Everyone loves the tale of the underdog: a David vs Goliath, a Trump vs Hillary a Leave vs Remain. This love of the weak toppling the strong is best loved when it comes to sport. A lowly League 1 side taking on the Premier League champions in the FA cup is a staple of English football and every year there tend to be upsets aplenty. With this love of a sporting upset in mind, this article will discuss some of the great sporting upsets in recent times and take a look back on a not so distant time when stadiums were full of roaring fans with pints in hand.
One match guaranteed to bring a smile to any fan’s face is Barcelona vs PSG on 8 March 2017. The match has become embedded in footballing folklore and is now referred to as ‘La Remontada’, meaning ‘The Comeback’. The quality of the match means it is certainly worthy of its own nickname. Everyone football fan knows the story; Barcelona were four goals down on aggregate from the horrific first leg in Paris. With Edinson Cavani’s goal making the match 3-1, a flurry of Barcelona goals in the 88th, 91st and 95th minute resulted in a miraculous recovery for Barcelona in what was the largest comeback in UEFA Champions League history. Neymar’s Man-of-the-Match performance was of course a highlight but few moments in football can match the sheer energy of the moment during Sergio Roberto’s iconic winner.
Arguably the greatest upsets do not involve momentary shocks within a single game, but instead take the form of a shock success over an entire season. No team has caused more of an upset over the course of a season than Leicester FC did in 2015-16. Starting the season with a 5000-1 chance of winning the title and having almost been relegated in the previous season, Leicester City’s miraculous title success, made all the more unlikely by its unusual protagonists in Claudio Ranieri (a failed manager at Chelsea), Jamie Vardy, N’Golo Kanté and Riyad Mahrez, could never have been predicted. The usual title challengers of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea FC were all off their game relative to the Foxes. Former Leicester player Gary Lineker described it as “the biggest sporting shock of my lifetime” and there are few who would disagree. The fact Leicester fans, who would never have dreamed of winning a title outside of a Football Manager game, were able to witness their team’s iconic success was unimaginable and it is this sort of passion for an upset which sport is entirely about.
The joy of sport is in its unpredictability. If we knew who was going to win each week then no one would bother watching, the league would be a series of computer calculations and the winner would be declared without a ball ever being kicked. However, the reason so many love football is the very fact that nothing is ever certain. An unfortunate injury, an unknown player hitting top form, dramatic results elsewhere in the league can all contribute to a team’s success or failure. This perhaps demonstrates why giants like Manchester United and Liverpool still struggle against teams fighting off relegation, as good players may improve a team’s odds on winning the league, but ultimately luck remains a crucial factor!