Cameroon’s national men’s team are nicknamed the Indomitable Lions, Ajax are known as de Godenzonen (or the Sons of the Gods, for those whose Dutch needs brushing up) and Leicester are known, of course, as the Foxes. Could a fox battle a lion, let alone an indomitable one? How would it handle a tussle with the son of god?
These are sadly questions for another day. Perhaps one involving no sleep and too much whisky, or some other slightly punchier mind-altering substances. For now, we’ll stick to Leicester, also known as City, or alternatively, the Foxes. But where does Leicester’s animal-based nickname come from?
Why Is Leicester’s Nickname the Foxes?
Leicester Football Club was founded way back in 1884, so unless you’re approaching 150 years old, you won’t remember their first game when they played as Leicester Fosse FC. However, the fosse is not a fox but rather a red herring, and is a word from Old English and French, meaning a ditch, moat or fortification.
Leicester began as Fosse as they initially played their games on a pitch near Fosse Road and in those early days they were nicknamed the Fossils. However, the name changed to Leicester City in 1919, not long after Leicester itself gained city status and in part due to the financial difficulties of the original club. The team moved to Filbert Street eventually, their home prior to the move to the King Power, and were also known for a period as the Filberts. This, however, is rather beside the point, because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the cunning animal that features on the club’s badge.
So, is that why Leicester are the Foxes, because of the badge? Well, no, that would be putting the cart before the horse: perhaps unsurprisingly the fox has long been a part of Leicester’s badge and branding due to the club’s nickname. So, we’re still none the wiser!
In fact, it is not just the football club that is associated with the fox, or more specifically, the red fox. Leicestershire County Cricket Club are also known as the Foxes, with their badge very clearly featuring a red fox and the county’s limited overs side being specifically called the Leicestershire Foxes. This link goes further too, as when you drive into the country, you will notice that the welcome signs also feature an image of the famously cunning and rather beautiful beast. So, is the whole city, the entire county, in fact, simply in love with the fantastic fox? Is the area overrun with the sadly maligned animal? What is this all about, for fox sake?
Origins Lie in Fox Hunting
Leicestershire is a largely rural county and lies in the heart of England. For many in such communities, the idea of fox hunting is very different to the way it is perceived by others who come from more urban areas. However, this is not a debate about the rights and wrongs of fox hunting but there is no getting away from the fact that the reason Leicester City FC are known as the Foxes is because of the area’s links with the activity.
Leicestershire is essentially the place where fox hunting was born, at least in terms of the way it has been done for the last 300 years or so. The town of Quorn in the county was home to Hugo Maynell, a man known as the father of fox hunting. In the 1700s, he established his pack of hunting hounds in the town which cemented its association with fox hunting after the establishment of the Quorn Hunt in 1696.
Foxes in various forms are to be found all over the county. The current Leicester mascot rather neatly ties together the club’s past in different names, with Filbert the Fox a nod to the previous and current nickname, as well as Leicester’s old ground. There are far too many pubs in the county called the Fox and Hounds, or otherwise featuring the crafty animals to count, let alone drink in them all.
There is even a town named after the fox, with Foxton, previously known as both Foxestone and Foxtone, so called due to the very high number of foxes that used to live in the area. Founded in Saxon times it is located in LE16 to the northwest of the larger town of Market Harborough.
Evolution of the Badge
Having established that Leicester City, like the county’s cricket club and, more broadly, Leicestershire in general, are linked to the fox because of fox hunting, let us consider the fox on the club’s badge. Like all clubs that date back to the 19th century, Leicester’s earliest kits were very plain.
The blue we now associate with Leicester did not feature until the 1899/99 campaign, and even then, it was not a permanent fixture. Indeed, the 1903/04 season saw the club play in a red shirt, white shorts and red socks. Far too Forest for our liking! However, around this time blue, sometimes with white stripes, became established but still without any further adornment. As such there was no badge, no crest, no manufacturer’s logo and no sponsorship.
Leicester Fosse would, according to the club’s official history, in the first few seasons, sometimes play in a kit that featured the town (as Leicester was back then) coat of arms. However, this stopped after the 1890s and there was no formal crest used for the first half of the 20th century.
However, in the 1948/49 season the club played with a badge that featured a fox for the first time. According to official club history, “The directors’ minutes book from July 1948 provides the first documentary evidence linking Leicester City with foxes. A single sentence states: “The design for the new jersey crest was approved.”
This initial design, of a mounted fox, apparently based on one killed in the 1922 Atherstone Hunt, has changed many times over the years. However, since then, the club have always played with a fox on their shirts, in one form or another, so we can say that the nickname of the Foxes was very much cemented by then.
The badge’s most important recent change came in 1992 when Filbert the Fox was introduced as the club’s new mascot. At this time, the badge changed from the running fox to a fox’s head on a white cinquefoil – a cinquefoil being the ornamental design of five white lobes, like petals, to form a flower. This has been the basis for the badge since then, and all thanks to the region’s long association with fox hunting.