It’s Not a Fix: Leicester City’s Dream Season

Returning from three-weeks away to an inbox of e-mails from around the world asking, ‘is the whole thing is a fix?’.  Is Leicester City’s triumphant surge simply a case of bunged envelopes, compliant defenders and compromised games?  The notes have poured in from across the world. Readers from New Zealand to South Africa to England to the US, and many countries in between,  have asked this question.

The answer is no.

If there were any fixing in the Premier League (which I doubt) it came from key Chelsea players who under-performed so woefully for/against Jose Mourinho.  What we are watching with Leicester City’s triumph is the underdog story of the ages. A priceless moment that occasionally sport, and life, gives us to enjoy.leicester-city_main

I will be back next week with the usual spirit lowering stories on corruption, hypocrisy and the Kobe Bryant “fix”. In the meantime, lets enjoy the good side of sport.  Here is an article published in the Minnesota Post from my Oxford and Karate chum James Densley. An expert in street gangs and a black-belt Densley is no push-over. However, he loves his sport, he is from Leicester and now he is jumping up and down with joy:


To Minnesota sports fans, from an Englishman: Don’t stop believing

It’s hard out here for Minnesota sports fans. The Vikings fluffed their lines. Again. The Twins are bottom of the AL Central. Again. The Wild failed to cross the line. Again. The Timberwolves are a team full of promise but no playoffs. Again. It’s enough to make you swear off sports for a while. Give up on their transformative, transcendent power. But don’t touch that dial. Something is happening in the world of sports right now that is so unexpected, so miraculous, that it might just warm a frozen Minnesota heart. It might just make you believe again. In fairy tales. In rainbows and unicorns.

Leicester City will win the Premier League.

Most of you have no idea what this means. That’s OK. I’m as surprised to be writing this as you are to be reading it. As a criminologist, I usually only comment when bad things happen. Really bad things. Things like mass shootings. Gang violence. Acts of terrorism. Furthermore, I’m an Arsenal supporter, so technically this is an act of treason.

I should probably explain this is a story about soccer. But I know Americans don’t really care for soccer so instead I’ll just call it a David and Goliath story. Rocky, with cleats. “The Miracle on Ice” meets the 1991 Minnesota Twins. It’s also a story about a little place called Leicester.

It’s pronounced ‘Lester’

Leicester is a city about the size of St. Paul (population 350,000) that lies 100 miles north of London, in the exact center of England. It’s pronounced “Lester,” not “lie-ses-ter” or “lie-kes-ter,” as my Minnesotan wife said. I was born there. And raised there. My family still lives there. And until this week it was famous for one thing: the discovery of a medieval king underneath a parking lot. Come Sunday, however, Leicester will be famous for one more thing: the greatest sporting achievement ever.

Leicester’s soccer team is 132 years old and its greatest success to date is finishing second place in the top division, in 1929. In the domestic cup, Leicester City hold the record for the most defeats in the final without having won the competition. As recently as 2009, the team were in the third tier of English football.

Leicester started this year in the top tier but as 5,000-1 outsiders for the title, having narrowly escaped relegation last season (literally demotion to another league for being so bad). In preseason, the manager who saved them from relegation was forced to resign after his son, a player, was caught racially abusing a Thai brothel worker. Career suicide when your club is owned by the Bangkok-based King Power International.

Expectations sank lower when the club unveiled its new manager, Claudio Ranieri, 68, a man who had just been sacked because his Greece national team had lost at home to the Faroe Islands. That’s the soccer equivalent of missing a 27-yard field goal in dying seconds of a playoff game. Sorry, Vikings fans.

Theatre of Dreams

So, what happened next? Ranieri set the team a modest target of 40 points over 38 games, just enough to keep them afloat another year. Leicester unexpectedly hit that target after only 20 games. In doing so, one player — who only four years ago was playing non-league football and taking extra shifts in a factory to make ends meet — became the first to score in 11 consecutive Premier League matches. The critics were dumbfounded. To celebrate, Ranieri threw a pizza party. For professional athletes.

In a league where big clubs trade marquee players like stocks and foreign investors routinely buy success — it’s fantasy football for billionaires — what happened next was ripped straight out of Hollywood. Leicester’s average Joes continued to defy the odds — and the math (Leicester’s squad cost about 10 times less than their peers to assemble) — winning game after game after game after game by playing with “one heart” and refusing to quit while ahead or behind.

Which brings us to Sunday. Leicester will travel to Manchester United, needing just one more victory to clinch a most unlikely championship. It’s the perfect setup. With 20 league titles, Manchester United are the most successful club in English history. They are also the “most valuable football brand.” The ship that launched the faces of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. The monolith that plays in “The Theatre of Dreams.” Only this time it is Leicester, not United, proving dreams can come true.

So there you have it Minnesota, a buoy of optimism in a sea of bad news. For those of you still not sold on the merits of soccer or of building an MLS franchise in St. Paul, please watch on Sunday. Last year, Leicester beat Manchester United 5-3 (or 35-15 if you subscribe to sports that award 7 points for every goal scored), hardly “low scoring,” the typical complaint of soccer skeptics.

But more important, watch Leicester, in Ranieri’s words, “fight for each other on the pitch.” Watch them play, not for fame and fortune (although that will come), but for the love of their new manager, and the beautiful game. And watch a fan base drawn from one of the most ethnically diverse cities in England, united as one. Fans who can literally cause an earthquake with their goal celebrations.

Minnesota’s failing sports franchises could learn a thing or two from the Leicester story. Let’s hope it doesn’t take 132 years to sink in. At the very least, Leicester give us a reason to be happy when happiness can seem so far away.

James Densley, who holds a doctorate from the University of Oxford, is an assistant professor in the School of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice at Metropolitan State University. He is also a huge sports fan.


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Comments (6)

  • Michael Hopkins Reply

    Equally amazing is the story of AFC Bournemouth. It was formed in 1890 and plays at Dean Court where even today it only has capacity for 11,500 fans. In 2009 it just escaped being relegated out of the 4th level. Just about always a third division team, it will survive its first ever year since it was formed in the first division (now called Premier League) and ready to follow Leicester footsteps next season (well maybe but has a superb manager in Eddie Howe). Seems from the above professors watch football too…I am Prof. Michael Hopkins lifelong Bournemouth supporter and town of my birth!

    April 30, 2016 at 3:29 am
  • Les Wilson Reply

    Declan indeed a fairly tale story this one of Leicester City (so pleased that you took the time to pronounce the word and city correctly) for your audience. Mr. Ranieri has indeed done a brilliant job to date as you stated indeed a story from the “Theatre of Dreams” in global football. This story is indeed unprecedented in global football. Ranieri’s mantra of “fight for each other on the pitch where it really matters” is spot on. This is a wonderful and inspiring story of unprecedented proportions of Leicester City playing fair, playing with their collective hearts, playing for your club and city, and playing for their wonderful loyal and supportive fans in the Midlands of England. Ranieri’s football knowledge has been acquired of many decades in professional football globally, possibly his motives his motivation and desire to win are invisible but they are the true test of character! For Leicester City the noblest motive in winning the Premier League is no doubt for the public good of the “Midland’s” of England” City of Leicester. This “Theatre of Dreams” season for Leicester City is a great example of “it is motivation and a burning desire, plus ability alone that gives character to the actions of these footballers indeed proudly playing for Leicester City the noblest motive is the public good of the City of Leicester. Let us trust that this wonderful and brilliant fairytale story becomes reality – Ranieri and Leicester City football club are winners in every way, winners expect to win in advance. Life like sport is a self-fulfilling prophecy. As for Ranieri’ “A fool says, “I can’t; a wise and experienced man say “I’ll try”. No doubt Ranieri and his players will fight to the death until the end of the English Premier League season to accomplish the “Impossible Dream”! Great article as usual Declan, thanks!

    Les Wilson

    April 30, 2016 at 9:52 am
  • Declan Hill Reply

    Absolutely agree with you both. Bournemouth is a Phoenix team – from the ashes they rise. BTW – a strong recommendation for the story of a team punching far above its weight is Joe McGinniss’s The Miracle of Castel di Sangre. Available here.

    Declan Hill

    April 30, 2016 at 10:44 pm
  • Andrea Carbonari Reply

    Declan sorry, I didn’t read everything and I’m sorry for my english too. I have been betting for 10 years more or less (university allowed me it), I’ve put my eyes in every kind of unknown court of tennis in the world (a week ago I was seeing a F3 Mexico for example); I was also a good talent football player, to say you that I understand dynamics of a match. I can do an infinite list of rigged match (some example, Bellucci-Monfils Rome 2016- Wickmayer vs. Rodriguez Monterrey 2016, Djokovic vs Bellucci Rome 2016 (I predicted to my father the exact result of yhird set, it was the same of Rome 2015), Djokovic-Nishikori,El Mihdawy vs Fierros in Mexico F3, Pella-Mannarino Nice 2016, Carpi-Genoa SerieA, Genoa vs Roma 2016, Verona-Milan 2016, Napoli vs Frosinone, Atalanta-Udinese 2016 and so on (I could continue to infinite). Ah, I can’t avoid citing the today’s match between Pironkova and Radwansa (like the Pironkova previous one, Pironkova vs Stephens) and I couldn’t see the other comeback between Halep and Stosur (very suspect). I mean, as you know, all player can be in (blacmailing, Bribery, ranking favours, association’s favours, gambling etc.) and all the system is in. I’m writing because I would fight this (do you need an assistant? I’m joking) but I have to say I disagree with you about Leicester; maybe it arrived at 3/4 of the Premier League with its own legs, but I think then it was accompanied: I saw Leicester vs Swansea for example and it was clearly rigged, like I saw Tottenham vs West Bromwich… the first one didn’t want to win that game… I mean, I’m not an insider but I can see that number of match rigged is much more high than the Federbet numbers, for example.
    Sorry for the lenght of my comment but I’d like to know what you think.. I’ll buy your book (perhaps I’ll improve my english). Thank you. Andrea.

    May 31, 2016 at 9:04 pm
  • Declan Hill Reply

    Caro Andrea.

    Nessun problemi. La prossima volta possiamo parlare in Italiano.



    PD ‘Calcio Mafia’ in Italiano

    June 3, 2016 at 3:53 pm
  • Andrea Carbonari Reply

    Sono contento che parli un ottimo italiano; pensi veramente che una partita come Leicester vs Swansea non sia stata truccata? Lo Swansea era in ottima forma e dopo i primi dieci minuti ha smesso di giocare.. e non pensi che il fenomeno sia molto più vasto di quello di quello che si pensa? Insomma, vedo molte partite al giorno e ci si rende conto, ad esempio nel tennis, quando i giocatori fanno solo grunging e non spingono la palla e cose del genere. Ti invito ad esempio a guardarti tutti gli incontri di doppio giocati oggi e ieri al Roland Garros (tutti e tre al terzo set) e Serena Williams vs Putintseva.
    Tu non puoi non sapere che è un fenomeno di ampia portata, ma non voglio insistere.
    Ultima cosa, c’è un sito internet in cui vedere i flussi delle scommesse in tempo reale? Grazie per l’attenzione.

    June 3, 2016 at 9:27 pm

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