Finally, I am a believer. Tears have been shed and air has been punched. Joy that was confined has been released euphorically. Fairytales can come true, even in modern day sport, even in the big-money, harsh reality of professional football. Shout it from the rooftops:- Leicester City have won the Premier League! Once more, just in case you still can’t quite believe it, Leicester City have won the Premier League!
Good grief. It really happened.
Despite not being an avid football fan (that can happen if you support Cambridge United), I have been totally enchanted by this season-long sensation. I have been smitten by the concept of an unheralded and, frankly by today’s standards, cheap team defying expectations over a ten month period. I love the underdog triumphing against the odds – the landscape of sport is littered with startling successes that allow participants and supporters to dream that anything is possible – but I am struggling to find a more unlikely victory in the history of our planet.
Dear old Norton’s Coin was a mere 100/1. His efforts in the 1990 Gold Cup have spurred my lifelong fascination with horse racing, and yet that race lasted seven minutes. Golf occasionally attracts winners at bigger odds, but in ebbs and flows spread out over four days. Other dramatic sporting upsets have been recalled over the last few days of media frenzy, but few have come close to the sustained pressure that Leicester City have faced over almost a year.
Nobody seemed to dare to believe it, including the players, the manager, and various high-profile pundits who will now be wearing just their underpants in public penance. It seemed too outrageous. 5000/1 seemed, if anything, slightly stingy at the start of the season for a team that narrowly escaped relegation the previous year. Even as the months and weeks and days ticked down, there remained that feeling that the players would suddenly realise what they were doing and freeze.
Yet look at the statistics and you will realise that this was no fluke. When the pressure was greatest, Leicester were sublime. Over the last ten games they have won seven and drawn three. Nobody else has done better, not just in the top division but throughout the football league. On Monday night it was Spurs (who can justifiably feel aggrieved that they have outshone Man City, Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea and still not won the title) who were the ones to falter and suddenly, in a second half of acrimony and regret, it was all over.
Fans celebrated. Punters celebrated. Pundits celebrated. Neutrals celebrated. People who don’t really care for football were mildly pleased. The Prime Minister, who doesn’t really care for football, sent his congratulations.
But this story goes beyond football, beyond betting, and possibly even beyond the world of sport. The victory of Leicester says that success cannot be bought, an ideology so frequently contradicted at the top levels of sport in general and football in particular. Hard work, passion, teamwork, and belief (and yes, undoubtedly some twists and turns of fate, and slings and arrows of outrageous fortune) can all combine to produce the unbelievable. That exquisite moment of seemingly unattainable triumph is within all of our grasps if we just dare to dream.
The bookies were slow to catch-on to the unfolding situation, but even the most ardent of supporters, those that held small-stakes betting slips at astronomical odds, would surely have struggled to believe the challenge could really be sustained. In mid-November Leicester City were at the top of the table, but could still be backed at 3-figure odds. It wasn’t until they won at Man City in February that they became favourites. They have all taken a pasting, with most reporting multi-million pound payouts. £35 at 5000/1, £150 at 2000/1, £75 at 1500/1, £100 at 1000/1…..the list goes on.
But success is transitory, and dreams die. The champagne glasses have dried, the hangovers eased, and the merry-go-round begins again. Leicester can be backed at 25/1 to win the Premier League next season, but the most significant money reported by Bet365 on Monday night was for them to be relegated at 50/1. Punters can be fickle, and the future is no respecter of the past.
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Will you be part of the next sporting fairytale?