19 players have appeared for Leicester City in the Premier League this season representing 12 nationalities including Japan, Algeria, Switzerland, Denmark, Ghana, Austria, Germany, Poland, France, Wales and Argentina. The manager is Italian. There were 8 Englishmen. None have any Leicester roots.
I do. I was born and brought up in the county of Leicestershire and spent much of my youth in the City. I was more a fan of Leicester Tigers (Rugby) and Leicestershire CCC (Cricket) than Leicester City FC who were generally a second tier club and never really achieved much. An oft used quote about the standing of the football club is that it is a bit like the city: not bad but in the middle.
Before being put firmly on the map by its extraordinary Premier League win, Leicester was a semi-industrial city in the middle of England that you drove past on the M1 motorway going either north or south. You didn’t go to Leicester to visit – look what happened to Richard III: they buried him under a car park!
Never considered fashionable, Leicester ironically owes much of its growth to clothing and shoe manufacturing. This should not cause Leicester to be confused with Milan or Paris, we’re talking the opposite end of the fashion spectrum here. It used to be said that Leicester clothes the world until cheaper labour in Asia took that away.
Some of Leicester’s claims to fame
A visit to Leicester isn’t on many people’s bucket list, but the world is now talking about what a great place it is and how much they want to visit. But what will people find when they get there?
Attractions? There is no Disneyland or great Wonder of the World to boast, but there are one or two interesting places to visit including The National Space Centre (think Cape Canaveral without the rockets), The Jewry Wall: remains of a Roman wall (well, some bits of it), and The Abbey Pumping Station (This small museum is free, and you definitely get your money’s worth.)
Popular culture? Nothing to rival Liverpool, say, or London but one or two notables including: Showaddywaddy (a novelty pop act from the 1970s – apparently still going!), Engelbert Humperdinck (Please Release Me!), one of Monty Python (Graham Chapman, the really silly one), the bass player from Queen (John Deacon), and Kasabian.
World famous people? Brothers Richard & David Attenborough, two giants of film and natural history respectively, were brought up in Leicester. Moving more to the novelty than world-beating end of the scale, the city was home to Daniel Lambert (famously England’s heaviest man in the 18th century), John Merrick (the Elephant man), and the man who invented extreme ironing (Phil Shaw).
There are more, of course, but you get the point, not bad but in the middle.
What Leicester should now be known for – and visited for – is its optimism, joy, inclusiveness and sense of community that is uniting this multi-cultural melting pot like nothing before. Immigration in the 1970s, predominantly Ugandan Asians fleeing the Idi Amin regime, created a divided City that has slowly united through greater tolerance among the new generations. To see Leicester City fans from all backgrounds joining together to support a winning football team – constituted as it is by football’s version of immigrants – spreads inspiration the world at large could benefit from. See this clip (“Leicester City Champions Celebrations 2015/16”) for a flavour of multiculturalism, Leicester City style.
Premier League Champions: The impossible dream
For Leicester City to win the Premier League was ridiculously unlikely. It is something that no-one, NO-ONE, realistically predicted. Many respected sports pundits are claiming the achievement to be the most unlikely in the history of all sport! Even the bookies placed joke odds on this seemingly impossible feat – 5,000 to 1 (they now regret this, of course, as payouts are significant). The odds are considerably less of Simon Cowell becoming Prime Minister (500 to 1), HM The Queen having the the next UK No. 1 Christmas single (1000 to 1) or Kim Kardashian becoming the next US President (2,000 to 1) – though whether that’s a better or worse result than Donald Trump is anyone’s guess.
From dreaming to achieving: how the league was won
There is lots of analysis and opinion on this from experts in the game, but for me it’s simple: Look at the team spirit evident in the squad as they watch the moment they knew they had won as their closest rivals (Spurs) fail to maintain their challenge recently:
Great teams achieve more than the sum of their parts – Leicester’s team cost less than a third of that of the leading Premier League clubs. Money alone cannot always buy success and team spirit has to be nurtured rather than bought.
Was the remarkable feat lightning in a bottle or a replicable phenomena? Probably the former, though no doubt many will now claim to see the winning formula. For me, the key takeaway lies in the belief that was created in a large number of people (the fans, the people of Leicester) by the actions of a few. These 19 players, and the management who guided them, have been responsible – unwittingly – for encouraging thousands first to dream, then to believe and finally to achieve.
This process – from dreaming to achieving – is at the heart of most human endeavour. It sets apart the successful entrepreneur from the nine-to-fiver, the great sportsman from the gifted amateur, the great leader from the stay at home moaner.
Many of the fans who experienced this process at first hand through the success of their club will now want it again – not for the next title, or The Champions League, but for themselves and their families.
Time will tell how many Leicester fans touched by this experience will turn their personal dreams and beliefs into tangible achievements. There are already a few who are daring to dream of something new. I wish them well, their success will be infectious and today’s technology driven network effects will fuel the contagion.
What the city of Leicester, it’s leaders and its people, must do now is to turn the belief into opportunity and tangible outputs – then a truly great and long-lasting result will be delivered that far outweighs the short-lived bling of a Premier League title.
® Dan Allen