MIS­SION IM­POS­SI­BLE

The Foxes had no right win­ning the Premier League two years ago. And yet they did

Men's Health (Australia) - - Inspiration - Le­ices­ter City FC Luke Bene­dic­tus is edi­tor of Men’s Health.

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.

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