2020, the year that gave birth to horror child Covid-19, the nightmare virus-spewing pandemic that has claimed millions of lives worldwide and continues to leave a trail of death and desolation in its wake, has been consigned to history, banished to register in the annals of infamy alongside the birthdates of past apocalyptic disasters, the Plague, Spanish flu and both world wars.
But now there is light at the end of this dark tunnel, and no, it’s not an express train thundering towards us but the dawn of a new year, bringing with it the hope that salvation is at hand, Operation Vaccination has begun and normality may be about to resume. There is now the real prospect that the public’s love affair with sport will soon be rekindled as iconic stadia throughout the world throw open the doors to welcome back fans so cruelly deprived by lockdown and restricted access of pursuing their passion in the desperate year just gone.
Religion was once described by Karl Marx as ‘the opium of the masses’, well Karl old boy, that may have been true in your day, but today, in the west at least, churchgoing is very much in retreat and has long been overtaken by sport as the favoured drug of the masses, and this year the faithful can feverishly indulge their habit, with the sporting calendar of 2021 unveiling a truly breath-taking array of glittering events across all disciplines, including football, boxing, golf, cricket and the rearranged Olympic Games.
FOOTBALL sees the start of qualification for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, and Gibraltar fresh from their astonishing promotion in the Euro Nations League – a phenomenal achievement by charismatic Julio Cesar Ribas’s “Gibraltarian Warriors” that has largely not received the credit it merited – have been drawn in Group G where they can look forward to home and away ties with Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, Montenegro and old foe Latvia.
Whilst it’s disappointing that the group does not contain any of the home nations – England, Scotland, Wales and either of the Irelands would have been a huge attraction – the Rock can look forward to fun-filled nights when Norway and Netherlands come calling, on March 24th and 30th respectively, the Vikings and the Dutch football fans, believe me, know how to properly party and Ocean Village will definitely rock that week, reawakening warm memories of great nights like the recent visit of the Republic of Ireland in the Euro qualifiers, and on the club side, Glasgow giants Rangers and Celtic, the latter expedition entered football folklore as “The Shock of Gibraltar” when Lincoln Red Imps unforgettably derailed the green and white hoops!
Gibraltar is a picture postcard destination, with a world class but sadly underused international airport that through increasing participation in football is now really being opened up to the world, and while all of mankind have heard of The Rock, not that many have stopped here until now. Long may the visits of discovery continue and the fervent hope is that come March, with the help of the vaccine, freedom of travel will have been restored, the Covid-19 pandemic will be extinguished and the horror of the past year will begin to fade. Hang fire though on binning the face masks, the adornments have transformed many of my acquaintances at the QuarterDeck Tavern into visions a lot easier on the eye than is the norm!
HOPES are high that the eagerly awaited contest between the two best heavyweights on the planet, both British, clean-cut Anthony Joshua who hails from Watford and self-styled King of the Gypsies Tyson Fury, the complex Mancunian who constantly courts controversy by publicly endorsing and socialising with notorious Irish and Scottish gangsters.
Eye-watering cash in the region of half a billion pounds have been floated for the clash, with late summer the suggested date, Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 the venue, pandemic permitting. However, should social distancing still be required, money-no-object Saudi Arabia is on standby and very keen to host the mega event. If Riyadh be the chosen site, it will be interesting to see how the Saudi police cope with the Gypsy King’s army of raucous beer-loving fans.
It’s all in the hands of boxing promoters now, a breed that inhabit the same integrity-free zone headed by merchant bankers, football agents and, especially, world leaders – the current dodgy trio of Trump, Boris and Putin being prime examples – but whenever or wherever the extravaganza is staged, it ain’t gonna be cheap for boxing fans!
THE 43rd Ryder Cup clash between the United States and Team Europe, postponed from last year due to the pandemic, will now take place at Whistling Straits, Haven, Wisconsin on September 24th- 26th, where the Yanks, still smarting from being walloped 17-1/2 – 10-1/2 by the Europeans in Paris in 2018, will be hoping to avenge that rout and, borrowing the puerile slogan of the unlamented ex- Commander-in-Chief Trump, ‘make America great again’! Sadly, Uncle Sam’s boys are favourites in my book to regain the Trophy at what is sure to be a very hostile bear pit atmosphere at Whistling Straits. I do hope I’m proved wrong!
ENGLAND, who have dominated this version of the sport for the past couple of years, will fancy their chances of lifting the T20 World Cup due to be played in India, starting 18th October with the final scheduled for 15th November. Captain Eoin Morgan’s side have been very impressive recently with series victories over South Africa and Australia and confidence is high that this squad can claim the Cup for the second time, with reigning champions West Indies very much in decline, hosts India can emerge as the main threat to the Poms.
TOKYO OLYMPIC GAMES
POSTPONED from last year due to the pandemic, the Tokyo Olympic Games will now take place from 23rd July to 8th August. As a kid growing up, I was fascinated every four years by the Olympics, especially the boxing and athletics, but now some of the lustre has been lost with repeated drug scandals tarnishing the great event. The highlight for me this time will be the performance of Dina Asher-Smith, the immensely talented and likeable 25-year-old from Orpington, in the ladies sprints. Gold medals await the delightful Dina!