Kris Shannon: Foxes can't top Forest in title stakes

Leicester's Shinji Okazaki, left, celebrates with teammates Jamie Vardy, right, and Daniel Drinkwater, after scoring during the English Premier League. Photo / AP.
Leicester's Shinji Okazaki, left, celebrates with teammates Jamie Vardy, right, and Daniel Drinkwater, after scoring during the English Premier League. Photo / AP.

With the interminable dirge that doubles as the international break finally over, the most anticipated Premier League title race ever is back under way.

Leicester City, five points clear with seven games to play, are aiming to write one of the most remarkable fairytales in sport. But will the Foxes out-foxing the big guns be the best story in English football history?

There appears two candidates for that manufactured and meaningless crown. Leicester's rise, remarkable as it's been, is not without precedent. In fact, victory for Claudio Ranieri's men in May will represent only the first step of what Nottingham Forest accomplished in the late 1970s.

Comparing sports across eras can be impossible and inconsequential.

The modern behemoth of football, like any code, is a completely different beast when juxtaposed with the game played almost 40 years ago. And, in any case, why bother to make the comparison? Why not appreciate Leicester's achievements without measuring them against a standard set in another era?

These are valid points but, I'm sorry, this is sports and this is what we do - placing improbable deeds in a historical context allow us to better understand their wonder. And, in a further apology specifically to Foxes fans, Nottingham Forest are unlikely to ever be surpassed.

What about the level of competition, the voices in my head ask. Surely what Brian Clough's side encountered couldn't possibly compare to traditional heavyweights and the nouveau riche that now dominate England's top tier. But what of those top dogs? There's a reason this title race is so wide open that a team like Leicester or, heavens to Betsy, even mighty Spurs have the winners' medals in their sights.

Chelsea have mounted a title defence that looked more likely to result in relegation than a repeat, Manchester City have since September accrued 36 points from 24 games, fewer than Southampton and Stoke in the same period. Manchester United are just as bad as their neighbours, with their only element of consistency coming in a continual avoidance of the opposition goal, while Liverpool sacked their manager mid-season and many Arsenal fans still want to see the back of theirs.

Nottingham Forest, on the other hand, upended a Liverpool team regarded as the greatest the famed club ever assembled, a team who were busy winning back-to-back European Cups when their minnows from the Midlands began their rise.

Still, those voices persist, Leicester were perilously close to relegation last season and, having changed managers in the summer, were installed as favourites for the drop by bookmakers and pundits alike.

Well, Forest didn't enjoy the luxury of a campaign to acclimatise before embarking on their title charge. Earning elevation from the second tier in the 1976-77 season, after amassing the fifth-lowest points total for any promoted side in English football history, Forest took the title in their first try.

And that was just the beginning. While the old European Cup is incomparable to the Champions League, Clough's side would have caused little concern to a competition featuring Liverpool, Real Madrid and Juventus.

Yet they won it, again in the first attempt. And then they repeated the feat the following season. Forest added a couple of League Cups to their collection, remained unbeaten for 42 league matches and, in 1979, after beating Barcelona to win the Super Cup, were applauded off the pitch by the Nou Camp crowd.

Leicester City winning the Premier League would indeed be a modern-day miracle. But until the Foxes make a fool of Messi, Forest stand alone.

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