There were mixed feelings from our writers about Euro 2016, while the child sex abuse scandal and Chapecoense plane crash were low points for many
Best The crowd’s chanting during the final ten minutes of Eintracht Frankfurt’s 1-0 home win over Borussia Dortmund in May, part of an unlikely late-season struggle to narrowly escape relegation from the Bundesliga. The atmospheric crescendo carried the desperately defending home side through to the final whistle, followed by an outbreak of nigh incredulous joy at a third consecutive victory.
Worst The pre-meditated and unpunished tackle by Dimitri Payet on Cristiano Ronaldo in the Euro 2016 final, which prompted me to stop watching and go to bed while reflecting on the fact that I’d just wasted four weeks of summer watching mainly uninspired football. The more countries allowed to qualify for the major tournaments, the more of a drag they’re becoming to sit through.
Best As a Southampton fan it has to be beating Inter 2-1 at home. It wasn’t a vintage Inter side, but the occasion and atmosphere were as good at St Mary’s as I can remember. The 3-1 win at Bournemouth on Sunday was as great as it was unexpected, with common sense suggesting a home win. Better still that two of our goals were scored by Jay Rodriguez, who’s still recovering from rupturing his cruciate knee ligament in 2014. Many times this season Rodriguez has been at the right place at the right time only to miss another chance. This has led many, including me, to suggest he be put out his misery and moved on. I was glad to be proved wrong – to see his team-mates show genuine pleasure and warmth towards him after his goals suggests a strong bond exists with the current squad.
Worst Going out of the Europa League. We needed a 0-0 draw at home with Hapoel Be’er Sheva to go through. With the likelihood of us qualifying for Europe again uncertain, what we really needed was to go for it. Instead we played very much within ourselves and were punished with a late sucker punch goal. If we are going to go out of any cup competition I want to see us doing so with all guns blazing. We went out with a whimper – a missed opportunity.
Best Granted, it’s an obvious one, but the improbable sight of Leicester City romping to the title was a victory for free-spirited endeavour in an increasingly cynical age where only the biggest and richest are supposed to prosper. Claudio Ranieri was as cheerily likeable as he was quotable, comparing Jamie Vardy to “a fantastic horse”, going on about sausages and, in reference to his players’ stamina, declaring that “Leicester is Forrest Gump”.
Worst England’s poor showing at the Euros would’ve been unremittingly depressing had it not also been so laughable. A state of affairs made all the more comedic by the protracted fallout that followed, from Roy Hodgson’s reluctant post-Iceland press conference (“I don’t really know what I’m doing here”) to chancer Sam Allardyce and how he went from smug to mug in 67 days
Best It seems to have been a lonely pleasure, but I enjoyed the Euro 2016 finals. The adventures of Hungary, Iceland and Wales were fun to watch, and the whole thing was over in a month. Contrast that with the Champions League, which inflicts its unremitting tedium on us for the entire season. The best single moment was Marek Hamsik’s goal against Russia. A superb strike from a player who remains oddly under-appreciated outside Naples.
Worst After Brexit and Donald Trump, it didn’t seem that 2016 could get any more upsetting, but the stories of football-related sexual abuse made it so. The courage of Andy Woodward and other victims who have come forward must not be under-estimated.
Best It has to be Atalanta’s second-half performance against Roma on November 20. I have seen the team play nearly 700 times, but I have never seen them produce 45 minutes of such sustained brilliance, and against probably Serie A’s second-best team, to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win with a last-gasp penalty. There was ecstasy in the air as we filed out of the stadium. These are moments that supporters of top teams, for whom winning is almost a duty, rarely experience. The victory completed a memorable home hat-trick as Napoli and Inter had been beaten in October.
Worst The moment when I realised that I’d seen Chapecoense’s match against Palmeiras on an Italian sports channel, less than 48 hours before the bulk of the team died when their plane crashed. And I’ll add the ugly scenes at the end of Manchester City v Chelsea at the Ethiad and in the Rome derby. After the players had observed a minute’s silence in memory of their dead colleagues, and in the aftermath of such a tragedy, those scenes were inexcusable.
Best Becoming the first lower-league side to win an Old Firm game is a dubious honour. But while liquidation was four years ago and “the journey back” won’t be complete until we’re Scottish champions again, April’s Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Celtic began Rangers’ psychological recovery.
Worst I was delighted for Northern Ireland and Wales this summer but 18 years of Scottish tournament failure was never so painful as when the latter stroked that ball about in Toulouse, 3-0 up against Russia, celtic anthems lilting round a pink summer sky. I want more for Scotland – but that 20 minutes of basking in second round qualification is all I need. November’s 3-0 loss at Wembley confirmed I might never see it.
Best Leicester’s achievement in winning the Premier League stands out for me. It’s easy to exaggerate their outsider status, they are in many ways just as much a rider on the Premier League merry-go-round, but just for a moment their victory felt like a half remembered past when so-called unfashionable clubs seemed in with a shout. Added to that there are good individual stories such as Wes Morgan or Marc Albrighton who might have thought success had passed them by.
Worst It’s hard to see beyond the unfolding abuse scandal, the tragedy for the victims and the further erosion of trust and what little belief remains in the way the game is overseen. At a more parochial level, the shambolic close season endured by Oldham Athletic fans with a flirtation with financial calamity and that point just before the start of the season when there were too few players in the squad to field a five-a-side team.
Best After David Moyes’ Evertonianisation chaos and Louis van Gaal’s stultifying philosophy, discovering that José Mourinho’s masterplan is actually to play the bloke he signed from Borussia Dortmund because he was the Bundesliga player of the season, put Michael Carrick in midfield and get it to the big lad up front.
Worst Chapacoense, impossible to say anything else.
Best Leicester’s League win will obviously rank in many people’s best moments of 2016, but living in Spain provided a different perspective to the unlikely tale, the mainstream press here picking up on the events very late and then scrambling to analyse them, sending journalists and camera crews in their droves to the Midlands, only to discover that the team was actually pronounced “Les-ter” and not “Lay-cess-terrrr”. This phonetic discovery has been a genuine awakening for the Spanish populace, and may even contribute to the improvement of the English levels of Iberia’s airline staff.
Worst The video-sex scandal at Eibar in October – sad proof that in the flowery gardens of the happiest of fairytales, weeds will eventually puncture the surface. It took two of their players a mere five minutes to reverse the feel-good vibrations that had steadily built up over a number of years, turning the club’s improbable achievements to dust overnight. They’ll recover, but their stubborn omertà over the incident and their questionable protection of the two guilty players has not gone down well in a country that had finally found something it could agree on – that Eibar were the best thing since tortilla with onions.
Best Seeing Wales at a major tournament had been the only dream I’d ever dared allow myself… but even those dreams never reached the heights of Euro 2016. Being part of 25,000 people having the summer of their lives is the greatest high I’ve ever experienced, and I still can’t watch that Hal Robson-Kanu goal without laughing, nor can I watch a Welsh tournament montage in the company of other people.
Worst Not so much a moment, but Doncaster Rovers’ empty three-month long surrender to inevitable relegation was hard going; it felt like watching a milk float drive towards a cliff.
Best Iceland’s defeat of England in Euro 2016. I’m not clever enough to be one of those Anybody But England types – I generally support them in tournaments because I still watch football in the same spirit as I did when I was a small boy. This result, however, a performance of staggering complacency, ineptitude and incoherence, came in the immediate wake of the Brexit vote. Had England somehow progressed and actually won the tournament, the crowing of the Leavers would have been intolerable. As it was, England’s humiliation was a salutary reminder that patriotic assumptions about Great Britain’s inherent superiority are woefully baseless. We’re crap and we were lucky the EU ever allowed us in their club.
Worst The continuing lambasting of referees by pundits and on phone-in shows desperate to generate “talking points”. All statistics show that top-level officials generally do a remarkably good job, certainly by comparison with the rather better-paid players and, increasingly, managers they are forced to keep in line. Yet, listening to the pundits, you’d think their supposed chronically poor decision making was the principal blight on the game. All of this because the issues that actually are blighting the game, primarily economic, are considered off-limits as topics of discussion.