A beautiful sight following Leicester’s FA Cup win over Chelsea
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
The FA Cup is the oldest soccer competition in the world, and given that England is a country that still embraces tradition and history with dedicated passion, the final at London’s Wembley Stadium each year remains a cherished date on the national calendar.
To that end, Saturday’s showpiece provided two moments on the pitch fitting of the occasion, as Leicester City’s Belgian midfielder, Youri Tielemans, produced a scorching, 30-yard strike for the only goal of the game, and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel uncorked a wondrous, late, diving save that preserved the advantage as Chelsea pressed for an equalizer.
However, for many, the abiding image of the 1-0 triumph — Leicester’s first time winning the competition in the Cup’s 150-year existence after four previous defeats in the final — came in the celebratory moments after the whistle had blown and the trophy had been handed out.
As the players gathered joyfully on the turf, Schmeichel went to greet club owner Aiyawatt "Top" Srivaddhanaprabha and ushered him toward the group celebrating with the trophy, where they engulfed him in hugs. Before long, they pressed the gleaming silver cup into Top’s hands for him to hold it aloft while roaring with delight.
English soccer promptly melted.
"What we are seeing here is so refreshing," former England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand said on Britain’s BT Sport. "I don’t think there’s a club that’s more connected from top to bottom as what we see [here]."
The issue of owners and how much they care for the teams under their stewardship has never been a thornier topic. Leicester’s win came less than a month after a collective of six of English soccer’s wealthiest clubs, alongside others from Spain and Italy, tried to set up a European Super League.
It was to be a closed shop, with no chance of relegation or removal for the core members, essentially flying in the face of global soccer’s most revered and democratic tenet: that a place among the best must perennially be earned.
Blame for the idea, which is dead in the water after a furious fan backlash, was immediately foisted upon the owners, with American groups such as the Glazer family (Manchester United), John W. Henry (Liverpool) and Stan Kroenke (Arsenal) receiving stern criticism.
The perception, right or wrong, is that those in charge of some of England’s most historically noteworthy clubs are detached from both the fans and the reality that the game relies upon their core support. That clubs are aloof, uncaring, faceless and all about "money first."
Which is why the sight of Srivaddhanaprabha, beloved by Leicester’s fan base and its players, struck such a chord.
"These scenes are what the European Super League wanted to destroy," comedian and television host James Corden tweeted. "This is a victory for football fans and the hope that lives inside all of us."
To be a fan of Leicester was a torturous existence for a long time. I know this because I am one. It was once something to be admitted sheepishly following years of poor decision-making, lousy luck and seemingly endless struggle.
Living in America, it is common for ex-pats to be asked which team we support. For many years, my answer had been a source of mild embarrassment. Sometimes, worst of all, the questioner had never even heard of Leicester, which as recently as 2009 was operating in League 1 – two tiers below the EPL.
Everything changed with the 2015-16 campaign, when a miracle happened. Tipped to finish last by most observers, Leicester confounded everything and everyone to win the Premier League title in what will eternally be regarded as one of sports’ greatest shocks.
Don’t get confused into thinking that Saturday’s victory in the Cup, a parallel knockout competition that runs concurrently with the league season, was similar to the extraordinary 5,000-to-1 triumph of five years ago.
Since then, the club has become a more established entity at the higher reaches of the English game, capable of attracting high-quality players and, with just two games remaining, sitting third in the EPL.
Yet it's still not a heavyweight capable of blowing others out of the water with spending and salaries. It still doesn't have an abundance of talent waiting on the bench, like Chelsea did in the final, United States captain Christian Pulisic among them. And it's certainly not big enough to have been considered even for a second when they were putting together the idea for a Super League, which included Arsenal (currently ninth in the Premier League) and Tottenham (sixth).
It is a slightly odd feeling to have one of your club’s greatest moments emerge and for fans of other teams to be almost as happy about it as you are. Being likable is nice, but it is also hard not to take it as a gentle insult. After all, aren’t the most hated teams the ones that are the most successful, such as the Patriots, the Yankees and Manchester United?
A friend of mine was moved enough by the FA Cup that he went out and bought a bottle of Laphroaig. He doesn’t support Leicester. And he doesn’t even like whiskey.
Impartiality aside, this was a special triumph with a perfect sense of timing, and the reason it stuck with so many people was the emotional twist. Top’s father, Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, is widely accredited as the mastermind behind Leicester’s modern surge, having forged a tight bond with the supporters, invested in the community and backed his coaches to go and get players they thought met the enduring standards of togetherness and spirit.
In 2018, Vichai was killed when his helicopter took off from Leicester’s King Power Stadium after a game, went into a spin and crashed to earth. Schmeichel, who was showing family members around the stadium at that moment, saw it all unfold. Top took over.
As the English soccer season comes to a close, Manchester City is assured of winning the Premier League, with a squad worth well in excess of a billion dollars. Five of the top six teams come from the uber-wealthy group that wanted to break away and form their own elitist setup. Leicester is the only outlier.
Money still talks in soccer, so loudly as to drown out nearly everything else. The game isn’t rigged, but prize pools and television sharing agreements are structured in a way to reward those already in the strongest positions.
On the field, being richer, bigger and more powerful is almost always enough. But as Saturday showed, sometimes, thankfully, joyfully, it’s not.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.