The sports story of 2021

in Features/Sport Insight

A year of tears, fears and recovery

PLANET Earth’s struggle to shed the shackles of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic is at last showing signs of success and, as always, sport leads the way on the road back to normality. Come with me as we take a look at the highs and lows of this desperate year.

JANUARY

3rd: Death of Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers, forever synonymous with what is probably the world’s best known football anthem, Liverpool FC’s You’ll Never Walk Alone, passed away aged 78 after a short illness, believed to be cardiac related.

Darts crowned the year’s first world champion when Wales’s Gerwyn Price secured the PDC title for the first time, the pugnacious ex-rugby league star comfortably overcoming Scotland’s Gary Anderson 7-3 at London’s Ally Pally.

25th: Chelsea sack coach and club legend Frank Lampard.

FEBRUARY

5th: Scotland win rugby’s Calcutta Cup, stunning England 11-6 and ending 38 years of anguish since Bonnie Prince Charley’s troops last prevailed over the ‘auld enemy’ at Twickenham.

7th: Tampa Bay Buccaneers upset defending champions Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 to lift the Super  Bowl. A 30-second TV advert during the event cost an astonishing £4 million.

20th: Japan’s Naomi Osaka won her second Australia Open beating American Jennifer Brady in straight sets in the women’s final in Melbourne.

21st: Novak Djokovic outclassed Russian Daniil Medvedev in straight sets to win his ninth Australian Tennis Open.

27th: Wales wallop England 40-24 in Cardiff  to win rugby union’s Triple Crown for the 22nd time in an exciting game marred by some controversial refereeing decisions.

MARCH

1st: Liverpool icon and legendary TV sports presenter Ian St John passed away after a long illness, aged 82.

7th: Snooker’s world number one Judd Trump retained his Gibraltar Open crown, whitewashing Jack Lisowski 4-0 in the final that, because of Covid lockdown, had been switched to Milton Keynes.

13th: One of boxing’s true greats ‘Marvellous’ Marvin Hagler passes away, the fearsome shaven-headed legend is counted out at age 66.

16th: Rachael Blackmore, riding Honeysuckle, becomes the first female to win the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Charismatic Rachael went on to finish top rider at the festival.

19th: The Cheltenham Gold Cup returned to Ireland as Minella Indo, ridden by Jack Kennedy at odds of  9/1, won steeplechasing’s Blue Riband event.

20th: Death claimed Leeds United legend Peter “Hotshot” Lorimer, aged 74.

24th: Gibraltar’s international goalkeeper Dayle Edward Coeling, who at the time plied his trade with Irish club Glentoran, made Fifa’s Team of the Round, following a truly herculean performance for his country in the 3-0 World Cup qualifier loss to Norway at the Victoria Stadium.

26th: Wales are confirmed as rugby union’s Six Nations champions when closest opponents France were sensationally beaten 23-27 in Paris by Scotland.

27th: Gibraltar was the venue as Londoner Dillian Whyte avenged last year’s surprise defeat to Alexander Petovkin in the Rumble on the Rock rematch, impressively stopping the Russian in the 4th round.

APRIL

10th: Three weeks after becoming top rider at the Cheltenham Festival, Rachael Blackmore created further history by becoming the first female to win the Grand National, the Tipperary girl giving a masterful performance on board 11/1 shot Minella Times.

11th: Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese golfer to win a Major title, sparking wild celebration in his native nation when the 29-year-old donned the famous green jacket of The Masters at Augusta.

25th: Manchester City created history when winning the Cariboo League Cup for the fourth time in a row, beating woeful Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 in a disappointing Wembley final, at which Covid-19 restrictions had been lifted sufficiently to allow 8,000 spectators to attend..

MAY

3rd: Mark Selby won his fourth World Snooker Championship, the 38-year-old Leicester man comfortably defeating Shaun Murphy 18-15 at Sheffield’s Crucible. 

11th: Manchester City are crowned Premier League champions with three games to spare when nearest pursuers Manchester United are beaten at home by Leicester, making it mathematically impossible for Pep Guardiola’s brilliant side to be caught.

15th Leicester City won the FA Cup for the first time, beating Chelsea 1-0 in the final at Wembley.

26th: Heartache for the Red Devils as Villareal snatch the Europa League Cup from Manchester United’s grasp after an unforgettable 11-10 penalty shootout in the final at Gdansk, Poland.

29th: Underdogs Chelsea win their second Champions League title, stunning Manchester City 1-0 in the final in Oporto, Portugal.

JUNE

5th Adayar wins the Epsom Derby at 16/1, giving jockey Adam Kirby his first success in the classic.

12th Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic was a surprise winner of  the French Ladies Tennis Open, beating Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the final.

13th Peerless Serb Novak Djokovic roared back from two sets down to win the French Men’s Open, his 19th grand slam, overcoming Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas in an epic five-set final.

20th Spanish golfer Jon Rahm nets his first major title when winning the US Open at Torrey Pines.

JULY

10th Australian Ash Barty was crowned Wimbledon Ladies champion beating Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in an entertaining three-set final.

11th: Novak Djokovic claimed his 20th Grand Slam when capturing  the Wimbledon Men’s title, outpointing promising Italian Matteo Berrettini in a four-set final.

Heartbreak for England as Italy come from behind to win the pandemic-delayed Euro 2020 final at Wembley, the Three Lions succumbing on penalties after extra-time, their old bogey, spotkicks, once again proving their downfall.

18th: American Collin Morikawa captures the British Open golf championship at Royal St George’s with an impressive 15-under par total taking him two shots clear of the field.

Lewis Hamilton overcame a 10-second penalty, imposed  for a shunt that put chief rival Max Verstappen out of the race and taken to hospital, to controversially win the British F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone.

23rd: The 2020 Summer Olympics finally got underway in Tokyo after being delayed for a year by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

August

7th: South Africa rather fortuitously sealed a 2-1 series win over the touring British and Irish Lions with a gritty 19-16 victory in the final Test in Capetown.

8th: The curtain came down on the Tokyo Olympics and, despite the restrictions imposed to combat Covid-19 resulting in mainly spectatorless events, there were many sparkling performances. Team GB equalled the total medal haul of 65 achieved in the London 2012 Games.

11th: Chelsea added the European Super Cup to their Champions League title, beating Villareal at Windsor Park Belfast. The match had ended 1-1 after extra time and the Londoners held their nerve to pip the Spanish side 6-5 in a bottom-clenching penalty shootout.

25th: Fondly remembered as Lord Ted, former England cricket captain Ted Dexter passed away, aged 86.

SEPTEMBER

5th: Gibraltar celebrated as local rower Jack Prior helped Team GB win the European U23 Eight Rowing Championship in Kruszwica, Poland.

The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics concluded with Team GB amassing an outstanding haul of 124 medals, a total that saw the Brits finish second in the overall medal table, behind China but ahead of both the United States and Russia.

11th: Bromley schoolgirl Emma Raducanu astonished the tennis world by winning the US Open, the 18-year-old qualifier incredibly capturing the title in New York without conceding a single set in her fairytale 10-match run to glory.

12th: Russian Daniil Medvedev ended Novak Djokovic’s brave bid to win all four slams in a calendar year when beating the great Serb in straight sets in the US Open final.

19th: One of football’s brightest stars was extinguished as England and Spurs legend Jimmy Greaves passed away, aged 81.

26th: Team USA trashed Europe 19-9 when regaining the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, serving ominous notice that Uncle Sam’s youngsters look assured to arrest Europe’s dominance of recent years.

OCTOBER

9th: Tyson Fury survived two 4th Round knockdowns to stop  Deontay Wilder in the 11th in Las Vegas, completing a  clean sweep for the Gypsy King in the fight trilogy between the two warriors. Surely there won’t be a Fury-Wilder-4, they’re catching up Rocky!

10th: France come from behind to beat Spain 2-1 in a high-quality Euro Nations League final in the San Siro, Milan.

26th: Revered Rangers and Scotland ex-player and manager Walter Smith passes away, aged 73.

NOVEMBER

11th: Steven Gerrard announced as Aston Villa manager after a very successful spell resurrecting Glasgow Rangers’ fortunes.

14th: Australia win cricket’s ICC T20 World Cup for the first time, chasing down a record target of 179 to beat neighbours New Zealand in the final in Dubai.

Word by Roger Shrapnel


How do you define the values of a sport?

We all understand the concept of fair play in sports, but the international rugby community has always prided itself on something more than just that. Defining those values is difficult but worthwhile and a number of rugby organisations, from the national bodies and unions down to individual clubs, have taken the time and effort to do just that, especially over the last couple of decades as the concept of ‘rugby values’ have become more, well, valued. This has given us a rich variety of value sets across the rugby planet, each with their own cultural take on the matter but, by and large, they are generally similar. 

Incidentally, one of the beauties of having a consistent set of values across the globe is that no matter where you end up, if you want to play or watch rugby you will be doing with likeminded people who will welcome you, even if you’re wearing the opposition colours!

So what are these rugby values and how do they fit in with rugby in Gibraltar?

Recently, Gibraltar Rugby Football Union underwent a restructuring programme and, as part of this, they set down their own set of rugby core values using the acronym R.I.D.E.; Respect, Inclusion, Discipline, Enjoyment. And on the surface of it, that sounds quite neat, but it is worth considering the impact of these values and their effect, not only in rugby but in the wider community that lives on the Rock and beyond.

The enjoyment experienced by the participants, coaches and many volunteers that make up Gibraltar rugby could be regarded as the ‘pay-off’ of the other three elements that make up the GRFU’s rugby values system. Certainly, given the numbers and recent growth, not just in players but in qualified coaches as well, there is plenty of evidence that people are enjoying themselves. On a Saturday morning you will regularly see around two hundred children, from 2 years old to under 17s, training and playing on the rugby pitches at Europa Sports Complex.

The GRFU is rightly proud of these numbers and it is the inclusiveness that you see in rugby which helps drive this. Rugby is often said to be a game for all shapes and sizes so any new player that turns up is welcomed with open arms. The sport is very good at finding your special talent or strength and developing it so that you become an essential part of the team. It runs deeper than that though. Go to any rugby club and you will not only find that range of body types and skill sets, but a massive diversity of people. Most teams will contain young bucks and seasoned campaigners. Coppers rub shoulders with students. Senior managers will share a pint with shop workers. You see this with the youngsters as well as they develop social networks outside of the usual school and family environment as they learn to play alongside and rely upon each other in a game.

It goes without saying that a lot of this only works with a degree of discipline. Rugby is a physically and mentally demanding sport with many specialised skill sets. The players have to be mindful of this and how they apply themselves, both in training and in the game. The reward here is that they will improve as players and develop as individuals. Rugby is often held up as a bastion of good sportsmanship and a lot of that can be attributed to the discipline and respect shown on the pitch, not least to the referee and the laws of the game. There is a wonderful story of a referee awarding penalty against a 120kg international player during a game where the player responded with a meek “Sorry, sir.” 

Respect is very much entwined with the values outlined earlier; respect for the referee but also to the opposition. Rugby has a great tradition of both teams applauding each other after the final whistle and sharing a drink with your opposite number in the clubhouse bar. 

Respect isn’t limited to just the pitch; with rugby’s natural drive to socialise, it spills over into other areas of a participant’s life. With the recent increase of both community and environmental awareness across society, volunteers from all sections are regularly involved in charitable endeavours to improve the world around them, respecting their environment and the people in it. Rock Scorpions raised money during the 2020 Movember prostate cancer awareness campaign whilst other individuals have tapped into the natural generosity of the union membership to raise money for other worthwhile causes like the Sepsis Trust or the Royal Gibraltar Regiment Benevolent Fund. The Mini and Youth section have been particularly active in this area where the players and parents have worked on more than one occasion with the Nautilus Project on environmental improvement works, like local beach clean-ups, and fundraisers for Childline.

 At a recent coach development course, where the GRFU brought in academy coaches from a Rugby Premiership club in England, the lead coach talked about developing players, especially young players, as people, not just rugby players. This is very much part of the culture within Gibraltar Rugby. Long may it remain that way.


Gibraltar’s U19s make their International Futsal Debut

Gibraltar’s Under 19s made they competitive international debut, at the beginning of November, as they hosted their UEFA U19 Futsal Euro Preliminary Round Qualifying Group at the Tercentenary Sports Hall.

Group B in the Preliminary Round, drawn earlier on in the year, would throw up North Macedonia and Montenegro as Gibraltar’s U19 Futsal Euro opponents. Interestingly, two nations who have visited the Rock in the past in various other UEFA competitions, both in football and futsal. 

Before a ball was kicked, Montenegro were arguably the pre-tournament favourites, and as had been decided by the draw, they would be up against Gibraltar first, in other words a baptism of fire for the Group hosts in international U19 Futsal. 

However, under the expert guidance of Gibraltar’s Futsal Head Coach Jose Carlos Gil Prieto, Gibraltar got off to a flying start. Spurred on by the noisy and raucous home crowd, Gibraltar were 2-0 up after 11 minutes and indeed went into the half time break 2 up. In the second half Montenegro U19s had calmed down and began to show their class. As the game developed the visitors scored 6 unanswered goals to lead 6-2. A late rally by Gibraltar saw the U19s pull one goal back to meaning their first ever international was an extremely positive 6-3 defeat. 

The second match of the tournament saw Montenegro beat North Macedonia 2-0, justifying their tag as pre-tournament favourites, meaning they clinched Group B and progressed into the main qualifying round of the UEFA U19 Futsal Euro.           

That meant the final game of the group, North Macedonia v Gibraltar was a straight shootout for second place. Once again Gibraltar’s youngsters took the lead, however this time their opponents, North Macedonia, hit back immediately and began to stamp their authority in the game racing into a 4-1 lead. With 5 minutes to go Gibraltar wrestled back the initiative pulling a goal back and immediately deploying their ‘flying’ goalkeeper. What followed was a 3-minute onslaught on the Macedonian goal, but chance after chance was squandered and wasted by the hosts. 4-2 the final score to the visitors. 

Despite the two losses, Gibraltar’s U19s have plenty of positives to take from their international bow. Many for the players in the squad are still young in the U19 age category so they will get a second chance at this level in two years’ time and their performances have proved that they can look forward to a bright futsal future!     

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