Monday 24 October 2016

A barmy and bonkers season has the fairy tale finish for Leicester

Nick Mashiter

Published 07/05/2016 | 19:49

Leicester City fans
Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Boyers
Leicester City fans Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Boyers

A flag hangs inside the King Power Stadium.

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It shows Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri as the Godfather, pulling the puppet strings. There will be another film made of this season but Ranieri has already turned fantasy into reality

A barmy and bonkers season. There will not be another like it.

Champions Leicester finished a remarkable season at the King Power Stadium with a routine win over Everton which barely told the story of the last 12 months.

Bottom for 140 days last season, top since January, this year the Foxes have strolled to the most extraordinary of title successes.

Barclays Premier League champions after being 5,000-1 outsiders in August, the Foxes have ignored all the doubters.

Less than 24 hours after winning the title on Monday Ranieri sat down with a few writers who afforded him a mini ovation in a room at Leicester's training ground.

He spoke, at length, about his past, present and future, never once angling to leave early despite the exertions of the day.

Once finished, as he left Belvoir Drive, he posed for four pictures with fans in the car park and joked "don't put this in the newspaper".

Ranieri, for all his achievements, does not want praise. His turn of phrase and eccentric press conferences bag him the headlines but he is the man of the people. The man of Leicester.

His grasp of English is better than he lets on and he can get his point across to his team like any other English manager, forcefully and occasional turning the air blue.

But it was the blue ribbons on the trophy which sat pitchside before the game that signalled Ranieri, for all the criticism and mockers when he was appointed as Nigel Pearson's replacement last summer, is a Premier League champion - 12 years after finishing second, and being sacked, at Chelsea.

He was greeted by a festival atmosphere when he arrived on Saturday afternoon. The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury would have been proud.

A funfair welcomed supporters on Raw Dykes Road, the bumper cars signalling how the Foxes had shunted their rivals out of the title race.

Horns blared, a Sikh band smacked their drums while the gospel choir which had been ever-present in the second half of the season belted out their tunes.

Unofficial vendors cashed in with £10 flags and capes - and there were plenty of takers - while supporters lapped up the free beer on offer from the owners.

A torrential downpour an hour before kick-off sent fans scattering but only served to ramp up the early atmosphere inside the stadium.

The Foxes fans registered a 0.3 on the Richter scale when Leonardo Ulloa scored a last-minute winner against Norwich in February and they were in no mood to shut up now.

Stars were cut into the pitch by the club's forever-creative groundstaff and Kasabian's Club Foot echoed around as frontman Tom Meighan watched on.

And the singer looked emotional as Andrea Bocelli sang Nessun Dorma, having been led onto the pitch by Ranieri, who had been instrumental in the plans for the tenor's performance.

"We are champions because you pushed this club so much. Thank you," said Ranieri as he addressed the crowd.

The stadium then erupted when Bocelli revealed he was wearing a Leicester shirt before his final number of Time to Say Goodbye.

The game itself could have been an inconvenience, a chore to attend to before the coronation.

But the hosts, as Ranieri promised, refused to go through the motions as Jamie Vardy scored his 23rd goal of the season inside six minutes.

Everton were never going to spoil the party. Their season run they offered limp resistance. A stale sandwich at the do, they had no place being there.

After watching Bocelli, Leicester fans went through their own repertoire, honouring their heroes before Andy King - who has now won League One, the Championship and the Premier League with the club - made it 2-0 after 33 minutes.

At half-time, England World Cup winner and Gordon Banks, who made 293 league appearances for the Foxes, was brought on to the pitch, along with other Leicester greats, to add to the sense of occasion.

World Snooker champion Mark Selby, the Jester from Leicester, also did a lap of honour with the trophy he won just minutes after his side had clinched the title on Monday.

Vardy added his second from the penalty spot after the break when he was brought down by Matt Pennington to add the stardust to his own fairytale.

The game was a procession and, in truth, it had been a title procession since the Foxes went top with a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa in January.

Even Vardy missing a second penalty, and the chance for a hat-trick, failed to dampen the mood and the home fans even clapped Kevin Mirallas' consolation.

'We are staying up' they chanted, with a hint of sarcasm. Vardy will not be the only one having a party tonight.

Press Association

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