Sporting Hopes for 2016

It being Christmas Day and all, I thought I’d share some sporting hopes for the coming year.

Inspire a Generation

With so many good memories of London 2012, I do hope Rio de Janeiro can do a similar job in 206

Euro 2016 being both entertaining and passing off without incident

This coming year sees something of an experiment coming to the fore. The first 24-team European Championships has seen a refreshing band of countries – the likes of Wales, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Albania – join Europe’s usual elite. As usual though, Scotland aren’t there. The group stage in particular will be interesting to see if it lives up to previous 16-team European Championships. In previous Euros, every group game was as important as the last – with 24 teams and with only 8 going out in the first round, there may be the potential for sides drawing three games and still going through. Here’s hoping that’s not the case and we see some open, attractive football in France next summer.

The more important hope, and frankly if the Euros have 51 0-0 drawn games this is still more important, I would really like the whole thing to go off without anything horrible happening. Given events in Paris in November I imagine the French and indeed European security services will be planning down to the finest detail – one can only hope that whatever measures are put in place work, and the hundreds of thousands of supporters have a safe as well as an enjoyable tournament, whether their team finishes first or last.

Rio 2016 is almost as good as London 2012

This year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have had something of a troubled gestation. Not long after the Games were awarded to Rio, the proposed athletics stadium was closed for a year due to structural problems. There continue to be questions asked over how clean the water will be for the sailing and open water swimming events. The world is awaiting something of a logistical disaster to occur in Brazil in the summer, I fear.

Nonetheless, there have been previous Olympic Games, and other massive sporting events, where similar worries have been espoused only to be blown out of the water. We were constantly told that Brazil wasn’t ready to host the World Cup in 2014, with the same story for South Africa four years previously. As it was, both events were fantastic, with the quality of football on show in Brazil among the best in World Cups since perhaps 1986.

Previous Summer Olympics have not had their troubles to seek either. London 2012 went way over budget (particularly when someone remembered to add VAT to the bill) but was still a fantastic success. Athens in 2004 was finished at the last minute but still put on a fantastic show in the Games’ spiritual home, thought that largesse perhaps looks a little silly given Greece’s economic woes.

So my hope? That Rio de Janeiro puts on an Olympic Games that Brazil and South America can be proud of, and that the world can enjoy almost or as much as it enjoyed those exemplary games in London nearly four years ago.

Leicester City to get into the UEFA Champions League (at least)

My last Christmas hope is for a bit of a football fairytale come that Sunday afternoon in mid-May when the Premier League season comes to a close. Leicester City have had a wonderful season so far, playing attractive counter-attacking football when so many other sides have played in such a dirgey fashion (I’m looking at you LVG). In Jamie Vardy they have a player in the form of his life, while in Riyad Mahrez they have a potentially world-class player.

If both can hang around until the end of the season, with not too much of a drop-off in form across their starting eleven, Leicester could well finish in the top four of the Premier League. And what an incredible story that would be – particularly given they were widely tipped (by such ill-informed people as, er, me) for relegation earlier this season.

Some predictions for 2016 to follow, probably on Hogmanay. 

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Linlithgow Rose v Wick Academy, 22 December 2015

Another year, another early round Scottish Cup tie at Linlithgow to enjoy. This was a third round replay, with the victors at home to Forfar Athletic in round four.

The tie itself had something of a tricky history. The first game in Wick was postponed 40 minutes prior to kick off, with away fans having made the wasted 500-odd mile round trip and Rose putting themselves up at no little expense in the Marine Hotel in Brora.

Postponement then followed postponement due to the waterlogged nature of Academy’s pitch, until a month after that late postponement the sides drew 2-2 at Harmsworth Park. Wick were behind for most of the match before bagging an injury time equaliser to take the tie back to the former palatial home of the Scottish monarchy.

I’d never experienced a tie played under floodlights at Prestonfield, my previous visits having mostly taken place during daylight hours. To say that the floodlights at Linlithgow bathed the ground in a luminous pool would be a lie, but they just about did the job.

Linlithgow Rose v Wick Academy

Linlithgow in floodlight, pre-match.

There was a healthy crowd at Prestonfield with a few Wick fans having made the 13-hour round trip south, including some colurfully attired supporters. Rose’s starting line up included, alongside the stalwarts of Coyne and Shirra, former Hearts and Raith forward Graham “Mickey” Weir.

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A couple of the colourful Wick fans who made the long journey south

The men from Caithness showed no tiredness from their mammoth journey and took the lead early on, Sam Mackay finishing well with barely five minutes gone. Lithgae seemed a little unnerved by their opponents in defence but levelled after 20 minutes, Graham Weir finishing well after Batchelor’s good run and cross down the left.

The game then changed markedly after Wick midfielder Grant Campbell was sent off on 24 minutes. His challenge was reckless but a red was perhaps a little harsh. Having said that, Campbell almost asked the referee to make the difficult decision, and make it the referee did.

Nine minutes later, Lithgae were in front, with left back Ryan Baptie (or Batty on Livescore) obliging with a screamer from the edge of the area to make it 2-1, following a Rose set piece which went largely horribly wrong.

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Some slightly blurry second half action

 

9 minutes before half time, Colin Strickland beat the Scorries’ keeper in the air from Weir’s cross to make it 3-1. There was no further action before half time and there was time for the 1000-plus crowd at Prestonfield to take a breath, and (for me) to indulge in an exemplary pie and Bovril.

The goals continued in the second half, Ruari MacLennan finishing well from the edge of the area on 52 minutes to make it 4-1, following some excellent hold-up play from Tommy Coyne on the edge of ‘e Scorries’ area.

5 minutes after the fourth Rose goal, Wick were down to 9 men. Davie Allan was shown a second yellow for diving, the first having been earned in stramash after Campbell’s red card challenge in the first half. One can imagine his manager not being too sympathetic with that red card. 5-1 swiftly followed the second red on 66 minutes, with Ruari MacLennan easily beating the offside trap to sidefoot past the away keeper.

Rose then mostly spent the remainder of the match as if they were in a slightly high intensity training match. Some lovely one touch passing moves were on show but no further goals were scored. To Wick’s credit they did not give up, with goalscorer Sam Mackay never stopping for the 90 minutes and coming close once or twice to reducing the deficit as the game trundled to a close.

In all, a largely solid performance from Rose, though they were perhaps given a hand by the referee. Had Wick kept 11 men on the park, they may have been able to gain more from their good spell in the first half. As it is, Linlithgow will face Forfar Athletic at Prestonfield on Saturday 9 January 2016.

Linlithgow Rose 5-1 Wick Academy (Weir, Batty, Strickland, R. MacLennan x 2; S. Mackay)