Firing up the Foxes: 10 surprise league champions who can help inspire Leicester to the English title
With Leicester City well placed to become the English Premier League’s most unlikely champions, we look at 10 other clubs who shook up the established order and claimed surprise titles:
NOTTINGHAM FOREST (England, 1977-78)
Promoted from England’s second tier the previous season, Brian Clough’s Forest took the top division by storm to win the league by seven points from European champions Liverpool, who they also defeated in the League Cup final. Clough had bolstered his ranks by signing England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, Scotland midfielder Archie Gemmill and no-nonsense Scot Kenny Burns, who was re-converted from a striker to a centre-back, but the team were otherwise unchanged. Forest won the European Cup the following season and then retained it in 1980, making them the only club to have won the tournament more times than their own national championship
IPSWICH TOWN (England, 1961-62)
Ipswich, in their first season after promotion, were crowned champions of England for the only time in their history in a league where Tottenham, bolstered by signing of Jimmy Greaves, were arguably even stronger than when they won the double of league and cup in 1960-61. Ipswich’s success eventually saw Alf Ramsey get the England job. In 1966, Ramsey led England to their only World Cup title.
ATLETICO MADRID (Spain, 2013-14)
Atletico ended Barcelona and Real Madrid’s 10-year domination of La Liga in dramatic fashion as they came from behind to secure the 1-1 draw they needed from a final day title decider away to Barca. Despite having just a fifth of the budget on offer to Real and Barca’s star-studded squads led by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, a rock-solid defence and Diego Costa’s 27 goals fired Atletico to their first title in 18 years. Yet, the season was still tinged by slight disappointment for Los Rojiblancos as they were seconds away from their first ever Champions League a week later in Lisbon only to eventually succumb to Real 4-1 after extra time.
MONTPELLIER (France, 2011-12)
The Qatari takeover of Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2011 ushered in a new era in French
football but only after Montpellier defied the odds to clinch a first Ligue 1 title. Rene Girard’s side had finished just three points above the relegation zone in 14th the previous season, but three straight wins, including a 1-0 victory at defending champions Lille, to start the 2011-12 campaign set in motion an unlikely title challenge. Olivier Giroud’s 21 goals saw him claim the golden boot, while John Utaka’s final-day double at Auxerre propelled Montpellier to a maiden Ligue 1 crown as they pipped their far wealthier rivals PSG, coached by Carlo Ancelotti, to the title by three points.
WOLFSBURG (Germany, 2008-09)
Wolfsburg were ninth in the table, and nine points from top, midway through the 2008/09 season before embarking on a run which saw them win the club’s first league title, two points ahead of mighty Bayern Munich. After the January winter break, Wolfsburg won 15 of their 17 matches including a 5-1 drubbing of Bayern when Brazilian striker Grafite backheeled their audacious fifth goal past a posse of defenders. Grafite (28 goals) and Edin Dzeko (26) forged a new league record partnership of 54 goals, one more than Bayern legends Gerd Mueller (40) and Uli Hoeness (13) netted in 1971/72 when Mueller set the league’s all-time record.
KAISERSLAUTERN (Germany, 1997-98)
Under legendary coach Otto Rehhagel, Kaiserslautern became the only club to win the Bundesliga title in their first season straight after promotion when they finished two points clear of Bayern. Top scorer
was Germany international Olaf Marschall, who netted 21 goals in 24 games, while it was the breakthrough season for youthful midfielder Michael Ballack. Having beaten Bayern 1-0 on the opening day, Kaiserslautern topped the table four weeks into the season and never relinquished their lead. Kaiserslautern beat Bayern home and away in the league, sweet moments for Rehhagel who was fired by the Bavarian giants in April 1996 after less than a season in charge.
VERONA (Italy, 1984-85)
Verona’s 1985 scudetto triumph is not just memorable for the fact it is their only league title. Their championship victory came in a period in which officials were trying to clean up the image of the sport in a league riddled with corruption. A betting scandal in the early 1980s meant it was decided, ahead of the 1984-85 season, to assign referees to matches randomly. Verona, fuelled by the goals of Danish stiker Preben Elljaer and Italian Giuseppe Galderisi, and with the creative skills of Hans-Peter Briegel, Pietro Fanna and Antonio di Gennaro, Osvaldo Bagnoli’s men collected a series of famous wins, including a 2-0 victory over Juventus, in which Elkjaer scored a goal after losing a a boot in a tackle outside the box, and against a well-drilled Roma side. A 1-1 draw with Atalanta in Bergamo sealed the championship with a four-point lead over Torino.
GENT (Belgium, 2014-15)
Close to bankruptcy in 1999, Gent won their first title last season and became the first Belgians into Champions League knockout stages – all on a budget of around just HK$265 million.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS (Australia, 2013)
The Western Sydney Wanderers completed a fairy-tale run to become champions of Asia barely two
years after the club was founded. The Wanderers picked up momentum after winning the A-League title in their inaugural season in 2013 and went on to knock out defending Asian Champions League holders Guangzhou Evergrande before beating Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal over two legs in the final, booking a place in the Fifa Club World Cup. Led by former Crystal Palace defender Tony Popovic, the Wanderers became the first Australian side to win Asia’s premier club competition.
ZARYA (Soviet Union, 1971-72)
The club from the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, Zarya Voroshilovgrad won promotion into the Soviet top flight in 1968. They began the 1972 championship with a three-match winning series – beating Dynamo Kiev 3-0, Spartak Moscow 3-1 and Dynamo Moscow 1-0. Zarya eventually finished five points ahead of runners-up Dynamo Kiev for the title. Zarya battled twice into the Soviet Cup final, in 1974 and 1975 but were beaten by Dynamo Kiev and Ararat Yerevan respectively. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the club was renamed Zorya Lygansk and played in the Ukrainian league top flight until 1996, when they were relegated. In 2006 they won promotion back into the country’s top division.