Wait, just hear us out! We know 2020 was a rubbish year for football and we’re not going to pretend that clubs going bust, leagues being disrupted and the Euros getting cancelled were good things.
But if you peep between the COVID cracks, there were also some lovely stories and heartwarming tales that we can look back on with fondness, even as we try to forget this annus horribilis ever took place. Don’t believe us? We've put together 10 reasons 2020 was a good year for the beautiful game.
1. Marcus Rashford
We’ve all known that buffoon who loves to harp on about how “all footballers are overpaid and uneducated morons”. While that was always ridiculous, it has now been eviscerated completely by the heroic deeds of Marcus Rashford.
The Manchester United and England forward’s campaign to feed impoverished children not only ruffled a few feathers in Westminster, it also inspired communities and businesses to do what they could to help those in need. Eventually, the government agreed a food poverty plan to help hungry kids in 2020.
Rashford, who relied on free school meals himself as a child, isn’t finished there, though. Now freshly-MBEd, the marksman is continuing to fight against child poverty, and also campaigning for children to receive free access to books and other reading materials. Footballers stupid and selfish? Get out of here!
2. The rise of English managers
November saw Wayne Rooney become the most recent former England international to take up football management after being put in temporary charge of Derby County. Wazza's merely the latest of the "Golden Generation" to try his hand at coaching.
“And it’s not just about the guys who were [England] players," Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate recently told FFT. "There are English coaches like Graham Potter, Eddie Howe, Sean Dyche. I also know Liam Rosenior is also involved behind the scenes at Derby. He is a young coach who is very promising as well. We’re there to support if needed, basically. We want English coaches to do well.”
It's an exciting time for young English coaches, and a welcome change to the days many prominent England players rejected the dugout in favour of media work after hanging up their boots.
3. We re-watched some classic games during lockdown
We’ve always loved talking about great games from the past, but this yea, we actually got to watch them too. The postponement of football leagues across the world in February meant football fans had to dig into the archives to get their weekly fix.
Here at FFT, we ran social media watchalongs - using the hashtag #SaturdayFFT - of some classic fixtures, including Liverpool 5-4 Alaves in the 2001 UEFA Cup Final, the France vs Brazil 1998 World Cup Final and Barcelona’s 5-0 thrashing of Real Madrid in 2010. Thousands of you joined us on Saturdays to share your set-ups and live tweet about the games.
Elsewhere, ITV broadcasted Euro 96 in its entirety, with all of England’s games shown on television. The BBC showed old FA Cup Finals and YouTube proved to be an absolute goldmine of classic footage.
4. Robert Lewandowski's domination
We love Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but their dominance over the past 15 years has meant many other extraordinary players have gone unrewarded for some incredible seasons. Luka Modric may have broken the pair’s duopoly on the Ballon d’Or in 2018, but Messi wrestled control straight back a year later.
This year there was absolutely no doubt about who the best player on the planet was. Robert Lewandowski’s insane 2020 saw him fire Bayern to a Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and Champions League treble. His insane scoring record - 55 goals in all competitions for his club - saw him add the Bundesliga Player of the Year Award, UEFA Men’s Player of the Season, FIFA Best and, above all, the inaugural FourFourTwo Player of the Year Award to his individual stash. We reckon he’s proudest of that last one!
5. Fans hit back at PPV
This was the year football fans hit the Premier League where it hurts: the wallet. The decision taken by TV executives in October to charge fans £14.95 to watch certain matches was completely wrong and supporters responded brilliantly. Anger was vented on social media and swathes of fans refused to cough up, eventually leading to the league backing down. Instead, all games continue to be shown live on Amazon, BT and Sky, with no extra charge for those that already have subscription deals.
“There is a full schedule of Premier League games over the festive period and clubs are committed to an accessible solution for fans,” a Premier League spokesperson said following the back-down. “The agreement will be reviewed in the new year following consultation with clubs, broadcast partners and in line with any decisions made by government regarding the return of spectators to stadiums.”
6. We rediscovered Football Manager
Lockdowns did strange things to a lot of us. While we try to forget all the banana breads and Zoom quizzes, there was one thing we loved about lockdown: all that guilt-free Football Manager.
Before lockdown, the game’s “peak concurrency” - the number of people playing at any time - was around 50,000-60,000. That rose to 875,000 during lockdown, with Sports Interactive giving the game away for free to help people who may have been suffering with being cooped up for so long.
“As the lockdown was coming in in different countries, we wanted to give people a different world to escape into,” said Miles Jacobson, director at Sports Interactive. “We gave all of our in-game advertising inventory over to mental health charities for free – so people are one click away from being able to get help if they want to.”
While FFT would argue that some of our most anxious and irate moments have actually been caused by saves on Football Manager, we doff our cap to Jacobson and the team for this altruistic act. There really is nothing that whiles away the hours like taking Norwich to the Champions League Final.
7. Scotland qualified for a major tournament
Oh yes, sir! The Scots have been absent from international competition for much too long in FFT’s opinion and were thrilled to see them qualify for Euro 2020 after a nail-biting penalty shootout victory over Serbia in November’s Nations League Play-Off Final. It will be the Tartan Army’s first major showing since France 98.
And, what’s more, they’ve been placed in England’s group for the tournament, meaning repeat scenes of Euro 96 are incoming. England and Scotland is the oldest international rivalry in football, and there’s rarely love lost between the nations, but this is what the game is all about. It should be an occasion to celebrate.
8. Watching football on TV got easier
Empty stadiums are a catastrophe and we can’t wait to see supporters return to terraces as soon as is safely possible, but advancements in how we watch football on TV have been welcomed in 2020.
With a number of broadcasters competing to show live football, it had become a pain in the backside choosing which services to subscribe to and knowing which channels we need to have on and when.
However, with Sky, BT Sport and Amazon sorting out agreements this year, it's become even easier to watch all of the football in one place: services like Now TV and the Amazon Fire TV Stick mean supporters can pick and choose what to watch and when they cancel. For the days when going to grounds isn’t an option, we’re looking forward to a decent plan B continuing to improve in future.
9. England look quite good again
While an additional year to prepare for the Euros technically serves every participating nation well, it’s clear England have come a long way in 2020.
Gareth Southgate finally caved in to public opinion and selected Jack Grealish, for starters. Since making his debut against Denmark in September, the Villa captain has quickly become undroppable for the Three Lions. His confidence on the ball and ability to win a foul in dangerous areas may prove an invaluable trait in tournament football.
Meanwhile, James Ward-Prowse has also forced his way into the set-up thanks to his magnificent displays for Southampton this season, John Stones has recaptured the form that earned him a move to City, Harry Kane is the most creative striker in Europe, Jude Bellingham has shone at Dortmund and Ben Chilwell has excelled for Chelsea. Could it be coming home next summer?
10. Every Premier League game being shown on TV could set a new standard
The Saturday blackout has been an institution of English football since its inception in the 1960s. This was the first year it was scrapped, as fans were unable to attend games in person. This gave us an unprecedented number of matches to watch on TV and talk of a permanent change.
Rather than fight it, it might be better for matchgoing fans to move with the times. Instead of banning armchair fans from watching football at 3pm on a Saturday, the Premier League should do more to entice them to get down to their local grounds. There are already a gazillion streaming websites which circumvent the blackout anyway, maybe it's time to let them eat cake while getting people interested in local football.
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