2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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A Year of Blog, A Year of Sport

It’s been a good year for the old blog, so I just wanted to briefly thank everyone for reading my stuff over the past year and ask you to  please keep coming back next year. The last few months in particular have provided some (for me) big page-viewing numbers, with the Olympics, the Craig Demmin interview and my trip to the Vicente Calderon being the obvious highlights.  The past year has also taught me that self-promotion is the key; yes I do plug my blog posts quite eagerly on Facebook and Twitter, but it needs to be done.

Inspire a Generation

The phrase of the summer, and the legacy of 2012’s fantastic 12 months of sport.

Experiencing one of the most incredible years of sport of my lifetime has certainly helped, providing some inspiration particularly in late July and early August. Euro 2012, the Olympics, the Paralympics, Andy Murray winning the US Open, the Ryder Cup and the tense end to the F1 drivers’ championship were just some of the highlights. Putting these events in a small list doesn’t really do them justice.

As I mentioned back in August, the Olympics were just fantastic and were the pinnacle of the year for me. From Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony to Anthony Joshua’s gold medal on the final day (the less said about the closing ceremony, the better), they inspired a nation and made us all forget about the country’s economic woes for a fortnight. We rediscovered some pride in being British, and thanks to the sharp focus on the Games’ “legacy”, the UK should have excellent sporting facilities at its disposal for the next 30 or 40 years. The work being done in Glasgow at the moment in preparation for the 2014 Commonwealth Games should extend this legacy and enthusiasm for sport – I certainly saw a demonstration of that earlier this month in Glasgow with several thousand in attendance at the Glasgow World Cup Gymnastics .

In all, just a magnificent year of sport, both for the neutral and especially for the Brit. 2013 doesn’t have the same potential for highlights but I hope it provides me with enough to write about and keep the page views on the rise.

Champions League Draw

Wembley Stadium

The venue for this season’s Champions League final

The draw for the last 16 of this season’s Champions League was made on Thursday, and the 8 ties spat out are rather intriguing to say the least. There’s no clear favourite in any of the ties (perhaps bar one), with the draw managing to throw together teams of similar standing and ability across the piece.

The obvious stand-out match is Real Madrid v Manchester United. It was always going to be a risk for any of the group winners going into the draw, but the fact that United have been pulled out to play the chaps in white makes for a special tie. The only thing one might say is it’s unfortunately early for a tie of this stature to come out. Real are struggling (comparatively) in La Liga so will be focusing all their efforts on winning a tenth Champions League (La Decima), while the red half of Manchester have been fairly dominant, if not very convincing, on domestic duties in England (and indeed in Europe). It should be quite a 2 legs, with the return of Cristiano Ronaldo obviously adding further spice to the occasion – I fancy it will be Ronaldo’s current side who advance to the quarter-finals.

9 Champions Leagues

The Real supporters will want another “Cup with the Big Ears” added to this collection.

The other British interest in the draw is in Arsenal v Bayern Munich and Celtic v Juventus. Although Bayern generally don’t have a marvellous time against English sides in this tournament, they do have a good record against Arsenal in this competition, and are generally tearing up the Bundesliga at the moment. They should go through, along with Juventus. Celtic’s reward for defeating Barcelona in the East End of Glasgow is a match which I think looks (on paper) the most one-sided of the round. Juve finished top of their group with some ease and are again looking unlikely to be overtaken in Serie A. If the Italians add a top-class striker in January, Celtic’s atmosphere-based home advantage and (in comparison with previous years) good away record in this season’s tournament may be difficult to maintain.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund is possibly the best of the rest in terms of the last 16 ties. Shakhtar are extremely strong in their home stadium (the hyper-futuristic Donbass Arena), while Dortmund, though struggling a little in the Bundesliga, have taken rather well to this season’s competition, particularly in finishing ahead of Real Madrid in their group. I fancy the Germans to go through, and their local rivals Schalke should emerge victorious from their tie against Galatasaray, with the possibility of a Ruhr Valley derby in the quarter finals. This may be, of course, rather dependent on whether or not Klaas-Jan Huntelaar fancies hanging around the Veltins Arena until after the 31st of January next year.

AC Milan v Barcelona, meanwhile,is a bit of a Champions League classic, with the two sides having faced one another many times in the competition, indeed as recently as last year’s group stage. The two sides have been drifting away from one another in recent years in terms of quality (Milan going down; Barca going up), and given the two sides’ league form this season the chaps in blue and red should get through to the quarter-finals as they chase a third Champions League trophy in five years.

There is Spanish interest in the last two ties, with Valencia facing off against Paris Saint-Germain, while Porto face Malaga. PSG tend to blow hot and cold, often relying on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to get them through league games, though Valencia’s league form is at its worst for many years. I have a sneaking suspicion the Parisians will find their way into the last 8. Meanwhile, Malaga should get through in the last tie, partly because UEFA has just excluded them from next year’s tournament, regardless of their final league position come May 2013, as well as their excellent showing in the group stage as one of the first qualifiers for the knockout stage. Theirs has been quite a story this season, with their Qatari money from last season seemingly being withdrawn and having to cope with the departure, on the relative cheap, of Santi Cazorla to Arsenal. The Andalusians should have just enough to see of Jose Mourinho’s old team.

Quite a few weeks in February ahead of us then; one only hopes the remaining rounds of the Champions League throw up a similar range of interesting ties.

East Fife v Stranraer, 18 December 2012

East Fife v Stranraer

All ready to go at New Bayview

A midweek sojurn to New Bayview saw my first home match of the season and my first East Fife match since my trip to Ibrox in August. With three successive wins under new manager Billy Brown, the home supporters (including me) were full of confidence going into a match against a side who’d conceded 6 at home to the Fife earlier in the season. Stranraer were, however, buoyed somewhat by their excellent win against Alloa at the weekend.

Kick-off came and East Fife roared out of the blocks, exerting pressure on the Stranraer defence from the off. Loanee Bobby Barr was pulling the strings for the home side, while Collin Samuel was providing some classy touches. His classiest probably came on 7 minutes, flicking the ball through for the otherwise ineffective Liam Gormley, who brought a fantastic save out of Stranraer keeper David Mitchell. Later in the half, Samuel turned and struck Mitchell’s left-hand post from 25 yards out with the goalkeeper stranded.

The first half hour of the match belonged to East Fife, with the home side dominating possession yet not creating too many clear-cut chances. That profligacy was punished on 34 minutes, with Stranraer taking the lead. It was an extremely scrappy one, but Craig Malcolm got a decisive touch which put the ball agonisingly beyond the grasp of Calum Antell.

Half-time arrived with Stranraer one-up, despite the dominance of the side in red and black (rather than the usual black and gold). A bit of a half-time shouting from manager Billy Brown seemed to have been the order of the evening when East Fife came out for the second half a long way ahead of their opponents.

East Fife

The home team come out very early for the second half.

The second half followed a similar pattern to the first. East Fife dominated possession, had chances to score but simply could not convert, with the final ball often lacking. Jamie Pollock (who came on for the ever-reliable Darren Smith after he had to go off injured) hit a post, Collin Samuel was not far away with a header and local boy Craig Johnstone should have done better when he hit his opportunity into the side netting with the goal looking inviting in front of him.

In all, Stranraer’s victory led to a frustrating night for the home fans who made up the vast majority of the 441 crowd on a cold December evening, and a brought a bit of a slam back to reality after an encouraging run under new boss Billy Brown. A home match against Stenhousemuir follows on Saturday, with away games at Forfar and Arbroath to follow thereafter. From a personal point of view, at least I’ve now been to see the side I’ve supported since the age of 6 more times than Atletico Madrid this season.

East Fife's home ground

An empty (other than the stewards) New Bayview.

East Fife 0-1 Stranraer (Malcolm)

Glasgow World Cup Gymnastics – 8 December 2012

It’s not every day you see a man trying his hardest at a top-class sport, land on his backside and be met with a blast of “Barbra Streisand.” But that’s what Saturday brought. Clare and I took a trip to the shiny new Emirates Arena in the East End of Glasgow for the  Glasgow leg of the 2012 Gymnastics World Cup. After navigating some overzealous SPT staff at Buchanan Bus Station in the city centre, and being dumped in some random seats by the not-entirely-helpful G4S staff at “this wonderful new arena” (Jill Douglas must have said that at least three times), it was time (half an hour late) to get into the day’s action.

That action involved a men’s and women’s all-around competition, with the scores on each piece of apparatus (4 for the ladies, 6 for the chaps) being totted up to find the day’s winner. And what a day it was. The women’s field contained a former World Champion, a couple of plucky Brits and the reserve for the American Olympic team, while the men’s included another two Brits and the men’s silver and bronze medallists from the Olympic all-around competition. A good day’s sport was just round the corner.

The brand new Emirates Arena in Glasgow in full gymnastics mode

The brand new Emirates Arena in Glasgow in full gymnastics mode

From the off, it was patently clear that Elizabeth Price (the aforementioned American) was going to absolutely walk the ladies’ field, and so she did, scoring consistently higher than her fellow competitors in all 4 events and winning in the end by more than 4 points, a chasm in gymnastics scoring terms. The British interest, in Rebecca Tunney and Niamh Rippin, managed a respectable 5th and 6th place, though Tunney was in the running for a medal until the third piece of apparatus.

Glasgow World Cup

Some Balance Beam practice

There was, however, some genuine competitiveness in the mens’ field. The UK’s Daniel Purvis, and Marcel Nguyen of Germany were soon involved in a ding-dong battle for the gold. Kristian Thomas, the other British competitor, who with Purvis had been so solid in the bronze-medal winning team at the 2012 Olympics, had a day to forget. As well as being the man who had the misfortune to land on his bottom to the strains of “Streisand” after an off-centre vault, he also fell off the pommel horse and the horizontal bar.

Home hopes were down, therefore, to Mr Purvis. After building something of a lead on the vault, it was mostly taken away from him after Nguyen’s excellent showing on the parallel bars. It was all down to the high bar as to who took home the gold medal. Japanese gymnast Kazuhito Tanaka put in a strong showing; then Nguyen did just enough to sneak ahead of him into first place. It came down to Purvis, who put in a solid if unspectacular routine. Which unfortunately left him 0.3 short of Nguyen, and a still-decent third-place finish.

Eventual winner Marcel Nguyen of Germany on the rings.

Eventual winner Marcel Nguyen of Germany on the rings.

In all, a great day’s sport – 6 hours of top-class gymnastics in a brand spanking new venue was not to be sniffed at – with “Barbra” flipping “Streisand” still ringing my ears, it was time to head back into town, again courtesy of overzealous SPT man.

In case anyone wants to get in quick for next year (7 December 2013), early bird tickets are being released this Sunday – see the Glasgow Life website for details. With the Commonwealth Games just 18 months away, the Gymnastics World Championships at the new Hydro in 2015 and a bid for the Youth Olympics in 2018 in the offing, it promises to be quite a few years for Glaswegian and Scottish sport.