The Foxes had no right winning the Premier League two years ago. And yet they did
You can blame it on Trump, Brexit and the deaths of a roll-call of modern icons from Prince to Muhammad Ali. But the general verdict was that 2016 marked a grim year for the human race.
Well, I disagree. In fact, 2016 was the greatest year of my life. I become a father for one thing (predictably momentous/lifeaffirming etc). Yet even more significantly, Leicester City won the English Premier League.
Leicester itself is a fairly glum city in the Midlands. Even its Latin motto seems purposebuilt to dampen expectations – “semper eadem” translates to “always the same”. Growing up in the city’s sleepy suburbs, I was compelled to follow the local team. My dad took me to my first game when I was nine and we stood in the rain to watch the Mighty Foxes scrape a 0-0 draw with Luton Town.
But somehow I was hooked. Over the years I followed Leicester each week as they yo-yoed between the divisions, scrapping their way between relegation dog-fights and the odd promotion push. I travelled with mates for away games at Peterborough and Brentford. I wept at Wembley after playoff final defeats (losing 4-3 to Swindon in ’93 still hurts).
During our spasmodic forays into the Premier League, my hopes were contained mainly for emotional self-preservation. At the start of that 2015-2016 season, all I wanted was to consolidate our top-flight position. After barely dodging relegation the previous year, I’d have settled for 17th place.
What happened instead was a fairy tale. Overnight Jamie Vardy, Leicester’s formerly wayward striker, was transformed into a jet-propelled goal-machine. Midfield hustler N’golo Kante won more tackles than any other player in the league. Twig-legged winger Riyad Mahrez – an unheralded £450,000 signing from the French second division – shimmered through defences to become the PFA Player of the year. Our backline of ageing journeymen was suddenly unbreakable. And Leicester won the league by 10 clear points.
To put this achievement into perspective, the odds for Kim
Kardashian becoming a future President of the United States were 2000-1. The bookies put Leicester’s chances of winning the league at 5000-1.
Not that I ever considered backing them. Each season I’ll wind up sticking $20 on Leicester as long shots to win the FA Cup (anything can happen in sudden-death competition). But the notion of winning the league existed in some lunatic realm way beyond rational thought.
Luckily, sport has zero respect for sanity - really, it’s a romantic at heart. Leicester’s crazy season taught me that you don’t always have to temper your expectations. Sometimes you just need to dream bigger.
Jamie Vardy stokes the Leicester faithful.