Here's our angle on a summer of scintillating sporting action.
This summer’s European Championships, for many the footballing highlight of the summer, failed to live up to England’s expectations. The Three Lions entered the competition after an unbeaten qualifying stage and English hopes were high. Roy Hodgson’s side was bursting with youth, flair and talent which meant goals were plentiful in the run-up.
The only murmurs of worry voiced by pundits across television and social media were concerning the defence. Hodgson hadn’t settled on a first choice back four and there were inconsistencies that sides could exploit.
Unfortunately, the naysayers were right. A comfortable 1-0 lead against Russia in the first fixture was thrown out the window in the 92nd minute when confusion between full-back Danny Rose and midfielder Adam Lallana allowed Vasili Bereztski a free header over Joe Hart.
"What followed is widely regarded as the national side’s most embarrassing defeat to date"
A 2-1 victory over Wales followed, but it was a match that raised even more questions about the squad. The final group match against Slovenia was a dire affair. England managed 29 attempts on goal, more than seven times the amount of their opponents, but failed to hit the back of the net. Nonetheless, it was enough to secure qualification to the final 16.
What followed is widely regarded as the national side’s most embarrassing defeat to date. A loss against minnows Iceland, whose population is 323,000 (less than half of Tyneside), which sent them crashing out of the competition. It was not just the result but the manner of the loss which was so shocking.
Iceland played well, and showed a unity that England lacked, coupled with no ambition, no fight and no desire. The potency that became so natural in the run-up to the competition vanished. Immediately after the match manager Roy Hodgson, unsurprisingly, issued his resignation which marked the end of the Euros 2016 horror show.
Vindication. Relief. Pure, unadulterated joy. After a month of upsets, cagey football and the obligatory England meltdown, Euro 2016 proved to be the final feather in the cap of the self-proclaimed best player in the world. And the look on Cristiano Ronaldo’s face as he lifted the trophy told the story as to how dearly he desired this glory on the international stage.
The tournament was not one to be remembered for its great football or high-scoring games. Instead, the group stages often consisted of matches that were almost identical in pattern, epitomised by the competition’s opener between France and Romania.
Les Bleus dictated possession, but struggled to break down a tough and energetic Romanian rear-guard. Dimitri Payet, in the form of his life, stepped up to send Saint-Denis and France into delirium with a gorgeous, swerving last-minute winner. And so, the tournament had lift-off, though the subsequent games followed similar, monotonous patterns.
"The tournament was not one to be remembered for its great football or high-scoring games"
However, drama in the final minutes became an enchanting theme of the tournament, with England, Spain, Croatia, Ireland and Iceland all leaving it late.
The captivating journeys of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Iceland further papered over the cracks of the lack of real quality on the pitch. Wales especially, led by their superstar Galáctico, Gareth Bale, were incredible in their march to the semi-finals.
The stage seemed set then for France to triumph on home soil – it would have been a poignant feat, coming just eight months after the Paris terror attacks. Instead though, the spotlight shone brightest on Portugal’s captain.
Despite succumbing to injury after just 25 minutes, the European Championship record goal scorer remained centre of attention, inspiring his side with raw passion we’ve seldom seen from Ronaldo. Éder’s extra-time winner almost seems a footnote now, but was the trigger for the tears to roll and celebrations to begin. The king had at last been crowned.
The Olympics in Rio was unquestionably one to remember. For Team GB in particular it was a resounding success. Stacking up 27 golds in total GB finished an impressive 2nd in the medal table above China who narrowly missed out with 26 golds.
However, many will not remember the games in Rio so fondly; numerous athletes didn’t travel following the outbreak of the Zika virus, while some 120 Russian competitors were banned after it emerged that a state run doping programme had been in force.
Aside from this, swimming pools turned green, athletes were mugged and others pretended they had been. Also, despite the substantial investments into infrastructure developments, seats were vacant in their thousands, a stark contrast to scenes at London 2012.
"Though Phelps’ second retirement was saddening, perhaps more so was the retirement of the vivacious Usain Bolt"
While much did not go to plan for organisers in Rio, the same cannot be said for Team USA. They topped the standings with 46 golds, making this their 17th Olympic triumph.
While this total was not achieved by individuals alone, Michael Phelps could leave Brazil safe in the knowledge that he did his part once again taking home 5 golds and one silver. ‘The Baltimore Bullet’ now has 28 medals to his name only strengthening his position in Brazil as the most decorated Olympian of all time.
Though Phelps’ second retirement was saddening, perhaps more so was the retirement of the vivacious Usain Bolt. True to his nature Bolt went out with a bang and didn’t leave us empty-handed.
The greatest sprinter of all time completed the ‘triple triple’ having won another 3 golds in the 100m, 200m and the 4X100m relay. He’s established himself as one of the greatest athletes of all time, matching Paavo Nurmi and Carl Lewis’ 9 gold medals.
With dominant forces in the Olympics such as Phelps and Bolt retiring from the big stage, Tokyo 2020 is now anyone’s game. The organisers in Tokyo, however, will hope not to attract the same negative attention as those in Rio by filling seats, tightening security, and at the very least keeping the pools blue.
Another tumultuous summer of cricket has drawn to an end with a whole new set of champions crowned. Northants Steelbacks beat Durham in a thrilling final at Edgbaston in the T20 Blast, Warwickshire romped to an eight-wicket win over Surrey in the One Day Cup, and Middlesex prevailed in the County Championship for the first time since 1993.
This summer has seen the ECB introduce franchise cricket to the UK, with the creation of the Women’s Cricket Super League. The inaugural champions, Southern Vipers, were led to victory by former England captain Charlotte Edwards.
"the test match is still well and truly alive"
On the international scene, England dominated an inexperienced Sri Lankan side in both ODI and Test competitions early in the summer. Number one test team Pakistan provided England with some food for thought, and proved the test match is still well and truly alive.
The clash between England and Pakistan proved that cricket needs variety and there are rivalries not considered ‘iconic’ that can captivate audiences. Despite some difficulties in the tests, England were quickly back to their winning ways in the ODIs, with disappointment at Cardiff being the only mistake in an otherwise flawless series.
In what is already a very changeable England line-up, new key players emerged. Jake Ball proved himself to be more than a pace bowler, providing much needed resistance with the bat further down the order.
Jonny Bairstow showed he is ready to fight for a place in the team, whether this is with the wicket-keeping gloves or not, whilst Alex Hales pulled off a record-breaking performance that some were doubting he was capable of.
Alastair Cook was able to regain some of his best form, which has been lacking in recent series, proving he is still the man for the captaincy.
England take their matches overseas for the winter. They are currently playing in Bangladesh despite security concerns. The team then travel to India, with the winter season finishing in the West Indies. England will be hoping that their home dominance is repeated overseas.
Widespread praise could be heard across the UK toward the end of September as Team GB’s Paralympic athletes outperformed their able-bodied counterparts, succeeding in not only beating their target medal count, but coming in overall second in the medals table.
With 64 Gold medals and 147 medals overall, disabled British athletes’ medal count was only bettered by the Chinese Paralympians in medal count.
Winning several golds in cycling and swimming, Paralympians such as Lee Pearson and Kadeena Cox secured the country’s position as a powerful sporting contender, whilst Dame Sarah Storey became Britain’s most successful female Paralympian this year as she tallied a total of fourteen gold medals across seven Paralympic games.
The credit for achievement lies not only with British Paralympians, however. An unprecedented number of Paralympic, Olympic and World records were broken across the board.
On several occasions, Paralympians exceeded their more well-known and able-bodied counterparts – four of the Mens 1500m Paralympic runners finished faster than the Olympians, with the visually-impaired Algerian runner Abdellatif Baka finishing a full 1.7 seconds faster than the run by the American Olympic champion, Matthew Centrowitz.
"on several occasions, Paralympians exceeded their more well-known and able-bodied counterparts"
Nigeria’s Lauritta Onye beat her own world record in the shot-put F-40 event with a remarkable 8.40m throw. Likewise Britain’s Jo Butterfield bettered her own world record in the club-throw F-51, whilst Cramlington based club-thrower Stephen Miller, who suffers from cerebral palsy, achieved a bronze medal in the same field as Butterfield.
Whilst televised media of the Paralympics was extremely limited in comparison to Olympic coverage, the successes of our disabled athletes has not been ignored. On the 17th October, their successes, and the successes of British and Northern Irish Olympic athletes, will be celebrated via a parade through Manchester and a commemoration in London.