“Jamie Vardy’s just done that – Jamie Vardy! They’re going to win the league!”
Those were the words I could just about utter through the sheer shock and euphoria that overwhelmed me when Jamie Vardy volleyed the ball 30-odd yards past a helpless Simon Mignolet in February 2016.
Leicester City were still four more months, eight more wins, 20 more goals and 27 more points away from winning the Premier League title in one of the greatest sporting triumphs of all time. But no moment encapsulated that miraculous season with greater, more aesthetic accuracy than the former non-leaguer rocketing the ball so perfectly and powerfully into the net of one of English football’s most historically successful sides, on behalf of a club that had never even dreamt of lifting the Premier League’s coveted prize. Yet they somehow found themselves marching towards it.
There may have been more pivotal games and more crucial goals as Leicester defied the impossible to be anointed English champions, not least including Eden Hazard’s to sink Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge. But Vardy’s strike, the kind of goal on the kind of stage you’d assumed completely beyond his abilities just four years prior, suggested there were more powerful, supernatural forces at work than simply an eleven-man team, a twenty-odd-man squad and an idiosyncratic Italian manager.
Indeed, Vardy’s wondergoal wasn’t plainly a mortal precursor, hinting at what to expect in May – it was a premonition from the footballing gods, a sign that the implausible would become a reality, a mythical relic that would serve as the foundation for the miracle to come. The beautiful game’s equivalent of water turning to wine; Leicester’s equivalent of Moses returning from Mount Sinai with the ten commandments in both hands.
Perhaps biblical comparison (smite me now) is verging upon hyperbole, but it was a goal and a feeling I will never forget; both of numbing awe. It was the moment I realised nothing could stop Leicester, it was the moment I realised they would win the title, it was the moment I realised the history of the beautiful game would soon change forever.
So what better way to celebrate Jamie Vardy’s 30th birthday than looking back at a shot that had such a profound effect on both his and my life. Indeed, I may not be a professional footballer and I may not have any real association with the Foxes, but nothing has been quite the same since that moment – the moment I knew nothing was impossible.
It was a chapter in a story that transcended football, that anybody who’d been told they’d never reach the top in any walk of life could instantly relate to – a squad of players deemed not good enough for the elite throughout various stages of the careers, disrupting the established order in a way the Premier League had never seen before.
It may seem cheap and unnecessarily soppy, but Leicester’s story reverberated around the world throughout all layers of society. In short, it gave everybody hope. In the modern era of FIFA corruption, ferocious finance and increasing corporate influence, those footballing fairytales aren’t easy to come by anymore.
Of course, the Leicester of 2016/17 aren’t quite as mesmerising as last season. Wes Morgan and Robert Huth have reverted back to being static, ageing centre-backs, Riyad Mahrez has rediscovered his inconsistency and Vardy’s stuck on just five Premier League goals for the campaign, hardly trophy-clinching form for a centre-forward.
Yet, Leicester’s sudden fade into midtable mediocrity, as quick and astonishing as their rise from it, makes the miracle even more divine, in both the aesthetic and immortal interpretations of the word. Never again will we see such a modest team reach such unimaginable heights and no matter what happens to Leicester this season or over the next five years, their story – this goal – has left within me an inherent belief that anything is possible.