It’s football season. Actually, when is it not football season?
More accurately, it’s almost time for the English Premiere League (EPL) to begin its 2016-17 season. It was the previous year that made sports history, and created a team of immortals.
Prior to the opening of the 2015-16 season, the bookmakers had Leicester (pronounced, ‘Lester’) City Football Club at 5000-1 odds of winning the English Premiere League. To put this in perspective, the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team had 1000-1 odds of winning the gold medal in what has been called “The Miracle on Ice.” 5000-1 odds are given to events like finding Elvis Presley alive, capturing Bigfoot, and to see the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns meet in the 2017 Super Bowl.
The Foxes, as they are known, battled at the end of the previous season to avoid relegation, and fired their manager Nigel Pearson, replacing him with Italian Claudio Ranieri. Ranieri had managed a number of significant European clubs, such as Florentina, Valencia, Chelsea, Juventus, Roma, Inter Milan, and Monaco. In 2014, he was appointed the manager of the Greece National Team, but was discharged after four losing matches, including an embarrassing defeat to the Faroe Islands. Many pundits thought he would be the first manager to be sacked during the season.
The starting players were a band of misfits and castoffs, including:
- A keeper, the son of a legendary Manchester United goalkeeper, who was allowed to leave his previous team in a lower league where the coach claimed that he wasn’t good enough,
- A player who was surprised when he was sold to Leicester City by his previous team after helping them gain promotion to the Premiere League,
- A defender sold by Chelsea, then cast aside by Stoke City.
- A player released by the team he had been with since he was eight-years-old,
- A player raised by Manchester United, but was loaned out to many clubs until finally sold to Leicester City,
- A player who didn’t sign a professional contract until he was 19, having learned his soccer in the streets of Paris, not through an academy,
- A player who was told he was too small and not good enough during his developmental years,
- And a striker who was released by a club, almost quit soccer completely, and had to fight his way through the non-league ranks, including a spell where he was sentenced to a curfew and wore a tether on his leg. Yet, he would go on to lead the team in goal scoring, and set a league record by scoring a goal in eleven consecutive games.
Leicester City’s entire team payroll would equal the salaries of a handful of players on the elite teams in the league.
Two books have been released in time for the opening kick of the 2016-17 because this team defied the odds, the naysayers, and the world, to become the English Premiere League champions.
5000-1: The Leicester City Story is written by Rob Tanner, the Chief Football Writer of the Leicester Mercury. Tanner has covered the team since 2009, when the Foxes were in League One, the third tier of the English football league system. His proximity makes this a good account of the season, drawing on the events as they happened, with background details about the players and manager. Even though I am an Arsenal fan, I enjoyed reading this. Like so many football fans, Leicester City became my second favorite EPL team. It was hard rooting for them, especially since Arsenal was in the hunt for the championship. But Leicester City lost only three games during the season, and two of them were against the Gunners.
I have not yet read Leicester City The Immortals: The Inside Story of England’s Most Unlikely Champions by Harry Harris. Harris is a British sports journalist and prolific writer of football books, who has culled together a day-by-day diary of the season, combining history, news stories, and tweets of Leicester City’s season. I look forward to reading this book as well.
Leicester City’s miracle provides the cliche’ fictional rags-to-riches sports story, but packs more power, especially if you watched it as it happened. It demonstrated that you don’t have to have the brightest stars or the biggest stadiums to achieve great things. Claudio Ranieri woke up football’s elite with his surprising team and invisible bell.
And Claudio Ranieri is a living example that nice guys do finish first. Tanner quotes Ranieri on the eve of becoming England’s champion,
Once in the life this could happen…that is football…once every 50 years a little team with less money can beat the biggest. Once. Everyone is behind us. There is a good feeling about this story. It is a good story but it is important to finish the story like an American movie, with a happy ending.
On May 1, 2016, Leicester City had the chance to claim the championship at Manchester United with a victory. The Foxes earned a point with a 1-1 draw, forcing Tottenham to win against their London rival, Chelsea, the next night. Tottenham had not won at Stamford Bridge in 26 years, but when Spurs went into the dressing room at halftime with a 2-0 lead, the focus in Leicester City started to sway toward their next home game against Everton.
Then, this happened….
The game progressed, then this happened…
The final minutes couldn’t tick by fast enough for Leicester City fans. When the final whistle blew, the pubs in Leicester City looked liked this…
And the players? The scene at Jamie Vardy’s house…
Just like an American movie, it had a happy ending.
I would definitely recommend Tanner’s book because his perspective is from the inside as the local journalist who has covered the team. Harris’ account looks to be more observational from the outsiders view, thick with detail, including a summary for all 38 games, and team statistics, which appeals to me as well.
Depending on the bookmaker, the odds of Leicester City winning the 2016-17 English Premiere League championship range from 28-1 to 33-1, and anywhere from 66-1 to 100-1 to win the UEFA Champions League.