Sunday, June 5, 2016

Football Fairytales

Posted By on Sun, Jun 5, 2016 at 7:33 AM

Well, they did it. The fairytale came true. Leicester City F.C., in winning the English Premier League title, secured their place in the pantheon of greatest underdog achievements ever seen in the English game, or anywhere for that matter.

Alongside back-to-back European Cup winners Nottingham Forest, still the smallest club to ever win that coveted trophy, and Wimbledon, who in a little over a decade came from non-league obscurity to toppling the goliath that was Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final, and even the 1960/61 Spurs that delivered the first-ever double-winning English team, Leicester City’s name can and should be spoken with the same reverent tones.

At 5000-1 at the start of the season, having narrowly escaped relegation from the EPL the season before, Leicester City were perhaps the longest of long-shots that football has ever seen. Remarkably and, particularly after last seasons 'great escape', unimaginably they outsmarted, out-fought, often out-played and most importantly outscored the traditional giants of the English game.

As impressive as Leicester’s historic season was, there is another football fairytale that it's timely we be reminded of. On June 10th, France will host one of the most prestigious and hotly-contested international football tournaments on the planet, the European Championships. Former winners and current combatants will include international power-houses such as France, Germany, Holland, Italy and current back-to-back European champions, Spain. But the 1992 version of the competition provided the most unlikely team to ever upset the international form books — not least of all because until just 10 days prior to the tournament kicking-off the team in question, Denmark, wasn’t even in the competition!

Having failed to qualify for the tournament finishing second to Yugoslavia in qualifying, the Danish team had already disbanded for the summer, with many players reportedly sunning themselves on various exotic beaches. However, when UEFA announced that the Yugoslavian team wouldn't not be allowed to participate in the Euros due to international sanctions in place because of an armed conflict in the region, Denmark were invited to the party.

Their staunch defensive style, coupled with a swift, incisive counter-attack led by the mercurial forward, Brian Laudrup, took Denmark to the top a round-robin group consisting of Euro heavyweights England and France. The Danish players free of the shackles of expectation knocked out the reining European champions and red-hot favorites Holland. Despite bursting at the seams with Dutch skill and attacking talent, none on the Netherlands team could penetrate the barrier that was ‘The Great Dane’, reds goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel. 

And so to the final, and Germany. Here the fairytale must have surely ended. Denmark had their fun but the current World Cup holders, the indomitable Germans, would undoubtedly crush the Danes and their fantastical dreams of ultimate glory. Denmark won the final 2-0, and in doing so wrote the last chapter of a fairytale the like of which one of their most famous storytelling sons, Hans Christian Andersen, would have been proud.

So can we say with complete certainty that the recent exploits of Leicester’s Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, and the familiarly named Kasper Schmeichel surpass those of any other team in the history of the game? I think Kasper’s father, the legendary Peter, might have a thing or two to say about that.

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett, or the Back Chat show on KCMJ 93.9.

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