Leicester has long been a trying name that travels badly. An overelaborate spelling of "Lester" for Americans. A tongue-twisting "Less-es-tur" or "Lie-chest-er" for continental Europeans.
So thank you Jamie Vardy and Co. for putting us on the map.
When trying to enlighten the confused, being able to say "you know, the team doing incredible things in the Premier League ..." is so much more effective than "the motorway town in the middle of England with the world's largest potato chip factory."
"Ah-ha," is now a more likely response, "you mean Leicester City."
That isn't the only reason why the miraculous success of the little team that could is one of the best sports stories since Muhammad Ali. As with the boxer who taught us about tolerance, justice and jabs, there is nothing not to like about this tale of beating overwhelming odds and coming back from the brink of lower-league oblivion.
The contours are by now familiar : largely unheralded players, not a superstar among them, clawing at the established pecking order dominated by far better-funded clubs. Their leader: an unfashionable coach with a reputation for meddling and indecision who has defied expectations by employing a delicate, laissez-faire touch.
Leicester's record-breaking goal-scorer, Vardy, has emerged from nowhere with his straight-for-the-jugular style and defense-demolishing speed, a late-blooming 29-year-old challenging the notion that successful modern footballers must be identified, molded and polished from their youngest years.
The stragglers who were bottom of the Premier League a year ago are now just a handful of games away from becoming its most unlikely champions. Overwrought clichés of fairytales and dreams coming true are, just this once, forgiven.
But it is the timing that makes Leicester's achievements so uplifting and meaningful. The last year, the last decade even, has been so damaging for sports. Dopers stole off not just with medals and trophies, but with essential public trust. Officials who got fat on bribes and kickbacks eroded our faith in the entire industry of sports administration. After buddying up with President Vladimir Putin's Russia, the Olympics hit a new low by sending the Winter Games of 2022 to the nearly snowless mountains of northern China. And the 2018 and 2022 World Cups have been poisoned by the alleged wrongdoing of so many FIFA executives who selected Russia and Qatar as hosts.
The genuine joy with which Leicester's players celebrate each victory, lingering long on the field to soak it all in, is a powerful antidote to all this gloom and doom. In a sport that slavishly worships the individual achievements of its big-name stars, Leicester is showing how unrelenting, selfless teamwork can provide feel-good consistency week-in, week-out. Its direct-to-goal, fearsomely quick counterattacks are thrillingly entertaining as well as effective, a refreshing change to the elaborate crochet of passing that Barcelona and other teams have made all the rage.
Fleet of foot winger Riyad Mahrez is proving beyond doubt that there is still ample room in the more physical modern game for smaller, crafty players; goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has well and truly shaken free of the large shadow of his famous father, Peter , a European Cup winner with Manchester United.
Coach Claudio Ranieri's good humor is infectious. By largely working with and trusting the players he inherited when he took over in July, the Italian has blown holes in the argument that coaches must spend heavily and turn a club on its head for success. Taking his players out for pizza to celebrate their first clean sheet — a 1-0 against Crystal Palace in October — and having them knead the dough themselves typified how he and they have stayed grounded.
Best of all is that it had begun to seem impossible that any team with comparatively limited resources would ever again be able to upset the established hierarchy of the world's richest football league. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal — the only league winners in the last 20 seasons — remain Goliaths. Their greater financial resources will allow them to bounce back quickly and make Leicester's success more of an encouraging blip for smaller clubs than an enduring trend. But Leicester has shown the league's Davids and their fans that overachievement is still possible.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester