“Leicester, Leicester, Leicester.”
The song rang out loud into the chilly East Midlands night. An epic quarter-final second leg match between Leicester City Football Club and the titans of Athletico Madrid had just come to an end, a 1-1 draw on the night and therefore (on a 1-2 aggregate) the end of Leicester’s impossible European dream.
But here’s the thing – it was the Athletico fans singing the refrain, a wonderfully warm tribute from the Spanish supporters to acknowledge how the minnows of Leicester had dared to swim with the biggest fish in the game.
Swim? Perhaps we should say run. For Leicester City are known fondly as the Foxes, and their fleetness of foot has been the world’s greatest sporting story of recent times, perhaps ever. They have history, of course, in taking on football’s finest. This is the club, after all, that stunned the sporting world last season by winning the Premier League, ahead of all the giants – Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. Heck, and even West Bromwich Albion.
Somehow this year they extended what must have often seemed like a dream by winning through to the last eight of the Champions League – the world’s ultimate club championship. Once again they left the powerhouses of English football in their wake, all knocked out in earlier rounds.
And how very close they came last night to taking one more giant step on this grandest of stages. After pulling equal on the night courtesy of a goal from the fleetest Fox of all, the scraggy, scrawny, tough, tenacious Jamie Vardy, they rained down shots on the Athletico Madrid goal as if at a mid-week target practice. All, alas, to no avail but if you won points for performing with pride then the Foxes would be champions all over again.
The connection with this Blog is, of course, that the club is owned by Thai travel retailer King Power International, whose founder and Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was on hand last night to watch his team show that there can be equal glory in defeat as well as victory.
I was honoured to be there too. I believe that Nosotros te saludamos is Spanish for ‘we salute you’. Whatever the correct translation, the sentiments apply equally to those flying Foxes, to their sublimely talented opponents and to both sets of fans, who knew that they had just experienced an enthralling occasion that had seen all the virtues of sport, and none of its frequent shortcomings, played out to thrilling effect.