What a year for a world in turmoil: crisis, riots, revolution and economic catastrophe. And that’s just Manchester City. Meanwhile, there’s the cheering news that next year’s even more calamitous financial armageddon will coincide with London hosting a fortnight’s sporting event costing, oh, £23 million an hour give or take some change. Ah yes, 2011 — we will miss you dearly.
But after a canny trip to the bookies, some highly complex leveraging against future gains, and by cashing in the remnants of a pension, this column has secured a few bottles of Asti for the traditional end-of-year awards ceremony. With Manchester’s Euro downgrade affecting both blue and red halves of the city, you can now get 8-1 against Fergie’s lot lifting the highly prestigious Europa League trophy. What could possibly go wrong? So let’s raise a plastic cup to the sporting achievements — and scandals — that gave us cause for distraction.
Two fine couples head the lists for the romance of the year. Denmark’s tennis world No. 1, Caroline Wozniacki, deserves special commendation for finding the only young man on the planet earning more than her: boyfriend Rory McIlroy has picked up $12.5 million compared with the lovely Caroline’s paltry $11.5 million. Wozilroy, as the Belfast press prefer to have them, are like a fiendish experiment to create offspring with genetically perfect ball control. She has the Hollywood looks, he has the, er, Holywood looks.
But mistletoe and alcohol-free wine for Mark Cavendish, not only one of the star performers of British sport in 2011, winning the Green Jersey in the Tour de France and becoming road cycling’s world champion, but then proving his prowess in the romantic pursuit by stepping out with überfabulous glamour model Peta Todd, who’s soon to become a mother. Then again, with Mark at 5ft 9in and her wearing six-inch Louboutins and towering over him at the palace when he picked up his richly deserved MBE, she already has one little Cavendish to look after.
The Robbie Savage Strictly Hairbrushing award for male grooming, a £100 Estée Lauder voucher presented by Liz and Shane Hurley, nearly went to Wayne Rooney. He revealed his new look by tweeting a picture of a blooded scalp with the immortal phrase, ‘Hi all there’s my head’. Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta is a man who knows a thing or two about hair gel. For surviving a year’s worth of football without a hair on his head ever moving from the perfect matinee idol position, the honour is all his.
The Corinthian Spirit award is much prized in the genteel world of cricket. A mention in despatches for M.S. Dhoni and his Indian team, who snatched survival from the jaws of almost certain lynching at Edgbaston by letting Ian Bell off the hook in the most ridiculous run-out ever. The chaps at Test Match Special put it into words rather milder than those used by the crowd: ‘That is an incident that could well cause an issue.’ Bell, of course, absolutely had it coming, but that’s not the point.
The award has to go to two great sportsmen from Port Vale. Back in February, struggling manager Jim Gannon and his assistant Geoff Horsfield didn’t necessarily see eye to eye over a few pre-match preparations, which livened up the team bus trip to Aldershot. First Gannon stormed off at one service station. Then Horsfield upped and went at the next stop-off. Happy days. Still, they patched things up and bagged a 2-1 away win to boot.
The Jonny Wilkinson award for dedication and preparation could well have gone to Jonny himself this year. After a long career spent tirelessly kicking on cold training grounds when all others were safe in the bar downing pints, brawling and hurling dwarfs, Jonny found a way to improve even his preparations — carrying his favoured ball around the World Cup from game to game. Sadly it doesn’t qualify as it was found to be both completely illegal and completely mad.
So the winner is Mario Balotelli. In future, he will be always be fêted for his Moneyball-style attention to the finer points of match preparation. Take his work before the Manchester derby. As United loomed large, how better to prepare than a firework display with chums? Only they launched the rockets from the bathroom, at 1 a.m., out the window. One is thought to have fallen on to a pile of towels and the rest — well, it was a £400,000 repair bill and a chapter in the rich history of the Cheshire Fire Service. But then he scored two in the 6-1 win at Old Trafford, and bagged a role as a local firework safety ambassador, so who are we to argue?
Finally, the highlight of the night, the John Terry family values award, has been hotly contested over the past 12 months. Mike Tindall found himself welcomed into the bosom of a new close-knit bunch. No, not the Dwarf Advocacy Association, nor the Queens-town Social Club, but the Windsors, and he took his place alongside his new wife’s grandfather as a cultural ambassador to the Commonwealth.
But the family that brawls together stays together, and for a sporting hero who truly punched above his weight in 2011, we need look no further than Lucien Harinordoquy. His moment of fame came when his son, Imanol, the French No. 8 since time began and not the kind who typically struggles to look after himself, became involved in the inevitable scrap between local rivals Biarritz and Bayonne at the Aguilera stadium (no relation to Christina).
Not wishing to see anything untoward happen to his 17-stone, 6ft4 offspring, the 68-year-old ran on to the field of play to help out. He took a few swings but was brought to the ground by the kind of tackle that might have left Manu Tuilagi in need of a hip replacement. Bless him though, M. Harinordoquy Snr was escorted off the pitch, entirely unruffled, without so much as an adjustment of his specs. A man who truly put the Basque into basket case, and also the proud winner of this column’s Sporting Hero of the Year.
His son, incidentally, was once quoted as saying: ‘As long as we beat England, I won’t mind if we lose every other game. The only memories I have of England and the English are unpleasant ones. I have decided to adopt the same attitude as them. I despise them as much as they despise everybody else.’ Bring on 2012, and the Six Nations, eh?
Roger Alton is an executive editor of the Times.