Goals, scandals and Gary Neville – a Review of 2011

Another year has passed, and as always football gave us a bit of everything. Sexism, racism, brilliant games, terrible games, and of course The Big Sam on Twitter. It really did have it all.

It was the year of the World Cup fiasco and as always it was the year of Sepp Blatter. The guy who seems to employ the same PR company as Liverpool football club was at it again, batting away accusations of corruption due to the overreaction to the entirely sensible decision to award the World Cup to a country situated in the desert where it’s too hot to go outside much of the year. But don’t worry, FIFA have thought of that. The games will be run over four quarters, in air-conditioned stadiums. In January. The world also reeled from allegations of corruption that went right to the top of FIFA. Other shocking news to emerge was that cats like milk and that night follows day.

Dollops of sexism were the order of the day over at Sky Sports as Richard Keys and Andy Gray fell on their swords, and who can say they have been missed? A female lineswoman was all it took (plus Jamie Redknapp’s sex life) to bring out their true feelings, and off to Talksport they went. Gary Neville made matters worse by annoying Manchester City and Liverpool fans alike by being quite good at punditry and talking in a fair and balanced way. Strange days.

Elsewhere, “my word” said Ray Wilkins. A lot. Sky’s newest co-commentator seemed at peace with the world, seeing joy from a pinged cross into row F, or a slice past the far post, the antithesis of the miserable, joyless Alan Green. Most of the time he wasn’t saying my word he seemed to rely on two other words, namely “young man”. Mine were slightly different. Shut. And up.

There were great games aplenty too of course.

The current season started in an orgy of goals, as on the same day Manchester City won 5-1 at Spurs before neighbours United beat Arsenal 8-2. And then of course City went to Old Trafford and left with a staggering 6-1 victory.

The previous season, we were treated to Newcastle United 4 Arsenal 4 in February – a four-goal comeback from Newcastle, four down in 26 minutes, capped by Cheick Tioté’s equaliser on 87 minutes with Arsenal down to 10 men. Another great game was Tottenham 3 Arsenal 3 in April, with a 5-goal flurry in the 1st half.

Manchester United claimed their 19th league title, sending Liverpool fans into despair. The Champions League was one step too far though as Barcelona showed their class in defeating United comfortably in the final. It was their year once more, as the debate raged as to whether they are the greatest club side of all. Little doubt that Lionel Messi is the greatest player in the world at the moment, though Cristiano Ronaldo’s scoring record continued to reach the stratosphere.

Back in England though, and Manchester City ended a generation of hurt as the blue moon rose with their first trophy in 35 years, a 1-0 victory over Stoke bringing home the FA Cup. Arsenal couldn’t end their barren run, managing to lose the Carling Cup Final to Birmingham, who proceeded to celebrate by getting relegated.

Chelsea had new blood in charge yet again, and it’s been a difficult few months for Andre Villas-Boas. Already out of the title race by Christmas, expect them to react by spending big in the January transfer window. The question is, will Roman Abramovich’s twitchy finger press down on the red button, or will Villas-Boas get longer to force through a revolution? Only time will tell.

Mario Balotelli spent 2011 on a one-man mission to keep the front and back pages of the newspapers full. When he wasn’t visiting womens’ prisons, he was crashing his car, throwing darts out of windows, burning his house down with fireworks, dumping glamour models, driving round Manchester high-fiving City fans post Derby-wins (in a blue Santa suit), giving money to homeless people, paying for homeless people to stay in the Hilton, handing in bullies to school headmasters and amassing a fine collection of parking tickets (some of these stories may be made up). He wasn’t too bad on the pitch either. Ashley Cole tried to compete, but settled for shooting a student.

A good year too for Harry Redknapp, which will be followed by an uncertain 2012. A storming run in their debut Champions League season has been followed by an excellent first half of the 2011/12 season. Currently the top dogs in London, the nailed-on choice for next England manager seems to be having doubts about the job, but let’s not mention that court case on 23rd January for tax evasion eh?

It wasn’t good for everyone though, with another year for flops. Everywhere you looked, footballers were flopping. The main flopper was undoubtedly Fernando Torres, who even Tim Howard is now catching in the goal-scoring charts. His £50m move to Chelsea has been a disaster for all involved, but the man brought in to replace him at Liverpool for a cool £35m, Andy Carroll, has fared little better. As I watched him labour round the pitch at the Etihad stadium this week, I almost felt sorry for him.

But sadly it was also the year of racism scandals. The biggest domestically came at the end of the year as Luis Suarez was banned for eight games for racist comments made towards Patrice Evra. The row rumbles on as Liverpool refuse to accept their lot, but with John Terry due in court next month, the topic is going to remain in the news, especially after a crowd incident in Liverpool’s FA Cup match v Oldham Athletic. If only everyone had taken Sepp Blatter’s advice and shaken hands at the end of the match – problem solved!

The end of the year also plunged the world of football into deep shock, as Gary Speed took his own life. It was a story that people struggled to comprehend, a man who seemingly had it all, but it turned out didn’t. A reminder, along with the tragic death of Gary Ablett in the New Year, that it is only a game. It will never be more important than life or death. Never had a disputed penalty or a last minute equalizer seemed less important.

But the year ended with great promise for the months ahead. Two new teams competing for a Premiership title whilst at the other end the promoted teams hold their own. The race for 4th place and Champions League football will be intense. The Championship as ever is hard to call and full of drama and dollops of great football, as are the lower leagues. Fabio Capello will bow out at the European Championships, and the media will once more build up our chances, before the team crash out at the first knockout stage. There are, as always, some exciting times ahead.

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