The best and worst moments of 2012 ~ part 1
From some WSC contributors
Best ~ I'm not one to usually join in booing at football games but the cacophony that greeted Sepp Blatter as he walked onto the Wembley pitch after the USA v Japan Olympic Women's final, which was a very entertaining game with a brilliant atmosphere, was a rare moment that fans from all nations were able to give some direct feedback to the FIFA president. Unsurprisingly, he chose to skip the men's final. At the other end of the scale, the chicken balti pies at Bury were among the best I've had at a football ground in a long time.
Worst ~ Paying £20 to stand on the terraces at Brentford one chilly evening in March to watch two utterly abject teams play a game known as football in name only. I knew Exeter were going to lose, I knew the game would stretch beyond the very definition of dire and yet I still willingly handed over my money. Plus I burnt my mouth on their nuclear-heated sausage roll. More fool me.
Best ~ In the close season, when Paul Lambert recorded on the Aston Villa's website in June that Stiliyan Petrov will remain club captain, despite the fact he has been diagnosed with acute leukaemia, the weak, gutting flame of love for humanity leapt and blazed in my bosom once more. "Stiliyan is still club skipper, no doubt. He's a huge influence on the club. I just need to look for a team captain," were Lambert's words. I've been rooting for him to keep his job ever since.
Worst ~ Stuart Hall's arrest in December on allegations of rape and sexual assault. There was, in retrospect, a sense of distracted incoherence, even greater than usual, in his most recent match reports on Radio 5 Live. I'm paraphrasing but "Tevez roared onto the pitch – 1-0 to City – some more activity – another goal – the rrrrrravenous baying of the hordes – a penalty? No! – More moving about – the final whistle – 2, or 3-1 to City – extinguish the lights – fetch my hat – only connect" would be representative of his performances at this time. Obviously the man should face the music if the allegations are proven but this is Frank Bough all over again. Will all the crinkly-eyed avuncular presenters of one's childhood be exposed for sex fiends? One had hoped Hall got all his kicks watching adults in penguin suits being hosed on a revolving platform but no, he may have had unspoken, unconquerable desires.
Best ~ From a purely selfish point of view, the return of Eddie Howe as AFC Bournemouth manager. One man doesn't make a team but he's once again making a pretty good job of managing this one.
Worst ~ The latest Premier League TV rights deal. Circa £60 million for finishing bottom of the Premier League. As money from TV rights is now so massive, maybe clubs could drop ticket prices.
Best ~ With so much to be depressed by off the field it would be such a shame if that comes to overshadow the brilliance of Lionel Messi. He has taken the game to new heights and while the stats are astonishing the true joy comes in watching him play. I find it difficult to believe there has ever been anyone better at this game.
Worst ~ Pretty much everything that happened at Molineux in 2012 horrified me. Three wins in 20 home games including a desperate relegation and five matches in which a crucial late goal was scored by a former player made for a gloomy 12 months at Wolves. Rarely can my hometown club have made so many devastatingly bad decisions in such a short space of time.
Best ~ Reading's irresistible charge up the Championship to take the title and manager Brian McDermott's modesty and simplicity on the way there. Sadly, these laudable traits seem to be proving inadequate for the top-flight dog fight.
Worst ~ It's like watching a helpless beached whale. Sporting Lisbon have suffered their worst ever year, in spite (or perhaps because) of four changes of coach in the last two seasons. They've recently hired veteran Jesualdo Ferreira ostensibly to oversee all the football levels at the club but he'll also do as a dependable caretaker-in-waiting. They're 20 points behind Benfica at the top and two points above the relegation zone at the turn of the year, out of the Portuguese Cup and out of the Europa League. And they're crippled with debt and behind the scenes instability. Even if you don't particularly like Sporting, and I don't, the parlous state of a club with such a rich history is painful to behold.
Best ~ There was a certain delicious irony in the way Manchester City won their first Premier League title thanks to Sergio Agüero's injury-time winner. The footage of Manchester United fans having their celebrations prematurely cut short was even more enjoyable after their armchair-laden brethren's triumphant posts on Facebook and Twitter minutes earlier. I bet followers of Bayern Munich enjoyed it too.
Worst ~ The death of former Millwall captain Barry Kitchener, just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, was a particular low point of last season. The epitome of a club legend, he played over 600 times for the Lions and such was his standing within the game that the football league allowed the club to wear a special all white kit against Hull City in his honour. A fitting tribute to a fine footballer.
Best ~ West Brom's 5-1 win at Wolves in February. Beating Wolves is always enjoyable but to score five at Molineux and reduce the South Bank to glum silence was special. This was, in hindsight, the result that sealed Wolves' relegation as it panicked Steve Morgan into sacking Mick McCarthy when he had no clear idea of what he was going to do next. I took no pleasure in Wolves' relegation however; they have been reliable donors of points to the Albion cause in recent years.
Worst ~ In junior and parks football abuse of, and violence against, officials have long been a problem and one not confined to this country, as shown by the shocking events in Amsterdam on December 2. Richard Nieuwenhuizen, who had been running the line at a game involving his son's junior club, was beaten to death by three opposition players. This should make everyone who plays the game pause for reflection. I am not optimistic that it will.
Best ~ It may not last but Pep Guardiola's refusal to end his 12 month sabbatical at the whim of Roman Abramovich's Chelsea shows that not everything in football has its price. At a more personal level, a visit late one afternoon in May to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium fulfilled an ambition fired by Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Francisco Gento back in the black and white days of the 1960s.
Worst ~ The racial abuse by John Terry and Luis Suárez of fellow players and the pathetic hypocritical responses of their respective clubs stands head and shoulders above any other disappointment. The events showed that however much progress has been made in improving the behaviour of fans, the game itself and crucially those within it still have a lot to do.
Best ~ Watching Lincoln City score four times in the first half against Darlington (final score: 5-0) at the tail-end of the 2011-12 season, the first time I can remember seeing Lincoln that far ahead after 45 minutes. More importantly, it staved off the threat of a second successive relegation, while my youngest daughter – a big fan of Gonzalo Higuain and Mesut Özil – said after her first visit to Sincil Bank: "They seemed pretty good. It wasn't that different to watching Real Madrid."
Worst ~ Listening to Wales v Scotland on the car radio. With Scotland 1-0 ahead, we arrived at the supermarket and I said to my kids: "By the time we come back out, Scotland will be 2-1 down." As sure as haggis on Burns' Night, my forecast was correct. The kids put this down to my brilliant insider football knowledge. I put it down to the irredeemable shiteness of Scottish football.
Best ~ Sat in an empty pub in Gravesend watching the second-half of Southampton's 4-0 win over Coventry City. The result sealed promotion. I reflected on this while driving home down the A3 in the rain as the latest scores were read out on the radio. I play locally at weekends so I don't get to St Mary's too often, although on this occasion I was in Kent because of work commitments. Thankfully I was finished in time to catch one of those fleeting occasions when everything goes exactly according to plan.
Worst ~ The first half of England's World Cup qualifier against San Marino at Wembley in October. England may have kept the ball but their short square passes were joyless. After about 20 minutes, purely out of spite, I began hoping the game would remain goalless, at least until half time. After about half an hour Michael Carrick hit the crossbar, then Danny Welbeck struck the rebound against the post and I squealed with laughter. I don't know what was worse – that first half or my reaction to it.
Best ~ Watching the Hillsborough cover-up crumble like a dam that had been holding back almost a quarter of a century's-worth of raw sewage was a thrilling vindication of those who fought tirelessly for the truth. On the pitch, Montpellier's unlikely Ligue 1 title was a welcome victory for those of us who savour the increasingly rare occasions when an unfashionable underdog overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds (sorry Chelsea, you don't count).
Worst ~ I'd like to meet the idiot who penned a gushing tribute to Walsall's early-season form using phrases such as "excellent start", "slick passing football" and "cautious optimism". In the 16 winless games that followed, we managed to lose at home to lower-league opposition in two cup competitions as well as going down 4-1 to a previously hopeless Scunthorpe side that played for an hour with ten men. When will these people learn?
Best ~ Andrea Pirlo's penalty in the shootout against England was one of those moments when you can't quite believe what you've just seen. To even think of trying to perform such a difficult skill under that sort of pressure would be far beyond any current English footballer. It was an unforgettable example of talent and nerve coming together.
Worst ~ Racist tweets, racist gestures, false accusations, handshakes, grudging apologies. It's been a year in which the off-the-field issues in English football became thoroughly depressing, with the FA's handling of the John Terry court case, his eventual selection in the England squad and the eventual excuse of an apology the worst example. It would be great if everyone grew up.
James De Mellow
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