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More partying as Leicester collects Premier League trophy

Hundreds of Italians traveled by bus and plane to Leicester without tickets just to be part of a story

Published: Updated:

First came the flood of fans, then the deluge of rain. Nothing, though, could dampen the party spirits at Leicester. Not when you’ve waited 132 years to see your team handed the biggest prize in English soccer.

Thousands of supporters started gathering outside Leicester’s King Power Stadium more than four hours before Saturday’s final home game of a season that’s witnessed one of the most astonishing turnarounds in sports.

These fans were despairing last season, fearing their team was going to be relegated. A year later, they will see the Premier League trophy collected by Leicester’s players after the game against Everton.

Hundreds of Italian fans gatecrashed the party after being captivated by how compatriot Claudio Ranieri turned 5,000-1 underdogs into first-time champions. The most famous was tenor Andrea Bocelli, who joined Ranieri on the field to sing Nessun Dorma, the aria popularized in England during the 1990 World Cup.

Hundreds of Italians traveled by bus and plane to Leicester without tickets just to be part of a story that has enthralled the world beyond football fans.

Giancarlo Lissabdrini, from Verona, managed to secure the hottest ticket in town through family connections to Ranieri.

“Leicester achieved something epic in history,” Lissabdrini said. “(Ranieri) deserved much more in his coaching career ... this was a big achievement for him and Italy.”

Leicester’s Thai ownership was ridiculed for hiring the 64-year-old Ranieri last July. He was out of work since the previous year after being fired by Greece. And his only job in the Premier League at Chelsea ended 11 years earlier.

Ranieri’s prospects of avoiding relegation were written off. How he has proved his critics wrong and beguiled even non-Leicester fans with his command of the team and entertaining asides.

Above the Cank Street Gallery in central Leicester was written one such sound-bite. “Dilly ding, dilly dong” was uttered by a giddy Ranieri last month as he conveyed his excitement that a first career title was looming.

Above the hot grills at a burger van close to the stadium, a “Hail Claudio.

Emperor of champions” flag was flying proudly as fans in champions T-shirts bought pre-match snacks.

Inside the stadium, Ranieri addressed the 32,000 fans before kickoff.

“I want to say to you we are champions because you pushed us,” Ranieri said.

Leicester reached its 37th and penultimate game of the campaign having lost only three times. Not bad for a season when survival was the objective.

“We are staying up,” Leicester fans sang before bellowing out the words they will never tire of chanting: “Champions of England we know what we are.”

Fans are already thinking about next season and the team’s first foray into the Champions League, where Leicester will be top seed in the group stage as a domestic title winner.

Domestically, they expect faded powers from deposed champion Chelsea to record 20-time Premier League winner Manchester United to be far stronger.

“We know that other sides have struggled and they haven’t had the consistency they wanted,” fan Alan Sewell said. “Once they get stronger, with the management changes we know all the big clubs have got, it’s being able to compete in matches against them and hold our own. We’ll show this wasn’t a fluke.

“I don’t think it was a fluke but the rest of the world does.”