There are ways to fail to win a title, and then there are ways to fail to win a title.
Chelsea, for example, failed to win this season’s title by being, broadly, total garbage. Despite starting with the advantage of being champions — and so, in theory, as the best team in the country — they quickly started to look like a collection of strangers who actively resented one another’s company. Like the inhabitants of an overfilled train carriage that’s ground to a halt at the peak of rush hour, they squirmed and chafed and sweated against one another until it became too uncomfortable to bear, and then Jose Mourinho got sacked. That’s probably the equivalent of opening a window or something.
That’s not a particularly edifying way to fail to win a title. Nor was the path chosen by Manchester City, who spent the season in a state of constant distraction. Or Manchester United, who have spent their season attempting to discover whether it is possible to represent the concept of a headache through the medium of a football club. And it is! That probably counts as a trophy.
Least edifying of all, of course, was Arsenal, who refused to get involved in the general silliness all around them and failed to win this title the same way they failed to win the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that.
No, if you’re going to fail to win a title, then you need to do it properly. You need to do it the way Tottenham did it. By descending into an ill-disciplined and frankly dangerous rabble, and crashing out of the title race in a hail of acrimony, a flurry of yellow cards, and a scrap in a tunnel. (Although, in typical Spursy fashion, they were disappointingly unable to convert any of their yellow cards into a red.)
Quite why footballing violence is so generally amusing is an enduring mystery. The Diary’s current theory is that it has something to do with the intersection of the theoretical maturity of adult humans with the theoretical irrelevance of a sporting pastime, and the way the inflation of the significance of the latter leads to the rapid and inexplicable deflation of the former. Alternatively, it could be because one person tripping another is fundamentally funny, is made more so when both are wearing uniforms, and is made even more so when tens of thousands of people jump to their feet and bellow about it.
The Diary cannot, in good conscience, fully endorse everything that went on at Stamford Bridge. Pushing old men over isn’t cool, particularly old men as fundamentally harmless and vaguely cuddly as Guus Hiddink. And eye-gouging is also some distance beyond acceptable. Not only because it’s a dick move, but because it’s a real shame to see the proud and honorable sport of football lowering itself to the level of rugby. But that didn’t stop Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele from shoving his finger into Diego Costa’s eye. Still, it could have been worse. He could have called the referee “Sir”.
But when lines are being crossed all over the place, it’s no surprise that sometimes it’s the wrong line. With no real harm done — the Diary reserves the right to entirely reverse position if it turns out that Jan Vertonghen’s dignity is too far gone and has to be put to sleep — we were able to enjoy the spectacle of a Tottenham side wound up well beyond rationality, and a Chelsea side utterly determined to ruin their day. There are many ways to blow a title chase, but if it doesn’t feature Cesc Fabregas running over to a linesman to point out the boot marks where the nasty man trod on his ickle-wickle handy-wandy, then frankly the Diary doesn’t want to know.
To Leicester, then, who embarrassingly failed to fail to win the title and as such are now the champions of England. It is quite strange to reflect on how surreal such a triumph is. Until this season, we lived in a time when Tottenham or Liverpool picking up a title would count as a major surprise, a demonstration of just how effectively the Premier League, over the last couple of decades, has slowly eroded away the imaginative power of the footballing world.
Now, though, Leicester are champions. Leicester are champions. And you don’t have to like them as people or as a team to enjoy the fact that as things stand, we are outside the bounds of possibility. That those weird alternative universes where stupid and silly and glorious things happen are, in fact, this universe. That there is, at this moment in time, almost nothing so conceptually strange as to be impossible. Roll that feeling around your mouth. Taste it. Enjoy it. Not just because it’s a delight in itself, but because next season is going to be a brutal restatement of the established order. Soon this will all just be a distant memory. The checkbooks are coming out and the cold hand of common sense will be returning. Take this while you can get it.