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Sir Kenny Dalglish: For getting near to Qatar, and uniting the whole nation, Steve and all his players are my men of 2021

© SNS GroupChe Adams scores Scotland's second against Denmark at Hampden (Pic:Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Che Adams scores Scotland's second against Denmark at Hampden (Pic:Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

2021 has been quite a 12 months in Scottish football.

There were all the highs and lows we’ve come to expect in our national game – and then some.

It’s that time of year when we look back, pause for reflection and then hand out a few awards.

So if I was asked to pick my Men of the Year, it would have to be Steve Clarke and his Scotland players.

Probably the greatest example of the positive influence football – and the fans – can have on the Beautiful Game was highlighted by our international side.

The rapport between the Tartan Army and the boys in dark blue has been first-class. Indeed, right now, it is as good as it has ever been.

It was there for all to see when Steve’s team beat Israel at Hampden – thanks to Scott McTominay’s dramatic, late winner – in October.

And it was there in spades again when we defeated Denmark to clinch our World Cup play-off place as a seeded country.

Steve and the players must have been incredibly proud to see them make an entire nation so happy.

When you consider this all came on the back of also qualifying for Euro 2020, it was all the more pleasing.

Steve Clarke (Pic: SNS Group)

Yes, I get that the summer tournament could have been better and, with two of the group games at home, it was a big opportunity to qualify for the knockout stages.

But we were in a really difficult group against Croatia, the Czech Republic and England.

The level of performance that June night at Wembley was the highlight of the summer. We created enough chances, and deserved, to win.

We just didn’t quite carry that wee bit of extra luck that was required over the three games.

However, as we said our farewells to the tournament, Steve promised that he and the players would all be better for the experience, and that they had learned plenty.

How true that turned out to be because we were so much better during September, October and November.

We bounced back from a poor performance and crushing defeat in Denmark to stay calm and focused, and go on to win our next six games on the trot.

It was incredible stuff.

The Tartan Army more than played its part, and it just shows what togetherness and a collective energy can bring.

They are definitely our 12th Man.

It has been a brilliant effort all round, and the hope is that we peak in the games against Ukraine in March to continue the bid to secure a place at the 2022 World Cup Finals in Qatar.

© SNS Group
Steven Gerrard lifts the league trophy (Pic: Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

At club level, it was also fascinating stuff.

Steven Gerrard won Rangers’ first title in 10 years, and then departed for Aston Villa.

He left with his head held high, and deserved to do so. Think of what he inherited, and what he left behind for proof of that.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst has replaced him, and the early signs are very positive at Ibrox.

Across the city, Celtic failed to win 10-in-a-row, and it cost Neil Lennon his job.

Ange Postecoglou was a surprise appointment to succeed him, but already he has delivered a trophy with last Sunday’s League Cup Final win over Hibs.

After a tricky and testing start for the Australian, that success will have given him and his players plenty of confidence.

They did slip up in midweek at St Mirren, and it was always going to be difficult to play in the Premiership so soon after a cup final win, given their injury concerns.

Rangers now have a six-point lead going into this afternoon’s games, and that’s quite significant.

It leaves little room for error for Celtic, but I still think the race for the Premiership title will go to the wire.

Credit to Hibs for their midweek win at home to Aberdeen. They had to bounce back after losing to Celtic at Hampden, and they did it in fine style.

Shaun Maloney’s appointment was the perfect pick-me-up, and they will now look to climb the table.

This is Shaun’s first job as a manager, but he will have learned plenty from being involved in the Belgium national team set-up under Roberto Martinez.

If you include Kilmarnock, Hibs were one of eight top-flight clubs who appointed a new manager during 2021.

It’s a big number, and I do wish managers were given more time.

But it’s such a ruthless business, and not one for the fainthearted. I wish them all well in 2022.

The year was a sad one on a personal level, as it seemed just about every other week I was writing about a former team-mate, opponent or friend in football who had passed away.

I hope that won’t be repeated over the next 12 months.

Of course, the game has now been gripped once again by Covid concerns, and we have to hope that everyone – players, staff and fans – stays happy and healthy in the weeks and months ahead.

We all hoped that we’d be well and truly clear of it by now after everything that had gone on in the previous 21 months.

But we are being told there is still a bit to go, and we must all still follow the guidelines and behave responsibly.

After playing almost a full season behind closed doors, it was great to get supporters back into the grounds in 2021,and what a difference they made.

We can only hope 2022 is not too old by the time they are back inside grounds in full numbers.