Last season Leicester City required an impressive late turn-around in fortunes to avoid relegation having spent much of the campaign rooted in the bottom three. This time out they’ve pulled off an altogether different type of miracle and with just a handful of games remaining the Foxes are set to script a fairytale ending to the most amazing story in English football history.
Under Claudio Ranieri this most unlikeliest of title challengers have torn into the rest of the league playing a swashbuckling brand of football that has seen them lose just three times since August and dominate both the back pages of newspapers and conversations in offices and pubs across the country. To try and put their achievement so far into some degree of perspective before the season began Leicester were 1000-1 to win the title. They are now outright favourites with plenty knowing a good bet when they see one. Those same people are having a great deal of fun here too.
The incredible performances by Vardy and co has also prompted an additional bonus for they are now undisputedly the nation’s ‘second team’, an accolade rarely bestowed on any club in a sport where allegiance is absolute. The phenomenon has been witnessed before – as the examples below illustrate – but usually fans simply don’t have enough faith or attention left over from rooting for their own team to semi-support another.
Yet ask any Arsenal fan who they most want to win the league if Wenger’s men fall short and they will respond in unison ‘Leicester! Or anyone but Spurs’. The same but in reverse applies to Tottenham while elsewhere fans of Southend, Manchester United, Carlisle or indeed anywhere you care to mention are checking Leicester’s progress each Saturday and cheering the almost inevitable victory.
Leicester have officially stolen English football’s heart and become the second team to millions. As you’ll see, they’re in fine company.
Dave Sexton’s newly promoted Rangers side missed out on the title by a single point after taking Liverpool all the way with a side that contained a plethora of exciting home-grown talent.
Gerry Francis was the pick of the bunch, a marauding midfielder whose decision-making with the ball at his feet was infinitely superior to his choices in a barber’s chair. Stan Bowles meanwhile provided the Hollywood, an extraordinary number 10 and true seventies maverick who would often ask the crowd who had won the 3.40 at Haydock.
Newcastle United 1995-97
Dubbed ‘the Entertainers’ Kevin Keegan’s attack-minded side earned consecutive runner-up spots in the Premier League while thrilling us all with a feast of goal-laden classics. Most prominent in the memory are the 4-3 defeat at Anfield that has justifiably gone down as a match for the ages while Philipe Albert’s chip in their 5-1 destruction of Ferguson’s United was a joyous peak of their adventurous philosophy.
Keegan’s approach was almost a throwback to the glory days before tactics and caution turned football into chess on grass and with exuberant talents such as Ginola and Asprilla we loved them for it.
Ian Holloway brought the Seasiders up to the top flight through the play-offs playing an expansive all-out attacking brand of football that equated to ‘you score two and we’ll score three’.
Surely though with the step up in class and lethal hitmen lying in wait the somewhat eccentric gaffer would change this approach, tighten things at the back and look to counter in the traditional survival outlook that every promoted team favours?
Not a bit of it. Blackpool ripped into unsuspecting teams from the off, an opening day battering of Wigan away laying a template for what was to follow. Their abandon could lead to outright slaughterings such as a 6-0 defeat at the Emirates but equally paved the way for a memorable victory at Anfield. In between there were 3-2s and 4-3s aplenty and while their admirable beliefs weren’t enough to stave off the drop it secured the Tangerines a place in all of our hearts.
Norwich City 1992/94
In the inaugural season of the Premier League Mike Walker had led his unfancied Canaries to a superb third place finish but it was their following year’s exploits in Europe that really made them the housewives’ favourites.
An onerous UEFA Cup trip to Bayern Munich was taken on with the same care-free attacking elan that had seen off Inter in the previous round with midfielder Jeremy Goss scoring a Roy of the Rovers volleyed winner that made a mockery of widespread expectations of a drubbing.
“It’s almost fantasy football,” John Motson cried as the Olympic stadium fell hushed in shock. A watching nation was entranced.
After years of yo-yoing through the divisions and backed by shrewd chairman Steve Gibson the Teesiders stunned the football world in the mid-nineties by somehow luring the twin talents of Juninho and Fabricio Ravenelli to the north-east. The former an exceedingly likeable Brazilian blessed with exquisite poise and vision, the latter a World Cup winner from Juventus, these giants of the game were blended with British graft of Robbie Mustoe and Neil Cox to form a box-office side who experienced extreme highs and terrible lows.
In one season alone Boro reached two cup finals and suffered relegation and the sight of Juninho despondent on that final day brought a tear to the eye of every fan regardless of allegiance.