Fairytale is a word seldom used appropriately in the sporting world these days. Quite often it is tagged on to some one-off success, twist of fate or lucky event.
In the case of Leicester City, fairytale is the only appropriate word for an achievement so magnificent that I defy anyone to claim that they saw it coming at the start of the season.
Even at the turn of the year, I dismissed their chances, telling people “they won’t last the pace” and “they will buckle under the pressure”. How wrong I- and almost everyone else- was.
There was nothing lucky about Leicester City’s achievement. You don’t win Premier League titles by a fluke or lucky bounce. Over the course of the most competitive and gruelling league season in the world of football, whoever comes out on top deserves to be there.
Their league winning achievement is, however, testament to much more than sporting talent.
They do not- even now- have have the best players. They do not- by any stretch of the imagination- have a bank balance that could match the ‘big teams’. But they quite clearly have a determination, a bond and a mental strength that has compensated for their underdog status in every other department.
The ‘big teams’ could take a lesson from Leicester City in how not to choke under pressure. The ‘underdogs’ never once wavered or buckled under an increasingly hot pressure cooker.
In recent weeks they have trailed 2-1 at home going into stoppage time. A hotly disputed red card for their most high profile player- Jamie Vardy-and a cruel penalty kick awarded against them in the 84th minute would have been enough to make many ‘underdogs’ believe that it just wasn’t to be and buckle. They didn’t. They fought back and got themselves level in stoppage time.
When they fell behind at Old Trafford on Sunday many teams would have collapsed. They didn’t, they kept believing, methodically sticking to their game plan and continuing to play and believe that their objective was achievable.
And all the while they were being guided by a quiet and reserved ‘tinker man’ on the sidelines. A much maligned manager sacked five times previously. After five sackings- many of them high profile- most people would have retreated into their shells. Instead the Italian exuded a silent inner strength and belief in his own ideas that has lead him to take his team to the pinnacle of the English Premier League.
I sometimes wonder in life- as in sport- do we look at the superficial, and miss the key ingredients. In football, teams chances are judged on their financial wealth and the superficial assessment of the talent of their players. Very little attention is payed to those that superficially look weak or vulnerable; but it is often these ‘underdogs’ that internally possess a mental strength much greater than any of their wealthier and more overly promising opponents. The same can be said about life.
In the age of social media many prominent sports stars, politicians, journalists or high profile public servants are subjected to a relentless pressure cooke- which arises from constant critique that often simply becomes a barrage of abuse and harassment. This is now commonly known as trolling.
Quite often those who jump on such trolling bandwagons are insecure and weak individuals that display a superficial ‘strength’ that masks a deep underlying weakness.
The converse is quite often true about the ‘underdogs’ on the receiving end. Those who suffer such abuse with dignity and the mental strength to ensure that all the ‘white noise’ does not emotionally rile them or deflect them from their chosen objective or profession, are more often than not the real winners.
In the end the pressure cooker of social media assaults becomes about as effective as a pea shooter firing at a brick wall. The attackers become desperate trolls laying siege to their ‘victim’- only to find themselves coming up against a Leicester City.
I have used the example of social media trolling, but the same can be applied to any walk of life.
I periodically get invited to speak to politics students or groups of young people, sometimes in schools.
When I speak to grammar schools I try and include somewhere in my message that because grammar schools- on the face of it- indicate the pupils there are more academically promising, this does not bestow entitlement upon those lucky enough to be afforded such opportunity.
When I speak to non-grammar schools I remind the pupils that their superficial ‘underdog’ status does not consign them to defeat in life.
Someday someone will write a book looking at the mental strength of the Leicester City football team and how they coped with pressure.
It will be essential reading for anyone seeking to succeed against all the odds- and superficial ‘inferiority’- in politics, business, media, sports, their chosen profession or generally in life.
Leicester City have given us all a life lesson. It’s what lies beneath that counts.