The words of the Serenity Prayer tattooed on Danny Simpson’s right arm have served him well. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.
‘It kind of fits in well with my path,’ says Simpson at his home on the outskirts of Manchester. And quite a path it’s been.
It led the former Manchester United defender to an incredible Premier League title success with Leicester City in May, even though Simpson admits now that he could have missed it all by leaving the King Power Stadium last summer. Twelve months on and contract talks are underway between his agent Kenny Brady and Leicester after Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez signed new deals at the club.
The champions have kept their squad largely intact despite the sale of N’Golo Kante to Chelsea, but a shock opening-day defeat at relegation favourites Hull City explains why manager Claudio Ranieri believes that reaching the 40-point survival mark still has to be their first target.
Simpson, though, has no doubts that the team spirit and chemistry that fired Leicester to the title is as strong as ever.
‘We all know the game and we all knew at the end of last season that some people might leave, Kante being one of them,’ he says. ‘It’s his decision and you have to respect it. He gave us everything for a year and helped us achieve our dream.
‘But we still feel the same team spirit and ethic. The lads are still the same around the place – laughing, joking, relaxed. We’re so close as a group. New players come in and take it on board straightaway. That feeling hasn’t gone anywhere.
‘When we came back in for pre-season, the manager said ‘I hope you enjoyed your time off with your friends and family, but it’s over’. He was making sure we aren’t living off last season.
‘We’ll get to 40 points as quick as we can and take it from there. We go into games now with the (champions) badge on our arms and wear it with pride.’
Leicester’s success was confirmed on an unforgettable night when Tottenham dropped points against Chelsea with two games to go. The world watched as Simpson and his teammates began the title celebrations in Vardy’s kitchen. Even now, he admits, it doesn’t quite seem real.
‘The season has started and this time as champions but it’s not really sunk in. People come over in the street to say congratulations and you forget. It’s like it’s gone overnight and passed everyone by.
Beating The Odds
‘The odds were 5,000-1. I think it was only 3,000-1 for Elvis to be found alive in Vegas.
‘They were the best moments of our lives.
‘Out of everything that’s happened, the night at Jamie’s is something I’m not going to forget. Having the whole team at his house and the way it happened, Chelsea 2-0 down and then 2-2.
‘Just the fact that were all in his kitchen. The full-time whistle, and you saw the ‘C’ next to Leicester in the table.
‘I couldn’t even tell you what time the party ended. It was special, a very long night. I just about made it to training but I don’t remember much of that morning, to be honest.’
Five days later Leicester lifted the Premier League trophy at home to Everton. Simpson was able to savour the moment with his five-year-old daughter Skye.
‘She calls me ‘Champion’ now not ‘Daddy’! It’s a good age. She’s clever. She knows daddy has football, and she knows what we did last season.
‘She was there at the Everton game and lifted the trophy. She’ll be able to look at that in however many years, probably when I’m not even here, and show her kids and grandkids and say: ‘Remember when Leicester won the league? I was that little girl there with my daddy on the pitch’.’
The celebrations included open-top bus parades around Leicester and Bangkok, where up to a million Thai fans lined the streets to salute their adopted club owned by billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. However, Simpson was almost forced to miss the trip following a two-day courtroom drama.
He had been advised by the Probation Service to return to court to seek an alternative punishment to the 300 hours of community service, imposed after he was found guilty of assaulting his ex-partner in December 2014, on the basis that media intrusion had become an issue for staff and other offenders where he was serving his order.
Simpson, who had completed nearly half of his hours, was stunned when a judge replaced the order with a curfew that would have prevented him travelling to Chelsea for the final game of the season as well as Thailand. The decision was reversed the following day.
‘It was an unfortunate 48 hours that I wasn’t expecting, but eventually I was able to play against Chelsea and finish the season on a high,’ he says.
‘All my focus was on the games. I don’t let any other stuff off the pitch affect me. My job is to play football and that’s what I wanted to do.
‘I’ve been able to move past it and achieve something that I didn’t think was ever going to happen.
‘But it was the craziest 10 days of my life, from lifting the trophy to being in court to being on the other side of the world on an open-top bus seeing nearly a million people in the streets celebrating what we achieved. I’ll never forget it.’
Simpson is more settled now after making the decision to move home a year ago to be nearer his daughter.
Another tattoo on his heavily inked left arm is dedicated to her; a clock showing the exact moment of her birth with the words ‘Time waits for no-one’ in Latin. He was flying back from a pre-season tour in Florida in 2010 when Skye was born eight weeks premature.
He is living close to where he was raised in Eccles, a stone’s throw from Ryan Giggs’s house.
Steve Bruce’s daughter, Amy, did the interior design and framed shirts belonging to Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Robin van Persie and Frank Lampard hang on the walls.
After nearly a decade spent living away while playing for Royal Antwerp, Sunderland and Ipswich, as well as Newcastle and QPR where he won promotion to the Premier League, Simpson believes that being back with family and friends contributed to the best season of his career.
Did he really come close to missing Leicester’s historic success by leaving last summer?
‘Possibly,’ admits Simpson. ‘There might have been a point where there was another route, leaving Leicester.
‘But I’d been at enough teams and I wanted to work hard and give it a go. This last year I’ve moved home and felt a lot more settled and happy.
‘That’s when I thought it was time to get my head down and try to cut out unfortunate events off the pitch, whether it was my personal life or whatever.
‘There are things that happen in people’s lives. Everyone is learning. People can make mistakes. The older you get, the wiser you get, the better your decision-making gets.
‘It’s all coming together at the right time for my life on and off the pitch.’
It says everything about Leicester’s remarkable progress that last summer’s pre-season opponents, Mansfield, Burton and Rotherham, were replaced by games against Paris Saint-Germain in Los Angeles, Barcelona in Stockholm, and Manchester United in the Community Shield at Wembley.
‘When you say it like, it shows how far we’ve come,’ Simpson agrees. ‘You sign for Leicester and don’t think you’re going to be playing against Lionel Messi anytime soon.’
He met David Beckham for the first time on the flight to LA, having joined his boyhood club United in 2003 at the same time as the former England captain was leaving.
Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra were two of his old teammates to get in touch when Leicester won the title.
‘I saw Jesse (Lingard) on a plane in the summer. He congratulated me on winning the league and I congratulated him on winning the FA Cup. Just two normal lads having a chat about achieving something that season.’
Paul Pogba is another familiar face, albeit several years younger.
‘You knew then he was going to be a top-class player if his head was right,’ says Simpson.
‘I’m sure he’ll come back to United and the best league in the world and show us why he’s been given that price tag.
‘It’s tough for a lot of people to walk away from Man United. He made that decision and was really strong at that point to do that.’ So how difficult was it for Simpson to leave at the age of 23 after eight first-team appearances?
‘Yeah, it was tough. I’d been there since I was a kid. I got into the first-team and you think ‘this is me until I retire’. But it gets to the point where your chances are limited and you don’t want to hang around too much. It was time to move on.
‘If you get into the first-team you’re watching Giggs, Ronaldo and (Paul) Scholes winning title after title. It’s in your blood at United. That’s what you’re there for. It’s what you do.
‘But I’ll be honest with you. Unless there’s a chance you can sign for one of the top clubs, I don’t think anyone who leaves United thinks they’re going to win the Premier League with someone else.’
Article Courtesy of The Mail Online