Paul Kilfoil's World of Travel, Technology & Sport

Posted on  by Paul Kilfoil.
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In the world of top level professional sport there are very few fairy tale endings or romantic results. The best players and teams usually win, despite the wishes of fans to see the underdog triumph against all odds. Ageing former champions who attempt a comeback invariably suffer humiliating defeats and slink back into retirement (Michael Schumacher (Formula 1 motor racing), Bjorn Borg (tennis) and Michael Jordan (basketball) are just a few examples of this), and the fresh-faced kid from the boondocks who miraculously gets through a few rounds in a major tournament will almost certainly be gunned down ruthlessly by a top-rated player later on.

The football league title in Spain is generally shared between bitter rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona, in Germany Bayern Munich simply win every year and in Italy Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan jostle for top spot ; seldom do any of the so-called "lesser" teams get a look-in. In England it is much the same - in the last two decades the Premier League title has only been won by Manchester United (11 times), Chelsea (4 times), Arsenal (3 times) and Manchester City (twice). All the rest are left to fight over the scraps, either for a spot in the European Champions league the following year (for the teams at the top) or to avoid relegation (the teams at the bottom). Fortunately, in the lucky draw of the FA Cup and League Cup, smaller clubs do occasionally triumph amid the fixture congestion and player fatigue that plagues the big clubs.

Of course, the big ticket football trophy in every country round the world is the top flight league title, and in this the glamour clubs always seem to prevail. The reasons for this are many, but mostly it comes down to money - if you have enough funds to buy the best players, pay the highest salaries and have so many players on your books that you can always field the best team despite crippling injuries, you are probably going to come out on top in the long run. The smaller clubs, with budgets that are just a fraction of those available to the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea, simply cannot compete over a long and demanding league programme.

English Premier League standings on 3 May 2016 (with two matches still to be played)

But in 2015-2016 something miraculous happened in England. Leicester City, a club that usually either fights for survival in the Premier League or gets relegated and spends years clawing its way back up again, won their first few matches when the season started in August 2015, went to the top of the Premier League table and simply stayed there. While the bigger clubs with their massive, multi-million Pound squads faltered and dropped points, Leicester City kept on winning. All and sundry predicted that the long season would take its toll on Leicester's over-worked players and they would be overhauled, but astonishingly, quite the reverse happened - by mid-April 2016 Leicester City had increased their lead over the pack of chasing clubs to 7 points. Suddenly it looked like they were NOT going to let it slip, and all the talk in the media changed from "who will win the Premiership" to "which OTHER two clubs will play in the European Champions league next season". Leicester City did not necessarily win in style, but win they did - four consecutive 1-0 victories in March and April all but sealed their very first football league title in the 132 year history of the club.

Tottenham Hotspur, the closest of the chasing pack, tried to narrow the gap but when they drew 2-2 with Chelsea on 2 May 2016 it became mathematically impossible for them to overtake Leicester. So Leicester City finally clinched the title with two games to spare, their first ever football league championship. The victory has been so astonishingly unlikely that even the most hardened and cynical of football pundits must surely have smiled in delight. The celebrations in Leicester (and elsewhere) went on long into the night.

But to put Leicester's accomplishment truly into perspective, consider the odds that were offered by William Hill (Britain's biggest sports betting company) before the season started on Leceister City winning the title : 5000 to 1. These are the worst odds in sports betting history to have paid off. Bookmakers are people who really know the chances of something happening because their livelihood depends on them getting it right ... and at 5000-1 they got it spectacularly wrong.

Truly remarkable, and a fairy tale success story that is unlikely to be equalled in my lifetime ...

  © Paul Kilfoil, Cape Town, South Africa