All Hail LEICESTER CITY FC. Elvis is Alive and Bono to be Next Pope…

Posted: May 3, 2016 in (All Things) CULTURE, This Week's News (From a Certain Point of View)
Tags: , , , ,

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Leicester City being crowned English Premier League champions ranks without doubt as one of the greatest sports stories of modern times.

Leicester’s historic victory has cost English bookmakers their biggest ever pay-out. They were given 5000-1 odds of winning the league at the start of the season. As several commentators have noted, you would’ve gotten better odds for Elvis Presley being found alive this year. A whole lot of particularly adventurous or optimistic betting folk – including Hollywood legend Tom Hanks – will be cashing in some hefty winnings right now.

For even better context, in 2013 bookmakers thought that U2’s Bono had a 1000-1 chance of being the next Pope! That was deemed more likely than Leicester City winning the premiership season this year.

Leicester City’s premiership victory has made headlines all over the world, making the cover of the Wall Street Journal and exciting interest everywhere from Africa to Brazil; leading to, among other things, a vaguely amusing realisation that ‘Leicester’ is a very tricky name to pronounce for people unfamiliar with it. Listening to the BBC World Service this morning, it became clear that this has become a global story that people from all walks of life are taking something from. People were calling in from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Sao Paulo, Italy and elsewhere, all talking about how enthralled they were by Leicester City’s unthinkable accomplishment.

 
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A caller from Nigeria reported that multiple pastors in his location were incorporating Leicester City’s victory into their sermons, citing it as some kind of moral example.

As someone who hasn’t followed club-level football in any serious way for almost 10 years at this point, it took the extraordinary success of Claudio Ranieri’s underdogs to briefly draw me back to the league to witness the culimination of what various pundits are aptly calling a sporting ‘fairytale’. Curiously enough, the last time I was following club football in any meaningful way, Claudio Ranieri was managing Chelsea. This was just around the time time the big money was starting to pour into Chelsea, and Ranieri literally took the London club further than it had ever been before, right into the semi-finals of the Champions League. In spite of that, he was fired by billionaire Russian oligarch Roman Abramovic.

Over a decade later, Ranieri is at the helm of the most spectacular sporting story in decades.

In the last 20 premier league seasons, only the same four super-clubs have ever won the league. What’s inspiring about Leicester City’s story this year is that a team with no big-name players or mass corporate industry has broken the success-monopoly of the elite, big-brand clubs and won the season purely on sporting merit, team work and effective strategy.

At a time when the biggest clubs are multi-million dollar industries and individual star players are involved in obscene amounts of money (there are individual players in the big clubs who are worth more money than the entire Leicester City squad combined; Wayne Rooney, for example, earns £300,000 a week, while Cristiano Ronaldo sometimes earns as much $1 million a day), the Leicester City breakthrough becomes emblematic, symbolising not only the David and Goliath underdog story, but the ability of smaller teams to outdo the giant brands – and by competing primarily on sporting terms and not through mass corporate investment from Qatari or Russian billionaires.

One of Leicester City’s best players – the 25 year-old Algerian Riyad Mahrez – was bought for less than half a million: really, peanuts in Premiership football terms.

More: The BBC World Service’s ‘The Making of Riyad Mahrez

Ed Smith, writing in The Guardian recently – and prior to the league title being decided – noted that ‘Elite football, in fact, could almost be a case study  in late capitalism. The Leicester story is timely, both for sport and as a metaphor for success in life. The idea of an establishment, or at least the dominance of entrenched interests, has become the prevailing theme of our times. It is a slippery concept and often mishandled, but sport has done little to undercut the gloomy narrative of the top 1% greedily carving up the booty’.

Until now, that is. While the overriding narrative is still that money can and does buy success, the Leicester City counter-narrative is that, given the right circumstances, someone out of the 99% can accomplish the same thing, toppling the giants for a glorious moment and showing the rest of the underdogs what can be done.

Meanwhile, life-long Leicester City FC super-fan, 29 year-old Katie, told me that she vowed to her Dad fifteen years ago that if their city club ever won the Premier League title she would quit smoking, never drink a drop of alcohol ever again and “swear off boys for twenty years”. Leicester City’s unprecedented accomplishment thus creates a predicament. “If I had ever thought it was within the realm of possibility, I obviously wouldn’t have said it…” Katie’s Dad died two years ago, however, and never got to see the club he’d supported all his life accomplish the unthinkable. “If he had lived to see this though, it would’ve been one of the happiest moments of his life.”

More: 360 video: Fans celebrate title-winning moment

 

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