Premier League: Leicester makes the world believe
A team which fought off relegation last season goes on to win Premier League, surprising experts and sports pundits.
"Well now we're going to believe them, well now we're gonna believe them, well now we're gonna believe them ... they've gone and won the league."
Leicester City, Premier League champions? Believe it.
Has there ever been a more extraordinary sporting triumph? It's almost impossible to think of anything that bears comparison.
This was a club who were bottom of the league and staring at relegation not much more than a year ago.
A club which had never won the league in its 132-year history.
Being in the midst of the delirium reminded me of being on the Champs-Elysees when huge numbers celebrated France winning the 1998 World Cup in Paris. Part of both celebrations was the diversity of those involved
A club classed as 5,000/1 outsiders when the league season started in August. Imagine predicting it back then. You'd have been laughed at and dismissed.
A club with a manager, Claudio Ranieri, whose appointment last summer was sneered at.
A club with journeyman players who seemed no more likely to be "Player of the year contenders" than charter a rocket to space. (Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy went on to win the major awards).
And this is the Premier League. The world's top league, dominated by the richer clubs, and where the starting point for clubs such as Leicester is to avoid relegation.
A big story
And here we are in May, with the city of Leicester dizzy with joy.
A friendly, modest, diverse city full of people who never thought they would see scenes like these, results like these, days like these.
And here I am, surrounded by the world's media. And they are in this English Midlands city from all corners. This is a big story wherever English football is watched.
This is a front-page New York Times story. This is why Hollywood is interested in a story on Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, a factory worker five years ago, now an England international coveted by Europe's top clubs.
But the point is that this is a team. A group of players who showed where hard work and togetherness can take you. Captain Wes Morgan epitomised their spirit - a man making use of every ounce of his talent having been dismissed by critics for years.
|Leicester City had never won the league in their 132-year history [Eddie Keogh/Reuters]
And the role of coach Ranieri provides lessons for all football, all society. Respect for his players, simplicity in tactics. Common decency shining through to show that management can be about people responding to encouragement. Nice guys can win. You think a single one of those Leicester players would want to let him down?
He had headed back to Italy for lunch with his 96-year-old mother on the day Leicester won the title.
Favourite second team
Leicester City FC has become the favourite second team of the world's football fans, and there's particular support in Thailand, home of the club's owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
He had brought Buddhist monks from Bangkok to spread positive energy. And a year before the bones of English King Richard III had been found in a car park in Leicester, leading to an extraordinary reburial in the city's cathedral. These are strange, unforgettable times.
Rather more noisily, there were incredible scenes of celebration at the King Power Stadium for hours after Chelsea's late goal that made Leicester champions.
Being in the midst of the excitement reminded me of being on the Champs-Elysees when huge numbers celebrated France winning the 1998 World Cup in Paris. Part of both celebrations was the diversity of those involved.
And the party doesn't need to stop here. No, they won't win again next season, I'm prepared to predict that despite Leicester making idiots of us doubters this season.
But they will be in the UEFA Champions League. The Leicester fans are salivating at the prospect of more adventures on the continent.
I have spent much time around them recently. In my job, you have to report what you hear and see, even if it sounds like a cliche. So I am pleased to report they are friendly and modest and that the stallholders at Leicester Market, thought to be the largest outdoor covered market in Europe, have welcomed us outsiders with open arms.
Even now Leicester fans had to retain a sense of self-deprecating humour.
"We are staying up," they sang. Oh they stayed up all right. They stayed in the Premier League and carved an extraordinary and unforgettable place in sports history.
|Leicester City were fighting off relegation just over a year ago [Darren Staples/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera