THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

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From Scotland’s failures to the triumph of England’s Under-17s, via John Terry, astounding Cup runs and restructuring the women’s game – WSC contributors reflect on the year

Best
Realising that for the first time in my life I had not watched a single England qualification game and no longer cared whether the national team won or lost. Congratulations to the managers, players and everyone at the FA for ridding me of what I’d thought was a lifelong affliction.

Worst
The FA’s decision to deny Darlington a play-off place. The English game’s administrators remain pedantically fixated on how many covered seats a non-League club should have, while apparently oblivious to unimportant stuff like ticket prices.
Harry Pearson

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Best
Among the general clutter of the “wrong” teams winning pretty much every major final or honour and seeing long-standing fans fall out of love with the game Manchester City are a shining light. Not the club but simply the sublime football they have been playing over the past few months, the win at Stamford Bridge being the notable moment. At the time of writing they are on 16 straight league wins – which has never been done in any division since 1888 – and threatening even to be too good for the good of the game.

Worst
As a Reading fan you can’t win at the play-offs. After three successive, unlucky, defeats in entertaining finals this time we produced, together with Huddersfield, an absolute dog of a goal-less Championship decider. At 3-1 up in the penalty shootout, against a team that hadn’t won a game in the play-offs, surely at last this was our moment, our first Wembley triumph in a generation? Nope.
Roger Titford

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Best
When Celtic broke the British record for unbeaten games on November 4 – the run was ended by Hearts at 69 matches – they were met with sneers as well as congratulations. But the old record had stood for more than 100 years, and a run of 69 games represents 69 tripwires, 69 chances to stumble, 69 potential off-days, 69 times something could go wrong on a bad pitch with an inept referee. An incredible achievement, and if it was that easy, every Celtic manager would be doing it.

Worst
It's tempting to give a flippant answer like Neymar's intensely depressing transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, or Neymar refusing to shake the hand of an 18-year-old boy who'd been marking him, or simply Neymar in general. Rather than dwell on him, however, let's take a moment instead to remember all the great football people who left us in 2017, from Raymond Kopa to Graham Taylor to Cheikh Tioté. RIP.
Jonathan O’Brien

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Best
At national level, Portugal qualifying for the World Cup… without the need for a play-off, saving us all some fingernails. At club level, Boavista going 3-0 up after 25 minutes at Benfica in January, with an historic trouncing looking on the cards; Benfica were top at the time.

Worst
Benfica pulling one back before the break in that same game before going on to equalise with a dubious penalty and an own goal; they would end up champions. And the interminable, escalating slanging matches in the Portuguese game, primarily involving the Big Three (Benfica, Porto, Sporting).
Phil Town

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Best
It’s a tough choice between Steve Morison scoring what proved to be the winner at Wembley in the League One play-off final for Millwall against Bradford City and Leigh Griffiths’ second goal for Scotland against England. Both goals will live long in the memory for different reasons but Morison’s effort wins the day (thanks in part to the YouTube video that the club produced with some fantastic partisan commentary from BBC Radio London).

Worst
Harry Kane’s equaliser for England against Scotland. As soon as the ball was given away in midfield I knew England would score the goal that would ultimately rob Gordon Strachan’s side a World Cup play-off spot. A When Saturday Comes article earlier in the year correctly predicted that Scotland would find a new way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and so it proved.
Neil Andrews

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Best
The Cup runs of Sutton United and Lincoln City were one of those very rare things that we must as a population keep fresh and tended in our memories. Lincoln became the first non-League club to reach the quarter-finals since Queens Park Rangers in 1914, a year when boys wore detachable collars, a three-bedroomed house cost under £1,000 and Everton were a strong first-tier team. The fact that my team, Arsenal, did for both of them, in the fifth and sixth rounds respectively, makes it a bitter-sweet memory.

Worst
This is not the worst thing that happened in football in 2017 by far, but it somehow depressed me the most. Mark Lawrenson took time out on a December Football Focus to castigate the “bad journalism” that had nicknamed Liverpool’s forward line "The Fab Four". Approximately 90 seconds later, describing Everton’s previous away game, he remarked that they were “lucky to get nil”. There was a clicking noise in my head and I have not sung since. The worst thing that happened in 2017 by far was John Terry’s guard of honour.
Cameron Carter

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Best
Manolo Gabbiadini giving Southampton the lead over Manchester United in the 11th minute of the 2017 League Cup final and the five seconds that followed it, before I noticed that the assistant referee had raised his flag.   

Worst
Manolo Gabbiadini’s 11th minute goal for Southampton against Manchester United in the 2017 League Cup final being disallowed for offside. Let me rephrase that for context – wrongly disallowed for offside. Some say this was justice for Bobby Stokes’s Southampton winner over Manchester United in the 1976 FA Cup final. I don’t understand this though because both goals were very clearly onside.
Mark Sanderson

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Best
The brief moment in the early hours of Saturday October 7 when, carried away by the heady cocktail of an away win, cheap Georgian beer, little sleep and Tbilisi’s finest Glen Campbell impersonator, we started to think Wales could qualify for a second tournament in a row. Reality kicked in with the hangover, but at least we could dream for a while.

Worst
Women’s football fans will be familiar with the feeling of dread that accompanies any headline beginning “FA to restructure women’s…”. In September the FA, having treated the domestic game like a half-hearted project taken on to offset the boredom of retirement, decided to have yet another tinker and push for an all-professional top-tier; meaning that for the second time in four years Doncaster Rovers Belles discovered they would be playing for bugger all, just one game into a season.
Glen Wilson

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Best
No Scot thought Leigh Griffiths’ second free-kick conversion in June had beaten England. But a gawky Leith boy – no stranger to unseemly on-field and night-out incidents – who got hair implants so he could shave his head, had just repeated in the space of three minutes something Zinedine Zidane or Diego Maradona struggled to manage once per month. Scottish footballing genius – and romance – still exists.

Worst
With ex-Rangers player Derek McInnes turning down the chance to manage the club, Celtic giving us our biggest home derby pasting in a century, Aberdeen’s first win at Ibrox in 26 years and October’s League Cup semi defeat to Motherwell costing us one of the best chances to win a first major trophy since liquidation – all while Scotland did what Scotland do in qualifying tournaments – it’s difficult to locate the actual nadir. So thank you, Rangers, for going out of Europe to a team from Luxembourg.   
Alex Anderson

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Best
Having been born just the other side of 1966, I’ve occasionally wondered if I could ever really enjoy an England tournament victory on a pure footballing level, what with all the inevitable hype and gormless jingoism. Of course, there’s every chance I’ll never find out when it comes to the senior team, but happily I can confirm that I loved every last minute of the Under-17s’ World Cup win.

Worst
The manipulation and cheapening of a competitive league game to stage-manage John Terry’s Chelsea farewell still leaves a nasty taste. Never mind the fact that it was just so bloody naff.
Matthew Barker

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Best
A personal favourite was Javier Mascherano’s first (and surely now only) goal for Barcelona in a 7-1 stroll at home to Osasuna last April. Barça were already 5-1 up, with usual taker Lionel Messi substituted, when a penalty was awarded. Mascherano very seriously placed the ball and blasted it to the net, for goal one in game 319 in a Barça shirt. He barely celebrated before trotting back to take his place, bringing laughter from coach Luis Enrique and unused sub Luis Suárez on the bench.

Worst
It was nice that lifelong Atlético Madrid fan Fernando Torres scored twice in his team’s last ever game at the Estadio Vicente Calderón – a 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao. But it was also the final knife-twist in a stage-managed ending for the creaky old city centre Calderón, with club bosses regularly stirring emotions to avoid people asking just why they were moving to the Wanda Metropolitano, miles out by the airport, and financed by questionable deals.
Dermot Corrigan

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