First Click: How to explain Leicester City's Premier League win to American nerds

May 5th, 2016


It's been something of a surreal week for me this week, as my hometown soccer team — Leicester City — was declared champions of the English Premier League. Honestly, I've not followed the team religiously every season of my life, but I was born in the city and spent my first decade there, giving me a connection to Leicester's win that I feel would hold up in court; particularly in comparison to the army of Manchester United or Chelsea fans I've met who have no ties to their chosen team beyond a desire to back a perennial winner.

Leicester City's season is reportedly to be made into a Hollywood movie, and rightly so: its story this season has been incredible, its players sublime and driven, its manager lovable, and its success supremely improbable. I've been saying the same to anyone who'll listen, but I have a problem — most of my colleagues are American.

That makes them lovely people, but it also means they're not necessarily conscious of the magnitude of Leicester's sustained upset, not inculcated from birth with the importance of the Premier League, and not always aware of the globality of football (the real football). So to explain the historic occasion, I've taken to using similes and metaphors — some of which I've collected here, and that I think might help explain it to the soccer-ignorant Verge reader. If you already understand the success of the team ESPN described as the third most unlikely champions ever, please join me in toasting Leicester's win, but if you don't, read on.

Leicester's victory is like if Ello suddenly became the dominant social network overnight. It's like if this esoteric startup with enough funding to hit the news, but not enough flash to rise into the upper echelon somehow turned it around, stealing millions upon millions of users from Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr across a sustained nine-month campaign.

It's like the Browns winning the Super Bowl with Rex Ryan in charge and Mark Sanchez at quarterback.

It's like if the Xiaomi Mi 5 shredded the iPhone, Google Nexus, and Samsung's entire slate in sales for 2016. A low-cost product, slightly rough around the edges, but with surprisingly solid construction and a real sense of its own strengths. If that phone dominated opponents far more used to the limelight, opponents put together for two or three times the cost, opponents that should have had the advantage thanks to their years of sustained success, that would be like Leicester's Premier League win.

It's like if Beyoncé's next album was streaming exclusively on Rdio — forever.

It's like if Google suddenly resurrected Google Reader and devoted 80 percent of its resources to its continued development. A scrappy, underfunded, unsung thing that nonetheless commanded the the love of a core of devoted fans, beating out Google Maps, Chrome, search, and all its experimental projects despite their huge budgets and supposed superiority.

(In this analogy, Google Maps is Chelsea, long riding high but regularly playing it safe and with competitors nipping at its heels, while Google+ is Arsenal: flashy and expensive-looking but insubstantive and overdeveloped, prone to collapse. Google itself is Manchester United because it started off good years ago but turned evil.)

It's like a video game developed by one Swedish man in his bedroom becoming the biggest game in the world and a social phenomenon.

It's like if Tyrion Lannister's ex-squire Pod became the next king of Westeros. Capable, workmanlike, quick to learn and good up front, Pod didn't start the show in line for the crown, but through grit, determination, and a bit of luck, he could win it in the same way Leicester did.

It's like if Uber drivers weren't just made employees, but full partners, and were given their own cars alongside a full salary and a share of the ride-sharing company's profits.

It's like the Mighty Ducks IRL.

It's like if the Ouya became the de facto living room console. A cheap alternative to the big boys, technically capable of playing similar games but at lower detail, with none of the hot new imported mechanics from abroad. Under the lid is something technically underpowered but with impressive pace, able to play those familiar games at higher speeds.

It's like if John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace won a NASA contract over SpaceX and Blue Origin to become the first private space travel company to take humans to Mars, and the mission went so well that they went on to colonize the three planets around TRAPPIST-1 on the same trip.

It's like if that $200,000 Kickstarter for an "Open World RPG like Star Wars" made by one man with no development experience was not only funded, but produced the best game of the year.

And finally, it's like if an in-between team — traditionally too big for the lower leagues of English soccer, but too small to survive in the Premiership — somehow pulled it together for a perfect season. Somehow marshaled its crew of ageing workhorsescast-offs from other teams, and untested youngsters and came out on top in not just one game, not even just one tournament, but in soccer's biggest and most moneyed league, weathering the storm across 38 games and the better half of a year.

Hopefully that goes some way to explaining why you'll have seen videos explaining how to pronounce Leicester (it's "Less-ter," or "Less-tuh" if you want to be truly local), why the UK's version of Rich Eisen is planning to appear on TV soon in his underwear, and why the team's success has lit up the internet.

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