LONDON: Leicester celebrated the greatest day in their 132-year history in style as the newly-crowned Premier League champions comprehensively beat Everton before collecting the trophy.
Claudio Ranieri’s men this season produced one of the most remarkable feats in sporting history, going from supposed relegation fodder and 5,000-1 outsiders to win the league for the first time with two matches to spare.
There was a party atmosphere around the King Power Stadium for the final home match of a campaign to cherish, with Leicester winning their title party 3-1 as Roberto Martinez’s side were overrun.
City, like their fans, showed no hangover from the celebrations that have been ongoing since Tottenham drew at Chelsea on Monday, with Jamie Vardy requiring just five minutes of his return from suspension to put the home side ahead.
Andy King provided the goal with a super cross and the academy graduate, part of the Leicester side that won the third and second division crowns, struck the second.
Vardy scored his 24th league goal of the campaign with a second-half penalty but missed another spot-kick shortly afterwards, although that and a late Kevin Mirallas goal were never going to stop a party that now rolls onto Chelsea and a title parade on May 16.
The 100th league meeting between these clubs was a celebration more than a match, with fans partying in the city’s streets and outside the King Power Stadium long before kick-off.
Inflatable trophies were held aloft, flags waved and beer guzzled as fans enjoyed the most remarkable of triumphs, even cheering the thunder that echoed around the ground as a storm replaced the sunshine.
The rain cleared just in time for Ranieri to lead world-famous tenor Andrea Bocelli onto the pitch, where he revealed a Leicester shirt during surreal but touching renditions of ‘Nessun Dorma’ and ‘Con Te Partiro’.
Guard of honour
Ranieri stood there proudly as the songs were belted out and was smiling again soon after, with Everton not only giving them a guard of honour but allowing them to take an early lead.
The heavens opened once again as City poured forwards, with King following up fine work by Mahrez to slot home smartly when the ball fell kindly for him in the box.
In the second half, Matthew Pennington brought down Vardy, with the Everton defender avoiding a second booking but giving away a penalty that the fouled England striker slammed home.
Seven minutes later, Leicester’s top scorer had another chance from the spot, but Vardy blazed the hat-trick chance horribly over.
Leonardo Ulloa and King flicked headers wide as the clock wound down, with Bryan Oviedo denying Vardy the hat-trick he craved before Mirallas scored an undeserved, if classy, goal – even cheered by the Leicester fans such was the feel-good mood inside the ground.
A loud roar met the final whistle and chants echoed around the ground as the pitch was readied for the Premier League trophy presentation.
Club ambassador Alan Birchenall brought the trophy to the stage, followed by a rapturous reception for clearly moved Leicester boss Ranieri.
The players were cheered onto the field, collecting their medals one by one, before captain Wes Morgan took to the stage and became the first captain in the club’s history to lift the trophy aloft to a background of fireworks and cheers.
Vardy looked to have pull up with cramp at the final whistle but admitted his hamstring was “fine”.
He said: “Yeah, there was a determination but yesterday we trained the way we always have every other week.
“There’s not been any change. Fair enough we had a little celebration on Monday but that’s as far as that went. Now we’ll celebrate today while we lift the trophy in front of all these fans.”
For the England striker the journey to the Premier League trophy was a long one and Vardy believed his friends, family and team-mates were the key to his success.
“I think someone put a spell on me to make it happen this season, everyone works as hard as well as themselves and if someone is having an off game then we know we have someone behind us to pick us up and keep us going.
“It’s been a very, very long and hard process to get where I am today. But I wouldn’t have been able to do it without friends, and the team behind me as well so I’ll go congratulate the boys now and get ready for the celebrations.
“It (today) would have been a lot better if I didn’t put the ball onto the helicopter but it’s an unbelievable feeling for everyone involved.I can’t describe it with words.
“But if it weren’t for the lads here then I wouldn’t have scored the goals I did. You don’t get nowhere by not having the foundations. We’re literally like brothers as soon as training is finished we’re always in touch.
“After the (Tottenham) result, the police had shut down the street outside my house. There were thousands of fans but it’s been an unbelievable week so to top it off with this victory is great.”
Captain Morgan said: “To finally get my hands on the trophy, walking onto the podium, I had to hold back tears but finally got my hands on it, and lifted it up. Best feeling in the world.
“Everyone’s been going on about how I’m going to lift it, is it heavy, putting pressure on me to be fair but there’s no better feeling. Champions of England. Something you remember for the rest of your life.
“Hopefully we can crack on from here, big season next year but right now I just want to soak up the moment.
The Leicester skipper also admitted that the squad always believed they could win the title.
He said: “I think it’s the people around us who weren’t really convinced we could do it but we know we could it. We played all the teams and we knew that on our day we could be better than all of them so we just continued to concentrate and ignore all the things around us and do our job.”
“The togetherness of the team, we’re such a tight bunch of guys, we do everything together and there’s no egos in our team. We work so hard so we deserve it. Champions League? I don’t know what it feels like but I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.”
Tribute to fans
Ranieri was quick to thank the fans after lifting his first top flight crown in his lengthy managerial career.
He said: “The people are unbelievable, thank you to them because they have been behind us for the whole season.
“I think it was an amazing moment for me because I’m not the youngest but there is another test now. When you lift something special, when you’re champions of England, the Premier League. Something special for everybody, especially for me, I won some cups, in England I lose in the final, in Spain, in Italy but to lift the trophy here is fantastic.”
Despite the lack of major silverware in his managerial career, the 64-year-old believes his career starts now.
“No, my career, I thought sooner or later, I will win a league title. Of course at the beginning, never did I think that we would reach this place. But slowly, I thought why not? This is a crazy season and we had fantastic consistency,” he said.
“We have a very good owner, behind the manager, the team. When I saw them, this is a very good dressing room, they work so hard. I tried to blend my Italian tactics, to be solid, strong. Then I say, ‘free pizza if you keep a clean sheet’ so they improve!”
The Italian felt that their win at Manchester City was the key moment where the club really believed they could win the title.
He said: “I think when we win at Manchester City but also when we lose at 2-1 at Arsenal, I told my assistant, ‘If Arsenal suffer so much, 11 against 10 then we can do something.”