How Leicester City saved football

Posted by ap507 at Dec 16, 2015 01:30 PM |
John Williams discusses how football owes Leicester City a huge debt of gratitude
How Leicester City saved football

Jamie Vardy scores Leicester City's first goal against Chelsea last night

Think: Leicester does not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Leicester - it expresses the independent views and opinions of the academic who has authored the piece. If you do not agree with the opinions expressed, and you are a doctoral student/academic at the University of Leicester, you may write a counter opinion for Think: Leicester and send to ap507@le.ac.uk

The talk at the recent European Football Championships draw in Paris was less about the summer showdown between England and Wales and more about the simmering pressure building for a new European League for the elite clubs of Europe.

This discussion has been going on for the past 40 years, of course, but it has been given added impetus by the recent injection of Arab, Far East and American cash into European clubs. Add to this the boring domestic league dominance of a handful of super-clubs: Paris St Germain are strolling Ligue 1 in France, Bayern Munich are doing the same in Germany, and FC Barcelona are already lining up La Liga in Spain.

Having domestic football championships all but settled in December does little for one of the traditionally defining attractions of top level sport, uncertainty of outcome.

Unlike the theatre or cinema, football fans place their identities on the line as they nudge the pen behind a script being written right before their very eyes. Ideally, fans should have no real clue what the final outcome might be: every dog, after all, must have his day.

Some recent research suggests that Premier League fans are less focused these days on uncertainty and more on the 'brand' and entertainment value of the league and its star players. But, frankly, nobody wants to be able to read off the final league table from the wage bill of the competing clubs, as tends to be the case in England these days.

Enter, Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City.

Okay, Leicester City are Thai-owned, but their current success may actually be a bulwark against the European league aspirations of the global super-rich. It has also provoked the predictable gripes about the alleged 'lack of quality' of the current Premier League as Manchester United and Chelsea and others flail around for the right blend and motivation.

But, more than this, in an era when money and TV executives rule, City's pre-eminence has highlighted the enduring importance of some of the historically key features of sport: that cash alone can't ensure success; that quality players can still be found at value in the lower leagues; that motivation and team spirit are crucial features of any top team; that decent people can win out in football management; and, crucially, that fans still matter.

So, more than the wonderful local pleasure it brings – my own household is overwhelmed by it right now - football itself actually owes Leicester City a huge debt of gratitude: for no less than challenging the absolute power of money and for keeping the romance and the uncertainty of the game alive.

John Williams is senior lecturer in the department of sociology at the University of Leicester.

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