A SEASON IN THE SUN

LeicesterBear with me; it’s just a passing phase, honest. The truth is, however, that I can’t help but admit the fact that Leicester City are Premier League champions just makes me feel happy. I don’t support the club, but like many armchair viewers they’ve become my favourite other team over the past nine months, and I suspect, bar a few unfortunate fans in a certain corner of North London, this sensation isn’t unique. Ever since the Premier League replaced the old Football League Division One in 1992/93, the pattern has been depressingly predictable, with big money talking loud for 24 years. Even when a team successfully challenged the dominance of Manchester United, it only ever did so by breaking the bank.

Blackburn Rovers’ victory in 1995 was remarkable for a club that had languished in the lower leagues for decades, but they had been bankrolled by then-owner, millionaire businessman Jack Walker; Chelsea didn’t become the power they are today until they received the seemingly limitless cash injection of a Russian Oligarch; and Manchester City, another illustrious old name that had endured several falls on hard times were similarly raised to the pinnacle by overseas lucre. A crucial point worth bearing in mind is that all three had enjoyed success in the past – the very distant past in the case of Blackburn Rovers, but there was a previous record of league triumphs, nevertheless.

What makes Leicester’s triumph so remarkable is that they’ve always been that curious breed of football club, ‘the cup team’, the kind of club whose only chance of silverware has traditionally rested on the erratic pattern of the cup competition rather than the season-long slog of the league. That they famously appeared in four FA Cup Finals and lost on every occasion is one of those unenviable records that a trio of League Cup wins probably hasn’t compensated for; but such a history is typical of a club that has often seemed to be there to make up the numbers. Whenever they’ve scooped a league title, it’s been in terms of promotion from one division to another; the thought that they might one day get their hands on the one trophy prized above all others in English football was pure pie-in-the sky stuff.

Unlike its Scottish equivalent, English football has tended to spread its winning names wider, with some clubs dining at the head of the table in one specific era, such as Huddersfield Town, Portsmouth, Wolves, Burnley, Leeds Utd, Derby County and Nottingham Forest, and others proving to be perennial giants such as Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester Utd. Leicester City have never belonged to either category and the signs at the start of this season gave no indication that this situation would ever change. Last season, it took a late rally to rescue a team that had been dead certs for relegation, and a mid-table place was the best they could hope for as 2015/16 kicked off with all eyes on the usual big guns.

Something strange was clearly happening after just a few weeks, however. Defending champions Chelsea, ravaged by internal politics between players and management, made their worst start to a season in living memory; Manchester United still hadn’t recovered from the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and struggled again; Manchester City and Arsenal flattered to deceive, playing football worthy of a league title one week and then the following week not even good enough to put their names to a league title awarded to pot-bellied bruisers on a Sunday morning. Moreover, all were distracted by European adventures. The regular promising starts made at the start of the season, the kind that generally run out of steam around Christmas, were made by unlikely contenders such as Crystal Palace, West Ham, Spurs and Leicester, but everyone expected business as usual come the New Year. Rather wonderfully, this never happened.

Tottenham Hotspur, having settled for cup triumphs over the long decades since the immortal double side of 1961, stepped out of their North London neighbours’ shadow and emerged with a team that looked like it could genuinely challenge for the title. As the season reached its final furlong, neither Spurs nor Leicester gave the impression they were poised to slacken and give way to the usual suspects and, to the joy of every neutral, this proved to be the case. Both teams have played some beautiful football and have displayed the consistency that none of the routine contenders have been able to match; but the thought that Leicester could actually be crowned champions still seemed too unreal to be true, despite their remarkable form saying otherwise.

And yet, here we are, it’s official. A club without past championship credentials, assembling a team from the lower leagues both home and abroad, managed by a man whose popularity wasn’t enough to spare him the brutal chop at Stamford Bridge more than a decade ago, have gone and bloody done it. I know from experience that one league title win does not make a European super-power, but I doubt many in Leicester would care today. What matters is that one David took on all the pampered Goliaths and whipped their arses; and Leicester has more than Showaddywaddy, Mark Morrison, Kasabian and Richard III to shout about. About time too.

© The Editor

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9 thoughts on “A SEASON IN THE SUN

  1. Although having no interest whatsoever in football (I once wasted two precious hours of my life at a league football match in the 1960s, never again), I too applaud the fact that the no-hopers have for once stuffed the over-funded, bullshitting prima-donnas in the big cities.
    It seems they’ve also stuffed the bookies for once, even Ladbrokes have ruled that they will never again offer football odds greater than 1000 to 1, but they’ll win it all back next year, that’s the way the business model works.
    I hope they all enjoy their moment in the sun – it’s proof positive that a small and remote but determined outfit can thrive and prosper away from the big-boys’ cartel: a good message for the Brexit referendum.
    I’m having a quid on Del-Boy Trotter for the Formula 1 World Champion next year…….

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  2. I can only completely agree. I make one extra comment. Raneiri, the Tinker man, and know the Thinker man, has not only behaved with great charm and diplomacy – although there must be steel within everyone’s favourite Italian uncle? But he has spent a managerial career as the nearly man, the coming second guy. At the end of his career he gets the appointment of an unfashionable, “provincial” team. And he finally wins. And with grace. It is The Shawshank Redemption of football, the impossible, and the example that tells us that however hard, however difficult – you know what? The future may not be like the past, and we may come home, and step ashore safely, at last. Raneiri said in an interview today that it was maybe better that he won at last towards the end of his career, not at the start. I hope for the same…

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  3. I’ve really enjoyed the battle for the league this year! In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever watched as much football in my life – and all down to a team whose appearance in that pack of Panini stickers as a child was a seemingly-constant annoyance: ever-present, neither going up nor going down, not even with a decent kit: “Anyone need a Leicester player?” “NOOOOOO!!!!”

    As Gildas says, Ranieri seems like a decent sort of bloke – an old-school gent, but not averse to dropping a ‘star’ player from the starting line-up if it suits the team’s purpose. Come to think of it, the whole team looks like a bit of a throwback – back to the time when footballers had reassuringly crap haircuts & any tattoo would be of an anchor decorated with the word ‘Mam’.

    (I’m obviously getting old and grumpy, but the sight of a multi-millionaire waiting in the box for a corner to come over – a cross which may help send his team into the final – but who still has time to form his bloody hair into a little crest at 30-second intervals is really starting to bother me! It can’t be long before the first-aiders run on to the pitch with a mirror… bring back the low-maintenance mullet NOW!)

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    1. The fact that only 23 players were used for the entire league campaign also seems a throwback to a time when fans could name an entire 1-11 line-up rather than the ‘rotating squad’ system, where you never know who’ll be playing from one week to the next.

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  4. I think it is rather fitting that it will be Everton who will hold the guard of honour for today’s match. Everton, one of the original founder members, one of the Sky twelve, now languishing in the pit of despond.
    For years under Kenwright’s ‘stewardship’ of not putting a single penny of his own money into the club he watched as a kid; who has three ground move failures under his belt, who bans fans from taking banners into the ground, who provides no club email address on the club website, under the dour Moyes and despairing Martinez have entirely themselves become as obsolete as the pound note.
    Whilst Leicester, with an experienced and valued human being at the helm have left them standing. Everton’s inappropriateness contrasts sharply with Leicester’s verve. I know who I would prefer to be.

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    1. It must be despairing for Evertonians to be stuck with ownership and management seemingly content to settle for mid-table mediocrity, but at least Everton can boast PREMIER League mid-table mediocrity, unlike Leeds Utd, who appear to regard Championship mid-table mediocrity as success…

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