I was in England on a study abroad program from 2001 to 2002, but I squandered my chance to cultivate an interest in English Premier League football [i.e. soccer]. Aside from a field trip to watch Oxford United, a third division club, draw 0-0 against someone or other, all the soccer I watched was World Cup matches, which offer entertainment that is immediately thrilling but mostly lacks the history and complexity of league play: when the US beat Portugal, it was a thrilling upset, but it wasn’t another chapter in the rich history between those two teams, or countries for that matter. It’s similar to how, a legal drinker for the first time, I failed to take advantage of all that great English beer and just drank Stella Artois and Kronenbourg and continental lagers like that. Not bad, you understand, just a kind of unsubtle experience that gets pretty limiting if it’s all you consume.
Consequently, I didn’t pick up any of the soccer discussions that were no doubt swirling around me all year…except for one, at a university karate tournament in Edinburgh (yes) between a competitor from another team and his two coaches. I don’t remember the guy’s name—only that he absolutely demolished me in the sparring competition, which he went on to win—but it came out that he was a Leicester City fan, and from the way his coaches were ribbing him I could tell that they were having a bad season. (Indeed, they finished at the bottom of the league, with a record of 5-13-20, and were relegated—i.e., sent down to the second division* for the following season.)
*The “second division” was actually called, confusingly, “First Division,” since the Premier League is technically separate from the Football League, but for clarity I’m going to call the one right under Premier “second,” and below that “third,” etc.
“You won’t be laughing next year!” this Leicester fan vowed, then caught himself: “Well, in two years, when they’re back from relegation.” Which they were, for one season. Then they went down to the second division, for four more seasons, after which they went down again, to the third division, for one season. Then back up to the second division, for five seasons, before finally returning to the Premiership. That takes us from 2002, when I overheard this exchange, to 2014—twelve years, of which Leicester were in the top flight for exactly one.