In July 2015, Leicester City were busy preparing a new Premier League season seeking to avoid relegation but already surrounded in scandal.
A sex tape of three players, Tom Hopper, Adam Smith and James Pearson, from the tour to Thailand meant that coach Nigel Pearson, father of James, was dismissed by the time the team were in Austria to up their preparations.
Incoming were modest arrivals like Robert Huth, Shinji Okazaki and N’Golo Kante, adding to a squad of unknown men like Jamie Vardy, Danny Drinkwater, Riyad Mahrez, Kasper Schmeichel and Wes Morgan, who had come up from the Championship only a year before.
The odds of winning the title were 5,000-1, with Claudio Ranieri hired after humiliation with Greece where the national team were beaten by the Faroe Islands under his lead.
“We went to Austria with the coaching team, but without a coach, there was a lot of uncertainty,” recalls Leo Ulloa.
“When Claudio came in, the first thing he said was: ‘Last year you got 41 points, this year we have to improve that… and get 42.
“The objective was to avoid relegation.”
But Leciester overcame the superpowers to defy the establishment and win the Premier League.
“The stars aligned, the big teams weren’t good and we came from saving ourselves from relegation,” Ulloa remembers.
“We were bottom, seven points from safety, and won seven of the last nine, we kept that momentum going.”
“They sacked Pearson for an off the field matter, Ranieri came in and changed some defensive details, we gave all we could.”
The season began with criticism, Leicester fan and England legend Gary Lineker slamming Ranieri‘s appointment, but it would end with him presenting Match of the Day in his underwear.
Ranieri grew tired of the comebacks which secured early wins, and so promised pizzas to the players in exchange for clean sheets.
They then made 1-0 wins their speciality.
“We made many mistakes in our passing, but in one, two or three touches we’d scare, it’s incredible to do that in the era of money,” he told MARCA.
No-one expected that former amateur footballer Vardy would break Ruud Van Nistelrooy‘s record for most goals in consecutive matches, scoring 11, nor that Kante or Mahrez would become stars, and even less that Morgan would lift the Premier League trophy.
The Buddhist monks that the club’s Thai owners brought to wish them luck had worked.
“Everything was lived with passion and adrenaline, there was a family atmosphere and we were happy,” Ulloa adds.
“The majority came from the Championship and had never won anything, there was no pressure.
“Ranieri absorbed it with the media and told us: ‘I’ll show my face and inside we know that we have to win the next game.’
“Between January and February, we played against Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal, we won at White Hart Lane (1-0), at the Etihad (3-1), against Liverpool (2-0) and we only lost at the Emirates (2-1) with 10 men and a 95th minute winner.
“That’s when we thought we could do something more, but we were never aware of reality.”
It was a fairytale which was consumed across the world, particularly given that Leicester were a yo-yo team who only seven years before were playing in League One.
“Every year that goes by makes it become an even more incredible achievement,” says Illie Oleart, founder of La Media Inglesa and author of Dilly-ding, dilly-dong: Leicester City, the most unlikely triumph in English football history.
“Other than Mahrez, Kante, Vardy and Schmeichel, the rest had a limited level and had an amazing year.
“Since then, no club outside the big six has ended the season in the top four, Leicester have been close and could do it this year.
“That summer, the big clubs came together and upped their transfer spending so no-one could steal their league again.”
Journalists travelled to this multicultural city, where 29 percent of the population is of Indian origin, to witness the party as Andrea Bocelli performed before lifting the title against Everton.
“The 250,000 people who celebrated the Premier League win at Victoria Park should how the triumph brought the community together,” Ian Bason, president of fan group Foxes Trust, explains.
“When we lifted the trophy, I thought about 2002, when fans came together to save the club from bankruptcy.”
Party at Vardy’s
On Monday, May 2, Tottenham visited Chelsea to seal the win for Leicester.
“A win at Old Trafford on Sunday would have sealed the title, but we drew (1-1), so on our way back we decided we had to watch the Chelsea game together and Vardy invited us to his house,” Ulloa recalls.
“We ordered chicken wings and drinks and we watched it on two televisions, Tottenham went 2-0 up and Huth said ‘how, they haven’t won at Stamford Bridge in years!'”
“We were nervous, but with the 2-2 from Eden Hazard and then the final whistle, we lost control, shouting, pushing, opening champagne…
“We had to wait four hours to leave because of how many people were outside, even the police came!
“Our phones exploded, then after a while we sat on the floor, looking at each other, in silence and happy, thinking, ‘We did it, we’re champions.'”
The rest, is history.