Leicester is looking towards a summer of content

Leicester City's battle to the top of the English Premier League is making football fans of everyone, writes Michael Simkins

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri at a recent match against Hull City. Action Images / Craig Brough
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"To dream the impossible dream." So runs the opening lyric of the iconic anthem from the musical Man of La Mancha. Nowadays the song, memorably recorded by both Elvis Presley and Cher, is more associated with middle-aged pot-bellied amateur crooners bawling into a microphone at karaoke parties and wedding receptions.

Nonetheless, Claudio Ranieri, the manager of English Premier League team Leicester City, might do well to learn a couple of verses, just in case he’s pressed into singing a snatch of something appropriate from an open-top bus procession in a few weeks’ time.

Until his arrival, the city was famous for only two things – its Red Leicester cheese and its association with England’s most infamous monarch, Richard III.

As for its football team, this time last year it was firmly rooted at the foot of the Premiership table.

Then came a most unlikely comeback and Leicester City somehow avoided relegation. But with their entire squad costing little more than one of the starrier players at Chelsea or Liverpool, none but their most ardent fans expected them to escape the drop again this time around.

But then along came Ranieri. Looking more like the owner of a car showroom or an upmarket Italian restaurant than a football manager, he soon began knitting the existing team into a unit that played pulsating, attractive and uncomplicated football. And while pundits remained preoccupied with arguing whether Chelsea’s now former coach Jose Mourinho or Manchester City’s Manuel Pellegrini would lift the trophy, or whether Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger should persist with a flat back four, Ranieri transformed his journeyman squad into a winning unit.

By the New Year, they were at the top of the table. Plucky little Leicester! They’d wouldn’t still be there come the end of the season – of course not – but well done for trying, bless their little cotton socks.

We turned away again. And meanwhile Leicester kept on winning. And now, with just eight games to go, they find themselves on the verge of creating history.

The result is that suddenly everyone is a football fan; even my wife, who doesn't know her six-yard box from her penalty spot, and who thinks that a flat back four is something associated with a self-assembly wardrobe. Now even she is joining me in my Saturday-night ritual in front of the BBC's highlights programme, Match Of the Day.

“Do you think their defence is playing too deep?” she asks nervously. And I can see the familiar look I’ve seen in so many of my acquaintances, but never, until now, in her – that blend of desperation, disbelief and blind optimism that marks the true sports fan.

If Ranieri and his players can hold their nerve, they will have fashioned English football’s greatest ever fairy tale. Yet if the customary celebratory open-top bus procession through the city streets does indeed take place, they might do well to bow their heads towards the city’s cathedral as the bus passes by.

For the last year, at about the time Ranieri was arriving to take up his post, Richard III’s skeleton was reinterred there, having been discovered lying beneath the concrete in a nearby part of the city. And for many superstitious souls in the city, the team’s improbable success and King Richard’s rightful reburial just a mile from the team’s King Power stadium after 500 years of anonymity are far more than mere coincidences. Football players being what they are, few of the Leicester team will probably know anything of this cosmic juxtaposition; yet we can be sure that Mr Rainieri, who has brought a welcome touch of both culture and modesty to his profession, will be only too aware.

And who knows? Perhaps he'll even aim a few bars of The Impossible Dream in the direction of the cathedral and its slumbering monarch as the bus trundles past. Now that really would be a romantic climax to the season.

Michael Simkins is an actor and writer in London

On Twitter: @michael_simkins