Leicester’s first championship would change their mindset from joy to burning desire for more
17 February ~ It remains difficult for me to imagine Leicester City’s fans currently want a maiden national League title as much as those of Napoli want a third, Aberdeen a fifth and Tottenham their first since 1961. The Foxes have waited 132 years to finish top of the pile in their country – Napoli only since 1990, Aberdeen 1985. But as a long-time voyeur of other clubs celebrating gut-wrenchingly emotional title wins, I know that what counts is the collective anxiety and desperation defining these waits.
Aberdeen need to confirm they’re the Old Firm’s main historic rival; Napoli feel like a country within an enemy country. But Leicester began this season merely hoping to avoid relegation. Major success needs to be experienced before the real cravings begin.
Tottenham with no top League title in 54 years head the English queue. Their greater off-field desire was the first stage of Sunday’s win at Manchester City. Next comes West Ham – FA Cups, a European trophy but never champions of England. And these preferences are only in the context of February 2016’s Premier League table.
I’d rather see the volcanic relief which would greet the League Cup arriving at St James’ Park – Newcastle’s first major trophy since 1969 – than the incredulity gleaned by Leicester winning next season’s Champions League. It will be 30 years since Everton finished top of the League system they helped found; Championship Bolton remain the club to have spent most time in England’s top flight without winning it.
My pleasure in watching long waits coming to an explosively joyous close began when my adolescent addiction to late 1970s and early 1980s football coverage segued with my own club, Rangers’, embarrassing inability to win the Scottish Premier Division. I eased my pain watching others end similar emotional droughts.
I’ve loved observing as, to date, Aston Villa (71 years), Everton (15 years), Arsenal (18), Leeds United (18), Manchester United (26), Blackburn Rovers (81), Chelsea (50) and Manchester City (44) all conclude quests for that elusive next League title. While Villa and Blackburn’s were the longest, Manchester United’s was the most overwrought and heavily publicised given their size – Everton’s the most sumptuously cathartic given their local rivals.
Match of the Day highlights and/or live coverage of each reclamation was made more memorable by the epic waits. Ending a draining inability to repeat previous success creates microphone-shaking hysteria – ala Michael Thomas’s title-clinching goal for Arsenal at Anfield in 1989 or the two late Manchester United goals which turned it around against Sheffield Wednesday in the 1992-93 Premier League run-in – as years of wobbling belief that past glories will return are finally made material. Seething vindication is more dramatic than the plain old elation which greeted Nottingham Forest’s only League title, in 1978. And some have much to seethe about.
Schalke occupy Germany’s “Spurs” slot, finishing runners-up six times, winning four German Cups and one UEFA Cup since they were last champions, in 1957-58. Entire documentaries have been produced on their “four minute champions” nightmare when they topped the Bundesliga after their last game of the 2000-01 season. The premature title celebrations were only matched by the devastation when fans on the Gelsenkirchen pitch watched the big screen relay, live, Bayern’s injury-time equaliser at Hamburg, which denied Schalke their now near-mythical eighth German title.
While nearby Coventry City’s 1987 FA Cup might have pissed-off Leicester fans – the Foxes having lost all four of their previous finals – it can’t compare to Lazio drawing level with AS Roma’s total of two Italian titles in 2000, 26 years after the first Scudetto for Rome’s blue half. The phenomenal scenes unknowingly set a precedent for those on the pitch of the same stadium one season later when Roma, who hadn’t been champions since 1983, instantly clinched their third Scudetto.
At the outset of 2015-16 winning a first FA Cup would have promised Leicester, in the third tier seven seasons ago, sufficient delirium. They’ve finished second in England just once – in 1929 – and no one really hates them. Should they win the Premier League they’ll quickly acquire enemies and a vampiric trophy lust as innocent joy morphs into the burning, myopic desire accompanying every major honour. I hope I’m around to see it explode all over their second English championship, in 15 to 81 years’ time. Alex Anderson