No-one predicted 2012 would be the best year for Scottish football in decades, and looking back, it’s still hard to believe what just happened.
Motherwell’s amazing form from mid-January to May pushed the Old Firm until the last day of the season; three teams are in Europe past Xmas; and the national team sit clear at the top of their qualifying group for the World Cup, with “Team GB” but a comic memory.
The team of the year has undoubtedly been Stuart McCall’s Motherwell. After a decent first half of the 2011-12 season, the Steelmen suffered a 3-0 reverse at Ibrox Park to fall 19 points behind the league leaders Celtic, leaving observers expecting the usual two-way title tussle. But the ‘Well put together a run of league wins that lasted through the end of the season, including away triumphs at Parkhead and Ibrox. In the last round of league matches, only late goals for both Old Firm teams prevented the the Fir Park side performing the most miraculous footballing feat north of the border since Davie “Elephant Man” Dodds married a decent-looking woman, way back in the early 1980’s. Of course, Rangers won the league again, just, but Stuart McCall eclipsed his erstwhile team-mate Ally McCoist in the managerial stakes.
Motherwell then took their blistering domestic form to the continent, qualifying for the Europa League group sections where they handily dispatched a disjointed Chelsea side which had been in disarray since the post-Russian-election disappearance of billionaire benefactor Roman Abramovich (he had backed the anti-Putin candidate, who lost, and is also now missing). Without Abramovich’s billionaire backing, Chelsea had had to sell their best players, and also John Terry. The ‘Well now face Anderlecht for a place in the last 16 of the tournament.
Celtic also stormed through their Europa group stage, revenging themselves over Udinese and Atletico Madrid for the prior season’s defeats although losing top spot in the group to Swiss side Sion, themselves with a point to prove over Celtic. Rangers amazingly squeaked into the last 16 of the Champions League with six nil-nil draws in six games, including two against Mourinho’s Madrid. The Special One was said to be mightily impressed by the McCoist-refined version of “anti-football.”
Perhaps the only blot on the club football landscape was the relegation of Aberdeen into Division One. The demotion was deserved, but the reaction to it wasn’t: Aberdeen supporters rioted in the north-east coastal town of Fraserburgh, destroying the fish market, and attacked Stewart Milne housing developments in Fyvie, Banchory, and Ellon.
The national team had a magnificent 2012. Inspired by his 2011 Santa stocking, which contained DVDs of great Scotland games from the 1960s, and following a two-week retreat in a Greek monastery over Orthodox Easter, unshaven Scotland manager Craig Levein performed a tactical turnaround unseen since the last minutes of the first Rocky movie. Gone were the days of 4-6-0, as Levein ushered in a devastating and innovative 3-3-4 formation. Deciding we had diddy defenders, he played fewer of them and instead went back to glorious pre-1966 football, playing with two out-and-out wingers.
Serbia, Macedonia, Wales, and Belgium couldn’t handle the touchline trickery of James Forrest and Kirk Broadfoot (another Levein stroke of genius was converting this utility defender into a devastating outside-right) and Scotland now sit proudly atop Group A with 12 points out of 12, having conceded no goals and scored nine, a better record than European Champions Germany. Six of those nine goals came from a reinstated Stephen Fletcher, who claims Levein came to him in a vision while he was eating a Whopper Junior in a Wolverhampton Burger King. Fletcher subsequently made himself available for Scotland again.
The icing on the cake for schadenfreude-loving Scots, of course, was the disastrous Team GB Olympic campaign. Disastrous in terms of results – the controversy-prone side lost to Argentina and China before drawing with Mozambique in a dead rubber – and also for many of the players involved. Every Scot who put himself forward for selection suffered the ‘Olympic curse’: James Mackie tore his ACL in the last game of the 2011-12 league season; Kris Boyd had a bizarre escalator-and-kebab accident in Glasgow airport on the way to the first squad meeting, resulting in a broken arm ruling him out of the games; and Danny Wilson was sent home in disgrace after breaking the jaw of Team GB coach Stuart Pearce at half-time in the Argentina game.
Still, at least they weren’t photographed spooning in a hotel bedroom, like a certain Englishman and his Welsh team-mate whose names cannot be mentioned due to a super-injunction which also cannot be mentioned.
Roll on 2013.