Leicester City on Saturday returned to the Premier League for the first time since 2004 despite not kicking a ball when Queens Park Rangers and Derby County both lost their respective ties.
Leicester, who beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 on Friday with goals by Riyad Mahrez and Anthony Knockaert, have 89 points from 40 matches and are guaranteed to finish in the top two in the second-tier Championship after Saturday’s results went their way.
QPR lost to Bournemouth 2-1, while Derby went down 1-0 to Middlesbrough, meaning neither club can overhaul Nigel Pearson’s side with six matches remaining.
“It’s unexpected. I didn’t think the results would go our way today,” Pearson told BBC Radio Leicester. “I think it’s a relief for a lot of people. It’s been a tough couple of years in the sense that we’ve been trying to get back into the top flight and it’s never easy.”
Leicester are unbeaten in 21 matches and lead second-placed Burnley by nine points.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, son of former Denmark and Manchester United great Peter Schmeichel, said on Twitter: “Premier league! So proud of all the boys and everyone at the club!!!”
“I can’t speak highly enough of Nigel, I really can’t,” Schmeichel told the BBC. “From day one he has been brilliant. He took a bit of time to change things around and mould it to how he wanted it and this season he has got it.”
“The Premier League is where I want to be, there is no question. I enjoy playing at Leicester. At the moment it is not really up to me but I hope to stay,” added Schmeichel, who joined the club in 2011, but is nearly out of contract.
Promotion brings vast financial rewards, with a report by the Sports Business Group at Deloitte released last year saying it could be worth up to ￡120 million (US$199 million), much of that from broadcast rights. Even immediate relegation triggers parachute payments of about ￡60 million over four years.
Leicester, who are owned by Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, missed out on automatic promotion last season after winning only two of their final 13 matches before being knocked out in the playoffs by Watford after Knockaert missed a last-minute penalty and their opponents scored at the other end.
They have lost only five matches this season, going from strength to strength on the back of leading scorers David Nugent (18) and Jamie Vardy (16), and after numerous managerial changes since their last stint in the Premier League, have found a level of consistency under Pearson.
Former Leicester and England striker Gary Lineker, who scored 95 goals for the Foxes, tweeted: “Leicester City are promoted to the Premier League. A sentence I’ve been waiting to say for 10 years.”