That strangle gulping sound? It's the sound of a million football pundits swallowing their words after pretty much all of them tipped Leicester City to finish in the bottom three of the English Premier League this season.
There's a really impressive list of doomsayers here. Who could blame them? Leicester pulled off a minor miracle just staying alive last year. Anchored to the bottom of the table for much of the season, the team known as the Foxes strung together seven 7 wins from their last nine games. They avoided relegation, finishing a respectable 14th.
But no one expected much this year, especially after the club dumped coach Nigel Pearson for the Italian journeyman manager Claudio Ranieri. The rest we all know. Leicester has lost just three of 35 games this year. They currently sit seven points clear with three matches to play. One more win and the premierships is theirs. They could lose all three games and still win.
Terms like "fairy tale" and "miracle" are being thrown about like confetti. Which is understandable, as just five teams have won the Premier League since its modern incarnation began in 1992/93 -- Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Blackburn Rovers. The first four are all cashed-up giants. The fifth, Rovers, won largely on the back of Alan Shearer, who scored 35 goals.
Blackburn's win was no longshot, as the team had finished runners-up the previous season. But Leicester is breaking all the rules here. Their squad was valued at less than a quarter the price of the "big four" clubs on the open transfer market at the start of the season. Yet here they are, about to win the whole shebang. It's impossible, incredible, unthinkable.
But there's a place where such things are not just commonplace but expected. That place is right here in Australia, where our most popular sports competitions produce different champions virtually season.
The A-League grand final is this weekend. So far there have been five different champions in the 10 seasons of our premier men's soccer competition. It will be six from 11 on Sunday night. Neither Adelaide United nor the Western Sydney Wanderers have won before.
In Australian Rules football, 11 of the 18 current clubs have won the flag since the old VFL rebranded as the AFL in 1992. Don;t forget that two of those teams only recently came into existence. So realistically, it's 11 of 16.
Eleven of 16 clubs have also been crowned premiers since the nation's premier rugby league competition rebranded as the NRL in 1998. Emphasising the competition's closeness, there have been no consecutive winners in that time. And here's a stat you'll like. The last ten teams beaten by 40 or more points have ALL gone on to win the next week. So the competition is not just even on a year-to-year level, but week to week.
Socialism is a particularly miserable and ineffective system by which to govern a nation's economy, if history is anything to go by. But it works in sport. The three competitions mentioned above all have a salary cap. The AFL also has a draft. These are equalising measures which ensure that talent and good management are worth more than a fat cheque book.
Isn't that how sport should be? You start with the same score (zero) and the same number of players on a field split evenly in half. Why should someone have an advantage in any sport before a ball is kicked or tossed or hit?
America's NFL is another sport with a draft and a salary cap. The Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in this year's Super Bowl. Those two teams had the worst record in the league five years ago.
All European football works the same as the Premier League. That's why Juventus win's Italy's Serie A more years than not, Bayern Munich wins Germany's Bundeslige most years, and why Barcelona always seems to be fighting out Spain's La Liga with Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid.
It's a classic old world versus new world narrative. In the old world, there is an established class order which is nearly impossible to overturn. Here in the new world, opportunity for all is the mantra. It takes a little sporting socialism to achieve that, but why not if it keeps all fans believing? Not just praying, but genuinely believing.
Leicester City is the worldwide sporting story of the year to date. It'd be fitting if they achieve their first-ever EPL title by defeating Manchester United away at Old Trafford this weekend. But the real story will be what happens next. Will Leicester keep their goal-scoring hero Jamie Vardy? Will the team even be playing top tier football in a couple of years?
1993/4 champs Blackburn Rovers currently languish 18th in English football's second tier competition, The Championship. Leicester's likely title win is a beautiful thing to be savoured, but it's only a billionaire's signature away from being consigned to a quirk of football history.Suggest a correction