Here are my picks of the year...
2006 was the year that President Tony Blair, sorry I mean Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that he would have 1 more year before handing over the reins to someone else. About time too.
I admit it, I've never been a fan of Tony Blair not when he was in opposition and not whilst he has been in power so I might be a little coloured on this issue. My reasoning is not very educated but it goes something like this, I want my politicians to be angry enough to want to change the world for the better, I do not believe that they should grin like a Cheshire cat. I'm sorry but I don't. When he was in opposition I couldn't care less how wide his smile was I wanted someone to ask him some pressing questions like 'What he was going to change?' but I seemed to be in the minority at the time because he was quickly elected with a huge majority, partly because people liked him and partly because the previous government had been in power so long everyone wanted a change.
This huge majority should have afforded Mr Blair the luxury of telling us exactly what he believed in, but for the first few years of his rein anytime Rubert Murdoch's newspapers wrote a headline on the front pages Blair's government quickly spun a policy around the headline, which was good for the Rubert's media empire but less so for Britain. I was never a fan of Margaret Thatcher either, a politician that Tony Blair is supposed to have modelled himself on, but at least you could admire her. With her you knew what she believed in, and she clearly set out ways in which to she would achieve change, you can't say the same about Blair. The first time we really knew that Tony believed passionately about something was when he signed Britain up for the invasion of Iraq. Most of the British people weren't for it. As a result the House of Parliament wasn't too happy about it either but he acted like a President and signed us up anyway, and for what? The British army is overstretched, its fighting in too many places around the world, the country isn't any safer, probably even more radicals have even more reason to want to blow us up, and in his Prime Ministership he's withdrawn many of the liberties that we took for granted and that have made us proud to be British. Maybe 2007 will be a year that Mr Blair admits, just once, something, anything, that was his fault. And to say sorry like he means it. And actually really mean it. And then maybe he'll just disappear. Here's hoping.
The American elections when the Republicans lost heavily and Donald Rumsfield being replaced as Defence Secretary by someone, whose name I forget, who seems to have a more realistic notion of what the American army can and cannot do. Now I'm not one that normally gets all that excited about American politics but in this instance both events should go some way to pulling in George W. Bush's disastrous foreign policy. Which can only be a good thing.
Scotland beating England 18-12 at Murrayfield
Even against the backdrop of the Six Nations Championship and the four-year cycle of the Rugby World Cup, there is still a marvellous sense of self-containment about the Calcutta Cup match. Like an Old Firm game, its meaning does not depend on any bigger picture, for it answers all its own questions in 80 minutes of raw and ancient passion.
Yet it was a tartan tide of hope rather than expectation that swept through the streets of Edinburgh towards Murrayfield on that February afternoon. Three weeks earlier the Scots had beaten France 20-16 at the same ground, but that had been one of those asterisks internationals, compromised by an awareness that the French had been wretched opponents. But what unfolded against England was a very different kind of game.
Great matches are rarely things of exquisite beauty; more commonly raw and passionate affairs. It mattered not a bit that Scotland's 18-12 win produced no tries. As ever the English players were bigger, stronger, heavier, and better payed than their Scottish counterparts but this was a game in which the Scots' they played acted like men possessed. They smashed their English opponents with blue-shirted menace and defended as if their very lives depended on it.
One image? Try this. Seconds left on the clock, and England work the ball across Scotland's 22. A converted try can still win them the match, and the England flanker Joe Worsley looks odds-on to score it as he drives low and hard for the line. Between Worsley and the score, though, stands Jason White, the Scotland captain who will later be hailed as the Championship's outstanding player. White batters Worsley back in the tackle, reclaims the ball and guarantees a deserved victory. That crunching tackle along with many others he made throughout the game, and indeed the Six Nations tournament, made sure that there was no hard luck story in this instance which contrasts sharply with many stories of Scottish sporting history.
Scotland beating France 1-0 at Hampden
You had to be Scottish to understand it I guess. At the beginning of the year Scotland were drawn in a difficult group consisting of France, Italy and the Ukraine, strong footballing nations that even the best Scottish teams in the history of football would struggle to beat. And so the task fell to a Scottish team, still struggling to gain respectability again after the fiasco that was the German coaching experiment just a couple of years previous to qualify from the Group of Death for the Euro2008 tournament. At the beginning of the year the task looked difficult enough given that France, Italy and the Ukraine had all qualified for the World Cup in the summer whilst Scotland hadn't. By the end of the summer the task no longer looked just difficult, Italy were the World Champions and France were the runners up, it looked impossible. However sport is a funny thing. After two games played in the group Scotland were sitting alongside France with a maximum 6 points out of 6, whereas Italy had dropped points and had only managed 1 point from the same number of games.
Then on a ghastly, inhospitable October Glasgow evening came the Scotland Vs France game. In truth no right minded Scot expected anything from the game and everyone would probably have been more than happy with a 0-0 draw. However as the game got nearer people started to dream, voices would joke about the prospects of a 1 or 2 goal victory. Of course no one actually believed such things were possible, which is just as well because Scottish sport is littered with stories of when dreams were dashed after just a couple of faint moments of hope. But still a Hampden Park crowd fuelled by an unholy combination of adrenaline and alcohol recovering its roar gave the World Cup finalists of only three months earlier the rudest of awakenings. A similar concoction of ingredients had been responsible for a similar outcome back in 1989, but given the two teams' respective positions on the world football ladder, not to mention the fact that this was Thierry Henry possibly the best footballer of 2006, and Patrick Vieira we were talking about, this hearkened even further back. This was some decidedly old-school Scottish football, and the drama was only heightened by the game's reluctance to follow footballing logic.
Individual episodes have become marked in the collective memory: the opening strains of Le Marseilleise, when the unsporting booing made it clear that the Auld Alliance had been forgotten; Vieira's header from a free-kick being ruled offside by all of an inch as Scotland's midfield were dragged all over the park; Scotland not having one attack in the first 45 minutes of the match; the realisation that although Scotland hadn't conceded a goal yet but that if they had to defend like that for another 45 minutes then the second half was going to be very, very long indeed. But then the second half came and Scotland gingerly started to venture forward, yes they were still defending more than was comfortable but at last they were trying to do something with the ball and then came Gary Caldwell flinging himself to the turf twice in quick succession, first after muscling out Eric Abidal and prodding in the ball from Paul Hartley's corner into the French net, then in unfettered celebration amidst the bedlam. With 23 minutes on the clock we knew better than to believe in victory, far too many times before has the Scottish fan suffered just as they began to dream. But with that goal scored on 67 minutes something broke in the French, yes they still attacked and played their pretty passes around the pitch but the arrogance was gone. No longer did the believe that the victory was their due, they began to panic and that panic led to mistakes where it mattered when the ball was in front of the Scottish goal line and so 23 long minutes later the final whistle blew signalling that Scotland had beaten the French. And what's more Scotland were top of the Group of Death. Ok so Scotland then went to the Ukraine and lost but we expected that, and more, so many months before. It was worth it if only to see the general look of disbelief in Henry's face; and the bemused French coach Raymond Domenech lashing out at the tardiness of ball boys. Aren't the French players better than that. Weren't they, after exacting revenge on Italy the game before this, the best team in the world again? Surely a couple of excited 14 and 15 year olds boys not promptly returning the ball to the pitch wouldn't have stopped the Gallic superstars from concentrating on their task, would it?
Now I have to be honest here and say that I've never been much into the Commonwealth Games. I've always kind of looked at like a poor man's Olympics, without the leading sporting nations of the USA, Russia Germany, France, China etc involved I tend to think something is missing. However this year the event was hosted by Australia, a country passionate about sport, so that undoubtedly helped but not as much the Scottish Athletes performing so well from day one of the event. Scotland isn't exactly renowned for its prowess in the pool but Scotland somehow managed to achieve not one, not two, not three gold medals but 6 golds, 12 medals in all in the pool helping to make 2006 Scotland most successful Commonwealth Games ever. And now as a result I have been enthusiastically converted and am hoping that Glasgow who has bidded to host the games in 2014 might just do so, but first of all they have to see off the bids from Halifax, and Nigeria.
2006 was a strong year for Scottish music, good albums from Belle & Sebastian and Mogwai, and new acts such as The View, The Fratellis and Paolo Nutini making their presence felt.
Scotland was declared a smoke free zone with the banning of smoking in public places, yes it was evidence of the nanny state in action but I don't mind, selfishly as a non smoker it suits me fine. I can now go to a pub and enjoy the atmosphere if I feel so inclined, not that I actually drink but I suppose I could have a pub meal, and enjoy it.
Yes I thought I would mention weather as good thing not once but twice, if only for the reason that we Brits tend to moan about the weather rather a lot and I thought I would try to look on it positively for once.
First of all there was snow this year, I mean real proper snow. Thick stuff, 18 inches of it and it all fell in one day in March, or was it April I forget. But I do remember feeling like a kid again. The last time I seen snow like that it was the 80s and I was a kid. Of course this being Scotland the snow melted almost as quickly as it had come, 3 days later and every last inch of it had melted to slush but that's not the point, for one brief moment Scots everywhere could have skied to work if only they hadn't sold their ski's two decades before when the snows stopped falling.
The second freakish event was the summer of 2006, it was warm, it was dry, it was long, it lasted late into autumn and autumn itself lasted long into winter. Yes it was probably a one off event caused by the Greenhouse effect and maybe it was a little selfish of us to enjoy it but maybe Scotland doesn't have much to fear from global warming. So maybe there will be higher sea levels, we've got plenty of mountains we can live in and snow in March/April with dry summer's sounds pretty good to me. People of the world - keep pumping the carbon dioxide into the earth's atmosphere. Please.
I'm joking, I've seen enough freaky weather to know its not good to mess with Mother Nature, that said some freaky weather can be enjoyable.