2012: the summer the moaning stopped

In an astonishing year for British sport, the country has finally put aside its favourite pastime of all: grumbling.

Duleep Allirajah

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From a purely mod perspective, Bradley Wiggins being voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) was a victory for style: Cycling with Attitude. Move over Paul Weller. Meet the new boss, the nation’s top Modfather.

But the sharp-suited joy of the mod community aside, the difficulty in calling a SPOTY winner highlighted what a vintage year for British sport this was. Arguably the greatest vintage of all. This was the year that the familiar tropes of British sporting culture were spectacularly debunked. No more heroic failures and plucky losers; no more perpetual bridesmaids and also-rans; no more bottlers and chokers; no more mediocrity and underachievement. 2012 was the year that Britain discovered the joy of winning. Well, maybe not everyone. Our footballers upheld the time-honoured national tradition of quarter-final penalty shoot-out failure: England in Euro 2012 and the British men’s team in the Olympic football. Some habits never change.

But, with the wretched exception of football, the nation was swept up in an euphoric, flag-waving, tear-jerking wave of victory celebrations. It started with Wiggo winning the Tour de France, reached fever pitch during the Olympic gold rush and was topped off with Andy Murray’s nerve-shredding victory in the US Open. Personally, taking off my mod-tinted spectacles for a moment, I reckon Murray’s achievements more than matched Wiggo’s. Winning both Olympic gold and the US Open in the most competitive era of men’s tennis is an astonishing accomplishment. In any other year he would have been way ahead of the field in the SPOTY public vote. But in 2012 we had a glittering array of champions from which to choose. Even though the nation warmed to Muzza after he blubbed at Wimbledon, I reckon the residual disapproval of his perceived dourness is probably what did for him.

The most refreshing thing about the summer was that, for once, the very British inclination to find fault and grumble was suspended. This was the summer that the moaning stopped. The complaining started pretty much from the moment London was awarded the Games back in 2005 and didn’t let up for seven curmudgeonly years. It was an Olympic moanathon. Complaint followed complaint. The Games cost £9 billion to stage. Naturally, there were incessant gripes about the price tag. ‘The money should be spent on schools and hospitals instead’, cried the miserablists. Lottery money was being diverted from good causes to fund the Olympics. As the British economy slipped into recession, these complaints grew ever more shrill.

The choice of London as host city was called into question. ‘Why London?’ screamed a chorus of chippy provincial malcontents? Why not Birmingham or Manchester or Leeds? Anywhere but the capital. Londoners themselves grumbled about having to pay a levy to subsidise the Games. Then there was the legacy question. We were told that the Olympic legacy would include urban regeneration, more affordable housing, improved public health and greater sporting participation. Inevitably, the legacy has become a battleground. As the Games drew nearer, the complaints grew louder. The venues would become white elephants. Funding for grassroots sports would dry up as soon as the circus left town. The Olympic windfall of jobs would never materialise. East Londoners would be priced out of their promised ‘fair share’ of the 11,000 new homes due to be built on the site of the Olympic Park.

When Olympic tickets went on sale there was another bout of whinging. This time, Locog’s ticketing system came under fire. Sure, perhaps the website could have been more user-friendly, but I do have some sympathy for the organisers. Put simply, demand massively outstripped the supply of tickets. Even if the perfect ticketing system had been devised, it would have been impossible to please everyone. On the positive side, the huge demand for tickets showed that, despite years of cynicism and moaning, ordinary Brits were genuinely enthusiastic about the 2012 Games.

As the opening ceremony approached, there was a steady stream of scare stories about terrible things that might happen during the Games. The Olympic Park was a prime target for al-Qaeda. Moreover, measures to thwart the terror strikes, notably the positioning of anti-aircraft guns on residential tower blocks, also provoked angry complaints from local residents. And if the terrorists didn’t get you, transport chaos surely would. How would London’s creaking, antiquated public-transport infrastructure cope with the surge in demand? Transport ‘Olympic-geddon’ was widely predicted. So, too, were lengthy queues at London’s airports thanks to a shortage of Border Agency personnel.

Of course, none of these apocalyptic fears came to pass. The transport system didn’t collapse. There were no terrorist attacks. Much to the chagrin of the doom-mongers, the entire 2012 operation ran remarkably smoothly. And the fear that Team GB competitors would choke under the weight of nation’s expectations didn’t materialise either. The swimmers underperformed but, as the gold rush gathered momentum, roared on by partisan, flag-waving crowds, Team GB competitors rose to the occasion. The British public joyously embraced the Games. Olympic fever infected the nation. Sports fans and sports haters alike became flag-waving Team GB cheerleaders. We couldn’t get enough of it. Suddenly everyone on the Clapham omnibus was debating the technicalities of dressage routines, judo tactics and pommel-horse dismounts.

It was one long delirious carnival. Roles were reversed and the traditional order was turned on its head. For a few glorious, cynicism-free weeks we caught a glimpse of a brave new world. Britain became un-British. Our sports stars were world beaters, the trains ran on time, a mod became a national treasure and the moaning stopped.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter @DuleepOffside.

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