Blue Heaven for Foxes duo
Nigel Wright and Mike Dean are a pair of childhood friends who grew up with one thing marking them out '“ they were Tring School's only Leicester City fans.
They had known each other before, but a game of football as teenagers set them on a course which led to a lifelong friendship, adventures in their pants, and glory with Claudio Ranieri.
Mike, 49, who is now a company director, remembers: “I was playing for Long Marston as a young teenager, in a game against Tring Torandoes. Some of the players started taking the mickey out of him for being a Leicester fan and I just thought ‘Hold on!’.
“No-one else around here supported Leicester in those days. It was unheard of.”
Both youngsters had different routes to becoming Foxes fans, although ironically each had uncles who had tried to convince them to support Watford.
Mike’s parents had lived in Leicester when he was younger, and as his father was not a football man he latched on to the local side, continuing to support them when the family moved to Long Marston.
Nigel’s passion for the club came through a far more unusual – and tragic – route. He lived in Aldbury, and a youngster from the village called Jimmy Fraser was also a Leicester fan. Jimmy tragically died, and his parents gave all their son’s football memorabilia to a young Nigel.
As they grew up both sets of parents took Nigel and Mike to games, before they were old enough to start making their own way to the club’s Filbert Street home.
Nigel, now a 51-year-old pub landlord in London, said: “My first game was in 1973 away at Highbury, a 2-2 draw against Arsenal. I remember the game – and I remember Dad moaning about the cost of roast chestnuts outside the ground – decimalisation had only just come in about a year-and-a-half earlier.
“It was a cracking match, I think it went to three or four replays.”
Mike added: “We started going on our own steam when we’d passed our driving tests. I remember going to one game and it was the first time I’d driven on a motorway.
“That was big enough, but I’d borrowed my boss’ car and Nigel being Nigel encouraged me to use it to go to the game. I’d been up to Leicester on the A roads before, but not on a motorway.”
As the duo became adults they remained firm friends and keen Foxes fans. Nigel was not only best man at Mike’s wedding in 1996 but met him again during the honeymoon to watch the side play Sunderland away.
And the duo are in stitches remembering an FA Cup tie against Portsmouth where the rain left them drenched through and with no option but to drive home in nothing but their underpants.
Nigel: “The whole journey I just kept thinking ‘Please don’t let us get pulled over, please don’t let us get pulled over...’.”
Both men pick out the Martin O’Neil years as their highlight before this season. After gaining promotion to the top flight the club won two League Cup finals and managed a string of top ten finishes.
But this summer the men had a feeling about the upcoming season.
Mike said: “When we heard Claudio Ranieri had been appointed we knew what other people were saying, but we thought ‘He’ll be OK.’
“We wanted to give him a chance – Nigel Pearson had done well, but he left and the club hasn’t looked back since.
“Claudio didn’t make big changes, he watched from afar and kept what worked.”
Nigel went one step further and put his money where his mouth was. Leicester were 150-1 for the title, and James Vardy 150-1 to be Premier League top scorer; Nigel put his cash on both.
He said: “We kicked off with a 4-2 win. Then we went to Upton Park, where we never win, and beat West Ham. The next game was against Arsenal – we lost but played very well.
“The games kept coming and we kept winning. People kept saying that we’d struggle once we had injuries or suspensions, then they said we’d struggle over Christmas, then they said we’d lose it against Manchester City in February, but we didn’t.”
The rest was history of course, and Leicester won what might have been the most unlikely title in the history of modern football. Nigel has not missed a game for three years, while Mike only missed two this term.
But what next for Leicester – and what next for Nigel and Mike?
Nigel said: “I have an understanding with my wife –both our wives come to a couple of games a season with us, but I don’t go to pre-season matches.
“But now we’re champions. There’s a pre-season game in Stockholm in August. Against Barcelona!”
Leicester broke all the footballing rules this season – and both Mike and Nigel will break their pre-season rule too.