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Jonathan McEvoy reflects on British sport in 2012

'Unforgettable'… Jonathan McEvoy reflects on the greatest ever year of British sport

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UPDATED:

23:11 GMT, 27 December 2012

The lessons of a sporting lifetime were stood on their head in seven unforgettable months between the late spring and mid-winter of 2012.

Even if you were born in the immediate pre-War years, you knew no British chap could ever win a Grand Slam tennis tournament.

Think of the Olympics and the home-grown heroes were so conspicuously few that they were marked out for life. The Tour de France was marvelled at for its epic climbs but was still as Gallic as Brie and Bordeaux.

Outstanding: London 2012's opening ceremony reflected a superb year of sport

Outstanding: London 2012's opening ceremony reflected a superb year of sport

India’s cricketers traditionally dominate on the subcontinent. Our rugby lads had recently distinguished themselves at dwarf-throwing and little else. As for Manchester City, they had not won the title since Noah was a boy.

All this contributed to talk of vulnerability in the country’s competitive psyche. We had grown weary of the plucky-loser narrative but were still searching for a remedy when this annus mirabilis began.

Even the Barclays Premier League, the foremost sporting phenomenon of the past two decades, was losing a little of its lustre to Spain’s La Liga. But it was on the concluding, heart-stopping, see-sawing day of the season that the national game set the dramatic standard for the summer that was to come.

Sunday, May 13, 2012, the Etihad Stadium. The seemingly simple requirement for City to end their 44-year wait for the title was to beat Queens Park Rangers, the team with the worst away record in the League.

Champions: City finally secured the title in the most dramatic fashion possible

Champions: City finally secured the title in the most dramatic fashion possible

That would render a Manchester United win at Sunderland irrelevant, save a mathematical miracle. As we now know, City won 3-2 to finish top on goal difference. Mark Hughes’s QPR, who knew they would avoid relegation unless Bolton beat Stoke, stayed up. But those bare facts do not tell a fraction of the ebb and flow we will now briefly relive.

City had printed T-shirts with ‘Champions’ on but that seemed premature after Djibril Cisse cancelled out Pablo Zabaleta’s opening goal and Jamie Mackie’s magnificent header put QPR 2-1 up. United were winning 1-0. So dire were the portents at this stage for City that the catering trolley — pizza, pastries, and muffins — arrived in the dressing-room minus champagne.

David Platt, City’s assistant manager, who carried little son Charlie on to the pitch pre-match for his I-was-there moment, asked himself: ‘How has this happened’

Fans leave, some in tears. On the bench, City midfielder Gareth Barry spots a helicopter and thinks, wrongly, that the Premier League trophy is being taken to Sunderland. Micah Richards, an unused sub, is in the dressing room on his hands and knees.

But in the 90th minute, Edin Dzeko’s header makes it 2-2. Three minutes and 46 seconds of added time remain. Once-disconsolate fans turn back.

Saviour: Aguero's last-gasp goal was that which won City the Premier League

Saviour: Aguero's last-gasp goal was that which won City the Premier League

The Stoke-Bolton game is over and QPR know they are safe. Their supporters celebrate. And then, Sergio Aguero is played in by Mario Balotelli — a decisive and often overlooked contribution by the petulant one — to score the winner. Ecstasy is limitless. One press officer jumps on to the shoulders of a steward. Or — as it turned out — a doping official.

Jubilant manager Roberto Mancini is greeted by father Aldo, who has travelled from Italy despite heart problems. This afternoon can hardly have helped the old fellow’s ticker.

After a 10-month season the destination of the title was decided in a few fevered seconds. In Sunderland, Sir Alex Ferguson could hear the din generated by his noisy neighbours. On returning home it is understood he told Lady Ferguson he could not now retire for another year.

City, despite the influx of distorting money, had many neutrals with them. Chelsea, on the other hand, test the sympathy of all non-partisans. There was John Terry, found guilty of racism by the FA if cleared in a court of law. This was before his club made their own casual accusations of racism against later exonerated referee Mark Clattenburg.

Put that calumny together with the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo months after winning the Champions League and you could say Stamford Bridge has a knack of making itself look a basket case.

In the dock: John Terry's court case was one of the year's biggest negatives

In the dock: John Terry's court case was one of the year's biggest negatives

Still, credit where due for their vanquishing of Europe. After beating Barcelona — the team of another joy-giver of 2012, Lionel Messi, scorer of 91 goals over the year — they faced Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. Resolute but outplayed, Chelsea equalised with two minutes left through Didier Drogba.

Then Drogba, perhaps the ultimate terrace hero of Chelsea’s Russian roubles era, rolled in the winning penalty, his final act for the club. The Abramovich project had found its Holy Grail. And, yes, an English team had beaten a German team in a penalty shootout. We said this year was something novel.

Via a one-line mention of England’s negligible impact on the European Championship and Spain’s gracing of the tournament with a bedazzling brand of football, we move on to the boys of summer.

Bradley Wiggins was our first individual conqueror of the Olympic preamble. ‘I told my teacher there were two things I wanted to do when I grew up,’ Wiggins recalled. ‘I want to wear the Tour de France yellow jersey and win an Olympic gold medal. She told me I must be mad.’

Against the odds: Chelsea battled to an unlikely Champions League title

Against the odds: Chelsea battled to an unlikely Champions League title

Well, he is a little bit. Which road cyclist isn’t He has suffered despair and hit the bottle but self-sacrifice is a key ingredient of success. That means there are times he drinks water while wife Cath tucks into a club sandwich. His diet is so controlled that a package of food arrives each day. He eats out of the cartons supplied, perhaps a box of rice.

He is a 6ft 3in jockey, down from 82kg (12st 13lb) — his weight when he competed on the track at the Beijing Olympics four years ago — to 72kg (11st 5lb) for this year’s crusade, the third attempt by the British-run Team Sky to win the Tour de France.

Wiggins took the yellow jersey for the first time in his life on stage seven. He was then dominant in the mountains where the defending champion Cadel Evans had been expected to ask the hard questions. Wiggins ended up riding into Paris unassailable, his hands in the air down the Champs-Elysees.

No Briton had won the Tour in its 109-year history. He had done it, as far as every expert and all our instincts knew, clean of drugs. That was even more important after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his saintly reputation by the US Anti-Doping Agency in October. Their boss Travis Tygart is another hero of 2012.

Leading the way: Wiggins became Britain's first Tour de France champion

Leading the way: Wiggins became Britain's first Tour de France champion

Wiggins was still haunted by the crimes of the Nineties and the very Naughties, with malicious gossipers implying he was on the illegal juice. This is what he thought of those accusations: ‘It’s easy for them to sit there on Twitter under a pseudonym and write that sort of s*** rather than get off their own a**** and work hard to achieve something.’

Well said. But he could act as a sportsman as well as a straight-talker, slowing the peloton when tacks thrown on the road caused a puncture to Evans. The French called Wiggins Le Gentleman. Thankfully an eschewer of celebrity, sometimes unnecessarily caustic, he is certainly Monsieur Quirky. We hail him for his foibles and his brilliance. And to think Mark Cavendish, our fabulous sprinter, began 2012 as the pre-eminent name in British road cycling, to the extent that Wiggins was asked earlier in the year: ‘Do you think you’re the forgotten man’

Wiggins won Sports Personality of the Year and, in the view of this observer, rightly. The addition of his Olympic time-trial gold medal made his case irresistible. However, there was also a fine argument advanced on behalf of Andy Murray, who became Britain’s first male Grand Slam winner for 76 years.

Before that, Murray lost the Wimbledon final to Roger Federer before making one of the most lachrymose speeches centre court has witnessed. But back for the Olympics, he avenged that result.

Tears: Murray could not hide his emotion after losing the Wimbledon final

Tears: Murray could not hide his emotion after losing the Wimbledon final

My belief is that tennis — like football with its World Cup — should be axed from the Olympics as it does not represent the zenith of the sport. Yet Murray’s straight-sets gold-medal win over the Swiss master was gripping. It was the most popular BBC iPlayer broadcast of the Games.

With his latest coach, Ivan Lendl, an unsmiling and unforgiving presence, there seemed a hardening of Murray’s spirit where he might previously have made a drama out of a twinge. No less than Novak Djokovic detected a fraction more aggression in his rival’s play.

Finally, at Flushing Meadows, Murray (right) made his talent and flair work for him, beating the approving Djokovic 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 after four hours and 54 minutes of sapping combat to win the US Open.

He had accomplished his lifetime’s ambition during tennis’s golden age. The Federer-Rafael Nadal duopoly was legendary and enduring even before Djokovic intervened by superseding them as No 1. The company Murray keeps is a measure of the player.

In golf, Rory McIlroy was touched by the angels. He was also the scamp chewing on an energy bar on that unforgettable Ryder Cup day. The crowd shouted, ‘How’s the hangover, Rory’ as he arrived on the last morning scarily close to his tee-time, having apparently muddled up the time zones.

Breakthrough: Murray finally won his first Major at the US Open

Breakthrough: Murray finally won his first Major at the US Open

I was a touch suspicious, but journalistic friends there assure me his excuse was genuine. No practice, no matter, he breezed to an outward nine of 32. He and his European team-mates, with Ian Poulter at the heart and soul of the revival, were enacting the Miracle at Medinah.

At the end of Saturday with the home team leading 10-6, one American sports journalist, Gene Wojciechowski, wrote: ‘For those who think this Ryder Cup is finished, think again. Team Europe can still win if the following five things happen Sunday: 1. Keegan Bradley is abducted. 2. Team USA captain Davis Love III inserts Cup spectators Michael Jordan, President George W Bush, Amy Mickelson and the Rev Jesse Jackson into the singles line-up. 3. Lee Westwood: US citizen. 4. Marty McFly shows Team Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal how to go back in time. Last Friday morning will do. 5. Team Europe wins eight of the remaining 12 matches to retain the Cup.’

Oh dear, even if we did share the broad sentiment. Around the country, people stuck with Sky’s gripping coverage as the clock ticked towards midnight. It dawned on us that Europe could accomplish the greatest victory in the 85-year history of the competition.

Cheers filled every sitting room as Martin Kaymer holed from five feet to seal a 14-13 win. Jose Maria Olazabal had gone from much-questioned captain to smiling hero. He had honoured the memory of great friend Severiano Ballesteros.

McIlroy’s personal accomplishments also evoked Ballesteros. His victory at the US PGA made him the youngest multiple major winner since the great Spaniard 32 years earlier. McIlroy’s margin of victory was eight shots, just as at the 2011 US Open.

Shock: Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy celebrate Europe's Ryder Cup triumph

Shock: Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy celebrate Europe's Ryder Cup triumph

His triumph came after a mini-slump, which he laudably ascribed to having taken his eye off the ball. Chivalrously, he refused to blame tennis-playing girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki for providing the distraction. He ended the year as world No 1 and golf’s greatest attraction since Tiger Woods drove into a fire hydrant.

The equine star of 2012 was Frankel, who retired from Flat racing with 14 wins from 14 races. Twice he won by 10 lengths or more, including at Royal Ascot this year. He ranks among the greatest horses ever bred. Still, we were nervous at the start of his final race, the Champion Stakes. Rain had threatened to spoil the script. Anxiety was heightened when he made an awful start.

But we are talking about 2012, the year when everything went right. So he and jockey Tom Queally recovered to sign off in style. It was a poignant day because his celebrated Dr Dolittle of a trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, was fighting cancer.

Untouchable: Frankel saw off all competition

Untouchable: Frankel saw off all competition

Sir Henry was in the paddock, his voice a whisper, his manners exemplary, every autograph-hunter obliged. Work done, Frankel went off to Banstead Manor Stud for several hundred assignations. Cecil left with everyone’s wishes for a reprieve. Speaking of the future, it was announced that the other wonder-horse of the era, steeplechaser Kauto Star, is destined for a second career in dressage, which seems a trifle dainty for such a fine beast.

As the nights drew in here, England’s rugby team came up with perhaps the year’s least expected victory. As New Zealand came to Twickenham, one of the All Blacks staff enquired where they should stand when they collected the winners’ Hillary Shield.

But England prevailed, 38-21. It was one of the finest performances at HQ, all the more remarkable for the defeats against Australia and South Africa that preceded it. A watershed or a fabulous one-off We look to the Six Nations and beyond for the answer.

Flying: England surpassed all expectations by beating the All Blacks

Flying: England surpassed all expectations by beating the All Blacks

And then, finally, 2012’s Indian summer. Brought down to earth by South Africa a few months earlier — with Graeme Smith causing a third England captain, Andrew Strauss, to perish during his long and brutal reign — our cricketers were now led by Alastair Cook.

He faced the task of winning on the dusty graveyard of so many tourists. England lost the first Test and won the second magnificently. Cook scored stoic centuries in both. Then in the third Test, in Kolkata, he swept from outside his off-stump for three runs. His century was up — the 23rd of his Test career, more than any other Englishman. It eclipsed a record set by Wally Hammond 73 years earlier.

Cook had beaten the showboating and recently quarrelsome Kevin Pietersen to the mark. Who could begrudge the unshowiest of captains his reward The series — and the team’s peace with Pietersen — followed.

Leading by example: Cook captained England to victory in India

Leading by example: Cook captained England to victory in India

It was a final confirmation that 2012 has been the year British sport delivered even when the result appeared to be getting away.

You could almost put your mortgage on our teams, and how often have we been able to say that Forgive the amateur philosophy but 2012 might just have changed the country’s relationship with sport. At least for now.

Football fans treated terribly at Christmas again – Patrick Collins

So this is how football gets into the spirit of Christmas! Fans are once again taken for granted during festive season

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UPDATED:

00:07 GMT, 23 December 2012

Football fans have had a terrible
year. There was aggravation at Anfield, offensive chanting at Chelsea
and all manner of unsavoury capers from Luton to Leeds. Add the sombre
overtones of racism and the disturbing threat of sporadic violence and
we see how ancient stereotypes have been miserably reinforced. Yet there
is another side to the story and it reveals itself once again this
Christmas.

For those fans are routinely taken
for granted. They are what an old fighter once described as ‘prawns in
the game’, faceless legions who can be shunted around the country at the
whim of a lazy fixture scheduler or an arrogant television executive.

Their convenience is irrelevant and
their loyalty crassly exploited. They are victims of their own
allegiances, condemned to tour the nation’s motorways in the worst of
the weather and the height of the holiday season.

What about the fans Southampton played Sunderland on Saturday

What about the fans Southampton played Sunderland on Saturday

More from Patrick Collins…

Patrick Collins: How Fergie's bedtime habits set standards at Old Trafford
15/12/12

Patrick Collins: The anti-Wenger mob should be careful what they wish for
15/12/12

Patrick Collins: England's sensational miracle workers have everyone believing again
08/12/12

Patrick Collins: Captain Cook must stand the test of time before he can join the greats
08/12/12

Patrick Collins: Football's silent majority must set the tone, not the bigots who just want to be noticed
01/12/12

Patrick Collins: Richie McCaw, Dan Carter… your boys took one hell of a beating!
01/12/12

Patrick Collins: Tears follow tragic mistake that turned into an ordeal for brave Hatton
25/11/12

Patrick Collins: Let's hope Pep has the right answers when Roman comes calling
24/11/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

As you might expect, the Premier
League are the most cynical culprits. Their fixtures are designed for
those who are more at ease with a remote control than a Satnav.
Saturday offered several harrowing examples. Sunderland played at
Southampton. According to my AA Route Planner, it involved a journey of
318 miles, taking 5hr 58min to complete. In total, the Saturday trip
covered around 640 miles in 12 hours’ driving, with congestion, floods
and the search for a parking place no more than occupational hazards.

QPR were at Newcastle, some 564 miles
in 10hr 20min. Fulham fans travelled to Liverpool, a round trip of 440
miles in 8hr 12min. Which sounds considerably more comfortable, until we
remember that, courtesy of a television contract, the match kicked off
at 5.30pm.

The followers of Manchester United
will make a similar journey to and from Swansea on Sunday — eight hours,
440 miles. While next weekend Arsenal supporters will go to Newcastle
(10hr 20min, 560 miles), while Spurs visit distant Sunderland (same
time, same distance).

/12/22/article-0-16A04F13000005DC-679_634x421.jpg” width=”634″ height=”421″ alt=”What Christmas cheer Fulham fans went all the way to Anfield to see their team thrashed” class=”blkBorder” />

What Christmas cheer Fulham fans went all the way to Anfield to see their team thrashed

Now neutrals/civilians/the
indifferent and uncommitted might observe that nobody is forcing all
those people to make all those exhausting, expensive, environmentally
damaging and essentially unnecessary journeys. And they would have a
point. Yet they make no allowance for the obsessive, the fanatical, the
blindly loyal and those for whom such journeys are not trials to be
endured but challenges to be embraced.

These people are football’s poor
bloody infantry, cannon fodder for sellers of expensive seats and
inferior catering. Their views are unsolicited because they are
unwanted. They exist as little more than a television producer’s sound
effects; a cheery chant, a sigh of despair, the roar that signifies a
goal or a victory.

Nobody consults a chant or seeks the
opinion of a sigh and so they are seen as optional extras, their value
is diminishing year upon year. Yet, for all their occasional excesses,
they are the lifeblood of the game, the people who love it most dearly.

Players are bought and sold, managers
come and go, owners hang around in the hope of an oligarch’s cheque or a
sheik’s largesse. Yet the fans are saddled with their fate, lumbered
with their first love. And so they undertake extraordinary journeys,
peering painfully through the motorway murk for 12 hours and 640 miles
on the Saturday before Christmas.

Except, they do not regard it as
extraordinary. Instead, they see it as a kind of secular vocation, a way
of life which they freely chose and fiercely cherish, despite the
sacrifices it entails.

They know they are being used, they
are aware that those sacrifices are routinely derided by the people who
control the game, but they also know they have neither power nor voice.

There is something faintly daft in
such devotion but there is also something rather wonderful. For they
will be there when all the freeloaders and the corporates, the social
networkers and the fly-by-night proprietors have left the building.

Without them, there is no game. From time to time, we do well to recognise their contribution.

A 201,000 bonus for the boss of the 'useless' LTA

Baroness Billingham has a gift for plain speaking and last week she used it to full effect.

‘The Lawn Tennis Association are one of the wealthiest sporting organisations in the country,’ she said. ‘And it’s my honest and genuine opinion that they are useless.’

As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Tennis Group, the noble lady knows her subject. And the facts support her argument.

Tennis is funded on a lavish scale. The LTA receive around 30million every year from Wimbledon’s profits. In addition, the funding body, Sport England, awarded them 24.5m over a four-year span, with the object of increasing grassroots participation. And what has happened

Participation has fallen from 487,500 in 2008 to 445,100 in 2012. This at a time when Andy Murray’s success has given the sport a profile it has never before enjoyed. ‘Useless’ is almost an understatement.

LTA chief executive Roger Draper has come under fire

LTA chief executive Roger Draper has come under fire

Incidentally, it should be noted that Murray’s eminence, in common with the impressive British women, Heather Watson and Laura Robson, owes nothing to the LTA, since all three followed an independent path in the game.

So the LTA are feeble among the grassroots and irrelevant among the elite.

Sport England have, therefore, quite properly, decided to cut the funding from 24.5m to 17.4m. For the first year it will hold back 10.3m of that reduced total until the LTA have proved that they can deliver.

As Jennie Price, the Sport England chief executive, said: ‘Their plan simply wasn’t strong enough to justify the four-year investment.’ Thus we have an organisation that are not only ‘useless’ but officially incompetent.

And what would you do with the chief executive of such a body Well, if you were the LTA, you’d award him a bonus. Of 201,000. Along with his basic wage of 394,000 and his pension contribution of 45,000, it brings his total salary up to 640,000. This represents an increase of 42,000 on his package for 2011.

Which makes us wonder what Roger Draper might have earned had he been even remotely successful.

Sadly, Draper has not been around to defend his position. Instead, the LTA put up somebody called Simon from the commercial department to flannel a few cliches. Outrageously, nobody was prepared to explain the 201,000 bonus.

So what will be the fate of the visionary who announced: ‘I want to make tennis the No 2 sport after football’

The question answers itself. The statistics are devastating and Draper’s position is untenable. For British tennis could do very much better. Indeed, as the plain-spoken Baroness Billingham will tell you, it could scarcely do worse.

PS… It is reported that the Stoke manager Tony Pulis has officially complained about the three-match suspension of Everton’s Marouane Fellaini. The ban was imposed for Fellaini’s headbutting of Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross. Mysteriously, Pulis suggests that one of his players would have received something far more punitive. This is the same Pulis who, three years ago, saw the tackle which Shawcross flung at Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, shattering his leg and putting him out of the game for almost a year. Shawcross was banned for three matches. I can’t recall Pulis complaining about his man’s lenient sentence but I’m sure he must have done. Otherwise he would now risk appearing both absurd and hypocritical.

Tony Pulis

Tony Pulis

Patrick Collins: England"s miracle workers have everyone believing again

England's sensational miracle workers have everyone believing again

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UPDATED:

22:50 GMT, 8 December 2012


In control: Alastair Cook's team look set to take a 2-1 lead

In control: Alastair Cook's team look set to take a 2-1 lead

The sporting year of 2012 is the gift that just keeps giving. And we watch in grateful wonder as the miracles descend in delicious profusion.

Never was there such a year, never such an outpouring of glory. From the Super Olympic Saturdays in Stratford to the golden days on lake and velodrome.

From the evening in Munich when European football turned Chelsea blue to the Sunday afternoon at Medinah when the Ryder Cup yielded to Europe's irresistible charge, to the epic at the Etihad when the title was won with the last kick of the season.

Just one week ago, there was the
chill afternoon at Twickenham when the All Blacks were thrashed and we
told ourselves that 2012 had eked out its last, improbable bonus. And
then came Kolkata.

To appreciate how far England's
cricketers have travelled, it is necessary to remember where they
started. In late March, Andrew Strauss sat in a bleak back room in Galle
and attempted to rationalise England's fourth consecutive Test match
defeat.

Whitewashed 3–0 by Pakistan in the
United Arab Emirates, then bemused by Sri Lanka's spinner Rangana
Herath, there was a growing conviction that England's hapless inability
to play spin rendered them hopelessly uncompetitive in sub-continental
conditions.

Spin king: Graeme Swann had a good session after lunch

Spin king: Graeme Swann had a good session after lunch

They chipped out a 1–1 draw in the Sri Lanka series, but come the first Test of this India tour and the roof fell in.

To lose by nine wickets in Ahmedabad was one thing, but to lose in such a clueless, calamitous fashion was quite another.

The statistics read like a long and
darkly threatening letter: India had not lost a Test series at home
since Australia beat them in 2004-05; England had not won a series in
India since David Gower's team came from behind in 1984-85; England had
won only 11 Test matches in India since 1933; India had lost only six
home Tests in a decade.

Had you been looking for a word to describe England's prospects, then 'unpromising' was probably the kindest.

It was at Mumbai that the transformation came to pass. Suddenly, almost irrationally, England began to believe in themselves.

Monty Panesar, happily restored, came
through in a clatter of wickets, Kevin Pietersen played one of
history's finest Test innings and Alastair Cook batted like a prince.

Victory was wholly unexpected and Kolkata was vigorously anticipated. It did not disappoint.

Led once again by Cook in his most
majestic form, England raised their game to another level and now the
questions were being asked of India. What shall we do with MS Dhoni

How long can Duncan Fletcher continue to coach a patently unresponsive team

And, most dramatically, who tells
Sachin Tendulkar that the golden years have run their course None of
which will concern England, whose restoration to form and confidence has
been quite sensational.

In any other year we might have been
speaking in almost disbelieving terms. In this gloriously bewildering
year of 2012, it ranks as just another miracle.

We are unable to carry live pictures from the third Test in Kolkata due to a dispute between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and international news organisations.

The BCCI has refused access to Test venues to established picture agencies Getty Images and Action Images and other Indian photographic agencies.

MailOnline consider this action to be a strike against press freedom and supports the action to boycott BCCI imagery.

Neil Lennon hails Celtic miracle after reaching Champions League

Kris of life! It's sweet 16 for Lennon as Celtic make it through after last-gasp Spartak win

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UPDATED:

01:04 GMT, 6 December 2012

Neil Lennon credited his side with performing a miracle as Celtic advanced to the last 16 knock-out stages of the Champions League.

The Parkhead boss was unable to watch as midfielder Kris Commons struck the winning penalty in a nervy 2-1 win over Spartak Moscow 10 minutes from time.

On a night of unbearable tension in Glasgow’s east end Gary Hooper opened the scoring before Spartak levelled through Ari before half-time.

Done it! Neil Lennon celebrates Celtic's win in the Champions League

Done it! Neil Lennon celebrates Celtic's win in the Champions League

With Group G rivals Benfica holding a Barcelona reserve team to a scoreless draw at the Nou Camp, however, it required spot kick drama amidst unbearable tension to take Scotland’s champions to the knock-out stages for only the third time in their history.

Borussia Dortmund, PSG, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Malaga are just some of the giants who lie in wait in the draw in Nyon on December 20.

'It means the world to me. Obviously, I’m a young manager in my first year in the Champions League so to qualify and qualify with ten points

'I’m very proud of the players – they have performed a miracle. No-one gave us a prayer coming into this group but we have qualified and deservedly so.

'We didn’t play great anywhere near as well as we can in the first half tonight but in the second half we had control of the game and deserved to win it.'

Amidst false, erroneous alarms amongst supporters suggesting Barcelona had scored against Benfica Lennon described the tension as ‘horrible.’

At no time more so than when Samaras won a soft penalty after a shove by Marek Suchy with just 10 minutes remaining.

In front: Gary Hooper put Celtic into the lead against Spartak Moscow

In front: Gary Hooper put Celtic into the lead against Spartak Moscow

'I didn’t watch it,' Lennon revealed. 'I turned my back on it. I’ve seen the last couple of penalties and we’ve missed them so I thought better of it this time. I saw Garry Parker turning his back and thought I’d do the same. I just waited for the roar to go up.

'But Kris showed great mental strength to step up there and take it. He was obviously aware of the significance of the penalty but his penalty epitomised him tonight. I thought he had a fantastic game for us.

'Obviously at that point you want to celebrate but we still had work to do and we saw the game out very well.'

The Celtic sound system optimistically played London Calling by the Clash in mocking anticipation of the final at Wembley in May.

Reluctant to go that far ahead, Lennon admitted his side are growing in confidence at this level after becoming the first Scottish club to qualify with 10 points.

'We’re there and we are going to enjoy it. We want to progress as far as we can in the competition. Who knows where that will take you.

'The spirit is fantastic and we have some quality players. They have put everything into the campaign and they have grown as it has gone on. Some of them have enhanced their reputations no end.

Level: Spartak Moscow's Ari equalised for the visitors before half time

Level: Spartak Moscow's Ari equalised for the visitors before half time

'But as a collective they have great belief in themselves and, as you say, who knows where that could take us.

'I said at the start – and people laughed at me – when they asked what my target was and I said I wanted to qualify. I could see my players progressing last year. We have some really talented players here who we felt could play at European level. This is the premier event and this club has had some rough times in it in the past.

'But we are unbeaten at home. We showed great composure in the two qualification games and at times, when it was backs to the wall, we showed great defensive qualities which is probably alien to some of the players. So as a team they have performed brilliantly.

'But, by winning tonight, they have justified beating Barcelona now. I didn’t want them to be the team who were just remembered for beating Barcelona. But now they’ve beaten Barcelona AND qualified for the last 16. That is a fantastic feather to have in their cap.

Spot on: Kris Commons rifles home a penalty to secure Celtic's place in the knockout stages

Spot on: Kris Commons rifles home a penalty to secure Celtic's place in the knockout stages

'We all look forward to the draw now. These are very exciting times for everyone at the club and now we have something to really get our teeth into in the New Year.'

With 15million already secure Celtic can now look to another windfall from reaching the last 16 clash.

Asked who he would take in the Nyon draw Lennon joked: “I'd like to play Malaga in the next round. It will be nice at that time of the year.

'Seriously, it's going to be really tough against one of the top teams from the other groups.

'You just don't know what shape things will be in in two or three months time. We will look forward to the draw on 20 December, but I want the players to concentrate on domestic duties and start finding that real consistency in the SPL.

'They have shown what they can do at European level and a lot of them have put their focus into this campaign. Now they can put that to one side for a few months and really start tidying up domestic matters.'

Ian Poulter says he doesn"t need a sports

Poulter: I know how to climb the rankings… and it isn't by using a sports psychologist!

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 21 November 2012

Picture a press centre enthralled to see what happened next after Ian Poulter was asked whether he had ever thought about seeing a sports psychologist.

Heavens, It must be Poults’s obvious lack of self-belief that prompted the question. All those vital putts he leaves short at a Ryder Cup.

For a few seconds the Englishman appeared to be weighing up how he could reply politely. ‘Do you honestly think I need a sports psychologist’ he began.

Are you crazy Ian Poulter responded to questions about whether he needs a sports psychologist

Are you crazy Ian Poulter responded to questions about whether he needs a sports psychologist

‘Are you crazy Wow. I think there are people in this game who would pay me a fortune to be their sports psychologist.’

Indeed they would, given there’s hardly anyone in the history of the sport who’s got more out of his game, and is less in need of the dark science.

The 36 year old is right in his pomp just now, of course, still on a high from his stunning contribution to the miracle of Medinah and playing some of the best golf of his career. In three events since the Ryder Cup Poulter has won one, finished runner-up in another and fourth in the third.

‘It just shows what golf can be played when I focus my mind and I am going to work hard in my little head to keep the focus the same as it was at the Ryder Cup,’ he said. ‘I know I am dangerous when I have that frame of mind.’

Could it be that seeing all those UK boys dominating the top five in the world rankings and the headlines also brought out the competitor in him

'I would say that I am good friends with a lot of guys who were playing a lot better golf than I was playing, so it did spur me on,’ he admitted.

‘It told me that I was capable of playing better golf but hopefully I’ve changed that picture now and it is time to kick on from this position.’

Poulter, currently ranked 13th in the world, certainly has the chance to kick on at the tour’s grand finale, the Dubai World Championship, where the presence of every other member of Europe’s Ryder Cup team means there are oodles of ranking points on offer.

Close call: Poulter missed out on the Australia Masters after losing to Adam Scott

Close call: Poulter missed out on the Australia Masters after losing to Adam Scott

Close call: Poulter missed out on the Australia Masters after losing to Adam Scott

He then has a couple of limited field events to play before a six or seven week off-season where he will try to improve a few areas of his game in time for the Masters in April.

‘I would like to drive the ball a bit further than I do, and my mid-iron play could get a little better,’ he said.

‘Most of all I need to be a little more consistent with my putting and putt like I have been doing for the past month over a longer period. Look at Luke Donald.

'He has putted consistently well for 18 months and look what that has done for his world ranking.

‘The main goals next season will be all around the majors. I’ve played well in three of them this year, three top 10s, and I’d like to get a lot closer.

'I would think coming down the stretch, if I was in contention, I’ve got a lot of self-belief in me that can hopefully get me over the line. But we will just have to see. They are hard to win, as you know.’

Star of the show: Poulter was in fine form for Europe at the Ryder Cup in Medinah

Star of the show: Poulter was in fine form for Europe at the Ryder Cup in Medinah

Poulter finished as he began, his eyes glazing over at another baffling question. An American journalist used a baseball analogy.

Seeing Poulter’s bemused response, the writer concluded: ’Living in Florida, you know baseball….’

That was enough for Poulter to knock the question out of the room for a home run.

‘I’ve never watched a full game of baseball,’ he said. ‘You want to sit there for four and a half hours eating a hot dog and a coke Really I’m sorry.

'I’ve been living in America for four years and I have never watched a full game. In fact I can’t think of many sports where I’d sit there watching for four and a half hours. Unless it was the Ryder Cup, of course.'

Hopefully, it will be a good few Ryder Cups yet before he is reduced to watching. Or playing the role of sports psychologist.

Charlie Beljan has three stroke lead in Children"s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic

Beljan overcomes health scare to take three stroke lead in Florida

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UPDATED:

01:16 GMT, 10 November 2012

Charlie Beljan defied a health scare to take a halfway three-stroke lead in the the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in Florida.

The American, who suffers from asthma, had to rest on several occasions during his round after battling shortness of breath and an elevated heart rate.

Out in front: Charlie Beljan leads the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals golf tournament in Lake Buena Vista

Out in front: Charlie Beljan leads the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals golf tournament in Lake Buena Vista

The 28-year-old was expected to be taken to hospital after recording a magnificent 64, which moved him to 12 under par overall.

'I think he's scared,' Beljan's caddie Rick Adcox told the Golf Channel. 'He kept saying he thought he was going to die.'

'I've got to give Charlie credit for what he did. I thought he was going to quit out there a few times. Unbelievable.'

'A couple of times I thought he might pass out,” Adcox added.

'He just said, 'I'm gonna keep going until I pass out or they take me off,' and I kept saying 'it doesn't matter to me, it's only a golf tournament'.'

Beljan was reportedly struggling throughout, with medical personnel keeping a close watch on him for much of his back nine.

He was eight under for his round after 11 holes, carding two eagles and four birdies.
He then bogeyed the par-four 12th before picking up back-to-back shots on his next two holes although he dropped back to eight under for his round at the 17th.

Despite clearly struggling, he courageously carried on and managed to hit a brilliant up-and-down for par on the final hole before bursting into tears.

'He was trying to keep upright,” playing partner Ed Loar said. 'Hopefully he'll be all right. It was pretty bizarre.'

Overnight leader Charlie Wi was among seven players three strokes behind Beljan.
The Korean, without a win on the PGA Tour, failed to build on yesterday's magnificent 64 after recording a one-under-par 71.

He enjoyed mixed fortunes on the Magnolia course with five birdies and four bogeys.
Australia's Matt Jones put himself into contention with an excellent round of 64 to join Wi, Ryuji Imada, Harris English, Charles Howell III, Mark Anderson and Henrik Stenson on nine under overall.

Yaya Toure: Manchester City need God"s help for Champions League progress

Only God can save City now! Yaya says Mancini's men need divine intervention to seal Champions League progress

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UPDATED:

17:08 GMT, 7 November 2012

Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure thinks only God can get his beleaguered team in to the knock out phase of the Champions League.

City need a miracle after failing to be beat Ajax at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night.

Bottom of Group D with only two points from four games, City must win their final two matches against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund and hope other results go their way.

Big blow: Manchester City dropped more Champions League points to Ajax

Big blow: Manchester City dropped more Champions League points to Ajax

Toure certainly seems to think the odds are against them and said: 'We have to believe in God and I swear maybe we can still go through.

'It's disappointing and difficult but I think it's not finished. We have a couple of games left and we have to continue to work hard and try to take our chance and believe.

'In football it's not finished. We have Madrid at home and Dortmund away and if we want to go through we have to win these games.

Clinging on: Yaya helped City salvage a point against the Dutch side

Clinging on: Yaya helped City salvage a point against the Dutch side

'When you draw or lose it's always difficult.

'When you see the statistics, you can think we were unlucky.

'But you have to have God with you.

'Things can sometimes go wrong but we have to continue to believe because we have fantastic players.'

City came from two goals down to draw with Ajax in a game they had to win on Tuesday. Denied a winner by an offside flag, they also thought they should have had a penalty.

'The referee decided this game for me because there were two clear penalties, one in the first half and one in the second half,' added Toure.

'But now we have to forget this game and focus on the next one because it will be very important for Manchester City.'

Roberto Mancini angry over Manchester City"s Ajax defeat after going shoe shopping

I messed up: Mancini gives his Man City 'millionaires' a shoeing… following afternoon shopping trip

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UPDATED:

07:01 GMT, 25 October 2012

Roberto Mancini admitted he failed to prepare properly for a crucial European clash that ended with his Manchester City side staring at another Champions League exit at the group stage.

The City manager, who went on a shoe shopping expedition in Amsterdam city centre hours before their 3-1 defeat by Ajax in Group D, said they need a miracle to qualify after a night when even his own players questioned his tactics.

‘I take full responsibility, I didn’t prepare properly for this game,’ he said.

Blame me: Roberto Mancini says the defeat was his fault

Blame me: Roberto Mancini says the defeat was his fault

Deserved: Ajax outplayed their opponents

Deserved: Ajax outplayed their opponents

Mancini forced his players into three different changes of formation and defender Micah Richards said: ‘It’s something we have not worked on a lot. That’s twice we have gone to a back five and conceded but the manager likes it. If we want to do well with it we are going to have to work on it.’

City took a lead through Samir Nasri but Mancini conceded they lacked experience after Ajax hit back with goals from Siem de Jong, Niklas Moisander and man of the match Christian Eriksen.

Mancini, whose team are bottom of Group D, said: ‘The Champions League is only six games but we are a young club and a young team.

‘I don’t know why Joleon Lescott doesn’t jump for the second Ajax goals — blame me, I’m the manager.

‘The millionaires put everything into it but Ajax also put everything into it. It will be difficult to qualify from the group now. We need a miracle.

‘We used three different systems but I don’t think the tactics are a problem. I just didn’t prepare well for the game.’

City have lost group matches against Real Madrid and Ajax and secured their solitary point against Borussia Dortmund at the Etihad.

Richards admitted the Barclays Premier League champions ‘crumbled’ once they conceded the equaliser inside the Amsterdam ArenA.

New system: Micah Richards complained that the players were asked to play unusual formations

New system: Micah Richards complained that the players were asked to play unusual formations

‘The players just want to play. It’s a hard system for us because we are not used to it and the players prefer a 4-4-2 but he’s the manager and we will do what he says.

‘After last season when we got 10 points and didn’t get through when we got drawn in this group we knew it was going to be a tough one. We got beat by a very good Ajax side. When we went one up they were probably the better team.

‘In the second half we just crumbled once the second goal went in. I’m very disappointed with the way the lads performed.

‘I thought we were going to come here and get the three points but it wasn’t to be.’

Doubling up: Christian Eriksen scores Ajax's second goal in their win over City

Doubling up: Christian Eriksen scores Ajax's second goal in their win over City

Sky analyst Gary Neville branded Lescott’s defending ‘unforgivable’ after he failed to clear Eriksen’s cross for Ajax’s second goal.

City appear nave in the Champions League, but Ajax chief Frank de Boer claimed their international pedigree is adequate compensation.

De Boer said: ‘They have so much experience at international level, they have so much quality. They are well prepared for these games under pressure.

‘Last year they didn’t go that well. They learned from it. They have great players and they have performed under pressure and are used to playing at this level.

‘This was a crucial match for both teams of course. Although City had chances I think we deserved to win this game.’

My unbeaten season with Porto is better than Chelsea"s European Cup win, says Spurs boss Villas-Boas

My unbeaten season with Porto is better than Chelsea's European Cup win, says Spurs boss Villas-Boas

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UPDATED:

00:04 GMT, 19 October 2012

Andre Villas-Boas claims his unbeaten season with Porto is a bigger achievement than Chelsea’s Miracle of Munich in the Champions League.

The Tottenham manager, fired by Chelsea last March, took Porto to their 25th Primeira Liga title unbeaten in 2010-11.

They won the treble — including domestic cup and Europa League — and did not lose in 30 league matches.

A night to remember: Villas-Boas celebrates with his Porto players last year after winning the Europa League

A night to remember: Villas-Boas celebrates with his Porto players last year after winning the Europa League

Villas-Boas’s last Champions League game was Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat in the second round against Napoli, but they staged a remarkable recovery under Roberto Di Matteo to go on and lift the European Cup after beating Bayern Munich on penalties.

The Portuguese coach said: ‘Winning any league is extremely difficult but going through it unbeaten is also extremely difficult.

‘Arsenal’s achievement in 2004 was remarkable and outstanding. Like Porto in 2011, it probably won’t be repeated in the modern game.

Spurs boss: Villas-Boas is preparing to face former club Chelsea this weekend

Spurs boss: Villas-Boas is preparing to face former club Chelsea this weekend

‘There were games where we lived on the limit and certainly Arsenal did the same. It will be something extremely difficult to do again.’

Asked what is the bigger achievement — winning the Champions League or going through the season without losing — Villas-Boas said: ‘Remaining unbeaten in the league.’

Fabrice Muamba career over but Bolton offer him job

'Devastated' Muamba quits five months after heart attack, but there will be a job at Bolton

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UPDATED:

19:27 GMT, 15 August 2012

Fantasy football 2012

Bolton will offer Fabrice Muamba the chance to stay at the club in a new role after the midfielder was forced to quit playing, five months after suffering a near-fatal heart attack on the pitch.

The decision was made after Muamba went to see leading cardiologist Pedro Brugada in Belgium last week. Although the routine clean-up operation went well, the 24-year-old was given the ‘devastating news’ that he would not be able to make a comeback.

Miracle recovery: Bolton's Fabrice Muamba suffered a heart attack in March

Miracle recovery: Bolton's Fabrice Muamba suffered a heart attack in March

Back at Bolton: Muamba (centre) at a club 'family fun day' last Sunday

Back at Bolton: Muamba (centre) at a club 'family fun day' last Sunday

Torchbearer: Muamba carried the Olympic Flame through Waltham Forest

Torchbearer: Muamba carried the Olympic Flame through Waltham Forest

Bolton immediately offered Muamba
their full support and will let him choose between a variety of
opportunities. They are expected to range from club ambassador to a role
in their education or community departments, although it is not yet
clear whether his health will enable him to coach in future.

The club are anxious to give Muamba
as much time as he needs, however, and he is under no pressure to work,
with early retirement cushioned by a substantial insurance payout and
his own prudent financial planning.

Fateful day: Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch at White Hart Lane in March

Fateful day: Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch at White Hart Lane in March

Helpless: Bolton and Spurs players, and Wanderers boss Owen Coyle (centre), watched the terrifying scenes unfold

Helpless: Bolton and Spurs players, and Wanderers boss Owen Coyle (centre), watched the terrifying scenes unfold

Muamba's statement in full

'Since suffering my heart attack and being discharged from hospital, I have remained utterly positive in the belief I could one day resume my playing career and play for Bolton Wanderers once again.

'As part of my on-going recovery, last week I travelled to Belgium to seek further medical advice from a leading cardiologist.

'But the news I received was obviously not what I had hoped it would be and it means I am now announcing my retirement from professional football.

'Football has been my life since I was a teenage boy and it has given me so many opportunities.

'Above all else, I love the game and count myself very lucky to have been able to play at the highest level.

'While the news is devastating, I have much to be thankful for. I thank God that I am alive and I pay tribute once again to the members of the medical team who never gave up on me.

'I would also like to thank everyone who has supported me throughout my career, and the Bolton fans who have been incredible.

'I am blessed to have the support of my family and friends at this time.'

Bolton manager Owen Coyle said: ‘We
have spoken with Fab and he knows we will always support him in whatever
he wants to do and that we will always be here for him.

'We know that he
will go on to achieve great things and within all this disappointment,
the most important thing is that he is here, alive, today.’

The former England Under 21
international has remained open-minded about the possibility of playing
again since he went into cardiac arrest on the pitch at White Hart Lane
in March and was effectively dead for 78 minutes.

A devout Christian, Muamba has always maintained that his future as a player lay in God’s hands and he would accept the outcome.

In a statement, he said: ‘While the
news is devastating, I have much to be thankful for. I thank God that I
am alive and I pay tribute once again to the members of the medical team
who never gave up on me.

‘Football has been my life since I
was a teenage boy and it has given me so many opportunities. Above all
else, I love the game and count myself very lucky to have been able to
play at the highest level.’

Muamba, who needed 15 defibrillator
shocks to restart his heart following the incident on March 17, made a
miraculous recovery at the London Chest Hospital and was discharged a
month later.

Tributes: Hundreds of get-well messages were left for Muamba at Bolton's Reebok Stadium while he was in hospital

Tributes: Hundreds of get-well messages were left for Muamba at Bolton's Reebok Stadium while he was in hospital

Rallying round: The football world united to send Muamba a get-well-soon message to the stricken Muamba

Rallying round: The football world united to send Muamba a get-well-soon message to the stricken Muamba

Thank you: Muamba with cardiologist Dr Andrew Deaner (left) and consultant cardiologist Dr Sam Mohiddin, the doctors who saved his life following his heart attack

Thank you: Muamba with cardiologist Dr Andrew Deaner (left) and consultant cardiologist Dr Sam Mohiddin, the doctors who saved his life following his heart attack

He had a special defibrillator
pacemaker fitted in case the problem recurred but Dr Leonard Shapiro,
cardiology consultant to the FA, admitted that the risk of him playing
again was too great.

Bolton midfielder Stuart Holden paid
tribute to his team-mate on Twitter, writing: ‘Sad to hear my partner
@fmuamba has to retire from football. U r an inspiration to so many bro
and will be in whatever u choose to do #hero’

Not a dry eye in the house: Muamba made an emotional return to the Reebok Stadium in May

Not a dry eye in the house: Muamba made an emotional return to the Reebok Stadium in May

Not a dry eye in the house: Muamba made an emotional return to the Reebok Stadium in May

Not a dry eye in the house: Muamba made an emotional return to the Reebok Stadium in May

Miracle man: Muamba with his fiancee Shauna after his stunning recovery

Miracle man: Muamba with his fiancee Shauna after his stunning recovery

And Muamba’s partner Shauna tweeted her appreciation to all the well-wishers who have helped him throughout the recovery.

She wrote: ‘Thanks for all the support. We’re looking forward to whatever the future holds.’

All smiles: Muamba received an Honorary Degree from Bolton University

All smiles: Muamba received an Honorary Degree from Bolton University

Fabrice Muamba: From Kinshasa to the Premier League

1988: Born April 6 in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).

1999: Moves to England at the age of 11, reuniting with his father who had earlier sought political asylum in the country due to civil war in his homeland.

2002: Joins the youth team set-up at Arsenal – the club he supported as a boy in his homeland – before graduating to their Academy two years later.

2005: Signs professional terms at Arsenal and makes the first of two first-team appearances for the club – both in the League Cup – against Sunderland on October 25.

2006: August – Joins Birmingham on a season-long loan and goes on to make 36 appearances on his way to winning the club's young player of the year award.

2007: May 11 – Makes his move to Birmingham permanent after the club agrees a reported 4million fee with Arsenal.

August 21 – After representing England at every age level from Under-16s, Muamba is handed his England Under-21 debut in a friendly against Romania.

2008: June – Scores two goals in 37 league appearances in the 2007/08 season but cannot prevent Birmingham's relegation.

August 7 – Signs for Bolton after the Trotters agree a fee in excess of 5million with Birmingham for the midfielder.

2010: August 10 – Signs a new four-year contract at Bolton, committing him to the club until 2014.

2011: June – Represents England Under-21s at the European Championships in Denmark.
August 13 – Scores his third league goal for Bolton in his side's season-opening 4-0 demolition of QPR.

2012: March 17 – Muamba collapses in the 41st minute of Bolton's FA Cup tie with Tottenham at White Hart Line. He receives emergency treatment on the pitch and the match is subsequently abandoned. Bolton later confirm that Muamba is “critically ill” in intensive care at the London Chest Hospital.

March 19 – A Barts and the London NHS Trust statement confirms Muamba is showing signs of improvement and his heart is beating without the aid of medication. Bolton later announce Muamba has been able to recognise family members and respond to questions.

March 30 – Further signs of Muamba's improvement come when he is pictured for the first time since collapsing. In a message posted on Twitter by his girlfriend Shauna, Muamba is shown sitting up in his hospital bed and smiling.

April 16 – Muamba is discharged from the London Chest Hospital.

May 2 – Returns to the Reebok Stadium for the first time since his cardiac arrest. Enters the field to a standing ovation as he is introduced ahead of Wanderers' Premier League game against Tottenham and is overcome with emotion as he acknowledges the applause from all sides of the ground.

August 15 – Announces his retirement from football on medical advice.