In December last season I went to a bloody cold King Power Stadium (this was my view) to see then defending Premier League Champions Manchester City play then bottom of the league and destined (we all thought) for relegation, Leicester City. It was a classic winter away game. The pub nearest to the train station was the Manchester City fan headquarters. Libations and singing ensued.
In the ground a couple of things struck me. A brilliant friendly atmosphere, and given the then parlous position of their team, an incredible noise from the Leicester fans. Manchester City won that day through a scuffed close range shot from Frank Lampard. It was a pretty close thing though and the only prescience I will claim as we left the stadium was thinking Leicester might have enough to escape the drop. But we haven’t beaten them since and now they are where we were. Which means that next time we see those fans they will be able to chant what we did that day; “We know who we are; Champions of England; We know who we are”.
I can’t think of a bigger upset in team sport. You could have got 5000 – 1 odds on it at the start of the season. When Japan beat South Africa in the Rugby World Cup, it was a one-off game. This is over 38 games in what pretty much everyone concedes is the most competitive league in the world (if not always the highest quality).
And the sub-plots are brilliant. A City known only in the UK for Crisps (chips) and unknown elsewhere. Top striker (Vardy) a lifetime lower league player now in the England team. Two stunning midfielders (Mahrez and Kante) both before toiling in the French League and now global superstars. A manager with an unfairly acquired reputation for being a ‘tinkering nearly-man’. The Thai owner of duty free and retail businesses unrecognised beyond Southeast Asia.
But mainly the cool thing is the fans. As a Manchester City supporter who put up with 40 years of winning nothing before our fortunes changed, I hope every Leicester City fan and especially the old ones savour every moment of it. I saw us beat the drop to the third tier at Wembley in 1999 and I saw us win the FA Cup in 2011 and I am hoping to go to Milan for the Champions League final (and I still can’t believe I get to use those words). And it’s true. It feels better because you have suffered.
We can’t ever feel that way about winning the league again. Well….maybe in 40 years we can, but not for a long while. So I am a little envious of the happy warm glow Leicester fans will bask in for the next few weeks. The involuntary smiles they will find themselves breaking into. The incessant poring over YouTube clips of key moments in the season, but mainly the clips of fellow fans emoting and basking in the pleasure of it all. It just does not get old.
So all hail the mighty Leicester City, but mostly all hail their fans.