Sports

Leicester's Cinerella story

By Phil Cottrell, Daily Observer

Phil Cottrell

Phil Cottrell

Leicester City's success in finishing at the top of the English Premier League (EPL), the most prestigious sports league in the world, is truly a fairy tale. At the start of the season Leicester was 5,000-1 with bookmakers to win the league, a wager taken up by only 12 William Hill punters, among them a 39-year-old Leicester carpenter Leigh Herbert whose five pounds offered up more in faith than hope, has now given him about $46,000 CDN. William Hill PLC is a huge bookmaker based in the UK and is listed on the London Stock Exchange. All the bookies could now lose $12 million on this one! Just to put it into perspective those odds were the same that William Hill was giving for the discovery of the Loch Ness monster, Elvis Presley to return from the dead and also the discovery of intelligent extra terrestrial life.

Leicester is a city about the size of Windsor, Ont., and lies 170 kilometres north of London, in the exact centre of England. It's pronounced "Lester," as in the past Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. And until recently it was famous for one thing: the discovery of a medieval king underneath a parking lot. However now Leicester's is famous for one more thing, namely one of the greatest sporting achievement ever.

Leicester's soccer team is 132 years old and its greatest success previously was finishing second place in the top division, in 1929! In the domestic cup, Leicester City holds the record for the most defeats in the final without having won the competition. As recently as 2009, the team was in the third tier of English football.

It has been well documented that coach Claudio Ranieri's team was essentially a ragbag assortment of castoffs, journeymen and bargain basement buys. The club is owned by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, a Thai billionaire who has invested considerably in the club since acquiring it in 2010 when the side was still in England's Championship, or second division. His support allowed the club's leadership to build the unheralded yet competent squad of journeymen and young talents it currently has.

The Wall Street Journal explained the transformation: "Mr. Vichai moved quickly to change the culture surrounding the club, building up its infrastructure and regularly flying in Buddhist monks from Thailand to bless its stadium and meditate during home games. He also avoided splashing out on expensive star players. Last season, the club spent a total of $68 million CDN on staff, which was the third-lowest level in the league. Manchester United, in contrast, spent $400 million CDN."

An amazing achievement indeed!

Ottawa Fury FC

Ottawa Fury FC closed out April with a big win at their home opener, besting Miami FC 2-0 in front of a noisy crowd of 7,023 at TD Place.

"When we had to defend, we defended brilliantly and obviously when we scored the first goal we allowed ourselves the opportunity to sit back and control the game a little bit," said Fury coach Paul Dalglish. "I think we looked really, really dangerous on the break."

Our wonderful Ottawa papers ignored the game completely, which is totally unacceptable. You have to wonder what else do they ignore? By contrast that week The Pembroke Daily Observer here had a half page on on Real Madrid and another half page on the opening of the renovated BMO field in Toronto.

The Fury's second home game of the season saw them face Minnesota United. This team will be making the jump to Major League Soccer (MLS Division 1) within the next two years. They proved to be a tough opponent.

Carnations provided by Giant Tiger were given out in honour of Mother's Day as folk came into the stadium. Sparky the mascot was in fine form to the delight of the little ones in the crowd of more than 4,300. The supporters groups, the Bytown Boys and Stony Monday Riot were banging on the drums and producing their usual cacophony of extremely loud noise. Young Andrew Penner, the Canadian Tire kid, brought the game ball out with the officials and the Fury players were escorted onto the field by the Nepean Hotspurs U-11 girls. The Captain of the Fury, Julian de Guzman currently out of action with an injury, made a special presentation at field level to Kadeisha Buchanan, the Canadian women's soccer star, who won the Young Player Award for the 2015 Women's World Cup. Gabrielle Mantha belted out the national anthems in no uncertain fashion and then it was game on!

It was not the best first half for the Fury, as Dalglish said after the game, they showed too much respect for their opponent and allowed Minnesota too much possession. However the second half was a different matter. The Fury looked solid on defence with some impressive tackling especially by Lance Rozeboom and there were some good counter attacks. So, at the end of the day Ottawa Fury FC offered up an early Mother's Day present as Canadian international Marcel De Jong scored the equalizer in second-half stoppage time in the 91st minute. The smoke bombs went off and the moms and the rest of the fans at TD Place went home happy with an exciting 2-2 draw with rival Minnesota United FC.

Toronto FC

TFC played a gruelling eight games on the road to start their season, and actually did very well, as the finishing touches were being put to an impressive renovated BMO Stadium. Some $150 million was invested into the revamping of the stadium, which now seats 30,000. It was a sell out for TFC's home opener against Dallas. TFC appear to be a much better squad than last year, particularly in the defence department. On opening night at the new BMO Field, Toronto FC were treated to a glimpse of the past: the raucous crowds that first greeted them back when the venue opened in 2007.

"From warmups, you could tell there was a buzz in the air," said midfielder, Captain and United States International Michael Bradley after the 1-0 win over FC Dallas. "When we walked back out for kickoff, it had escalated, the national anthem was unbelievable. And from the first whistle "¦ It was a special night."

Sebastian Giovinco, who collected his 2015 Audi Golden Boot trophy in a pregame ceremony, agreed: "It was a beautiful night and atmosphere. It was exactly what we wanted and hope for in our next games."

For TFC's Japanese rookie Tsubasa Endoh, the game was extra special as it was his first professional goal which came not only in his first home opener, but also stood as the game-winner. So, is this the year for TFC?

It was an excellent and very entertaining game to watch, and the stadium looks absolutely spectacular. Mind you, this event was also ignored by our Ottawa papers. Lots on the Raptors though, and the Blue Jays. Well that's good, but what about the 30,052 at BMO field, are they of no consequence?

Lufthansa ad

Sure I'm biased, but personally I think the soccer ads are the best of all sports ads anywhere, anytime. Check out this great one from Lufthansa.

https://youtu.be/FD9UTBWo51w

Amway Cup

Every year, the Amway Canadian Championship pits Canada's professional clubs - Ottawa Fury FC (North American Soccer League (NASL) Division 2), FC Edmonton (NASL), Montreal Impact (MLS), Toronto FC (MLS) and Vancouver Whitecaps FC (MLS) - against each other in a knock-out home-and-away series to ultimately determine a champion that will lift the Voyageurs Cup and earn the right to represent the country in the CONCACAF Champions League, where the winner goes up against the top teams from North and Central America as well as the top Caribbean teams. That winner then goes on to meet the winners of the other's conferences (there are six FIFA conferences in all worldwide), for the eventual prize of the top soccer club in the world.

Here in Canada, the Amway cup kicked off this week when Ottawa Fury FC visited Edmonton. Fury FC delivered their most convincing performance of the season as Paul Dalglish's side downed the Eddies (FC Edmonton) 3-0 in the first leg. Fury FC will now travel back home and will be back in action on May 18 at TD Place as they play the return leg against Edmonton. The winner will meet the Vancouver Whitecaps in the semifinal stage of the competition. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Remember, whatever your sport, to win the game is great, to play the game is greater, but to love the game is the greatest of all. And the greatest game is played by more than 250 million players in 200 countries. So, be part of the soccer fan base worldwide, of 3.5 billion and counting! Also, remember . . . support local soccer! If you have any comments on the beautiful game please contact me at cottrell@nrtco.net or call 613-587-4856.