Leicester City are Premier League Champions, and lifelong fans Tom and Serge from Kasabian haven’t missed a second of the party. Kevin EG Perry joins them on the victory parade to talk about their mega gigs in the club’s stadium, the work-in-progress new album and the prospect of taking on Lionel Messi
Photography by Dean Chalkley, additional photography by Ken Street.
It’s Monday May 16, a couple of hours before Kasabian play a surprise set at Leicester City’s Premier League victory parade, and frontman Tom Meighan is on the phone trying to sort out his stage outfit. His first choice was an unofficial T-shirt emblazoned with star striker Jamie Vardy’s infamous motto, but the club have just stepped in and nixed it. Somebody’s obviously decided that ‘Chat S**t, Get Banged’ is a bit aggro for a family-friendly party.
The thing is, there aren’t any adults around. A whole city’s childhood dreams have come true and the air is full of pure, unadulterated chaos. Nobody expected to be here. Leicester City started the season as 5,000-1 outsiders to win the title. To put that in context, around the same time the odds of LMFAO headlining Glastonbury this year were only 100-1. Leicester were a club that had never won England’s top flight in the entirety of their 132-year history, so even the most passionate of fans – a category that includes both Meighan and guitarist Serge Pizzorno – would never have dared to dream this day would come.
Meighan and Pizzorno have found themselves woven into this footballing success story as the town’s most famous musical sons. Pizzorno once told his school careers advisor that he wanted to be a striker for Leicester City when he grew up, and neither of them have ever been quiet about their support for the team – even when the Foxes were in the doldrums. A couple of years ago, outside a festival in Mexico City, I witnessed Meighan trying to teach Damon Albarn his favourite Leicester City chants. Both of Kasabian’s main men still live locally, and although they’re used to playing major festivals around the world they’re relishing the sense here and now that everything could go off the rails at any moment. “One thing I really miss about our early days is just winging it,” says Pizzorno, who co-founded the band in 1997in although it was 2004 when their debut album arrived. “The more you do it, everything gets more organised. You get to the festival at the right time, it never runs over, it just works. Then you watch Woodstock and there’s people just walking about going, ‘Are you going on next?’ It’s that sort of vibe here. We’re playing two shows at the stadium and even now that’s still being figured out. No one really knows what to expect and that’s way more exciting.”
Those shows – which take place at the King Power Stadium this weekend (May 28 and 29) – will be another chance for the people of Leicester to celebrate an unprecedented year. “We’ve got a few little things planned that will make it really special,” says Pizzorno. “It’s also a chance for loads of our fans from all over the world to witness what’s going on in Leicester.”
Right now, on the afternoon of the parade, what’s going on in Leicester is chaos. There’s an estimate that 100,000 people will descend on the city’s Victoria Park, but the sun is blazing down and Pizzorno correctly predicts that more than double that will turn out.“We’ve no real idea of how many people are going to turn up,” he says. “The only things I can liken it to are those Stones in Rio shows where they just go, ‘Come down, it’s free, it’s on the beach…’ When you go to a festival they have those 10-foot walls all around, but there’s none of that. If you’d been living in a bunker and you were going to the shop, you’d go, ‘What’s going on over there?’ and just walk in. You’re in the mix. I’ve always dreamt of putting on a show like that. That’s the ultimate, and to do it in Leicester after they lift the trophy? F**k!”
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It feels like the collective dreams of a whole city are simultaneously coming true, making it an emotional day for people like Meighan, who knows in his blood what it means to this community. “We’ve all grown up with Leicester City,” he says.
“It goes right back to people like my grandad, who isn’t here any more. He used to work with the players in the early ’60s, people like Gordon Banks, Colin Appleton and Peter Shilton, when he was a boy. On a day like today you think of absent friends who you wish could’ve seen it, and what it would have meant to them. Me and my dad and my brothers cried and cried when we won. It’s more than football. It’s brought people together.”
What’s made Leicester’s success this year connect with so many people is that they’ve done it without bringing in expensive recruits – most of the standout players have experience of playing in the lower leagues. “It’s a team of misfits and rejects,” explains Pizzorno. It particularly applies to Jamie Vardy, who just a few years ago was playing non-League football and working as a technician making medical splints. “The Hollywood film was already on it with Vardy’s story,” he adds, “But when it started to unfold that the team was going to go on to win the League… you’d be mad to write it. You’d go, ‘That’s bulls**t, you can’t put that out there, nobody’s gonna believe it!’”
Pizzorno spoke to Vardy after Leicester were crowned champions. “He said he wasn’t going to take the medal off,” he reveals. “I think they’re just as blown away by the win as everyone else is.” Next year, the team will play Champion’s League football for the first time. For Pizzorno, whose grandad emigrated to Leicester from Genoa in Italy, the promise of seeing his hometown team play in Europe is particularly poignant.
“Nobody’s attacked the Champion’s League in the way we’re going to,” he says. “It’ll be interesting for those sides who like to keep possession, because our pace on the counter will surprise a few people. We’re in Pot One, which makes a difference because we’ll miss a few of the big boys. That gives us an opportunity.”Can Leicester captain Wes Morgan keep the likes of Barcelona maestro Lionel Messi in his pocket? Pizzorno laughs: “It’s difficult to say, but I’m quietly confident that we’ll represent England very well.”
After achieving so much this year, he’s already dreaming about next season. “I’d love to see us sign Francesco Totti,” he says. “I’ve heard it being bandied around and that would be the greatest. To see him run out in his low socks would be unbelievable.”Meighan adds: “In football terms, it’s changed everything. I think that’s great for all football teams, and for fans in general. It was the same old teams in the top four every year. What’s happened is a miracle. It’s like E.T. landing here, it really is.”
That sense that anything can happen now has permeated the whole city and the band say it’s sure to find its way into their new music. “Has he told you about the new album?” blurts out Meighan. “I’m not supposed to tell ya, but we’ve got some new songs and things ready for the future. This euphoria is bound to channel into it. We’re in such a good place right now.”
The whole town is. All through the season, Leicester fans have hailed goals by chanting: “Jamie Vardy’s having a party, bring your vodka and your charlie” – and now the day of that party is here. As we make our way to the park the streets are swamped with fans in blue shirts and every shop in Leicester is displaying some sign of support for their local team. Everyone has a personal story: Mr. More, owner of an all-you-can-eat buffet, stops us to tell us that he’s been for a meal with midfielder N’Golo Kanté, while a waitress shows off a selfie with manager Claudio Ranieri. Today, all the schools in the city have sent kids home early so they can attend the parade. By the time the team bus arrives at the park, the turnout is thought to be 240,000 – 72 per cent of Leicester’s entire population.
The whole day feels like a wild celebration – and often a surreal one. The main stage welcomes cheerleaders, Bollywood dancers and even a gospel choir who sing terrace chants and ‘Come On Leicester Boys’ to the tune of Slade’s ‘Cum On Feel the Noize’ – surely one for Kasabian’s next album.By far the most deafening roar is reserved for when the team finally appears and Ranieri and Morgan lift the Premier League trophy in front of a crowd that sprawls like Woodstock. After he comes off stage, Morgan reflects on sparking such vast celebrations. “Seeing everyone enjoying themselves just shows how much support we have and what we’ve achieved this season,” he says. “It’s fantastic. I’m just trying to let the moment sink in.”
Somehow, Kasabian have to follow that – but it’s the gig they were born to play. Opening, appropriately enough, with ‘Underdog’, Pizzorno plays a blue guitar inscribed with ‘LCFC’ on the neck. Meighan roars “Leicester, we love you,” as they fire through ‘Eez-eh’ and ‘LSF’.They close with ‘Fire’, the song that played whenever the team ran out for their home games. It’s come to mean a lot to band, team and fans alike. Earlier in the season, Ranieri told the press: “I think I know the Leicester fans very well. They’re [passionate] supporters and I told my players, ‘When you go on the pitch and you hear the song from Kasabian, that means they want warriors.’ I want to see them as warriors for the fans.”
That’s exactly what he got, and the sea of 240,000 people bouncing in unison to it marks the end of a day of celebrations and the start of a night of serious partying. Kasabian finish by hoisting a Leicester City flag between them as Meighan belts out: ‘Championes’. When the band return to the King Power stadium for two huge celebratory gigs this weekend, the party will still be in full swing. It seems that for the whole of Leicester, fantasy has become reality and Ranieri’s words
will still be ringing out: “Dilly ding, dilly dong! Keep dreaming! Keep dreaming! Don’t wake up!”