- Associated Press - Saturday, April 16, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - Arlo White still has the program from the first match he went to at Filbert Street, when he was 5 and his father took him to Leicester’s 1-1 draw against Stoke in an April 1979 second-division match.

White ran onto the field and ripped up some turf - which he still has - when Foxes defeated Tottenham in the final game at the stadium in May 2002. And he was at the new grounds, The Walkers Stadium, for its first official match, a victory over Watford that August.

Now he and the rest of Leicester’s supporters are in a state of disbelief as the club closes in on the first top-division championship in its 132-year history. Leicester leads second-place Spurs by seven points with five games remaining in the English Premier League season. And, as NBC’s lead soccer announcer, he is set to broadcast his hometown team winning the title.

All this for a club that was in last place in April 2015, in danger of relegation before a 7-1-1 finish secured survival.

“I’ve been trying to think of, find different ways to explain it, and I’m running out. It’s absolutely extraordinary,” he said at lunch in Manhattan restaurant during an April week of fill-in studio duty at NBC’s studio in Stamford, Connecticut.

The 43-year-old was born in Leicester, close enough to walk to the stadium, even though he mostly took a short bus ride. His father, Mel, worked for Hemmings and Capey Ltd., which printed match-day programs for Leicester, Manchester United, Everton, Aston Villa, Leeds, Glasgow Rangers and others.

He lived in Derby as an adult, a 30-mile trip, before moving about a month ago to Barrow-upon-Trent, which is a short drive and a 16-minute train ride from Leicester. This Sunday’s game against West Ham will be his fourth Leicester broadcast for NBC this season, his third at the renamed King Power Stadium.

“The gantry after Leicester score goals shakes, reverberates,” he said, referring to the area where broadcasters are perched. “You actually bounce up and down with the fans. And the first time I experienced that, I was worried for my safety. I was thinking have they done a health and safety check on this thing? Is it about to come crashing down?”

White took an unusual path to NBC. He joined BBC Radio 5 Live in 2001 but left in 2010 to become the play-by-play announcer for Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders. He had broadcast five Super Bowls for the BBC and had gotten to know Brian O’Connell, a broadcasting executive for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the Sounders, who told him the team was looking for a replacement for Kevin Calabro, who announced games during the Sounders’ expansion season. White already was an Americanphile, dating from a 1986 visit with his great aunt in Chicago, Kathleen Grady.

“My colleagues at the BBC, they always wanted to slap me around the face, pin me down and say what on earth are you doing?” White said. “I’d worked so hard for 10 years to get into the position that I was in, which was national radio, hosting shows, the biggest shows on national sports radio in the UK, and then to suddenly disappear off to the Seattle Sounders in Major League Soccer seemed like a folly.”

He made frequent trips home during his first season, then his wife Lizi and twin daughters Eva and Amelie (who turn 9 in May) moved to Seattle for the second. When NBC won rights to broadcast MLS games starting in 2012, MLS Commissioner Don Garber called NBC Sports president of programming Jon Miller and recommended he hire White.

“They were new to the sport, and we knew from the start that in order for them to kick off their MLS relationship effectively, they needed to have great on-air talent,” Garber said. “Arlo was doing a terrific job in Seattle, and that was reflected by really strong local ratings.”

White and his family moved to Westport, Connecticut. He also called the games of the U.S. women’s team as it won the gold medal at that year’s London Olympics, and then NBC surprisingly outbid Fox for U.S. rights to the Premier League starting in August 2013. NBC moved him back to England and made him his lead commentator.

Two seasons ago, Leicester was in the second-tier League Championship. In the team’s first season after promotion, White broadcast just one of its matches, against Swansea in October 2014. The club never finished higher than second in the top flight, and that was in 1929. Its top honors were League Cup titles in 1964, 1997 and 2000.

White promises not to root on the air.

“Objectivity and being fair to both sides, regardless of who’s playing, is very important to me,” he said.

Few big-time soccer announcers have had to deal with such as issue. Martin Tyler, Sky Sports’ lead announcer for more than two decades, is a life-long supporter of Woking, which plays in the fifth-tier National League.

“There seems to be a presumption that everybody has to support a Premier league team,” he said. “There are millions of football fans in this country who don’t, and I am one of them.”

Jon Champion, who calls games for Premier League Productions, ESPN and England’s Absolute Radio, also supported his hometown team, York City, which is now in fourth-tier League 2. Like White, he was trained at the BBC.

“We are frequently accused of being biased - usually by fans of both teams in the same match who only hear things from their point of view,” he said. “If that’s the case, we have probably achieved neutrality!”

When White gets home, he has a chance to express his passion, for Leicester and for his adopted team, Seattle. He wears a Sounders jersey when he watches their games on Sky.

“If I watch as a fan or sitting on the sofa,” he said, “that’s when it’s difficult.”

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