When the Foxes Broke Free: Leicester City Win the Title!
When I finally found my voice as a writer some five to six years ago, I started a running gag in my columns of acting like I didn’t know how to start my columns. Why would I do this you ask? Some of the times it was legit because I had no idea how to begin a column and thus felt it was better to be self aware and mock myself for it (if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re hopeless). Mostly though it was indeed just a way to draw people in; what better way to welcome the reader in than by acting like you have just as much an idea on how to sum things up as they do? This brings us to the ultimate irony of today’s column; I have no idea how to begin this. And how can I? What does one say to begin a discussion about the greatest sports story ever told? How can I possibly begin to describe to you the epic that is the 2015-16 English Premier League Champions Leicester City?
You may be sitting there rolling your eyes about that because there are so many talking points regarding the Cinderella of English football. There were the 5000-1 odds Leicester could pull off the impossible dream of taking the EPL’s top prize, something they had never done in their 132 year history. There was the massive gulf in money between Leicester and the clubs they bested like Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. There was Jamie Vardy, the clubs’ reckless youth and top goal scorer; Riyad Mahrez, their wizard and overall best player; Claudio Ranieri, Deadspin’s new favorite person ever and the former Chelsea skipper who led Leicester to the promise land by largely abandoning his “tinker man” philosophy in favor of pizza parties and going with the flow. There was all of that and more; I know this because the story has been inescapable if you’re a football fan and because I myself wrote about it a few months ago when the thought of Leicester winning the title was still more dream than reality. How hard could it be to grasp on to those talking points? Maybe it’s because they have been, and will be, all covered by everyone else and who really wants to be the same? Or maybe it’s because I find myself thinking that the most remarkable thing about this Leicester City miracle is that no statistic, no odd, no nothing that captures how out of nowhere this victory was. The best way to sum it up is to say that Leicester’s title win made history for the sheer fact that the club prior to this had no history.
When I wrote my first column on Leicester a few months ago I was fascinated by what I found about the club’s 132 year trek through English football. That’s to say I couldn’t believe they had been so irrelevant; prior to this year Leicester had spent the bulk of their near century and a half doing very little outside of winning second tier titles and losing FA Cups. Their closest chance to a top flight title before this year was nearly ninety years ago. Their most famous star was…hell I don’t even know. Their most beloved manager was likely Nigel Pearson, the man who Ranieri replaced prior to this year. Unless you were a diehard supporter of the Foxes, you most likely never knew. I didn’t before that column; in fact I only had two notable memories of Leicester doing anything prior to this season. The first was from 2012, when former Leicester midfielder Anthony Knockaert blew a penalty shot against Watford and then watched hopelessly as Troy Deeney scored at the other end seconds later to kill the Foxes hopes of promotion. The second was of an infamous video from last summer that featured three former Foxes (Tom Hopper, Adam Smith and Pearson’s son James) engaging in what has to be the most racist orgy to ever be filmed in Thailand, something that cost all three their spots on the club and Pearson his job. Needless to say when you’re two big moments in recent memory (or perhaps any memory) is a blown game in the final minutes or a sex tape gone wrong, the chances are you probably don’t matter much in the grand scheme of your sport.
And honestly, that’s the truth; Leicester City before this season didn’t matter unless you were from Leicester, wanted to crack a joke about the sex tape or felt extremely bad for Knockaert (a really good player who didn’t deserve what happened to him that day). They were as anonymous an English football club as they came, the EPL’s version of Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. They didn’t have the legendary prestige of Manchester United, the renewed valor of a former giant regaining its form like Manchester City or even the laughable never ending string of misfortune that my favorite club Queens Park Rangers has endured. They didn’t have anything; which is why their campaign from irrelevance to the top of English football’s food chain is just so remarkable. Sports, as much as we overvalue it, is the rare arena where destiny can be molded into any shape you want. A perpetual loser can change their stars and become something more. A man or woman can become immortal with one action. And an unknown can rise up from out of nowhere and become something more than they ever dreamed of.
In the end, that’s the takeaway from all of this, at least for me. Sure there’s hundreds of other angles to cover; can Leicester do this again next year, how will they fare in the Champions League, does this open the window for other small budget clubs to make their own title runs off nothing more than hard work, guts, glory and maybe a bounce or two? I’d like to say Leicester will prove the doubters wrong over again and I’d love, repeat love, for their victory to be the beginning of some fresh blood moving to the top of the table in years to come (QPR, I’m looking at you. This could be you if you get yourself together). But in the end it doesn’t matter if Leicester never goes further than this; the only thing that matters is that it happened. Thirty years from now this entire team will be able to tell their grandchildren that for one season they were the best in English football. So will their fans; so will all the neutral fans such as myself who were fortunate enough to watch this rise. People will tell stories of Vardy’s breathtaking speed, Mahrez’ otherworld ability, Ranieri’s brilliance; the list goes on and on. I can tell you right now I’ll probably tear up at the thought of Andy King, the Foxes midfielder who has now played over ten years for the club, the only current Leicester player to have been with the club when they were relegated to the third tier League One several years ago. I can’t imagine how many times he likely had the opportunity to go elsewhere. Instead he stayed and helped make history.
More importantly he helped erase history. I never thought I’d see the day where Manchester City’s unbelievable last minute victory to on the final day to secure their first title in 44 years would be topped. But the fact is that 44 years of torturous history being washed away can never compare to a 132 of non history getting the same treatment. From now on no one from Leicester to the end of the world will remember what came before this year; hell some may not remember what eventually comes after. In the end we’ll all remember this magical 2015-16 campaign, when Foxes broke free and ran off as champions.