Foxes' fairy tale year, and other unlikely champions

As Leicester are crowned Premier League champions, we reflect on some other unlikely sporting victors

9th May 2016

They’ve done it. It may be old news, but this piece of news will never, ever get old to Leicester City fans. Claudio Ranieri and his band of mismatched, bargain bin heroes have won the Premier League title with two games to spare, thanks to Spurs’ bottle job at Stamford Bridge.

We’ve all seen the scenes from Sir Jamie Vardy’s house – incessant screaming, wall banging and bouncing of the ceiling like rubber balls of nonsensical, incredulous achievement. But how on Earth did it all happen.

After narrowly surviving relegation the year before, sadly at the expense of Burnley Football Club, the Foxes invested wisely hiring mastermind Ranieri as manager, Robert Huth and Christian Fuchs in defence, N’Golo Kante in midfield and Shinji Okasaki up front – they had a, well, mediocre team. Or at least that’s what everybody thought.

Favourites for relegation after the season before, and with an influx of unheard of players, little pointed towards the team in blue even making the top half. But then no one had predicted Riyad Mahrez to become the new Lionel Messi, Wes Morgan to be solid as a rock or Jamie Vardy to score in eleven consecutive games.

When Leicester City came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at home to Aston Villa back in September, it was clear the Foxes had fight – but surely only enough to prolong their stay in the Premier League for one more year. Fast-forward to the 1st of May, and a well-earned 1-1 draw at Old Trafford saw them on the verge of legendary status.

It’s not only the field that Leicester have become the champions of, but the hearts of a nation.

From Jamie Vardy’s party, to the chairman buying everyone a beer and a doughnut on his birthday,  to Claudio Ranieri treating his players to a pizza every time they kept a clean sheet - Leicester City have become a club that the majority of people can admire, laugh at and cheer on.

While Martin Tyler’s epic commentary back in 2012 rung true for Manchester City – “I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again”, it can surely apply to this season also.

A success akin to Nottingham Forest’s European exploits many years ago, I think I speak for every football fan when I say I hope the Foxes continue to gate-crash English football’s elite.

Alex Hendley

American amateurs win miracle on ice

Image: YouTube

Image: YouTube

Politics have often crept in to the Olympics, with the Games dragged into the Cold War in the 1980s. The Soviet Union had won the ice hockey gold medal at the previous four Olympics and had a strong, experienced team that were the clear favourites in 1980. The US team were students and amateurs with an average age of 21.

The USA put in a strong performance in the group stage to come second, putting them through to the medal round, alongside Sweden, Finland and the USSR. Here each team had to play each other, meaning that there was no actual final – the USA didn’t win the gold until two days after their miracle win.

But this match was always about more than medals anyway. Two very mismatched teams from two countries on the brink of nuclear war.

The second period ended with the USSR 2-1 up, but it was in the third and final period that the miracle happened. The USA scored twice to win the game 4-3, and commentator Al Michaels asked viewers, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!!”. The USA took the gold, boycotted the Moscow Olympics and won the Cold War, but it was those students beating those Soviets that is their most unlikely victory.

Mark Sleightholm

England rise from ashes

On paper, one of the most nerve-jangling, topsy-turvy cricketing encounters of all time should’ve been a whitewash. An Australian team oozing experience and technical ability always looked likely to seize their ninth Ashes victory in a row.

With a world class top order featuring Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn and Michael Clark, their batting quality was unquestionable, whilst legendary bowlers Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne had taken over 1000 wickets between them in their careers.

After winning the first test comfortably, with only the relatively unknown Kevin Pietersen making more than 50 runs in an innings, it looked like this series was going to go the same way as the previous eight.

However, England won the second test by two runs (the fewest in Ashes history), after Freddie Flintoff’s sterling work with the bat and ball, and were able to kick on. England took the third test at Old Trafford as captain Michael Vaughan, having been a welcome change from Nasser Hussain’s militaristic style, hit a series-best 166.

At Trent Bridge England recorded 477 runs in the first innings but crumbled in the second, relying on heroics from Matthew Hoggard and Ashley Giles to lead them to victory.

In the final test England grinded out a draw, securing the unlikeliest win in Ashes history.

James Sproston

Japan stun Springboks

In the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Japan masterminded by now England coach Eddie Jones defeated two-time champions South Africa in one of the greatest upsets in Rugby Union’s history.

Having continued to progress and now ranked as a top 10 team, it was clear that the tier B team Japan were no pushovers. Nevertheless, the Cherry Blossoms, using their blistering pace in an attacking approach, stunned the physically strong but underwhelming Springboks. Their indiscipline cost them, by allowing the monumental fullback Ayumu Goromaru to keep Japan in touch having scored 24 points alone, including 5 penalties in a terrific kicking display.

With a try from captain Leitch and a last minute try from Hesketh, Japan had defeated South Africa by a narrow 34-32 points.  Despite the fact that Japan didn’t even get out of the group stages, the Brave Blossoms will always be remembered more as the victors in this David vs Goliath battle.

Tom Shrimplin

Boris is a teenage Wimbledon winner

Image: YouTube

Image: YouTube

At the age of just 17 Boris Becker was already ranked 20th in the world, but went into the 1985 Wimbledon Championships unseeded and part of a draw that included John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors.

His powerful serve and fast, aggressive style wouldn’t seem out of place in today’s tennis, but in the 1980s was so revolutionary he became known as “Boom Boom” Becker. He played half the final with mud on his back after diving so much on the court.

In four closely-fought sets Becker beat Kevin Curren, the number eight seed. He became the youngest and the first unseeded player to win Wimbledon.

What makes this even more remarkable is that it wasn’t just a fluke; from diving onto Centre Court Becker launched himself to the very top of men’s tennis. He successfully defended his title the following year and went on to win a total of six grand slam titles.

Mark Sleightholm

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