Leicester are top of the league. This isn’t supposed to happen. The plucky team of cobbled together players taking the top flight by storm is a tale from another age, before money bloated the game beyond sense and fair play. It’s Clough. It’s Forest. Instead of John Robertson and Trevor Francis we’ve got Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy. Instead of the brash, brilliant Brian Clough, we’ve Claudio Ranieri, twinkling in a way that he hasn’t since before his sacking at Chelsea over a decade ago.
Yes, Leicester needed their Thai investors to afford to get to the top flight. But how many clubs have spectacularly imploded following their costly attempts at promotion? How many ended up broken shadows of their former selves attempting to crack the top four? How many players have been added to squads for millions without any recognisable improvement?
Essentially Leicester’s remarkable season demonstrates that, even as the game distorts beyond reason, as ticket prices rise and metrics rule, there’s an unchanging and overlooked element of the game upon which all of it rests.
A coach or manager takes a squad of players; recognises, encourages and maximises talent, brings in those who will add to the squad and lets those leave who don’t. Something emerges, built on cast iron trust and confidence between coach and players, and between the players themselves. It can’t be bought, it’s something special that happens as a result of both hard work and serendipity. It’s the team, and the team spirit.
One of the reasons football is so addictive is the stories it contains, the narratives of conflict and struggle and success and failure. Forget Netflix, forget Lightbox, there are more fascinating stories during a season of football than a whole season of HBO. You’ve just got to keep watching.
We all take part and we all observe the stories, players and supporters alike. Everyone hopes that one day they might roar up the league, finally win that trophy or, sometimes, just stop losing so often. It’s the belief that as long as you’re partaking in the game, no matter how dire it looks, you’re in with a chance of something special happening. Just keep believing.
And when that something special happens to another club, like Leicester, we can all enjoy the journey. The shattering of the established order, the sheer thrill of sticking it to the ‘big clubs’ and the reaffirming of our beliefs that this can happen. So we watch, we cheer, we hope and we dare to believe. Not just for Leicester, but for our own clubs too. Because maybe, next year, that’ll be us.
Categories: English/UK Football
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.