English Premiership

5 000/1 Leicester complete miracle title triumph

Jamie Vardy (TEAMtalk)
Jamie Vardy (TEAMtalk)

Leicester - Thousands celebrated and millions around the world watched in wonder as 5 000/1 underdogs Leicester City completed arguably the greatest fairytale in sporting history by becoming English Premier League champions.

Second-placed Tottenham Hotspur's 2-2 draw at Chelsea late on Monday was enough for last year's relegation battlers to seal a scarcely credible title after outshining some of football's most glamorous teams.

Masterminded by manager Claudio Ranieri, Leicester's season of 22 wins out of 36 games and just three defeats was enough to make them champions with two games to spare, with Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool all trailing behind.

After fighting off relegation last year and being rated 5 000/1 for the title at the start of the season, the Thai-owned club pulled off a shock rated by many as the biggest seen in sport.

The modest East Midlands club are England's first new champions since Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in 1978, and their surge in the world's most watched football league has won them admirers across the globe.

Dancing fans waving blue and white flags poured onto the streets of Leicester, while footage on Twitter showed the team celebrating wildly as they watched Monday's game at the home of talismanic striker Jamie Vardy.

The players can now look forward to another title party when they lift the trophy at their 32 000-seater King Power Stadium following Saturday's home game with Everton.

"It's an unbelievable feeling. I've never known anything like it," said Vardy. "We were scrapping to stay in the league last season and on Saturday we'll be lifting the trophy.

"It's the biggest achievement in the history of a great club and we all feel privileged to be part of it."

With the Premier League a global sporting phenomenon, attracting billions of pounds in television rights deals, Leicester's triumph has been followed worldwide.

The Foxes' previous best season in the English top flight was a second-place finish in 1929, and their last piece of silverware was the 2000 League Cup.

"I've never known a spirit like the one between these boys. We're like brothers," said captain Wes Morgan.

Britain's newspapers turned blue in homage, while The Economist magazine asserted: "There has never been a more improbable victory in any sport."

Former Leicester and England striker Gary Lineker, 55, called it "the biggest sporting shock of my lifetime".

"I can't think of anything that surpasses it in sporting history," the BBC TV presenter said.

"I got emotional. It was hard to breathe. I was a season ticket-holder from the age of seven. This is actually impossible."

Twitter said Leicester's win triggered an 86 percent increase in activity on the social media site in Britain.

Fans in Leicester, population 330 000, gathered to watch the game in bars and pubs and roared on Chelsea, the outgoing champions, as if supporting their own team.

There were scenes of delirium at Hogarths pub, near Leicester Cathedral where 15th-century monarch king Richard III was reinterred in March last year.

Supporters spilled into the streets afterwards, chanting the names of Ranieri and top-scorer Vardy, whose 22 goals include a Premier League record of netting 11 games in a row.

"This year I got married and had a baby, but this tops it all," said jubilant fan Steve Robinson, 26.

In Bangkok, the Buddhist monk who has blessed Leicester's players and pitch said he prayed for them during the match between Chelsea and Spurs.

"I prayed for them from 2am till 4am... but the victory does not come from me, it's from the team and the goodness of the owner," he told AFP.

Ranieri, who was reportedly flying back from Italy after visiting his 96-year-old mother when Monday's result came in, said he never expected to win the Premier League when he was hired last year.

"I'm so proud," the 64-year-old Italian, who had never previously won a league title, told the club website.

"I never expected this when I arrived. I'm a pragmatic man."

Leicester Mayor Peter Soulsby suggested there could be "streets named after him, freedom of the city, statues" in Ranieri's honour.

British Prime Minister David Cameron sent his congratulations, calling it an "extraordinary, thoroughly deserved" title.

FIFA, world football's governing body, congratulated the Foxes on a "magical story".

After a night of car horns honking in celebration, the title was the sole topic of conversation in the city on Tuesday.

Many people were wearing their Leicester scarves in the streets, where the champagne bottle clean-up operation was under way.

In the Gourmet Cafe, waitress Stacie, 25, said takings were down, likely "because people didn't go to work".

"They are not hungover yet - a lot of people are still drunk."

Wed 08 Jul 20 19:00 PM (SAST)
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