As a British sporting year goes, it doesn’t get much better than the stupendously glorious 2019, does it? Where were you on July 14 for example, when the eyes of the world were on Lord’s, Wimbledon and Silverstone?
Where were you on June 1, when two English teams invaded Madrid for only the second all-English Champions League final, after two unbelievable semi-final comebacks?
Where were you throughout England’s inspiring Women’s World Cup campaign, or when England beat the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup, or when Dina Asher-Smith and Katerina Johnson-Thompson clinched athletics gold in Doha?
As we enter a new decade, this year could stake a claim for the crown of Britain’s best of the 21st century. But 2012 and the rip-roaring stories that accompanied the Olympics in London would say otherwise.
Jos Buttler breaks the stumps in the super-over for an England victory in the Cricket World Cup
Jessica Ennis was the star attraction on ‘Super Saturday’ at the 2012 London Olympics
It’s a tough call. Take this year’s Cricket World Cup final for example. The pinnacle of the sport, at the home of cricket, with a first global championship on the line for both England and New Zealand.
An implausible bat-deflection, champagne super-over, bizarre boundaries-scored-criteria later, and England were world champions. Theatre, performance and achievement? Tick.
Super Saturday at London 2012 takes a similar biscuit. Three golds, for three British athletes, on August 4. Outside bet Greg Rutherford, poster girl Jessica Ennis and long-distance superstar Mo Farah, all won gold within 44 minutes of each other.
Theatre, performance and achievement. Again, all features ticked. Super Saturday, in many ways, is so beautifully comparable to this year’s Super Sunday. As well as the drama in the cricket at Lord’s in mid-July, there was the small matter of the longest Wimbledon final ever between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, clinched by the former in a fifth-set tie-break 13-12, the first ever at The Championships in the men’s singles.
Oh, and Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix – an achievement not to be overlooked despite its regularity.
To football. Both years saw historic English Champions League triumphs – Chelsea in 2012 and Liverpool in 2019 – with both reaching the final showpiece after unlikely triumphs against Barcelona in the semis.
This year, Spurs’ comeback against Ajax, with Lucas Moura scoring in the fifth minute of injury-time, is surely up there with the most staggeringly exhilarating thrills only sport can offer. So much so that it probably trumped the Trent Alexander-Arnold to Divock Origi moment of ingenuity against Barca which sent the Reds to Madrid the night before.
Jordan Henderson lifts Liverpool’s sixth European Cup after a 2-0 win against Tottenham
Didier Drogba celebrates as Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in the 2012 Champions League final
Domestically, the Premier League title race in both cases went down to the wire with 2018-19 the best in terms of flawlessness – Manchester City prevailing on 98 points, with Liverpool just one behind.
Yet 2012 is the one that will always be talked about. Sergio Aguero’s stoppage-time winner against QPR to win City’s first title for 44 years, and deny rivals Manchester United, was beyond belief.
Sergio Aguero celebrates his unbelievable last-minute title winner on the final day in 2012
‘Watch it, drink it in,’ was the line used by Martin Tyler on that day at the Etihad. So appropriate, for so many other cases of sporting success that year.
Andy Murray, after falling agonisingly short at Wimbledon, finally broke his Grand Slam duck at the US Open in another five-set thriller. That, alongside Olympic gold, changed the perception of ‘Muzza’ with the majority of the British public.
It was fifth time lucky for Andy Murray in Grand Slam finals, as he won the 2012 US Open
A pointer towards Murray’s rollercoaster 2019 too. It started with a tearful announcement of imminent retirement; it ended with a career rejuvenated and a comeback on an upward turn after winning a title in Antwerp in October. Then another setback as he was forced to pull out of the Australian Open.
The year 2012 also belonged to Bradley Wiggins – way before he was knighted. Mere weeks after becoming the first Brit to win the Tour de France with Team Sky, he sauntered to time trial gold on the streets of London, and won the day with his iconic pose on the winners throne.
Bradley Wiggins with a memorable pose on the throne after he won gold at London 2012
Wiggins storms to the finish line in the Tour de France, becoming the first British cyclist to win the yellow jersey
Team GB, despite a concerning opening four days without a gold, in the end finished third in the medal table, with 65 medals split up into 29 gold, 17 silver and 19 bronze.
Although that feat was bettered four years later in Rio de Janeiro as they finished above China in second, a home Olympics which inspired so many and unified the country in such a monumental way will certainly live longer in the memory. And rightly so.
The 2012 Paralympics too changed the landscape of disability sport in this country, with Great Britain again finishing third with a total of 120 medals – 34 of which were gold.
Back to the present day, it really feels like 2019 was a game-changer for women’s sport. In a year which presented countless opportunities to broadcast, write and report on the best in their field, we were not disappointed.
The charge of Phil Neville’s Lionesses to the Women’s World Cup semi-finals certainly drew in the numbers, with 11.7million people tuning in to their heartbreaking defeat against eventual winners USA – one of the highest TV audiences of the year.
Lucy Bronze was England’s star player at the 2019 Women’s World Cup which gripped a nation
England also hosted the Netball World Cup, winning bronze, but it was in the IAAF World Championships where two outstanding athletes reached the pinnacle of their sport.
Dina Asher-Smith blew away the field in her charge to 200m gold (she also collected two silver medals in the 100m and the 4x100m relay) while it finally came together for Katerina Johnson-Thompson, as she won heptathlon gold and stepped out of the shadow of Ennis-Hill.
Dina Asher-Smith (L) and Katerina Johnson-Thompson won gold at the 2019 World Champs
The best of the rest? Europe’s ‘Miracle in Medinah’ in September 2012 will go down as the most unexpected comeback in the modern history of the Ryder Cup, as an Ian Poulter-inspired team stormed back on singles Sunday in Chicago. Rory McIlroy also won his second major at the US PGA Championship.
For one thing, it certainly says a lot that England’s run to the final of this year’s Rugby World Cup final is so far down the list. A stand-off against New Zealand in the semis alongside a near-perfect performance, was unfortunately not matched at the final as South Africa reigned supreme.
England’s V-formation ahead of the semi-final against New Zealand was one of the standout pictures of the whole 2019 Rugby World Cup – Eddie Jones’s side went onto reach the final
What happened stateside on June 1 shouldn’t be overlooked too, with Anthony Joshua’s defeat by Andy Ruiz Jr in New York perhaps the biggest shock of the lot. Retribution in the Saudi desert earlier this month means AJ’s career is back on track after a first professional loss.
And the one constant throughout both years? One for all you Welsh folk. Two Grand Slams in the Six Nations. Long live the reign of Warren Gatland.
So not to put a dampener on things as we head into a new decade, but it really cannot get much better than this.
That is until England win Euro 2020, and Team GB roll over every other country at the Tokyo Olympics. We can but dream.
Which year wins the overall battle? If you enjoy fence-sitting like me, 2019 for drama and 2012 for achievement. Yet the blend of both is irrevocably what makes sport, well, sport. Here’s to the next 10 years.