Leicester lift the Premier League trophy: A triumph to touch the hearts and souls of all sports fans
Paul Hassall was at the King Power Stadium to soak up the party atmosphere and see Leicester lift the Premier League trophy after a stylish 3-1 win over Everton.
From the unique sound of a superstar tenor to the more familiar sight of Jamie Vardy scoring - there was something quite fitting about the homecoming party to commemorate the fairytale conclusion to Leicester City's improbable dream.
After nearest rivals Tottenham failed to beat Chelsea last Monday night, the celebrations had been flowing for days but this was the big one; the weekend when the new champions of England would be officially crowned.
Leicester City's incredible rise from relegation battlers to Premier League title winners has not only enraptured the nation, it has touched the hearts and souls of sports fans across the globe. The David versus Goliath story is nothing new, but on the modern stage where the heavy outlay on wage bills and transfer expenditure often narrows the playing field, this is a refreshing tale that many never saw coming.
It was a day for football's soul to rejoice and for Foxes everywhere to converge on their football church and pay homage to their heroes.
Leicester fans going crazyReuters
On arriving in Leicester in the early afternoon sun, there was an immediate sense of expectation in the muggy, East Midlands air. Raucous singing emanated from the bars and pubs surrounding the Upperton Road area of the city while nomadic sightings of blue shirts, flags and banners increased in volume as the King Power stadium loomed ever nearer. Car parks were already filling up to the brim. One attendant handed out free cakes decorated with the club crest. This was no ordinary matchday.
Three hours before kick off and the party was already in full flow. Champagne corks popped outside Blues bar and grill opposite the club store, which itself was overwhelmed by a long, winding queue of supporters desperate to get their hands on the fresh range of 'champions' merchandise.
#FEARLESS was emblazoned across one of the outer walls of the West Stand while a grinning Claudio Ranieri seemed to dance bewitchingly from one set of Foxes fans to another as some jubilantly donned masks of the Italian who had made their wildest dreams come true. Generations of families could be seen soaking up the atmosphere of an occasion the city had not witnessed in the whole of the club's 132-year history. From great grandparent through to grandchild this was a unique moment to savour together.
Leicester City's English striker Jamie Vardy (R) celebrates with Leicester City's Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez (L)AFP
The media zones were packed with busy club officials managing to keep calm amidst the organised chaos. A bumper 108-page A4 matchday programme suggested Leicester were paying attention to every detail, as did the free pizza for fans and 'salt and victory' flavour crisps available. There was nothing routine about the experience, but then there's nothing normal about Leicester finishing top of the pile and that was exemplified by the pre-match entertainment.
Those who made their way into the ground early were treated to the sound of Italian superstar tenor, Andrea Bocelli warming up on a stage placed in the centre circle. It was a powerful rehearsal that seemed to stir the heavens as a sudden explosion of rain meant that when the Leicester players emerged onto the pitch for the first time they quite literally soaked up the adulation.
The atmosphere was bubbling away nicely before we were treated to an emotive sight 15 minutes ahead of kick off when Bocelli took to the field alongside Ranieri, to fulfil a promise he had made the Foxes boss six weeks earlier.
His performance of ‘Nessun Dorma’ and ‘Time To Say Goodbye’ was breathtaking, but the most surreal moment arrived when he removed his jacket to reveal a Leicester City shirt. It simply brought the house down and was another unforgettable highlight in this gloriously unpredictable season. There was no doubt about it; this was one of those 'I was there' moments. The biggest day in the Foxes' history and a feat the English top flight may not see again for quite some time.
Andrea Bocelli sings alongside Claudio RanieriReuters
For once the football was briefly reduced to a supporting role. Ranieri had joked he would "kill them with my hands" if his players failed to put in a showing on the day of their title party - but he didn't need to worry. If anything it looked like the Everton defenders were nursing hangovers as Vardy ghosted in to notch his 23rd in the league this season. The England man returned from his ban with a bang, opening the scoring for the 12th time this term, more than any other player.
"Stand up for the champions" sang the crowd as supporters in all four stands rose to their feet before intermittent airings of "We're champions of England, we know who we are".
Ranieri had instructed his faithful to "taste the experience slowly, slowly like a good wine" in his programme notes and the 32,140 crammed inside the ground were left licking their lips as a woeful Everton never came close to playing party pooper.
Andy King added a second and Vardy fired in his 24th from the spot. The England man even passed up a chance for a hat-trick when he blazed another penalty over the bar. Everton grabbed a late consolation to ironic cheers, but it was merely a footnote as Leicester cantered to the full-time whistle.
Jamie Vardy gestures towards Everton's Joel Robles after scoring the third goal for Leicester from the penalty spotReuters
Then, the moment Wes Morgan had been dreaming about. The point in the evening that would be immortalised on camera and shown again and again for years to come; the moment when he would join an elite band of players to lift the Premier League trophy as captain.
On the eve of the game he had suggested he didn't know when it would sink in and that he never imagined skippering a title-winning side "in a million years." That feeling of disbelief would have faded as he set his emotional gaze upon the silverware before following in the footsteps of iconic names like Eric Cantona, Tony Adams, Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira by raising aloft one of football's greatest prizes.
Players, fans and staff could be forgiven for pinching themselves as they revelled in the victory parade on the pitch. The day could not have gone much better.
Bocelli's pre-match spectacle had set the tone with a subtle change to the lyrics: "time to win again" and Leicester had duly delivered, surpassing the world famous tenor's performance with a vibrant display that hit all the right notes. Not the first time they have upstaged a big name this season....
"Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong..."