Seattleites with a keen ear would have picked up a familiar voice on the NBC Sports broadcast of Monday’s Chelsea-Tottenham Hotspur English Premier League match.
Arlo White — former Sounders announcer, lead play-by-play voice of NBC’s EPL coverage, proud native of Leicester, England — provided the voiceover for a moment that etched his hometown into sporting lore for generations.
“Eden Hazard … scores for Chelsea!” White said, his voice straining to be heard over deafening crowd noise, describing the 83rd-minute strike that settled the Premier League race. “Is that the goal … that wins the title … for Leicester City?!”
White will return home on Saturday, ostensibly to call the Leicester City-Everton match but also to pay witness to the unlikeliest championship celebration in modern English soccer history. Leicester has locked up its first top-flight league championship in its 132 years with two weeks remaining. And instead of what had promised to be a nervous weekend of scoreboard watching, the Foxes instead get to parade the trophy in front of their adoring fans at the King Power Stadium.
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“It feels like it’s happening in a parallel universe,” White said in a phone interview Friday. “It’s so surreal, so incredible, so fantastic. Leicester fans, I think, have had the greatest experience of their lives. The nerves have been settled, the panic is over, the anxiety can be put on the back-burner.
“They can show up at the King Power Stadium tomorrow to full enjoy what will be the best day in the club’s history and the best day in a lot of people’s lives.”
Putting Leicester City’s accomplishments into context — into context even in a world soccer sense, not just trying to put it into perspective for an American audience — isn’t easy. White’s “parallel universe” description is apt.
Leicester is the first first-time winner of the English top flight since 1978, when Nottingham Forest achieved the feat. And though many have drawn comparisons between that Forest and these Foxes, that was back before the creation and rebranding of the Premier League drastically increased the gulf before haves and have-nots. Since 1996, the so-called big four of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have divided every single championship between them.
Much has been made of Leicester’s preseason title odds of 5,000-1: As likely as Elvis being discovered alive. But so fanciful was the idea that any team outside of the moneyed elite — let alone one with as modest a history as Leicester’s — could actually win the title that it’s almost surprising bookmakers even bothered to list odds at all.
The best White can do for a comparison in American sports is the Everett AquaSox somehow earning promotion up through the minor-league system before beating the Yankees “4-nil” in the World Series.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate that the planets have aligned,” White said, “and there I am, front and center for the greatest story in English football history.”
White certainly will be on Saturday, presiding from the press box as Leicester settles in for a 90-minute party.
“My emotion when I walk into the stadium tomorrow will be one of privilege, to be a witness to this occasion,” White said, “just a sense of being present at such a historic moment. The eyes of the world – not just of Leicester, or England, or the United States – the world eyes of the world being on Leicester, there’s a sense of sentimental pride.
“That’s the city where I’m from. And it’s finally, after being largely anonymous through most of my adult life, it’s finally on the map.”
Games to watch
– Middlesbrough vs. Brighton & Hove Albion, English League Championship, Saturday at 4:30 a.m. PST: The visitors can earn automatic promotion to EPL with a win in the season finale; otherwise, Boro goes up.
– Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Bayer Leverkusen, German Bundesliga, Saturday at 6:30 a.m.: Both teams in the top four.
– Leicester City vs. Everton, English Premier League, Saturday at 9:30 a.m.: See above.
– Manchester City vs. Arsenal, English Premier League, Sunday at 8 a.m.: Playing for Champions League positioning.
– Barcelona vs. Espanyol, Spanish La Liga, Sunday at 8 a.m.: City rivals could cost Barca the league title.
– Real Madrid vs. Valencia, Spanish La Liga, Sunday at 8 a.m.: Real needs help.
– Levante vs. Atletico Madrid, Spanish La Liga, Sunday at 8 a.m.: Atleti goes top with win and Barcelona draw.