(Originally posted on my old site, March 5th 2016)
As I write this, I’m sat in a hotel bar. I couldn’t sleep last night, for a combination of reasons: I had a late night curry, I’m away from my pregnant wife, and for the first time in my life, my football team is really, really good.
I’m going to try and watch the North London derby in a while, but I’m not sure that my nerves can take it. I’ve been sat here for a while trying to work out the best result for us: a draw seems most favourable, keeping us top at the end of the day no matter how we fare against Watford at teatime, but an Arsenal win wouldn’t be the end of the world (we will still be three points clear even if we get beat later on) and if I’m really overthinking it, a Spurs win could be fine if we win later on as it makes everything a two horse race and I’ll spend slightly less time doing maths over a weekend.
When I first started going to watch Leicester regularly as a kid, I remember us winning a game at Filbert Street and on the way home, my Dad asked me if I enjoyed myself. When I replied that I did, he very calmly told me to not get used to it. He’d been watching us since the 1960s, he explained, and we had never been any good. He gave me the option to support somebody else, follow Liverpool like most of my schoolmates did (it was the 1980s) because we would never win the league and never win the FA Cup. When I told him I still wanted to support City he was delighted, and we started going regularly from that point onwards.
Since then we have had one period of being a half decent mid table Premier League team in the late 1990s under Martin O’Neill, and a lot of second tier football punctuated with a couple of league cup wins (a tournament that the big teams don’t care about), bankruptcy, demotion to League One and our great escape last season. And I’m not about to tell you that my club is a sleeping giant, we aren’t. If the Premier League was organised primarily on the size of a club, we might just about scrape into the Premier League. I’m totally fine with this, because it’s my hometown and I bloody love my football team.
This season has been mental. I never sit chatting to my dad or my mates at the start of the season about how we could win the league, even if we’re in the second tier. For anybody who supports a PROPER football team – ie not one of the super rich big five or six – you know what it’s like. You don’t really dream of winning titles or cups. You hope to win your local derby and not get relegated. I can’t imagine what it must be like to support a team like Manchester United and be violently annoyed that my team is only fifth in the richest league in the world, or Arsenal and be annoyed at not winning the title in over a decade. Plenty of teams have NEVER won the title, mine definitely included.
As City’s quite ludicrous run has gone on and on, I’ve been called upon to talk about it in interviews a fair bit. I can only reason this is happening because I’m the only professional comedian (that I’m aware of) who chooses to support Leicester. I also think that they’ve tried other City supporting people in the entertainment industry and drawn a blank. I know my place in the world. Gary Lineker and Kasabian at the top, that lass of the X Factor and Willie Thorne in the middle and I’m somewhere below Rusty Lee.
Every time I do any media stuff I’ll start by saying something daft like “I think we might just avoid relegation”, but it’s not for the sake of a laugh. I cannot say for a second that we might win the league, because I’ll jinx it and then I’ll spend the rest of my life blaming myself. You won’t find many City fans insisting we’ll do it. We’re all realists and know the dream could end at any point.
(As I’m typing, the TV in the bar – set to Sky News – just showed an advert for our game tonight. It featured pictures of City players looking nervous or dejected with the caption “CAN LEICESTER HANDLE THE PRESSURE?” That isn’t helping my nerves, thanks Sky)
This is agony to deal with. Everyone who follows me on Twitter knows who I support, and it genuinely seems that most football fans want us to win it. But with ten utterly agonising games to go, I might just have to leave the country or hibernate. When we were useless, life was much easier. On a Saturday I would expect us to lose, and every occasional win felt wonderful. It would be much easier to try and forget about football and maybe take up another hobby at the weekends. I’ve even stopped going to watch other teams on a Saturday for my blog because all I’d be doing is checking my phone and freaking out over what is happening elsewhere.
But obviously I’m not going to turn away. Work keeps me away from Leicester most of the time, but there’s TV and the Internet helping me to keep up, and my Dad texting me throughout every game just in case I’m not in the know. I went to my first game of the season on Tuesday night and was reminded how utterly in love with a football club that I am, even more so as our owners have worked hard with our fans to make our stadium way more atmospheric than it was a few years ago and I last had a season ticket.
I did TalkSPORT the other week and got more than one tweet from people calling me a gloryhunter for supporting City. Now whilst I’ve heard a few accents on phone ins over the past fortnight who definitely don’t have the same East Midlands brogue as me (there’s a fair few cockney Leicester fans now, possibly legit or having abandoned Chelsea. Maybe they have mid 1990s Blackburn shirts in their wardrobe as well), I’ve been a supporter since the age of six and I went to just about every game between the age of 16 and 33, when comedy got a bit more intense and busy. Weirdly, until this season some of my favourite memories are of our sole season in League One, going to places like Cheltenham and taking the whole town over.
Tonight I’ll watch through my fingers as City visit Watford, trying to take a snapshot in my mind for future reference of the greatest team that I will probably ever see wear our blue shirt. Until recently my best ever City eleven was mainly made up of the 1997 side, but our current team is utterly phenomenal, not just for a Leicester team but for ANY side. Schmeichel wins us points on his own, Simpson and Fuchs are the most had working full backs in the league, Morgan and Huth make up for their collective lack of pace by being intelligent and terrifying, Drinkwater should be starting for England (but won’t, Hodgson will pick a half fit Jack Wilshere over an in form Drinkwater), Kante is the best tackler in Europe, Albrighton is the best crosser of the ball I’ve ever seen (replacing Steve Guppy), Mahrez is flat out the best player I have ever watched in a foxes shirt, Okazaki works harder than any striker you will ever see and Vardy is, well, Jamie Vardy. Even our bench is good.
The problem is that hope is terrifying. Every now and then I’ll imagine big Wes raising the Premier League trophy aloft, or the commentary as Vardy scores against Everton in our last home game of the season to secure us the title (I’m not daft, I’m not expecting to win at Chelsea on the last day of the season). Just imagine if this happens. Seriously. Think about it. Leicester City winning the league. It’s utterly unthinkable. My little team would literally break modern football (in the eyes of the money men that run it) and improve it immeasurably (to any lesser team supporters, except maybe those of Forest and Derby).
I do have a theory on our rise though, because everything that has happened this season has been so surreal that I’m not entirely sure if I’m in a coma and this is all some kind of fevered dream. Maybe my personal happiness is somehow affecting my football team. Four years ago, I met my wife. Since falling in love with her, City have reached the playoffs (as we began our courtship), won the Championship (as we got engaged), stayed up (as we got married) and we’re now top of the league with ten games to go (as my wife is 4 and a half months pregnant). For the record, when we went down to League One I was single, depressed and heavily medicated.
I really don’t know if we’ll do it. And this season hasn’t made me love Leciester City any more than I already did, because after my wife, daughter and family I couldn’t love anything more. But we, as fans, stand on the very edge of something truly wonderful, and fans of so many other teams are finding our upturn of fortunes resonates with them because if we can dream, why can’t they?
Rewind back to that conversation with my Dad in the 1980s. This shouldn’t even be thinkable. We shouldn’t be getting close. Not in my lifetime. But we are.
Its still 0-0 at White Hart Lane.
For now, the dream goes on.
(I’ll still take fourth)
Jurys Inn, Sheffield, 1.20pm, March 5th 2016