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Anorak | Paying The Penalty

Paying The Penalty

by | 24th, December 2004

‘OKAY, so when have we heard this before?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

England qualify for the summer’s major football tournament with a brave 0-0 draw at the home of their major rival and come in to it full of hope.

They qualify from their group in second place, a late goal having deprived them of the top spot – as a young teenage sensation captures the world’s imagination.

They draw their first game in the knock-out stage 2-2, but only after a headed Sol Campbell goal had been controversially disallowed (by a referee who is then hounded by England fans).

And they lose on penalties…

Yes, there was more than a hint of the 1998 World Cup about this year’s European Championship failure, even to the pillorying of David Beckham in the aftermath.

Beckham’s fault on this occasion was not to get sent off – if only! – but to cap a series of lacklustre performances with a botched penalty.

The ground moved for the England skipper, not judging by his text messages for the first time that year, and he ended up sending the vital kick into orbit.

The Portuguese, on the other hand, all managed to overcome the shifting tectonic plates and retain their footing, dumping England out of Euro 2004 in the quarter-final stage.

There was a sense of déjà vu too about much of the sporting year as footballers disgraced themselves on and off the pitch, Phil “The Power” Taylor won the world darts crown and England’s cricketers carried all before them.

Sorry? Yes, it may be hard to believe but England’s much-derided cricket side won 11 out of the 12 Tests they have played this calendar year, including a record eight in a row.

This didn’t stop the Sun laying into captain Michael Vaughan in one of the most spectacularly inept bits of sports journalism of our time.

It’s a mad world when Vaughan, as the most successful England captain ever, can get pilloried, while Paula Radcliffe is lionised for failing to complete not one but two races.

Britain’s top athlete broke down in tears two-thirds of the way through the Olympic marathon and followed it up days later by pulling out halfway through the 10,000m.

But that was soon forgotten as Kelly Holmes made history in winning both the 800m and 1,500m, the men’s 4x100m team won an improbable gold and the men’s coxed four snatched a dramatic gold in the rowing.

All in all, it was a successful Olympics for Britain – which meant we got about half as many medals as Australia.

In tennis, Tim Henman gallantly failed to win any Grand Slams, but he did confirm his place as the best British man for half a century by reaching the semi-finals of the French and US Opens.

In rugby, England spent most of the year suffering from a thundering post-World Cup hangover, which they only started to shake off towards the end of the year.

In golf, Europe thrashed the Americans in the Ryder Cup by the kind of margin by which they used to beat us.

And Tiger Woods was knocked off the top of the world rankings by Fijian Vijay Singh.

But, as usual, darts provided the most enduring image of the sporting year when Andy “The Viking” Fordham pulled out of his showdown with Phil “The House” Taylor suffering from heat exhaustion.

Paula Radcliffe knows how he feels…’



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