Scotland make it to the Euros!
Thursday night was the most invested in international football I’ve felt for over two years; not since England got to the World Cup semi-final was I this interested. Scotland had their most concrete chance in years to qualify the European Championships next summer. They had already eased Israel out of their way in the play-off semi-final and now just 90 minutes and a good performance stood between them and their first appearance at a major tournament finals stage for 22 years. And for about 70 minutes they gave that performance, taking the lead against Serbia and not giving an inch defensively. But then in typical Scottish football tradition, the defence was breached and we were sent to extra-time. And, to be honest, not much happened at all in extra-time. I can’t remember either side having a genuine shot on goal. And the players held their nerve in the penalty shoot-out to create their own bit of history. I just loved David Marshall’s face after his penalty save, where he immediately turned to the referee to confirm it was over.
For as long as I’ve been a football fan, Scotland have not made it to a major tournament. So, this will mean so much. They may only end up playing three games next summer, but just the fact that they’ve made will almost be a victory. Qualifying for major tournaments has become passe for England. The groups they get drawn in are often full of opposition who are not as good as they are. England have gone through entire qualifying campaigns not even losing a game. This means that the qualifying games are little more important than friendlies in the eyes of England supporters. I just don’t get excited when England play, unless it’s at a finals stage. But Scotland qualifying means the world. And they’ll play England, the Auld Enemy. Which just makes their return to a major tournament even better. And if you’re wondering why I care, I’m half Scottish, that’s why.
There may be a vaccine, but we are not out of the woods yet.
When the news was announced earlier this week that a vaccine had been developed that was more than 90% effective it was undoubtedly a bit of brilliant news. From what the scientific community has been saying since, they are actually way ahead of when they expected to find a viable vaccine. But it doesn’t mean, of course, that we can all suddenly rush out and shake everyone’s hand in the street while not wearing a mask. But it does give an indication that there is going to be an end to the cycle that we’ve been stuck in for nearly a year now. But we aren’t there yet. Vaccines have to be tested again and again to make sure they’re safe. And we don’t know when the vaccine will be rolled out to the public or who will receive it first.
Personally, I don’t think we’ll be ‘back to normal’ until sometime in spring. By then, the vaccine might have had a chance to be widely distributed and the lockdowns may have had a chance to help bring the reproduction number down to levels where restrictions can be eased again. But we aren’t there yet. So please continue to be sensible, carry on wearing a mask, using hand sanitiser, all the stuff we’ve had to become depressingly used to throughout these long months of the pandemic. There may be a peak of light in the tunnel, but we aren’t at the end of it yet.
Lewis Hamilton is the best. Ever.
I don’t say that lightly. There will be disagreement with that. But, for me, Sunday proved it. In a race where he knew he didn’t necessarily need to win to become world champion, he did. At a track where he had clearly been struggling all weekend, in a race where a number of other drivers span and hit problems. He held himself back, kept position and then made his moves. He famously lost out on winning the championship after crashing in the pit lane at China in 2007, he was making absolutely sure that did not happen this time around. He used his abilities in tyre management to see a worn set through to the end, so that he didn’t lose time to the chasing pack, even though he won last weekend’s race by 30 seconds. That really compounded a miserable two hours for his teammate and nearest challenger this year, Valterri Bottas. Bottas started the race three places behind Hamilton on the grid knowing he would need to outscore him by at least eight points to prevent the Briton becoming world champion. Instead he span no less than five times, was lapped by Hamilton and finished 14th, well outside the points positions. And, thus we heard the words we hadn’t heard since 2004. ‘Seven time Formula One World Champion.’
Hamilton has reached the heights no-one thought would be touched ever again, when Michael Schumacher accomplished them the first time around. And like Hamilton, Schumacher also had the best car and best personnel surrounding him during his heyday. But that is part and parcel of being successful in Formula One. You have any driver you care to name driving your car. But if your car is two to three seconds a lap slower than the frontrunner, a driver’s talent will not make up that gap. Hamilton has also taken on the lessons his career has taught him. He used to drive at a million miles an hour all the time. Pedal to the metal constantly. And it often came back to bite him. His race craft has become impeccable. His race paces now more or less matches his qualifying. He can manage tyres for an absurd amount of time. You may not like his lifestyle or his political stances or just the fact that he has been so dominant for so long (which can be very boring), but you cannot deny him his place in F1 history. He truly is the best the sport has ever seen.