The best and worst moments of 2012 ~ part 2
From some WSC contributors
Best ~ Andoni Iraola picking up the ball at the edge of the area and dancing past Michael Carrick, then Jonny Evans and then Rio Ferdinand before drawing Manchester United keeper David de Gea. He pulled his shot just past the post but it didn't seem to matter at the time; Athletic Bilbao were already 4-2 up on aggregate. Everyone at San Mames knew their team would win, and they could just gasp and then smile at the strangeness of their sensible right-back turning into George Best. We all knew it wouldn't last but it was a perfect moment.
Worst ~ David Silva lining up the entire Ireland defence and then sitting them down hard while scoring Spain's second goal in their Euro 2012 group meeting. As an Irishman living and working in Madrid I'd been really looking forward to the game and before the tournament had even convinced myself that Trap's team could make it through to quarter-finals. That was obviously crazy and Silva's goal - and accompanying chuckles from the pundits on Spanish TV - brought home how dumb I'd been.
Best ~ Bayern Munich failing at the final hurdle in all three major club competitions. The look of bewildered incomprehension on the players' and officials' faces when they realise somebody has dared to beat them is one you normally only see at an open-air festival, when campers wake up to discover that somebody has stolen their tent while they were sleeping in it.
Worst ~ SV Curslack-Neuengamme not winning their penultimate Hamburg League game, thus conceding the title to SC Victoria. The former are a team of local farmhands with a solid fanbase and tractors in the car park. The latter are the local equivalent of Bayern Munich, seemingly run by David Niven-lookalikes who, even in summer, wear expensive scarves draped around their shoulders and like nothing better than enticing their rivals' best young players to the club and then never putting them in the team. The fact that they're now getting hammered on a weekly basis in the regional fourth division is scant consolation.
Best ~ Manchester (still not all that good) United won a game last week and there was no subsequent call for the widespread introduction of video technology, rule changes, police investigations, court case, disciplinary charges or library pictures of the "Battle of Old Trafford" in 1990, Roy Keane and Jaap Stam shouting at Andy D'Urso or Bob Lord branding United a "bunch of teddy boys" in 1958.
Worst ~ Discovering that Sir Alex Ferguson's statue is not made of milk chocolate after all. Alternatively, the annual early season event when all United's centre-halves make the injury list and Mickey Phelan enters the frame as a makeshift stand in.
Best ~ You're 1-0 up against Barcelona with 18 minutes left. The ball belongs to them. Your right-back is injured. The manager replaces him with teenage striker Tony Watt. You're so excited you can't register the significance of this potentially ludicrous attacking switch. Then young Tony picks up a long ball and hammers it past Victor Valdes. The crowd erupts. The Barcelona manager says afterwards he's never experienced an atmosphere like it. Lionel Messi scores. 2-1. You're so nervous you want to bite something. At full time you're dizzy. Celtic have beaten Barcelona and it's possibly the most impressive victory of any Celtic team you've ever seen.
Worst ~ Why must men's football gatecrash the Olympics? For a couple of weeks every four years, can't we let athletes whose dedication and ability far outweigh their earnings and egos receive the glory they deserve, without some contrived football tournament half-heartedly barging in like Piers Morgan sharing a stage with the Dalai Lama? The British team never looked like we could be bothered to try to win the thing. When Stuart Pearce is mumbling about it mainly being a learning experience for the team it's hardly surprising that the players played like they were just pissed off about their shortened holidays.
Best ~ Montpellier's Ligue 1 title win was a victory for the dreamers. Their team of youngsters and budget signings – assembled for less than the price paid by Paris Saint-Germain for Javier Pastore – stalled the Parisian's plans to spend their way to the top, for one more year at least. Louis Nicollin, Montpellier's maverick owner, said championship success for his team would be a "disgrace" for the division's biggest clubs. If so, this particular disgrace was uplifting.
Worst ~ There have been several exasperating and depressing moments this year, from Chelsea's fortunate success in the Champions League to Chelsea's continued support for John Terry. According to some of the club's supporters, Roman Abramovich's sacking of Roberto di Matteo was the real nadir but was that honestly the worst thing to be done by a representative of Chelsea in the last 12 months?
Best ~ The long-overdue collapse of the dam preventing a reassessment of the evidence on the Hillsborough tragedy and the subsequent renewed hope for justice.
Worst ~ The sickening realisation that racism had not been eradicated from our game but had merely gone temporarily undercover.
Best ~ The FA Cup second round tie between Harrogate Town and Hastings United. I love the FA Cup and so having seen attendances for the competition decline at Doncaster Rovers it was a joy to see it treated as a highlight rather than an inconvenience. A huge non-segregated crowd packed in a small ground, obligatory sodden pitch and tin-foil cups, and people watching from on top of the groundsman's tractor – it was the FA Cup from the adverts. Aside from the bit where one of the home subs hopped over the fence, picked his way through the crowd and went for a piss in the corner of the terrace.
Worst ~ This was the year I fell out of love with my own football club, Doncaster Rovers; unable to overlook an ethos and approach I didn't agree with I found I could no longer get enthusiastic about how they fared on the field. Thankfully the involvement of agent Willie McKay has ceased, but while I've begun attending games again I can't envisage ever being as excited by the club's results as I once was. That, or Harry Redknapp's “look at that save” punditry on Match of the Day.
Best ~ Stephan El Shaarawy's debut for the Italian national team, in a friendly against England in August, and his sparkling form in a stuttering Milan side. The country's media still tends to have a wincingly patronising attitude towards Italians of African or Middle Eastern extraction (El Shaarawy's nickname is il Faraone, "the pharaoh"). However, the image of the 20-year-old striker, who has an Egyptian father and Italian mother, enjoying a man hug with Mario Balotelli after scoring his first full international goal in his third game for the Azzurri, against the French in November, could prove a potent symbol of a new Italy, on and off the pitch.
Worst ~ On the day I write this, the Italian FA have announced that, 48 hours before it was due to kick off, a game between Cagliari and Juventus is to be relocated to Parma, due to an ongoing dispute over safety at the new stadium in Sardinia. This despite 13,000 tickets being sold and, no doubt, plenty of people looking forward to attending a high-profile game ahead of the winter break. Fairly basic stuff really but Italian football, if it's to have any hope of rejuvenation, has to start treating supporters with at least a modicum of respect.
Best ~ The publication of the Hillsborough Report in September. Aside from the obvious effect of it being the first step on a journey for grieving families to finally get truth, justice and some measure of closure, it was eye-opening to see how many people in and around football admitted to previously having still had their opinion coloured by those egregious falsified tales; and heartening to see how quickly and unanimously everyone - with the possible exception of Kelvin MacKenzie - admitted they'd been wrong.
Worst ~ Any and every occasion the word "handshake" entered football headlines.
Best ~ Seeing Japan and South Korea perform so well at the Olympics. They fully deserved to reach the last four by playing some excellent football and more than matching it with teams from all around the world. UAE briefly lit up the tournament in the early stages providing hope to fans in the oft-ignored western area of the continent that good times are around the corner. At a club level, the Asian Champions League quarter-final between Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia and Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande was 180 minutes of great football played in front of passionate, full houses - a great advert for the Asian game.
Worst ~ The constant infighting at the Asian Football Confederation overshadowed much of what happened on the pitch. Tales of corruption, embezzlement, bribery and more trickled out at a depressingly consistent rate. It will not end with the departure of former confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam. With such an example at the highest level, politics and corruption are all too common in Asia. Indonesia is the worst – two leagues, two FAs, players not being paid and Diego Mendieta left to die on a hospital bed because he couldn't afford treatment - a shocking indictment of the game in one of Asia's biggest and most passionate football nations.
Best ~ There were no obvious single high points in a funny year to be a Sunderland supporter. The best moment for schadenfreude was Manchester United's fall from grace at the Stadium of Light on the final day of last season. Sunderland fans laughed at their opponents and, amusingly, both Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney got very sour about it. I'm not sure what they expected.
Worst ~ The drip, drip of real and alleged racism made it a depressing year in some aspects. What felt worse is that no authority, federation, club or group of supporters seemed able to react properly or even appropriately.
Best ~ Spain's Euro 2012 final performance, for blowing away all the murmurs about the greatest international team of modern times being boring and most of all, just for putting on a show that will live long in the memory of all that saw it.
Worst ~ The continued circus at Blackburn Rovers. It's awful for their fans who, to my knowledge, still haven't received an apology from the sections of the media who berated them for protesting against the Steve Kean regime. I guess it never occurred to some that the fans' problem with him might not just have been the results.
On the subject...