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Leicester City soccer fan scores big with 5,000-1 bet

Leicester City celebrates winning Premier League title.

Craig Brough/REUTERS

Leigh Herbert has been a fan of the Leicester City soccer team all his life, but he'd never bet on the team until just before the start of the English Premier League season last August when he put down £5 for the Foxes to win the title.

It was certainly a long shot. The club had never won the title in its 132-year history and the odds of winning this season were 5,000-1. But then Leicester went on a remarkable run, beating clubs with four times the payroll and loaded with global superstars.

When the team clenched the title Monday night, Herbert could barely contain himself. He'd won £20,600 (or $38,079) on his bet and it could have been £25,000 if he hadn't got cold feet a couple of months ago and cashed in a portion.

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"It took about 10 minutes for it to actually dawn on me that I've won the money and Leicester has won the Premier League," he said Tuesday from his van in Leicester, where he works as a carpenter for a social housing agency. "Even saying that to you now, it doesn't sound real."

Herbert, 39, plans to put the money toward a down payment on a house and he is among 72 people who placed bets on the team at Britain's biggest betting firms: Ladbrokes and William Hill.

The companies will lose a combined £4.4-million from the bets (or $8.1-million), the largest single-day loss in their histories. And it's unlikely either will ever offer such long odds again on a sports team.

"Yeah, we took a pasting," said William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe, whose company had 25 clients who bet on Leicester. He justified the 5,000-1 odds by saying that at the start of the season almost everyone believed Leicester couldn't win. "On all known previous form for the last 150 years of senior football in this country, there was nothing to suggest that any team in that position could go and win the championship in the highest-ranking division in the land," he said.

"It's the greatest sporting upset since David beat Goliath," added Jessica Bridge of Ladbrokes, which had 47 customers place bets on Leicester. "We had as much faith in Leicester winning the league as we thought there would be of FIFA hosting the World Cup in the Antarctic."

The big winners included one Ladbrokes client who took home £180,000 in winnings (or $333,000) by betting £60 on the team during the season when the odds of Leicester winning had fallen to 3,000-1. Another man in Manchester bet £20 at William Hill when the team was at 5,000-1 and won £80,000 (he, too, cashed out a portion of his bet early).

Sharpe said the company is happy Leicester won, for the fans and the bettors. "There's an old adage in bookmaking; if you don't let the punters win occasionally, they won't be there for very long," he said. "It's their turn; let them enjoy their day."

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Both William Hill and Ladbrokes have already set odds on Leicester winning the title again next season: 25-1.

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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