FAN'S EYE VIEW: Martin O'Neill : The Irishman cometh in the age of miracles

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ONE RECENT Saturday we drove down to London to see Kevin Spacey in The Iceman Cometh at The Old Vic. I'll see Kevin Spacey in anything. The play is set in the No Chance Saloon, a New York bar where a dozen bums drink, indulge their pipe dreams and wait for Hickey. This Hickey (Spacey) is something of a hero, a salesman-messiah.

As I sat watching the play I became eerily conscious that there was something familiar about this situation; a sense of deja vu came over me. And then it hit me. This was Filbert Street before Martin O'Neill. Only Filbert Street back then was even worse: we didn't know Hickey - sorry, O'Neill - was coming, and we didn't even dare to have dreams.

OK, maybe that's not quite true. Leicester's greatest literary supporter, Julian Barnes, had made City win the FA Cup in his novel, A History of the World in 101/2 Chapters, but only as part of a dream sequence. Barnes knew that even in a novel you couldn't stretch reality that far.

The play turns on Act Two, when Hickey convinces the assembled drunks that they can all make their pipe dreams come true, and sends them off in search of their personal eldorados. Spacey is, of course, charismatic and articulate, just like Martin O'Neill.

Act Two is a re-run of Martin's arrival at Leicester, when we were in the Nationwide League, but he told us we could be in the Premiership, and even in Europe. Unbelievably, within 18 months, both dreams had come to pass. We were chasing our dreams with Martin at the helm.

But years of following Leicester make you nervous, and a summer of not knowing whether O'Neill was staying or leaving barely kept the dreams alive. We needn't have worried, though, and 76 minutes into the new season the scoreline of Manchester United 0, Leicester City 2 proved that the age of miracles hasn't passed.

So why do I feel so uneasy? Well, it's Act Three really. In Act Three, the down-and-outs all return to the No-Chance Saloon with their dreams in tatters, while realising that Hickey has feet of clay.

Now, I don't think Martin O'God has feet of clay, I really don't, but I do doubt whether the Leicester directors have either the courage or the cash to lift us into the major Big Time, and thus to keep O'Neill on board. And if they don't, we'll soon be back in the no-chance Nationwide League, eating McWolves burgers again.

Driving home after the play, I began wondering how this prophetic allegory of a Midlands football club came to be written some 50 years ago. And then it came to me. The secret was in the playwright's name, Eugene O'Neill. He must have been Martin's grandad.