Somehow, a pregame special guest performance by none other than famed classical tenor Andrea Bocelli—where he went on for about ten minutes bringing “Nessun Dorma” and “Con te partirò” to a rowdy and somewhat confused crowd that was more interested in belting out the lyrics to their own little ditties about meeting Barcelona in the Champions League and how they were, finally and forever, champions of England—wasn’t the most surreal moment in Leicester City’s final home coronation. Somehow, the most mind-boggling scene was the one everyone was there for, the one no one thought was even within the realm of possibility even as it was well on its way to happening, the one that existed in some strange realm, simultaneously inevitable and pure fantasy until it finally happened a week ago. Even though we all knew it was coming, seeing Leicester’s players actually raise the Premier League trophy was the craziest part of Sunday’s affair:
That’s captain Wes Morgan doing the honors of the first lift. The 32-year-old Morgan became a Premier League champion in only the second top-division season of his 16-year career. One-club-man Andy King also got his time with the trophy, and is now the first player to ever win the third, second, and first divisions in England in the Premier League era. Because how on Earth could a club find itself toiling in the third division, then within a handful of years wind up champions of the top one?
Leonardo Ulloa got me fired from Almería in an old Football Manager save after he couldn’t score enough in Spain’s second division to keep us fighting for promotion, and now he’s the first attacking substitute off the bench for the champion of the world’s most competitive league. The humble beginnings of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kanté have been well-established, yet it was still wild to see those three at the end of their transformation from relative nobodies to members of the PFA Team of the Year, important members of their national teams, and the core of a team that won the Premier League. All throughout Leicester’s roster are other clubs’ rejects and cast-offs whom nobody expected much from. And yet each one got a league winner’s medal before they went over and hoisted the cup, recognized for their part in one of the greatest, most shocking seasons in sports history.
The game itself felt perfectly normal. Leicester showed up as intense and sharp as ever, and blew away a team with much more famous and well-paid players. With Vardy’s goal in the fifth minute, it was clear the day would be the romp everyone in the stands hoped for, a final party in a year full of them. Sharp performance are now typical for the Foxes, but the specific facts of what this one meant, and the enormity of the achievement as manifested by the lifting of the trophy, remained bizarre. Wes Morgan and Jamie Vardy and Andy King and Leonardo Ulloa and Leicester City won the Premier League. I hope saying those words and remembering the trophy ceremony feels as incredible and thrilling going forward as it still does now.