This weekend, Leicester City could cement what once looked the impossible, and secure the Premier League title with a win at, of all places, Old Trafford.
While we at Football League World are all about the Football League of course, the story of Leicester City is something which all fans of Football League clubs can now look at and think it may just be possible for their own club to follow in the Fox’s footsteps.
It was only 8 years ago that Leicester cemented the League One title with a 2-0 away win at Southend under Nigel Pearson, a man who has to take a fair share of the praise for their recent success. This puts things well into perspective when we look at where they are now.
This week, I gathered the thoughts around this historic moment from a Leicester fan of 30 years, harnessing his thoughts on just how far they have come since League One, right up to the infamous play off defeat to Watford in 2013 – which has featured heavily in our dramatic moments this week on FLW – to now.
This article aims to give a fans view of just exactly how it feels right now to be in the unprecedented position Leicester find themselves, and give us all a reason, to dream.
I asked a very simple question to the fan, where I asked him to describe the contrast in emotions from Troy Deeney’s 97th minute winner in 2013 to break Leicester hearts, to now, and being potentially 1 goal away from the Premier League title.
“When Knockaert scored in the last minute away at Forest on the last day of the 12/13 season, we dared to dream. A season that started well and fizzled out, manager Pearson had looked incapable of turning around the slump in form we suffered in November. We slumped from the top 2 to 9th. But that goal in the last minute allowed us to dream of Wembley, of the Premier League.
Pearson’s teams always played with a grit and an attitude that as supports allows you to feel a connection with them. They thunder in to tackles and don’t stop running. They were honest and always had a togetherness. They always respected the fans. If you see them running their hearts out and spending time after matches to appreciate the supporters the connection grows.”
Indeed it was this togetherness which saw the Foxes rise from League One to the Premier League, and ultimately, survive in dramatic fashion with a superb late run of form towards the end of last season. This would be without its hiccups however, including the 2012/13 season play off semi final against Watford.
“The first leg was tense and Forestieri kept going down trying to win penalties. The last time we made the playoffs we were beaten by Cardiff at home in the first leg. So when Nugent scored late on we dreamt of Wembley, of the Premier League.”
“My brother made the trip to Vicarage Road, while I went with my dad to a local boozer, who agreed to put the game on a small screen for just me and my dad. When Nugent scored to make it 1-1 on the day I text my mum and asked her to queue up for a Wembley ticket for me. I dared to dream of Wembley, of the Premier League. When the penalty was given I cheered loudly, most of the people in the pub came over to see the small screen.
The next 90 seconds were some of the worst I’ve ever experienced. The dream snatched away in an instant. . The people in the pub were laughing at us and revelling in the situation. It was unbelievable. I went home angry and upset, and would remain so for at least a week”
The season after proved to be a completely different tale, as my fan confirmed, manager Pearson had used the bitter defeat to Watford as fuel for his team, to drive them towards promotion, and they would not be stopped, romping to the Championship title.
The Premier League
As Leicester embarked on their first season back in the big time since 2004, things were not looking good at all and heading into April, the Foxes were bottom and 7 points from safety. Relegation back to the Championship was on the cards.
A remarkable run of form though saw them pick up 7 wins from their last 9 games, and they would finish the season in 14th, with a 5-1 hammering of Queens Park Rangers on the final day.
“At the end of last season I said, this is the best we can hope for as Leicester fans in this league – dramatically staying up. This for us was winning the league, we aren’t ever going to challenge for Europe or be successful, the cups are probably out of reach”.
How wrong would our Leicester City fan prove to be, with 2015/16 proving to the most successful campaign in the history of the club.
When you reflect on what it is like supporting a club who is never expected to be successful or win the biggest prizes, our fan sums it up in a way I think many of us Football League club supporters can relate too.
“My biggest hope has only even been that we get a memorable win against a big team or at the very least give everything. If that falls short against the big teams so be it – at least they put everything in and allowed me to dream that they could beat them, robbed by a cruel injustice or a mistake. I’d hope we sign a player that goes to a big team and win things so that I can be proud he once played for Leicester.
This season is incredible and surreal. It won’t be repeated. It would be greedy of me to want it to. I don’t think there will be any team’s supporters who will ever experience this in the way we’ve got to this season”
On reflection, we sat back and shared a joke about that infamous play off game in 2013, and I personally went away and watched the clip online of Sky Sports News presenter Jonny Phillips delivering the commentary on what is possibly 60 of the most crazy seconds you will ever see in football.
For our Leicester fan, he sees that day in a different light now, and reflects on it as the start of something special.
“I actually like seeing the Deeney day clip now, I remember that pain, it makes me feel emotional about the journey it inspired and that we’re here now because of it. It gave the players the strength the next season and the desire at the end of last season to avoid that position again at all costs.”
When you look down the Football League now, you can ask yourself who could potentially do a Leicester next? Teams like Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County seem to have the apparent backing and infrastructure in place, and both are in with a chance of winning the Championship play-off’s.
It is clear that success in football can be achieved through hard work, the correct scouting, and a togetherness. It was something which was becoming lost in the English game, as swarms of billionaire owners have their say and chuck endless amounts of cash at a ‘project’ in order to achieve success.
Leicester City have bucked that trend, and for me, have restored some of my faith in football in that not every success is bought.
Yes they invested in a new stadium years ago, yes they have players they probably wouldn’t have dreamed of having, but for the main, they are simply a hardworking group of top professionals.
They do the Football League proud, and are a club we can all look up at fondly.
Current squad members Jamie Vardy, Andy King, Wes Morgan, Kasper Schmeichel, Riyad Mahrez, and Danny Drinkwater have all made a name for themselves in the lower leagues, while you can also add Leo Ulloa and Demarai Gray into that mix.
I will certainly be watching this weekend, in the hope they can pull it off at the Theatre of Dreams, and I would hope many fans would follow my lead in hoping for the same.