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The Greatest Story Ever Told - Have Leicester Done an Ipswich?
Written by Superfrans on Tuesday, 3rd May 2016 16:45

Congratulations to Leicester City, the incredible achievement of Ranieri, Vardy, Mahrez, Drinkwater, Schmeichel and co should have every fan, of every football club, doffing their caps in tribute this week – and for a long time to come.

In an era of big money football, Leicester’s title win has quite rightly excited a nation of football supporters. Finally, we have new league champions for the first time since 1978; after 20 years in which only four different clubs have won the Premier League title (Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd), we have a new name to add to the list.

Many fans and media have acclaimed Leicester’s victory as “the greatest football story ever told”, drawing obvious comparisons with Nottingham Forest's 1978 championship having been newly promoted from Division Two and, of course, Ipswich Town's own championship at the first attempt in 1961/62 under Alf Ramsey.

The media has an increasing desire to acclaim contemporary moments as the greatest ever, for pure marketing reasons among others.

And individuals too will always prefer to herald an event they have actually seen, or feel they are experiencing, as the greatest in history – that’s just a natural instinct, whether you are a fan, media pundit or football writer. We were there. We lived through history. It is a compelling narrative.

And, of course, memory dims over the years too. Who can truly remember the great achievements of our very own groundbreaking Ipswich Town team, in all their detail?

But whether Leicester’s achievement truly live up to the hyperbole is a valid question. It is clearly an extraordinary achievement. But the greatest achievement of all? Comparisons between such distant and different eras are fraught with challenges. The world in 1961/62 is so different from life in 2016, in so many fundamental ways.

The vast majority of those reading this will not have been born in 1962 for a start – anyone who can remember any of the games we played in that season is likely to be 65 years old at the very least.
But it is surely worth trying. So here goes…

The most difficult comparison to draw between the worlds in 1962 and 2016 is the financial one. For a start, while football discussion in 2016 is drowning in financial data, there is very little for 1962.

It IS undeniable, however, that the modern day sums are eye-watering – even for minnows such as Leicester. The Foxes, whose King Power crowds gave them the 12th biggest average attendance in English football in both 2014/15 and 2015/16 (this season’s average is almost 32,000), are now the 24th richest club in the world (according to the FT).

Such wealth is driven by TV income and prize money, which is estimated to lead to a £90.9m bounty for Leicester this season (according to Totalsportek.com) – in contrast, the biggest Premier League earner is likely to be Arsenal on £98m (because they featured in more TV games). Last season, Leicester received £71.6m (14th in the finance league), with Chelsea on top with £98.9m income.

That means that over the two seasons Leicester generated £161m income, probably around 20 per cent down on the biggest clubs – and have the 17th biggest wage bill in the Premiership this season (£48.2m, compared to Chelsea’s division-topping £215.6m). There is a discrepancy between the biggest and the rest, but it is a narrowing gap and (at these financial levels) how significant are they really?

Whatever the answer to that question, such sums certainly bear little comparison with the wage bills of the sixties. PFA average salary figures (collated by Sportingintelligence.com) only date back to the mid-eighties – but they indicate that the average wage for a top flight player was £24,934 pa in 1984/85 (2.5 times the average household income of £9,788) compared to £1.704m in 2014/15 (43 times the average household income, £39,449).

Of course, bigger clubs in the early sixties would still have had higher wage bills than smaller clubs, but the proportional difference would have been limited by the maximum wage.

That said, transfer fees could be paid by the biggest clubs – Man Utd making Denis Law the first £115,000 player in 1962. And the changes were percolating through, with Johnny Haynes becoming the first £100-a-week player in 1961 (£5,200 pa) after the abolition of the maximum wage.

Certainly, ticket income generated by the biggest clubs (tickets being the primary/only form of revenue in 1962) was significantly higher than little Ipswich. For these comparisons, it is worth focusing on Ipswich’s biggest titles challengers - the three other highest ranking clubs in 1961/62, Burnley, Spurs and Everton (who finished second, third and fourth respectively).

At the time, Spurs and Everton were the two best supported teams in English club football, with average attendances over the two seasons of 1960/61 and 1961/62 of 49,350 for Spurs, 42,440 for Everton.

In turn, Burnley attracted a two-season average of 25,979 (England's 13th biggest), compared to 18,979 for Ipswich (English football’s 24th biggest). There is little argument that Ipswich were in a different league in terms of attendance and income – assuming similar ticket pricing, Spurs and Everton would have generated around two-and-a-half times more ticket money than their Suffolk cousins.

But the achievements of Leicester and Ipswich should not be measured on pure finance alone - another important measure is the relative competitiveness of the divisions and the quality of the opposition. And, when Ramsey’s men took the title, there is little doubt that the established giants of the time were in their pomp.

Coming up from Division Two in 1961, Ipswich faced Bill Nicholson’s legendary Tottenham side who had just won the double in some style – Spurs remained one of Ipswich’s closest rivals in 1961/62, finishing third. In turn, Burnley (second in 1961/62) and Everton (fourth in 1961/62) had both finished top five the previous season.

The top three in the following 1962/63 season would underline these clubs' claim as the best in England, with Everton as champions, followed by Spurs and Burnley - as did the 1962 FA Cup final, which was contested by Burnley and Tottenham. The challenge faced by Sir Alf and his team was far from insubstantial.

The comparison with Leicester? Well, we all know how huge an achievement it is for any team to break into the top five clubs today. But it is also true to reflect that the big guns have all underperformed in 2015-/6, Chelsea finishing in mid-table (their lowest league position for 20 years), Man Utd currently scrabbling for fifth, Man City lower than at any point for six years. Only Arsenal have remained consistent with their performances of recent years.

As for pure performance, Leicester’s stats are pretty impressive, though. After 36 games (two games to go), they have 77 points, from 22 wins, 11 draws and three defeats – with two games to go, 83 points is within reach.

In contrast, Ipswich won 24 times in 1961/62, registered eight draws and 10 defeats in 42 games – using three points for a win (for comparison purposes), this would have given them 80 points and a lead of six points over second placed Burnley. Goals were a different commodity back then, though – Ipswich scored 93 and conceded 67, compared to Leicester’s current tally of 64 for and 34 against.

But the great fairytale of Ramsey’s Town team was its meteoric rise, beyond any previous league performance in the club's history.  Ramsey took Ipswich from Division Three (South) to winners of Division One in five years - arriving in Division One for their debut season.

The scale of this achievement is underlined by the number of players who remained core to Ramsey’s team, from Division Three right through to the Division One championship – the 1961/62 team saw Roy Bailey, Larry Carberry, John Elsworthy, Ted Phillips and Jimmy Leadbetter become the first players in league history to win Divisions Three, Two and One.

The Ipswich victory was beyond even the most reasonable fantasy. When Andy Nelson lifted the trophy on behalf of Ramsey’s team, it was the first time Ipswich had even competed in the top division and came in just their 17th season since joining the Football League for the first time. Such a victory would be like a team promoted from the non-leagues in 1999 winning the title this season. Imagine it - Cheltenham Town, Premier League Champions!

In contrast, Leicester climbed from League One to Premier League champions in seven years (2009-2016), with one player (Andy King) the only one to win divisions three, two and one with them. But, notably, 2015/16 is Leicester's 48th season in the top flight and their 111th season in the league overall, following their election to the league in 1894. Only one other club has won the second tier division (including the Championship) so many times (seven) – Manchester City.

Of course, these are different eras, when teams and squads evolve quicker, players join and leave clubs more rapidly than they did in the early sixties. But Leicester's achievement is a victory for perseverance, a mature club finally reaching the top. Ipswich Town's title was the climax of a truly meteroic rise, an outfit with less than 20 years as a professional club behind them. 

Of course, much of this debate is academic. Leicester will be celebrating their victory through this week and the summer too, no doubt, and quite right too.

There are clear pointers, both ways - but trying to reach a definitive conclusion on which is the ultimate fairytale team, Ipswich or Leicester, would be a fool's errand. The differences between both eras are so stark, they are almost impossible to bridge.

But I know what my view is - you may be able to guess.




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Steve_M added 17:14 - May 3
Nice piece. It's difficult to compare our meteoric rise with Leicester's triumph over the financial doping that is today's top division but that's a good attempt.

Both will remain great achievements which some other clubs can only dream about though. I'm glad we have our history but congratulations once again to Leicester City.
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hoppy added 17:31 - May 3
A good read. Thanks for posting. As Steve_M has commented, it is difficult to compare such significantly different eras as there is so much that has changed and the playing field is not so level now (financially I mean, not literally - as the playing fields these days are much more level than ever, almost like a bowling green) nevertheless, both achievements are sensational for the size of club we were, and they are now - achievements that can never be taken away from either club.
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WadeyBlue added 18:02 - May 3
Blackburn won it aswell.
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Superfrans added 18:03 - May 3
Cheers both. It ended up much longer than I anticipated to be honest.
I tend to agree that Leicester's is a great achievement - but that ours is too, in a different era. Winning the Championship at the first attempt, with half the team which won division 3 a few years before seems to me the greatest achievement - especially in competition with clubs which were so much bigger than us.
What bugs me most about the Leicester acclaim is the suggestion that nothing similar has ever been achieved before, together with the lazy assumption that nobody cares about anything pre 1993.
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hoppy added 19:12 - May 3
They did, Wadeyblue, but that was in 94/95. The reference here was that there have been 20 years since that where only 4 teams have won it.

Also, in those 20 years, there have only been Man Utd (18 times, 11 wins), Man City (only the last 5 years, 2 wins), Arsenal (13 times, 3 wins), Chelsea (12 times, 4 wins), Liverpool (8 times), Newcastle (3 times) and Leeds (once) that have filled any of the top 3 places.
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jas1972 added 19:34 - May 3
The misrepresentation comes about because no team has done anything like this before - in the Premiership. In other words, no meaningful football competition happened before 1992, which helpfully disposes of any claims for Notts Forest, Ipswich and any similar achievers.
Another point which doesn't get mentioned is that in earlier years squads were smaller and wage bills were lower as a result. There were no substitutes when Town won Division 1 and only one was allowed from 1965 until 1985 (or 6), which meant that teams did not acquire large squads of expensive, unused players and did not buy people to stop them going elsewhere. For me, that squad size makes the earlier achievements much more impressive
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MVBlue added 11:21 - May 4
Yes its a title win and yes its amazing as it was 5000/1.
But no pundit or journalist has looked back to see if ANYTHING like it has occured before in even the Premiership itself. Because one team in blue stormed the Premiership in 2000/2001 and finished 5th and in Europe in their first season.
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SpiritOfJohn added 17:31 - May 4
Fabulous blog. Well done Leicester. It is fair to compare Leicester's season to the Town's title win 1961-62. At the start of the season both teams were considered more likely to be relegated than challenging the teams at the top of the table. Ipswich were definitely favourites for the drop before a ball had been kicked.
Ramsey's men had the benefit of not being on television so they were able to surprise their opponents in the first half of the season, but to their credit they were still capable of picking up points in the return fixtures - thanks in no small part to goal machines Crawford and Phillips. So fair play to Leicester who had to switch tactics once their devestating counter-attacking was given the respect it deserved, and they proved they could grind out some 1-0 victories.
However, Ramsey's team's rise through the divisions makes their achievement more than a one season wonder and they also had to finish above 21 other teams to win the league, as there were 22 teams in the top division in those days, whereas Leicester only had to beat 19.
Sorry Mr Lineker and co. the inconvenient truth is that the fairytale has happened before and in a more remarkable fashion by Ipswich Town. Also worth giving Forest an honourable mention as they went on to win the European Cup - if Leicester can do that next season then that will take the biscuit. Another team that did the unthinkable was Wimbledon - going from non-league to FA Cup winners in 11 years, but again it was pre Premier League when nobody paid much attention to football, or so some would have us believe.

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Len_Brennan added 18:44 - May 4
Thanks Superfrans, great read.
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Blue041273 added 07:53 - May 5
Thanks Superfrans, the facts and stats make for an interesting read. As one of the 65+ years old supporters I remember the season with pride and jubilation. Although it was against all the odds I saw the Championship success as pre-destined and truly believed that we would rule the world for years to come. Chuck in the SBR years and the GB years and I have football memories that many would die for!

Small boys in Leicester today will have similar memories for the rest of their lives. Absolutely fantastic! Thanks Leicester for restoring my faith in "the dream".
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stormypetrel added 16:54 - May 5
Great read, enjoyed it...good points, agree with others re Forest as well....without denigrating Leicester, the media hyperbole conveniently forgets...
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ChrisFelix added 19:58 - May 5
I'm afraid our championship is so far in the past that's its forgotten other than in Suffolk. What makes us special is what happened 4 years later. And for those who don't know Alf was not first choice for the England job
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Blue041273 added 23:26 - May 5
Chrishants

Don't get the point, sorry. It maybe long in the past but winning the league in 1962 makes us special. And in so many ways too, not least in the way we won it against all odds.

And your dig concerning the great Sir Alf was totally unnecessary. Who cares now, 50 years on, whether he was 1st choice or not. He was the man that managed the world champions. He was our Sir Alf. He won the League title for us against the odds and won the World Cup for England similarly against the odds. No man has come close to replicating these achievements. Please just show some respect!

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ChrisFelix added 08:37 - May 6
I am not having a dig at Alf Ramsay. Just the point that Ipswich will for ever be the under dog. As managers go I feel that his achievement at our club puts him even above Bobby Robson. Although as the years go on I realise more and more what great managers they both were As the brilliant article says you would had to be in your 60 to remember that season & the media today feel that football only started in 1992
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linhdi added 10:18 - May 6
Brilliant article, Superfrans. I'm with you 100%. If you have a match programme for the home game v Fulham, check out the "away game memory" article on Liz's page, which was dug out of the club's archives, a contemporary fan's account of the win at White Hart Lane that was key to securing the title. It underlines your point that Town were really quite a small club in so many ways. (Town beat Spurs home and away, and if those results had been reversed, Spurs would have done back-to-back doubles!).
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Bergholtblue added 11:32 - May 6
I also think there are similarities with Leicester and Watford of the 1980's. Graham Taylor took Watford from the lower reaches of the old 4th division to finish second in their first year in the top flight. An achievement largely due to a striker who finished top scorer, Luther Blisset.
0

budgieplucker added 00:33 - May 7
Decent enough back up who worked extremely hard but also perhaps a bit of a sick note. @runaround remember the corner well, and with the Doncaster shirt incident I nicknamed him Haha Toure. All the best Larsen think you may have had more to offer than AMN if MM had given you a better chance and you hadn't been picking up so many injuries.
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Wark_On added 08:25 - May 7
Thanks Superfrans. A well written considered blog. I can only agree with your conclusion. It is disappointing that 1992 appears to be year zero for English football within the media. The game was played for over 100 years before the premier league, with many varied clubs enjoying their moments in the sun. This is rarely referenced, as it does not fit into the PL brand. That said, I hope Leicester enjoy their moment.
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budgieplucker added 12:21 - May 7
Oops sorry my posting above was accidentally put on the wrong article. Meant to have posted that one against the Larsen Toure thread.

Regarding this blog, great read thanks superfrans.

Sir Alf was dubbed the father of the modern game through his achievements and how he introduced tactics to make a team much stronger in a greater total than the sum of the individual parts.

Sir Bob kept the dream alive during his tenure. Now it's great that Leicester have reinvigorated that dream.

Come August it will renew the dream of all clubs up and down the country that the fairy tale is still very possible.

I think Town have played a major contribution in football history for showing this game as a truly team sport and not a collection of greedy and mercenary individuals.

I for one had thought the obscenity of the premiership had truly strangled this dream but thank you again Leicester for restoring my faith
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MBG added 10:06 - May 9
A great historical perspective. In financial terms I think Leicester were more disadvantaged than ITFC because the explosion of t.v. revenue and corporate sponsorship n recent years has worked overwhelmingly to the benefit of the big clubs. However, ITFC was a fledgling club in 1961/62 whereas Leicester in 2015/16 were paying in the top flight for the 48th time in their history. For mine, ITFC's achievement squeaks it.
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coolcat added 17:05 - May 10
Very well researched. I agree with MBG, Ipswich's achievement 'squeaks' it. Great for Leicester and also for other former championship clubs doing well in the pl - makes a change from the usual suspects. Coincidentally, I was recently looking up Sir Alf Ramsey's record with Ipswich. It was a massive achievement for a small club to jump up 3 divisions in 7 seasons & then be league champions. Very good article Superfrans.
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Warkys_Tash added 21:33 - May 11
Super frans. Superb read, thanks! I have been listening to Vasos the sports reader on Chris Evan's Radio 2 show crowing on about Leics achievement. No mention of it being done before, in fact (although I am biased) I believe Ipswich achievements are better than Leics. Who is going to win the Championship, come up as relegation favourites (as we were) & win the Premiership in back to back seasons?

Forest did the same as us, in fact I believe Ipswich are one of only four teams to do it, a Forest being the other. Possibly Derby & Burnley are the other two - maybe you can find out?
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MeenoITFC added 16:01 - May 13
Blue041273 - Sums it up to a tee! I'm a youngster dreaming and praying for glory days to come and Leicester has boosted that
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Superfrans added 23:55 - May 13
Thanks all for the kind comments. Just catching up after a busy few days, so I've only just seen them. Very kind.
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62WasBest added 10:43 - May 17
Well written, but I do disagree. The eras can be compared, because as in any sport, a team or individual can only play or beat what is in front of them. The financial aspect is a red-herring ultimately because in each era emerging clubs are playing against those much wealthier, and Leicester are no longer financially a small club anyway, albeit they didn't excessively "splash the cash" to win their title - though I understand they are still facing FFP investigation for their promotion from the Championship.

Ipswich are the ONLY club I believe (bar Preston in the inaugural season) to have won the League at their first attempt. Only four clubs have won the old Second Division and gone on to win the League the following season, anyway. And as is rightly said, to go from being amateur to Champions in just 25 years is incredible - especially when you consider of those 25 years several were effectively lost due to WW2. No doubt in my mind whatsoever as to which is the greatest accomplishment.
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