The alternative 2021 sports awards: quotes, gaffes and animal cameos | Soccer

Lee Anderson MP
Lee Anderson MP. Photograph: PA Media

Quote of the year

Lee Anderson MP, shrugging off the critics in July after his boycott of England didn’t catch on. Anderson, who called players taking the knee at the Euros “an attack on our very way of life”, said he wasn’t bothered about being mocked: “I don’t go on Twitter because it’s full of idiots.”

Also getting involved last summer, but taking a more nuanced view:

Rising above all that

Was the then education secretary, Gavin Williamson, sitting down with the Evening Standard in September to relaunch himself after a run of missteps. Standard: “Many of his critics have been high profile, including Marcus Rashford who called for an urgent review of free school meals. Has he met the footballer? ‘We met over Zoom and he seemed incredibly engaged, compassionate and charming but then he had to shoot off. I didn’t want to be the one that was holding him back from his training.’ Later Williamson’s team tell me he actually met the rugby player Maro Itoje, not Rashford.”

Gavin Williamson
Gavin Williamson: relaunched. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Plus: the year’s other top diversity champions

  • Uefa – moving to “send a clear signal” in April by banning Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela for 10 games for racism, and Rangers’ Glen Kamara for three games for reacting to it.

  • @BorisJohnson – left reeling again in November by news that, in the past, people had used offensive racist language. “Brave testimony from Azeem Rafiq. I commend him for speaking out. There is no excuse for racism anywhere in society.”

  • Juventus Women saying sorry in August after tweeting a photo with matching emojis of defender Cecilia Salvai using her fingers to narrow her eyes. Juve clarification: “This tweet was not meant to have any racial undertones.”

  • And Serbia’s Volleyball Federation apologising after Sanja Djurdjevic did the same thing in a game against Thailand, four years after the whole team posed for a photo doing it in Japan. “We apologise sincerely. But please, don’t blow this out of proportion! Sanja didn’t mean any disrespect.”

Meanwhile: still holding the line

Lazio – demanding Amazon Prime delete an “odious” scene in their Maradona drama where the lead character refers to Lazio as “fascists”. The club said the scene – aired a month after their eagle mascot handler gave fascist salutes as fans sang a Mussolini tribute chant while Mussolini’s great-grandson made his first-team breakthrough – had “clear defamatory intent.”

But – personal breakthrough of the year

@Nigel_Farage in September, finally finding a Romanian family he’d live next door to. “A global megastar is born. @EmmaRaducanu winning the US Open – truly incredible.”

Sports politics awards

Fans’ ally of the year

Boris Johnson – standing up for fans by slamming the European Super League “cartel” in April and threatening a “legislative bomb” to stop it, days after Manchester United’s Ed Woodward left No 10 with “the impression Johnson was in favour of it”. No 10 source: “Boris doesn’t know much about football so he said it was a great idea. So Dan [Rosenfield, chief of staff] told the clubs No 10 wouldn’t stand in their way. Then it all kicked off …”

Most all over the place

The Premier League: launching their new owners’ charter in August to “protect the integrity of our game”, committing owners to “core principles” of fair play, equality and human rights, two months before signing off Newcastle’s takeover.


The Premier League: relaxing rules for Saudi Arabia, but not for the homeless charity Shelter, who wanted clubs to wear away kits on Boxing Day. “Clubs are entitled to support charitable causes… provided it is in compliance with Premier League rules.”

Plus: honorable mention for

The Premier League: backing the first #GameZero carbon-neutral match in September to “raise awareness of the threat of climate change and inspire fans to make simple changes to reduce their carbon footprint”, a week before shareholders held fresh talks over staging “meaningful matches” abroad – a new “attempt to grow the game”.

Clarification of the year

Came from Japan’s Olympic organisers – handing out 160,000 free condoms to athletes in June with a warning not to use them. Organisers said anyone engaging in “unnecessary forms of physical contact” amid strict Covid rules faced fines or deportation: “The condoms are not meant to be used at the Olympic Village.”

Core values of the year

Uefa’s PR team – releasing a rainbow-coloured Uefa badge in June in a bid to stem a run of tough headlines over Uefa’s Euro 2020 decisions to ban the Allianz Arena using rainbow colours, to investigate Manuel Neuer for wearing them and to ban sponsors using them to avoid upsetting Russia. Uefa said the badge “embodies our core values, promoting everything that we believe in”.

And the best response to all that

At a tournament where fans had rainbow flags confiscated: teenage pitch invader Finn-Luca taking a rainbow flag to the Hungary team to protest against the country’s anti-gay laws. Fans crowd-funded his fine.

Unauthorised rainbow flag action at Germany v Hungary, 23 June
Unauthorised rainbow flag action at Germany v Hungary, 23 June. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Worst PR moment

Came for Uefa’s Europa Conference League in December – the tournament already struggling for credibility before a dog invaded the warm-up at Partizan Belgrade and fouled the pitch while staring into the camera. 3.3m views.

Investigation of the year

Was carried out by Concacaf in September after Ronnie Brunswijk – Suriname’s 61-year-old vice-president, ex-rebel leader, bank robber, father of 50, convicted drug trafficker and owner of Inter Moengotapoe – named himself captain in a Concacaf League game. Brunswijk played an hour at Ronnie Brunswijkstadion, subbed himself off then handed out cash to opponents. Concacaf said the episode had raised certain “integrity concerns” and, after “considering written statements”, banned him.

Plus: best annual sports governance tradition

Sepp Blatter, 85, denying wrongdoing. “What can you do against the international media … People should realise that I have given 41 years into the Fifa. What I have done for football, they should appreciate.” Sepp’s 2021 festive message: “I am not a criminal.”

Social media awards

2021’s top corporate missteps

  • April: Spurs’ new paint partner @DuluxUK apologising after their tweets mocking Spurs unsettled the fanbase: “These posts do not reflect how proud we are to be the Official Paint Supplier.”

  • November: Spurs announcing their new Italian manager in Spanish, deleting it and trying again.

  • July: Spurs plugging their bold new multicoloured kit with the tweet: “Describe this kit in one word.” 3,400 people did.

  • August: Everton tweeting a video eulogy to fans who died in the pandemic, having failed to vet online submissions, resulting in tributes to Faye Knewse and Mike Oxsmall.

  • July: Adidas using an image of Millie Turner to launch the new Manchester United home kit under their “never forget where you came from” tagline, captioning her “Amy Turner”.

  • And March: Manchester United’s social media operator going live on Instagram by mistake. 37,000 fans watched as they microwaved their lunch.

Purest non-league tweet

From @CurzonAshton’s in-play feed, 27 Nov: “15, Pause in play as the ref needs to move his car.” Runner-up: 13 Nov, @MarineAFC: “Thanks to @dunstonutsfc player Philip Turnbull for attempting to fix our floodlights.”

View of the year

Was for neighbours at a locked-down Marine watching Spurs win 5-0 in January. @Cmcm1991: “Watching Gareth Bale whilst leaning out my window. Unreal”; Bale sent back a waving emoji. Marine sold 30,697 virtual tickets for £10 each.

Neighbours keep an eye on Marine v Spurs
Neighbours keep an eye on Marine v Spurs. Photograph: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Getty Images

Thread of the year

2021’s best use of excess time online.

And Twitter storm of the year

Came in February: #BoycottSpiderman trending in India after a controversial cricket tweet written by historian @holland_tom, not Spider-Man actor @TomHolland1996. Fans said the tweet criticising the renaming of the Motera Stadium was “sedition … This is India’s internal matter. We will teach you a lesson of lifetime. #BoycottSpiderman.”

Growth industry of the year

Standing out in a solid 12 months of sportswashing:

  • Arsenal: denying making bad choices in March after taking £40m shirt-sleeve money from a Rwandan regime which denies serial human rights abuse and skewing poverty figures: “We have worked together to challenge perceptions and tell Rwanda’s story of culture, heritage and transition – as well as raising awareness of the country as a luxury holiday destination.”

  • Fifa head Gianni Infantino: starring in a Saudi Arabian government video in January doing a ceremonial sword dance and telling the camera: “This country is amazing, incredible, the world should come and see.” Infantino told critics: “Engagement is the best way to make change happen.”

  • And David Beckham, signing a reported £150m deal to front Qatar’s rebrand. A source told the Sun: “By signing David, the hope is more westerners will be encouraged to see Qatar’s beautiful beaches, vast expanses of sand dunes and incredible skyscrapers.”

Press awards

Fake news of the year

  • BT Sport, 22 Oct: “There’s been speculation about you Steven, what would you say to those linking you with a move away from Rangers?” Steven Gerrard: “Do I look happy? Do I look settled? Don’t ask me silly questions then.” 11 Nov: Joins Villa.

  • 20 Jan: Brescia’s former Leeds owner Massimo Cellino moves to shake off his unfair media “manager eater” image by extending new coach David Dionigi’s contract to 2022 to guarantee proper stability. 4 Feb: Sacks him.

  • 28 Oct: Norwich sporting director Stuart Webber lays into “disgraceful” headlines about Daniel Farke. “To be questioning Daniel at this point would be incredibly unfair. This isn’t about focusing on one man.” 6 Nov: Focuses on one man.

Employer of the year

Genoa president Enrico Preziosi, styling out an 11-year epic.

  • Nov 2010: Preziosi hires coach Davide Ballardini as a long-term fix for “a brighter future”. June 2011: Sacks him. “I told him on the phone, he’s done here.” Jan 2013: Offering “a second chance”, rehires Ballardini. May 2013: Sacks him. “I say this now: me and Ballardini, we will never, ever meet again.” Nov 2017: Seeking fresh ideas, rehires Ballardini. Oct 2018: Sacks him. “I consider Ballardini to be a terrible coach. He doesn’t know how to put his players on the pitch, he can’t do anything, he provides such a terrible spectacle. I don’t enjoy firing him, but the decision was inevitable. He’s a terrible coach. Hiring him was my mistake.” Dec 2020: Rehires Ballardini. Nov 2021: Sacks him, then sells the club. “Over the years I had many clashes with Ballardini. But it’s clear that I do respect the guy. You know, I don’t speak ill of anyone. It’s just something I’ve never done.”

Davide Ballardini and Enrico Preziosi in 2010
Davide Ballardini (left) and Enrico Preziosi, 2010. Photograph: Massimo Cebrelli/Getty Images

Toughest HR policy

Hamilton Academicals, sacking in-house co-commentator Bobby Bulloch in February after he started the second half silent then said: “Sorry, I hadn’t pressed the button when I went away for a jobby at half-time, excuse my language, and I’ve not pressed the wee button when I’ve come back.” Hamilton: “A contractor used by the club overstepped the mark. The person will not be used again.”

Direct action of the year

Came from Everton fans in June, trying to put off Rafa Benítez. The Guardian: “Animosity towards the 61‑year‑old has already spilled over into personal abuse on banners … one left near his family home in Wirral warned: ‘We know where you live,’ although it was left outside the wrong house.”

Pre-match press conference of the year

Was in March: Dinamo Zagreb coach Zoran Mamic meeting the press before their Europa League last-16 tie with Spurs. Mamic told them he was quitting after being sentenced to jail for stealing £13m then fled the country. He denies wrongdoing.

Also doing it differently

St Mirren manager Jim Goodwin, giving his pre-game zoom interview headless in December.

Scamp of the year

This ballboy, keeping busy in Algeria.

Best startle reflex

Euro 2020 stadium announcer Edit Szalay, reacting after Hungary’s Attila Fiola slapped her desk in celebration after scoring against France while she was looking for a dropped earpiece. Fiola apologised later for “overwhelming you … I’m glad that after your fright you were happy.” Szalay: “At first I thought I was going to die. Later I was overjoyed.”

And headline of the summer

Capturing the off-field spirit in London – Metro, July: “Idiot drank 20 ciders, snorted coke, put flare up backside then stormed Wembley.” His view on it: “I was off my face and I loved every minute. See you in Qatar.”

Top attention seekers

Headlining 12 months of animal cameos:

1) An alsatian in Chile ghosting into the box for a Deportivo San Miguel de Rio Viejo free-kick and nodding it home from an offside position. 2.6m views.

2) Russia’s chess world title challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi making a series of tactical blunders in May in an online semi-final as mosquitoes swarmed his room. “I swear I never had more annoying playing conditions than this.”

3) A sea lion “storming the pitch” in July as Dunedin Technical AFC 9th grade Diamonds took on Grants Braes AFC in New Zealand. Reports said when the game was moved to another pitch the sea lion “stormed that one too”.

4) The Colorado Rockies reassuring fans after an in-play cat bit security at Coors Field in April then “escaped in the service level”. ”Both guards are fine.”

5) A dog joining the home stretch of a 4x200m in Utah, clocking the final 100m in 10.5sec. Race leader Gracie Laney: “I thought: ‘Holy cow, that dog is fast.’”

Dog breaks loose to win relay race in US high school track event – video
Dog breaks loose to win relay race in US high school track event – video

6) A racehorse making off down a US highway in July after being spooked at a Kentucky race track and tossing its jockey. Bold and Bossy made it on to Interstate 69, was chased by police for 30 minutes, then had to be rescued again after the barn she was put in caught fire. Owner Michael Ann Ewing: “She’s just exhausted by all this … but still sweet as pie.”

7) FC Zürich president Ancillo Canepa’s dog Chilla escaping from his executive box, making her way “through multiple doors and barriers” to join play against Sion. Canepa: “I can’t explain, it’s very frustrating. She loves football.”

8) An alligator joining training in Florida as Toronto FC prepared for their Concacaf Champions League match against Cruz Azul in April. Defender Chris Mavinga: “It’s good to be in Florida … I never see this in Toronto.”

'It's good to be in Florida': alligator interrupts Toronto FC training – video
‘It’s good to be in Florida’: alligator interrupts Toronto FC training – video

9) And Scottish club Ferguslie Star denied a goal due to “outside interference” in August after a stray dog made a goalline save, sparking brave “Stray Given” headlines.

Stray Given? Dog makes goalline save in Scottish amateur football match – video
Stray Given? Dog makes goalline save in Scottish amateur football match – video

Plus: fondest farewell

Cologne vice-president Eckhard Sauren paying tribute to the Bundesliga club’s late mascot, celebrity goat Hennes VIII, in April. Sauren said the goat “experienced many highs and lows in his 11 years here. Hennes VIII was a special goat, in many ways.”

Hennes VIII
Hennes VIII: special goat. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Stoic of the year

Jon Rahm, forced out of the Memorial golf tournament on live TV in June while leading by six strokes after an official told him he’d tested positive for Covid. Rahm called it “one of those moments where how we respond defines us”, then won the US Open, his first major, a fortnight later.

Most prescient blooper

Australia’s ABC News Breakfast sports presenter Tony Armstrong on Tim Paine’s fitness in September, two months before Paine’s sexting scandal broke. “Tim Paine is set to undergo neck surgery but medical staff remain confident the veteran will be fit for the Ashes. Paine has a bulging dick that has… disc that has been causing pain.” Co-host: “A bulging what?” Armstrong: “I said disc.”

Millionaire of the year

Snooker’s Shaun Murphy, weighing up amateur Si Jiahui beating him in November. “He shouldn’t even be in the building. Amateurs shouldn’t be allowed in professional tournaments, the end. This is our livelihood. This is how I put food on the table. It’s not fair, it’s not right.” Murphy later apologised for “taking the shine off” Si’s win.

Mansplaining of the year

As tweeted in August by US long distance runner Molly Seidel.

Most unexpected rule change

Was F1 ending grid access for rappers’ bodyguards after Martin Brundle’s grid walk brush-off. Brundle: “I get ignored by Megan Thee Stallion, biffed out of the way by a man mountain and then told off by a Malfoy lookalike … I put out a simple tweet about it and got five million impressions. I don’t understand any of that, to be honest.”

Olympics awards

Assist of the year

Tokyo 2020 volunteer Tiana Kawashima Stojkovic, paying £65 for a taxi for Jamaican hurdler Hansle Parchment after he took the wrong bus and turned up at the aquatics centre. Parchment later won gold, Jamaica gave her a luxury mini-break.

Retrospect of the year

Tokyo’s least anticipated headline: “German modern pentathlon coach thrown out of Olympics for punching horse.” Kim Raisner, who also told her rider to “really hit” Saint Boy to relax him, said: “In retrospect you can perhaps say that was too harsh.”

Worst attempt to impress the boss

South Korean broadcaster MBC’s on-screen caption writer, helping viewers through the opening ceremony with penpics summing up nations’ characters – including Chernobyl exploding for Ukraine and “presidential assassinations” for Haiti. MBC president Park Sung-je issued apologies to embassies, calling it “the most painful and disastrous time since I took office … Again, I bow my head down and apologise.”

Best Olympic incentives

Came from Indonesia, rewarding their badminton gold medalists with five cows, a meatball restaurant, coffee and £260,000 cash. President Joko Widodo hailed Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu’s “tough and thrilling” display; Badminton association spokesperson Broto Happy said the gifts were “a sign of love”.

Most relatable

Amelie Morgan’s dad on why the bronze medal winner first took up gymnastics: “We had twins full of energy, so we had to find something to do. Gymnastics was an hour and a half on a Saturday morning, and everything else was just an hour.”

Most pregnant pause

The five seconds after Clare Balding told 4x200m gold medalist swimmer Matt Richards: “Honestly, your third leg was just phenomenal.”

Best expert


Most reluctant Olympic sensation

Chinese badminton star Chen Qingchen, weighing up global headlines in July including: “Chinese Olympian couldn’t stop saying ‘f***’ during badminton match and fans loved it”. Chen said fans who lapped up her “nonstop” use of the Mandarin word “cao during her doubles against South Korea – including “Wo Cao! Awesome! Cao!” and “Wo Cao! Wo Cao! Wo Cao, Cao, Cao!” – had misheard. “I was just giving myself encouragement for scoring. Thank you for your support.”

Best double-checking

And best homecoming video

One of many: an airport moment for Max Whitlock.

Breakthrough sport of the year

Didn’t come at the Olympics. 135k likes for indoor balloon keepy-uppy.

Reaction of the year

At the French Open in June, a boy failing to play it cool after winner Novak Djokovic gave him his racket. Djokovic: “I don’t know the boy, but he was in my ear the entire match. He was like: ‘Hold your serve, get an easy first ball, then dictate, go to his backhand.’ He was coaching me, literally. I found that cute, very nice.”

Best post-match interview

New Zealand’s rugby sevens prop Rubes Tui.

Best pre-match interview

Bristol Bears front-rower Max Lahiff.

Most compelling 34 second video

Village cricket action from September.

Cricketer accidentally throws bat at teammate after run-out  – video
Cricketer accidentally throws bat at teammate after run-out – video

Mood-lifting moment of the year

Emma Raducanu winning the US Open in September, hearing the crowd singing Sweet Caroline, and joining in.

Award for almost holding it together

BBC Olympic diving commentator Leon Taylor, taking viewers through Tom Daley and Matty Lee’s forward four-and-a-half somersault with a 3.7 degree of difficulty. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, that’s it. That. Is. It. That is untouchable, that is it, that is it, that’s it, that’s it, that’s Olympic gold, that’s Olympic gold, that is Olympic gold, oh my goodness me, unfaltering, yes, what a dive, what a dive, no one can catch them. Oh my word. Oh my goodness. Oh wow.”

Victory speech of the year

Came in August: ParalympicsGB’s Chris Skelley, who starting losing his sight in 2010, reacting to his gold: “Eleven years ago, I was at the darkest part of my life. There was nothing left for me. The only thing that was left was my judo … To stand here and talk to you now as a Paralympic champion … I’m lost for words. I just want a pork pie.”

Chris Skelley celebrates his Paralympic gold medal
Chris Skelley, August 2021. Photograph: imagecomms/ParalympicsGB/PA

And ovation of the year

Came at Wimbledon, but not for the tennis. Prof Sarah Gilbert, co-creator of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab: “I didn’t know it was going to happen … and I’d rather not have been filmed when it suddenly, unexpectedly did.”

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