If Leicester City win the Premier League this season it will be the greatest upset in English football for more than half a century, according to Ray Crawford, whose goals helped long-shot Ipswich Town win their only top flight title in 1962.
Leicester, who were stranded seven points from the safety zone 12 months ago, are five points clear with four games remaining and within touching distance of becoming the first maiden champions since Nottingham Forest in 1978.
While taking nothing away from Forest, who went on to win the European Cup twice in the following two seasons, Crawford, now a sprightly 79, was full of praise for Leicester as he sees so many similarities between their campaign and Ipswich’s.
Before this season started Leicester were priced at 3-1 by bookmakers to be relegated after last year’s narrow escape, while in August 1961 Ipswich, playing in the top flight for the first time, were widely dismissed as no-hopers and tipped to make an immediate return to the Second Division.
“Leicester have defied the odds and so did we and so much of Leicester’s season reminds me of us,” Crawford told Reuters in a telephone interview from his home in Portsmouth.
“And if they were to hang on and win it, it would be the greatest upset since we did it because our biggest incentive at the start of the season was not to get relegated.
“At the start of the season all the national newspapers said we were hot favourites to go straight back down and that we could not survive because we didn’t have any class players,” he added.
“But what they did not take into consideration was that Ted Phillips and myself were goalscorers and if you have goalscorers in the team you’ve always got a chance.”
Fast forward to today and Leicester have exactly that – Jamie Vardy has scored 22 goals in 34 matches while Riyad Mahrez has hit 16 in 33. The rest of the squad have contributed 19 between them as Leicester achieved their own aim of avoiding the drop – and then some.
Back in the free-scoring days of the early 1960s, Crawford netted 33 goals and Phillips 28 in the then 42-match programme and, while they were the undoubted stars on the field, they also had a very considerable force in the dugout.
Alf Ramsey had taken over as manager when Ipswich were doing nothing in the old Third Division South in 1955, but two years later he took them into the Second Division as champions.
In 1961 they won the Second Division title and in 1962 the First Division, a back-to-back feat no team has managed since.
Ramsey left the following year and led England to victory in the 1966 World Cup and Crawford sees echoes in Claudio Ranieri’s ability to handle expectations at Leicester with how Ramsey managed them at Ipswich.
“Alf never once spoke of the title and we never thought we could win it,” he said. “Never. Even when we got close, Burnley could still have caught us, and I for one never thought we could win the league. He managed to make us play without fear, and that’s exactly what I see Ranieri has done with Leicester.
“Our main goal, the one thing Alf wanted to avoid, was being relegated, so once it was clear we would not be going down, the pressure was off. Leicester have played this season without fear too and, like us, have got real team players,” he added.
“The forwards chase back once they have lost the ball, they don’t just stand there. They feel they “owe” the team, and I love that about them.”
Like Ipswich, Leicester are a team made of few household names – certainly at the start of the season.
“If you ask most people in the country outside of Leicester to name their players, most would get Kasper Schmeichel because of his dad Peter, and Mahrez and Vardy because they’ve seen their goals on TV, and that’s about it,” Crawford said.
One thing Crawford hopes Leicester will not share with Ipswich is what came next.
“We could not sustain it,” he said. “We finished 17th the following season, Alf left, and Ipswich were relegated in 1964. I hope Leicester avoid that fate.”
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