Tuesday 23 January 2018

Parents need to warn would-be Foxes fans that this is as good as it gets

Jamie Vardy celebrates scoring the third goal for Leicester from the penalty spot during the match against Everton. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters
Jamie Vardy celebrates scoring the third goal for Leicester from the penalty spot during the match against Everton. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters

Aidan O'Hara: Outside the Box

During the international break in March, Wayne Rooney revealed that one of his sons asked him for an England kit with Jamie Vardy's name on the back.

Rooney didn't say which child it was, or even whether he bought it for him, but Rooney's dilemma is one that will be faced by many parents after Leicester's Premier League title success. It is, how do you explain to a six-year-old, as Rooney's eldest child is, that this might be as good as it gets?

There are impressionable kids out there who will have been swept up in the blue wave of Leicester euphoria in the last few weeks and who may have latched onto something small like Vardy's blue arm cast, Riyad Mahrez's boots or maybe Claudio Ranieri reminds them of their eccentric grandfather. A visual aid coupled with a bit of success can be all that is needed to get hooked.

In my case, it was a fascination with Steve Foster's headband and Luton beating Arsenal in an exciting 1988 League Cup final that set in motion what has been a great deal of misery for the best part of three decades. The first warning that this wasn't going to be a happy relationship came a couple of years later when Luton played in Dalymount Park and my Dad innocently read a question from the match programme.

Q. Which Luton player recently signed for Oxford United?

A. Steve Foster.

Despite the brief moment of heartbreak, getting acknowledgements and autographs from every Luton player on the substitutes' bench was a redeeming factor. (Tottenham players - who were also in the four-team tournament with Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers - gave no autographs and robbed my pen.)

Just like innocent would-be Leicester supporters today, it was impossible to know that the 1988 League Cup win would prove to be the high point of Luton's now 131 years as a club.

Perhaps had Andy Dibble not saved Nigel Winterburn's penalty and Arsenal had won the game, I'd be one of their supporters not content with five league titles and seven FA Cups in the same period as well as 18 consecutive seasons in the Champions League.

Instead, it's finishing a season 11th in League Two, a transfer record that remains at £850,000 for Lars Elstrup in 1989 and going to a ground where the main stand was bought from Kempton racecourse in the 1920s. But don't forget, it's Arsenal fans who are the long-suffering ones.

It's a similar trap to the one Irish Aston Villa supporters in the early '90s fell into when Paul McGrath was at his peak or those who wanted a Blackburn jersey for Christmas around 1994. Ideally, this support would come in tandem with playing as a child and going to League of Ireland games but such is the level of exposure to English football that most kids have chosen their team for life - English, Scottish or Irish - when they are barely as tall as a barstool never mind being able to sit and watch football on one. But, and this is the key to encouraging those would-be supporters to hitch their colours to the Leicester wagon, it's that misery which makes the glory all the sweeter.

On Monday night, several Leicester supporters referenced the 1997 and 2000 League Cup final victories, thinking that would be as good as it could get for the Foxes.

There are several clubs for whom only winning a League Cup would be enough to get a manager sacked with the approval of large sections of a club's fanbase who buy into a certain modern notion that support should only be forthcoming when a team is winning.

Kenny Dalglish was sacked as Liverpool manager after they won the 2012 League Cup but finished outside the top four. The money involved makes it understandable why clubs place such an emphasis on qualifying for the Champions League but it's difficult to imagine, years from now, somebody regaling their grandchild with a tale of where they were when their team finished fourth.

A long wait for a trophy is one way of making teams appreciate what they had as Liverpool fans in their forties and fifties are finding out as their wait for a top-tier title stretches beyond the 26 years that Manchester United went through from 1967 to 1993. Indeed, there may be Liverpool supporters who were teenagers in 1990 when they lifted their 18th league title who are grandfathers now.

United fans who moaned about Alex Ferguson's team selections at the time are currently being chastened by their third consecutive season without a Premier League title which might not seem a long time but a similar hardship has only happened once since 1993.


It's a sweeping generalisation to suggest that trophies don't mean as much to one set of supporters as others but it's human nature that success becomes less celebrated the more it arrives.

And it's not just football. The outpouring of joy and relief to Dublin's 2011 All-Ireland final victory was so much greater than their victory last year because, in 2011, there were 27-year-olds there who had only been alive for one All-Ireland title. There are now four-year-olds who have been alive for three of them.

Given how much they've apparently been written off, Kerry's next All-Ireland is likely to be greeted with plenty of fanfare given that they haven't won it since 2014 while, by comparison, when Mayo do eventually lift the Sam Maguire, their celebrations will make Leicester's seem mundane.

The point that goes across all sports, however, is that your team as a child is your team for life which is why the scenes at the King Power Stadium should be an encouragement for youngsters not to follow the crowd.

Until this season, anybody revealing that they supported Leicester would have been met with quizzical looks; people who couldn't remember their name would at least remember what team they supported.

And if his Dad does buy him the Jamie Vardy jersey, one thing will be certain for Kai Rooney - supporting a team like Leicester will never be boring.

Irish Independent

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