The alternative 2019 sports awards: quotes, gaffes and animal cameos


 Cat-like reflexes. Photograph: USA Today Sports

Quotes of the year

 Neil Warnock, January – asked about Brexit while sitting in front of a “Visit Malaysia” sign put up by a Cyprus-born chairman to help fund his 11-nationality Cardiff squad: “I can’t wait to get out, if I’m honest. We’ll be far better off out of the bloody thing. In every aspect. Football-wise as well, absolutely. To hell with the rest of the world.”

 Ian Holloway, August – calling for football to be played under WTO rules. “I don’t think that’s our boys making up that new [handball] law. I think that’s people telling us what to do with our game. Now they should stop doing that. I hope we get out, Brexit, because that’s what people are voting for. You cannot have someone telling us how to do our own game.”

Campaigner of the year

Leading on the year’s other hot-button issue: “Extinction of our race is becoming more and more likely … the world is a messed up place. World leaders are either uneducated or don’t care about the environment at all. Honestly, I feel like giving up… people don’t seem to care.” Lewis Hamilton – who denied later that his jet, £13m car collection and £50m Petronas endorsement took the edge off. “I sold my plane a year ago.”

Clean break of the year

Gianni Infantino in June – addressing Fifa’s congress two years after he sacked the ethics team investigating him. “We turned it around! Fifa has gone from being toxic, almost criminal, to what it should be: synonymous with credibility, trust, integrity, equality, and with human rights.”

His other big message in 2019: rejecting talk that it was Fifa’s new reliance on Chinese sponsors that led it to drop all human rights checks and award China the 2021 Club World Cup. “There are problems in this world, everywhere, in many countries. It is not the mission of Fifa to solve the problems of this world.”

 Also not buying complaints from human rights and ethics groups about sportswashing in 2019 – Uefa head Aleksander Ceferin:

a) Explaining why holding the Europa League final in Azerbaijan was the right thing to do: “Human rights is a problem in other places too. Does it mean the fans in Baku do not deserve live football?” And b) reacting to the World Anti‑Doping Agency’s call for Russia to be stripped of Euro 2020 by confronting Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg. His message to Putin – Uefa stands by Russia because: “I must say, the World Cup was organised perfectly… I do not speak just to be nice: I really mean it.”

Vladimir Putin
 Vladimir Putin with Aleksander Ceferin, November. Photograph: Mikhail Klimentyev/AP

Red line of the year

Pushing the Fifa ethics boundaries too far in 2019: Central African Republic executive Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona – banned for six years from all Fifa activities for leading a militia accused of “mass executions, torture, mutilation and rapes”. Ngaïssona, on trial in The Hague in 2020, denies 111 war crimes charges.

And torment of the year

Was felt by Sepp Blatter – threatening to sue Fifa in July for not giving back the 60 luxury watches he left in his office. “These are my watches, give me my watches. It’s important for me.” His biggest question: “Why are they fighting me for these watches? There is no respect… I’ve reached the end of my temper.”

Comeback of the year

José Mourinho – started 2019 out of work, going viral with an ice-rink faceplant in Russia and a €3.3m tax fraud sentence; ended it managing Spurs and quoting Nelson Mandela. “Like Mr Mandela said: ‘You never lose, you win or you learn.’ At United I won and I learned. My time after I left United, that was a good time for me.”

Most triggered

@realDonaldTrump – responding to Megan Rapinoe’s “I’m not going to the fucking White House” snub in June by mis-tagging a series of rebukes – telling @meganrapino, a surprised 21-year-old Starbucks employee from Virginia: “Never disrespect our country, the White House, or our flag.”

 Also getting to him during the USA’s Women’s World Cup run: Rapinoe’s preview of the quarter-final, played in Pride month. “Go gays! You can’t win a championship without gays on your team – it’s never been done before, ever. That’s science, right there!”

Megan Rapinoe
 Megan Rapinoe: taking time out from Starbucks. Photograph: John Walton/PA

Boldest legal claim

Israel Folau – suing Rugby Australia for “discrimination”. Folau, sacked in May for views including “hell awaits homosexuals” and gay marriage causes bushfires, claimed £7.4m for violation of “religious freedom”. Statement: “Mr Folau wants all Australians to know that he does not condone discrimination of any kind.”

Franck Ribéry – handling the feedback last January after he posted a video of himself eating a steak coated in gold. “Let’s start with the jealous, the haters, those only born because a condom had a hole in: f*** your mothers, your grandmothers and even your family tree. I owe you nothing.” Bayern Munich: “Franck accepts his words were unwise.”

War on racism – toughest stand

Still winning on racism: Serie A – expressing “sincere regret” for the “No To Racism” posters they put up this month featuring monkeys with painted faces. CEO Luigi De Siervo: “I realise now these were inappropriate. But what cannot be questioned is the strong, constant condemnation of racism by Serie A.”

 Also standing firm in 2019:
a) Uefa, clearing Porto of racism in September after a fan claimed he was referring to himself as a joke when he led chants of “monkey” while a black player lined up a penalty. The fan said: “Everyone in Portugal knows me as Monkey, it’s my nickname. This is an embarrassing mistake from Uefa.” Uefa accepted the defence.
And b) Downing Street, 10 days after Boris Johnson’s win, unsure why racists were feeling emboldened: “Racism has no place in football, and we must confront this vile behaviour. There is more work to be done by the football authorities … We don’t rule out taking further steps, if required.”

Image of the year

Jack Leach
 Jack Leach: one not out. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Jack Leach, cleaning his glasses at one end as history unfolded at the other. “They needed cleaning. I know I look stupid when I am out there. But it got the job done.” See also the slow-mo video of the year:

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Modern football moment of the year

Came in July: Liverpool FC trying to trademark the word “Liverpool”. The bid was knocked back by officials due to the “geographical significance of the city”; the club said it would “continue aggressively to pursue those who illegally exploit our intellectual property”.

Gap year of the year

Bernard Tomic – fined for not trying at Wimbledon again. Tomic appealed to get his £45,000 prize money back after his 58-minute exit in July; Wimbledon said no. Tomic: “They’re mocking me with what they’re saying. I don’t need the money. It’s just about what’s right.”

Best intentions

Out of ideas last January, Fulham tried a team yoga session to reverse relegation form and “find peace”. It ended early when Aboubakar Kamara and Aleksandar Mitrovic had to be “dragged apart” – sources telling the press it was triggered when “Abou started talking during silent time – a mindfulness moment. Mitrovic told him to shut up.”

Most respectful

Another big year for poppy respect and sad mascots – but viral retweets of Tranmere’s 2017 full body poppy had new resonance in 2019.

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Adult of the year

Sebastian Vettel, 32 – swapping the finishing position cards at the Canadian Grand Prix in June after a five-second penalty denied him victory. Vettel, who put “1” next to his car, and “2” next to Lewis Hamilton’s, said: “This is a wrong world. This is not fair.”

Sebastian Vettel
 Sebastian Vettel, 32. Photograph: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Defiance of the year

Italian Serie C club Viterbese – reacting to a five-year ban for vice-president Luciano Camilli for punching opposition president Giorgio La Cava “and kicking his legs away”. The club called the ban “squalid” and “slander”, alleging Arezzo’s La Cava provoked it by shouting: “You suck, shit fans.” The ban was cut to 20 months on appeal.

Sacking of the year

Came from Zamalek president Murtada Mansour in Egypt: sacking Christian Gross in play during a 1-1 draw for being “a failure, a wreck … I went to the dressing room at half‑time and told the players to ignore him.” Mansour said critics pointing to his man-management record – including his 2016 move to hire “sorcerers” due to three players “being bewitched”, and the fact that he’s now on his fourth manager since sacking Gross in May – should “know this: I’m not some crazy guy.”

Worst use of social media

1) Ex-Notts County owner Alan “Big Alan” Hardy – trying to expose “the fickle side of fans” in January by posting screenshots of two contradictory tweets from the same fan, but accidentally posting a photo of his penis instead.

2) @Cristiano – tweeting a private-jet selfie in January on the same day he was fined £16.6m for tax evasion and Emiliano Sala went missing in a plane crash. Three emojis: smiley face, plane taking off, thumbs up.

View image on Twitter

3) Adidas UK in July, running its #DareToCreate social media campaign to promote Arsenal’s new kit: auto-generating images of the strip featuring the Twitter handles of users who shared the hashtag. Adidas said the result – their official account tweeting a series of racist slurs with the message “welcome to the squad” – was an unforeseeable abuse “of a personalisation mechanic created to allow excited fans to get their name on the jersey. We have turned the functionality off.”

4) Fleetwood chair Andy Pilley, @capboy70, telling fans to vote Tory or he’d shut the club down.

5) And Welsh Fire cricket coach Gary Kirsten, showing his best enthusiasm in October. “Can’t wait for The Hundred Draft and to pick the [insert team name] squad on Sunday at 7pm. #TheHundredDraft.”

Best use of social media

Was lower league clubs live-tweeting the colour as well as the action:

1) @lossiemouthfc, April: “8.20pm: Game delayed temporarily while the referee spews in the centre circle … 8.22pm: That’s him done yakking up his tea and we’re on the go again.”

2) Berwick Rangers’ @OfficialBRFC, March: “Cowdenbeath waste a corner and Berwick get the chance to clear … Ugly scenes in the dugout as Cowdenbeath’s manager has just told Johnny Harvey to ‘take his face for a sh*te’ #BRFC.”

3) @sligorovers, February: “9 min. The ball is kicked out of play, striking the box of chips owned by the fan at the Joma sign. Many chips fall to the ground. (0-0).”

4) @AFCFylde, October: “80’ There’s a stoppage in play as a rather rotund man storms the field, topless, with a bouquet of flowers. (4-0).”

5) And @NuneatonBoroFC, going for a face-palm emoji after their keeper Tony Breeden came up to take a penalty in November: “61‘ He’s missed and has broke the lights in the terrace. What have I just witnessed.”

Understatement of the year

Sarah Thomas, September – swimming the channel and back, then back, then back again. The 37-year-old cancer survivor from Colorado did it in 54 hours; the route was 80 miles, but tidal pulls meant she ended up swimming 130. “I got stung in the face by a jellyfish. I’m pretty tired right now.”

Best scoop

Was Sky spotting Huddersfield’s incoming manager Jan Siewert in the directors’ box in January, and going in for an exclusive interview. “It was bizarre,” said Man City fan Martin Warhurst later. “I was sat in the crowd and suddenly I was aware of a guy coming towards me from the right. He thought I was the manager; I said: ‘No, no, that’s not me. I’m Martin from Wakefield.’”

Best choreography

Billy Sharp’s sock puppet goal celebration in February – his tribute to WWE star Mick Foley’s “Mr Socko”. @RealMickFoley called it “TREMENDOUS” and turned up a month later. Sharp: “After the game I had 200 texts then God knows how many on Twitter. Next thing I know Mick Foley is having breakfast at my house.”

Best Bart/Moe moment

National league @AFCFylde – appealing in February for three youths who “duped our stadium announcer into asking for a white Nissan Micra NE14 ABJ to be moved last night”. The boys came forward; Fylde gave them free shirts.

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Worst ‘beating the rush’

Calling it early: three Spurs fans, missing the Champions League comeback at Ajax in May after leaving the ground just before half-time, thinking it was full time due to being “pretty drunk”. James Perkins: “We thought we were leaving at the perfect time.” He said they were “pretty confused” at the station “when no one was stood around us waiting for a train”.

Reflection of the year

Came from New Zealand’s Jimmy Neesham, tweeting straight after their World Cup defeat to England in July. @JimmyNeesh: “Kids, don’t take up sport. Take up baking or something. Die at 60, really fat and happy.”

Interviewee of the year

Was Coco Gauff during her Wimbledon breakthrough. On her self-image: “Weird. Weird, goofy, and, I don’t know. Yeah, weird and goofy, I guess.” On her mum’s celebration dance: “I didn’t tell her, but she’s going to go viral, I know. She’s going to be a meme.” And on why the best bit of the summer was rapper Jaden Smith tweeting her. “Obviously the tennis is great … but I’ve looked up to Jaden for so long. People who follow me know that’s all I post about. It was pretty exciting for me.”

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Gaffes of the year

Among 2019’s regrets: Great Britain being disqualified from the men’s 4x400m at the European Athletics Team Championships in August after naming reserve shot putter Youcef Zatat in the lineup by mistake; and Telstar striker Jordie van der Laan being sacked in May for calling in sick so he could travel to London to watch Ajax play Spurs. Telstar officials spotted him in the crowd on TV; Van der Laan said: “It was not my best decision.”

Precaution of the year

Colorado Rapids – cancelling their post-game fireworks in August due to “plague”. Officials said “the presence of plague-infested fleas affecting prairie dog colonies” around Dick’s Sporting Goods Park meant the club “had no alternative but to cancel”. A Rapids fan in a plague doctor mask told the Denver Post. “I guess we’ll just embrace it.”

Round of the year

Solid entertainment from David Duval at the Open in Royal Portrush in July: birdieing his first two holes, reaching the 5th one off the lead, then hitting a quadruple bogey, a bogey and a nonuple bogey 14 at the par-five 7th after losing two tee shots then playing the wrong ball. He finished with a 20-over 91, but said he never thought about walking away. “If you play, you post your score. Is there some hint of embarrassment? I don’t know. What I shot, I put on the board.”

Gear change of the year

2018: David Beckham accepts the Uefa president’s award. “I’m very honoured, honoured to be here.”

2019: Eric Cantona accepts the Uefa president’s award: “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport. Soon science will not only be able to slow the ageing of cells, soon science will fix the cells to the state and so we will become eternal. Only accidents, crimes, wars will still kill us, but unfortunately, crimes, wars, will multiply. I love football. Thank you.”

Surprise headline of the year

“Wayne Hennessey is ‘desperate’ to learn about the Nazis, says Roy Hodgson” –, April. Runner-up: The Times, last week: “West Ham footballer Michail Antonio crashed Lamborghini while dressed as snowman.”

Photoshops of the year

Making it big on Twitter in 2019: @visualsatire’s Football Manager Hair on Politicians. Including acclaimed works “Henry VIII with the hair and earpiece of Phil Brown”, and “Angela Merkel with the face of Steve Bruce”.

View image on Twitter

OMG of the year

Fallon Sherrock, @Fsherrock: “Really buzzing now…. ! I have done it again.. ! OMG”. Sherrock said this month’s PDC World Darts Championship run was “incredible… the fact that all these people are tweeting me, especially Billie Jean King. Oh my god… I mean, this is me. I’m just a normal person.”

VAR quote of the year

Defining VAR’s solid debut season: the official @Premierleague account – rebutting online derision in November after Martin Atkinson found Roberto Firmino’s right nipple seeking to gain an unfair advantage: “The red line was aligned to Firmino’s armpit, which was marginally ahead of the last Villa defender.”

 The year’s definitive VAR decision: Bundesliga 2, October – VAR operators spotting a sub who was warming up behind the goal had touched a wayward shot with his foot, millimetres before it had gone out of play for a goal-kick. The verdict: a penalty and yellow card. Teammate Alexander Mühling: “The boy didn’t know that rule. None of us knew that rule.”

Luis Suárez of the year

Was Luis Suárez – hailed for “reaching peak Luis Suárez” in Uruguay’s Copa América win over Chile in June after: a) Seeming to appeal for a handball in the box by the goalkeeper; and b) Reacting to an opponent tripping a pitch invader by running towards the referee brandishing an imaginary card.

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Rant of the year

Days after Cardiff Met manager Christian Edwards was taken ill in November, young son Isaac stepped up to replace him with this teamtalk after an unconvincing win over Cefn Druids.

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Best winding down

Katarina Johnson-Thompson, nine days after heptathlon gold in October. @JohnsonThompson: “If anyone wants to know how my off season is going … I’ve been to two karaoke bars in 48 hours. My chosen songs are Bonnie Tyler ‘Total eclipse of the heart’ and Busta Rhymes ‘Look at me now’.”

Grandma enjoying sport clip of the year

2.1m wholesome views for this reaction to England’s Cricket World Cup win.

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Endurance of the year

A decent effort from Harlequins’ Joe Marler in November – fully committing to his metaphor. “We’ve got another week to get back on the horse, and take that horse to the water. And you can ask that horse, you can say: ‘Hey, horsey, do you want to have a drink or do you want to swim?’ It’s up to that horse to then realise what he wants to do in his life. That horse, at the moment, wants to go out on Saturday and he wants to say ‘hello’ to those fans. And he goes [does accent]: ‘I’m sorry about the result last week, but I’m going to give a better performance against Bath.’ He’s a slightly Irish horse. So we are looking forward, like I say, to getting back on that horse.” Interviewer: “And are you looking forward to getting back on the horse?” Marler: “I don’t like horses, I can’t ride.”

Biggest attention seekers

Headlining 12 months of viral animal cameos:

 Surrey v Glamorgan, plus fox. Photograph: James Chance/Getty Images

 Multiple cats causing time added on, including at Everton v Wolves in February and a Real Salt Lake game in July at Rio Tinto Stadium in the US, where a duck pitch-invaded last year.
 A sick fox emptying itself on the Oval in July during Surrey v Glamorgan;
 A squirrel disrupting the Minnesota Twins twice in two nights, making the Twins’ dugout “scatter in fear”.
 A bee swarm sending players to the turf at Sri Lanka v South Africa at Chester-le-Street in June. Faf du Plessis: “It is very funny actually. It’s like someone’s run a machine gun through the players.”
 Two stags disrupting Fort William’s training this month. @Mocko500: “Fort William tried to offer them contracts, but they were two deer.”
 A limping first-half possum delaying Puebla’s trip to Veracruz in January. Veracruz said the possum was “treated by vets before returning to the wild”.
 Half a dozen hippos eating Letaba’s rugby pitch in May. The club told South African media: “These boys just came up from the river and started grazing.”
 And the purest goal celebration of 2019 – a deer hitting the net, then dancing away. 20.8m views.

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Best entrance

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Emotions of the year

Also causing “something in my eye” tweets in 2019:

 David Martin hugging dad Alvin after his West Ham debut at 33;
 Tearful tennis veteran Nicolas Mahut being consoled by his young son in June after defeat at Roland Garros to Leonardo Mayer, who also left in tears;
 And Jordan Henderson with his dad Brian in June after the Champions League final. Brian, a cancer survivor, said later: “When he was 12 I took him to the Champions League final, and when they came out to the Champions League music he said: ‘Dad, I’m going to play it one day.’ Not only once but twice, and now he’s won one. So the tears come, you start shaking, you grab the wife, you grab the daughter-in-law, you grab anybody that’s around you. I’m just so happy.”

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Ballboys of the year

Going the extra mile: Duncan Ferguson’s Everton goal celebrators; José Mourinho rewarding Callum, 15, with a pasta lunch for his assist against Olympiakos; and this Wimbledon tennis ballboy who, despite a sustained, shock soaking from a rogue sprinkler, stayed in place, upright and straight-faced. Until the tiniest smirk got out.

 Wimbledon’s ultimate pro. Photograph: BBC/Twitter

And final word of the year

From Rebekah Vardy, asked if she’d confronted Coleen Rooney after their social media coming together in October. “That would be like arguing with a pigeon. You can tell it that you are right and it is wrong, but it’s still going to shit in your hair.”

Pollution, populism and presidentials…

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