The Leicester Resentment

Not everyone is as happy to see this as you think

It’s less than a week since Tottenham Hotspur failed to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and, as a consequence, cemented Leicester City’s position as Champions of the Premier League. The trophy is now safely in their hands. It’s the biggest, most exciting, unpredictable, romantic thing to hit football for many years, and is a serious contender for one of the most amazing sports stories the world has ever known.
It’s excited millions, over and above the Foxes’ fans who have lived this adventure and seen their impossible dreams made concrete. It’s been a gigantic boost to football, a massive spanner in the works of the existing order. For so long, we’ve been used to the big clubs monopolising everything: the best players, the trophies, the prestige, the attention. Leicester have reminded everybody that it needn’t be so, that the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong (despite Woody Allen’s sage advice that that’s the way to bet).
The essence of sport is unpredictability. It’s about not knowing what the outcome will be. When we know, in advance, who will win, and when our predictions are fulfilled, only those who are direct supporters of that winner gain any real enjoyment.
Leicester are the antidote, the call-out, the refutation. They are the dream incarnate that anything is possible, that anybody, no matter how unlikely it seems, can win, can topple the big boys. They are the fulfilment of the urge within all of us to see the tortoise bound past the hare.
So why then have so many people this week been so eager, almost from the moment of the final whistle at Chelsea, to predict doom and gloom for next season for Leicester. There is an overwhelming insistence that not only will Leicester not repeat their feat in 2017, but they will be relegated, all their best players will promptly leave them for bigger clubs, and they will be back in mid-table at the very best.
The curious aspect of this is that these are not merely cynical pronouncements, but that they are being spoken of with relish. They are what the commenter wants to see happen, to see the old certainties restored, the predictability back. Leicester have bucked the trend, they have not known their place and it is imperative to these people that they return to their place (and everybody else to theirs) without the slightest delay.
Some of this is clearly motivated by that sadly ineradicable tendency of human beings to be simply nasty creatures, unable to bear the sight of other people succeeding, or having joy of things. Leicester victory and the joy it has brought is simply insupportable, and it must be diminished, torn down, trampled upon.
Some of it, but not nearly enough to explain it, comes from the fans of the clubs scorned. Being beaten by Leicester – Leicester! -is a personal humiliation, and they demand it be avenged by being wiped out as if it had never happened.
It’s familiar in its way: remember the FA Cup Final on 2008, Portsmouth versus Cardiff City? It was the first Final for seventeen years not to feature any of the ‘Big Four’ (and you couldn’t exactly  accuse Tottenham Hotspur and Nottingham Forest of being nobody clubs). At first, there was pleasure, welcome of the idea that the usual suspects were for once eclipsed, but even before the Final was played, there were open expressions of concern, even fear, that the game would be sub-standard because, after all, it was to be played between two ‘sub-standard’ teams.
But the most prevalent emotion behind this kind of reaction is fear. So many people, whether they’re consciously aware of it or not, have been frightened by Leicester’s win. Uncertainty has been brought, forcibly, into their lives. The ground between their feet has been undermined. Anything could happen. And they are herding together to diminish it, deny it, refuse it any power beyond the moment. They’re fearfully insistent that the world they recognise be restored, even before anyone’s had the chance to truly enjoy the victory.
It puts me in mind of William Goldman’s classic book, Adventures in the Screen-Trade (an excellent book, one you should read, plus it’s sequel, Which Lie Did I Tell?).
Goldman’s book is famous for many things, not least his defining statement of Hollywood – NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Once spoken, it became an instant truth, the single, most perceptive and frightening thing ever said about the Film Industry. Nobody knows Anything. They’re in the business of making money from films, but they don’t know and are terrified of recognising that they don’t know what sells.
But that’s not what comes to mind when I contemplate the responses to Leicester’s win. Shortly after Goldman introduces his maxim, he goes on to anatomise something called a ‘Non-Recurring Phenomenon’.
It’s a phrase that Studio Executives use to describe one-off successes, films that are absolutely massive without fitting any of the standard categories for massive success. They don’t fit an accepted genre. They aren’t sequels to a previous success. They don’t star a star who sells a picture based on their name alone. The Executive comes up with all sorts of reasons why this film has made it, none of which hold up on any realistic basis. He then calls it a ‘Non-Recurring Phenomenon’.
To quote Goldman: “What it means, of course, is this: It was a freak, a fluke, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. The deeper and more important meaning is this: ‘Get away, boy, you bother me’.”
Leicester City are a Non-Recurring Phenomenon.
They frighten people. People know what is needed to succeed in football: money, star players, 4-2-3-1, 67% possession. Being bankrolled by billionaires. Leicester don’t have any of that (ok, the owners aren’t exactly short of a bob but this is a club that, in the entirety of its 132 year history, has spent less on players than Manchester United has in the past two seasons). They’ve done all the wrong things, and they still came out on top.
And that’s not just scary, it creates resentment. Forget that the whole situation changes this summer, that the money coming into the game from the latest TV deal means that the Big Four clubs can’t just offer salaries no-one can match now, so many football fans want Leicester’s team to break up. Not necessarily out of malice towards the Foxes but because that’s just what usually happens. The likes of Leicester aren’t supposed, aren’t allowed to have star quality players. The likes of Mahrez, and Kante belong to the big clubs. That’s where they’ve always performed: the likes of United, Chelsea etc. are entitled to buy these players.
Normal service must be resumed as soon as possible.
And that is so sad, so unutterably sad that we have been given such a priceless gift this year, that we have had all our dull, interminable predictabilities ripped up in front of our eyes, and even before the Trophy is presented, so many people who don’t even feel any rivalry towards the Foxes, are down on their knees, clutching the sellotape, desperately scrabbling to put it all back together the way it was.
Not in this quarter, and not in a thankfully large proportion of the football fan’s hearts. But listen to those applauding Leicester’s feat and how quickly they come to ‘next year’. That ‘next year’ has a specific meaning. It means, ‘Get away, boy, you bother me.

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