Some sporting events send shockwaves across the world, some change peoples’ views on society, some are really dull. The Manchester United game at Leicester City’s King Power Stadium on 21 September 2014 was none of those, but it was an exciting and improbable game that confounded the bookies and gave football’s most famous club a shock they’ll take time to recover from, and recently promoted Leicester City’s fans an afternoon they’ll never forget.
When people talk about events being an “I was there moment”, this will certainly be the game I think of.
I can’t say I was looking forward to it. I like football on Saturday afternoons, not Sundays, and I didn’t hold out much hope of anything other than a quietly professional thumping of Leicester. Maybe 0-3, with Manchester United players taken off early and replaced with youth squad members once the win was in the bag.
I was very wrong, it was an incredible, improbable and delightful afternoon. You can read a technical analysis elsewhere, here’s my account of what it felt like to be there.
The Early Goals
The match went very much with the bookies predictions early. Leicester attacked with energy but were easily caught on counter attacks. Manchester United built pressure and when Falcao tore down the left wing and crossed a perfect ball onto van Persie’s forehead he couldn’t help but score. I had a feeling there’s be plenty more goals, but assumed United would be scoring them.
Three minutes later and United’s other big summer signing Di Maria scored a beautiful goal, chipping the ball over the keeper’s head from just inside the penalty area. In any other game this would have been a highlight, it was certainly goal of the month, if not goal of the season.
United Riding High
By this stage I felt certain that United were going to get a hat full of goals. The Leicester fans were doing their best to keep the players’ spirits up, singing constantly, but the United fans were countering them with renditions of “Glory, Glory Man United”.
The United fans also sang “You’ve only come to see United”, which was a bit mean, but had a ring of truth. The game was a sell out, with an attendance of 31,784. Leicester have sold a lot of season tickets and were selling out their other early season games following their promotion to the English Premier League, but five years ago, in League One, the average attendance was 17,983.
His Name Is Leonardo
With Leicester fans singing “Come on Leicester”, the effort seemed a little futile. Jamie Vardy kept trying, he broke down the right before putting in a cross to Leicester’s new superstar Leonardo Ulloa who headed into the corner to get a goal back for the home team.
The crowd went wild. It felt like Leicester had won a cup. The fans were fairly certain this was a consolation goal, but Ulloa, who at £8m was Leicester’s most expensive player ever had just scored against United, who bought Falcao (£43.5m) and Di Maria (£59.7m) in the summer.
“Oh his name is Leonardo, Leicester’s number 23, yes he cost a ~@*&%$* fortune, but he scores goals so that’s alright with me!”
The video gives you an idea of what it’s like in the concourse at half time. Beer isn’t allowed within sight of the pitch, so people drink and sing underneath the stands.
Normal Service Is Resumed
Manchester United pressure increased, and they seemed to squander the chances they had, but they had so many chances it didn’t seem like missing a few was too distressing for them.
Suddenly there was a burst of pinball football in the Leicester penalty area, shots seemed to be firing in from everywhere and bouncing back out again from the woodwork of blocks. It couldn’t last, Herrera scored with an inelegant back heel, but a goal is a goal.
The Leicester fans immediately started work on “Come on Leicester”, but the away contingent were crowing with “We’re the finest team the world has ever seen”.
The Comeback Kid
Five minutes later Leicester were back in the game. Jamie Vardy made another lightning run down the left wing, muscling Rafael off the ball and turning in to the penalty area. Rafael thought he’d been fouled (so did I), and got up, angrily running into Vardy who fell with style to earn a soft penalty.
David Nugent stepped up. The stadium could feel the pressure. Nugent always looks like he knows he’s got the best job in the world – playing football with a bunch of mates for huge amounts of money – and there was no sign of nerves on his face. He slotted the penalty home and the crowd went wild again, doing the Poznan, jumping up and down so much I could feel the stand rocking beneath me.
Looking around at the Leicester fans around me they couldn’t believe they were back in the game. It was getting interesting.
Leicester fans were barely back in their seats when they had to get up again. A deflected shot came back to newly signed Milan veteran Cambiasso who slammed it home to make it 3-3. Cambiasso was never much of a goal scorer, and he certainly wasn’t expected to be one at Leicester. I thought he was only in the team that day to be a level head who wouldn’t be star struck by United’s Gaalacticos, but he’d scored, he’d equalized.
“Oh it’s magic, you know, Estaban Cambiaso-oh-ooh he’s magic…”
This little phone cam video gives you an idea of what it’s like to be in amongst the fans. Play has restarted, but with everyone standing up, waving their arms about and singing it’s not easy to see the game. It is surprising how easily your eyes filter out all those heads and arms to let your brain watch the game.
By now the Leicester fans were looking at each other in disbelief, as were the United fans, but the home crowd was smiling, or more accurately, laughing. The United fans were silent, which raised a chorus of:
“You only sing when you’re winning“.
Deploy The Improbability Drive
With 65 minutes played I didn’t think Leicester could last another half hour or so without conceding another goal, but Manchester United’s defense was comically bad, so there could be more goals at either end.
Leicester fans would have taken a draw at this stage, United’s expected a win.
A nervy 15 minutes of play before Leicester’s pace undid United’s lumbering defence. Ritchie de Laet played a pinpoint pass through to a speedy Jamie Vardy who made easy work of a one on one with de Gea.
“Jamie Vardy’s having a party”
By now the disbelief was becoming normality, Leicester fans started believing they could win the game.
“We want five”
In this tiny phone cam video you can see the ground rocking, and enjoy the stony faces and crossed arms of the shocked Manchester United fans.
Can We Play You Every Week?
United fans were making their way out of the stadium in disgust, Leicester fans were jumping with delight. I was starting to get a little nervous by how much the stand was bouncing beneath me, but I was also chuckling along.
Vardy made another great run, United’s defense didn’t. Blackett finally caught up with him in the penalty area and took him out earning a straight red and giving Leicester a penalty. The fans we looking at each other wide eyed and laughing. The guy behind me called his Man U fan friend so he could listen to the crowd. Ulloa poked the penalty home.
A few more chances were wasted by Leicester before the final whistle but by now the Leicester fans were doing the Mexican wave, singing …
“Can we play you every week”
Plenty of the away fans had already started on their journey home, which meant they didn’t have the indignity of those who’d stayed – only four of the United team went over to thank them for their support, the others slinked off, just as they had done when Leicester attacked.
0-1 van Persie 13′
0-2 Di Maria 16′
1-2 Ulloa 17′
1-3 Herrera 57′
2-3 Nugent (Pen) 62′
3-3 Cambiasso 64′
4-3 Vardy 79′
5-3 Ulloa (Pen) 83′