Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Leicester City And The London Marathon

It feels like I should mention Leicester City about now. Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard is not just a cynical rant, though that is it's main strength. It's also a record of significant events. There are entries about the deaths of Michael Jackson and Prince. There's a piece about Paul Wellens' retirement. So the greatest upset in the history of sport seems noteworthy.

And that's what Leicester City's Premier League title win is. Leicester City? Are you shitting me? I read earlier today that the 5000-1 odds on Leicester City winning the Premier League when the season kicked off were the same as those of Elvis being found alive and well and of aliens arriving on Earth. That is just how unlikely this outcome was. Some rather bitter and cynical folk have tried to crap on the fairy-tale by pointing out that Leicester now have wealthy owners. That they do, but those owners tend not to spend their money on strengthening Claudio Ranieri's team. The team which was most often selected by Ranieri set the club back about £52million, which is a good deal less than was splurged to assemble the squads representing so-called bigger clubs like Manchesters City and United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. Most of those clubs have spent more than that on an individual player at one time or another.

That Leicester have done the impossible in the manner that they have has very possibly changed the face of football. For as long as anyone can remember there has been a direct correlation between a club's wage bill and it's prospects for winning a title. Even Liverpool's flirtation with a title win in 2013-14 was powered almost entirely by the freakish brilliance of Freddie Mercury tribute act Luis Suarez. They failed, Suarez moved on and everyone settled back into a pattern of expecting City, United, Chelsea and Arsenal to carve it up between them forever. Leicester's miracle is brilliant not only because it shames traditional and newly-rich heavyweights alike, but also because it eliminates the excuses trotted out by Premier League clubs outside the Champions League elite. If Leicester are Premier League champions then at what point do the Newcastles, Evertons, West Hams and even (though they came close this year) the Tottenhams of this world stop selling us the lie that they can't compete due to finances? Now would be a good time.

Should these clubs take confidence and inspiration from Leicester's deeds we may find ourselves being transported back to a time of footballing unpredictability for more than just this one season. Leicester's triumph has been compared to that of East Midlands neighbours Nottingham Forest's title win in 1978. That led to two European Cup wins for Brian Clough's side, who somehow managed to carry off the title in their first season following promotion from the old second division. But theirs was an era which contained no billionaires funded by oligarchs or sheikhs, no commercially over-sized national institutions made seemingly untouchable by gargantuan TV deals and scandalous ticket prices. The playing field was a little more even back then, and the only thing hindering Forest was the perception that they were a little unfashionable. Not that it stopped them from becoming the first English club to pay £1million for a player when they brought in Trevor Francis from Birmingham City. Leicester will likely remain among the lowest spenders in defence of their crown while the fat cats will no doubt embark on another spending spree to try to re-establish the accepted Premier League order. I can't be the only one hoping they fail.

Staying with sport I wanted also to make mention of last week's London Marathon. I didn't actually watch it. In the On Demand era there are infinitely better options than watching CJ from Eggheads wheeze his way around the streets of the capital. But whether you are watching or not it is probably a good idea to stay tucked away from the general public if you happen to be a wheelchair user when the London Marathon is on. I'm not alone in having lost count of the number of times I've been asked why I'm not in the wheelchair race. Of course the real reason is that at my time of life and with my ailments I would rather be stabbed in both eyes with rusty forks than attempt to haul my arse down 26 miles of road. You might just as well ask me why I'm not Director General of the BBC or why I don't present Masterchef.

To assume that I could and should compete in the wheelchair marathon is a flagrant disrespect of the proper athletes who endure it year after year. They're not volunteers, these people. It's not something they do to prove to fucking Cameron and IDS that they're disabled and therefore qualify for PIP. They're serious athletes who train hard for this shit. The failure of the general public to get its collective head around that fact, and to realise that one doesn't actually have to complete the wheelchair marathon to be validated as a human being with a disability is one of life's imponderables. A sad legacy of the Paralympics in London in 2012 and one which will no doubt rear its head again during this year's shebang in Rio. Just why am I not out there chasing David Weir around a track?

I ought to be ashamed.

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