The value of the squad and sporting comradery.

Ranging from Leicester City to QUB Athletics to Mario Kart and all and any other forms or levels of sport.

Rory Morrow

Leicester City FA Cup winners 2021 Getty

The tide swept in, aloft with anger, bustling with protesters but the wave finally came crashing down with a satisfying thump courtesy of Leicester City’s FA Cup victory. After a week where Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona continue to withdraw from the European Super League mantra, the Foxes success emphasised the utter nonsense of it in numerous ways.

Firstly, the words Leicester City should by now sink anybody’s ship when this FA Cup coupled with a Champions league quarter final in 2016/17, Europa league ardours this campaign and above all, the miraculous, wonderfully uplifting, scarcely believable sight of Leicester winning the Premier League in 2015/16 having had odds of 5000/1. And that was wasn’t just a one-off on the hoof type of victory. Instead, it was a season of quality, grit, game management and marvellously human traits by Claudio Ranieri. They romped home 10 points ahead of second place.

Remember Mario Kart? Course you do. You could slow down your opponents with neat tricks like banana peels and bombing bullets that shovelled racers all over. Well, Leicester onlyneeded to rely on one weapon, the shield/cloak defence mechanism protecting them from the consequences of any other weapons. Basically, they have been so stupendous theyhave not even had to resort to weapons. Guarding themselveswith ease while the “big six” clowned about, dizzily stumbling about the table after being slapped with the ramifications of a bullet belt or cheekily nudged off it by a blue shell from nothing.

Further undermining the ESL would be the displacement of the ‘big six’ that year as Liverpool and Chelsea drunkenly staggered to eighth and tenth placed finishes.  Big six?  Really?  Is there a big six in a league where the defending champions can be thrashed 7-2?  When relegated TeemuPukki and co can consequently harass the £50Mil Stones-Otamendi origin of City’s Pep-ball to record a shock win?  Are Tottenham Hotspur categorically a top six team based onthe number of Amazon documentaries they’ve starred in (or hired Jose Mourinho to) or trophies won?  Where revolutionary right back, hybrid Trent Alexander-Arnold’sand Phil Foden can shimmy City to the top?  Both academy products but both big players.  What’s that saying about value for money? 

As good as that Premier League title feels for neutrals as well as Leicester supporters, in the current footballing climate, the FA Cup win feels an as significant moment. Not to ridicule solely Chelsea but take this example of the bizarreness of football’s current valuation of value. Timo Werner signed in the region of £100Mil in contrast to Jamie Vardy’s £1Mil journey up from Fleetwood Town. Werner undoubtedly is talented and hitting some form… for the purposes of this though, he is also a convenient example of misses that range from maddening to laughing to pitiable.

Yet as Vardy approaches a decade at Leicester City, many suitors who missed out will probably not boast the Ted Hastings quote that “No one makes mugs of AC-12!” (6×7). Both men have pace to burn for runs in behind, yet they also possess an influential physique.

Not Conor MacGregor muscles but bustling elbows and ruffling ankles, the type of striker that defenders would be scared of in training never mind an actual live, televised football match in front of boisterous and away-end cheekily goading (how we’ve missed your wheeys and oles) supporters.   But Vardy has been so much more than just a goal scorer, he has transformed into an icon, the beacon of hope for non-leaguers climbing to the top despite capitalism’s menacing presence.   We love Jamie because who doesn’t love that rowdy person at a party, how could you not have urged the ball to bulge the net as he sought to break Rudd van Nistelrooy’s record of consecutive goal-scoring games?   For a while, Vardy’s party was the only party to be at and although he is quieter now, that doesn’t make him any less likeable or important.  

Even for myself, an England (one of many) footballing enemy, I couldn’t help but like the fella. He seemed like the type of new person you meet on a night who you’d want tobuy shots for just for the sheer simplicity of seeing what happens. The Leicester squad encapsulates Vardy’s unexpected but oh so glorious success. Kasper Schmeichel, at one stage destined to be overshadowed by dad Peter eternally,has written his own story and continues to fill it with memorable chapters.

Our own Norn Irish big Jonny Evanssigned on the cheap having been deemed not good enough by a Manchester United club who have only kept one clean sheet in their last five league matches. Ayoze Perez, the talented Spaniard who before this triumph, had a relegation with Newcastle United as the CV stand out. Himself, James Maddison and Hamza Choudhury have all also redeemed themselves from Covid parties playing key parts in seeing out the win.

Kelechi Iheanacho, the striker who has shadowed Sergio Aguero and Vardy now has his own playlist of sweet strikes. Slabhead’s replacement, the Turk Caglar Soyuncuwho until a string of sound performances was generally known as the doppelganger to Lord Farquaad from Shrek. And of course, Wes Morgan, the inspirational leader continuing to lead at Wembley yesterday. Throw in thriving academy product Luke Thomas, a sublimely underrated match-winning midfielder that is Youri Tielemans, Kante’stwin named Wilfred Ndidi and under-fuelled Wesley Fofana, this is a proper team.

In sport, the squad is vital. At all levels. Like I know if and when races return for QUB Athletics, that I will not be bringing home anything resembling a medal on the 60m sprints, I’m more of a cross country, “athlete”. Apologies, maybe athlete is a tad Father Ted delusional optimist there. However, although I won’t be of the talent to sprint, that doesn’t mean I can’t play my part. Roaring names, spitting out “KEEP ER LIT!” and haphazardly distracting people with the promises of “my round”, the bench and squad is as important. Look at the final of Euros 2016, Cristiano Ronaldo had transformed from stretchered off injured to stretching the touchline, ferociously pounding up and down, arms wildly gesticulating like a tickly octopus, chucking out a cacophony of Portuguese words, vowels and swearing as though he were a drunk Santa Claus on the annual delivery of presents. And the hero on that occasion was indeed, not a regular. No, it was Eder, a Swansea City reject who won one of the biggest prizes national football has to offer. My point, in a very roundabout way is that the squad comradery is as important as the starting athletes and players.

Examples lead the way: Swift recovery for Christiano Ronald at the Euros 2016.

Just a glance at the Leicester substitutes reflects this. Ricardo Pereira has recovered from a year-long injury, Denis Praet had been out since January, Daniel Amartey’s last commandingperformance was in the 5-2 demolition of Manchester Cityback in September. And the Foxes still won despite a smaller squad and without James Justin, Harvey Barnes and Christian Fuchs. By contrast, Chelsea’s mere injury absence was Mateo Kovacic.

It felt further fitting that the Blues, who until the 2019 transfer ban were a predominantly squad-purchased team, despite an academy of riches, would ironically lose to the club they had raided of Danny Drinkwater, N’Golo Kanteand Ben Chilwell. Leicester’s victory over them yesterday left Chelsea feeling akin to burglars divulging their night’s work of one priceless jewel, another unpolished diamond and the third bandit sheepishly standing there with a bag of Haribo rings. Oh, was this not what we came to the Tower of London in the dark dead of night with plyers and wearing balaclavas for?

Let us too praise Brendan Rodgers, a man unfairly scorned with a reputation for blowing opportunities who has helped the club stay in the upper echelons of the game.

Take a second and remove all anger at greedy capitalists and wonder from a sporting perspective, on exactly what merit do Tottenham Hotspur get invited to an exclusive ESL over Leicester? But then, that is an essential reason Leicester have so many admirers. They are our people, one of football’s good guys confronting the swaggeringly rich bullies. That is a key part of the magic and loveable charm. That despite flying high and seeking pastures anew, we can still love and attempt to relate to the tale of Leicester City, the underdogs everyone roots for every single game that our team isn’t playing them. They inspire hope that we can upset the corporate chain of cash flow and wealthiness without becoming so stale that we are redundant to a corporate institution ourselves.

This speel drifts into societal areas as well as sporting but it is important speel for now and the future, corporate capitalism is not a fair nor realistic way forward. Certainly, it was refreshing to see Leicester’sowner, Aiyawatt Syrivaddhanaprabha attend and mingle with fans before celebrating like a passionate, deliriously happy supporter. To see the recovery of the tragic death of his father, Khun Vichai Syrivaddhanaprabha. Leicester’s legacy is doing him proud.

For Rodgers, after a title collapse at Liverpool coupled with previous League and FA Cup semi-final defeats by Aston Villa and a top four final day drop out last season, there was a vibe of lightweight around him. We students recognise that especially well, mate. In some instances, it is even yourself… That person. Cmon, y know who they are. Startsoff really strong but by the end of the night have totally faded or lost the plot. Rodgers has evolved past this critique with the sight of him raising the FA Cup on Saturday, he has surpassed others and could legitimately be perceived to be at on a managerial pedestal slightly above Ole Gunnar Solskjaerprovided they make the top four and by breaking the trophy “barren.”

The Squad Lead The Way: QUB Athletics Club, a check in after four months of lockdown are quite literally back on the track. Rory Morrow.

The recent 4-2 home shellacking that Newcastle dished out resurfaced all the what ifs and doomsday conundrums again almost as though a black cloud and lightning bolt sound effect had magically appeared to loiter over Rodger’s head. Their response has replaced ominous clouds with belief-fuelled sunshine and rainbows. Accusations of deluded optimist and almost-man have been significantly displaced by this, no longer will Rodgers require as big of an umbrella to protect his reputation.

And as for the goal to deliver this, well. No description, let alone that of a wannabee writer, can do it proper justice. Anyhow, Tielemans collected possession from the lively Thomas and advanced, striding purposefully ahead. As Chelsea sluggishly realised the talent of Tielemans, like a man remembering his drunken antics all too late the next morning, the Belgian had already got a lock on his target. The goal was wonderful; a vigorous, full-force spank of foot on ball, a sizzling shot that scorched the top corner, not so much bulging but physically assaulting the net.

Thomas Tuchel has done superbly with Chelsea but this whist better than the hilariously slapstick Arsenal loss in midweekwas nowhere near penetrative enough to break a resolute Foxes team who lived, loved and breathed life on the counter. He changed tack with his use of his own squad, deploying amix of experienced Olivier Giroud and youthful talent that Frank Lampard fans feared degenerate after his firing, in Callum Hudson-Odoi. Mason Mount has gone from game-changer to game-controller, Antonio Rudiger was displaying why he had been signed and multiple wingers were adding end product to further illuminate the mockery of receiving £150Mil for Eden Hazard from Real Madrid. They at least have the chance to impair some immediate revenge as the sides meet again in the league’s one-of-scarcely-few-that-atter remaining games. But although Chelsea didn’t do much wrong, that’s kind of their downfall in the final. They didn’t do much at all, period. Even at the end when a rescue job looked set, it would have been an unfortunate Morgan own goal. Schmeichel’s late saves were splendid but ultimately Chelsea looked as though they need Mario kart esq bullet/bolt from the blue, Tielemans-style to salvage something.

And so, following my own recently found freedom again with the resumption of QUB Athletics, the success of LeicesterCity further shifts the dubious doubts of morality away from community and onto dodgy, rich Spanish presidents, aka Florentino Perez and co ESL founders. As put by Spook legend Adam Carter, “everyone matters or no one matters” (7×1).

After a time of turmoil, this has been convincingly re-enforced in football and sport of all levels, even applicable to the various talent of QUB Athletes and Turkish, Shrek-compared defenders. You see the athletics that I harp on about in my, cough, pieces, is a squad in itself. We have sexy fleeces, a pasta guru, serial sprinters, in-jokes around accents (among other things) lots of tipsy sarcasm, banter-made yoga and a sense of actual comradery and equality, talent regardless. Following the Black Lives Matter movement and various other ugly doors that open to societal inequalities laid bare by the pandemic, social togetherness is important.

Mental health matters to students but we’ll really see now, after the underdogs emerge victorious again and amateur athletes are once more seduced to the calling lull of deadly vodka cokes, if the mantra of actually appreciating your squad can advance more across society.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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