May 4th, 2008 is a date that resonates in my mind more than any date, other than birthdays of loved ones. It was the day Leicester City were relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in their history. What has followed since that dark day has surpassed anything that the most optimistic fan could ever think was possible.
People know the story of how Leicester beat the drop for the greatest escape, how they beat the odds of 5,000-1 to win the Premier League and how they got to the quarte-finals of the Champions League. When I hear Leicester fans complain about Riyad Mahrez, it is almost as if they have forgotten the years when the fans would have given everything for a talent like Mahrez, even if he can be frustrating.
Tales of inconsistency
Rewind ten years from the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals and Leicester had just recorded their third straight defeat at home to Birmingham City, leaving them perilously close to relegation from the Championship. However, with the steady hand of caretaker Manager Nigel Worthington, Leicester managed to survive another day.
After considering Worthington to be too steady for Leicester as they entered the 2007/08 season, chairman Milan Mandaric brought in Martin “Mad Dog” Allen as manager. Allen’s reign proved to be short in length, but full of drama, as he put star striker Matty Fryatt in the reserves and personally dug up all the plants in the training ground and replanted blue flowers! On the pitch the results were mixed. The high for Allen was a 4-1 win over Watford, when stood on the halfway line before the game and geed up the fans. When Claudio Ranieri did that sort of thing he appeared inspiring and endearing in equal measure, but with Allen, it was bizarre, baffling and barking mad!
After Mandaric became fed up with Allen, he turned to Gary Megson. The “Ginger Mourinho” who produced the most boring football in Leicester’s history and made Craig Levein look like Pep Guardiola. Fortunately, Premier League side Bolton Wanderers came along only six weeks after Megson’s appointment and took him and his miserable football to the Reebok Stadium.
Then came Ian Holloway whose inconsistent performances and results swung from the sublime, including beating West Bromwich Albion 4-1 at the Hawthorns, to being beaten 3-1 at home to Sheffield Wednesday in the penultimate game of the season. Holloway’s Leicester side never seemed to have any strategy or consistent style as players came in and out of the side. A total number of 39 players played for Leicester that season. The club and all of its managers never had a consistent idea on anything that makes a football club successful such as player recruitment, tactics and playing style.
The dark days of League One
Leicester went into the final day of the 2007/08 season needing a win to survive. The only problem is that Stoke City only needed a point to be promoted to the Premier League. As many sides have found out over the years, getting a point away at a well-polished and motivated Tony Pulis side is like forcing a cork back into the wine bottle. Inevitably, despite the fight from certain players like Iain Hume, Leicester were relegated to League One. The lowest moment in the club’s history just eight years before the greatest moment in the club’s history.
The combination of the stability brought by Nigel Pearson in his first stint in charge brought belief back to the club. Fans became used to winning football matches again, despite setbacks under Paulo Sousa and Sven Goran Eriksen. The self-belief of the fans and the tremendous backing of the Srivaddhanaprabha family has led to a culture of winning football.
In life, it is often said that the darkest hour is always before the dawn, and that is true with the magnificent story of Leicester. When the club went to its lowest level, the belief changed to the never say die attitude that the club has taken to its heart. Keep the faith changed from a reassuring phrase that kept fans upbeat to the expectation that foxes never quit. Quite simply Leicester, the dream-makers, would never have happened if it was not for the heartbreakers of the previous decade.
How important was Leicester’s decline in their subsequent rise? Let us know in the comments section below.