SO HOW was it for you? 2011 was a dream of a year for sports writers what with bungs, match-fixing, striking footballers and dwarf tossing but here’s my take on 12 breathtaking months.
To take the highs first the year couldn’t have got off to a better start with a spot of Aussie bashing.
Poms rule was the message coming out of Australia, and after all those years of suffering at the hands of Warne and McGrath, Ponting and Gilchrist, Langer and Hayden to say nothing of the Waugh twins, it was wonderful getting up actually not afraid to switch on the TV.
The majestic Alastair Cook, mechanical Jonathan Trott, flamboyant Kevin Pietersen, and dashing Ian Bell, led by unflappable Andrew Strauss, were grinding the best of the baggie green caps into the ground.
Swann was twirling away and our own Tim Bresnan applied the coup de gras to a wonderful Ashes victory.
I’ve only met Mo Farah once and he struck me as being quite humble, yet a champion none the less.
I grew up in an era of great middle distance runners – Roger Bannister, Derek Ibbotson and Gordon Pirie among them. Then along came Coe, Cram and Ovett, but recent years have been fallow.
Now Farah with his brilliant 5,000 metres victory in the World Athletics Championships has posted notice that we at last have a worthy successor going into Olympics year.
There was no more heart-warming story than Darren Clarke’s lifting of the old Claret Jug in the 2011 Open Golf Championship at Royal St. George’s. I’m a great believer in divine intervention and there is no doubt Darren’s take on life has changed since the loss of his wife Heather through cancer five years ago.
A much more approachable Clarke was never going to let his first major slip through his fingers once he hit the top of the leader board.
Having said that I still think Luke Donald’s achievement in becoming the world’s greatest golfer on both sides of the Atlantic is greater.
There could not be a better example of consistency, nor modesty, and if you’re looking for a role model to hold up to the youngsters look no further.
An honourable mention too for Lee Westwood who also became World No 1 for a short while and ended the year winning two more titles. I can’t wait for the next Ryder Cup.
I’ve always had the utmost admiration for cyclists, certainly the ones who don’t pump steroids into themselves, and Mark Cavendish must be good to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ahead of Cook, Clarke and Donald.
As sportsmen go I believe cyclists to be among the fittest and most dedicated, so Cavendish’s winning of the coveted green jersey at the Tour de France was a notable feat.
I love rugby league either at Super League level or down with the Dewsbury’s and Keighley’s of this world.
Real people run the game if you know what I mean.
I still don’t agree with a system which allows Leeds to be crowned champions after finishing fifth (no blame attached to them, of course) and Rob Burrow’s contribution at the final hurdle was memorable. There are some brilliant players in the 13-a-side game. I just wish they got greater national exposure and acclaim.
It might seem strange to acclaim a foreign success – especially over an English team – but Barcelona’s magnificent Champions League final victory over Manchester United at Wembley, had to be applauded.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson admitted no team could have lived with Pep Guardiola’s side that day.
Ten days ago I saw Barca demolish Santos, of Brazil, who are South America’s finest, with as perfect a performance as I have ever seen. It leads me to agree with Pele that this is perhaps the finest side of all time matching Brazil circa 1970.
Whatever his shortcomings – more of that to come – Andy Murray is a magnificent tennis player and Britain’s best hope of a Wimbledon title for over half-a-century. If only there weren’t three others in the same generation who keep spoiling the party.
To finish the highs with three footballing stories with big ticks against them, it is heartening that Halifax Town and York City are back on the right track, and the Shaymen won a lot of friends with their hosting of Charlton Athletic in the FA Cup (reward for good husbandry), Ashley Williams of Swansea City is giving up much of his spare time to help a new charity that helps poorly children, and Jordan Rhodes is on the threshold of an international career.
I first met Jordan when he was a polite 14 year-old, after a game at Ipswich where dad Andy was goalkeeping coach for my pal Joe Royle.
I asked Andy if he was following in his footsteps, to which he replied: “Not likely, he’s not daft enough to be a ‘keeper but he might score a goal or two”. He’s got more than that, more power to his boots in 2012.
But them lows this year have to start with England’s rugby players in New Zealand.
What a motley crew, what a set of under-achievers, and what a bunch of bad ambassadors.
You can excuse poor performances, and it was no disgrace to lose to France, but you cannot tolerate arrogance, denial, bad behaviour in bars and on boats, to say nothing of attending dwarf throwing contests.
Talking of throwing, it may only have been a few no-balls but Pakistan’s flagrant breach of rules and respect for the game, blighted the cricketing summer.
Captain Salman Butt and fast bowler Mohammed Asif are now behind bars, the younger and perhaps more naive Mohammed Amir in a young offenders institution.
Let others heed the lesson that crime, however trivial it may seem to them, does not pay.
Yorkshire’s relegation is on a different scale.
Their failings on the field of play were evident from a very early stage of the season, and perhaps in hindsight during the season before that.
Perhaps a few players got too big for their boots, perhaps some weren’t fit enough, others simply not up to wearing the white rose. I’m told there are encouraging signs from Jason Gillespie’s first few days at Headingley.
I hope it comes right as Yorkshire should never be playing outside the top level of the game.
Boxing is held in ridicule by some yet holds an incurable fascination for others. You have to peer between the ridiculous hype, sometimes even ignore it as candyfloss, yet the greater the build-up the greater the let down.
Audley Harrison’s meek capitulation last time in the ring set the sport back again, and David Haye’s protest that he had a sore little toe after a pasting from Wladimir Klitschko was the final straw for many. At least he got in where it hurts.
Carlos Tevez’s refusal to pull on a Manchester City shirt in Munich was inexcusable.
I’d put one on for £50 a week, let alone £200,000. This petulant act had the majority of even his fellow professionals muttering about lost values in the game.
Which brings us to John Terry. Irrespective of the findings in his latest brush with the law, Chelsea’s captain has surely lost the right to lead his country. Infidelity happens, though not often with a teammate, but there have been too many indiscretions for Terry to get any more second chances.
There was nothing more crass, however, than Liverpool’s misguided stance over protesting Luis Suarez’s innocence in the other racism scandal of the moment.
For Kenny Dalglish and his players to appear in No 7 shirts with Suarez’s name emblazoned across them was foolhardy and counter productive to say the least.
Everything though was put into perspective by the tragic death of Gary Speed.
As I said at the time it has shocked me more than anyone else’s decision to end their own lives. Perhaps none of us know how other people feel, and here was a lesson that no matter how much success and popularity people may achieve it can come at huge cost.
After seven years “At the Helm” this will be my last column for the Examiner.
I can honestly say I have enjoyed every single minute of putting my thoughts down on paper.
I have reported to you from every continent – though sometimes with difficulty, especially Africa – and met some amazing people along the way, including Examiner readers in the most unlikely places.
I hope I’ve been able to inspire the odd chuckle as well as thought-provoking comment.
Thanks for your support.