2018 Sporting Highlights: A Year to Remember

31/12/2018

 

With more world champions than we care to count, 2018 proved to be yet another historic year for British sport.

Lewis Hamilton was crowned F1 king for the fifth time while Geraint Thomas became the first Welshman to win the Tour de France.

Our heavyweights dominated the boxing scene and Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions roared all the way to the last four in this summer’s World Cup.

In golf, Tiger Woods won his first PGA tournament in five years but was unable to prevent Team Europe from romping to Ryder Cup victory.

With so many more highlights to mention, let’s not waste any more time.

First up, how football so very nearly came home.

England's World Cup Heroics 

All of the jokes and sneers seemed to quieten down a little during the summer, as Harry Kane and co united a nation with their efforts out in Russia.

There was just so much to shout about. The sun seemed to shine every day as the entire country got behind our boys in their bid to bring football home.

Our captain ended the tournament as the top scorer, and we even managed to win a penalty shootout (no, you didn’t dream it).

The resilience on show from this England team was evident from the first fixture as, after Ferjani Sassi cancelled out Kane’s opener, the Spurs striker netted the winner in the 91st minute to give the Three Lions a winning start.

From there, our troops secured qualification with a 6-1 drubbing of Panama, a game that saw Kane score a hat-trick and take his tournament tally to five.

A weakened side lost out to Belgium, but England has already booked their place in the last 16 by then.

They faced a Colombia side who had developed a reputation as a somewhat robust outfit, but it was the Three Lions who battled their way into the lead with Kane firing home from the spot once again.

A 93rd minute Yerry Mina header appeared to have deflated the nation and, after a goalless extra-time period, we headed to the dreaded penalty shootout.

When Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson handed the initiative to the South American’s after his effort was saved, groans of ‘same old England’ could be heard loud and clear.

However, this group of players were made of something different, they weren’t about to crumble and were handed a lifeline when Mateus Uribe rattled the crossbar with his spot kick.

Kieran Trippier coolly slotted his penalty home before Jordan Pickford’s spectacular save put us on the brink of a first-ever World Cup shootout victory.

Eric Dier stepped up and, despite the Colombian keeper getting a glove to his shot, it was the 1966 World Champions that progressed to the last eight.

History had been made.

A comfortable 2-0 victory over Sweden in the next round set up a semi-final clash with Croatia.

In their first World Cup semi-final appearance since 1990, it was indeed England who drew first blood as Trippier’s fifth-minute free-kick found the top corner to send a nation into pandemonium.

We started to believe. Football may actually be coming home.

That was, of course, until the 68th minute when Ivan Perisic equalised to send the game to extra-time. England had their chances, but it was Croatia who progressed to the final when Mario Mandzukic steered his strike beyond Pickford with just ten minutes remaining.

Had Kane squared to Raheem Sterling instead of shooting at 1-0 up, it may well have been a different story.

One thing is for certain, the entire squad did us all proud this summer. And what a summer it was.

Hamilton Makes it Five 

In terms of English sportsmen, no other individual had a more successful calendar year than Lewis Hamilton.

It was certainly five times the charm for the 33-year-old, who was crowned the F1 Champion for the fifth time in his career. With an equal career best of eleven race wins in a season, 2018 was one of Hamilton’s most successful years as an F1 driver. Now on par with Juan Fangio, the Englishman is currently joint second in having the most Championship victories in the sport’s history. Michael Schumacher’s standing record of seven remains the number to beat, but 2018 provided itself as another step forward for Hamilton to reach this iconic number.

Despite a slow start to the season, the defending champion took full reigns of the leaderboard after his victory in Germany. With seven wins in ten races, the Englishman stormed to the top of the rankings in the second half of the season and finalised his Championship title early in Mexico. Just like 2017, Hamilton won the season with two races to spare and he finished on top of the podium by a monstrous 88 points.

That’s four titles in five years for the Englishman and, with the Mercedes team behind him, there seems to be no signs of slowing down. It was another unforgettable year for the F1 legend, who has now established himself as the sport’s most successful star over the last ten years.

Britain's Grand Cycling Victory

However, the past 12 months could have peaked all that with the pink jersey of the Giro d’Italia, the yellow jersey of the Tour de France and the red jersey of the Vuelta a Espana all coming back to British shores.The greatest sport on two wheels has received a real boost over the last decade thanks to the exploits of Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton on the track, and Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome out on the road.

The first of those was picked up by Chris Froome in May, who has since been awarded an OBE for his achievements.

Dominant as always in the mountains, Froome added two stage wins on his way to general classification victory. The second of which all but secured the pink jersey, beating the then holder, Simon Yates, by 39 minutes and adding a 40-second lead over Tom Dumoulin. That was pretty much enough to confirm Froome as the first British pink jersey winner and land his personal dream of holding all three Grand Tour leaders’ jerseys in the space of ten months.

Now for the famous yellow jersey, won in fine style for the first time by a Welshman, Geraint Thomas. That, in turn, handed Britain a sixth yellow jersey in seven years, after Sir Bradley Wiggins kick-started the dominance in 2012.

Thomas has long played the bridesmaid as his Team Sky colleagues have claimed the glory, but this was his year, and it was a victory that was met with much more support than that of his predecessors. It was deserved to say the very least.

The hat-trick was then brought up by Yates in Spain’s September sun. After performing well in all the big tours, including 13 days as leader of the Giro d’Italia, it was rather fitting that he got his arms through the last big jersey of the year.

Taking stage 14 between Cistierna to Les Praeres de Nava in the process, Yates had a one minute and 46 second lead going into the final stage. Of course, tradition dictates that the race leader is not attacked on the final stage, so Yates could afford the luxury of sitting back and making sure he crossed the line.

Tiger Roll: A National Treasure

That was the early days of Tiger Roll, a beautiful bay gelding with a distinctive white star, by 2007 Epsom Derby winner Authorized and out of Swiss Roll – a mare who won just two of her 19 races.When Godolphin get rid of a racehorse without even running it, the future isn’t normally bright, and even more so when that horse is 15.2 hands in height and considered small for a racehorse.

His breeding suggests he’ll be a performer on the flat, or hurdles at best. His Sire, Authorized, can lay claim to just £116,411 in his progeny Chase earnings when you take Tiger Roll out of the equation, compared to £3,593,291 on the flat turf and £2,131,208 over hurdles.

Tiger Roll has ripped up the rule book in that sense and spat it back out again.

After leaving Godolphin, he landed in the hands of Nigel Hawke for a measly £10,000 before a debut outing over hurdles at Market Rasen saw the big mitts of Gigginstown come calling to the tune of £80k.

Irish Trainer, Gordon Elliot, would handle the reins from there and in some style as well. On just his third start, Davy Russell guided him to Triumph Hurdle success at Cheltenham, and that would be the birthplace of a partnership that went on to hit the headlines this April.

After already adding the Cross Country to the bag at Cheltenham in March, a third victory at the big meeting, Tiger Roll eyed up a shot at winning Aintree’s Grand National.

Sent off at 10/1, he aimed to become the first Cross Country winner to go on and win the National in the same year. His jumping style and flat pedigree should have theoretically put this race out of his reach, but Tiger Roll likes to prove the doubters wrong, and that would go a long way to gifting him his finest hour on the racecourse.

Tucked into midfield by Davy Russell, it was an opening circuit that didn’t come without drama. Over Becher’s for the first time, the leading Just A Par would take a tumble just a length or two in-front of Tiger Roll, causing him to veer left just to stay on his feet.

Tiger Roll soars over the Aintree fences to Grand National glory

From there, it was a clean opening round of jumping. That was until the 3rd fence on the second circuit. A slightly awkward landing saw Russell lose his left foot from the irons, and had he not been as smart a horseman to pull it back while still on-board, that could have been his race over. Proof that horse racing is about both horse and jockey.

With his foot back in place, Tiger Roll regained his momentum into the next and started to size up his position, just behind the leaders, as they by-passed Becher’s for the second time. At the Canal Turn, Russell grabbed the inside and almost brushed the rail as Tiger Roll skipped across to jump into 5th.

At Valentines, he was travelling as well as any and when the pace increased slightly over the 3rd last, he was delivered to challenge Pleasant Company. Turning for home, he was absolutely cantering alongside the leader, who blundered the second last to give Tiger Roll the advantage.

A peach of a jump at the last put him five lengths clear at the elbow, but as we’ve already said before, Tiger Roll doesn’t do things the easy way, and boy, did he prove it.

With the post approaching, the tired legs started to wobble, and Pleasant Company was fighting back with every stride. The five-length advantage would soon become just a head, but after a dramatic photo finish, history will now tell you that a head was all it took to win the 2018 Grand National.

The head of the great Tiger Roll.

British Heavyweights Lead the Way

A unification victory over Joseph Parker and a successful defence over Alexander Povetkin has seen Anthony Joshua remain at the summit of the heavyweight scene

Still unbeaten and as marketable as ever, AJ rightly sits as the number one heavyweight in world boxing.

He is, however, being chased down by another British fighter. 2018 is the year that saw Tyson Fury make his long-awaited return to the ring and boy, did he do it in style.

Routine warm-up victories over Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta set up a WBC title clash with American knockout specialist Deontay Wilder.

In one of the best fights of the year, Fury dominated proceedings for the vast majority of the bout only to be heavily dropped with a fierce two-punch combination in the 12th.

Out cold at the count of six, he miraculously managed to, not only beat the referee’s count, but to go on to get the better of the remainder of the round.

Given the way in which Fury has battled back from mental health issues and substance abuse, it is perhaps fitting that he would hit the canvas in the final round, only to rise up and prove his doubters wrong once again.

The World Boxing Super Series saw Callum Smith stop George Groves in a gruelling final with the Liverpudlian surely set for some mega fights in the new year.

The 22nd December saw Dillian Whyte end the debate with Dereck Chisora with an 11th round knockout, while Josh Warrington and Carl Frampton served up one of the best all-British fights of recent times in Manchester.

An action-packed performance saw Warrington defend his IBF featherweight belt and his name has rightly been mentioned in the fighter of the year equation. Just seven months prior, the Leeds man outclassed Lee Selby at Elland Road and 2018 has seen him prevail against two greats of the division.

Outside of the domestic action, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez defeated Gennady Golovkin in one of the most eagerly-awaited rematches in history. The Mexican would end the year by stopping Rocky Fielding inside a packed Madison Square Garden.

Oleksandr Usyk has his own claims of being labelled as fighter of the year after becoming the first man to hold all of the belts at the cruiserweight limit with a World Boxing Super Series tournament victory.

He would go on to beat Tony Bellew by way of a brutal knockout and will now likely move up to heavyweight.

Another Ukrainian at the very top of the sport is Vasiliy Lomachenko. 2018 has seen ‘Hi-Tech’ continue to collect world titles with an incredible stoppage win over Jorge Linares and a masterclass against Jose Pedraza.

The super fights show no sign of slowing down and we can hardly wait for what 2019 has in store for us.

UFC 229 Had the Whole World Watching

Dana White described the occasion as ‘the biggest in UFC history’. 

The headline event was the Lightweight Championship between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor, but there was much more on the line than just a belt. Labelling the feud between these two men in having ‘bad blood’ does not do their association justice. A clash in culture, exchanges in trash-talking, and conflict occurred backstage. And this was before either fighter stepped inside the Octagon.

Hatred would be the best way to describe the relationship between the two and the build-up to the fight was like nothing ever seen before. From a commercial perspective, the event had everything. Two of the sport’s biggest names coming to blows in a Championship fight. Of course, UFC 229 smashed PPV records and it was an unforgettable evening, but for all the wrong reasons.

Inside the cage, the fight was completely one-sided. Khabib dominated McGregor on the floor and to the surprise of everybody watching, the Eagle was superior with his striking ability. Usually so light on his feet, the Notorious fought completely flat footed and was caught with a huge right hand in the second round. He simply did not look his usual energetic self and those two years out of the sport looked to have taken its toll on the Irishman.

Despite a small recovery, McGregor was eventually defeated in the fourth round. The grappling specialist Khabib finally floored his man in emphatic fashion, finishing the fight via submission and crushing the hearts of Mystic Mac’s loyal travelling fans. That should have been the end of the action. Khabib could have celebrated with gratitude and established himself as the true people’s champion. Instead, he gave in to the animosity of the crowd and jumped over the cage, in an attempt to attack McGregor’s teammates. 

All hell broke loose and now the event is remembered for all the action outside of the cage, as opposed to Khabib’s dominant performance. Fireworks did not just spark, they exploded inside the T-Mobile Arena. In what was the biggest occasion of 2018 for the sport, unfortunately, the UFC event looked more like a spinoff show of WWE.

Wigan and Catalan Enjoy Rugby League Success

Full of surprises for fans, players and coaches, the 2018 Betfred Super League season is one that will live long in the memory. It started with Leeds beating Warrington, which included an incredible solo-try from Ryan Hall to fill fans of the Yorkshire outfit full of hope. 

In the end, however, it was Wigan who lifted the trophy at the Theatre of Dreams in a perfect finale for departing coach Shaun Wane.

Wigan Warriors proved too much for Warrington in the Grand Final

St Helens dominated the regular season and finished ten points clear at the summit. At the other end of the scale, Widnes only managed to win three games on their way to being relegated to the Championship.

The Rhinos, who memorably won the treble only three years ago, also found themselves fighting for a place in the Super League as Warrington fans got their hopes up once again, making it to both finals only to fall at the final hurdle. Nevertheless, the nail-biting semi-finals between St Helens and Warrington will live long in the memory.

Despite dominating the season from the off, St Helens struggled to perform in major games. Losing 35-16 against Catalan in August, they would go on to lose the semi-final 18-13 in what proved to be an anticlimactic end to their campaign.

To further compound their misery, the 2018 Man of Steel, Ben Barba, is on his way back to the NRL in what is a huge blow to the Saints.

Catalan pulled off one of the biggest upsets Wembley has ever seen, by becoming the first team from outside England to lift the Challenge Cup Trophy.

Tries from Lewis Tierney, Ben Garcia and Brayden Williame saw the Dragons make history in becoming the first foreign winners in the competition’s 122-year history.

Could their historic win kickstart an era of Super League domination?

We’ll find out soon enough.

A Look at Some Memorable 2018 TV Moments

Let’s start with I’m a Celeb. When letters from home came, Nick Knowles found out that his cover of Adele’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ hit number one whilst in the depths of the Australian jungle. Although having admitted to ‘jamming’ with ‘good old’ Biffy Clyro, cue the hashtag #BiffyClyroNotEmbarrassedTheyJammedWithNickKnowles, Nick had managed to keep his singing under wraps most of the time. Once he found out about his number one – thanks to Chris Moyles for spearheading that campaign - Nick suddenly started humming and singing in his distinct deep voice.Between the funny, the annoying, and the ridiculous, there’s been plenty to keep us entertained this year. In all honesty, the best bits of reality TV are most often the times when everything falls to pieces for the people involved. Great entertainment.

Harry Redknapp may have just slipped ahead of Kane as the nation’s favourite “Harry” following his victory in the jungle, becoming the first King of the Jungle since 2014. His anecdotes, jokes and giggles kept us perky as the nights became darker in the run up to Christmas.

Next up: Love Island. Remember Hayley? The Liverpudlian beauty, when asked “so how does everyone feel about Brexit?” replied “what’s that?” – it got worse.

In fact, on the subject of Brexit, who recalls Danny Dyer’s rant about David Cameron? Well, his daughter Dani, actually went on to win Love Island alongside the cheeky Jack Fincham

Let’s not even get started on how “loyal, babe” Georgia was.

The Dyer family have brought us much enjoyment throughout the year. Obviously, Dad Danny is just an absolute geezer, but the introduction of his daughter Dani into the mix has been great. You must really have to love yourself to give your daughter the same name as you, but it works for us.

We saw them together on Celebrity Gogglebox for Stand up to Cancer. Danni talked horror films and ham, whilst Danny ripped into the poor University Challenge contestants in his usual brutally honest style. He then managed to get two questions right and boy, did he bang on about it.

From soggy bottoms to revealing cracks, The Great British Bake Off is always packed with innuendos, but this one was an unfortunate and unintentional addition from Dan. A fit of the giggles took over the viewers of GBBO when in biscuit week’s ‘selfie’ showstopper challenge, Dan recreated the moment he met his child for the first time.

His fellow contestant Kim Joy was the first to point out that the ‘baby wrapped in a blanket’ looked questionably like something else, and the viewers who took to twitter most certainly agreed. Take a look for yourself.  

We couldn’t let Paul McCartney’s Carpool Karaoke slip through the net, could we? If you’ve not seen it, shame on you. It is absolutely beautiful, and full to the brim with joy. We love James Corden and we love Paul, too. Perhaps the best guest Corden has ever had.

From his childhood home where the first Beatles band practices began, to the barber shop on Penny Lane, to a fantastic seat-swapping sequence to ‘Baby you can drive my car’, it was one of the most heart-warming things to circulate the internet this year. If you didn’t well up at some point, you need to re-watch it.

All in all, it’s been another great year for TV. From B and C list, to Z list and genuine lovers of their hobbies, there’s a show in there for everyone. We’re sure there’ll be plenty more where that came from next year, too. Except Big Brother, but we’ve had our fair share of that for one lifetime.

 

If 2019 is anything like as memorable as its predecessor, then we are all in for a real treat. The opportunities to become a part of the ActiveWins affiliate programme will come in thick and fast and, with giants like Betfred and Totesport to promote, there has never been a better time to get involved.

Back