I’ll never forget bumping into club staff all gripped with Cup fever and being reminded what a special, family club Leicester are. Life at King Power Stadium is not simply employment for them, it’s a passion.
It was a scramble for anyone to be there as only 6,250 tickets were allocated to each team. The final was designated a Government test event as the country emerged from lockdown. From the moment Kasper Schmeichel and the other goalkeepers ran out to warm up, Leicester fans made an incredible noise, rising as Youri Tielemans scored, the decibel level climbing even higher as VAR overruled Chelsea's equaliser at the death. Only 6,250? It sounded four times as many.
Then came that spine-tingling roar as the final whistle confirmed a first ever FA Cup in Leicester’s 137-year history. I remember looking down from the press box, seeing the TV reporters trying to conduct pitchside interviews, and thinking “good luck!” “I can't hear a word you're saying!” Schmeichel laughed to the BBC's Kelly Somers. (It would have needed quite a gathering to drown out Schmeichel, definitely the loudest voice during that period of games behind closed doors along with Wolves’ Conor Coady).
A trademark Youri Tielemans celebration after he scored a stunning winner.
The 2021 climax of the world’s oldest football competition was called “the Fans’ Final” for good reason. It was the uplifting sight and deafening sound of supporters back inside grounds. It was the feeling of some normality returning to life, some light after the long darkness of lockdown. Fans had seen off the European Super League, and now the 2016 Premier League dream-makers were again reminding everyone that the game is about glory. Money matters but you cannot put a price on memories that will last a lifetime. Leicester fans have those memories.
Those 6,250 - and the 10s of thousands back home watching on hopefully - deserve the gratitude of the FA for restoring some shine to the famous old trophy. Along with Chelsea supporters they showed that fans could return safely to live events. This was particularly important for the FA as it confirmed that Wembley could host games at the imminent Euros (although the final proved problematic).
City's players celebrate with their manager at full-time after a 1-0 win over Chelsea in the final.
The Cup mattered to Chelsea, a team packed with winners, but they have won it eight times. The more names etched into the silver the more lustrous it becomes. There was always the feeling that the Cup mattered more to Leicester.
Brendan Rodgers’ players gave everything to win it. Schmeichel made his great saves from Cesar Azpilicueta, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount. Tielemans scored a goal good enough to grace any final. Jamie Vardy never stopped running and harrying Chelsea’s defence. The final whistle saw Vardy fall to his knees, eyes closed in emotion, arms aloft in triumph. He’d run himself into the ground in pursuit of glory. Vardy demonstrated that the game is about togetherness, putting a shift in for the cause and for your friends.
Leicester City Chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha celebrates the Club's maiden FA Cup triumph.
As Leicester fans continued to serenade the players, Schmeichel and Morgan lifted the cup as the fireworks went up and the streamers floated down, covering the players. Kelechi Iheanacho showed commendable poise, balancing the trophy on his head. Rodgers walked around smiling, his game-plan rewarded. He clutched his winner’s medal in his right hand and waved with his left to familiar faces in the crowd. Rodgers was then seized by his players and launched jubilantly into the air. There was that Leicester togetherness again, that family, that wave of memories.
And there was the chairman Khun Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha not simply holding the Cup but cradling it like a precious first-born. The trophy, the symbol of English football, meant everything to Khun Top. Leicester’s players wanted to give him the trophy. They wanted to win in Khun Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s honour. The fans loved the sight of Khun Top with the trophy and saluted him emotionally. From the stands to the field, the 2021 FA Cup final was all about the Leicester family.
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