Warning: This post is mostly about sports. Well, really one sport. Specifically, football. The sort of football one plays with one's feet. I just wanted to make that clear from the beginning.
In the extremely unlikely event that you're not already aware of this fact, I've been a supporter of Leicester City Football Club for almost two decades now. I've listened to or watched nearly every match this century, I've seen the team win cups and beat top clubs, and I've seen them relegated several times. I believe in demi-divinity of Martin O'Neill, that the midfield of Izzet, Savage and Lennon was as good as any in England, that Matt Elliott made a fine makeshift striker, that Jermaine Beckford had no business wearing the LCFC badge, that it was a mistake to let Nigel go the first time but probably not the second, and that no matter how great the King Power stadium is, that it'll never be Filbert Street.
I am, in short, a Very Serious Fan.
I've never had so much fun following the team as I have the last eight months. Going in to April of 2015, we were about as doomed as a Premiership team could be. We played reasonably well up to that point, but we were unable to turn performance into points. With only 19 points from 29 matches and only 9 more matches to play and in 20th place since November, the outlook was beyond bleak. I was mentally preparing for another relegation.
If you don't follow football of this sort, you may not appreciate what relegation means. The bottom three teams in the Premier League, the 18th, 19th, and 20th place finishers, are demoted from the league and replaced by the top teams from the next-lower league. Imagine your last place baseball team having to play in AAA the next year. Leicester weren't merely in last place; unless they climbed to 17th, they would be out of the league.
Of course, as you might have guessed, the nigh-impossible happened. Andy King scored a late winner against West Ham to give us a hint of hope. Then, Jamie Vardy (more on him later), scored a last-minute winner at West Brom and suddenly, we started to feel a glimmer of hope.
We beat Swansea and Burnley to win four on the trot before losing to eventual champions Chelesa. By this point,we were in 17th place and appeared to be poised for a dramatic finish. Instead, we beat Southampton and Newcastle, then drew with Sunderland to secure survival, then walloped Queen's Park Rangers on the last day of the season and wound up in the most 14th place. It was, by a huge margin, the most exciting 14th place finish I'd ever experienced.
The summer, however, went...badly. Three of our youth players decided to record their visit to a brothel in Thailand, the home country of the club's owners. The three players, including manager Nigel Pearson's son, were sacked. The relationship between Pearson and the owners never recovered and Pearson was removed shortly thereafter. Bookies made us favorites for relegation as Pearson received a huge amount of credit for our survival the previous year. We hired former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri and it was hard to know exactly what he'd bring to the table. He was successful, but perhaps not successful enough, at Chelsea ten years ago. Most recently, he'd managed the national team of Greece and resigned after losing to the Faroe Islands.
We really needn't have worried. It's mid-November and, somehow, we've only lost one match and we're third in all of England, one point behind Manchester City and Arsenal. I can't explain it. Well, ok, I can. We've had some good fortune with the referees, we've played a fairly weak schedule thus far, and we're winning all the close ones. It feels like a bubble that could burst any moment, but I cannot tell you just how much fun it is to support Leicester City right now.
It's not just that we're winning; it's that we're playing exciting, attacking football and we seem to be able to come from behind every single match. Jamie Vardy, who was playing essentially semi-professional football until a few years ago, is the leading scorer in England and has scored in nine straight matches in a single season, something no one else has accomplished in the Premiership. He's our talisman. He chases lost causes and runs himself into the ground every match and never gives an opponent a moment's rest. It now looks very likely that he will be in the England squad next summer in the European championships.
I'm getting a great deal of pleasure out of all of this. As I mentioned, I'm a long-time fan, and there have been as many, if not more, down times over the years I've followed the club. I almost never miss a match. I have a closet full of blue replica shirts. I've even had my photo in the Leicester Mercury, even though I've never been to England.
Some of you might ask a very reasonable question at this point: "Why?"
I'll tell you why I let myself care so much about a team playing a sport I didn't care about as a kid in a country I've never visited: I find it incredibly useful to have something objectively unimportant I can pour emotion into and care about deeply. I won't make he argument that this team's fortunes are provably important. I can't. I'm ok with that. I can let myself get worked up and yell and scream and question the existence of justice in the universe and when it's done, I can walk away and life is pretty much the way it was before the match started.
Except, of course, these days, you may see me smiling a little more often than usual...