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Titles and triumphs: Scottish sporting highlights of 2021

A look back at the thrills and achievements in the Scottish sporting year.

Titles and triumphs: Scottish sporting highlights of 2021 SNS Group
Rangers were Premiership winners after an unbeaten league season.

The pandemic continued to have a huge effect on the country but that didn’t prevent 2021 from being a year of remarkable stories for Scottish sport.

From the pitch to the pool, in empty arenas and packed stadia, there have been some truly memorable moments in the last 12 months.

We’ve rounded up the biggest stories of the sporting year.

St Johnstone land an incredible cup double

St Johnstone will be awarded the Freedom of Perth after their double triumph. (Craig Williamson / SNS Group) SNS Group
St Johnstone will be awarded the Freedom of Perth after their double triumph. (Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

In 136 years of playing football, St Johnstone had won just the one major competition, when Tommy Wright’s side lifted the Scottish Cup in 2014.

In his first 12 months as a manager, Callum Davidson added two more trophies, giving the Perth side a season to remember.

The League Cup was the first golden moment of the season, with the Perth Saints coming through the group stage and then beating Motherwell, Dunfermline and Hibs before meeting Livingston in the final, where Shaun Rooney’s 32nd minute goal made sure the team got their hands on the silverware for the first time.

Not content with that piece of history, Davidson’s side repeated the trick in the Scottish Cup. Dundee, Clyde and Rangers were dismissed en route to the last four, and St Mirren were beaten 2-1 in the semi-finals.

Hibs lay in wait in the final and again there was a tight contest at national stadium. Shaun Rooney was the Hampden hero, once again scoring the only goal of the game in the 32nd minute.

Rangers power through invincible league season to deliver title glory

Steven Gerrard took Rangers to the top of the Premiership. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)SNS Group
Steven Gerrard took Rangers to the top of the Premiership. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

While St Johnstone proved themselves the masters of the knockout trophies, Rangers’ number one priority for the season was to end Celtic’s stranglehold on the Premiership title.

After two years of steady improvement, Steven Gerrard’s side found their groove and were relentless in their pursuit of the prize. Celtic failed to maintain the standards they had set in their period of dominance but the Ibrox side were unblinking and unbeatable, going through the season without defeat.

Records were broken as the team racked up the numbers, with 26 clean sheets, 19 home wins, only 13 goals conceded and 102 points on the board.

Josh Taylor becomes undisputed champion of the world

Josh Taylor took ownership of all the belts in his weight division.  (Photo by David Becker / Getty Images)Getty Images
Josh Taylor took ownership of all the belts in his weight division. (Photo by David Becker / Getty Images)

By May 22, 2021, only four men had held all four of boxings main belts at the same time and been declared as unified world champion.

Bernard Hopkin, Jermain Taylor, Terence Crawford and Oleksandr Usyk had all written their names in the history books. On a memorable night in Las Vegas, Scotland’s Josh Taylor added his name to the list.

The Prestonpans boxer had already marked himself out as a sporting success with a 17-0 record that had brought him the WBA, IBF and The Ring belts when he walked out to face WBC and WBO champions Jose Ramirez, who had 26 wins from his 26 professional fights, and 17 knockouts to his name.

Taylor downed Ramirez twice during a thrilling fight and was the clear winner, taking the titles by unanimous decision with all three judges scoring the fight 114-112 in his favour.

Scotland end tournament exile at Euro 2020

Callum McGregor scored Scotland's only goal of the tournament at Hampden. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)SNS Group
Callum McGregor scored Scotland’s only goal of the tournament at Hampden. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

The tournament may have been delayed a year because of the pandemic, but the European Championships were a major part of why 2021 was the best year this century for the men’s national team.

Steve Clarke and his players had ended a 23-year wait to return to a major tournament and though their adventure ended at the group stage, the competition was a huge moment for a developing team.

Defeats against Czech Republic and Croatia at Hampden brought disappointment but not many have enjoyed a 0-0 draw like the Tartan Army did when Scotland frustrated eventual finalists England at Wembley.

The year brought more joy for Clarke’s team as a winning streak earned a place in the play-offs for the World Cup. 2022 could prove to be even bigger for the Tartan Army.

Olympic joy for Scottish athletes

Track star Laura Muir returned home with a 1500m silver medal. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)SNS Group
Track star Laura Muir returned home with a 1500m silver medal. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

The Tokyo Olympics was a Games like no other and even in the changed circumstances Scottish athletes delivered.

The Scots in Team GB returned from Japan with 16 medals between them, each marking significant achievement on the biggest stage in sport.

Laura Muir’s 1500m silver made her the first Scot to win an individual medal on the track since 1988, while Josh Kerr took bronze in the 1500m to become the first Team GB male to win a track medal since the Games in Seoul.

Duncan Scott was a star in the pool. He broke the British record for an individual medal haul at single Games, winning one gold and three silvers. The swimming success continued with Kathleen Dawson winning gold in the mixed 4 x 100m medley relay.

Cyclist Katie Archibald was another big winner, lifting gold in the Madison and silver in the team pursuit along with Neah Evans. Jack Carlin was another Scottish success in the velodrome after winning silver in the team sprint and bronze in the sprint.

Rowers Angus Groom and Harry Leask won silver in the quadruple sculls, while Anna Burnet was second in the Nacra 17 sailing.

Sarah Robertson was the only Scot in the Team GB hockey side that went on to win bronze.

Cricket World Cup sees Scotland make history

Scotland broke new ground with their World Cup progress. (Cricket Scotland)Cricket Scotland
Scotland broke new ground with their World Cup progress. (Cricket Scotland)

Scotland made history by getting past the opening round of any ICC global event for the first time when they progressed to the Super 12 stage of the Cricket World Cup.

Scotland had already seen off Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea when they went head-to-head with Oman knowing progress was on the line. The win against the co-hosts, by eight wickets, put Shane Burger’s side up against the elite sides in the game.

The Super 12 side brought a run of defeats and bottom place in the group, but reaching that level was a mark of progress that Scotland will look to build on over the next 12 months.

Scotland’s curlers earn remarkable double triumph

Scotland's women's and men's teams are European champions. (Scottish Curling)Scottish Curling
Scotland’s women’s and men’s teams are European champions. (Scottish Curling)

Scotland’s curlers achieved a historic double after both the men’s and women’s teams became European Champions in Norway.

Both sides met defending champions Sweden in their respective finals and came out on top to triumph at the European Championships in Lillehammer, Norway.

It’s the first time Scotland have won both events at the finals in the competition’s 46-year history.

Curlers from both teams carry British hopes at the Winter Olympics next year and will travel with confidence after a notable triumph.

Postecoglou’s Celtic win the League Cup

Kyogo Furuhashi scored twice as Celtic beat Hibs 2-1 in the final. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)SNS Group
Kyogo Furuhashi scored twice as Celtic beat Hibs 2-1 in the final. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

The first half of 2021 was one to forget for Celtic as their dominance of domestic competitions ended with the team in turmoil and the club entering a summer of change at the top level, in the dugout, in the squad and with the captaincy.

Former Australia boss Ange Postecoglou arrived to spearhead a rebuild and he landed the first silverware of the season to underline the progress he has been making in Glasgow’s East End.

Celtic beat Hearts 3-2 in the first knockout round and swept aside Raith Rovers with a 3-0 win before beating holders St Johnstone in the semi-finals.

That set up a December date with Hibernian to contest the trophy, with the final at Hampden six days before Christmas.

Hopes of an early present may have been in doubt when Paul Hanlon put Hibs in front but within seconds Kyogo Furuhashi, fast becoming a talisman in Postecoglou’s team, scored to bring Celtic level.

The Japanese forward added a second goal 18 minutes from time and Celtic saw off the Edinburgh side to win the trophy in front of 48,000 fans at the national stadium.