2017 was a year, wasn’t it? Every one of its three hundred and sixty five days definitely added up to a year. And on some of those days there was sport. And some of that sport was significantly more interesting than some of the other sport. Let me tell you about some of the bits I found more interesting.
I’d never seen England in a World Cup final and my younger son had never been to Lord’s. Killing a maximum number of birds with a minimum of stones we went to the ICC Women’s World Cup final. England had got there as the script demanded but they did not look anything like invincible; India were there when everyone had expected the opponents to be Australia. A full house witnessed a full on contest. In the end, the debate was whether India had thrown it away or England belatedly proved worthy champions. Anya Shrubsole’s wickets were the difference and by the end I didn’t have much of a voice left. I do want it noted that long after the sensible adults were preparing themselves for defeat my boy still believed his girls could do it. He had faith and he was right.
But even that wasn’t the best moment in women’s sport in 2017. UConn basketball hadn’t lost since the Declaration of Independence. Mississippi State weren’t going to beat them. But then … this happened and everything went crazy. I haven’t enjoyed an audience explosion like that since Aguero won the title for Manchester City.
The Women’s Handball World Championship never really fired this year with too many of the less-fancied nations living down their billing and the decline of Brazil, champions in 2013, continuing. But we did get a great final – one which twisted and turned before France emerged victorious, beating out Norway (whose title tally remains alarmingly small with 3) 23-21. Apparently if you cut out the fastbreaks and muscle up in defence then Norway can be beaten. France are also men’s world champions too. They beat Norway in their final. Sometimes mirrors don’t invert things.
Because, let’s not forget, men also play sport. Houston and Los Angeles played out a brutal World Series that deserved a game 7 but then didn’t quite get the game 7 it deserved. I’m very biased but the Cubs taking their glory in Cleveland in extras remains the most compelling title decider even if, overall, this series was clearly a better watch for the neutrals. Still, we did get to see an imploding Yu Darvish and lots of other fun things. The Cubs had a decent season that felt like a letdown after the dreamland of 2016. There are worse things.
Yorkshire didn’t win any titles which means I need to go back and look over the cricket scores. England achieved moderate levels of success in the summer before the sadly foreseeable Ashes debacle but I spent far too much time getting worked up about how the ECB seems to regard domestic cricket as an irritant rather than an asset. My 2018 resolution is thus to watch Sussex more.
I’m always fearful when international rugby league rolls around. I want it to succeed and am aware of how fragile the foundations on which it stands are. It’s like a precious piece of art that you know could be destroyed if its exposed to the light too often. Anyway, Australia won the World Cup in both genders because, well, that was always going to happen. But Tonga and Fiji beat New Zealand, and then Tonga gave England the fright of their lives, before England put in a performance to be proud of in the final. Couple that with the fire that burns for the game in PNG and you have a moderate level of success. It might have been a perfect year if Castleford had won the title having been so inspiring in the regular season but, sadly, they almost blew it in their home semi final before definitively running out of steam in the Grand Final. Leeds always find a way.
Ticking things off: I finally saw football at the new Wembley having only been there for rugby league before. Harry Kane scored a goal, so far so normal, but West Brom took a point off Spurs, which didn’t feel like it was part of the plan. I also made it to the World Athletics Championships. A good time was had by all. A man called Usain Bolt bowed in my vicinity in acknowledgement of the ending of an era and Britain won some medals. Who knows, with the way bans are handed out now they may even have won a few we don’t yet know about.
And I think that’s about it for me. I took my camera to some games, and went to a few without it. I now know the car park in Kidlington isn’t as big as they claim and that the officials in British American Football announce their decisions like they do in the NFL (you just can’t hear them). Also that the tea bar at Bexhill will put pepper in your Bovril meaning there is hope for civilisation yet. And there remains the greatest pleasure to be had in idly firing up the TV and finding there’s a game between a team in blue and a team in red and suddenly finding that you give a monkey’s about which one of them will emerge triumphant.
That, then, was my year in sport. 2017. There you go.