Full-time Fletch reflects on 2016

By Darren Fletcher, BT Sport commentator

- Last updated on GMT

Champions: Leicester were not the only impressive underdog in 2016
Champions: Leicester were not the only impressive underdog in 2016

Related tags: Northern ireland, Manchester united f.c., Premier league, England

Darren Fletcher reflects on why from Leicester to Northern Ireland, 2016 will be looked back on as the year of the underdog.

When I was young, you could go into any season knowing that there would be surprises - that almost anybody could win the FA Cup and a team like Nottingham Forest could win the European Cup.

Since then, the advent of the Premier League has made the big boys more dominant. But over the past 12 months we've had real stories of teams coming together and groups of people achieving their goals, which has been really refreshing to see.

Leicester’s story is not just the most remarkable footballing story of 2016, it is probably the most remarkable football story of the last 30 years. I’m not expecting to see a less likely top-flight champion in England in my lifetime.

It bought that little bit of romance and ‘what if’ element back to football. It’s not that long ago that you could name all the teams with no chance of winning the league, and there would only be three that could.

The other team that had a similar rise to Leicester was Northern Ireland. They got to the last 16 of the European Championships despite not having Premier League players in great number.

I covered them for a short period of time and you would have thought they had no chance of making an impact at a major tournament. Yet essentially the same group of players, with Michael O’Neill’s brilliance as a manager, has been able to not only get to Euro 2016, but also do themselves proud there.

Nobody deserves it better than that team. They are a smashing group and very genuine, which meant I was not only impressed by them, I was happy for them as well.

Both Northern Ireland and Leicester are the epitome of a 'team'. I know that Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and N’golo Kanté got the headlines for Leicester, but both they and Northern Ireland were units that were greater than the sum of the parts.

Apart from Real Madrid winning the Champions League, it has been the year of the underdog. Even Portugal winning Euro 2016 was unexpected. All of which means that 2016 has been a watershed year that has given the game back to the fans and has made believers out of everybody once again. Whatever club you support now, you will believe that they can do it.

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