Tuesday, 3 May 2016

An announcement

I owe my interest in football, and my love of it, to my dad. He was a cultured midfielder of no mean ability himself, in his youth, and I can't remember a time when I didn't want to either kick a ball around, or watch someone else do the same.

He's a lifelong Grimsby supporter, so the first game I ever went to was Peterborough against the Mariners, in the 1976-77 season. Grimsby lost 3-1, but by that time I was already a confirmed Leicester City fan. If my dad was disappointed, he's never let it show, and he follows Leicester as enthusiastically as I follow Grimsby. In 1998, we even saw the Mariners win twice at Wembley in one season, but that's a story for another day.

At primary school, there were a lot of Man Utd bags (those cheap, rectangular holdalls that you bought on the market) to be seen, and surprisingly few Liverpool, given that they were just entering their golden era. I'd never heard of Forest at that stage (Clough's own miracle was just about to happen), although Derby and Leeds also had their playground adherents. And there was a group of us steadfast in our support of Leicester, although we were just entering one of our frequent low periods, getting relegated under the management of former City playing legend Frank McLintock. The kit at that time, from city firm Admiral, was horrible too, although I didn't think so then.

My first experience of Filbert Street was a 4-1 thrashing by Birmingham City (featuring a young Trevor Francis) in 1977-78, as we went down to the old Second Division. And then followed 37 years of ups and downs, mainly the latter. Oh, there was the pleasure of being Liverpool's early 80s bogey side, of seeing a raw, pacy youngster called Gary Lineker mature into a world-class finisher, of a play-off final win over Derby, and of the Martin O'Neill years of the late 90s, with two League Cup wins and four consecutive top 10 finishes in the Premier League. But it says something about how success-starved we've been at Leicester that we were inordinately proud of our record of never having been outside the top two divisions, until that disappeared in 2008. A few years earlier, we nearly went out of business, with Lineker and other ex-players among those stepping in to save us.

All of which is a long preamble to saying that the events of this season, culminating last night, are beyond my wildest dreams. I mean it. If what's really happened had occurred on-screen while playing Football Manager, I'd have dismissed the game as having become hopelessly unrealistic. I'd have closed it down in embarrassment, and gone and done something more constructive instead. I have, in idle moments, thought we might one day win the FA Cup, but that's about it.

You know the details by now. Jamie Vardy's record-breaking scoring streak. Riyad Mahrez's artistry. Huth and Morgan's rock-solid defending. N'Golo Kante's discovery of the secret of perpetual motion. And of course, Claudio Ranieri's leadership, combining great tactical shrewdness with expert man management, and a charming, media-friendly way of deflecting pressure from his players. If he's not the greatest Italian ever to set foot in Leicester, it's only because the city might not exist had some first century civil servant not suggested building a fort on the boggy banks of the Soar.

But back to my dad. When I was born, he set out to register the birth. My parents had agreed on the first names Matthew and James, just because they liked them, although my mum might have been pleased that James was also her maiden name, and my dad certainly liked the fact that they gave a little nod to two of his football heroes, Sir Matt Busby and Jimmy Greaves. When he got to the register office, though, he decided to add a third name, Robert, after his favourite footballer, Bobby Charlton. My mum was not best pleased.

Neither was I, once I was old enough to know. It wasn't that I had anything against the name Robert, really, or the 1966 World Cup winner, more that I didn't like having three first names.

Until now. A few weeks back, when everything was still very much in the balance, I promised that, were we to win the title, I'd change the Robert to Ranieri. Well, I'm a man of my word. I'm filling in the forms, and it's all in motion. You know, just in case I forget what's happened these last nine months.


Davina said...

Congratulations - and a tad less public than Lineker's promise.

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Matt

I followed the Chelsea v Spurs match on the internet and when Chelsea equalised I cheered as loudly as a lifelong Foxes fan. I used to support Man Utd but, for the last twenty-five years have supported Swansea. Perhaps it will be their turn next season!

Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish