Bottles are strewn everywhere, party streamers litter the floor and thirty thousand headaches are felt across Leicestershire as Jamie Vardy’s party started three days earlier than planned.
Results on Saturday, accompanied by a 2–1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday saw Leicester City end their painful decade of exile from the top-flight. It wasn’t how we wanted to go up but how could we complain? Almost a year after what can only be described as the cruelest play-off defeat in football history, the Foxes sewed up promotion with an incredible six games to spare. Fans around the country went berzerk. The players took to the city to get intoxicated and Pearson, well, Pearson probably did the same in some sleepy Shropshire village.
To many, City’s inevitable return to the top flight will not be a big deal. Some will say it had been merely a formality for City to go up, that other clubs have spent longer trying to get back to the promised land. But in truth, Leicester’s jubilation was not measured in time last night rather the pain that had foregone this memorable day. Since City’s last relegation in 2004, the Foxes sunk lower and lower in the second tier before finally being relegated to League One for the first time in their history. City are known for being ‘bridesmaids of football’ – we’ve never won the FA Cup, we’ve never won the league, we’ve come as close as you can get but we’ve never done it. It was a badge of pride for us that City had never left the top two divisions, a club now restricted to just eight sides, so to lose that was a big deal – the club’s lowest ever point. Manager chopping Mandaric astutely brought in Nigel Pearson and ironically, Leicester’s lowest ebb produced one of the club’s best seasons for years. Champions with 96 points.
The next season too was a dream for the Foxes. Whilst not the best squad on paper, Pearson’s ability to instill character in to his sides helped City along the way to securing an unlikely play-off place. Leicester played out an enthralling play-off semi-final against Cardiff that ended 3-3 on aggregate after two legs and after extra time. Penalties awaited and things were all square until Yann Kermorgant, a player who had featured very little in the rest of the season, arrogantly chipped the ball, for it to be easily swatted away. City went on to lose. A stunning comeback for Leicester ended in the cruelest fashion. Signs were good for the Foxes, who were now backed by current owners, the Srivdhannaprabbhas. The owners were willing to ring the changes and spend to get the Foxes back to the top. Leicester City were bombarded with media talk for the next two seasons about how promotion would be merely a cakewalk with the new investment. However both Paulo Sousa and ex-England boss Sven Goran Eriksson failed to deliver, and too left City in a poor financial state.
The Srivdhannaprabbhas looked once more to Nigel Pearson to lead the Foxes out of a tough patch. Pearson up sticks and left the better-placed Hull City for a romantic return to Filbert Way. Pearson lead Leicester to 9th in the remainder of the 2011–12 season. His first full year back in charge saw City reach 6th, having been in poll position for automatic promotion as late as February. Pearson led City to a memorable 3–2 win at local rivals Nottingham Forest on the last day of the season, their first league triumph at the City Ground since 1972. As a result, Leicester nicked the last play-off spot at the expense of both Forest and Bolton Wanderers. In the first leg of the semi-final against Watford, Nugent scored a header to give Leicester the advantage. However, it was the second leg that would be the more memorable. The aggregate score was 2–2 going in to the 90th minute, Anthony Knockaert was judged to have been fouled, giving Leicester a penalty and a chance to get to Wembley. The Frenchman stepped up and saw his penalty saved, allowing Watford to counter and Deeney score the sucker punch that sparked a pitch invasion from the Watford fans. Leicester players and fans collapsed to the ground in pure despair. Many saw that as Leicester’s best chance to return to the top flight with money looking tight and Financial Fair Play rearing its ugly head. But few envisaged City using this heartache as the catalyst for a record breaking 2013–14 (I did…sort of).
This season has been a blast. Leicester have taken the league by the scruff of their neck. From the get go, Leicester have looked to rid the monkeys on their back starting with Middlesbrough away on the opening day, it was a crucial for City to recover from a play-off hangover as quickly as possible and they did with a scintillating second half comeback. The Foxes too went back to Vicarage Road and exorcised their demons with a 3–0 drubbing, complete with a stunning volley from Anthony Knockaert. The character from the squad is, for me, the reason why Leicester find themselves promoted with a month of the league campaign to spare. Late points won against Birmingham, Bolton, Leeds, Forest, Blackpool, Yeovil, Wigan and Watford (ha) have gone a long way to sewing up promotion – proving the mantra “Foxes never Quit!” to be nothing but true.
This season has been a dream come true. Foxes of this generation, myself included have had so little to shout about. It was only fitting that Anthony Knockaert was the man to send the Foxes up after his shortcomings at Watford last season. His character was rewarded as he took to Twitter to boast about “the best day in his life”, the day Leicester made it back to the big time. And with a manager as successful as Nigel Pearson, a young, hungry squad likely to improve and owners willing to do all they can, there is no reason why the Foxes can’t establish themselves. So maybe we haven’t had to wait as long as for this as say Wednesday or Forest but we have been through the mill these last 10 years and yesterday, all of a sudden the pain we felt at Stoke, Cardiff and Watford was worth it for this moment. So let’s pack Filbert Way on Tuesday night. Get out the blue and white, turn up the Status Quo and pour a Singha beer because Jamie Vardy’s having a party – and you’re all invited!