It’s Pigskin Preview time again (March issue), but many sporting eyes in this country are following an overseas league even more closely than usual. If Leicester City can go on to win the English Premier League this year, it will almost conclusively prove that anything is possible in sport.
For once the hyperbole is justified, because this is the sort of thing that just does not happen. Blackburn’s success in 1994-95 aside – and that triumph was before the EPL exploded in popularity and, therefore, the wealth which has since allowed the “big” clubs to flourish – the Premier League era has only ever seen four different champions, all of whom have always been or have become “big” clubs.
That Leicester is on the verge of toppling this is no mean feat because the EPL is just not designed to allow a small club to succeed with a budget and resources that are fractions of what the “big” clubs have at their disposal. Make no mistake, if Leicester can go on to win the league, it will be a game-changer for the game not only in England, but worldwide.
It is interesting to compare Leicester’s run to professional sport in that other great market, the USA, where pro sport is largely shaped by equalisation measures that seek to give all fans a genuine belief of their team winning in any given season: drafts, salary caps, governing body grants, etc. A look at the honour rolls of the various leagues over the past 30-odd years reveals a fair sprinkling of success across the country. For the EPL, the landscape is vastly different.
So where does Australia’s sporting environment sit on this spectrum? We have equalisation measures such as salary caps, club grants and, in the AFL’s case, a draft, but we also have a situation where the smaller and therefore poorer clubs have little prospect of succeeding save for something extraordinary. Is it a good thing? As our own leagues gear up for another bumper season, a large number of fans over here will be tuning into the EPL over the coming months to see if Leicester City can pull off something that is truly improbable. And, just maybe, give some hope to supporters of the Wests Tigers and Carltons of the world who dare to dream.