Here’s a list of XI inspirational sports stories from the world’s most popular sport – Football. After all, Football is Life, Football is Love.
1. Leicester City 2015-16 season
Leicester City Football Club were on the knife edge in the 2014-15 English Premier League season avoiding relegation. They somehow managed to keep themselves amongst the elite and started the following season at 5000-1 odds to win the title. Meaning, if someone had bet 100GBP on them, he/she would have won half a million pounds! The ‘Foxes’ won the 2015-16 Premier League title which goes down as the largest longshot domestic title win in sports history. They built a tough defensive unit, didn’t let in goals easily, never stopped fighting on the field and took advantage of the inconsistent form of other big teams to become the most unlikely champions in English football history.
2. Greece 2004 Euro Nations Championship
Greece came into 2004 Euro Nations Championship, after 24 years unable to qualify in it, as absolute no-hopers but with plenty of enthusiasm. The expectations were low when they met the reigning champions France in the quarterfinals. But the Greeks scored a shocking goal and held firm to create a massive upset knocking out the Les Blues. Then they upset the Czech Republic in the semis and yet started underdogs in the final – versus the hosts and favourites Portugal. Greece rode on their luck and caused yet another upset to win the European Championship making it one of the most remarkable winning runs in the tournament’s history.
3. Japan women’s football team 2011
You think your problems are bigger? In March 2011, Japan was shaken by series of devastating earthquakes and subsequent tsunami rages. Over 15,000 people got killed in the calamity. Four months later the reluctant Japanese women’s football team, had to enter the 2011 Women’s World Cup. As news of rising death tolls kept coming in, the Japanese women fought with heavy hearts through the opening and knockout rounds of the World Cup and somehow qualified for the finals. There they stunned a heavily favoured USA in a penalty shootout. It was more than a World cup win. It was a story of rising above personal pain, displaying strength of character and resilience in the face of ultimate tragedy.
4. Alexis Sanchez
Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez had such poverty-stricken childhood that his fish selling mother had to request a far-off relative uncle to adopt Alexis and feed him. His uncle invested his life savings in getting Alexis a proper football coaching, but that wasn’t enough. Alexis, to sustain his living (on the streets) and his football coaching, soon needed to wash cars, do kickboxing, work at the cemetery, beg neighbours for food and do acrobatics (somersaults) for a handful of coins from onlookers.
5. Ivory Coast 2006
You think your country’s problems are the worst? In 2006, the tiny African country of Ivory Coast was in midst of a civil war. Buoyed by stars, Didier Drogba and the Toure brothers (Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure), Ivory Coast qualified for its first Football World Cup in their history. And suddenly, for the first time in years, football took precedence over the war, even though that was only for a few weeks. Entire country abandoned their ongoing struggle and came together to cheer for their beloved team, nicknamed ‘Elephants’. This was also a big example of how sports and sportspersons can make an entire nation rise above the deepest crisis and have smiles on their faces.
6. Feyenoord Fans in stadium
Football fans also inspire the sport. On 19 November 2017, Feyenoord fans lighted up the De Kuip stadium and sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ for their goalkeeper Brad Jones on the sixth anniversary of his son’s passing. Brad Jones used to be a Liverpool goalkeeper when, six years ago, he lost his son to leukaemia. Marking the six years anniversary on Saturday, Feyenoord fans paid tribute in the 12th-minute fans lighting up the entire stadium with their mobile phones and singing the Liverpool anthem song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. The players continued playing but shared the throat choking emotion later on in social media.
7. Charlie Austin
Southampton’s Charlie Austin grew up paying for his own football training by working as a bricklayer during his teen years. In his 13-year football career, he climbed up 12 divisions of playing levels. Back in his early teens, he was removed from Reading’s youth team for being too small. Years of bricklaying work helped him grow in size while his efforts on the field saw him grow as a player. The 6ft 2″ striker, Austin, a year ago, was knocking on doors of England national team call-up.
8. Victor Moses
Victor Moses’ parents were murdered when he was barely 11 years old. A week later, his relatives, fearing for his life, funded him to travel from Laos (Nigeria) to England as an asylum seeker. Crystal Palace Football Club spotted his talent while seeing him play at the school level and snapped him up. Moses came into prominence when he was 14 years old for scoring 50 goals for Crystal Palace U-14 side. His career took an upward swing since then. Victor is now an established Premier League footballer.
9. Rickie Lambert
Rickie Lambert joined the Liverpool academy when he was ten but was released five years later. He worked in a beetroot factory during his earlier years but kept pursuing his passion actively trying to play for non-league teams at age of 16 till Blackpool took him as a trainee. 15 years later, for his successes with Southampton, Liverpool came back to sign Lambert. Lambert’s dream of playing for his boyhood club got fulfilled as the Reds made him captain of the team on his first full debut match for them in 2014.
10. Mesut Ozil Charity
Mesut Ozil the Arsenal and German playmaker was so fond of the welcome given to him by the people of Brazil, during the World Cup 2014, that he started a project funding money to children’s treatment. That year, Ozil had begun inviting disabled children to his private box for Arsenal’s home games at the Emirates Stadium and during the World Cup in Brazil, he financed German doctors to visit villages in the Amazon to operate on children with cleft palates. He started with the operation of 11 kids as a symbol of Germany starting XI; but once the tournament was over and since the squad of 23 Germans won it, Ozil increased the treatment funding to 23 kids. Ozil’s Germany beat Lionel Messi lead Argentina 1-0 in a tightly contested final of the tournament which went all the way to the last possible playing minute, the 120th.
11. Aniket Jadhav
Aniket Jadhav, India’s striker at the 2017 U-17 FIFA World Cup, was the only player from Maharashtra to make to national team squad. Aniket, born in Kolhapur in the year 2000, left his home when only nine years old against his parents’ wish, to join a football camp in Balewadi, Pune. His auto-rickshaw driver father got him back home but his uncle noticed something special in his football (when he used to play at Shahupuri grounds) and took him for the ‘Krida Prabhodini’ selection trials in Pune. Thereafter he joined Pune FC where he joined the Under-15 side before progressing to the Under-17s.
(If you know any inspirational football story, feel free to mention it in the comments and I will include it in future instalments!)
I have authored a book recently called “The Pep Guardiola Centurions – Against all odds”. You can buy the book here: