As sporting years go, 2012 could not really have gone much better for Great Britain. From tennis to cricket to the greatest Olympic and Paralympic Games of all time it was a truly inspiring year that saw our little collection of islands turn from pretenders into true sporting greats.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing for England in the footballing world. They endured a difficult year, with a home loss to the Netherlands in February. Fabio Capello then resigned just weeks before the Euros and Roy Hodgson’s appointment as his successor was less than favourable. The Euros themselves were a disappointment, with England limping to the Quarter-Finals before the inevitable penalty shoot-out defeat, and the year was capped off with farcical scenes in Poland where the World Cup Qualifier was postponed due to a rather soggy pitch before Zlatan Ibrahimovic and ‘that goal’ single-handedly led Sweden to victory over the Three Lions in November.
Things were much better on the domestic front, though, with one of the most exciting Premier Leagues ever decided in its dying minutes by Sergio Aguero, handing Manchester City a well-earned first title since 1968, while Liverpool won a tense Carling Cup final over Cardiff. They could not beat Chelsea, though, in the FA Cup final and the Blues, led by fan favourite and former player Roberto di Matteo, then did the unthinkable and overcame Barcelona and Bayern Munich to win the first Champions League in their history. And with the 2012/13 season getting off to a flyer with plenty of goals it seems last season could easily be emulated or even bettered.
In the rugby union world, Wales dominated the RBS 6 Nations, winning their third Grand Slam and Triple Crown since 2000. England were a valiant second with a side much changed from that which had been disappointing in the World Cup not long before, with a whole crop of new players, a new captain in Chris Robshaw and Stuart Lancaster now at the helm. However the rest of the year didn’t quite go according to plan for any of the home nations – England lost 2-0 to the South Africans, although both losses were by the narrowest of margins and they did also scrape a draw, before upsetting New Zealand 38-21 in the last match of their year. Scotland had a good summer with wins over Australia, Fiji and Samoa but lost all of their autumn internationals, while Ireland had a terrible year, highlighted by a 60-0 loss to New Zealand in June. Wales’ fortunes drastically dropped while their injury list increased as they lost game after game in both the summer and winter series, leading to them slipping to 9th in the world. What a difference a year makes! Harlequins won their first Premiership title and Leinster defended their Heineken Cup trophy after defeating Ulster in the final.
England’s cricket team endured a pretty topsy-turvy year but it ended with more positives than negatives. It all started in the UAE with a humiliating 3-0 whitewash against Pakistan, but this was swiftly followed with a 4-0 thrashing of the same opponents in the ODI series that followed. England then drew the series in Sri Lanka 1-1 in February before defeating the West Indies to retain the Wisden Trophy in May/June to set the Three Lions up nicely for the much-anticipated series against the South Africans. But the series was a huge disappointment from an English point of view as the Proteas outclassed us in all areas to win 2-0, highlighted by the batting master class from Hashim Amla (311 not out), Jacques Kallis (182 not out) and Graeme Smith (131) in the first Test. This led to Andrew Strauss retiring from all forms of cricket, handing over the reigns of the Test captaincy to Alastair Cook. And it was Cook who inspired the English team to a historic 2-1 win in India, something which had not been done for 28 years. However the cricketing world has been hit by the recent deaths of legends Tony Greig and Christopher Martin-Jenkins, two men who helped define the game and really brought it to life.
In other sports, Andy Murray won his first ever Grand Slam at the US Open after narrowly losing in the Wimbledon final, while Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to win the Tour de France. Europe staged the most remarkable of comebacks to win the Ryder Cup while Neptune Collonges won the Grand National, Synchronised the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Frankel made it 14 wins from 14 races and retired as the greatest racehorse there has ever been.
However, there could only really 2 two real highlights of the sporting year – the London Olympics and Paralympics. From the 25th July to the 9th September new heroes emerged, old ones retired in style, medal hopefuls delivered and unfavoured athletes shocked us all in success. We laughed, we cried, we cheered, we shouted, we supported, but there was one thing we didn’t do – we didn’t moan. If someone didn’t win a medal or underperformed, we didn’t have a go at them – we accepted that it just wasn’t meant to be. Never in my lifetime has this nation been so positive and it was just awesome to be a part of it all. These Games have left a legacy that will change sport, not just in this nation, but across the whole world. These were the Games that defined a nation.
Here are my 5 sporting moments of the year:
5. History made yet again
England’s first win in India since 1984/85 was truly fantastic. After being skittled in the first innings of the series the old questions of ‘Why can’t they play spin?’ and ‘Do they have the technique to overcome this deficiency’ reared their ugly heads but, led by captain Alastair Cook, a resurgent side made 406 in the second innings, setting England up to dominate the rest of the series. It did end pretty anti-climactically with a bore draw in Nagpur but it was a sensational end to a difficult year.
4. Super Saturday
Some may question why this isn’t top of the list, but for me I though there were more inspirational moments in the year. However it is undeniable that it was Britain’s best day throughout the whole of both the Olympics and Paralympics. Britain claimed 6 gold medals and 1 silver throughout the whole day, with the most success coming in the stadium. The hour that saw Jess Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford achieve greatness was surreal, exhilarating and unbelievable and will be forever remembered in British folk law.
3. ‘What you are seeing here, ladies and gentlemen, is that dreams do come true’
No-one has ever deserved Olympic gold more than Katherine Grainger. After her third silver medal in a row at Beijing she considered quitting rowing as she thought that elusive Olympic medal had slipped through her fingers. But then Anna Watkins came along. Together they formed an awesome Double Sculls pairing and from the moment the claxon went for the 2012 final the win was never in question. A truly amazing show of grit and determination that also led to the greatest quote of the Games.
2. Martine Wright makes her Paralympic debut
If you didn’t closely follow the Paralympics or watch Sports Personality you probably haven’t heard of this sitting volleyball player. She didn’t win a medal or make any real headlines with her success, but her story is what really captures your imagination. The day after GB were awarded the London 2012 Games she lost both her legs in the Aldgate train bombing – she was in a coma for 10 days and her life was in doubt after losing 80% of her blood. But on the 30th August she played in Britain’s 3-0 loss to Russia, making her debut on the world stage. Her story is remarkable and a true showing of what believing everything negative also has a positive can do for you. A truly inspirational lady.
1. The one that set the ball rolling
For me, the greatest sporting moment of 2012 was Helen Glover and Heather Stanning winning the Women’s Pair at Eton Dorney on the 1st August. These women created history by becoming the first British female gold medal-winning rowers and told the nation that we can win medals after some early doubt. No-one came close to challenging them and this pair, one of whom is not even a full-time rower, created my favourite moment of 2012.