Belfast Telegraph

Quite a journey for Lineker and the Leicester City fans

By Billy Weir

When I was just a small boy living in a lonely world, born and raised in south Ballymena, the biggest journey I faced was a short trip on the No.122 bus with my mum with the promise of chips and a slice of fresh cream-filled chocolate Swiss roll if I was lucky.

It was a trip you made more than once I hear you cry, and indeed it was, meaning that my learning curve required less learning and I became more curvy, but for Leicester City fans their journey went on and on, and on, and on.

Or it did until Tuesday when the Foxes were in their own den for the visit of Atletico Madrid and for Gary Lineker, Don't Stop Believing was the mantra as Leicester sought to turn around a first-leg deficit.

Home boy Lineker was our tour guide for the journey on BT Sport, standing on his own surrounded by flags, he may have been in Ballymena but on closer inspection he was in one of the stands at the King Power Stadium.

"It's going to be atmospheric, it's colourful already, it's going to be vibrant and it's going to be expectant," he told us, as we waited for Willie Thorne, Engelbert Humperdinck, Kasabian, David Icke, the remains of Richard III and the lead singer from Showaddywaddy to be brought out to whip the crowd into even more of a frenzy.

They did not appear, but there was another former Leicester hero in the building, Martin O'Neill, sitting alongside Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard in the studio, who confirmed that it was "a big, big game, an extravagant match".

Tragically, Robbie Savage had made the journey too but for once he had to play second fiddle in the biased cheerleading stakes to Lineker, who couldn't be more excited had he found David Attenborough in a packet of crisps. (I am quickly running out of famous people from Leicester).

"Can the Foxes of Leicester make it another fantastic, memorable night? I hope so," hinted Lineker.

"Here we go, Leicester City versus Atletico Madrid playing for a place in the semi-finals of the Champions League, words I thought I would never utter under any circumstances," he added. I know, who would have thought Atletico would get this far?

"The next 90 minutes can make the fairytale come true," said commentator Darren Fletcher, not realising this was a journey and not make believe.

"It's colourful and noisy and it's emotional," he continued and I think he meant the crowd and not Savage, who was sitting beside him.

"The atmosphere inside the King Power is electric," said Savage. Well, it would have to be really and Fletcher agreed it was "New Year's Eve and the fourth of July rolled into one here", which should make the journey home a nightmare.

Things didn't go according to plan, the Spanish minnows scoring an away goal meaning Leicester needed to score three without reply in the second half.

"Arrrrrghhh, the dreaded away goal, Leicester need a miracle, about 5,000-1, could be," said Lineker at the break and O'Neill had a simple message - "don't die wondering".

My search for famous Leicester people provided something that had made me wonder and quite possibly provided a chance of death, in Phil Shaw, who, it is claimed, invented Extreme Ironing in 1997.

I don't care if this is true or not, but me lugging an ironing board and a Rowenta onto the 122 and then up a mountain to take the creases out of a pair of slacks was about as likely as Leicester turning the tie around and so it proved.

Jamie Vardy scored to level matters on the night and at full-time Fletcher summed things up.

"What a journey it has been for Leicester City, from Belgium to Denmark, Portugal to Spain, it has been a magical ride," he concluded.

"Leicester have done their manager proud (and I'm sure Claudio Ranieri too), they've done their fans proud, they've done their league proud. The end of a magnificent journey," agreed Lineker.

"It has been a really great journey," said O'Neill, while Gerrard thought of the fans and "the journey that these players have took them on" while Ferdinand was silent.

"Leicester's Champions League dream is over, but what a ride it has been," finished Lineker, with loud banging in the background as a smooth operator with a board was off to see if it's possible to iron while dancing in the sand. Don't stop believing, Rio, enjoy the journey.

The good, the bad  and the ugly

THE GOOD: Cycling God and non-son of Stan, Chris Boardman, put the 1k race into context for us on the BBC’s highlights of the World Championships. “Like gladiators risking it all for the possibility of a single moment of intense glory, riders can spend an entire career preparing for a minute of explosive competition,” he said, but by then my head could only picture Russell Crowe tossing his Chopper at an irate lion and legging it past Sir Chrisius Hoyius on the way out.

THE BAD: And on a similar note, it was clearly a case of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die at the bowls on Sky, where any thoughts of dispelling any myths about the age dynamic of the spectators was hard to take seriously in a competition sponsored by Co-op Funeral Care, where a dead end brought the bowler a spot prize of a coffin, a hearse and two gravediggers. I may have made that last bit up.

THE UGLY: Childish snigger of the week came from Channel Four’s terrible two, cheeky chappies David Coulthard and Mark Webber embarking on their grid walk in Bahrain. “We haven’t seen you since Melbourne, what’s been tickling your fancy Down Under?” enquired Coulthard, but sadly Webber didn’t tell us.

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