Leicester City and the Triumph of the Underdog

It looks likely tomorrow that Old Trafford, scene of so many expected triumphs, will play host to a celebration of the once unimaginable, Leicester City clinching the Premier League title. If Leicester do win on Sunday, or win one of their next few games, it will restore a sense of the possible to Premier League football, sorely lacking in recent times. For many sports fans, the sense that the Premier League could only be won by one of a handful of the most powerful clubs removed something of the spirit of sport from top tier football. For if sport is about anything, it is about fair play and the idea that anyone can achieve anything, if they try hard enough.

The triumph of the underdog is a consistent theme in sport. One of the beauties of tennis is that almost every week young and not so young players have the opportunity to transform their career and life. Just last week Cagla Buyukakcay, a 26 year old Turkish WTA player who had never been ranked in the top 100, capped an improbable and incredible week by winning the Istanbul Cup, simultaneously winning her home tournament and becoming the first ever Turkish woman to win a WTA Tour Title. A world of opportunities will now be open to her. One of the gripes of many tennis fans in recent years has been that, despite the incredible level of play we have witnessed from three all time greats playing at the same time, it has become rare indeed for the underdog to triumph at the highest stage of men’s tennis , so Andy Murray’s, Juan Martin Del Potro’s and Stan Wawrinka’s major wins stand out more than others to many fans. Tennis is desperately waiting for new young male stars to break out at the major stage.

As in sport, so in life. The triumph of the underdog is longed for in politics too. Bernie Sanders, a 74 year old self-described democratic socialist may now be practically out of the running for the Democratic nomination, but for many this unlikely contender for a major party nomination, has won the battle for voters hearts. That is despite the fact that Hillary Clinton can also make many good claims to be an underdog and to have had to fight hard to get to where she is now, on the verge of becoming the first woman to be the official nominee for President of one of the two main parties in America. Yet, Clinton has been unable to shake the perception that she is an establishment candidate, which is why it would be foolish to completely rule out Donald Trump’s chances of winning the Presidency in November.

Every politician likes to think of themselves as an underdog, politicians who tick every single classic establishment box still insist they are not part of ‘the club’. There is nothing of the underdog about Trump, but he is portraying himself as an anti-establishment outsider candidate on the side of the excluded and ignored, with significant success in the Republican primary. In the end his divisive attacks on women, minorities and genuine underdogs may be his undoing, but if he can convince the general electorate that he is the underdog anti-establishment candidate he has a good chance in November. So for all the romance of the underdog narrative, it is an extremely subjective categorisation, but that does not affect its power one iota. Many football fans on Sunday, whether or not they are Foxes supporters, will feel emotionally invested in a Leicester win, that wish to see the underdog triumph is deep within all of us.


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