LONDON >> Leicester City completed one of the greatest-ever sporting achievements today when the 5,000-1 underdogs won the Premier League for the first time.
Leicester players were crowded around a television inside top-scorer Jamie Vardy’s house as they were handed the title by closest challenger Tottenham being held to a 2-2 draw by deposed champion Chelsea.
With an insurmountable seven-point lead over Tottenham with two games remaining, Leicester is champion of England for the first time in its 132-year history.
“Championes! Championes! Ole! Ole! Ole!” the jubilant Leicester players sang as they jumped up and down with their arms on each other’s shoulders inside Vardy’s house.
“Nobody believed we could do it, but here we are — Premier League champions and deservedly so,” Leicester captain Wes Morgan said. “I’ve never known a spirit like the one between these boys, we’re like brothers.”
Just two years ago, Vardy and many of his teammates were playing in the second tier and then came close to instantly dropping out of the Premier League. They started this season as among the favorites to be relegated again. But on Monday night fans who never dreamed their modest club in city with a population of 330,000 would conquer wealthier rivals descended on Leicester’s King Power Stadium to party into the night.
“People saw it last season when everyone expected us to be relegated, but we fought back to prove people wrong,” Morgan said. “This season’s been a continuation of that. We’ve built on the momentum, but I don’t think anyone believed it would come to this.”
Leicester, which will collect the trophy on Saturday when it hosts Everton at home, had not even finished higher than second since 1929.
English soccer has not had a first-time champion of the top flight since Nottingham Forest in 1978. And for the last 20 years the Premier League trophy has never left London or Manchester, with Arsenal, Chelsea, United and City sharing the trophy between them.
Unlike that title-winning quartet or 1995 champion Blackburn, Leicester has achieved its success without lavish spending on its squad.
Chelsea’s draw also ensured Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri became a league title winner for the first time in his career, 12 years after the 64-year-old Italian was fired by the Blues.
“Let’s do it for Ranieri,” read one Chelsea fan’s banner during Monday’s game at Stamford Bridge where the trophy was presented to Chelsea last May.
“It’s the greatest achievement in the history of English football and it was led by an Italian,” Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister, tweeted.
Leicester missed a chance to seal the title on Sunday when it was held to a draw by Manchester United but Chelsea ensured the party wasn’t delayed any longer.
Tottenham had to win at Chelsea to keep its bid for a first title since 1961 alive and led 2-0 thanks to goals from striker Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, before Chelsea staged a second-half fight back to draw in a fiery London derby where tempers frayed and tackles flew in from everywhere.
“What a game,” Leicester defender Robert Huth tweeted. “Makes me look like an angel! CHAMPIONS!!!”
Center half Gary Cahill pulled a goal back for Chelsea early in the second half, and with Tottenham clinging on, the equalizing goal was scored by Eden Hazard.
Hazard’s goal was almost a year to the day since his strike won the title for Chelsea, which is 29 points behind Leicester. Chelsea’s collapse has been as astonishing as Leicester’s surge to the top of the standings it was bottom of last April.
Ranieri called Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink to thank him for Chelsea’s part in delivering the title to Leicester, which is owned by Thai retail giant King Power.
“(Ranieri said) five times ‘Thanks’, because of the emotion,” Hiddink said. “I didn’t see any tears because it was not a Facetime conversation, but his voice was trembling a bit.”
One bookmaker, Sky Bet, said it paid out 4.6 million pounds ($6.8 million) to punters who backed Leicester to win the title, with 128 putting money on the team at 5,000-1.
No sports team has defied such odds to triumph and Leicester’s improbable success has provided a feel-good story for a country divided as it prepares to vote on whether to remain in the European Union.
“Many congratulations to Leicester,” British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted. “An extraordinary, thoroughly deserved, Premier League title.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports