2015/16 - Ranieri's flying Foxes stun the world
On 2 May, 2016, thousands of Leicester City supporters huddled around televisions in their living rooms, or big screens in pubs, awaiting the Club's coronation as Premier League champions.
A year earlier, the Foxes were rocked by the departure of Nigel Pearson, the man who had rescued them from League 1, secured promotion from the Championship and established the Club in the top flight.
City turned to Claudio Ranieri. The charming Italian had managed some of the most illustrious clubs in the world - the likes of Atlético Madrid, Juventus and Inter Milan to name just a few. His appointment at King Power Stadium, though, was met by scepticism. His Greece side had faltered badly months earlier, and the Roman was dismissed from his first international post swiftly.
Ranieri's reputation in England had also been partially damaged by his final months as Chelsea manager in 2004, largely due to the west London’s club failure in the UEFA Champions League.
His overall record, however, was fantastic. Whether it be in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or Ligue 1, he tended to challenge for major titles wherever he went. He’d never won a title, though.
Consolidation was all that was expected at Leicester City. Ranieri's charming nature struck everyone almost immediately. Quizzed by the media on his suitability for the role, he shrugged, laughed and smiled. City started brilliantly, dispatching Sunderland, West Ham United and Aston Villa early on. An elusive clean sheet was finally obtained in late October with a 1-0 success over Crystal Palace on Filbert Way.
Jamie Vardy scored the winner, his seventh consecutive Premier League goalscoring outing for the Foxes. Leicester had a rare and indispensable force behind them - momentum.
Ranieri's fearless Foxes climbed to the Premier League's summit - a place they hadn't occupied since 2000 - a month later with a breath-taking 3-0 win at Newcastle United. Vardy scored again.
That effort at St. James' Park took his streak to 10 top-flight matches, level with a record held by former Manchester United and Netherlands striker Ruud van Nistelrooy. Fate threw up an encounter with United at King Power Stadium the following matchday. If Vardy could find the net again, his face would be plastered over newspapers and TV coverage around the world.
The ex-Fleetwood Town forward, who climbed seven divisions, was naturally the centre of attention for the media. Rejected by Sheffield Wednesday as a teenager, he was a hero to anyone who'd been rebuffed.
In the 24th minute, Vardy latched onto a no-look pass from left-back Christian Fuchs and evaded David de Gea in the United net, wheeling away in front of a worldwide TV audience of millions.
The cameras honed in, capturing the scenes as his team-mates mobbed him by the corner flag. Every outfield player rushed to join in the celebrations. It was 11-heaven for Vardy and the Foxes.
Algerian Riyad Mahrez, too, was making waves as City’s voyage rumbled on and he combined with Vardy once again during a 2-1 victory over champions Chelsea in December. With just two weeks to go until Christmas, the Foxes went back to the top. They were the highest-placed team in the country with 91 professional clubs looking up.
The headline on the back page of the Daily Mirror the next morning read: "We're going to win the league!" Even still, it was mainly still a fanciful notion - and the article focused more on Chelsea's predicament.
José Mourinho, the Blues' most successful manager of all time, left shortly afterwards. Until then, City were just early season sensations in the eyes of many.
This defeat of Chelsea began to change that. The establishment were starting to take note. After all, Leicester's starting line-up was full of personal success stories. Khun Vichai, the Club's beloved late Chairman, regularly treated the Blue Army to free gifts, beer or water on one occasion, cupcakes or donuts the next. The Leicester City family was as together as ever.
Kasper Schmeichel, signed by Sven-Göran Eriksson some years earlier, was reaching the potential everyone thought possible, rising from League 2 to the Premier League.
Morgan and Robert Huth, City's defensive 'bouncers' as one writer put it, were a throwback in defence, letting precious little through. After initially struggling for clean sheets, they soon became the norm.
Danny Drinkwater, signed from Manchester United, was called up for England. Marc Albrighton, let go on a free by Aston Villa, was earning a reputation as one of the finest crossers in the country.
Fuchs and Danny Simpson, one of several Old Trafford graduates among the ranks, perfected the art of positioning and would break with pace when required. Forward Shinji Okazaki, one of the last signings of Pearson's tenure, was the perfect partner for Vardy and boasted the biggest grin in football.
Another unmissable figure was Paris-born midfielder, N'Golo Kanté, a man who'd been scouted by the Club for years beforehand, but they bided their time before making a move.
Kanté's never-say-die attitude made him the engine room for Leicester. Walsh once joked: "We play three in midfield, Drinky in the middle and Kanté on either side." As the season progressed, a magnificent Vardy volley helped table-topping Leicester dispatch Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool in February.
The following weekend, an unthinkable 3-1 victory was secured at Manchester City. With Huth scoring two, the match is remembered best for Mahrez's magical dance and finish in the 48th minute.
A crushing 2-1 loss to Arsenal at Emirates Stadium, though, featuring a last-minute winner from Danny Welbeck, seemed to have curtailed City's march to the title. Ranieri had promised his players a week-long holiday if they won all three matches.
At full-time, he strode into the dressing room, consulted his backroom team, and announced they could have their holiday anyway.
Once they returned from a hard-earned rest, an 89th-minute strike from popular Argentine forward Leonardo Ulloa, against Norwich City, got them back on course. It finished 1-0 to the Foxes. The mass celebration caused a spike on a richter scale test across the city at the University of Leicester. Leicester’s tremors were rocking the world of football too.
Football icons, from Zinédine Zidane to Andrea Pirlo, were bewitched by the Leicester fairy tale on social media as City's march to immortality continued.
A visit to Sunderland on 10 April, 2016 was next and three points were secured, while qualification for the UEFA Champions League was also booked. Vardy struck twice, both typically accurate finishes to devastating counter-attacks. At full-time, Ranieri strolled over to the away end, high up in the North East skyline.
The Italian glanced up from the Stadium of Light turf and saw some of the more senior members of the travelling Blue Army. When he turned back, the cameras fixed on his face.
Just for a second, his emotion shone through. You could see what it meant to Ranieri to witness firsthand the joy his side were spreading among the Club's fans, who'd never known anything like this.
“We are in Champions League!” Ranieri later roared. “We are in Champions League, man! Dilly ding, dilly dong! Come on! You forget, you speak about blah, blah, blah, but we are in Champions League!”
Leicester were now 10 points clear with five matches still to play. Ranieri's men were within three wins of the title. The unlikely early-season pacesetters were now favourites for the title.
The run-in was an exhausting process. That was about to be proven on 17 April as Vardy was dismissed during a tumultuous 2-2 draw with West Ham United on Filbert Way. Nonetheless, Ulloa’s last-ditch penalty sealed a draw which felt like a win. The Argentinian raced over to the Kop, celebrating passionately. It felt like a defining moment.
Next up, with Ulloa stepping up in Vardy's place from the start, the Foxes ran riot in a 4-0 defeat of Swansea City at King Power Stadium. It was supposed to be the game City faltered, but they were perfect.
As the pressure reached unbearable levels, Khun Vichai was often there in the changing room, on the invitation of his players, harbouring a sense of calm, spreading joy, cultivating an unbreakable bond.
The stars were aligning before a trip to Old Trafford on 1 May. Tottenham had slipped up. A win at the Theatre of Dreams would seal perhaps the greatest title in English football's history.
Morgan's header, from Drinkwater's free-kick, cancelled out an opener from Anthony Martial and it ended 1-1. It was not quite the win City needed, but it nudged them closer to the unthinkable.
Title rivals Tottenham, who had dropped points at home to West Bromwich Albion, were City's main competitors until the final weeks, but time was running out for Mauricio Pochettino’s north Londoners.
Chelsea vs. Tottenham, Stamford Bridge, 2 May. If Spurs dropped points, it was over. The title would be Leicester's. The Blue Army gathered around TV screens as Pochettino's visitors raced into a two-goal lead.
The champagne was placed back on ice. Televisions were switched off and Foxes fans accepted the reality that they would have to endure more tension in the days to come. However, second-half strikes from Gary Cahill and Eden Hazard, the latter coming in the 83rd minute, turned pubs and living rooms in Leicester upside down.
This made terrible days in Stoke, Cardiff and Watford over previous seasons almost feel worth it. It was all leading to this. Leicester City were the champions of England.
The city poured onto the streets late in the night. They headed to King Power Stadium, ready to party into the early hours, as LCFC TV's footage of the squad celebrating in Vardy's kitchen went viral.
Over the following weeks, with Andrea Bocelli's Nessun Dorma ringing in their ears, City supporters knew only delirious happiness. A summer-long party was only just getting started, and it carried on well into the next season.