Why 2016 has been the year of the sporting underdog

2016 will forever be remembered as the year the world lost its mind.

Delirious Hibs fans celebrate after David Gray scores the winning goal in the Scottish Cup final. Picture: Robert Perry
Delirious Hibs fans celebrate after David Gray scores the winning goal in the Scottish Cup final. Picture: Robert Perry

Political upheaval, rise in terrorism and the continued existence of reality TV have made this a regrettable 11 months and three days.

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Although, the chaos has also transferred over to the sporting world, where its presence is undoubtedly a good thing.

The Chicago Cubs celebrate having won the World Series for the first time since 1908. Picture: Getty

Everyone loves strong competition, everyone loves an underdog and, unless you are on the receiving end, everyone loves a team or franchise going umpteen years without winning something before finally tasting glory. Getting one such tale every 12 months is good fortune, so we’ve been utterly spoiled in 2016.

When wider society sorts itself out, it would be great if sport can continue to be as bat**** mental for the rest of existence. Is that too much to ask?

If it is, at least we can look back fondly on 2016, the year of the underdog.

March - Ross County win the League Cup

The Chicago Cubs celebrate having won the World Series for the first time since 1908. Picture: Getty

Thanks in large part to the 2012 fall of Rangers, it’s no longer unusual to see a team from outside Glasgow lift one of the two major cup competitions in Scottish football.

Ross County became the latest side - joining neighbours Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St Johnstone - to win their first ever trophy when they defeated Hibs 2-1 in the League Cup final.

May - Leicester City win the English Premier League title

This was, is, and will forever be, utterly astounding. With the amount of money in the EPL, it was assumed no team could ever again go on a fairytale run and come from nowhere to win the title. You had to either be one of the big clubs, or have a rich benefactor turning you from an also-ran to one of the elite (looking at you Chelsea and City). A team who’d narrowly avoided relegation could never be champions the following season, especially one who’d never won it before in their history. It just didn’t work like that. And yet, it’s exactly what happened.

It still doesn’t seem real.

May - Hibs win the Scottish Cup

The Chicago Cubs of Scottish football finally ended their agonising 114-year wait with a 3-2, come-from-behind victory over Rangers at Hampden.

Most drought-ending tales involve one signature moment when the tide finally turns. For Hibs, that could have been when they came back from 2-0 down in the fifth round to defeat rivals Hearts, with the aid of a replay. Or, it could be when David Gray headed in the winning goal deep into injury-time. Who knows?

May - Connacht win Pro12

Often among the whipping boys of the Pro12 table, Connacht took full advantage of their shot at history.

When you don’t finish in the top half in any other season in the competition, the one year you muster together enough wins to get to the play-offs, you’d better go and win it all. That’s exactly what they did, defeating Leinster 20-10 in the final having eliminated Glasgow Warriors in the semis.

June/July - Uefa European Championships (in general)

Take your pick: Wales getting to the semi-finals having previously been without a major tournament appearance since 1958; Iceland reaching a finals for the first time in their history before knocking out England, or Portugal winning it all by defeating hosts France despite losing star man Cristiano Ronaldo to a first-half injury.

June - Cleveland Cavaliers win the NBA Finals

LeBron James came home to win a title for the city of Cleveland and against the odds, three-games-to-one down against the greatest regular season team in NBA history, that’s exactly what he delivered.

Going without a title in any of the major US sports since 1964, Cleveland has suffered more sporting heartbreak than any other city. So much so that “God hates Cleveland” became an oft-repeated phrase. It’s probably still true, seeing as the Cleveland Indians just blew a 3-1 series lead against the Cubs, but at least the big man upstairs is all right with LeBron.

November - Chicago Cubs win the World Series

Cubs: “Sporting Gods, seeing as everyone else is getting to finally win something, can we do it as well?”

Sporting Gods (clearly drunk): “Sure, why not? The more the merrier!”

Billy Goat: “Meh-”

Sporting Gods: “Quiet, you.”

108 years without a Championship win, 71 years without so much as an appearance in the World Series. This might be the most surprising victory of the lot.

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