Matt Handley, Miles Dilworth, Ben Crome, Alex Tyndall, and Joe Mansour take a look at this year’s highlights and lowlights, heroes and villains, humorous diversions and unforgettable moments
Although we tried, we couldn’t avoid talking about the Olympics. Worries that London 2012 would be a G4S-induced mega-mare eventually subsided, as Seb Coe and his team managed to pull off what was, depending how you look at it, either an absolute triumph, or a self congratulatory, flag-waving circle jerk. What was doubtless though was the scale of the achievements of British athletes. ‘Super Saturday’ saw Jessica Ennis reign victorious in the heptathlon, spindly carrot-top Greg Rutherford take long jump gold, and Mo Farah earn the first of two middle-distance triumphs. Their Paralympian counterparts also achieved great things. Soundtracked by Public Enemy, Johnnie Peacock, David Weir and Ellie Simmonds became household names as ParalympicsGB romped to golden glory.
British Sport in 2012
However, not everything British sport had to offer went on in London this year.
First mention must go to Bradley Wiggins, who became the first Briton to win the Tour de France after a dominating performance by Team Sky, and the greater achievement of making it cool to have sideburns. Rory McIlroy (He counts, right?) continued his climb in the upper echelons of golf, winning the PGA championship and cementing his place as world No. 1. England’s footballers proved at Euro 2012 that it’d be more successful to field a team of toddlers than rely upon the current crop of players. Better footballing times were to be had at club level, with Chelsea winning the Champions League in May and someone other than Alex Ferguson being happy at the end of the Premier League season. Meanwhile, even after a summer in which he reached the Wimbledon final, cried after losing the Wimbledon final, won Olympic gold and the US open, Andy Murray still rocks himself to sleep listening to Elton John croon “What have I gotta do, to make you love me?. Probably.
Sport in 2012 has been more controversial than Old Man Bridge breaking the Magdalen Hall strike for a post-Bop brunch. Joey Barton said goodbye to the Premiership via a kick to Sergio Agüero’s arse, but the year in English football will be remembered as one engulfed by racist controversy. John Terry dodged a fine in the courts with a TOTALLY LEGITIMATE defence, only to be found guilty by the FA of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, at the culmination of a fiasco that earlier in the year saw Fabio Capello quit as England manager.
Meanwhile the Olympics and Paralympics passed off as incident-free as ever. Aside from North Korea being greeted with their southern neighbour’s anthem, match-throwing in the Badminton, a fencer refusing to leave the stage after disagreeing with a call, Oscar Pistorius blaming his failure to win gold on his opponent having blades which were too long, and more empty seats than a post-Park End lecture.
It was a big year on the “Cheating Bellend” front, with Lance Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles after being found to be behind one of the most elaborate doping schemes in history, whilst Frankie Dettori faces being consigned to sporting infamy after test- ing positive for banned substances. So, all-in-all, a bit of a quiet one.
If there is one thing that you cannot fault Brendan Rodgers for at the start of his reign at Liverpool, it is his bravery in bringing youngsters into the side. Raheem Sterling, apparently a miscreant at school, was once told that by the age of 17 he would either be in prison or playing for England. On November 14th, the latter prediction came to fruition and many more great things are expected of the diminutive winger. In cycling, the retirement of Victoria Pendleton left a void for a new icon to emerge and Laura Trott looks as if she has the potential to not only match but better the achievements of the former Queen of cycling. Her blistering pace and breathtaking win in the inaugural women’s omnium in London will live long in the memory. Another star who made his breakthrough at the games was Adam Gemili. From being loaned out from Dagenham & Redbridge to Thurrock, to winning the World Junior 100m title in a record of 10.05secs, to an Olympic semi-final all in the same year. Not a bad effort all in all.
While the performances of Sterling et al demonstrate that the flames of the youth are still burning, 2012 also saw the retirements of many sportspeople old enough to be Raheem’s kids’ grandparents. Some timed their retirements well, like Michael Phelps and Rahul Dravid, who departed still among the best in their sports, but other former stars did their fans a favour by calling an overdue end to declining careers: Michaels Ballack and Schumacher and Andy Roddick are examples. It is sad to see athletes give up their lifelong passions due to injury, and cricket will miss Mark Boucher (struck in the eye by a bail), and football Ledley King (long-term knee problems) and Fabrice Muamba, whose miraculous recovery from a cardiac arrest – as well as the public reaction to Muamba’s collapse at White Hart Lane – inspired a nation of football-lovers. And while normally the retirements of sporting officials are only newsworthy if they’ve been hounded out of the game by deranged fans, the Australian Simon Taufel, the best ever in his field, left cricket to universal accolades, with journalist Osman Samiuddin writing that “a Taufel mistake was defiance of the laws of science.” No such praise, we’d suggest, is in the offing for ex-England captain John Terry.
2012 was the year of the bizarre. In the Premier League, Blackburn’s tragicomedy of a season was summed up when a fan released a flag-draped chicken onto the pitch, and in Euro 2012 the sight of Mario Balotelli celebrating a goal by striking a terrifying statuesque pose was only beaten by his teammate shouldering his face when joining him. Rowan Atkinson’s appearance at the Olympic Opening Ceremony was comedy gold, but Chad le Clos’ dad Bert was to outshine all others, becoming an internet hit by combining the gravelly tones of Martin Jol with the sentimentality of an Oscar winner after his son’s swimming gold medal. Hearing that a Brit had won a tennis Grand Slam was also hilarious, until it turned out to be true, but the real comic hero of 2012 was without a doubt Paolo Di Canio. From aiming a kick at his own player at half-time, to substituting his goalkeeper after seventeen minutes because he was the “worst player I have ever seen in a football match”, to comparing scoring at Upton Park to having sex with Madonna, he only further enshrined his cult standing, as a bonkers, maverick, mercurial genius. What a guy.