THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

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From Lincoln’s triumphant season to Huddersfield’s heart-warming promotion, via Chelsea’s return to the top and Premier League bullying – WSC contributors’ highs and lows from 2017

Best
Watching Lincoln City come from 1-0 down to beat Brighton 3-1 in the FA Cup fourth round at a packed and throbbing Sincil Bank. Almost everything that’s happened this year at Lincoln has been utterly magnificent, and there haven’t been many times over the past four decades that I’ve been able to say that. Even should it all come crashing down, we will always have 2017 with its Cup quarter-final and fifth-tier title to covet and curate.

Worst
Right now - realising that I can’t remember who won either the Champions League or the FA Cup. Or is that another “best moment”? If so, then Eintracht Frankfurt losing the German Cup final 2-1 to Borussia Dortmund, a club who somehow have the image of being all that’s virtuous about the German game, but who are equally as obnoxious, arrogant, entitled and voracious as the next Champions League regular. They’re just Bayern Munich in bee’s clothing with a fake hipster sensibility.
Ian Plenderleith

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Best
The League Two play-off semi-finals were about as good a four games of football as you’re likely to see, with 22 goals including two 95th-minute winners. In Exeter’s case, this was a thunderbolt from our right-back who’d never previously troubled the penalty area all season, and made the fact I was watching the game by myself in a themed Irish bar in Morden all the sweeter. The fact that we lost the final to Blackpool almost felt like an afterthought. Almost.

Worst
Watching Wales come within touching distance of the World Cup, only to lose to a very limited, negative Irish side. Granted, over the course of the campaign, we’d drawn too many games but it’s a crushing feeling when you realise about ten minutes into a match that this isn’t going to be your night.
Gary Andrews

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Best
So much of what’s been good about this year comes freighted with ambiguity – for example age-related England World Cup success set in the context of other failings at the FA. So I’ll go for something simple and recent. Year after year clubs depend on the efforts of committed volunteers and the number of games that have taken place in the recent bad weather simply because of the efforts of fan volunteers clearing pitches illustrates the point. Who says fans are simply consumers?

Worst
As ever, governing bodies have provided plenty of examples: FIFA’s reactions to Russia’s record on doping, Premier League plans for Saturday night matches or so much of the FA’s performance in 2017 spring to mind. But the constant recycling of managers rather than taking a chance on new blood sums up much of what is wrong in the game.
Brian Simpson

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Best
Huddersfield's promotion to the Premier League with one of the smallest budgets in the Championship, an impressive local chairman and a progressive foreign manager was a ray of light in a division that has become bloated with parachute payments and murky soft power projects. Along with Burnley and Brighton it's something of a golden age for Premier League clubs the neutral doesn't actively despise.

Worst
In May, the Accrington chairman Andy Holt offered an opinion on the obscene amounts of money swilling around the Premier League (specifically the £41 million allegedly paid to agents as part of Paul Pogba's move to Manchester United) in relation to the precarious financial position of clubs such as his own. In response the Premier League issued a statement dripping with all the smirking menace of a Mafia consigliere in a $3,000 suit. "It is only because of the interest in our competition and in Premier League clubs that we can support Accrington, the wider football pyramid, and communities and schools across the country. We will be writing to Mr Holt to ask him if he wishes for the Premier League to continue the support we currently provide for his and other clubs in the EFL." A new low, even for them.
Tom Lines

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Best
Milan Skriniar's performances in central defence for Inter. I saw Skriniar make his Slovak league debut for MSK Zilina, my local club, as a clumsy-looking 17-year-old in March 2012; now he's one of the best defenders in Serie A. When you follow an obscure side, it's a good feeling to see a young player they invested time and patience in develop in such a way.

Worst
The goings-on at AFC Telford and Merthyr Town, previously cited as two of the best examples of what supporter-owned clubs could achieve. Telford have effectively become a Wolves subsidiary in all but name, while Merthyr were forced to release just about their entire first team ahead of a game in November. Merthyr fans did raise over £1,200 in a bucket-collection at the recent Swansea v Manchester City game, so this story at least could yet end optimistically.
James Baxter

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Best
The arrival of, and Hull City's revival under, Marco Silva. The way he was torn apart by Sky pundits for essentially not being Tim Sherwood before he'd even had his initials ironed on to his tracksuit was risible and embarrassing, especially when he turned our season around so substantially and only missed out on an unlikely, miraculous survival with one match left.

Worst
Ryan Mason's fractured skull, in a match against Chelsea. But then you can back that up with relegation, followed by Silva going to Watford, followed by the sale of Harry Maguire, Andrew Robertson, Eldin Jakupovic, Ahmed Elmohamady, Tom Huddlestone, Curtis Davies and Josh Tymon, then after Silva's woebegone successor Leonid Slutsky firmly declared "the supermarket is closed", the sale of Sam Clucas, prior to Ehab Allam claiming Hull City were one of the best-run clubs in the league as attendances dropped, whole stands were closed and concessions continued to not exist for children and senior citizens. Is that enough?
Matthew Rudd

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Best
Fulham’s 5-4 win at Sheffield United in November was the most exhilarating match I’ve seen in years. It included two hat-tricks, one for Fulham’s outstanding teenage wing-back Ryan Sessegnon, attacking football that bordered on reckless, players kicking each other up in the air, ropey refereeing and a roaring atmosphere. The only thing missing was a dog running on to the pitch.

Worst
The fact that Antoine Griezmann thought it was OK to paint himself black when dressing up as a Harlem Globetrotter was as clear a sign as any as to what horrible times we live in. Oh for a return to the days when bigots made the Rumbelows Cup quarter-final draw rather than ran the world.
Mike Whalley

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Best
The unrestrained joy of Benevento players and fans when goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli’s 95th-minute header gave them a 2-2 draw against Milan and their first ever Serie A point after 14 defeats. They knew that relegation remained almost certain, but they didn’t care. After all they had been through since August, it was very moving. It just shades Atalanta’s thrilling first-half display against Everton in their opening Europa League game, in which they showed doubters that they belonged in the competition.

Worst
Italy’s World Cup elimination at the hands of Sweden. Two appalling games in which Sweden, though playing anti-football, had a plan and stuck to it. What Italy were trying to do is anybody’s guess. It was shocking to see such inept performances from one of football’s iconic national teams. Sixty years after Italy’s last qualifying elimination in 1958, the wound will take a long time to heal, at least until mid-July 2018
Richard Mason

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Best
The most rewarding moments in Celtic’s 69-match domestic unbeaten run came from the most challenging matches. The Scottish Cup final against a strong Aberdeen side, won after extra time, after boy wonder Kieran Tierney had gone off injured, was one such match. And it also completed the unbeaten season, and Celtic’s fourth ever treble.

Worst
Scotland parting company with Gordon Strachan. Most of the fans liked him and the players loved him. He’d improved the team – who started their group as fourth seeds – led them to a six-match unbeaten run, and should have been given the chance to reach Euro 2020.
Mark Poole

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Best
The performance of both the England Under-17s and Under-20s at their respective World Cup tournaments, trouncing everyone in their path and actually winning the damn things. What’s more, they played with the kind of progressive, intelligent and uninhibited flair that was sapped from the senior team a long time ago. On a personal level, it was heartening to see two of my club Liverpool’s brightest young talents, Rhian Brewster and Dominic Solanke, make off with player-of-the-tournament awards. Solanke follows in the footsteps of Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona and Luís Figo, which means it’s only a matter of time before he buggers off to Barcelona too.

Worst
After the miracle that was Leicester’s title-winning season, the sad inevitability of everything going back to normal. OK, it’s difficult to dislike Antonio Conte, but c’mon, it’s Chelsea for God’s sake. And Manchester United winning stuff. Rotten.
Rob Hughes

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Best
Although schadenfreude is ultimately a negative emotion, the arrest of Spanish FA President Ángel Villar on July 18 was a fine day for Spanish football and possibly for FIFA, although at the time of writing it is still unclear whether he will remain clapped in irons. Villar took up the post in 1988, a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, but he seems to have been around since the previous one in Jericho was toppled.

Worst
My son making his debut in the Scottish Cup in late September, the moment all dads dream about. The dream lasted for 20 minutes until he gave away the first goal by playing the opposition striker onside. There’s something about the alien celebrations of the opposition’s fans that always sticks in the craw, but when your son’s the reason for their happiness, it forces you, once again, to reflect on the error of failing to encourage your child to take up merchant banking.
Phil Ball

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Best
Manchester United's “naughty step” letter to late arrivals at Old Trafford. I think they missed a trick by not including more specific suggestions about why folk might be leaving it to the last minute, eg “because you're a complete ale can who spends as long as humanly possible topping yourself up in Spoons”; “maybe you treat every game as a quasi-religious experience and insist on walking barefoot to the ground in a hair shirt”; or the classic Mancunian “you just can't be arsed”.

Worst
Sevilla’s Champions League ticket price hike, even worse that it is absolutely within “the rules”.
Joyce Woolridge

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Best
Sean Dyche’s success with Burnley. Apparently, though, they don’t play football like a Pep Guardiola team - but Dyche hadn't recorded an average annual spend of £99.6 million in his managerial career. Dyche summed up perfectly modern football recently as "a strange kind of… sport-panto", a triumph of "glossiness” over “earthiness”. He told the Times’ Oliver Kay this month: “The game has got to be careful that it doesn’t go so glossy and beautiful and manufactured that it loses that connection [of] going to see your local team, wishing you were out there, seeing those lads giving everything for the badge.” On which subject, as an Evertonian, this year’s highlight would have to be the breakthrough of Tom Davies and Jonjoe Kenny into the Goodison first team.

Worst
The Champions League final: from Sergio Ramos’s disgusting play-acting to get Juan Cuadrado sent off, to the sight of each Madrid player celebrating on the field with his own mini-entourage within moments of the final whistle. Sport-panto indeed.
Simon Hart

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