By Rod de Lisle
In motor racing terms the Leicester Premiership win would be like a Ford Mondeo winning the Monaco Grand Prix. Of course company reps car wouldn’t make the starting line, but if they did, there might be the odd 5000/1 punt made, based only on the likelihood of the rest of the field crashing into each other on the first corner and allowing the el cheapo to slip past. And that wouldn’t happen, would it?
Nope not even dream-able. But somehow in the most difficult league in the world that’s exactly what DID happen and it found me at the King Power, after an 8,000 mile sprint round the globe to get here for the last home game and glorious trophy presentation.
Waking through Leicester before the Everton game was a cacophony of blue happiness. There were lots of King Power branded shirts, painted faces, banners and hurriedly printed Premiership celebration flags. It rained during our stroll from the Parcel Yard pub to the KP stadium but it didn’t dampen spirits in the noisy throng. The only small dampener was that programmes had sold out and we couldn’t obtain one, for love or money.
I’d met up with a few Leicester mates, including Leicester author and birthday boy Tim Burke (what a day to have a birthday!) along with the extremely generous Lynn Kenway who had sourced an impossible-to-source ticket in the posh seats for a mere £50. Lynn had won £10k betting on City so didn’t need to add a mark up to the ticket. People were paying up to £2000 on the black market in their desperation to see this game. Why then, I wondered, were 5 seats near me empty for the whole game? Were there 5 fans who over-imbibed before the match or had they suffered a calamitous breakdown on the motorway en route? Who knows, but those seats could and should have been filled.
The tone of the occasion was set by Andrea Bocelli belting out Nessum Dorma to the crowd, the team and most pertinently to his old mucker Claudio Ranieri who was clearly emotional as the crowd chanted his name. The fans have been a 12th player for Leicester this season. We received ‘clappers’ to clap with and either a blue or white flag on our seats to wave – we were clearly expected to work for our living. But wait, that’s not all. We all received a pack with commemorative “Salt and Victory Walkers crisps” (victory never tasted this good!), beer and pizza vouchers and other knick-knacks. I nearly looked under my seat to see if there might be a key to a new car too.
A beautiful moment was the guard of honour provided by the Everton team who probably were wondering ‘Leicester? What th’? Why is this not us?’
The game itself was mainly a preamble to the Premiership trophy ceremony and the Leicester team may have been forgiven if they had put in a party hangover performance. But no, they looked as sharp as they have been all season and Jamie Vardy (who else?) knocked in a goal very early on. Andy King, celebrating winning 1st Division, Championship and Premiership winners medals with the same club, hit a 2nd goal. In the second half Vardy slotted in a penalty for his 24th league goal of the season, then missed a chance to set a new City record by blasting another penalty clear over the bar. Everton, who were clearly second rate all day, grabbed a consolation to give a final score of 3-1 but in truth it could have been 6-0.
Cue wild celebrations. The Barclay minions hurriedly assembled Lego-like hoardings, banners, dais, and people scurried furiously setting up the pyrotechnic show.
Then the back-room staff, players, manager and owners took their accolades, medals and finally the big shiny Premiership trophy to the roar of the adoring masses. The Leicester fans love Ranieri, they love the Thai club owners and they love the players. The local pedestal company had run out of stock months ago as the locals had elevated the club personnel with each passing game.
Flares flared, streamers (and eyes) streamed, the noise was incredible and the flags and scarves were held aloft. Extraordinary scenes on an extraordinary day. I felt truly privileged to have been there. We finally left the ground an hour or so later. Wellingtonian and Leicester stalwart Bernie Muollo and I walked to a pub. I was interviewed by a NZ radio host en route, it’s actually quite hard being interviewed while panting up a steep road with sound of countless car horns parping their Leicester support in the background so I probably sounded like a babbling idiot.
We eventually ended up in exclusive Stoneygate at a party held by friends of Bernie’s, the very generous Henry and Karen Doyle. A small but perfectly formed gathering: we met ex-Leicester chairman Martin George, a bloke called John who is Gary Lineker’s agent and Dave the ex-singer with Shawaddywaddy. Bizarre. It was that kind of day.
Getting back to the motor racing analogy. Leicester are cheaply assembled but not really an el basic Ford. They have won the league with speed, precision and their famous “Fearless” branded style. They have applied a swift rapier to the old guard of the premiership and clambered into their corpses to wave a victory finger at the football establishment. It will become a textbook study when famous underdog achievements are examined by students and inspirational quotes are required for those boring inspirational Facebook posts
Will another minnow ‘do a Leicester’ anytime soon? I reckon they could. Remember when they said a sub-4 minute mile couldn’t be achieved, and it would dangerous to even try, but for a thousand years people DID try and failed. That is until on May 6 1954 Roger Bannister decided ‘sod this’ and set a time of 3.59.4. Once broken, a sub four minute mile became so commonplace that even high school athletes routinely do it.
So who knows? I’m not suggesting that Grimsby Town will win the Premiership anytime soon but Southampton might. Or West Ham. Or even Liverpool.
[Rod de Lisle is the Hamilton Wanderers first team manager (in the UK that means coach, here it means dog’s body) and a Leicester City former tragic who has earned the right to gloat on here as many times as he likes!]
Categories: English/UK Football
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.