Great Andy King article in The Sunday Times
The party’s finally over as Andy King leaves Leicester
July 26 2020, The Sunday Times
On Friday, for the first time since he was a bright-eyed boy of 15, Andy King will not be a Leicester City footballer. The first time in 16 years, since he travelled north into the unknown, leaving Furze Platt school in Maidenhead. You would expect anxiety — if you did not know him.
Those who do know “Kingy” will be unsurprised there’s none of that; to learn he’s “excited” about being out of contract and free to find the right club for a new chapter. He has always been a shot of positive energy, a spark both in a team’s engine room and dressing room.
Leicester’s record-scoring midfielder, he’s the only player to win League One, the Championship and Premier League with the same club. “But I want to draw a line under that amazing journey and look forward to the next one,” he says.
What he had at Leicester? “You don’t replace it. You have to re-find it. I’m looking to find a bit of it somewhere else. I want to play for a team hungry to achieve something because I know I can offer that. I have experience of offering it.”
His home is in a gorgeous village near where Leicestershire borders Rutland and he has made his life in this part of the world with Camilla, his wife and The Wolf — their cute and playful cavoodle dog. But change comes around. “From a football point of view, in my head I left [Leicester] 18 months ago,” he says.
That was when he went to Derby County to begin a series of loans, the casualty of a strange marginalising of senior pros by Leicester’s former manager Claude Puel. Frank Lampard, then the Derby manager, personally pushed for his signing and Derby began well, before a freak ankle injury suffered when Nottingham Forest’s goalkeeper landed on him.
That summer in 2019 there were suitors but he couldn’t quit Leicester without one last go at winning his place back under Puel’s successor, Brendan Rodgers. He played in pre-season and Rodgers wanted him in the squad but was frank: Youri Tielemans and Dennis Praet, his big midfield signings, would be ahead in the pecking order.
“I probably should have left earlier but when you’ve a connection like I have with the club you want to give it every chance,” King says. “Brendan was brilliant, though. I appreciated his honesty.” Desperate for time on the pitch to earn himself a berth in Wales’ Euro 2020 squad, he gambled on a loan to Rangers, which didn’t work out.
A stint with Huddersfield Town — which finished on Wednesday — was fruitful. King helped save them from relegation and got a fix of something that became addictive with Leicester where, in ten rollercoaster seasons from his debut aged 18 in 2007-08, there was something to play for every season.
“It’s a special thing, being part of a group, having that feeling of chasing a success, whether it’s a league title or avoiding relegation or a cup,” King says. “It’s an absolute drug and I’m desperate for that feeling again.”
That Leicester journey began with a text from Angie, his mum, one school day at Furze Platt. She had an old Nokia 3310 and was no good with phones so it arrived in capital letters: “LEICESTER WANT TO LOOK AT YOU”.
Released by Chelsea, King interested bigger clubs but just had a feeling. “Chelsea have a song, ‘Over land and sea . . . and Leicester!’ I don’t know why but I always had that in my head. For some reason I saw the name and I was buzzing.” He lived in digs on Aylestone Road, run by Paul and Tracy, with 15 other academy boys. He walked to training until buying a tiny Peugeot 206 he dubbed “the Blue Bullet”.
When he was in the first team and upgrading, he passed the car on to his boot boy and Leicester proved to be like that, especially after Nigel Pearson arrived — a place where relationships are special.
“When we were in the Championship, we used to get a party bus — you’d have the music and lights and if we didn’t have a Tuesday game we’d go out somewhere, Manchester if we were playing up north, London if we were south.” Who was on the bus? “David Nugent. Danny Drinkwater. Kasper Schmeichel. Matty James. Lloyd Dyer. Marcin Wasilewski. Sean St Ledger — he probably booked it.” The day Leicester were promoted to the Premier League in 2014, the squad were round at King’s house. “We didn’t have a game and everyone was watching Gillette Soccer Saturday, yelling as the Championship results came in and spraying champagne in the air.”
Then there were the Christmas excursions: Dublin, Stockholm and, in the Premier League title season, Copenhagen. King, Drinkwater, James and Ben Hamer famously dressed as Mutant Ninja Turtles for that one — and the WhatsApp group the four still have going is named “Turtles”.
“Those are the times you’ll miss as much as anything on the pitch,” King says, “and they help when you’re signing someone. The stories get around and players ask mates, ‘What’s the changing room like there?’ I know Madders [James Maddison] did when he spoke to Chilly [Ben Chilwell] before choosing Leicester.”
His Leicester highlight? “Can I say the whole thing?” From playing at Hereford in League One to Atletico Madrid in a Champions League quarter-final, he loved it all. Unbeatable was scoring and being man of the match against Everton, the day Leicester received the Premier League trophy. After Andrea Bocelli sang, players sat with their families and friends in clusters on the pitch — like the best picnic ever — and he’ll never forget looking over at Jeff Schlupp. “Jeff was one of the lads in digs with me all those years before and to spend that day with people like that: you’ve seen what they had to go through as well, the injuries, the mental battle of everything and then sharing that high . . .
“That’s what brings you back to saying I want to achieve again, I want more. Because I’m not done with it.”
King played 379 times for Leicester, scoring 62 goals but last played for them in 2018. “The past couple of years have been difficult for sure,” he says. “Because I had something so good. I feel I’ve almost done it in reverse: you’re supposed to go to a few clubs when you’re young and then settle but I’ve done it the other way round.”
On loan, “you’re never really part of the club”. He likes “to invest in where I am, become part of the infrastructure,” and is looking forward to signing somewhere permanently. He’d like to go and meet a few managers. “I know how scouting goes. A recruitment guy sits on his computer and goes ‘age — under 26, games — 40 of the last 46’ and my name’s not going to come up.
“But I feel if I sit down [with a manager] and say this happened and I want to achieve this, they might say, ‘Right, actually that’s quite good.’”
On holiday in the south of France, he’ll be watching Leicester v Manchester United. “I’m a Leicester fan, my wife’s a Leicester fan. I’ll be watching with her family, who’ll
be screaming at the TV like they always do.
“I’ll be hoping and praying Leicester qualify for the Champions League. I want that for the team, for the manager, for the fans, for Jon Rudkin [the director of football who signed King].”
“I want it for Top [owner, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, son of the late Vichai]. I know they really want to win something or get into the top four for Top, and that he wants to do it for his father. He has put so much into the club and deserves it.”
And King wants it for others. For Gaz the chef, Dilly and Sheila the old laundry ladies, Debs and Rach in the office, Macca the kit man, Dave Rennie the physio, and all the others who were dear to him on his journey. “There are too many to name.”
Coaching may be in his future — he’s taking his badges on an FAW course alongside Ashley Williams, Joe Allen and others from Wales’s Euro 2016 squad — but for now it’s all about playing. “I’m 31 and have this idea of keeping going till I’m about 39,” he grins.
“I’d love to play at the King Power again — with another team.”
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