2011 has yet again served up a footballing platter of delight, with Mario Balotelli at one end of the table banging his fists on the woodwork and Pele at the other end in a triangular power struggle with Messi and Neymar, whilst Sir Alex Ferguson revels in his 25th year in charge at Manchester United and Arsene Wenger continues his creche project down at the Emirates: all this is going on with the continuous shaking of hands under the watchful eye of Sepp Blatter, making sure no offence is caused, whilst causing offence himself.
Many favourite moments on yesterday’s Twitter trending hashtag,#2011Footballmemories, culminated with tales of tragedy, tenacity and typical Mario Balotelli behaviour and so much so, that it began trending as its own entity: #2011favouritebalotellimoment. The mischievous, yet overly generous, intelligent, yet overly simplistic and clever, yet overly crazy Balotelli could dominate a whole story with his tales of 2011. Over the past 12 months, Mad Mario has: taken an iPad with him to sit on the substitute bench to play Angry Birds, celebrated a 6-1 derby victory with a ”Why Always Me?” shirt, winked at Rio Ferdinand as the England defender bulged out of his very shirt, given £200 at a midnight mass, caused fire damage at his own house with fireworks before becoming an ambassador for a fire safety campaign, confronted a school bully, jokingly asked a reporter who Jack Wilshere is, announced he has an allergy to grass and displayed signs if ineptitude when it comes to sporting clothes, when he struggled to put on a bib in a warm up. I am certainly a fan of Mario Balotelli.
On a personal level, 2011 is full of brilliant footballing memories for me as a Saints fan: it has been the most successful year we’ve enjoyed in my life time and the achievements of the club under the Italian eye of Nicola Cortese and the fluid passing mentality of inspirational manager Nigel Adkins and tactician Andy Crosby, have been nothing short of record breaking.
In 2011, finishing with a loss against Bristol City on Friday night, Southampton F.C have gone over 12 calendar months unbeaten in league games at home (and their only league loss was the one last night), set a new club record of a 21-match winning home run and won promotion from League 1, to set sail straight to the Premier League, leading the pack at the top of the Championship going into 2012.
Meanwhile, Adam Lallana and Jose Fonte have both signed new long-term deals, Rickie Lambert is the top scorer in the Championship silencing all of his pre-season critics and Lallana was officially recognised as the best player of the Championship by a fans poll conducted bytheseventytwo.
However, it hasn’t just been Mario Balotelli and my hometown club that has made 2011 for me: England have managed to qualify for an international competition once more, with the idea of Wilshere, Cleverley, Sturridge, Jones and Rodwell genuinely exciting me about an England team for the first time since 2002; the PL has served up mammoth results at the top of the table with Man Utd 8-2 Arsenal, Man utd 1-6 Man City, Chelsea 2-1 Man City, Arsenal 5-3 Chelsea, Man Utd 3-1 Chelsea and Barcelona have continued to dominate club football across the world while supplying the majority of the Spanish first team, who continuously impress against all opposition and expectantly go into Euro 2012 as favourites to win the Championship back-to-back.
However, the game has had its low points too and they’re the moments that can tarnish the game’s reputation or remind the world that football is, after all, just a game in the wider context of life. Racism has seemingly dominated the last quarter of the 2011 footballing year and it all stemmed from a comment “lost in translation” from the Uruguayan Luis Suarez to the Frenchman Patrice Evra, heightened by John Terry’s alleged remarks that have resulted in a CPS investigation, empowered with an 8-match ban for Luis Suarez, but made a mockery of throughout by Sepp Blatter and his slapdash remarks in defence of the game he is responsible for, “There is no racism, maybe a word or gesture that is not correct, [but] the one affected by this should say this is a game and shake hands.” Furthermore, the loss of footballing greats such as Socrates and Gary Speed, particularly the way in which the latter left us, has put the game into perspective: it as after all, just a game.
However, the good bits, the rushes of adrenaline such as Jonathan Forte scoring a brace against MK Dons to draw the game level from 2-down, the fist pumping moments, such as Richard Chaplow’s goal against Manchester United and the hug a stranger moments, such as Rickie Lambert’s goal against Portsmouth, have made 2011 great for me and for the footballing world. Everyone’s year would have been made by different clubs, different players and different outcomes: in 2009, mine was that I still had a club to support thanks to the generosity of Markus Liebherr, in 2010 it was winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and in 2011 it was promotion to the Championship and then going into the New Year top. Next year I hope I can go into 2013 supporting a Premier League club, but what has been your favourite moment of 2011 and what are you proud to go into 2012 having experienced?
Tell us below