Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City head to the Emirates Stadium this weekend to continue their staggering title charge and even now, after a welter of newspaper headlines and months of wide-eyed disbelief, it feels bizarre to reflect on. It’s a circumstance so utterly ridiculous it would have resulted in anyone predicting it last August to be wrapped in a heavy white jacket and accompanied to a padded cell. Yet here we are. Leicester are five points clear and 7/4 favourites with 13 games to go.
They deserve every word of praise and infinitely more, because, arguably, this could become the most amazing, surprising story since Ebenezer Morley first drafted a law that players couldn’t run with the ball in their grasp. It could become a football fairytale for the ages.
Yet while the Foxes update Hans Christian Anderson before our very eyes it should also be noted that across Europe there are other fairytales currently in progress; stories that defy belief and reason. Prepare to regress to childhood wonderment as we look at five other astonishing tales.
Set in the rolling Twente countryside Almelo boasts a population equivalent to Weston-Super-Mare and the odd picturesque castle or two. That aside the industry that once made it thrive has long moved on and the area has become nondescript, proud but rooted to the past.
Its football club, however, is very much looking to the future with the Polman Stadion – the city’s recently extended 13,000 capacity ground, artificial turf and all – playing host to an extraordinary rise for a club that has existed in its present incarnation for just 17 short years.
Heracles may have reached their first ever Dutch cup final back in 2012, but for this tiny outfit to finish third in the Eredivisie will surely trump that for achievement and status. For a side that includes precisely no internationals to hold off the mighty Feyenoord and such eminent names as AZ Alkmaar and Vitesse Arnhem will be a special feat indeed.
Burton in the Championship
With a revived Nigel Clough at the helm, Burton Albion are romping their way out of League One and with every passing week are enjoying their highest ever position in their 66 year history.
Such has been the remarkable soaring of this Staffordshire club – who were non-league until 2009 – their fans still sing of a hatred of Gresley Rovers and Nuneaton Borough. They are now a matter of months aaway from feasibly hosting a Midlands derby – on a level playing field – with Aston Villa.
Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership
The Dons last won the Scottish Premiership back in 1985, Alex Ferguson’s side breaking up the Rangers/Celtic duopoly for two seasons running during a golden age for the club.
Since then there has been the odd near-miss including last term when all-too-briefly it looked like Derek McInnes’ exciting young charges might take advantage of Rangers’ absence and push Celtic all the way. They finished in the runners-up spot seventeen points adrift of the Glasgow giants.
This time out their title quest has far more substance and as winter thaws to spring, it’s neck and neck with the underDons’ dream continuing to thrive.
This is in no small part due to the prolific form of Pittodrie poacher Adam Rooney, whose 25 goals so far is putting him firmly on course for a record breaking campaign. Not too shabby for a player who has been loaned out to Yeovil and Bury in recent seasons.
Alessandria in the Coppa Italia
On March 1st Alessandria travel to the San Siro to take on AC Milan in the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final.
It’s mighty tough ask for the third tier minnows to over-turn the single goal deficit from their first encounter, but that’s okay because this tiny outfit 50 miles southeast of Turin have already secured a slice of history. After twice pulling off giant-killing feats by defeating top flight opponents in Palermo and Genoa ‘the Grigi’ became the first side from their division to reach the quarter final stage since the mid-’80s. A famous away win at Spezia then brought them to here, on the precipice of a major final, and sure it’s amazing that this Lega Pro Group A side has made it so far but at the risk of bursting their balloon it’s been done before – by Alessandria themselves back in 1936.
Newcastle & Sunderland relegated
Not all fairytales involve Prince Charmings and cackling wrongdoers getting their comeuppance. Some are dark, disturbing and absolutely not intended for bedside reading, and this one comes straight from the poisoned pen of The Brothers Grimm at their grimmest.
Though each side have shown signs of recovery of late, there remains the very real possibility of both north-east behemoths dropping to the Championship and the likely promotion of Middlesbrough will only sour things further.
It’s bleak times on Tyneside and Wearside at present and the fear is they may – like Nottingham Forest – get lost in the woods.