1st November 2020
Eight months ago – at the beginning of March – I had just about completed my plans for sports-watching in the summer of 2020. It turned out to be a memorable programme.
The opening item on the agenda, at the end of that month, was the first leg of the Women’s Champions League quarter-final between Glasgow City and VfLWolfsburg at Petershill Park in Springburn. Although the Scottish Women’s Premier League runs over the calendar year – and the 2020 season had only just started – the European tournament had commenced last autumn and Glasgow City had reached the last eight for only the second time.
I had expected that Wolfsburg would be formidable opponents, having twice won the competition and been runners-up on two other occasions in the last eight years. The home side battled hard, cheered on vociferously by their support in the 1,500 crowd, but the German side’s experience showed through and they took the spoils 2-0. The second leg, a week later, produced an aggregate score of 5-1. (In a parallel universe, previously reported on 22nd August in “Unfinished Business At Petershill Park”, Wolfsburg won 9-1 in a single-leg tie played in the Anoeta Stadium in San Sebastian).
At the beginning of May, my friend George Farrow and I had a couple of days in Manchester to watch Lancashire play Essex in the County Championship. It was the first time I had visited the ground since 1976, when I had seen Geoff Boycott make a century and then watched Geoff Cope take six wickets on the third day of a Yorkshire victory in the Roses match.
The weather this time was not quite so hot as it had been in that glorious summer, but it was pleasant enough for the early season. The visitors dominated the match, Alastair Cook and the new Essex captain Tom Westley making first innings centuries and the impressive off-spinner Simon Harmer taking 10 wickets in total. There was some late resistance in Lancashire’s second innings from Steven Croft and Graham Onions, but Essex sewed up victory by 8 wickets on the third afternoon.
The following month, Scotland hosted two T20 international matches at the attractive Grange ground in Edinburgh: New Zealand and, ten days later, Australia. The tourists won both matches: New Zealand by scrambling a hurried single off the penultimate delivery and Australia in a canter by over 100 runs. Both games were played in bright sunshine in front of capacity crowds and we were treated to some exhilarating batting, initially by Kane Williamson and then Steve Smith. I have remarked before on how much pleasure is to be gained by watching elite sportsmen at the top of their game.
The evening after the Scotland-Australia match, I reverted back to soccer. I had been successful in the ballot for tickets for the Last 16 Euro 2020 match played at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Of course, at the time of booking, I had not known which teams would be playing – and this added to the sense of anticipation of the event – and it turned out that these were Spain (winners of Group E) and Russia (third in Group B).
The Spanish supporters turned out in huge numbers and their vibrant enthusiasm and noise was something of a contrast to the stuttering performance of their lauded team. The Russians were methodical and well-organised, but neither side was able to break the goalless deadlock before the end of extra time. The real drama came in the penalty shoot-out, in which a combination of striker nerves and goalkeeping excellence meant that the score was only 2-1 to Russia when Sergio Ramos, the Spanish captain, stepped up to take the final kick in the first phase of five attempts. He duly blasted the kick over the bar to send the Russians into the quarter-finals.
A double header of cricket followed in July. First, there was a 50 over Royal London Cup match – Yorkshire Vikings versus Nottinghamshire Outlaws at Scarborough – and then, the following evening, the Northern Superchargers vs the Oval Invincibles at Headingley in the new “Hundred” competition.
The two traditional county sides were without some of their main players – including Joe Root, Johnny Bairstow and Alex Hales – who had been voraciously gobbled up by various Hundred franchises. But that did not prevent them putting on an excellent game of cricket, in which both teams scored over 300 runs and Yorkshire won by two wickets with 4 balls to spare. Adam Lyth played the decisive innings, his final boundary taking him to exactly 150 not out.
It was at that time, unfortunately, that the summer’s hitherto fine weather turned less favourable. My train journey from Scarborough to Leeds the following morning was characterised by a view across the Vale of York of squally showers and strong winds. The weather hinted at an improvement in the hour before play started and, indeed, three (10 ball) overs were possible before the rain arrived again and set in for the evening. The Oval Invincibles had made 41 for 2 by the time the players sprinted from the field. Jason Roy, their star opening batsmen, revealed himself as being not quite so invincible after all when Ben Stokes dismissed him lbw second ball.
So much for what I have recently watched. There is more to come, not least the Second Test in the three-match England vs Australia rugby league Ashes series, the first such confrontation for many years. I have a good seat on the half-way line for the game at Elland Road next weekend. Can’t wait.
I am reminded of a popular 1980s television soap opera.
Dallas. (Series 8, Episode 30, 1985, CBS). Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) is fatally injured when run over by a car driven by Katherine Wentworth (Morgan Brittany).
Dallas. (Series 10, Episode 1, 1986, CBS). Pamela Ewing (Victoria Principal) wakes up in her luxurious bedroom. She wanders into the bathroom, where Bobby is in the shower. It turns out that she had dreamt Bobby’s death – as well as all the events in the 31 episodes of Series 9.