The former Denver Bronco who bought a pub in England – and saw his world implode

Drive north out of London for a couple of hours, head east just past the city of Leicester, bump along some of England’s finest country roads as they wind between gloriously green fields, and you eventually reach the small village of Ashby Folville, population: 174.

At the centre of it sits The Carington Arms: “Probably the prettiest pub in Leicestershire,” according to its website.

Set in lusciously green open space next to the village cricket field and presenting a charming exterior combining whitewashed stone walls with glossy black beams, from a distance, this is a village pub perfectly positioned to take full advantage of the beautiful English countryside.

But up close, a sad and disturbing reality is revealed.

On the bright February morning when The Athletic visits, the front door is locked, the lights are off and the car park is deserted. There are no deliveries of food or drink being made and no staff to be seen.

One of the window panes by the entrance is smashed.

The Carington Arms is a pretty pub (Sarah Shephard/The Athletic)

The only signs of life are an open window upstairs and a blackboard near the door that reads: OPEN THURS – SUN, ALL DAY.

Only, it isn’t. The Carington Arms hasn’t been open since Christmas, when it was operating under a temporary event notice having been forced to close its doors at the end of October last year.

Instead of being the beating heart of a community, The Carington Arms is at the centre of a bitter legal dispute. On one side, the pub’s owner, the Ashby Folville Land Trust (AFLT), led by Alex Stroud, a descendent of the Smith-Carington family who once owned the whole village, which claims it is owed thousands in unpaid rent and now has a court order allowing it to repossess the pub and recover the money.

On the other, the landlord, Lorne Sam, a former American footballer who claims he has been discriminated against because “I’m different. And the difference is that I’m American and I’m Black”.

In the middle of it all is the pub, and the community for whom it plays a central role. From the cricket team to the skittles team and the Quorn fox hunt, The Carington Arms has been a place to meet, drink and be merry for as long as the locals can remember. But the dispute between Sam and the trust has seen them drift away.

When Sam was able to reopen the pub for three weeks over Christmas, the first week was slow but brought in enough money for him to pay some of the staff. The next week was a little bit quieter. “By the third week,” he says, “we had nobody, which was interesting. I don’t think it’s the people, but the way England’s rural life is set up. You have an organisation that controls everything and they’re (local people) terrified of them because they own everything. If your family rents a farm from them, you don’t want to p*ss them off and so they’re not going to risk their family’s livelihood.”

He reads out messages from villagers he had considered friends, who, when asked if they would write him a witness statement, said they would not put themselves “in a position of exclusion from the community”.

Instead, exclusion is exactly what Sam has experienced.

Now he wonders whether there is any way back.

To understand how it all came to this, we have to go back to October 10, 2022, when once aspiring Denver Broncos and then Green Bay Packers wide receiver Sam took a flight from Atlanta, Georgia, to London Gatwick Airport.

Accompanied by his friend — and chef — Charles, the pair collected their bags and headed for the train station, bound for the market town of Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire. From there, they took a taxi along those aforementioned country roads and arrived, tired but excited, outside The Carington Arms — the pub Sam, 39, had signed an agreement to run.

“I’d done my research on what a rural village was, so I knew there wasn’t diversity,” says Sam, who has come down from his living quarters above the pub, switched on the lights and unlocked the front door to allow us in.

“I wasn’t so much concerned with it because I understand that people are people. And it doesn’t matter if you’re white, Black, Asian, whoever; if you haven’t been exposed to a group of people, you’re going to have your pre-determined idea of what they are.

Sam at the bar of his empty pub (Sarah Shephard/The Athletic)

“In my opinion, it’s each one of our responsibilities to present something different and give a person a real interaction to start basing their opinions off.”

We sit at one of the tables by the bar, from where a quick glance around reveals a once warm and welcoming place that is desperately in need of some love. Small piles of dirt have been swept up and left dotted around the floor and the glasses hanging above the bar are caked in dust. That pane of glass in one of the large windows looking out to the beautiful surrounds was broken mistakenly, says Sam, by a member of staff opening a window with too much force.

Sam’s dispute is with the trust (AFLT) which owns most of the village – including the pub — and in particular with one of the trust’s controllers, Stroud, a property consultant who lives in a large farmhouse next to the pub with his wife, Lucy, and their children.

Sam has spent the past few months preparing for a court hearing, challenging the eviction order and money judgment of around £25,000 the trust secured against him. With no funds incoming from the pub, he has been compiling and submitting the evidence himself, without any legal support.

When the hearing took place on Wednesday, April 24, Sam’s application was unsuccessful, meaning that, technically, he could now be evicted from The Carington Arms. AFLT told The Athletic it will now proceed to recover possession of the pub and consider its options in relation to enforcement of the money judgment. Sam plans to appeal.

Sam claims he has been treated differently from previous landlords of the pub – a conclusion he reached after months of being told he owed rent to cover shortfalls left by the husband and wife team from whom he bought the business, when he contends they were never chased for the rent arrears. There has also been a threat of eviction from his home above the pub due to unpaid rent.

The reason for that, he feels, is because he is American, because he is different.

The trust, however, says it didn’t know the previous owners had been underpaying the rent, as that was handled by agents who hadn’t made it aware, and there was a change in trusteeship going through at the time which complicated matters.

When The Athletic approached Stroud for comment on Sam’s allegations that he has been treated differently based on his nationality and race, his solicitor responded, labelling it — and other allegations made by Sam, including that Stroud deliberately destroyed the business in the hope it will lead to Sam’s departure — “entirely false”.

They added that after Sam took over the tenant company that occupied the pub, the AFLT worked with him “for approximately eight months to reduce the rent arrears owed by his company… The tenant company then decided to stop paying the rent, as well as the agreed monthly contribution to the arrears, leaving the trust with no choice but to commence the current action”.

“That’s absurd,” says Sam, in response to the solicitor’s claim. He accepts he has not been paying the rent since last July, but says there was an agreement in principle back then for the lease to be signed over to a new company (set up by Sam) and that there was a payment arrangement built into that agreement. Before that agreement, he says he had paid out £18,750 in rent in 2023 for the six months up to July. In the two years before that (2021 and 2022), the previous tenants had paid a yearly total of £16,000 in rent.

Sam also says that while the dispute has been ongoing, he has offered to pay six months’ rent in return for being able to reopen the pub, but that an agreement was never reached.

Rumour and counter-rumour ran rife in a village as small as Ashby Folville, where the pub is joined only by the church (a Grade I-listed building dating to 1220), cricket club and village hall as places of note.

Since his arrival, Sam has greased the wheels of that rumour mill no end. There have been whispers about him being a drug dealer, being in the country illegally and making threats.

When such gossip got back around to him, Sam was shocked.

“There are hate groups in every country,” he says. “People in this community are still terrified of stereotypes. And I don’t blame them because I understand if you don’t leave your community, you don’t know any better.”

Towards the end of October 2023, the pub was forced to close after Catherine Kersey, the designated premises supervisor (DPS) — someone who has day-to-day responsibility for the running of the business and is responsible for authorising the alcohol sales — resigned.

To appoint a replacement, who Sam proposed would be his pub manager, James Sheraton, Sam needed Stroud and the AFLT to apply for the process, but by that point court proceedings were underway, so the trust says it could not help without prejudicing its attempts to forfeit the lease.

Without a DPS in place, The Carington Arms was unable to sell alcohol legally and Sam was left with no option other than to close the doors.

Sam’s next move was to post a message on The Carington Arms’ Facebook page in November explaining why he had been forced to close. He included screenshots of email exchanges between himself, Stroud, various other members of the AFLT and the estate agent from the land-management company.

It is one of those emails, sent by Sam to Stroud in August, that he believes was a catalyst for everything that followed.

In it, Sam outlined the ways he had been treated differently from the previous directors of the business, including having paid the AFLT “almost three times as much in my first six months as (previous owner) Catherine Kersey had paid over her last six months. This however has not stopped the repeated mentioning the threat (sic) of losing the lease, constantly letting me know trustees are not happy, and ultimately causing me to constantly operate under the fear of potentially losing my very business. I have allowed this treatment up until this point but I am done.

“It is absolutely clear the company has been treated differently since my taking over, so I have listed the only things that have changed. The first difference is that I am American, and the second is that I am Black.”

Lorne Sam poses for his Denver Broncos headshot in 2008 (Getty Images)

Stroud’s response was unequivocal denial. “Any suggestions of you being treated differently is incredulous beyond words,” he wrote. “Any suggestions of you being treated differently because of the colour of your skin or nationality is deeply offensive, massively upsetting and ludicrous. We have friends of all different races and from all over the world.”

The following month (November 2023), the case was first heard in court, when a pathway to trial was set.

Sam’s journey from top-flight American football player to landlord of an English village pub can be traced to 2009, when his NFL dream turned sour.

“I was still young. I was a year and a half in (to his NFL career, having previously played American football at university level in Texas), trying to fight for roster spots. I’d already had three foot surgeries, one ankle surgery, torn intercostal muscles in my ribs, stress fracture in my vertebra and two third-degree shoulder separations. All by my early twenties.

“Then add the damage to my body to the concussions I’d had — there were times in university when I don’t even remember most of the game, but I would have phenomenal stats. So yes, it’s fun, yes, you get to be in the spotlight, but then you see these guys with massive emotional issues taking their own lives later on, being in abusive relationships; they lose everything that they are.

“So I decided to walk away. Which was difficult because I didn’t make the money I was hoping to make.”

A friend was playing American football for a team in Austria and told Sam about a website where you could upload your CV for teams in Europe to potentially sign you. Best of all, the friend said it wasn’t hard on the body. Sam listed himself as available and within hours had multiple offers. He started in Italy before moving to England in 2010 to play for the Coventry Jets in the British American Football Association National Leagues (BAFANL).

It was there he connected with Guy Kersey, a businessman who was chairman of another BAFANL team, the Leicester Falcons. The pair stayed in touch after Sam returned to the U.S., where he was forging a new career in hospitality and consulting, working as a sales rep for wholesale restaurant food distributor Sysco. When Kersey got in touch to ask Sam if he could help find him some kitchen staff for pubs he owned in the UK, it was the start of a conversation that eventually led to Kersey asking if Sam would be interested in buying them instead.

He initially offered Sam two pubs in the Midlands area, the Dew Drop and The Queen’s Head. But he also owned another in the region, The Carington Arms.

“I knew something was off because why are you keeping one pub and getting rid of the others? Well, it was because this was their honey hole. This was the one that made all the money. So I told him, ‘The deal is, I’ll take those two if I get this one’.”

Now Sam says he’s “lost essentially everything, on paper”, estimating the figure at around £110,000 ($138,700). He’s had to sell the company van to cover costs and when we met he was on the verge of selling one of three commercial ovens in the pub’s kitchen.

“They’ve completely destroyed the business,” he says of Stroud and the AFLT. “Now it doesn’t matter if I stay or not, I have nothing to stay for. So they destroy the pub’s reputation, they destroy my name, the village flees away from me. It makes it so emotionally difficult to be here.

“But I’m bred a little bit different. Somebody has to do it, because that type of behaviour is just… for lack of better words it’s unacceptable. It’s inhumane.”

A few days before our meeting, Sam has a conversation with his older sister, who lives in his hometown of Atlanta, during which she pleads with him, “Just, please, be safe.”

“I’ve had threats,” he explains. As an incomer in dispute with his landlord, sections of the local community have taken against him: “There was a KKK meme that was going around about me, being spread through people’s Snapchat. I’ve been called n***** through messages and the person thought it was funny.

“I grew up in the (American) south, where the KKK isn’t anything to joke about. So when a KKK meme goes around, it makes you wonder.”

Sam notified Leicestershire Police about the messages and had the screenshots, but he was told there was not enough evidence for them to pursue a charge of malicious communication. When contacted by The Athletic, a Leicestershire Police spokesperson said: “Police received a report of harassment in November 2023 in relation to alleged racist comments made. Following a number of inquiries, which include numerous attempts to speak to the complainant, we have been unable to progress the complaint and it will be held on record should further evidence come to light.”

More than 20 years and 4,000 miles separate Sam from his school days in Georgia, but those messages have the power to erase those divides. They take him back to the day he went outside during the lunch break to find someone had spray-painted the word “n*****” across the side of his middle school building.

“I’ve grown up experiencing race issues, but this is by far the worst because it was so covert.”

Before the fallout with Stroud, Sam felt he had become part of the community and forged relationships that have since been broken.

Members of the Quorn Hunt (one of the oldest fox hunts operating anywhere in England) would head to the pub after meets. The local Young Farmers Club were visitors two or three times a week. Sam sponsored them and on the day we meet, he is wearing a jumper they had made for him, bearing his name and an embroidered image of the pub on the front.

When he first took over the pub, Sam was approached by members of the community who had limited (or even no) experience of meeting Black people and was more than happy to answer their questions: “What am I allowed to say? What terms are derogatory?”. One member of the Young Farmers Club told him it was normal to hear the N-word used among his family.

“It was nice watching these different things take place, and being invited to go hang out with them and have drinks in Melton (Mowbray) or having them make me a jumper. Watching a community evolve was special,” he says.

“There are going to be rough patches. There are going to be misspoken words. There’s going to be some offence found in something. But you have to really examine people’s hearts, where they’re coming from and why they said it.”

It was the locals who told Sam that, during the Second World War, the United States’ armed forces had a base in the grounds of Ashby Folville Manor. At that time, such camps were segregated.

“I guarantee you those Black military men never would have thought a Black guy would have one of these pubs years down the road. You have to smile at how things happen by accident and what it can do to benefit the community.”

Sam is preparing for his legal case to be heard (Sarah Shephard/The Athletic)

On the day we visit, not many within that community want to talk. Some say they never frequented the pub much anyway, others that it’s a matter for “him and the owner” to sort out among themselves. “Most people just want to walk away from the situation now,” says one woman at a pub in Gaddesby, a village just down the road, where many former Carington Arms drinkers have now become regulars.

In Twyford, a five-minute drive in the opposite direction, a member of staff in the village pub is more vocal. He asks not to be named but says that on the whole, people in Twyford, Ashby Folville and Gaddesby are “with Alex, not with Lorne”.


“Lorne has done it the wrong way. He should have talked to Alex a bit more thoroughly on all this, not putting it all on social media and showing to the world that he’s meant to be a bad person, which he’s not.

“It’s not a good thing to kind of put on someone that they’re… I wouldn’t say a racist but that they treat… even though he weren’t being discriminated.”

Asked whether he feels there is any way back for Sam at The Carington Arms, the man looks doubtful.

“I think that it’s been burnt bridges now, sadly.”

Sam says it is not in his nature to walk away, though: “My parents didn’t raise me that way.

“Do I love the people out here? Absolutely. Do I think all the people out here are racist? Absolutely not. I’ve met some phenomenal people, and that’s been twisted to make it look like I think all rural people are racist. But I don’t have time or effort to stroke egos to get them to come back to me when they jumped ship so fast. I don’t blame them, but I also don’t want someone 10 years down the road to have to still go through this.

“If one time a community could see someone like me succeed, it empowers the women, it empowers the minorities, it empowers the lowest-level worker. And that for me is enough.

“Even if I don’t win the whole thing, even if I lose the lease but I win on the aspect of exposing behaviour, for me that gives enough. Then eventually, somewhere down the road, this no longer is a rough spot for someone to pass. This just turns into another beautiful place in England where anybody is welcome. Because you sit out here and it’s hard to find anything as beautiful countryside like this. But there are no minorities (in the area). They just don’t belong. And it shouldn’t be that way. We’re all the same. We bleed the same. We breathe the same. We just look a little different. So that is why.”

Our conversation over, we head back out into the winter sunshine, just as the village postman pulls up in his red Royal Mail van.

“Is it open?” he asks hopefully, peering inside as he pops some envelopes through the crack in the door.

The wait goes on.

(Top photo: Getty Images; design: Dan Goldfarb)