Leicester's most far-flung fan? Lonely Kiwi nurtured on Shoot magazine
27 April 2016, 15:19
Wellington -Unless there's a penguin somewhere in Antarctica sporting a Jamie Vardy replica shirt, it's no stretch to describe New Zealander Rod de Lisle as Leicester City's most far-flung supporter.
De Lisle has kept faith with the Foxes from 18,500 kilometres (11,500 miles) for more than 40 years, candidly admitting there have been more lows than highs.
But this season has been like no other for Leicester, and de Lisle is still pinching himself over their unlikely charge to the brink of the English Premier League title, one of the most coveted trophies in sport.
"It's been incredible... we were thrilled to avoid relegation last season so this has been an unbelievable ride," he said.
Leicester opened their campaign as 5,000-1 outsiders but are on the cusp of a fairytale win thanks to striker Vardy and his team-mates, who were little known outside King Power Stadium before the season began.
De Lisle is heading to England to watch the season's last two matches with Leicester, seven points clear with three to play, able to clinch the title with victory against Manchester United on Sunday.
But the long-suffering fan remains wary of celebrating just yet.
"It could all still go wrong and then you'd say it's been a typical Leicester season," he said.
"You have to follow a team like Leicester with a degree of humour, although it'll be very depressing if they don't win it."
'Only gay in the village'
Football fans are relatively rare in rugby-mad New Zealand, and those that do exist tend to support established Premiership giants such as Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool.
De Lisle admits being a Kiwi Leicester fan has been a lonely road, joking "sometimes you feel like the only gay in the village" in reference to the 'Little Britain' comedy show character Daffyd Thomas.
"Once we started having some success a few other Leicester supporters started coming out of the woodwork," he said.
"We're still few and far between though. It's not like we've got a New Zealand branch of the Leicester supporters club -- if we did, we could all meet in a phone box."
The 55-year-old originally hails from rural Tokoroa in the North Island, which nurtured rugby stars such as Richard Kahui, Keven Mealamu and Wallaby Quade Cooper.
"It's a very strong rugby town but in my year at school for some reason we all opted for football. It's quite odd I guess," he said.
"I had to pick a team and one day in 1974 we were watching Leicester versus Liverpool on a black-and-white TV and I decided to go for Leicester because I thought it sounded better."
He said Kiwi fans in those days saw only the occasional match on television and had to hunt down three-month-old copies of "Shoot" magazine sent by sea from Britain.
"Now the world has shrunk, as a Leicester fan you're part of an online community," he said.
"I can be streaming the match on my iPad in the early hours and hop on to fan forums. You feel part of it."
De Lisle has been to about 10 Leicester matches and made many friends staying with fans in the Midlands city, who he said were intrigued by the idea of a Kiwi supporter.
"It still has a warm, family-club atmosphere," he said.
"I went to see Man United at Old Trafford once and it was like approaching the walls of Mordor -- these big black stands, you didn't feel welcome at all."
Glamour ties against the likes of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain beckon in next season's Champions League, even if Leicester don't win the Premiership.
But de Lisle can't quite shake a fatalism borne from decades of disappointment.
"As a long-term fan, you tend to think well next season it's bound to go back to business as usual and we'll struggle to avoid relegation," he said.
"You have that mindset as a Leicester fan. I certainly don't expect us to be challenging for the title again next season."