Bear 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