Leicester City. The Foxes. The Champions of England. Something that is unbelievable to say. Few around the world knew of The Foxes only two years ago, are now singing their name. As an inspirational story to always believe you can achieve greatness, to never let anyone put you down. At 5,000-to-1 odds no one prior to the 2015/16 Premier League season believed they could even come close to hoisting up the trophy. But oh my word, they did that and more.
I got goosebumps writing that. Not because the writing was great, I’ll be honest it’s nothing special, but because I actually get a physical feeling when I immerse myself in the world of Leicester City. You know the feeling of butterflies in your stomach? Of absolute excitement? Of an urge to go our and conquer the world? I feel that when I watch Leicester City in their prime form. Not “prime form” as in star winger Riyad Mahrez tearing apart whatever defenders dare to challenge him, but prime form as in the level of effort shown. When a random clearance becomes a clear cut opportunity because of Jamie Vardy putting in a shift. Striker Shinji Okazaki coming back to the edge of own 18-yard box to challenge an opponent. For 90 minutes, a tireless effort by all 11 Leicester players on the field. I can feel the collective mindset and attitude of the players, the lung-busting effort makes me want to chase down everyone I can when I don’t have the ball in my local pick-up game.
Any exciting underdog can invoke these feelings in any sports fan, whether they like to admit it or not. You begin to feel one with the players. You see them score the winning basket or goal, jump around and high-five your friends at the bar as the “Cinderella Story” unfolds. At most, this is a few game run over a short-period of time by an underdog in the NCAA Men’s Basketball 64-team March Madness tournament. At the least, it’s a remarkable comeback late in one game like the New England Patriots 31 unanswered points to comeback and beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in Superbowl LI. The feeling of being one with the underdog is temporary. A bit of spark returns when you are at the water cooler talking about last weekend’s action. But that spark fails to light a flame.
I first felt a part of Leicester in their 5-3 rout of Manchester United back in September of 2014. Manchester United blew a 3-1 lead to the fast-paced, hard-working Leicester City. I felt so much excitement to witness a comeback caused by so much effort and desire. Only issue: I’m a Manchester United fan. It’s expected to feel some respect and initial excitement for giant-killers when your support a giant. But never before have I been this excited for a team who beat my team.
After the previous atrocious season, I hadn’t felt this much excitement during a Manchester United game in a long time. And now it was for the opposing team. Leicester City later completed another comeback in the 2014/2015 season, climbing up the table to a late survival from relegation dubbed “The Great Escape.” Personally, I worked and aside from games with my team or other big name teams like Chelsea or Manchester City, I didn’t catch too many. So I missed out on that feeling of witnessing a miraculous comeback. I’m sure the Leicester City supporters felt it. I would be lucky enough to feel that next season. That, and much, much more.
Because the Premier League season spans about 10 months, any “Cinderella Stories” are written in long-form. Leicester City’s 2015/2016 season story was extraordinary. From jokes and doubt, then to asking if they can finish out the season, to finally declaring them champions. That exciting feeling I get in every game an underdog does well soon became of weekly sensation. Every little football thought that popped in my head during this time was about Leicester City’s triumphs. Every week they continued their march to the title was another week of that Leicester City feeling. That excitement. A feeling that grew with momentum each week. It compounded onto itself every week, growing exponentially. I was experiencing a feeling, and Leicester City were experiencing a situation, that never before has happened in sports history.
While experiencing this excitement over a season is wonderful and keeps you in good spirits for a long time, Leicester City’s play style in each game aids in that feeling. Aside from the effort and grit put forth by the players, watching Leicester City come right out of the gate and score quickly is exciting. Their Blitzkrieg tactic worked many times in their campaign for the title challenge, scoring early, and forcing the other teams to attack and change their plans. The most famous and most exciting that I’ve seen of Leicester City’s Blitzkrieg tactic was the 3-1 win over Manchester City in 2016 with defender Robert Huth heading home a goal in the 3rd minute.
Leicester City have had the worst title defence in history, flirting with relegation places throughout the season. After finally sacking Claudio Ranieri, the manager who brought them “The Great Escape” and the title, Leicester found themselves amongst it again. Continuing to win since interim manager Craig Shakespeare has taken charge. Not only are Leicester City seemingly on their way to staying in the Premier League for another season, but they are the final English team remaining in the Champions League, after winning on aggregate over Sevilla. The quarterfinals, the best eight teams in Europe, and Leicester City are one of them.
That game against Sevilla gave me that feeling I longed for once again. Leicester City scored early, which gets you pumped for the rest of the game. They worked so hard, with offensive players like Vardy, Mahrez, and Albrighton putting in some important challenges in their own half. How many times in that game a random clearance by Leicester City resulted in Jamie Vardy chasing down the ball or Sevilla defenders to cause a half-chance or gain a throw-in for his team in Sevilla’s half? That’s the kind of effort rarely seen in professional football, but hell, Leicester City are something rarely seen in professional football.
To know this feeling was the real deal, I watched the first half of the Leicester City vs Sevilla second leg game. Leicester City were winning 1-0 but needed to hold on in order to move on via away goals. I had work and had to leave at halftime, so I did some drastic: I recorded the game. That may not sound drastic to you, but in my entire life as a Manchester United fan I have never once recorded a game to later watch. My logic was that browsing Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or my FotMob app, I would see the score anyway. From the second I walked into work until I got home and finished watching the game, my phone was off. And I am glad I did so. That feeling was back. it was surreal again. It’s been nearly a year since I felt this feeling, but it was back. I did something I’ve never done before, just to try to get a taste of what the players on the screen were feeling. These players weren’t even on my favourite team.
Maybe it is because I am a Manchester United fan and our play under Van Gaal was beyond boring. I needed that spark of excitement in my [football] life again. Maybe it has to do with the fact that men in society are not allowed to express emotions, and sports are an outlet where men can do just that. Whatever it is, Leicester City being such a unique and inspiring story gives me a unique feeling and inspires me to work just as hard.