What have two much maligned places – Blackburn and Leicester – got in common? Hope through football.
Like many people I root for the underdog. I rejoice when a system that increasingly favours generationally accumulated wealth is successfully negotiated by someone with fresh ideas, desire and “elbow grease”.
In sport I love “Roy of The Rovers” style stories and one of the most memorable times of my life was when, ex scrap metal dealer and self-made multi-millionaire and fellow Blackburn loving Jack Walker invested £22 million of his own money (pittance by today’s standards) in the local football team, brought in a managerial genius in Kenny Dalglish and a clutch of promising young footballers (including a young and the soon to be superstar Alan Shearer) and created a real life Roy of The Rovers story by guiding Blackburn Rovers to winning England’s Football Premiership in the 94/95 season.
Big Jack, passed away in 2000 and Blackburn Rovers’ time in the sun faded after Jack left us. As Blackburn MP and then Home Secretary said:
“Jack Walker did more than any other individual in the last century to enhance the self-confidence and the prosperity of his home town. He was completely committed to the town and its people. Blackburn Rovers was in many ways the love of his life. His contribution to the club was enormous but that was based in turn on the prosperity he created through his astonishing development of Walker Steel and of many other investments in the area. I salute a great local hero and shall miss him very badly.”
My love of the Premiership waned and I cancelled my Sky Sports subscription as the big ticket price, big spending, big city clubs with enormous corporate backing lifted the cup year after year. Apart from Blackburn Rovers, in the 23 years of the English Premiership only the rich four (Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City) have won it.
Then 2015 and 2016 started to unfold. Leicester City, a club that fought to avoid relegation last season have stayed at the summit or close to it all season. One of the sub plots is that a relatively small town club of modest means led by a quiet non showy Italian manager Claudio Ranieri is massively outperforming a obscenely rich London club led until a few weeks ago by a very showing loud mouth who replaced Ranieri at Chelsea!
The leading goal scorers at Leicester are Jamie Vardy, a 28 year old who three seasons ago was playing non-league football for Fleetwood Town and Riyad Marhez an Algerian rejected by a whole host of clubs backed by a squad of mainly unknowns who like Blackburn Rovers 20 years ago are showing what desire and “elbow grease” can do.
My home town team’s motto is Arte et Labore (By Skill and Hard Work). Come on Leicester, like Blackburn did, show us that this can still trump excessive wealth as a passport to success.
In a time when statistics prove that social mobility is declining and Britain is becoming less of a meritocracy, a success story like this can create inspiration and hope outside of sport.
Come on Leicester City!
Image © Reading Tom on Flickr