Sometimes the events that make history are a surprise and we don’t realize their historical impact until much later. But sometimes we see the historic potential of events before they happen. This is often the case in elections and sports, where daily results are constantly monitored. The news today about Leicester City Football Club ( the Foxes) clinching the English Premier League title is an event 132 years in the making, although it’s the last two years that I want to talk about.
The most exciting sports history events are the long shots. We love to love the underdog, to believe that anything is possible. Since many of my readers are American, not a country known for our love of soccer, let me give you a little background on how this works.
England has had professional soccer leagues for over a hundred years. The current top flight, the Barclay’s Premier League, began in 1992 and, until today, only five teams have won the league title. Since one of those teams won only once, we have four teams passing the trophy around in 22 years.
The Premier League has 20 teams. During the August to May season, each team plays every other team twice, at home and away, for a total of 38 league matches. The system runs on points and teams get three points for a win, one point for a tie, and zero points for a loss. If teams are tied on points, then goal differential, the difference between the number of goals your team scored and the number that other teams scored against you, is used to decide who has a higher rating.
At the end of each season, the three teams with the lowest scores are relegated to the league below, and three teams from the lower league are promoted to the Premier League. Since all the professional leagues work this way, theoretically any team in the lower leagues can work their way up through the various leagues to get to the top. But realistically, remember five teams in 23 years.
Leicester City were promoted to the Premier League in the 2014-2015 season. That’s the year I discovered that NBC were airing all Premier League matches, so I could finally watch enough games to get to know the teams. I watched all the teams play the first few games so I could pick my favorite, the team I wanted to support. I liked Leicester City because they always played flat out, chased every ball and never gave up.
Unfortunately, that didn’t mean they always won. Actually, they spent most of the season in dead last, 20th place. But then they won seven of their last nine matches, enough to boost them up to 14th place, safe to play in the big league for another year. And that was a huge story, lauded as the great escape, unbelievable after all the time they spent in last place.
Then over the summer they had a mini scandal, sacked the manager, lost some players, hired some new players and hired a new manager. And before the beginning of the 2015-2016 season, analysts tagged Leicester City as one of the teams sure to be relegated this season. They also said the new manager, Claudio Ranieri, would be the first manager to be sacked this season. The odds of them winning the title were placed at 5,000 to 1. But I’m an optimist and they were my team.
And then the new season started. And they won. And they won again. And again. Throughout the season the analysts kept saying this was going to end soon. They scoffed at the idea that Leicester City could win the title. And I would remember the reason I chose them as the team I wanted to support in the first place, and of the sign at King Power Stadium that says “Foxes Never Quit”.
One by one, the analysts started to admit that this actually might happen. There are two games left in the season and Leicester City have clinched the title. This is history, folks. The team that spent most of last season in the cellar has won it all. One Christmas they were bottom of the league, the next Christmas they were top of the league. This isn’t the result of one lucky match. In 36 matches they have 22 wins, 11 draws and only 3 losses.
Today an internet search will show you any number of articles where you can read more about the manager, the team and the individual players. You can find analyses about how they won the league. They’ll be discussing this for years, because this is historical. And I love that so many other teams will now believe this is possible for them to have their own Leicester City moment.
From this fan to Claudio and his lads, my thanks for an entertaining season that made us all believe.
***You may also have heard of Leicester because that’s where they uncovered the bones of King Richard III in a parking lot. His bones were reinterred in Leicester in 2015. Coincidence?