While I certainly share the excitement over the incredible rise of Leicester, I think there is a lot of what I call “present-day bias” in the suggestion that it is possibly the greatest ever story in sport.
If Leicester were to win the Premier League it would rank as “one of” the greatest sporting stories. But I don’t think it is even right to call it the greatest story in the history of English football. I actually think there is a more remarkable story in English football in my lifetime.
In 1977, Nottingham Forest – a medium-sized club from a medium-sized provincial city – scraped promotion to the top flight by finishing third. That club then went on to be crowned league champions in their first season. (No English team has managed that since.) Thus they qualified for the European Cup in the following year (the predecessor of the present-day Champions League) and won it. And they then retained it the following season.
With all due respect to Leicester, that’s going to be hard to cap.
Forest have not been in the top flight since 1999, so many modern fans don’t think about them much or hear much about their glory days. Indeed, it’s a common quiz game among men to ask which British teams have won the Champions League – and which is the only one of them to have won more than once and never lost in the final. I will give you a clue: it’s five plus Forest.
Forest’s extraordinary success is largely attributed to the nous of the manager Brian Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor. Clough is often called the greatest manager ever in Britain (and “the best manager England never had”). I think he deserves the accolade because he performed a similarly heroic feat with Derby County – another medium club from a medium city that he took from the second division to top flight champions (in 1972, their third season since promotion).
Curiously, Derby, Forest and Leicester have something in common: they are all in the East Midlands, not the most fashionable, not the richest and not the most heavily populated region of England. Three incredible underdog stories, but the greatest of these is Forest.