As most of you know if you have been following this blog, I am from the old country, England, where football is the name of the game. Not football as Americans know it but the sort played with a round ball and called soccer over here although for the life of me I don’t really know why. After all, there is very little kicking in football, American style and the ball is virtually always played with the hands which is not allowed in the English version and is in fact, deemed a foul.
Be that as it may, naturally I have played football all of my life starting as a very young kid and managing to play until I was 72 when the knees finally went. I have done my share of coaching with a few successes and was even on the wrong side of the whistle for quite a few years with a prolonged spell as as referee. As is always the case among diehard sports enthusiasts, I have always had one professional team in particular that I have followed for most of my life and that team is Manchester United. This team has a history of winning trophies and leagues over the past 25 years. With the advent of television and the wonders of modern science, I am able to continue that support even over the vast distances that separate me from them. Like all other Man U supporters, I always expect them to win something and these past couple of seasons ever since the long time legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson retired a couple of years ago, has been pretty dismal.
The English Premier League (EPL)is rated as the best league in the world although the Spanish La Liga and German Leagues Bundesliga might have a different view. The EPL as it is known has a 3 up and 3 down system of promotion and relegation to the Championship, the league immediately below the EPL. Last season, a team named Leicester City were promoted from the Championship and struggled to finish out of the bottom 3 but eventually pulled it off remaining in the EPL for one more season. Nobody gave them a chance of staying in the league for the 2015-16 season, the one that is drawing to a close with just 2 games left to play. As it turned out, they became the Cinderella team of the EPL winning game after game and beating the top teams, ones that have spent millions of dollars on buying players who technically are much better players than at Leicester. It was hard not to support them knowing the pedigree of the players some of whom, just a couple of seasons ago, were playing for teams in the lower ranks of English football.
This past Sunday, Leicester were scheduled to play my team Manchester United at Old Trafford. If Leicester won, they would be the new Champions of the EPL and Tottenham Hotspurs, the current second place and challenging team could no longer garner enough points from their remaining games to beat them. I was so totally torn in my feelings towards the game. On the one hand, I was a Man U supporter and my team needed points to finish in the top 4 places to play in the Champions League next season. On the other hand, there was this Cinderella story of a team who were virtually bottom of the division at this time a year ago fighting for their very existence in the EPL who, if they won on the day, would be the new Champions of the England, a totally unheard of story.
It was hard to describe my feelings as I watched the game. It was like cheering for both sides at the same time, first feeling elated for one team and then going to the other extreme if the other team did something good. I wanted both teams to win which of course is impossible. As it turns out, neither team won and the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
To add to the drama, Tottenham Hotspurs were due to play against Chelsea today, Monday and the situation was such that if Chelsea won or tied the game, Leicester would be crowned the new EPL Champions. To make matters worse, this was a local Derby with 2 teams that did not like each other. Chelsea were last seasons Champions and Spurs had never won the current Premier League title. It was a rip roaring game and at halftime Spurs were winning 2-0. The game was played as breakneck speed and tackles were flying in all over the place from both teams resulting in a lot of yellow cards for both sides. The Referee, Mark Clattenburg did an admirable job of keeping some semblance of order and it was a very difficult game to referee.
The second half was even worse especially when Chelsea brought one goal back to make the score 2-1. Tackles were still flying in and there were several scuffles and confrontations adding to the yellow card count. It’s a wonder that no players were sent off with 9 of the Spurs players getting booked and 3 from the Chelsea side. Then 10 minutes from time, Chelsea tied the game up to make it 2-2. Remember, that Leicester only needed for the game to end in a tie for them to win the title and 10 minutes later the final whistle went as the game ended.
The end result of this tie was enough to make Leicester City Champions of the EPL for the first time in their 132 year history as a club. The Cinderella and impossible story has come true. Along the way, Jamie Vardy, the team’s center forward made history by scoring in 11 consecutive games and also won the Premier League Player of the Year award.
For someone who is an avid soccer fan, I totally rejoiced at this result even if it was not my team winning. It was so great to see a team made up of hard working, give it all you got, players with a never say die attitude, win. They are living proof that hard work, team spirit coupled with good solid soccer skills can pay off. It will be interesting to see how many of the star players will move to the bigger clubs. Even in football, money talks. What a fairy tale ending to a very strange EPL season.
At least now I can be a true supporter of Man U and not be rooting for that upstart Leicester team.