Wednesday, 4 May 2016

You beautiful blue bastards

Leicester City are the Premier League Champions. Who’d have thought you could type that outside of some cruel joke. But it’s true. And it’s absolutely crazy.

No, I’m not Leicester born and bred. I grew up in Essex, not really having a club that I supported. I followed Liverpool, because they were the best team at the time, but I really fell out of love with football for quite a long time.

Fast-forward to 1998 and aged 18, and I moved to Leicester for University. At the time I was more excited by the prospect of a world class rugby club on my doorstep, having played throughout college, and the Tigers’ ongoing success was amazing to experience, first as a student, and then as an adult, setting myself up for a new life in the city.

At this time, it was the height of the Martin O’Neill era, and Matty Elliott had lifted the league cup twice. But as a Tigers fan (as I now classed myself) there was the distinct feeling that the best rugby team in the country were getting a raw deal from the press in favour of City.

You couldn’t ignore the new stadium being built, right on the edge of my old campus and just a stone’s throw from my house on Hinckley Road. But it came at the same time as relegation, and the hiring of Micky Adams, who I always liked. It was impossible not to feel sorry for the club as they then announced they were heading into administration.

I went to see them a few times around this period, watching the once proud club scraping out 1-0 wins against the likes of Gillingham and Burnley. I loved the humour. The "whoooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaa YOU'RE SHIT Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh...." after every opporsition goal kick in front of the Kop. And even this year, as we secured the Championship, the fans chanting "We are staying up". 

Because that was Leicester. The yoyo club. Up, down, then up, then down, then down even further, to the third tier. At this point we’d moved house, and our elderly neighbour Norman was a huge Leicester City fan, man and boy. We used to talk about the club over the fence, he’d swear about Milan Mandaric and the revolving managerial door which reached its nadir (so he said) with the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson. He died in 2011 and I do wish he'd have been able to see this.

At this point I was following the club more, and took a real interest in their trials and tribulations. The re-appointment of Pearson, the heart-breaking last minute loss to Watford in the play-off semi-finals, the joy of the Championship-winning season, then the unbelievable win against Man Utd. Then came the strangest season ever (or so I thought). Leicester should have won more than they did, but they couldn’t stop leaking goals, and they weren’t helped by Pearson’s ever more bizarre behaviour.

The recovery from being bottom of the league was something seriously amazing, and at this point they had truly captured my imagination and my heart. This club, in my adopted city, doing this. They were my team. I was a true blue Leicester City fan. I’m not the biggest die-hard fan, I have friends who go to every single match. But I live in the city, have done for 18 years, and my kids were born at the Royal, just a stone’s throw from the King Power.

And this season. I can’t write enough about this, and won’t. Many others have done so, and far better than me. I do however think that this team sums up what it is to be Leicester. A team full of unwanted and marginalized players. Players who were forgotten about, or passed over for bigger or more glamorous names. Very much like the city itself. You have Schmeichel, continuing the tradition of great Leicester keepers like Banks and Shilton. You have the solid central defence of Morgan and Huth and being a former centre back myself I can appreciate their discipline and positioning to not let anything past. You have a midfield made up of other clubs cast-offs (Albrighton and Drinkwater) and a couple of mercurial players, a magical Algerian Muslim and a hardworking French Malian. The diversity of Leicester shines through this team.

And then you have the main man, a rough and ready factory worker who’d missed out on his best chance years ago, but was given another. A real Cinderella story (but substitute the glass slipper for Reebok Classics).  And there’s Claudio. The Don. The Italian Uncle everyone wishes they had. He will go down in Leicester legend and deservedly so.

So three cheers for the unfancied 5000-1 shot, the team who no-one ever gave a chance to, the Fox among the roosters. Leicester City, you bloody beautiful blue bastards!
Celebrations in Leicester