.S. couple was sitting near the hardcore Leicester fans when Ulloa scored near the death and the stadium exploded with noise, a mix of raw exhilaration and an outpouring of relief.
“The energy and electricity, I mean, it was like SEC football,” Fox marveled. “It’s Auburn-Alabama every Saturday, so it was insane. It was so awesome they scored.”
Yet the vibe in Leicester is a little different than what they were expecting. Instead of a widespread belief that Leicester will win the title and complete the greatest story in Premier League history, there’s more of a wait-and-see attitude.
“The feeling in Leicester isn’t what it would be in the States if you had a team doing this,” Morgan said. “Everybody’s watching and waiting. Nobody is expecting.”
Added Fox, “Part of the reason I think they’re going to win it is because I don’t know enough to think that they’re not. I’m American and an optimist. But why can’t they? Everyone here is like, ‘This has been really good so far.’ But I’m like, ‘What?!? We’re not done yet!’”
So many things have already come together—Leicester’s run, their attachment to the team and now their engagement—that the fairytale story might as well keep going. With apologies to Wes Anderson, you could call it: "The Fantastic Mr. and Mrs. Fox."