4 Leicester City-Like Sporting Miracles That Shocked The World
Well, they only went and did it. Leicester City, the newly crowned 2015/16 Premier League champions, actually did it – what more can we say? As Alex Ferguson once famously said, “football, bloody hell!”
This year’s surreal Premier League season has proved to be beyond astonishing – we didn’t see things panning out as they have last August, that’s for sure. That the defending champions from last season, Chelsea, are mired in mid-table with nothing to play for is in itself difficult to believe, but it’s the Leicester City fairytale – a fairytale which will still be talked about in 50-years, and which will take that long to be repeated again – that’s sent shockwaves through the sporting world. There is no beating around the bush – what we’ve witnessed this season, as Leicester City charged towards glory, is a bonafide sporting miracle.
Just ask the bookies – what they’ve achieved is the impossible. In a financial age where Premier League super-clubs can throw £250million around in transfer fees each summer, a team with a starting XI which cost £22million to assemble – less than the amount last year’s champions spent on their cheapest midfield regular, Nemanja Matic – simply doesn’t win the league. It’s inconceivable. And yet Leicester have, and with two games left to play too. Unsurprisingly the entire world is absolutely delighted for them. Je suis Leicester – we doff our caps to Ranieri, Vardy, Mahrez, and the other footballing Rocky Balboa’s who have all played a part in restoring our faith in the cynical, greedy world of modern football.
The odds on Leicester City’s unlikely victory (there were better odds on Elvis being found alive and well)
Want to know how unlikely Leicester were to win the league? Well look at it this way, there were shorter odds on Queen Elizabeth releasing the 2015 Christmas number-1 single. They were marked down as relegation fodder. Nothing more. At the beginning of the 2015/16 season, Leicester City were 5,000/1 to lift the Premier League trophy. To put this in perspective, Dean Gaffney, at 1000/1, had better odds of winning a best actor Oscar, while Simon Cowell was ten times more likely to become Prime Minister, at 500/1.
Let’s not forget, however, that while Leicester’s Premier League winning spectacular is worthy of a Hollywood epic, there have been a handful of other sporting unlikely sporting miracles which compare closely. Not many, granted, but a few. So, as we bask in the collective joy of the ultimate underdog-comes-good tale, let’s take the time to look at a few other sporting fairytales from the past which also shocked the world in their day.
Mark Edmondson wins the Australian Open – 1976
Elite-level tennis, like Premier League football, is a closed shop. Just look at the modern era and how, for over a decade, before the recent rise of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had the sport stitched up – all tournament titles and spoils were shared between the two. And in the unlikely event that one of these two didn’t win, superstars like Andy Murray were waiting in the wings to sweep up any stray Slams behind them. Rarely do players outside the top-5 win major tournaments, let alone anybody else.
This is how it has always been, which is why if a player ranked outside the ATP top-1000 were to qualify for a Grand Slam, let alone win one like Mark Edmondson did, it would shock the sporting world.
Mark Edmondson, a man ranked No. 212 – equivalent to a place outside the top-1000 today – snuck into the 1976 Australian Open as one of the last qualifiers for the 64-man draw and went on to lift the trophy by beating the brilliant John Newcombe over four sets in the final. Amazingly, Edmondson was the last Aussie to win the Australian Open – something the man himself hopes will change sooner rather than later.
Nottingham Forest’s First Division and European Cup wins – 1970’s
Leicester City’s Premier League win undoubtedly affords them glorious sporting immortality, but the big question is does their title triumph measure up to what Nottingham Forest achieved in the late-70’s? Many pundits and experts, while in awe of what Leicester has done this season, don’t think so.
After achieving promotion from the old Second Division with the fifth-lowest points total in history for a promoted team, Brian Clough shocked football and the world by leading Forest to a league win in their maiden First Division season. After this, the rest is history – Forest knocked Liverpool from their perch long before Alex Ferguson got around to it, after having won two European Cup’s at their expense in 1978-79, and 1979-80
It is perhaps their achievements in Europe that some believe pips Leicester’s fairytale win. For two seasons Forest dominated the European Cup, and conquered the greatest elite clubs from across the continent in an age where only the best entered the competition – there were no easy games and no small clubs got a look in. Another factor which swings the debate in Nottingham Forest’s favour is that Clough’s champions undeniably had proportionately far less money to throw around than Leicester had.
While Leicester’s billionaire Thai owners were able to spend £8million on strikers who don’t play, Nottingham Forest were once forced to hold a cheese and wine event to raise a bit of cash. Money was so tight that the club could barely afford to run, and yet this didn’t stop Clough from leading the club to a 42-match unbeaten run to win on their route to the 1977-78 league title.
Not bad going for a team of made up of outcasts, rascals and misfits when you think about it.
Boris Becker wins the Wimbledon Men’s Championship… at just 17 years old – 1985
The flame-haired Boris Becker is an all-time great, and one of the finest players to ever swing a racket. That he is one of Germany’s finest sporting exports is an extraordinary feat in itself when you bear in mind the country’s form for producing world-class sportsmen.
Not that we’re trying to make your day any worse here but guess what he was doing at 17 years old that you weren’t – that’s right, whilst your angst-ridden 17-year old self was likely busy popping spots, studying for exams and being turned away from nightclubs, young Boris was busy becoming the youngest ever player to win the 1985 Wimbledon Men’s Championship. Yeah, that’s right. Sit down.
That isn’t to say Becker’s success was entirely unforeseen, admittedly. After entering and then winning the Wimbledon warm-up event at Queens Club, commentators and pundits were impressed by his raw talent and declared him a ‘future Wimbledon champion’. Even so, it’d be a safe bet that none of them, or anybody else for that matter, was expecting him to take them at their word so soon afterwards.
After negotiating the early rounds with minimal fuss in the badlands of the Wimbledon outer courts, the tournament opened up for him after the pre-tournament favourites John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors fell to the huge-serving South African ace specialist, Kevin Curren. Curren was considered the overwhelming favourite to win the men’s final, but much to the surprise of everybody an aggressive Becker came out swinging and he bullied his way to a 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 shock victory.
Boris Becker went on to win a total of six Grand Slam titles over the course of his £146.5million career, but his miraculous maiden win at Wimbledon was undoubtedly his defining moment.
Liverpool vs AC Milan, Champions League Final – 2005
The Champions League final that was the Miracle of Istanbul was undoubtedly the most incredible night in Liverpool’s long and illustrious European Cup history. In fact it wouldn’t be out of turn to say that it was one of the greatest, most exciting finals of all-time… unless you happen to be a Rossoneri fan, that is.
Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool reached the 2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul against all expectation, after a memorable run through the knock-out stages which saw them defeat both Juventus and Chelsea. However Liverpool’s hopes of retaking their crown as Kings of Europe after 20-years looked dead in the water after just 45 minutes, after being carved to pieces by the formidable AC Milan in the opening half of the match.
They were three-down at half-time, a scoreline which actually flattered them, and on the cusp of a truly dreadful battering. AC Milan’s first-half brilliance and dominance was overwhelming, but whereas ordinary mortals would have been resigned to shutting out the Rossoneri and preventing a rout, Steven Gerrard and Rafa Benitez had other ideas. In the 54th minute Gerrard glanced a Riise cross past Dida to trigger one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history.
Two more goals followed from Smicer and Alonso to level the game within just six minutes, and the rest is history. When Jerzy Dudek made the final save to block Shevchenko for a second time, 40,000 Liverpool supporters in the Ataturk Stadium erupted into delirious celebration, and perhaps triggered the biggest party Liverpudlians have seen, before or since.
The lesson we can take from these sporting miracles: work hard, don’t give up, and dream big (even if your ambitions are naïve at best!)
Sporting miracles, like any miracle, show us that the impossible can become possible – bearing witness to one, therefore, can make for entertaining, inspired viewing.
Watching fantasy become reality before our very eyes is important because it gives hope, and can drive us to breathe life into our dreams and pursue the things that matter in life. So if you’ve always dreamed of being a millionaire, asking someone out who you’ve loved in secret forever, drinking rum coolers on a beach in the Caribbean, or maybe participating in the World Bog Snorkelling Championships, give it a go. Work hard, don’t give up, and have a dash of delusional self-belief and naïve ambition – you never know, it might actually work out.
And even if it doesn’t, you’ll learn a lot from not quite making it.
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