It was a strange and wonderful sporting year that served up a story in New York, a robbery in Abu Dhabi, the Ghost Games of Tokyo, and the familiar agony of a penalty shootout loss to England.
The year began with fans being sorely missed, as the closed-door era dragged on.
The football supporters were then praised for their leading role in breaking up the hated European Super League.
But as stadiums began to fill, England were put to shame by an alcohol-and-drug mob that badly tarnished the finals of the national team’s first major tournament in 55 years.
Earlier Euros’ final defeat by Italy at Wembley was as disappointing as the tempting arrogance of 12 clubs, including the Premier League’s Big Six – threatening to break the fabric of football with their roped-off Super League.
The plan was met with hatred and ridicule, as it was torpedoed in less than 48 hours – even after Tottenham had to sack Jose Mourinho six days before their Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. to manage for
That nasty conspiracy of Super League laughs in the face of the idea that anything can happen in a game.
But in September, at Flushing Meadows, the impossible dream came to fruition when an 18-year-old tennis player from Kent became the first qualifier to win a women’s Grand Slam singles event and the first British woman to claim a major title. Virginia Wade in 1977.
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Emma Radukanu’s extraordinary campaign at the US Open stands alone as a British sports story – in this, or any other year.
Ten matches, ten straight-set victories, culminated in a 6-4, 6-3 final victory against Leyla Fernandez – a nervous display from a youngster whose first Grand Slam, at Wimbledon, ended with a medical retirement and His ability was being doubted.
How wrong could they be?
Ireland’s Rachel Blackmore became the first woman to win the Grand National at Aintree, on the Minella Times, having already become the first woman to be the leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival.
Radukanu’s only potential contender as Britain’s player of the year should have been Lewis Hamilton, who fought for the Formula One title for age with young Dutch upstart Max Verstappen, 24.
Yet Hamilton’s bid for a record eighth world crown was scuttled by the chaos and farce of the last-lap run-off with Verstappen in Abu Dhabi, as race director Michael Massey found himself the custodian of the rule book in Hollywood rather than Hollywood. Saw it as a director.
Radukanu, who was made an MBE on the New Year’s honors list, wasn’t the only English teenager under extreme pressure – Bukayo Saka’s decisive penalty, saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma, meant England’s Euro ended with a brutal shootout defeat.
The then 19-year-old, along with fellow vices Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, faced online abuse after failing by chance – although the Arsenal kid felt the heat of the vast majority of fans and even Spurs A standing ovation was also given by. Supporters in pre-season friendly.
England performed brilliantly in the final, defeating Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Ukraine and Denmark.
Gareth Southgate proved himself to be the most successful Three Lions boss since Sir Alf Ramsey, with Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane up front, Calvin Phillips and Declan Rice unstoppable in midfield, while John Stones, Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker produced a formidable All-Yorkshire formed. Defensive three.
And Luke Shaw was the surprising feel-good hit of the summer, enjoying an excellent tournament finish and opening scoring within two minutes of the final.
The atmosphere was joyous and hoarse as Southgate’s men came from behind to defeat the Danes in the semi-finals.
But this was in contrast to the massacre of the final, which meant the Three Lions were penalized for facing Italy behind closed doors in the League of Nations the following year.
The major sport back in the Olympics in Tokyo was silenced – delayed by a year, yet unable to provide an authentic soundtrack of the crowd.
Team GB took 22 gold medals in comparison to Rio and London, but this is still a major achievement compared to a generation ago.
Adam Peaty became the first Brit to retain an Olympic swimming title and, like his teammate Tom Dean, won two gold medals.
Cycling husbands Jason and Laura Kenney entered the record books. Fifteen Olympic medals now reside in his Cheshire home – a dozen of them gold.
After 13 years of trying, diver Tom Daly topped the podium with Matty Lee in the ten meter synchronized.
The Olympics also brought mental health increasingly into focus as its brightest global star, American gymnast Simone Biles, pulled out of the women’s team finals, claiming she felt the ‘weight of the world’ on her shoulders.
That same week, Ben Stokes – perhaps England’s most fiercely-competitive player – took a four-month break from cricket to prioritize his mental health.
Biles and Stokes were bold with their honesty, proving that even the eldest are vulnerable, especially when living under Covid restrictions.
In football, Thomas Tuchel inherited a mid-table Chelsea side from Frank Lampard, shattering Pep Guardiola’s quadruple hopes and giving Stamford Bridge a second European Cup.
Manchester City easily regained their Premier League crown but Tuchel’s team defeated Guardiola’s men in three separate competitions, reaching a climax in their Champions League final victory in Porto.
Leicester beat Chelsea to win their first FA Cup, five years after their title, but a late collapse forced them out of the Champions League for the second year in a row.
Manchester United, meanwhile, faltered with the return of Cristiano Ronaldo despite pulling off the league’s most lucrative 2021 signing.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a caretaker who should never have been a permanent owner, was replaced by a caretaker in Michael Carrick, then an interim in Ralph Rangnik who wants to be permanent manager.
The biggest downfall of the year outside Old Trafford was the failure of Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury to make it the undisputed world heavyweight boxing crown.
When American judges ordered Fury to complete his trilogy against Deontay Wilder, the much-anticipated all-British competition was toast.
Joshua was knocked out by Oleksandr Usyak at Tottenham – not the only comprehensive win there during Nuno Espirito Santo’s reign – as he lost three of his belts.
After that, the chances of Joshua Fury ever happening become even less.
At least Fury and Wilder served up a third epic, the Gypsy King stopping the Alabama Slugger in the 11th round in Vegas.
The British and Irish Lions were defeated by world champion South Africa, Europe were defeated by the United States in the Ryder Cup and the England cricketers have already lost the Ashes.
But the biggest disappointment for all was the dark clouds of Covid as the year drew to a close – a threat to our lives, our freedoms and most importantly, our sport.
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